Snapshots: Monday miscellany.

Or maybe “Mundane miscellany,” but I’ll leave that distinction up to you, LOL….

Tomato plants are happening under lights in the kitchen.  Since I took this pic, one set of true leaves has emerged on each plant.  I planted ‘Black Krim’ heirlooms (my first time trying them; my niece gave me seeds last year and I forgot about them until it was too late for me to do anything so I’m rectifying that situation this year) and ‘Candyland Red’ currant tomatoes.  This will be my third year planting the currant tomatoes, but I’ve never started them indoors.  Frost reduced potential yields previously so we’ll try it this way instead.

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Smudge is super happy that I am at home to dispense chicken treats and deliver a cushiony lap whenever required.  I am trying to teach her how to read but so far she’s only demonstrated exemplary skills as a bookmark.

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I’ve used the last shallot in the house…it’s an indicator to plant more this year and it’s also a nod to the fact that properly curing Allium crops can really extend their storage and diminish the risk of rot. Shameless plug alert: Janet Melrose and I write about how to properly cure onions and garlic in our upcoming book, The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Vegetables.  (Which you can preorder from Chapters-Indigo and Amazon via this link on our publisher’s website.  I may as well go whole hog on the plug, right?  Why do things halfway?).

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Oh, and I’ve been eating pancakes for lunch.  Pretty much every day.  I don’t have a photo of this (neither the eating, nor the pancakes.  You’re probably grateful for the former, at least).  I use my Mum’s pretty much perfect pancake recipe (say that three times really quickly) but if you want to share yours in the comments, I would love to try it, as well! Tell me about your favourite pancake toppings, too!

Sheryl’s Mum’s Pretty Much Perfect Pancake Recipe (Mum, is it okay that I share this?) 😉 

1 1/2 cups flour

1 tablespoon sugar

3 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt*

1 egg, beaten

1 3/4 cups milk

2 tablespoons vegetable oil or melted shortening

Mix all the dry ingredients, then add the liquid ones and combine.  Fry on a hot griddle. Yield: 8 sizeable pancakes, or several much smaller ones. (And in case you’re wondering, no, I’m not eating 8 sizeable pancakes at lunch – these guys keep over really nicely in the fridge for a few days and you can just reheat.  As well, the batch may be successfully halved, if that works better for you).

*Salt is optional.

 

Botany word of the week.*

Marcescence

This is the retention of the dead and dry leaves (and sometimes other parts such as fruit or seed pods) on some deciduous trees through winter.  Persistence, or as I like to think of it: a relentless lingering, somewhat along the lines of my cat’s queries for elevenses, twelveses, oneses, twoses (you get the idea).  Some trees seem to exhibit marcesence as  a trait – oaks are apparently one of them, although our climate isn’t mild enough for most Quercus spp. so I can’t perform a decent study on multiple varieties.  I did take a wander past the row of bur oaks (Q. macrocarpa) that grow near the train station in my neighbourhood, and while there were a few single leaves straggling on the branches, the trees were pretty much completely bare.  But we have to count that as an insufficiently representative sample (which, incidentally, also seems to be my cat’s views on the amount of food I give her).

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There are several theories on what causes marcescence, and what purpose it serves.  I believe in the case of this elm tree (and others like it in our city), the early frosts and severe cold we received back in September led to a failure of the formation of the abscission zone.  (This is an area of separation created by the natural weakening of cell walls between the petiole and the leaf.  While deciduous trees abscise in autumn, conifers do it pretty much all the time.  Another big difference is that deciduous trees normally fling everything off and conifers are, well, waaaaaaay more reserved). The leaves in my photo basically died on the spot and the tree wasn’t quite ready for that to happen. The wind took most of them off but some are still hanging around, waiting for spring like the rest of us.

Some researchers speculate that marcescence is a defense mechanism for the tree, protecting it from the munching of herbivorous predators such as moose and deer (who are going to eat fresh, tender young branch tips over icky dry foliage every time.  You can’t blame them, really).  Another idea is that the dry leaves act like little windproof shawls for the leaf buds, protecting them from winter desiccation.  Perhaps.  Still another thought is that the trees are deliberately generating their own mulch, dropping it at just the right time – spring, not autumn – for maximum moisture retention and as a source of nutrients.  Far-fetched?  Maybe, maybe not.

So what happens in the spring, when the buds of the new leaves break?  The marcescent leaves may remain on the tree, still waiting for a really strong wind to snap them off, or they may be pushed off the tree by the new growth, in which case they are instantly sucked up into a magical vortex so that you never have to rake them up.  

Then again, there are never any guarantees when it comes to magic, so have that rake handy, just in case.

Sources:
Finley, Jim. “Winter Leaves that Hang On.” PennState College of Agricultural Sciences. 2012. https://ecosystems.psu.edu/research/centers/private-forests/news/2012/winter-leaves-that-hang-on.
Gast, Richard. “Marcescence: An Ecological Mystery.” Adirondack Almanack. November 19, 2017. https://www.adirondackalmanack.com/2017/11/marcescence-ecological-mystery.html.

*To be completely truthful, I’m not sure which specific day of the week the Botany Word of the Week will be posted.  Or that it will actually be posted weekly.  It may kind of float around and periodically pop up and surprise you.  Hopefully that’s okay.  

Book announcement! Well, actually, two books, one announcement!

HUGE, WONDERFUL NEWS! I spent much of last year working with my co-author, Calgary’s Cottage Gardener Janet Melrose, on the first two books in a new series called Guides for the Prairie Gardener. We are beyond thrilled that TouchWood Editions are publishing them, and the first two titles, The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Vegetables, and The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Pests and Diseases, will be out on April 7!

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Tree Abraham did the unique cover art for us, and (with a couple of exceptions) Janet and I photographed the images in the interiors.

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The books are compact but mighty, and hold answers to the biggest, most common questions prairie gardeners may have, and tips and advice for success in a challenging growing region!

Preordering from Chapters-Indigo and Amazon is available right now!  This link will take you to Vegetables, and this one to Pests and Diseases.

We are currently busy writing the next two books in the series and looking extra-forward to spring! ❤️

 

Beach party.

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A week of seriously cold temperatures has given way to unbelievably warm temperatures ((we’ve gone from dipping as low as -30.9ºC (-23.6ºF) last Tuesday to +6ºC (42.8ºF) today)) and the poplar trees are responding like the rest of us are…giddy with the sunshine and ready to fling off the parkas and toques.

But we had better not throw them too far away. Spring is not just around the corner.  Not yet. Despite appearances….

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Floral notes, early January.

I hope the start of 2020 has been good to you!

What’s growing (nothing outside – other than the snow piles):

Catgrass (I’ve planted a mix of wheatgrass and oats).  I swear this stuff germinates in five minutes.  If you ever feel like your green thumb’s gone bust, just plant some catgrass and your confidence will be restored almost immediately.  My personal assistant Smudge is cut off after only a few good gnaws, as she has an exceedingly delicate digestive system and I hate cleaning upholstery.

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Droolicious books I’ve been gawking at:

Urban Botanics: An Indoor Plant Guide for Modern Gardeners by Emma Sibley and Maaike Koster (illustrator)

Whether you’re a dab hand at growing houseplants or you’re captivated with the idea of growing them and want to know more so you can actually get started, this book is worth a gander or two. Or more:  While the text offers up plenty of well-researched information and will likely lead to rushed trips to the nearest garden centre to scoop up a new Dracaena or Philodendron or an entire shopping cart full of succulents, the illustrations by Maaike Koster are absolutely glorious, pure eye candy at its most delicious.  

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The Embroidered Art of Chloe Giordano

A co-worker mentioned Giordano’s Instagram account to me and after just one glimpse, I was highly motivated to track down this gorgeous book. Thread-painted woodland animals – what could be more beautiful?  Even if you don’t embroider, you can’t help but be amazed at Chloe Giordano’s insane talent and creativity.  

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Getting out and about:

One snowshoe trek is in the books!  In early December, my hubby, my brother, and I earned “Braggin’ Rights” out at West Bragg Creek.  Braggin’ Rights is 8.7 kilometres (5.4 miles) long, but we linked up via Snowy Owl and Old Shell Road, which added a few more K.  Even though the bulk of Braggin’ Rights is in forest, the snow changed texture as we progressed from the cooler morning to the warmer afternoon, luxurious powdery crystals becoming sticky and heavy and clinging to our ‘shoes.  I’m hoping we can get out several more times during the next eight months of winter*, but scheduling is a bit wonky with work, so we’ll see….

*I exaggerate, but only slightly.

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(Old Shell Road)

What fun things are you doing this early in the new year?