Sunday, February 21, 2010

A new toy

A few months ago I was one of the winners of a photography contest held by Fine Gardening. I was really excited about the prize - a Wingscapes Timelapse PlantCam. It arrived Friday and after reading the instruction manual, I was even more excited about using it.

The weather has been fantastic this weekend - our warmest since Thanksgiving - so even though more pressing chores needed to be done, I had to try out the camera. The instructions sounded a bit complicated but then, you have to know me. I'm not good at putting things together and I'm terrible at deciphering instructions. Michael says that I don't have common sense. I'm not going to argue with that!

Anyway, it turned out to be much easier than I expected with one exception (and after hearing it, you'll know Michael is right). You go through a menu and set various things for the camera to do - the most important being the time lapse interval. There are 11 different time lapse settings, from 30 seconds to 1 day. I set the camera up on my tripod in front of the bird feeder, went through the menu, and followed the instructions exactly as stated in the user guide. The instructions said that it would take the first photo 10 seconds after you closed the box and then do the time lapse interval that you selected. I stood back and waited, expecting to hear something. Nothing. So I keep turning it off and back on again, going through the instructions over and over and I keep thinking that it isn't working. The default time interval setting is for 1 day so I'm thinking that it is set for that and I can't override it.

After fooling around with it for about 45 minutes, I gave up in frustration, took it inside and as I was about to turn it off, I glanced at the menu and it said something about 22 photos being on it. What? I take it to the computer and download the images and there they all are with about 18 of my goofy face staring into the viewfinder in puzzlement. Michael says, "Duh, did you think the camera would make a noise? That would scare off the birds!" So, if you get one of these cameras and you don't have common sense like me, the camera is silent!
Well, they could have mentioned that in the user guide!

So far, I love it even if my first attempts are not the greatest. You can take either still photos or videos. You can also take the photos you've captured and string them into a video to create a time lapse capture, such as a flower opening. I can't wait to try this!

Here are a few still images I captured.

Here is a video -

Friday, February 19, 2010

Late winter chores

Today was our "winter break" holiday so I had the day off. Fortunately, for a change, the weather was really nice. It was sunny and temperatures got up into the 50s. I worked on installing the last bit of edging around the dwarf mondo grass beds in the front garden.


and after...

I also transplanted a rose. Beautiful Marie Pavie has always been quite beautiful along the fence on the north side of the property. However, things change. You can see how it looked a few years ago in the link but the past few years, she has suffered from less sunlight and crowding from the evergreens planted nearby. I decided to move her to the front border outside the fence in front of the house.

When transplanting, dig as much of the rootball up as you can and try to keep it intact. If the rootball crumbles and falls apart (which often happens), just mound a cone of soil in the planting hole and spread the roots down over it, like you would when planting a bareroot rose.

Dig your hole in advance and add some compost or good soil to the planting hole. When digging the hole, keep in mind that the width is more important than the depth. Rose roots spread outward and don't go that deep.

Place the rose in the planting hole at the same depth that it was growing in its previous home.

Fill the hole with soil and water it well. Gently tamp down the soil to eliminate air pockets. Apply a generous mulch -

Finally, prune the rose. As you can see here, I pruned this one pretty drastically. I cut out all the dead canes and cut the green canes down to an outward facing bud. (If you are transplanting a large and unruly rose, you might want to prune it first before digging it up.)

In a few weeks, when new growth appears, I will fertilize it lightly. Hopefully, she will be beautiful again in her new home.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Hydrangea wilt updated

Last September, I posted an entry about a situation with our hydrangeas where entire stems were dying mysteriously. I thought I had identified the problem as mushroom root rot after reading the Alabama Extension Agency's fact sheet on hydrangea diseases. Well, it turns out, I was wrong! I am a blogger (and librarian for heaven's sake), not a professional botanist, but it pains me to disseminate false information. I'm here to correct the situation!

Earlier in the week, our local Master Gardener's association held their monthly meeting and featured a wonderful speaker, Lisa Barnett, from the American Hydrangea Society. She had the same problem with her hydrangeas and a colleague sent a sample to an expert at the University of Georgia who identified the culprit as a borer - the Black Twig borer, Xylosandrus compactus (a cousin of Ambrosia beetle, Xylosandrus
crassiusculus). Lisa thinks the droughts of previous years contributed to the problem and weakened the shrubs, making them vulnerable to attack.

If you suspect this in your garden, look at the hydrangea stems closely. You will see a tiny hole along the stem where the insect has entered the plant and sawdust-like substance on the ground. To help eradicate the problem, cut the affected canes completely to the ground and burn them. Do not throw them on your compost pile! If a shrub seems to be completely infected, destroy the entire plant. The borer also attacks other shrubs and trees with similar sized branches.

Let's hope this cold winter will kill off some of these nasty buggers!

I plan to monitor our hydrangeas carefully this year and I urge you to do the same.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Lemon Loaf

I've written before about how much I've enjoyed the book Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito. I've tried many of the recipes in the book and I've loved them all. The recipe that I've made the most is the "Lemon Lemon Loaf" that appears on page 41. It is infused with a lemon syrup and either with or without the glaze, it is heavenly.

Lemon Lemon Loaf (from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito)

Makes 2 loaves

For the cake:
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 1/4 cups sugar
8 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cups grated lemon zest, from about 4 lemons
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature
2 tsp pure vanilla extract

For the syrup:
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup sugar

For the glaze:
2 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted
4 to 6 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray the sides and bottom of two 9x5x3 inch loaf pans with nonstick cooking spray. Line the bottom with parchment and spray the parchment.

Sift both of the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl using a whisk.

Put the sugar, eggs, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a food processor and pulse until combined. With the motor running, drizzle the butter in through the feed tube. Add the sour cream and vanilla and pulse until combined. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

Sprinkle in the flour mixture, one third at a time, folding gently after each addition until just combined. Do not overmix.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake in the center of the oven for 20 minutes, rotate the pans, reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F, and bake for another 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean. Let cool in the pans for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the lemon syrup...
In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the lemon juice and sugar until the sugar is completely dissolved. Once dissolved, continue to cook for 3 more minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Line a half sheet pan with parchment or waxed paper and invert the loaves onto the pan. Use a toothpick to poke holes in the tops and sides of the loaves.
Brush the tops and sides with lemon syrup. Let the syrup soak into the loaves and brush again. Let the cakes cool completely, about 30 minutes.

The soaked but unglazed loaves will keep, wrapped in two layers of plastic wrap and frozen, for up to 6 weeks.

While the cakes are cooling, make the lemon glaze...
In a small bowl, whisk together the confectioner's sugar and 4 tablespoons of the lemon juice. The mixture should be thick but pourable. If too stiff, add up to another 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, a little at a time until the right consistency is reached. Pour the lemon glaze over the top of each loaf and let it drip down the sides. Let the lemon glaze harden, about 15 minutes. The glazed loaves will keep up to 3 days, wrapped tightly in plastic, at room temperature.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Great Backyard Bird Count

This weekend is the Great Backyard Bird Count, an event sponsored by Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society. Participants are asked to take 15 minutes or more any day from Feb. 12 - 14 and observe what species of birds are in your garden (or whatever location you choose). You submit your report to them online and they use the data to study where the birds are located, migration patterns, etc. It is easy, fun and really only takes a few minutes to submit the report. There is still a day left if you haven't done it yet!

I took about 40 minutes this morning and observed birds from every window in the house and walked around the garden for about 15 minutes. In all, I observed the following birds:

Sparrow (not sure what kind!) - 21
Goldfinch - 12
House Finch - 7
Tufted Titmouse - 4
Dark Eyed Junco - 4
Mourning Dove - 4
Robin - 3
Carolina Chickadee - 2
Mockingbird - 2
Cardinal - 1

That is a total of 60 birds and 10 different species. I also saw a new bird this year, the dark-eyed Junco. Thanks to fellow bloggers, they helped me identify it.

It was a beautiful sunny day for bird watching and a tad warmer. The "S" word is in the forecast for tomorrow!

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Bird ID help needed

I've been counting birds for the Bird Count and I don't know who this little fellow is. I know some of you out there can tell me. :)

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Monday, February 8, 2010

Unexpected snow - an early birthday present for Michael

Snow is an event that is hard to predict here in north Alabama. When the weather people forecast it, nine times out of ten it doesn't happen. When they don't mention it and you are unprepared for it, watch out. This morning was a perfect example. The only snow in the forecast is for Friday. No mention whatsoever for a possibility today. This morning it started sleeting and snowing before I headed to work. I skidded several times driving to work, a scary experience. It was too late for the University to close the school so they just sent out a caution to be careful.

The snow came down in buckets. Michael was at home and he took these photos. I thought he did a great job. We got around 3 inches! The University closed at 11am because "another wave" was expected this afternoon. Now the weathermen say it will just be rain! Too funny but I guess better safe than sorry.

Michael loves it and says it is an early birthday present for him (his birthday is tomorrow).

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy