Field of Science

Botanical art - Van Gogh's Olive trees

TPP loves botanical art, and this is just freaking amazing! An artist plants a 1.2 acre plot to recreate a Van Gogh painting. This is simply wonderful!  Mrs. Phactor adds a "Wow! Van Gogh would be proud." Too bad it has to be seen from the air.

Fall fell, so autumn

Today really felt like the first real autumn day, cool, crisp, dry (too dry!), and cool enough over night to require a light blanket with the optional two black kitty-girl warmer, but only for Mrs. Phactor. TPP is not complaining. He picked a handful of grape tomatoes and enough small eggplant for a pasta dinner. This also means it will soon be time to harvest prairie biomass for another master's degree project, but that will probably be done next week. Time to go looking for some prairie gentians; although vividly blue they hide deep within the grassy canopy and so are seldom seen by most people. A bottle gentian grew in our gardens for a few years, but it did not sustain itself. It's a strange plant whose flowers never actually open requiring fairly substantial bees to force their way in. Now TPP is on the prowl for a couple of big, winter squashes, they type with hard, dark orange flesh.  They are around but right now shops want "Halloween" prices for them, not squash prices, so perhaps some will wait for a post October sale. Of course there may also be enough squash remaining in the freezer from last year. Inventory control is so hard, and it's a form of spelunking to find out what frozen items lurk in the depths of the freezer. Mrs. Phactor already pointed out that at least 5 packages of Andouille sausage await the urge to make some gumbo.  And cool fall weather is perfect for a pot of gumbo!  See how things just sort of work out especially as the transition continues from margarita season to NY cocktail season. 

Fearful things!

Fear is a powerful motivator and so its use in political rhetoric is so common, but unfortunately people can come to fear the wrong or even imaginary things.  Tom Tomorrow explains what fears keep right-wingers up at night. It explains a lot.

What's the correct vintage for an apocalypse?

White wine with fish is a no brainer, but the assembled dinner party was largely drinking red wine in honor, no doubt, of the evenings' entertainment, the appearance of a "blood moon".  The party took place in a sufficiently rural area with minimal light pollution for optimal naked eye viewing, and perhaps you don't realize how much even a small city produces until you see it glowing from a distance. The cloud cover most conveniently removed itself just as the eclipse started. And yes, it was a quite spectacular moon as the many images posted around the internet showed, further demonstrating that there are certain subjects for which phone cameras are just not adequate, and most amusingly so. The dinner was most excellent, and the post-dinner discussion and drinking topic that was most entertaining was what wine do you drink while waiting for the apocalypse, the harbinger of which was this reddish, eclipsed full moon? The conclusion was that this was a simple matter; drink the best stuff you have because it won't have a chance to get any better what with the apocalypse and all. No use hoarding a special bottle for an occasion that will now never happen, so pass that super Tuscan. While an amusing enough discussion, it remains deeply depressing that NASA, the Church of the Latter Day Saints, and others felt the need to issue statements trying to convince certain people that no apocalypse was actually going to happen. How can people be so gullible, and ignorant, in this day and age?  But if remain unconvinced, then give us your wine, but only the good stuff please. Clinking empty wine bottles together will scare away the blood dragon and restore our moon's color.

Kitchen garden - late summer, early fall

In late September there isn't much to do with your kitchen garden except clean up and recap. On the whole it was an OK year, considering all the garden neglect, but why the zucchini stopped producing while still healthy is a mystery. Tomatoes are just about shot although those magnificently indeterminate grape tomatoes will keep making a few fruit. Looks like a few late eggplant and peppers will be produced as well because they recovered somewhat from the blighty conditions. Late pole beans are just about ready to pick and maybe a few snap peas will make it too. The big surprise were the cucumbers which are still making some fruit. Usually the bacterial wilt nails them in August. No idea how these escaped, maybe it was a bad year for the beetle vectors. The wet spring and early summer may have aided the milky spore fungus that attacks beetle larvae because the Japanese beetles were not all that bad and June bugs were uncommon. 
Some fall lettuce will be ready soon, but the bloody squirrels dug up all the spinach, a downside of container gardening. This time of year the squirrels dig up everything. And now, as announced excitedly by the kitty-girls, they have partners in crime, a pair of chipmunks, which are rather unusual around here especially in town. So far no problems have arisen from their residency, and they are plenty cute.  Guess the gardens are wildlife friendly so long as the kitty-girls remain inside or on a leash, a binary choice.
Unfortunately a lot of lawn remains to be mowed and it has to be done before going to a dinner party later. Yesterday was spent digging holes, planting trees & shrubs, and watering those and other newish plantings before a dinner club wine and goodies party. The weather is quite beautiful in terms of temperature, but it's dry, dry enough to create a lot of early leaf fall, and so mowing will kick up a lot of dust and spores so TPP's sinuses and eyes will suffer. Apparently margaritas are an remedy.

Friday Fabulous Flower - White butterfly ginger

It's been quite awhile since the last FFF. This plant may have been featured before, but so what?  TPP knew the second he entered the greenhouse that this plant was in flower because of its fragrance, a very perfumed, somewhat heavy fragrance, but quite lovely and one of the best smelling flowers in our collection.  The butterfly ginger (Hedychium coronarium) stands about 1.5 m tall so you don't have to stoop over to look at or smell the flowers. Wish we could introduce the scratch your monitor screen and smell technology. Students in economic botany extract the fragrance by harvesting the new flowers each morning, slicing them lengthwise, and placing them cut side down on a layer of highly purified vegetable fat (i.e., Crisco) in a shallow covered dish (i.e. Petri). After several days the fat becomes impregnated with the fragrance because like many fragrance molecules they are lipid soluble so they dissolve into the fat to be released upon mild heating like rubbing between you fingers or on your skin behind your ear. You can do this with any fragrant flower as a nice kid/garden activity. The process is called enfleurage, a really old perfume technique.

Perils of lawn mowing

Our lawns need mowing in spite of the dry conditions interspersed with a couple of deluges. It's been nearly 3 weeks since they were last mowed, but the last thing a lawn needs in lolly-coddling. Crab grass is growing exceptionally well this year, and mowing will help prevent the production of a major crop of seeds. Mowing our lawn requires a lot of dodging and weaving in and around all the trees, bushes, and garden beds, and it's really icky out there right now because the garden spiders, many of whom are nearing the size of Shelob, have webs spanning up to 8 feet across walk ways. The problem is that your attention when mowing is directed downward so you walk into the webs head high. Now TPP doesn't have a major problem with spider, but the webs are icky nonetheless. The dry conditions have caused a lot of leaves to fall prematurely, and it is harvest season here abouts, and the lawn mower just kicks up clouds of dust and spores, something that sets off TPP's mucus production and irritates the sinuses. So adding to the tedium of lawn mowing is the misery of allergies and the ickiness of spider webs such that the enjoyment of the activity is largely lost. At least the lawn season is coming to an end.

Happy posts!

September is a nice time of year when you are not a student or faculty member for whom the month is quite hectic. Enjoying September is a great side benefit of retirement. And it includes TPP's birthday and his annual birthday celebration of cooking for his friends a once a year special dish. This tradition began with the idea of not doing birthdays any more, but just doing "fish soup", but now the number of fish soups has begun to add up too, so to continue the enjoyment of September TPP has been staying away from depressing blog topics which abound!
Middle Eastern Conflicts/Refugee Crisis - Didn't any of these world leaders play Risk while growing up? Depressing.
T-Rump, Fe-fi-forina, Sanctimonous, Chucklebee, and all the rest remaining. The GOP's view for America is deeply, profoundly depressing.  Cymbalta please with a side dish of Citalopram.
Discrimination called religious freedom. While you are free to believe as you wish, you may not impose those beliefs on others especially if you have a government job or run hospitals like St. Whatever's. Sad and depressing.
Garden fatalities - It was a tough year for a lot of plants especially because they got either too much water or not enough. A long-time garden resident, a bristle cone pine looks to be in a fatal decline, as do a couple of small Japanese maples.  The golden chain tree suddenly died early this summer, and after looking great last year a small cluster of Oregon grape bushes (Mahonia) crashed. Some replacements have been purchased and now must be planted. Nothing like yanking out dead trees and digging big holes to brighten your day. Did get a nice bottle of wine from the local nursery and a keep up the good work card.
Apples. Local source of Northern Spys had a crop failure for that variety, but the Jonathons are superb this year. Eh, that's farming.
However on the bright side and to keep from ruining the good September mood, the Chi-town Cubs are still winning more than losing and usually by mid- September they would have been in the sub-basement of the league for at least a month. TPP doesn't really follow them, but so many friends do that the Cub's success is brightening the moods of many friends and colleagues.
Bernie Sanders' candidacy. Don't know it he would be a good president or not, but he makes TPP smile. Just going to Liberty University was a political tour de force. He's like a T-Rump antibody.

Innovative bicycle wheel with built in springs

Oh, this is just too cool!  Loop wheels with built in springs would look just great on TPP's bicycle and at my age, and another year was just chalked up, anything that makes the ride smoother is looked upon with great favor!  Wonder if they have one that glows in the dark?  Can't tell you how many rims TPP has dinged up on nasty bumps over the years.  Here's a link to the article at Treehugger, but the link in their article to the wheel page did not work. Come on guys, we wants the link! 

Brand spanking new botanical research articles

TPP is catching up, or trying to, on lots of things. Here's a link to some research summaries for the latest issue of the American Journal of Botany. The very first article is pretty interesting because fruits almost universally turn from green to a "fruity" color to signify ripeness advertising to seed disperses that a reward is available (often, but not always). But this particular tropical plant has reddish immature fruits and green mature fruits, a situation rather like the leaves of some tropical plants that flush red and then turn green, however a protective function for the red pigmentation could not be supported! So there you go! You can be pretty sure that one of the authors knew about fruit color changes and dispersal, and then noticed that this plant was not playing according to the "rules" so curiosity made them ask why and they devised a research project to test the various ideas involved. Thousands of such questions and studies exist if you just learn how to observe.  
Other studies involved microlichens, fern gametophytes (haploid ferns), genetics of cellulose systhesis, and the origin of C4 photosynthesis. Pretty diverse stuff, but that is the nature of botany and this journal in particular. 

Pretty, but toxic, mushroom

This is an easy mushroom to identify, Amanita muscaria, the fly agaric. They are big (the cap can easily be 15 cm in diam when spread) and very handsome, and a large number of them were arising in a grove of trees with which  the fungus has a mycorrhizal association. The red-orange-yellow cap flecked with white patches is very distinctive. The rest of the mushroom is white and although not seen here, a skirt-like veil surrounds the stem and the stem sits in a basal cup. The spore color is white although you should not judge this by the gill color. They are very toxic and while they have been used as a hallucinogen in some cultures, and maybe even worshiped as the god Soma, they are way too toxic to experiment with although as can be seen in the picture, some one took a nibble. These were near a walking path, but plants let alone fungi just don't register with most people. They missin' out. 

Cox's Orange Pippin

Perhaps you have never heard of or seen this apple: Cox's Orange Pippin. TPP just finished eating one, the first in a great many years and it did not disappoint. The orange pippin is simply one great tasting apple, a wonderful, juicy, sweet-tart flavor with a bit of citrus, a hint of banana and other fruity undertones. This apple sets a standard against which the taste of other apples is judged. This is a heritage variety that originated in the UK and introduced in 1825. Now it is seldom grown except by apple affectionados, so it was quite a surprise to find a bin of them in a supermarket in northern Washington state. They are not a particularly showy apple, at first mostly greenish with a streaky reddish blush and of medium size. As the ripen the green becomes yellow and reddish blush develops to produce an orangy-red color. TPP just read that something like 90% of agricultural biodiversity has been lost in the last 100 years. According to the Apples of New York (1905) 1600 varieties of apple were being grown at the time. Wonder how many varieties are commercially grown now? Wonder how many of those varieties have ceased to exist? Do you think 160 varieties are being grown there now? At least Cox's Orange Pippen has survived and you can buy the trees from many  nurseries. This image came from Van Meuwen's nursery.

Book report on apples

Frazz is one of TPP's favorite comic strips, and today's strip (Sept. 13, 2015) was a classic because it hit TPP right in the wheel house. Caulfield presents a report on apples, and nails it, especially the analysis of the "dreaded, mealy Red Delicious".  This variety happened because of selection on its parent, the Delicous, for better color and especially better storage life. The Delicious was actually a good tasting apple, but it's so rare now only a few apple affectionados still raise this variety. A good old boy in SW Michigan surprised TPP with some Delicious a few years back, although our top 4 list still wouldn't include that variety, it did demonstrate how selection for other characters damaged its taste and texture. 

Ducking out the back way

Our visit to Whistler ended today, and it was a bit complicated because no one told us about the Vancouver to Whistler bike race today, or what that might mean for people who wanted to got the other direction! Mountain and ocean views are wonderful, but traffic jams suck. So a new plan was devised, exit Whistler to the north, via Pemberton! The drive east up over the mountains was wonderfully scenic, except for the Yellow Arrow bus leading the way. The route is typical of low volume mountain roads, lots of tight turns, up and down, twisting and turning, from the pass following the Duffy Lake road down to the Fraser River valley, then more or less south, twisting and turning along river vallley route. It was very scenic and a fun drive, except for a bit of car sickness from one who doesn't take well to the previous mountain road features. This was not a route for people in a hurry, and it took a couple of hours longer than the regular route being used by the bike race, but driving in the rural Canadian mountains was much better than sitting in a traffic jam. Why waste a couple of hours watching people pedal uphill?  Oh, the day before our bicycle ride was taken on standard person-powered machines so nothing interesting to report on e-bicycles, other than standard bikes will never get TPP to give up his BikeE. Drat. Border crossing took 45 mins. with the usual snotty border agent attitude treating his bosses, citizens of the USA, badly. Grilled a salmon for din-dins.

Warming at 10 degrees an hour

Today dawned bright and clear in the mountains, and at dawn the temperature was 46 F. And hour later it was 55 F. In another hour it will be 65 F and so on until topping out in the mid-80s. Such are the extremes in temperate mountains this time of year. Just returning from mountain top down to the valley floor yesterday, and the air was noticeably thicker, heavier. Today will probably be our last day suffering in all this clear, clean air. A friend having seen an image much like yesterday's blog said, "Canada is just one big postcard", of course she's never driven to Edmonton. For some fun and amusement, and a bit more, but less vigorous exercise, TPP is thinking about giving an electric assisted bicycle a try. As regular readers know, TPP likes funky bicycles, but has never had the chance to give one of these new electric jobs a try. How about this for an idea? Pick a micro-brewery as a destination, and re-fill a growler so that you can have a fresh cold one when you get back? A man, a plan, Panama! Just for the heck of it, here's another scenery pic from this post-card part of the world. The local whiskey jacks (gray jays) were hanging about hoping for some handouts. Their sense of entitlement is quite amazing.

Dear Flat-landers

Hello, flat-landers. TPP here in British Columbia, Whistler to be exact. The weather has taken a turn to the sunny side, and right now it's hard to say how much sunshine, clear air, alpine hiking, and mountains a man (or woman) can take. It has been quite awhile since the Phactors were hiking in a high alpine zone, and then it was the Swiss Alps. There are a lot of handsome views, including this one, but they do get so mountainous. Unfortunately this time of year the alpine flora is done flowering but fall color is in fine form. Still some of the scenery is just great. You just can't see something like this in the upper midwest except maybe the the NW most corner of Lincolnland (joking). Sooner or later, our return to the maize and soybean desert will have to occur, but at this point, even though resorty things are now closing down until the snow begins to fall, our departure will not be rushed. The F1 reports that the home area has cooled off and some rain has provided relief to our late summer drought. Maybe it will be safe to return, but not until all the Whiskey Jack (nickname of gray jays) beer is gone. 

Whistler sunshine

Labor day here in the Great White North was pretty much what you would expect in a touristy area at the end of the summer; it was packed with humanity from many different countries. So Tuesday has dawned with considerably fewer people around, and almost no kids (schools reopened!). There is a low overcast and some Whistler sunshine dripping down. The maple trees are showing the first stages of fall. A walk among the arbor-vitae and Douglas firs revealed spring and summer leftovers: Goodyera orchids, pipsisiwa, single-flowered Clintonia, twisted stalk, and some huge Amanita muscari mushrooms. At any rate with high temperatures in the 90s at home, this is wonderful relief. That's all the mountain you can see from our bedroom today; it's snowing way up on top.

Toto, I don't think we're in Lincolnland any more.

Uh oh! Something suggests that this isn't Lincolnland any more!  What are the clues?  Well, there's spruce and arbor vitae trees every where. There's mountains and unless TPP is mistaken, that's snow up there! Dang! If the F1 reads this, the temperature right now is probably 30 F lower than in Lincolnland. OK, another sip of that cocktail has helped clear TPP's analytical skills. The trusty blogging laptop further suggests that not only is this not the upper midwest, but it's a lot further west and a lot higher in altitude. Actually some friends have abducted us to a place north of the border and landed us in a humble place called Whistler, British Columbia. So more to come as the Phactors discover this what this particular place has to offer this time of year. So far there's a lot of spandex and nylon, so how the Phactors will fit in remains quite unknown. Oh, TPP has been informed that this is something called a vacation, and this comes without any explanation of its relevance to a retired academic.

More on obnoxious weeds

This is a pretty funny coincidence when another friendly blogger also comments on a noxious weed, but in a very different context. Too bad they weren't called The Kudzu, but English ivy is bad enough. Or maybe you've never seen it when it gets loose. 
Image from the Bug Count

Most obnoxious plant

Most obnoxious plant is a big category and if this becomes a contest there could get a lot of entries, but what the hey. Our first nomination comes from TPP's old friend the FlyGuy. Apparently he had a run-in with this plant and then spent a leisurely hour or so picking the achenes, not seeds, but fruit and seed, from his pants and socks. Here's his description. This plant "looks innocuous enough when young.  Nice fancy leaves.  Not too bad when it blooms, but the flowers are a little underwhelming.  But it reaches its true evilness when the seeds mature and become dry.  They are long, thin with " hooks" on the distal ends that catch in everything that touches them.  In the photo you can see immature clusters of seeds in the upper left and upper right corners."
This is without doubt a species of Bidens (maybe B. pilosa), and like Joe, it is truly obnoxious. The apically barbed achenes, the one-seeded dry fruits, are sometimes called beggar ticks. In some places people have called them stick tights, but this common name is more usually associated with some other hitchhiker fruits technically called zoochorous. This is a mechanism for seed dispersal and us humans conveniently provide some nice artificial pelts for them to attach to. Other nominations are welcome.  

If at first you don't succeed, put it all back they way it was and keep lumbering along

TPP was an early user of the internet back in the day when you had to know ftp and all sorts of funky stuff like baud. Initially dial up connections operated at 300 baud.  Can you believe that? No? That's because you don't know what baud is. That was way back before the www came along to make it nice and easy. However this author is not a techie; things just have to work, even it a bit clunky. Good old Blogger is really pretty clunky and it's gotten strange about uploading images although TPP has a work around. Clunky, sure, but it does work. One problem is that this blog is associated with an ancient email address that TPP has never actually used except for logging in, and who can remember a password, especially an ancient one written in cuneiform and seldom used. So you know, it was bothersome, but in the attempt to change this TPP ended up locked out. Yikes! The withdrawal symptoms began to become manifest right away, and this came at a bad time when some travel was planned. So you fall back upon one of the oldest computer maxims of all, if you can't get it to work with the new changes, put it all back the way it was and keep clunking along.

Same old, same old, that's just how it is

This blog's readers come from around the world. As a result, there are things about the old USA that you probably don't understand like the gun control debate. Here it is explained in just four sentences.  Who else could do that except Tom Tomorrow? Actually if someone actually does understand this looniness could they please explain it to TPP?