Archive for 2011

My Metro Adventure

Yesterday, I posted this without any text or explanation. I was using it as a quick repository to share with reporters. I was on an Orange line train (sometime before 9:39, which is when I wrote an e-mail to my beau) heading to Rosslyn for an interview when a part of a brake in the train ahead of mine hit the electrified third rail. It caused a bunch of smoke, gigantic sparks/flames, and a bit of panic in the train. Most people were pretty damn chill--it was actually fun in some ways, because we were just sitting around joking and ribbing on Metro.

There are plenty of articles from news sources out there, so I'm just going to focus on my own fun experience.

First, I'll start with transcriptions of a couple e-mails I wrote to my beau detailing a few of the more fun experiences.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011 9:39 AM
Subject: Fire on my train
Message: Yay


Tuesday, December 20, 2011 10:15 AM
Subject: 40 minutes later...
Message: The train stopped. It started getting smoky. The door to the next car opened and a wryly smiling man said "The next car's on fire." We started walking toward the last car while one woman freaked out, we were all milling and joking. Then we finally decided to open the door (keep in mind that the driver has not yet contacted us, so we were unsure what to do) and walk back to L'Enfant. But four people were walking back toward the train, telling us Metro employees said to get back into the train because the air quality was too poor outside the train. So instead, we are sitting here in a smoky train inhaling all these fumes for an unknown amount of time. The driver came on the speakers and said "Help is on the way." We're like, "Um, it's been 40 minutes. Why aren't they HERE?"

And he just came back on and said that help is on the way--still. Anyway. Maybe eventually I'll get to my interview.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011 10:50 AM
Subject: "If we're anywhere near a platform, we'll get you off the train."
Message: Serious? They don't know where we are???

Lol these people on the train with me are awesome. We are joking and laughing.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011 11:08 AM
Subject: I just videotaped our channel 4 news live interview
Message:


Tuesday, December 20, 2011 11:25 AM
Subject: Oh no!
Message: I've been told I must take my stilettos off when I get to the ladder in 30 minutes. Damnit!

And now some photos!


Milling around wondering what to do--no word from the train conductor, emergency buttons weren't working, and we weren't sure whether it was safe to leave the train or not. Not that that stopped some people (read below).


I ended up wrangling open an emergency door (some didn't work) and tried to walk back to the platform, but I was told by returning train riders that Metro employees told them to get back on the train--the air quality was too poor in the tunnel and it was safer on the train. For 2 hours, we breathed the smoky air (some doors were open, remember?) and as we lined up to evacuate hours later, I asked why the track lights had just gone out--I was told by a fire fighter that they were operating on batteries that last only 2 hours. The electrified third rail had shorted out and the power was turned off when our train hit the other part on the rail. There was no actual danger, really, from the get-go--we should have left.


Anyway, we milled around for a while. I ate my bagel and drank my coffee. 30 or 40 minutes into the ordeal, the conductor finally came on to say that Metro was looking into what happened and that we should stay calm. Once he stopped his five-second spurt of lip-flapping, the train riders around me went up in a roar about how frustrating that was--waiting so long for any contact with Metro or our conductor, and all we got was "We're looking into what happened, stay calm"?


A little after 11, fire fighters came around to tell us they were starting to evacuate the train. I was in the last car with passengers, so it took a while. I tried taking pictures of people walking down the tunnel.



This one was a bit better.


For the number of emergency-response vehicles blocking traffic around the Smithsonian metro exit, we surely didn't have the help we would have expected down in the tunnel. I admit, the four or five fire fighters down there with us were great--they were just as frustrated with Metro as we were (they couldn't get the emergency doors open, either).

Next up, videos.


This video is an example of the awesome people in the train car with me. We were joking left and right, keeping it together without losing our composure. The set up for this joke is that Metro had already reported to news organizations that all passengers had been evacuated. We were postulating ways they'd deal with us. The most popular theory was that they would just seal up the tunnel with us inside and deny that the Orange line ever existed.


This is our live interview with News 4. When we learned that Metro was lying about us being down here, putting their spin on the incident (calling it an "obstruction" rather than an "equipment malfunction and crazy sparky-flame-smoke") and trying to look better than their actions would paint them, we called news organizations to let them know that we were, in fact, still trapped underground.


When we finally got out of the train, there were almost as many fire fighters, police officers, news crews, and Metro employees as there were train passengers. It took them 2.5 hours to get in line and find flashlights to guide us out, it seemed--we weren't told they were doing anything else.

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Saudi Universities Offer Cash in Exchange for Academic Prestige

Originally posted on Agritate, which is no longer active.

Okay, so, yes, Saudi Arabia has truly been buying prestige in the science academic world. The other side of this story that’s only briefly touched is the whole building a knowledge-based economy thing—they’re trying a ton of different tactics. This is just one weapon in their arsenal, and it seems to be rolling along nicely. The test will come when those researchers have to actually put the work in to train Saudi students in their field of expertise. I expect a bunch of them will probably take the money and flake a little on the follow-through, but I’m sure that’s factored in to the Saudi’s plans.

Full-time professorial direction of world-class scientists would be better, but even a little exposure to the highest caliber of Western scientific research is better than not having any for up-and-coming Saudi scientists.

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Stink Flower Part 2



My Stapelia grandiflora bloomed today! Around 11 AM, I noticed that one petal had popped out of the balloon--while doing something on the other side of the plant shelf a few minutes later, I heard a little *pop* and saw that the entire flower had blossomed.

This excites me greatly. I wonder if I can self-fertilize the bloom? I do so like to start things from seed, not that I expect any children to be very different from their parent.

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Stink Blossom



I have had this Stapelia (either gigantea or grandiflora) since early September and it has been in bud for a few weeks now, and it's looking about ready to burst! It's even made a couple of friends--you can see about three other buds coming along right behind the main one, and there's another starting on some new vegetative growth on the other side of the plant. Although I've had a few buds before, through various complications, I have never had a Stapelia bloom on me. I'm hopeful for this one!

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Kudzu Up The Wazoo

While walking around for a few hours the other week with my horticulturalist friend, we ran across this (open for a larger version):



It's an entire hillside and several trees completely covered by frost-damaged kudzu (Pueraria montana). Of course, kudzu is edible: kudzu jam, kudzu perfume, kudzu syrup, kudzu in salad, kudzu in quiche, stuffed kudzu leaves--I can think of a bajillion different uses! I wouldn't eat it, however. One never knows what's been sprayed when on these invasive plants in public areas. It's really not uncommon to eat it, I don't think--I find a ton of recipes when I search "kudzu recipes" on Google.

The kudzu was everywhere along the embankment at Walter C. Pierce Community Park, which, I have gathered, used to be a more vibrant gathering spot with a community garden and such. I like it now anyhow--I use it often to cut across Rock Creek Park. There's a dog park area, a basketball court, a playground, and a large grassy field, and it's just down the road from the parcours in Woodley Park (an outdoor fitness area that I always think might be fun to use but never get around to actually using). Walter Pierce Park is just south of the National Zoo--if you look behind the trees on the right, you can see a greenhouse structure on what I'm pretty sure is the Zoo's property.

About 15 years ago, an article was published about a group arguing with the Zoo about allowing a historic property to go untended in a successful effort to block the construction of a mulching facility. There's a sentence at the end that the hubbub group turned its attention to battle the Zoo's use of herbicide to fight the kudzu growing at the park--it's unclear whether they won that battle or not, because kudzu is so frakkin' tenacious, the Zoo's use of herbicide may not have had a real impact anyway. Fifteen years later, it seems that the historic building is still standing--as is the kudzu.

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It's Schlumbergera Time

The Schlumbergera NOID (I won't even try to look for an identification, but if anyone here has strong feelings about what it is, I'd be more than happy to know what I'm growing!) I got very early this year for the boy bloomed a lot this fall, although only on one side, it seems (perhaps the side that got the mid-afternoon light while on the front steps throughout the summer?). The blooms are pretty cool--not what I was really expecting, a faint, almost translucent peach colour with the bright pink stigma. And no, despite my efforts, the plant does not seem to take well to self-fertilization, unfortunately!



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A Thoughtful(?) Mother

The last time I was actively looking for a new job, before taking the one in Saudi Arabia, my mother sent me a few clippings of jobs, for example, at the Winchester Star, her local newspaper. Now that I'm back in the states and in the market for employment again, she's started sending clippings again--with little notes of encouragement (or evil-doer monologues revealing in great detail her nefarious plot, complete with maniacal laughter?).



I'd love to be an Arboretum Assistant (and, in fact, there was a similar position listed recently for the National Arboretum here in DC, but I think it became available in that short period between when I had decided to work in Saudi Arabia and when I decided to come back), but sorry, mom, I'm not moving out to the Virginia mountains without the boy! She'll just have to stop inside DC the next time she drives past.

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A Touch Of Pink

I have a bunch of leaf variegation in my plant collection, particularly red and purple, so it's a delight but not terribly surprising when a plant that lost its variegation regains it.

This, however, is something a bit different. Leaves from a Pachyphytum NOID I received as a "welcome back" cutting started rooting, and I was all like "Whoa, dude, you're pink."


The potted cutting and its excess leaves I left on top of the soil to root.


And root they did, but I didn't really expect the whole pink situation! You can even see some little nubbins of what may be growing points around the base of the leaf as well.


I've read around the Internets and seen Pachyphytum with pink roots, as well as mention of the same with Kolanchoe, although I haven't found any sort of even semiauthoritative source that describes the pigmentation and why it's useful for the plant.

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A New Garden Buds

That post title is totally clever. You'll see why.

After returning from Saudi Arabia and having my plants appropriated and destroyed by USDA customs officials after they tracked me down to my new locale, I basically had zero plants. Luckily, there was the Gesneriad Society chapter show and sale, where I got a bunch of cuttings and rooted plants to replenish what I had lost, and a few plant friends shipped, handed, clipped, or otherwise provided plants to me. You know who you are. You know I heart you. I think, however, my beau may try to track you down and murder you in your sleep (a period during which my fluorescent lights come on and wake him up on a fairly regular basis).

Here's a photo of the shelving unit with its new plants, fluorescent bulbs, and slightly new layout.



The shelving unit is in our living room, acting like a wall from the entryway, but it allows me to easily access both sides of the shelving unit to care for all the tiny little plants. I've only killed a few since acquiring them: something labeled "S. conspicua" that I believe could be Saintpaulia inconspicua (although that doesn't matter, 'cause it dead) and an Achimenes that may be going dormant as suggested by my horticulturalist friend who only saw it at the final stages, after the fungal hyphae withered away a little. I think I killed that one all on my own merit, but there's some green something or other--so the rhizome thing may allow me to revive it a little! I'm letting it dry out right now, and we'll see how it goes.

And here are the new buds in the new garden from an old(ish) plant!



I bought this Schlumbergera for $1 at the local Giant grocery store sometime around mid-February (I think I told my beau that it was "a nice Valentine's Day plant he so nicely told me to get for myself after the fact" or something to that effect), when it was out of bud. It's in the same horrid peat potting mix in the same pot I bought it in--because 1) I left it at the boy's, 2) I shortly thereafter started planning a relocation, and 3) I don't really need a third reason.

Anyhow, the boy put the Schlumbergera out on the stoop with his Epiprenmum aureum, Chlorophytum comosum, and my Aechmea fasciata, Alternanthera dentata, and a potted planting of Narcissus that ended up staying with him. Most of the plants thrived--he watered them, it rained, they grew. Although I don't have a photo of the Schlumbergera from the winter, I don't recall it being very large. And it's not very large now, either. I don't think it grew much if it grew at all--except for these buds I just noticed! I don't know what colour they will be, but most little end-of-chain phylloclades have a single bud on them right now. I look forward to seeing them open--and pollinating them! Not that I really need hundreds of little baby Schlumbergera running around terrorizing my Plectranthus collection, but I do like the plant-sex practice.

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Growing Streptocarpus

During the National Capital Area Chapter (NCAC) of The Gesneriad Society's semiannual show and sale two weeks ago, I got the chance to hear Dale Martens talk about taking care of and propagating Streptocarpus. Dale is a gesneriad hybridizer--if you see anything named with "Dale's ..." or "Heartland's ..." or "Texas ...," it might have been hybridized by her!

She was a right raucous woman--I laughed through her Streptocarpus seminar (and not like I laugh when I watch movies like "Machine Girl," but like I laugh when an intelligent, talented person presents something in a unique and engaging way).

I wrote a big long post on Petal Tones, NCAC's blog accompaniment to their monthly-ish newsletter. I'm planning on a couple more posts as well: my experience entering the show for the first time; clerking for the first time (and clerking for judges who were judging one of my own entries); and the other seminar I was able to attend, by Brian Connor on propagating gesneriads).

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New Digs

It has been one month and three days since I returned to the US, and I have only just set up a plant-growing area today. Oddly enough, the way it worked out, there's more space in the living room in the apartment I now share with my beau; I sold the TV last week, so I moved the "TV stand" into the kitchen to store cooking supplies, rearranged the three bicycles in the hallway, and rotated the couch and recliner so now we even have some empty floor space!

But this isn't about furniture placement. It's about plant placement. Unfortunately, where I wanted to put the grow shelf (which would have kept the previous living room arrangement almost undisturbed except for the "TV stand") was in the direct path of the only air-conditioning unit in the apartment. I didn't want all that air blowing directly on my plants. Where they are now isn't exactly far away from the window unit, but they don't get direct drafts that I can feel.

The top-top shelf holds one shop light that will shine on the second shelf, where seed starting will occur; the third shelf is the only one with fluorescent bulbs at the moment, so most of the plants are there, with the humidity grow chamber (a clear plastic storage tub from Target) on the fourth shelf to catch any excess rays; the fifth shelf will hold propagation material (potted-up seedlings, rooting stolons, leaf cuttings, etc.) for sharing, planting, and such. The bottom shelf has a bunch of random supplies: sphagnum, peat, vermiculite, little pots, and the like.

Soon, I'll have all the fixtures full of fluorescent T-12 tubes (on a timer from 7 AM to 7 PM) and the shelves full of fun and funky plants that are completely reasonable to grow in a basement apartment! (I'm trying this new thing whereby I grow plants that do reasonably well in my environment. It's not a new concept to me, but it's amazing how rewarding it is to see a plant thrive instead of just survive!)

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Gesneriads On Broadway

This past weekend was the National Capital Area Chapter of The Gesneriad Society's semiannual show and sale, the theme being "Gesneriads on Broadway." Behnke's, in Beltsville, played the most amazing host for the show (and yeah, they're also a prize sponsor for DC State Fair!).

It was a really great experience for me--I was there most of Saturday and Sunday, volunteering, hanging out, learning about gesneriads, and, of course, buying plants!

I brought three entries to be judged: a monochrome print, a terrarium, and a dish garden. The plant material came from Kyoko's plants at Al's Orchid Greenhouse two weeks before the show (seeing as how I didn't have anything good enough from Saudi Arabia [and the USDA read my blog and confiscated my plants last week, anyway, so it's a good time to have a plant show and sale--I needed to rebuild my collection]), and the photo was of Chirita 'Dreamtime' from earlier this year--grayscaled and cropped. It printed a lot less in focus than the digital version made it seem (I mean, I knew it was out of focus, but the print version was much worse).

I got a "healthy but mislabeled plants and no design concept" for my dish garden, a second-place ribbon for my photo, and a third-place ribbon for my terrarium--as well as People's Choice, which came with a $25 gift certificate to Behnke's! I plan on posting my experiences on Petal Tones, NCAC's blog version of the monthly-ish newsletter I used to co-edit, so I won't go into too much detail about it--but I have a few fun stories to share!

But let's get to the new plants:

  • 6 Saintpaulia:
    • 'Newtown Grape Suzette'
    • (#)'Northern Attitude' leaf
    • 'Mystic Mermaid'
    • Saintpaulia confusa
    • (*)NOID, normal-size rosette, purple flowers with white edging, dark green almost purplish leaves
    • (*)NOID, miniature rosette, purple flowers with white edging, purplish leaves
  • Saintpaulia 'Optimara Little Ottawa'
  • (+)Columnea colombiana
  • 2 Streptocarpus
    • 'Bristol's Moose Stash'
    • 'Christmas Morning'
  • Achimenes 'Tiny Red'
  • Smithicodonia 'Heartland's Joy'
  • (+)Codonatanthus 'Sunset'
  • (+)Nematanthus 'Cheerio'
  • (+)Smithiantha 'Pat's Pet Donkey'
  • 9 Chirita:
    • (#)Small-leafed tight rosette-shaped Chirita from Kyoko (2 different ones)
    • C. angustifolia (+)leaf and (#)plant
    • 'Rachel'
    • 'Gotham'
    • 'Stardust' (+)leaf sections (2) and (#)leaves (4)
    • C. sinensis
  • (#)Hoya curtisii
  • Sinningia defoliata
  • (#)Umm... A vine of some sort. From one of the artistic displays. I need to ask Jim what it is.
  • (#)A plant that looks like Ledebouria socialis but almost certainly isn't.
  • (*)Mimosa pudica
  • (*)Coprosma
  • (*)Aeonium tabuliforme (Really doesn't look like tabuliforme, but that's what the label most likely meant to say. Definitely Aeoniumish; I don't necessarily care about the species yet.)
  • (*)Basil
  • (*)Lavender
  • (*)Rosemary
  • (*)Scilla siberica (15 bulbs)
  • (*)Plectranthus glabratus
  • (*)Mum (Behnke's had a sale: spend $25, get a free mum. Mine didn't fit in Kyoko's car [what with her two free mums!], so I gave it to Barbara, who had given me the 4 Chirita 'Stardust' leaves earlier)
Key:
(*) Bought from Behnke's using gift card/coupon/and a little bit of money
(+) Received during propagation workshop
(#) Received through various means (people sharing or just walking around asking "Does anyone want this long-ass-Latin-name?" during clean-up)

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Going To See A Show

I'm using Blogger's new iPhone app while on the train to hit the National Capital Area Chapter of The Gesneriad Society's semiannual show and sale that starts today. I entered a photo, a dish garden, and a terrarium (actually it is a glass butter dish! I was going for the "Gosh, that's cute" reaction).

I am volunteering as well--as a clerk (I will write judges' comments on the forms) and at the sales tables.

I'm looking forward to an awesome show!

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Canning Like Whoa

I recently started canning. It was something I always intended but never got around to. My relocation to DC and complete lack of employment has given me the chance to finally try my hand at it.



Over the past five days, I have canned (in no particular order):

Canned productEstimated value
Peaches in syrup, 12 pints$1.76 per = $21.12
Apple butter, 2 pints$1.25 per = $2.50
Apple jelly, 2.5 pints$5.12 per = $12.80
Superspicetastic habanero jelly, 2.5 pints$4.67 per = $11.68
Superspicetastic habanero jam, 0.5 pints (the leftover after straining the juice for the jelly)$4.67 per = $2.33
Peach marmalade, 2.5 pints$4.96 per = $12.40
Boozy blackberry jam, 3.5 pints$4.16 per = $14.56
Pear-ginger-lime marmalade, 2.5 pints$4.96 per = $12.40
Roasted apple-rhubarb puree, 4 pints$1.28 per = $5.12
Pear compote, 2.5 pints$4.96 per = $12.40
Roasted pear-parsnip puree, 3.5 pints$1.28 per = $4.48
Hot salsa, 3.5 pints$1.99 per = $6.97
Dried Asian pear chunks, 3 cups$2.33 per cup = $6.99
"Sun dried" tomatoes, 2 cups$3.99 per cup = $7.98
Total generic value of canned products: $133.73


The estimates of most of the products come from average price per ounce from Giant grocery store's Peapod service. Prices of products from other websites are linked--pear compote and habanero jam are just kind of winged. Which pretty much means the funky-freshness and organicality of my products aren't reflected in the prices. I'd probably add a couple of bucks on top of most items, ratcheting up the market value of these products to about $160 or so, I'd wager--farmers' market value would be even higher, likely around $200.

That's not a terrible price. And I had a bunch of apples and pears that weren't used in these products.

Now let's check out the expenses:
Total cost for canned products: $229

Not included in the expense report are spices (that were already available or used in cent-quantities) and the hour value of my work (about 22 hours over 4 days could add up to several hundred or several thousand dollars, depending on how much I think my time is worth). Certain items, such as the jars and water bath canning kit, will not have to be repurchased, so future expenses will not include them. Taking those out, the total is about $169 for the stuff I made. Which, I guess if you factor in the organicosity and supercoolness of the recipes, it's totally worth it to me. As long as I can buy in bulk for cheaper produce (I really took a hit on those "on sale" blackberries from the supermarket), I'd say this is a pretty good use of my money.

Now I just need to figure out what the heck to do with all of these goodies!

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Boo On Spider Mites

Originally posted on Agritate, which is no longer active.

Another gem from Denim and Tweed today: “Making themselves at home: Spider mites disable plant defenses, then spin their own.” That might offer a clue to why it’s so hard to get rid of spider mite infestations once you’ve got ‘em—the first round might prep your plants to make it easier for the second wave (or rather, more difficult to fend off the second wave). Plants and insects have such complicated relationships…

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A Rose By Any Other Name

Originally posted on Agritate, which is no longer active.

I was discussing the value of botanical taxonomic accuracy with my beau the other day. Apparently, taxonomy is a hot topic this week—I just stumbled across a post about taxonomy as a field through a recent Denim and Tweed post. The post brings up good points about the paper it mentions (the lack of analysis of overall biological field growth being chief among them), although it doesn’t get into the discussion about the inherent value of taxonomic reassignments, which was the topic of my exchange.

Why keep moving plants around the hierarchy? Why give them such funky names?

Well, say that one plant species is plodding along happily in its genus for decades. Suddenly, the Taxonomists of Doom reassign it to a different genus on the basis of new (likely genetic) data. The new genus was previously thought to have been reproductively incompatible with the old genus, so no one tried to hybridize this plant with members of its new genus. But this reassignment offers new opportunity for hybridizing and introducing potentially competitive traits into, say, agricultural or commercially important landscaping plants that wouldn’t have otherwise been considered.

That is a hypothetical, though not improbable, scenario. But consider also reassignment of plants into genuses that are known for their pharmaceutical benefit—screening every single species of every genus is an extremely tall order. If a plant, on the basis of new genetic information, were reassigned to a genus that is more commonly associated with producing compounds with commercial or medical application, why, that plant might offer new opportunities for drugs or other beneficial products.

The crazy Latin and ancient Greek naming system might not make sense to my beau, who would prefer that the species be numbered like the Borg do, but these names also tell us something about the plants—their physical characteristics, where they were first discovered, the environment they grow in, or other plants they may be associated with—without ever even having to see the plant.

Perhaps because I’ve spent time around plants and biological research, the descriptive hierarchical naming system does make sense to me. And, as a gardener, I do get irked when I discover a plant I have been calling one name had actually been reassigned years ago. But the irksomeness doesn’t come from the shifting nature of plants’ names but rather more from myself not confirming the name’s accuracy. I have started to use The Plant List, which has popped up a lot on botanical blogs I follow, to confirm (or at least check the spelling of) plant names when I purchase a new plant or stash of seeds. It is nice to have at least some sort of reference, if plant name accuracy is important to you. It does, sometimes, seem to lack certain plants—but then, some of the ones I grow are hard enough to find even on Google!

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More Gas, Less Drag

Originally posted on Agritate, which is no longer active.

I don’t usually get superexcited about physics. There are plenty of topics in the more cranial sciences that make my eyes spin around in their sockets. But when you drop superheated metal spheres into vats of liquid and race them, anyone can get stoked about the topic—especially when you can correlate the balls’ movement with that of stealthy submarines or speedster race cars.

Last month, I had the chance to interview Ivan Vakarelski of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology about his team’s well-featured research that had been published in Physical Review Letters.

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Success

Originally posted on The Expat Garden(er)

It has been a few days since I landed back in Washington, DC. My smuggling attempt was successful--all of the plants, cuttings, and seeds I brought made it through just fine. Now I just have to see whether they'll root. Some don't look quite happy, especially Radrumnia x Tolumnia 'Charlie' and my Dendrobium loddigesii.

This blog will be nixed as I switch back over to The Indoor Garden(er) in the coming weeks. I'll be importing these posts to that blog and probably reformatting it to look and feel more like this one.

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Natural products in Burkina Faso

Originally posted on Agritate, which is no longer active.

For my first Tumblr post, I’m totally self-promoting my own writing: the last article I wrote for Chemical & Engineering News about the life and research of Mouhoussine Nacro, a natural products chemist in Burkina Faso studying nutrition and natural dye processing techniques.

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Repatriation

Originally posted on The Expat Garden(er)

So. It has come to this: I am returning home. Much sooner than I had anticipated. But a long-distance relationship is terribly difficult, and it is more important to me than any professional opportunity could be.

Thus, my plants are caught in a sticky situation.

Try getting a phytosanitary certificate from the Saudi Ministry of Agriculture at all, let alone during Ramadan. Not going to happen. So I am going to attempt a sneak.

These two baggies contain about 35 plants--can you believe it? Bulbs, leaf cuttings, bareroot plants--the works. I also have most of the few dozen seed packets I recently purchased (some of the ones I sowed had too few seeds to really split them up, but I can get more if I'd like).

Let's hope customs doesn't ask questions...

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Pretty Plants: Adenium sp.

Originally posted on The Expat Garden(er)


Unknown Adendium sp. in the landscaping near my apartment at KAUST.


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Announcing A New Blog

Originally posted on The Expat Garden(er)

In my previous life, I occasionally shared posts that were unrelated to plants. They were about volunteer events (often related to plants, or at least sustainability, which sometimes go hand in hand), travel (sometimes related to plants), food (almost always had plants in it somewhere), and my weight-loss journey and physical activities (completely unrelated to plants).

I am making a greater distinction about the content included on this blog, however. And so soon, I'm breaking away from that. But just this once. I wanted to share my new venture: my exercise log, Bagging The Baggage.

In the tumult in the past year, I reached my goal weight on Weight Watchers, then proceeded to balloon out and gain 20 pounds back while preparing for the move to and actually living in Saudi Arabia. It has been an incredible struggle to get back down to 200 pounds, and I haven't been able to stay under it (except when I had Doha-belly and could barely eat for a week), let alone reach my goal of 185 pounds again. The emotional stresses and lack of a community of support surrounding healthy eating and physical activity make it difficult for me to maintain the physique I had achieved just this past March. Then, I had a personal trainer once a week, semiregular Weight Watchers meetings, parkour bootcamps three times a week, and a whole heck of a lot of friends and acquaintances with various health- and activity-related goings-on that encouraged me to be conscious of my choices. Here, I haven't built such a structure of people in my life, and I find it difficult to maintain what I once did on a regular basis.

To encourage myself to formulate some sort of routine, I will keep a log on Bagging The Baggage of any physical activity that is more than a usual commute--gym, classes, group bicycle rides, and the like. I also plan on doing exercise videos, logs of the machines and equipment I use, and showcasing areas that I may do other exercises (for example: parkour). Hopefully, this will help keep me more accountable than just to myself--because I know that doesn't work for me.

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Seed Crazy

Originally posted on The Expat Garden(er)

I came to Saudi Arabia with a few dozen plants, but I left behind more than 100 others. I'm used to having groups of different plants with various care requirements and forms, not just a few scattered plants. I have had very little problem bringing any type of plant material into Saudi Arabia via airplane, but what about through mail order? I don't think I want a live plant waiting around for inspection, so I tested out an eBay seed order. Then made a few more orders. Part of being a plant addict.

Most of the seeds I ordered are succulent-types that I think will do well here, inside or out: Stapelia, Agave, Aloe, Duvalia, and the like. Others are just for fun.

Actinidia deliciosa

Agave filifera

Agave schidigera 'Durango Delight'

Agave stricta var. rubra

Agave victoriae-reginae

Agave mix

Aloe fosteri

Aloe vaombe

Anigozanthos manglesii

Aristolochia pilosa

Aristolochia ringens

Caralluma retrospiciens

Cereus forbesii var. spiralis

Clematis hirsutissima

Cordyline australis

Dianthus barbatus 'Sooty'

Dicentra eximia

Dinteranthus vanzijlii

Dioscorea elephantipes

Drosera mix (possibly but almost certainly not including all of the following: D. aliciae, D. anglica, D. auriculata, D. binata, D. brevifolia, D. burkeana, D. burmanni, D. capensis, D. capillaris, D. coaicaulis, D. collinsiae, D. curvispata, D. deilsiana, D. filiformis, D. formosa, D. intermedia, D. natalensis, D. nidiformis, D. rotundifolia, and D. villosa [I was not about to convincingly verify the validity of some of these species names {coaicaulis, curvispata, and formosa}])

Duvalia 'Woodbridge' (I cannot confirm this name.)

Dyckia fosteriana

Dyckia marnier-lapostollei (I apparently ordered this in duplicate, from different sources. Clearly I want this one bad!)

Dyckia mix

Echeveria agavoides

Edithcolea grandis

Gibbaeum mix (possibly but not necessarily including G. album, G. comptonii, G. dispar, G. haaglenii, G. heathii, G. nuciforme, G. pubescens subsp. shandii, and G. velutinum)

Hechtia sp. 'Tehuacan' (a best guess at presentation--seed originally acquired in Tehuacan, species unknown)

Hechtia texensis

Hechtia mix (possibly but almost certainly not including all of the following: H. argentea, Hechtia sp. 'Colima,' Hechtia sp. 'El Mate,' Hechtia sp. 'Cuernavaca,' Hechtia sp. 'Miahuatlan,' Hechtia sp. 'Nizanda,' Hechtia 'Nova Oaxaca,' Hechtia sp. 'Pena Blanco,' Hechtia sp. 'Perote,' Hechtia 'Rio Zapotitlan,' Hechtia sp. 'Tehuacan,' and H. texensis [I'm not sure how to confirm these any better than with the collection site names])

Houttuynia cordata

Huernia leachii x Huernia keniensis

Huernia hystrix

Juncus filiformis

Laurus nobilis

Leuchtenbergia principis

Lycium chinense

Manfreda maculosa

Musa sikkimensis 'Manipur'

Musa sikkimensis 'Red Flash'

Ocimum basilicum 'Mrs. Burns Lemon Basil'

Passiflora edulis

Phormium tenax variegated

Phormium mix (possibly but not necessarily including P. colensoi and P. tenax)

Pittosporum tenuifolium

Mini Sinningia (unknown parentage)

Stapelia gettleffi (According to The Plant List, Stapelia gettleffii is just a synonym of Gonostemon gettleffii. But tell the rest of the world that, eh?)

Stapelia mix

Strelitzia nicolai

Viola sororia 'Freckles'



Extra seed packets in packages:

Agave colorata

Agave guiengola

Ariocarpus fissuratus (Extra information on this seed packet was provided as "var. gracilis TERLINGUA." I can't confirm the variety, but Terlingua is the town in Texas that this was probably collected from.)

Hechtia sp. 'Miahuatlan'

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Standards

Originally posted on The Expat Garden(er)

Standards are different here in the Kingdom. Tiny, bulbous, shiny black insects can burrow and tunnel in your huge glass jar of chili powder; little beetley insects can camp out in unopened plastic bags of pasta from the supermarket; and plant labels can have obviously incorrect names on them.

Not that that's any different from the states, however. Exotic Angel, anyone?

But seriously, this Aloe variegata, which I purchased at Tamimi supermarket on campus for 20 riyal to remind me the one (lovingly purchased for me in New York City) I killed, is labeled as Mammillaria spinosissima, which is a cactus. I wanted to chalk it up to just being put in the incorrect pot--there are cacti available for sale right next to the mislabeld Aloe, after all. But another was labeled as Cupressus (you know, cypress!) and had a flower glued onto it. I don't necessarily expect the imported workers to know what label they're sticking on a plant or why the heck it's wrong to glue a fake flower that looks nothing like an Aloe flower (or Cupressus flower, for that matter), but someone in the operation probably should. Then again, saying that, it seems like I assume I have some sort of high ground to stand on, but the same ignorant, shady stuff happens back home, too.



It's much more common, and for some reason less offensive, to me that these fake flowers are glued to various prickly cacti. It may be because I usually don't have an inclination to buy these, anyhow. With my care habits, I usually end up rotting these babies out in weeks.

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New Growth

Originally posted on The Expat Garden(er)

Many of my plants are, well, doing things. For example, the Hoya pubicalyx has been sending up new shoots and leaves since I potted it two months ago, calamity notwithstanding. But some plants I could only hope not to kill, whether I moved them internationally or not. So when they are showing signs of growth and happiness, it makes me squeal with joy.



Of particular note is my orchid Radrumnia x Tolumnia 'Charlie.' Its real name and parentage is much longer and complicated, but I named him 'Charlie' just to simplify things for me and everyone else. I purchased 'Charlie' at Al's Orchid Greenhouse back in January. It was potted in hydroton and was in bloom then--beautiful purple flowers with white markings. There were also many more leaves. I put it in hydroton when I got it here, too, but it has been losing leaves left and right. This is the first indication of new growth since I brought it to Saudi Arabia, so I'm quite happy!




The Streptocarpus genus and I have a rocky history. Mostly, I keep them alive long enough to get cocky and then kill them after assuming they'll do well in my standard care routine of overwatering. S. 'Crystal Ice' has survived more than any other Streptocarpus I've had the sadistic pleasure of growing, and it's rewarding me with new leaves! Originally, this plant was one crown, I think. The few months I had it in Washington, DC, it was sealed in a large food-service catering tray with a clear plastic lid, so I barely had to water it--it stayed the perfect level of moist without being wet. It grew new leaves and seemed happy. When I unrooted it to travel here, it split apart into two plantlets. Now, those plantlets are growing new leaves. They aren't under a humidity-retaining dome, but the crowns seem healthy, and new leaves equal happy plants, right? Perhaps, perhaps they'll flower? I have not had gesneriads flower for me other than various Sinningia, Saintpaulia, Episcia 'Coco,' Nautilocalyx pemphidus, and the occasional Chirita (now probably in various other genuses). That may seem like a long list, until you figure out how many gesneriads I've tried my hand at through the years. Through various mishaps, I have killed probably three times as many as I've been able to flower successfully. Hopefully, the ones that were able to survive are still doing so in the care of those I left them with.

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Taking Tomatoes

Originally posted on The Expat Garden(er)

Last Thursday, a neighbour posted on the community group list offering large tomato plants, as he and his wife will be leaving campus soon. I jumped on the offer immediately and acquired this nice-looking tomato plant. It might be a roma-type. It might not. In a few weeks, after it flowers and fruits, I'll know for sure! I'm excited about this--I have tomato seedlings on the way, but it's nice to have something more established!

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Sights At The Shop

Originally posted on The Expat Garden(er)

These beautiful plants were for sale at a shop in San Francisco. I remember the shop was in/near The Haight, but I don't remember the name or what street it was on. It had cool knickknacks and jewelry, as well as a bunch of really well-cared-for plants that I always thought were difficult, particularly indoors. There was a very nice metal-framed glass terrarium, as well. I think if I lived in San Francisco, this shop would be a nice special treat to go to and purchase a plant or fancy gardening accessory. Good thing I live on the other side of the world!


This small Clematis was in a pot underneath a table. I can't imagine it spends all of its time there--it's blooming like crazy!



I ran into a whole lot of Fuchsia while in San Francisco. It seems the climate there is pretty amenable to its growth. All were in bloom, and this one seemed quite happy inside the shop.



I was pretty much warned away from Masdevallia at Al's Orchid Greenhouse once--instead, I ended up getting a variegated Dendrobium loddigesii and a Sarcoglottis sceptrodes, among other plants and cuttings at various points. It may have been that particular species available at Al's that was more tricky (rotting out in a few years despite good care--something about temperature issues, I believe), but this one in San Francisco seems to be doing quite well.


I spoke with the shop owner--she says she takes care of all of the plants in the store. I only took photos of these three plants, but there were perhaps 30 or so individual species (mostly single representation, not many duplicate plants), and all looked exceedingly healthy. Most were blooming. Whoever this woman is, she sure knows how to take care of her plants!

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Seeds A-Growin'

Originally posted on The Expat Garden(er)

About two weeks ago, I plants a few pots of seeds. The seeds I picked up from roadside trees, bushes, and other plants in California haven't sprouted yet. They ended up in a plastic baggie with apparently a moist paper towel and got a little fungusy. This happened after I got back to Saudi Arabia, however--I'm not sure why I did that, but I hope some of them will germinate. The other seeds were ones I collected here on campus through various means.

For example, the Adenium seed pod I tweeted about the day before leaving for a conference in Qatar. I seem to have hundreds of the fluffy seeds, but I stuck only three in some soil mix two weeks ago, and this is what they looked like yesterday (bottom left in the photo). They germinated in about a week, and they're already growing leaves! Above them are swiss chard seedlings from a seed packet I bought at the Tamimi supermarket; to the Adenium's right, there are black cherry tomato seedlings from the seed I saved weeks and weeks ago; to the top right, there are seedlings from seeds I saved from these tiny tiny tiny tomatoes, also given to me along with the black cherry tomatoes on my first weekend on campus. A few days ago, I also planted some chayote seeds and a ripe date palm fruit, which are all over campus.

I discovered chayote through a recipe post on Plant Zone, and I was delighted to find the vegetable in the grocery store here! If I can grow a vine, I'll be quite happy, because these veggies are much more expensive here than they are in North America--40 riyal per kilogram (about $5 per pound), so I paid about $10 for three of the buggers, which only made one batch of stew. It tastes like beef stew, which is a magical feat, because there are no animal products in the recipe I made (I only generally followed the one I linked to, as is a common happening in my kitchen).

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Settling In

Originally posted on The Expat Garden(er)

After a calamitous plant disaster and some trial-and-error figuring out which plants might succeed out-of-doors, I think my plants are organized as appropriately as I can make them and settling in a little bit. Only a few were lost during the tragedy during the move, luckily, and most plants are now getting over the trauma and moving on.



Outdoors, I have my two Pandanus; the grey-variegated Yucca guatemalensis; the majority of my Plectranthus amboinicus; the Philodendron bipinnatifidum; the green bell pepper seedlings; Cryptanthus; cuttings of Carpobrotus chilensis I "acquired" from a beach in Ventura, California, last month; and various Sanseveria, Haworthia attenuata, Aloe 'Dorian's Black,' and Agave desmettiana planted together in two pots.

Most plants should probably be watered every day or two in this environment. There's some nice breeze to help keep them free of mildew and such, but the environment is very dry. The porch faces east, so the sun only shines on them for a few hours in the morning, but even so, some of the plants are showing signs of either heat or sun damage. I need to be a bit more careful about watering these plants more regularly (it wasn't a problem back in DC, but then, the plants were right next to my bed and much more visible). I used bottled Aquafina to water all of my plants--it's 40 cents (1.50 riyal) for a 1.5 liter bottle, so it adds up, but I don't want to test the desalinated water on my plants, no matter how hardy some of them may be.




Everything else is a few feet behind the outdoor plants, on my shelving unit that I had shipped over from DC. Yes, it only cost $100--but there was a shipment allowance, and as long as I didn't have to pay to have this shipped over, then why not bring it with me? I brought two smaller units as well, but they are in use in the kitchen, which has such shallow cabinets that they can't even fit a plate. So those are holding bulk items (spices, pasta, and other bits in glass jars; pots, pans, baking dishes; and the like).

But this shelving unit is devoted to plants. I don't have fluorescent tubes for my shop lights, so the plants only get what sun comes in through the 20-foot-tall window. You can see the Amorphophallus are doing quite well. The large corm, which I had to cut down to bring here, is maybe dormant already, but the two smaller ones are healthy and soaking up rays. The mixed succulents pot (with Stapelia gigantea, various Haworthia, a Gasteria from my horticulturalist friend at the National Arboretum, and my Cryptanthus 'Volcano') was previously outside, but it came in because I think the environment was too intense for the Haworthia.

On the right of the middle shelf, there are some white pots with seedlings in them. Those babies will be an update for later!


I have many more-focused updates in the works. I have been negligent of The Expat Garden(er), really. I still have photos from California and Doha, Qatar, for The Tourist and Plant Photography posts, as well as more Garden Reports, New Acquisitions, and a few Local Plant Profiles in the works. Those last ones may take more time than I had hoped, but hopefully they'll be interesting and informative.

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Variegated Pandanus

Originally posted on The Expat Garden(er)

In my catastrophe post, I briefly introduced one of my new plants: the variegated Pandanus. Pandanus is one of those plants that I have a fondness for for many kind of backward reasons. First, the plant was introduced to me through Mr. Subjunctive on Plants Are The Strangest People. Besides the humour and excellent writing style, Mr. Subjunctive is also very informative and a great reference when trying to figure out how to take care of the latest batch of impulse buys at the local nursery or garden centre. Second, my fondness for Pandanus is for its utility and misanthropy--some species are edible, but many have spines on the leaf edges and midrib. And the things can get huge, pretty fast, too. All of these things were pluses for me--I like a plant that's dangerous, useful, fast-growing, and huge. Pandanus certainly fits that bill!

So I bought one from eBay back in January 2010, because I couldn't find one locally and the man from Hawaii offered the cheapest one I found online. When I got it, I excitedly unwrapped it from its packaging, and daintily planted the small pup in its own pot with a mix of soil that was free-draining but also water-retaining. What I've learned about it since then is that it could probably have withstood a lot less awesome soil and a lot less pampering--Pandanus is one tough cookie!

So when I came upon a group of small, variegated plants with little teeth on the leaf margins and along the midrib at the campus landscapery/greenhouse, I wondered what they were. I asked the nice man who tends the plants in the greenhouse, and he said "Pandan." I swooped down, grabbed the pot of variegated Pandanus, and said "Done. It's mine." For 10 riyal! That's $2.67 US. There are many other plants I'd love to give a home to from that greenhouse.



Here is my new variegated Pandanus with the nonvariegated P. veitchii that I've had for at least a year and a half. P. veitchii would have looked better had I not chopped off half of his lower leaves and completely unrooted him for travel to Saudi Arabia, but he's doing quite well now in his new home. This photo was taken a few weeks ago, actually--P. veitchii's leaves have mostly unkinked themselves, straightening out from when I folded them to fit them into the duffel bag for the airplane.




Here's the variegated Pandanus's leaf spines. They don't look that large, but rub a piece of finger, arm, or leg up against this, and it hurts like heck!


I won't be trying these in any edible concoctions, because I'm not sure whether they are actually the edible varieties. But it's good to know I have a plant that's a potential weapon, a potential food source, and a pretty vigorous grower. It's also a bonus that these plants grow well here--I've seen lime-green-coloured Pandanus in planters around the university, as well as these variegated ones in the greenhouse. I like to believe it's a positive sign of environmental compatibility when I see plants available for sale and installed in landscapes in an area.

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Pretty Plants: Aquilegia

Originally posted on The Expat Garden(er)

An Aquilegia blossom from San Francisco Botanical Garden in early June. I love these babies!

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Japanese Tea Garden

Originally posted on The Expat Garden(er)

The Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco, just near the San Francisco Botanical Garden, is a tiny but jam-packed with garden areas, walkways, and fun buildings. I enjoyed the waterfall, as well as the zen garden. I didn't know until I read the plaque (which I only read because someone was having wedding photos done and we stopped to watch for a minute) that zen gardens are actually meant to resemble landscapes. Rocks of various sizes signify islands, mountains, or other terrain, and the sand and small pebbles represent waves in the water. So the patterns raked into the garden is supposed to represent the flow of the ocean and such.

Now, I'm in Doha, Qatar, for the World Conference of Science Journalists. That will be excitement! My plants back in the new housing are doing fine. Not many kicked the bucket, but some of them may just have a lingering death. We will see.

I received my personal effects shipment last week, so my life has been in an upheaval getting all of that sorted through. It's amazing what I decided I thought I would need here in the Kingdom. It's also amazing what the packers thought I wanted to bring--I ended up with a heavily protected empty glass jar of instant coffee, somehow. It almost beats the steel wool (which I'm certain I never purchased--I buy the blue Brillo pads) that I found in my underwear upon my arrival in the country.

I have a few Recipe, Plant Profiles, New Acquisitions, and Garden Report posts planned (including a few Plant Deaths, I'm afraid). Keep an eye out for them in the coming days!

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On The Move

Originally posted on The Expat Garden(er)

I was in California for the first two weeks of June (I know, I've only been in Saudi Arabia for a few weeks, but that trip was pre-planned and part of the hiring agreement). I was able to obtain some perlite, vermiculite, long-fiber sphagnum, and some milled peat for my plants. They'll like the mixes I make much better than the dense, water-retaining potting soil, which is all that's available here. I also, somehow, ended up with a few cuttings from various campsites in California. Most of them are currently in a broken tupperware dish with moist vermiculite--some will die, but I hope most will root!

I'll share my new plants later. This post is more about transition. It has been rough for me and my plants to have lived in the temporary sharing unit on campus. I mean, it is a nice house, but I had roommates and wasn't really able to put the plants in a prime location. Then, they had to withstand my absense--and they actually look as if they're doing much better without me, thanks to one of those nice roommates who was willing to water them once while I was away.



Except for the basil, it seems, which is the only plant showing spider mite damage. The Sinningia leucotricha is quite visibly larger; the Plectranthus amboinicus I got in trade from Mr. Subjunctive almost a year ago is doing swell, considering that they were small, unrooted cuttings just a few weeks ago; and the nubbin of my Philodendron bipinnatifidum is actually growing a leaf! The pepper seedlings are coming along, the Hippeastrum seedling bulbs are growing new leaves (after mealy bugs a few weeks after the seeds germinated, I went from about 35 seedlings to 20, and through the move, I went down to four, two of which are showing signs of life already. I call that success! Now to wait a few years and see what colour flowers I'll get.), the Amorphophallus rivieri corm (I remember debating the name of A. konjac and A. rivieri when I got my first corm via eBay, and I decided on A. konjac at the time. I think they're synonymous, but I'm keeping this one as A. rivieri so I can distinguish its origins from the two other corms I have.) I got at the last Gesneriad Society chapter meeting I attended is sending up a leaf, and everything on the other side of the nightstand (Chirita 'Dreamtime,' various Cryptanthus, Streptocarpus 'Crystal Ice,' and most of my miniature gesneriads and other terrarium plants) is looking pretty good, too (except for the Montanthes subcrassicaulis, I'm sad to report).




Other plants are doing pretty well, too! The two Pandanus (my old one and the new variegated, tooth-leafed one); my succulents and Hoya; the Episcia 'Coco,' my first gesneriad; and the special grey-variegated Yucca guatemalensis, another treasured trade plant from Mr. Subjunctive.


These photos were taken and tweeted early in the morning on 14 June, the day I arrived back to Saudi Arabia. I went to the office and left early because I was exhausted and had an apartment to move into. Temporary housing, still, but at least it's my own, not shared housing! I packed everything up, and after some complicated conversations with facilities about getting a car to move my three boxes and couple of bags, I hired a cab to move in. The box with plants ended up getting wet, so the bottom started falling out. I didn't have packing tape to seal the bottoms of the boxes, so two glass kitchen jars (some of which I'll use to make real terraria) fell out of one of the boxes. Fortunately, my coworker/new neighbour was wandering by and helped me clean up. I was starting to get frazzled, but I didn't want the same thing to happen to my plants, so I decided to take another box up to the apartment, empty it, and fold it into a tray to carry the plants on. I folded the old plant box to reinforce the bottom of the kitchen box, too.

This plant tray worked just fine until I got to my apartment, opened the door with my butt, and three days without sleep preceded by an entire week of poor sleep and physical activity caught up with me. My arms literally collapsed under the continued effort of holding up

the not-inconsiderable weight of the majority of my surviving plant collection for several minutes. My plants were strewn about the hallway like a prostitute's clothing at 3 AM, little balls of hydroton rolling away from the wreckage as if trying to escape the fate suffered by my babies.

I stood there for a few seconds. I debated having a breakdown. I wanted to just throw myself on the ground in the dirt and plant parts and throw a tantrum. But, still kind of in shock and trying to deny what had happened after all the effort I went to to keep these plants alive and get them into this country with me, I went about cleaning up the mess, trying to save plants that could be saved. I didn't have time to repot them that night, so I made sure that ones that needed to be moist would be fine for a day or two, and the others were kind of left in piles or stuck unceremoniously on top of pots inside my apartment, just so I could get the hallway cleaned up and finish moving my possessions in. It took about an hour to clean, and dirt that I can't get off is still smudged up against the wall. Learning the lesson, I took two breaks while bringing up the box with the glass jars.

Another coworker tried to put a good spin on the event when I shared my tragedy: "It was an earthquake test! You're teaching your plants an important lesson--nature is chaos." That is so very true. But in the future, I am going to try to avoid introducing excess turbulence into an already troubled system!

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Starting Seeds Already

Originally posted on The Expat Garden(er)

A gardener who has found potting soil and pots available does not stop himself from purchasing the seed from the rack at the supermarket, despite the fact that the gardener has neither an idea how to garden in his new climate nor does the gardener have a permanent housing arrangement. Because a gardener has no self control.



The same couple who graciously shared their delicious organic cherry tomatoes (they didn't grow them [yet] but purchased them in a specialty shop in Jeddah) also shared a basil plant that had been grown as part of an Earth Day fundraiser. They had a few dozen left, so I didn't feel bad taking a small pot. It needs a heck of a lot more light, but it'll do here for the moment.



I'm assuming the seeds came from these packets, which are available at the superstore on campus, but I didn't ask about the seed supply. It looks like normal Italian basil, anyway, so I'm sure it's a good general-purpose herb.



These seeds (and more) were also available at the supermarket. I figured a Solanaceae plant would have the best chance of surviving and thriving in this oppressive heat, so I bought these green bell peppers and stuck them in some dirt in a small pot.



About a week later, these popped up! They're doing well (this photo is a few days old by now), and I might thin them in a few weeks. They'll start going outside in the morning as I get ready for work, then in the evening after I get home, then overnight, then all day! It might be a shock to go from dry, constantly air-conditioned bedroom with low light to humid, hot, intense sunlight on a balcony!

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Temporary Housing

Originally posted on The Expat Garden(er)

Just like myself, a lot of my plants have had to withstand a transitional dwelling, with no indication of when they'll receive their permanent home. I didn't want my unrooted cuttings, leaves, or bareroot plants to die before I got out of the shared townhouse and into my permanent house--that might be months, if I'm lucky, although I'm repeatedly told "Oh, in just a few weeks, it'll only be two or three more weeks." I won't get my shipment with my grow lights, shelving units, and pots (along with other important things, such as cooking supplies and appliances) until I get into my permanent dwelling, so I didn't want to chance losing plants by waiting around.

Until I can get something more sophisticated set up in this transitionary place, a lot of my cuttings are in water bottles that I cut the top off of, filled with hydroton and potting soil, and then replaced the top snuggly to create cheap mini greenhouses.

Step 1:



Drink the water out of your 1.5 liter Aquafina water bottle with Arabic and English label. (I guess your label could have any language you want on it, because it really doesn't matter--see Step 2.)


Step 2:



Remove Arabic and English Aquafina label. Cut top of bottle off.


Step 3 and 4:



I didn't take a photo of Step 3 (because I created this mini how-to after-the-fact), but it involves placing moist hydroton (because that's all you have, remember--there's nothing else available) in a layer on the bottom of the bottle followed by a thin (about an inch or two) layer of moist unknown-quality potting soil on top of that.

Step 4 is put the plants in and replace the lid snugly around the top of the bottle's base!


See how easy it is to make a home-made, free, environmentally friendly terrarium for temporary housing of humidity-loving cuttings, leaves, and other plant vegetative propagatory bits? If you're living in a place where other supplies are available, the bottom can still be a single or double layer of hydroton, topped with perlite, topped with a moist mixture of whatever potting medium you'd grow the plant in (I like to use milled peat amended with perlite, a little vermiculite, and possibly a tiny tiny tiny bit of worm castings). Usually, this is maybe, say, 1/6 or 1/5 the height of the container, depending, but I've mostly used containers no larger than about 1 gallon.

The Raphidophora celatocaulis is really happy with this situation, as are my mini Philodendron, Nautilocalyx pemphidus, Saintpaulia 'Tiny Wood Trail,' and basically anything else that was small enough to shove together in a cut up bottle. A lot of the plants I brought with me are in two categories: succulent, or humidity-loving and easy to propagate. The second group are the ones that did well in plastic baggies with a bit of moist paper towel, so they're the ones loving the ghetto terraria. I had my Columnea schiedeana in a semihydroponic living situation with Episcia 'Coco,' but I think he prefers the more humid terrarium environment, so I stuck him in the bottle with the Saintpaulia, mini Philodendron, and the N. pemphidus. The Episcia 'Coco,' Paphiopedilum, and Dendrobium loddigesii in the semihydroponic setup get wet once or twice each day in a pot that has a reservoir in the bottom. The room I live in is always exceedingly dry because of the air conditioning, so I really don't think that's overwatering for these particular plants. I have a Rodrumnia x Tolumnia 'Charlie' (that's my name for him, because his real name is just horridly long and confusing to me) in pure hydroton, too--which is what I had originally purchased him in, so I figure he's well-adapted to it.

Almost every other plant is sharing space, too, but in either pure potting soil or various mixtures of potting soil and hydroton. For example, my Streptocarpus 'Crystal Ice' is in hydroton mixed with a bit of soil, but the Chirita 'Dreamtime,' Philodendron bipinnatifidum, and Pandanus veitchii are in pure potting soil. Some of those in pure potting soil are because I didn't find hydroton until after my first week here, but maybe they will be okay with the situation. At least, until I return from my travels with some fancy supplies that I took for granted in my previous life.

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A Swift Kick In The Gut

Originally posted on The Expat Garden(er)

I started with the plant outlet in the superstore on campus; I traveled beyond to the campus landscaping greenhouse; I Googled for resources and braved the big city on the weeekend. And I suffered the most tragic challenge to life here.

I cannot find vermiculite, perlite, or sphagnum in Saudi Arabia.

In fact, I was told by a large garden centre manager that although at one point people used to import these supplies, they are expensive to get into the country and no one really bought them, so they don't import them anymore. I have a lot of plants that require good, fast-draining, sterile growing media. Although I'm used to using things prepackaged for specific purposes, I could always crush up packing peanuts or Styrofoam cups, and I know that sand can be added to potting mixes to allow more drainage and air flow. I do live in a desert, I guess. But the sand is, likely, kind of salty from the Red Sea, and it's not as grainy as, say, horticultural sand--in fact, it's quite compact, hard, fine sand. Not unlike the clay soils I know and love in Washington, DC--just much, much drier. So I'm not entirely convinced that adding it to potting soil will really help matters much.

On the optimistic side, I haven't yet looked very closely at the sand on the beach, so there may be more grainy sand there that I can wash out somehow so I can use it to ammend my potting soil. I would imagine a series of boiling the sand in a pot or just rinsing it with hot water a couple of times would be good enough (the heat of the water will help salts and other minerals dissolve and get washed away from the sand), but I don't want any of my orchids or gesneriads getting fussy with me just because I wanted to add some sand to their growing medium.

Right now, I have all of my plants in various ratios of hydroton and potting soil. Or, rather, some plants have a mix of hydroton and potting soil in various unmeasured but still slightly planned handful-style mixes. I'll have more on that later.

I will be trying to bring some of these supplies back to Saudi Arabia in my luggage after my trip to California next week. I don't need a heck of a lot, but it will make a marked difference in the success of my plants in the long term.

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