Sunday, July 31, 2011

Dog Vomit Plasmodium

Well it THAT title didn't catch your attention I'm sure this photo will.

This is the Dog Vomit Plasmdium (also called Dog Vomit Slime Mold )

Why is this worth talking about?  Because this is one very cool organism!  

If you were to cut this in half the two halves would move back toward each other and fuse back together.

This seeming lump is capable of telling time very accurately in laboratory situations.   If the scientists provide a stimulus on the hour every hour the plasmodium will quickly learn to anticipate the stimulus and will get ready for it.

Now for the science part.

This organism alternates life styles.  One phase is a single cell that is able to move about like an amoeba.  This form eats bacteria.  It has two types of reproduction.  One is simple cell division - one cell divides to form two free living single celled organisms.  If this form finds another individual that is reproductively compatible the two cells will fuse together.  These fused cells form the large plasmodium structure (seen above).

The plasmodium is capable of moving short distances but when the local food supply runs out it will produce spores that can be carried by wind or water.  The spores will hatch into the single celled amoeba like phase and the cycle continues.

Isn't Biology Amazing?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

The theme for this Wordless Wednesday is Pollination (does this quality as plant porn since reproduction in plants requires a Menage a Trois?).


Monday, July 25, 2011

Crisis du Jour

Yesterday I was out in my garden, taking pictures and pulling weeks when I heard the cry.

My fellow vegetable gardeners were calling out for me to come down to our community garden and to bring my camera.  

I knew the reason had to be something biological - snake, raccoon, skunk.

Nope.  It was just...

A tomato hornworm Manduca quinquemaculata

These pests generally go undetected until major damage starts showing up on tomato plants.  We found three of them in the garden.

Here are two - notice the slight difference in colors.  We put them in this bucket in the hope that we can feed them the suckers we remove from the tomato plants and that The Mayor can watch them pupate.

These caterpillars mature into a type of Sphynx moth (usually called Hummingbird Moths).  The moths are fun to watch in the garden but the caterpillars are seldom welcome. 

So how can the average gardener deal with these pests?  Simple.  When you find them pick them off the plant (bare hands are fine - so are gloved hands for the squeemish.  You don't even have to talk to them while you're removing them if you aren't the Neighborhood Biologist).  Squishing is the fastest and most humane disposal method.

Preventative measures include tilling the soil in the spring to prevent the emergence of last year's pupae (the pupae overwinter in the ground) and planting marigolds near your tomatoes (and peppers and eggplant).

We tilled and planted marigolds. 

I guess it's not perfect.  Fortunately the female moth seldom lays many eggs in the same place so hand picking works just fine for dealing with an infestation.  No need for pesticides for these pests.

They are disturbingly cute, though, aren't they?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Your 2:30 am wake up call brought to you by....

2:30 a.m.  The dogs started to bark.
Superhusband got up to get them to quiet down.

As I lay half awake I realized that their barking was not their normal middle of the night barking (usually in response to the neighbor's dogs or a coyote on the trail or some such).  It sounded more like their barking if they find an animal in the house or in the fenced yard.  

Uh-oh.  Is there a mouse in the house?

I got up to help the Superhusband.

The dogs were in the addition that connects the house to the garage.  We call it the breezeway.

They were jumping up at that window (and doing damage to my thankfully tough Cuban Oregano plant).

The Superhusband had turned on the outside lights but couldn't see anything.  Between the hysterical barking I could hear something in the leaves under the window.

The Superhusband spotted some white fur.

I went out the front door to see what was causing the commotion (I didn't want to go out the breezeway door since that would have trapped whatever-it-was in a corner and trapped wild animals can be dangerous.

I can around the corner of the house, talking to the animal.  I suspected I knew what it was.

Striped skunk Mephitis mephitis [Yes, I know that's not a skunk.  For some strange reason at 2:45 a. m.  I failed to get a picture of the culprit.]

What a beautiful skunk, too.  The back and tail were all white - the only black I could see was on the face [skunks are variable in fur coloration.  The "striped" skunk can be all white on the back, black and white or even have white spots down the back.]

I asked the skunk to leave.  

She faced me and raised her tail.

I left.

Now I know a LOT about dealing with wild animals in and around houses.  I can discourage skunks and other critters from coming around.  If it had been a raccoon, an opossum, a coyote, a bobcat, a fisher, heck even a black bear, I could have gotten it to leave with a minimum amount of fuss.  

Skunks are different.  

I didn't want to have to bath the house inside and out with skunk deodorant [1 bottle (fresh) hydrogen peroxide, 1/4 cup baking soda and a dash of dish washing detergent - I got this recipe from a biologist who works with skunks - it must be made fresh, it does not store and it might bleach the color out of things but it works for the odor].

I came inside.  We barricaded the dogs away from the breezeway and turned on a fan to muffle the noises the skunk was making and eventually we all calmed down and went back to sleep.

The skunk was gone in the morning and I didn't smell anything [skunks often smell faintly of, well, skunk, since the stink sticks to their fur as well.  I have identified skunks moving through vegetation by odor alone.  This one, thankfully, didn't smell].

I think the skunk was looking for dinner at the corner of our house.

She was digging.

Unfortunately for her there is a water issue right here and a previous homeowner had put in a deep layer of rock to help drainage.

I think she was looking for the owner of this.

One of our garter snakes.  They live under the siding in two places that I know of and the wall of the house by the breezeway is one of them.  Someone recently shed.  I guess our friendly neighborhood skunk could smell him.

Yawn.  An exciting night here on The Edge.  Now I better go and get another cup of coffee and prepare to apologize to all the neighbors who were trying to sleep with their windows open while Barkapalooza was going on at our house.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Garden Porn

Plantkiller has been posting pictures that she called Garden Porn.  She's not talking gorgeous pictures of plants you just want to have.  She means... well... suggestive photos.

Cover your childrens' eyes!  [Mom, you can skip this post.]





THIS suggestive photo is of the plant below.

Adenium obesum or Desert Rose.  I grow this plant because I like the weird shapes the trunk can form.  OK.  Minds out of the gutter.  I didn't notice the, uh, suggestive nature of this one when I bought it.  Really, I didn't.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day

It's that time again - the ides of July - time to show off the blooms in my garden.

There is a LOT going on in my garden right now.  Here's a sampling.

Asclepias tuberosa (and friend)

 Helenium Mardi Gras has started to party

Scabiosa caucasica Fama - just one of the three types of Scabiosa I have in my garden.  The others will continue to bloom prolifically until the first killing frost.  This one is taller with larger flowers.  I hope it has the same insane blooming cycle of the smaller ones.

Hydrangea unk Lacecap bought as Lady in Red but clearly not her. Still a pretty girl so she's welcome to stay, even if she is a commoner and not minor royalty.

 Monarda fromannia.  [Don't go Googling that.  It's an unknown variety from a neighbor]

 Coreopsis verticallata Zagreb snuggled up with a Panicum virgatum (just starting to bloom)

Garlic Chives - Yum

Gaura lindheimeri Siskiyou pink - another plant that was sold as an annual but that came back.  It is marginally hardy here but is outcompeted by the white blooming Gaura if the two are planted close together.

Liatris spicata Kobold.  Soon I will have the challenging decision to make.  Do I leave the spent blooms for the Goldfinches who love the seeds or do I deadhead it so I'm not pulling seedlings from the garden next year?  It does self sow a bit.

 Coreopsis grandiflora Domino (next to an Amsonia that is long since done blooming for the year.  I like the contrast)

 My beloved Agastache are just starting to bloom.  The one is front is (possibly) Golden Jubilee

Leucanthemum x superbum Becky.  This is one tough plant.  I moved it once and I'm planning to move it again this fall.  I'm putting it in the (dun, dum, dum) BACK YARD.  

Why the drama about the back yard?  Cause that's where the dogs roam.  And the dogs are rowdy.  And they did.  And they eat anything they suspect is edible.  I put my most aggressive plants back there because they're the only ones who can survive the canine revelries.

Perovskia altriplicifolia (Russian Sage)

 Guess.  Go on.  Guess.

Pycnathium spreadingum (Mountain mint)  
This is just barely starting to bloom but I like the way it looks.  Come back next month for better blooms.

 Echinacea tennesseensis Rocky Top

 Whew.  I'm tired and these are only a few examples of what's blooming in my garden.

Did you guess about the white flower?  Did you?  It is...

an onion.  Seriously.  I planted onions last year and failed to pull this one up so it came back this year and bloomed.  I'll try to remember to pull it this fall.  And I'll definately deadhead it so that the energy goes to the root and not to forming seeds.

Thanks to Carol at May Dreams for this meme.

Something's buggin me

I do not use pesticides in my garden.  Period.  Close paragraph.

Because of my complete avoidance of pesticides my garden is full of life.  Bees, ants, beetles and the birds that eat them.

Usually my garden gets into a balance.  I have a little insect damage to some plants but I can live with that if it means I get all of the other insects and birds that bring movement and activity to my garden.

This year I'm having more than normal damage to my plants.  And it's not on the expected ones.  My hostas have little damage (and they are like crack to the deer, rabbits and slugs!).

My Echinacea purpura is loosing it's petals to something.  Not the leaves.  Just the petals.  I found this little inchworm on one of the blooms.  The culprit?

One of my Heucheras (coral bells, this one is called Stoplight) has major insect damage.  The others right next to it?  Not so much.

This one is weird.  Tricolor sage.  Usually herbs are left alone by most herbivores and insects.  The strong flavors and smells are part of their defenses.  But this one is just being eaten alive.  Insects or the new batch of baby bunnies I've been spotting?  (yes, even at four inches they can be on their own. And it doesn't take much to hide them - they're hiding under my perennials!)

And this one - Aster (Symphotrichium?) October skies.  Eaten to the stem.  Another plant with aromatic foliage.

I'm not even considering a pesticide but I'm hopeful that they'll survive the summer onslaught and return next year, bigger and stronger.  And maybe the rabbits will nest somewhere else so my yard isn't filled with cute little eating machines.
[Sorry no pictures of the baby bunnies - they flee if they even think I'm reaching for a camera.  Try here for an example of what they look like.  Could you turn this little guy out of your garden?  I don't think so!]

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Tactile Garden

Lots of gardeners garden for Sight.  Pretty flowers, pleasing color combinations, visually interesting foliage. 

Some garden for Taste.  Home grown tomatoes anyone?  Fresh herbs for the kitchen?

There are even gardeners who focus on Scent (can you focus your sense of smell?  I can't. It's always a bit blurry to me).

And there are the ubiquitous sellers of fountains trying to convince us to add Sound to the garden.  I haven't seen the appeal.  A fountain in the garden means more trips to the bathroom and my bathroom isn't in my garden.

What about the neglected sense - Touch.  An Historian was over yesterday and had her hands all over my plants.  She wants...

Stachys byzantina nana (Lamb's Ear.  Can spread aggressively so I have mine in the Hell Strip)
Artemesia schmidtiana silver mound (Wormwood.  I didn't know that's what wormwood was!  Does anyone actually call it wormwood?)

Nassella tenuissima (Mexican feather grass - a nasty invasive in some parts of the country.  Not here.  It's not warm enough here.  I have mine in a warm microclimate or it wouldn't survive the winters)

Of course I also have plants that please multiple senses.  It may be hard to tell right now but this area contains several Russian Sage.  Sight, Touch, and Smell.  Scrumptious.

Look at this row of lavender (Lavandula angustifolias, or English lavender) (that's a Hyssop in front - not sure if it's a Hyssopus or an Agestache).  Sight, check.  If you Touch it your hands will Smell, check.  Listen to the bees buzz about as the pollinate - Sound, check.  And, yes, lavender is edible so you can Taste it.  That's a big five senses all stimulated by this one humble plant.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Biology Day Problems

Today is Biology Day here at The Edge.  This is the day where I take care of all living things that live under my roof and are not primates (that rules out The Husband.  He can fend for himself).  The major chores involve house plant maintenance and indoor water garden (nee aquarium) maintenance. 

I will water all of the houseplants, fertilize those that need it, repot as needed, prune out dead as needed.  This week the problem is with the hanging baskets.  See, when I water I let the water flow all the way through the pot.  With my non-hanging plants this is not a problem since I use over-sized saucers and can stop watering as soon as the water appears in the saucer.  Hanging baskets either have small, close fitting saucers or none at all.  Normally I haul them into the main floor bathroom, set them in the tub and water like I do everything else.

This is what the main floor bathroom tub area looks like today. 

If I tried to water the hanging baskets the overflow would drip between the boards and into the basement.  Not exactly how I want to do things.

So I'm improvising.  The hanging baskets are going into the kitchen sink one by one.  It's a much slower process.

Hmmm, what did you ask?  Yes, yes, I do have another shower, upstairs, but it is TINY and would require hauling the hanging baskets upstairs, watering them (and only one or maybe two would fit in the shower at a time.  It's THAT tiny).  [I don't smell THAT bad today, do I?  So bad you can smell me over the internet?  I guess I'm better find a stronger deodorant.]

This process of watering hanging baskets should explain the stainless steel rod I'm trying to get installed down the length of the new tub/shower on the main floor.  So I can water my hanging baskets while they are HANGING and not run the risk of damaging foliage.  It makes perfect sense to me, I'm not sure why The Husband is fighting it.  He just has to remember to duck when he uses the shower.

The OTHER big issue is with the indoor water gardens.  I have two large tanks filled with live aquatic plants (and a few fish, too).  One tank is 55 gallons and the other contains 120 gallons.  I change out half the water each week.  This chore is actually not too bad.  I  have a looooong, specialized hose that can run out the window into the gardens ("free" water for the plants that comes with a small nitrogen boost from fish waste).  When we picked out the faucet for the bathroom we made sure to get one that I could connect the hose to so that I can fill the tanks straight from the bathroom sink. 

Guess what else I don't have right now.  

I can still use the hose to drain water from the tanks but the process of refilling them now requires hauling five gallon buckets.  I'm thinking the 120 gallon tank is not going to be cleaned as often as normal.  Hauling 60 gallons of water in buckets is not my idea of fun!

And now for a gratuitous photo of a Panicum virgatum (switchgrass)  'Heavy Metal'