Thursday, February 28, 2019

Pure Chocolate Launch Party

Speaking of chocolate...

This coming Tuesday night at 7:30 at Bitter Sisters Brewery in Addison, Texas, my wife is having her book party for her second novel in the Chocoverse series, Pure Chocolate.

She'll be there reading an excerpt from her novel as well as signing copies of her book which can be preordered through Interabang Books.

Yelibelly Chocolates will also be out there doing a hands on truffle rolling demonstration and helping to put together a chocolate and beer pairing, available at the bar.

Top it off with some free cake and you're sure to have a great time.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Some plants Just Don’t Look Real

So we went all around Addison today and placed post card sized fliers about Amber's upcoming book launch party, signing, and chocolate related event.

One of the places we stopped at was 84 Point Coffee off of Midway Road. At first I though the plant must be a fake since it looked pretty unbelievable and it looked like it was just put on top of some coffee beans.

After looking around for a little bit though, as Amber took pictures of her coffee, the flier, and bookmarks we had with us, I began to realize that the rest of the plants seemed to be real enough.  Then I saw bits of it had turned brown and there were marks on it that wouldn't have be put on a fake plant even if they were trying to make it look authentic.

After a quick search I figure it's most likely a variety of haworthia, probably herbacea.  Yeah, I've never heard of such a thing before either but it seems to be related to aloe plants.  Those spikes feel more like rubber, thus my initial thought that the plant was probably a fake.

I had a short conversation with a coworker recently about how terrible fake plants are in an office.  They do the opposite of what real plants do.  They sit there, collect dust, and smell funny.  She had been in an office where the office manager just loved to get more and more fake plants to put everywhere.  When they finally closed that office the fake plants were so dusty you could see the clouds they gave off as they were trying to get rid of them.  It wasn't good.

This is one of many plants I will probably never get but it was neat to look at it for a while sitting in a coffee shop.  Go get some coffee and see if you agree.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Cacao Nodes Turning Red

Really not sure why this happens still. Red (named because all the leaf nodes were red from the start) I figured was just how that variety grew.  But now I'm wondering if it's how it's growing instead of what is growing.

This picture is of one of the cacao trees that traveled over to the next cubical to be cared for.  Only this last leaf so far has the distinct red nodes.  The rest of the leaves are just plain green.  Maybe a little darker at those points but certainly not a different color.

As you can see though the traveling plants are doing just fine as well.  New leaves coming in all the time and a nice color to them.  There is no gnat colony over there though so I guess that's a plus as far as worrying about them.  I've been thinking about getting this one taken care of.  They're not really bothering me but I don't want them to become an office nuisance.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Flowering Beans

The green bean plants are finally flowering.  I thought it was making some flowers earlier but they turned out to be new green shoots from the main stalk.  In a day or so I should be able to pollinate the flowers and get the beans to start forming.  This one is very much a vining variety.  It keeps sprawling out. The other beans from the same packet though seem to be growing upright.  Not sure exactly what this means about my beans but so far none of my plants seem to be uniform in variety.

The mister I ordered to help out the orchids never arrived and the seller isn't responding to messages.  So it's back to the search for a mister that will help keep the humidity up for these guys.  Fortunately Amazon is probably going to get me a refund of the cost since there was a problem.  We'll see if it actually happens though, not finalized.

Thinking of planting a low ground cover in the pots at some point but not sure what to plant.  The trees of course aren't quite ready for that anyway but it's still something I want to think about and plan.  A low growing shade loving herb might be good since it's going to be indoors.  Maybe thyme or mint?  Any suggestions are welcome.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Pest Control

This little guy helps keep the fungus gnat problem under control.  Yeah they're still flying around a little but they're hardly noticeable any more.  He eats several a day and they try their best to keep up with what they lost.

Here he's hiding under one of the vanilla leaves.  His webs crosses between the pots and he goes out whenever something gets caught in his web.  So far no one is complaining about the gnats or the spider so I guess it's all working out for the best.

Some people would probably tell you to get rid of the spider, the gnats, and the fungus but a little fungus is good for plants and as long as the spider can keep the gnat population under control there shouldn't be enough larvae to be damaging the plants.  The plants seem happy and there's no signs of stunted growth.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Cleaning Branches to Climb

So I don't really want to spend $80 on a branch for my vanilla to climb.  But how do you get a branch from the wild and make sure it isn't infested with critters or disease?

The best way is to dry it out.  If you have a branch/stick that can fit in your oven then great!  Toss that into your oven around 250°F for an hour or so and you're good to go.  Be careful though since that is a VERY general idea.  Your exact timing and even temperature can vary widely, as much as 100° and/or half an hour.  A better rule is to check density of your wood.  Denser wood will do with a low temperature for longer while lighter wood shouldn't take so long.

Of course if you start to see a little smoke starting then take it out immediately. You don't want your oven catching fire.  As we all know, wood burns.

Alternately you can use a handheld steamer to steam the outside, effectively cooking the outside of the stick.  This doesn't take care of the inside though.  For small sticks you can boil them in a large pot for hours.  This should get rid of any problems but then you have the problem of drying it so you might as well just have put it in the oven.

I don't have a seven foot oven or a huge cauldron though and no steamer and so I have to go the chemical and scrubbing route.  This branch of an oak already has some house guests holding on. and a few bugs living under the bark.  First off I used a bug killer and am letting it sit for a few days. Once that's nice and aired for a while I'm going to douse it with rubbing alcohol until nice and saturated.  Of course I'll be keeping it away from any ignition sources for a while until it all evaporates away but this should kill or drive off anything that the bug spray didn't.  Then after a nice scrubbing with a bristle or wire brush it should be ready for use.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Gardener's Watch is Sprouting Again

Restarting this blog feels just like this, a little twig growing out of a once seemingly dead tree.  I forget exactly why this blog became inactive for so long but I'm hoping people will start to come back, If nothing else to see the plants growing.  Really, is there any other reason to come see?

This picture reminds me of when we had a house and we were trying to kill off the crepe myrtle bushes/trees.  They wouldn't die.  They just kept coming back like this little guy but with much more gusto.

I still don't have time, much less anything really neat to show or say, to put up a post every day, but I'm at least going to try to keep the posts interesting and make sure I'm not just rambling on about nothing.  Of course there should always be a picture, like this one, even if I didn't necessarily take it myself.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Optimal Light

Brought the little vanilla plants to the front toward the light.  I had left them behind it so that the little spider wouldn't be disturbed but they were not looking like they liked so much shade especially since they were indoors anyway.

The white things in front are the cut up bottles with water and paper towels in them.  Still having to change them out every few days so that they don't breed mold.  They already seem to be doing a little better.

In front of this, but out of the picture, is the other pot.  I raised it up too a couple feet to be closer to the light.  It went from floor to on top of two boxes to on top of a filing cabinet and two boxes.  The leaves are starting to pick up again.  It's growth had been stunted due to lack of light.

The bean plant you see in the upper right of this photo is starting to form flowers already. I should have beans in a few weeks.  Okay, maybe two or three beans but that's still more than one.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Branching Out

There's a little green shoot coming off of where the cotyledons used to be attached.  Hopefully this is where the first branches will form from.

As you can see, the trunk is already starting to look woody.  I will be transplanting them yet again soon so that each tree will have it's own pot to grow in.  This might mean getting some new bigger pots too since I doubt at least one of the pots is really big enough to hold a tree in.  It looked fine when the tree was just sprouting but one of the leaves alone is taller than the pot is.  I'd guess that that's a sign that the pot is a little too small for root comfort.

Cacao trees have a tap root.  Not quite what you think of like a carrot or anything but it does shoot a thick root down and spread out a system from there, as well as some surface roots.  It looks like a smaller version of the top of the tree.  In a mature tree they can be several feet underground.  Of course in a potted situation they can only go as far as the bottom of the pot so I'll need to eventually need at least a two foot deep pot to keep it happy.  I haven't seen anything that big for a reasonable price yet but I'll have to keep looking.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Bean leaves

Plant identification by leaf is a common practice.  There are websites out there (usually by geography) that can help identify a plant by shape, type, texture, and such of a leaf, like this one at Texas A&M.  I guess I never paid a lot of attention to the leaves of a bean plant before but the initial leaves just didn't look like a bean plant to me.

It so happens that these are primary leaves that get the plant growing quickly and don't match the rest of the leaves it will produce throughout the rest of the growing cycle.

I think I already see some leaves forming at the base of some of the leaf branches.  It won't be long before they open and start to make beans.  One of my favorite things about bean plants is that they grow so fast and you can see results without waiting too long.  The cacao, just visible on the right, takes a minimum of 4 years for fruit to form but more likely 7-8 years in these less than ideal conditions.  They are still putting out leaves though.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Leeks (tops included)

If you've been around long enough to try leek soup or pasta with leeks then you've probably also always been told that you just toss the tops in either water to make stock or the compost bin to make dirt.  They're simply to tough to eat.

That's never stopped people before.  Coq a Vin recipes took the same challenge with old chickens and made a tough old bird tasty again.  You can do the same thing with leeks.  One easy method for using these nutritious tops is to just make a soup and puree it until the bits are too small to even need chewing. Another as mentioned in The Spruce Eats is to cook them long and low as you would any though food to make it tender as in these Buttered Leeks.

Other interesting ways to use leeks (not just the tops) are:
1. As pizza toppings
2. Grilled on a hamburger
3. Sauteed until soft and added to quiche
4. Wrapped around meats and grilled

What are your favorite ways to use leeks?

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Beet Salad

Beets have to be one of my favorite vegetables as you can tell from this previous post.  At salad bars, I don't really consider it a very good selection if they don't have them.

This time around I would like to show off how well it goes in a salad though instead of how well it grows around here.  Not only does it give a great contrast of color but it also helps to mellow some of the other flavors you might have in a salad.  If you don't want a mostly red salad though you need to make sure you rinse and thoroughly dry the beets after you cut them up but before you put them in the salad.  Otherwise it won't look nearly so appetizing.

What are some of your favorite ingredients that you like to put into your salads?

Monday, February 4, 2019

Cacao Getting a Little Sun

Temperatures here reached 80° today.  Not shabby for an early February day.  Perfect for getting these guys out for some sum. Usually they prefer a more shaded area but the angle of the sun in February isn't too bad.  The sun being lower in the sky will hopefully keep the plants from getting too affected by the sun's intensity, while at the same time getting some much needed light during winter months.

The sunlight finally came around the building.  It had been in the shade most of the day.  The bean plants are loving the sunlight as well.  They've really perked up and have grown noticeably since this morning.

Tomorrow is also supposed to be nice but overcast.  The temperatures should still be warm enough for a day out though.  Then it's back inside until April unless we get any more of these unseasonably nice days.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Inside Aloes

Aloe plants really prefer bright, sunny, warm places to grow. They do however tolerate pretty well extended periods of inside, dark, wintery periods from which they will "spring" back from in the spring when they can go back outside after the threat of freezing has past.

I know how hardy they can be because I thoroughly neglected several of these guys and it still took years for them to actually die.  Just one more plant that you should be able to give any friend and not be too worried even if their thumbs are brown.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Orange Blemishes

My wife had a group over today for marketing and someone brought lox.  I didn't really know before what that was but it went really well on the bagels they had during lunch.  I also had a Pokka Milk Coffee to go with it.

What I noticed here though were the oranges.  Often when we go to the store we want that perfect piece of fruit or cut of meat or what have you.  My grandpa tole me once that grocery stores won't even buy fruit if it doesn't look nice even if it's perfectly good to eat.  These oranges are a good example of fruit that has a blemish but is otherwise fine.  The oranges he had growing on the tree often had even more dark spots but there was nothing wrong with them.

Next time you're at the store take a look at how the fruit looks and think about how that affects what you buy.  Oh, and pick up some lox, they're tasty.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Hygrometers (Humidity Meter)

Apparently I should have waited longer to see how humid it was getting.  The water wickers have been there for over a week but the hygrometer I just put there a few hours earlier.  Checking it later that day it had gotten to a little over 60% now it's a whopping 70%.  No wonder the orchids like it there.  It' a very localized humidity but that's exactly what they need.  Of course I'll need to change them out every week so they don't grow mold but that's a small price to pay to keep these babies happy.  I do think I'll be adding a third though. Although 70% is on the high side of normal, it's on the low side of what orchids prefer. 85% would be a sweet percent to be able to get to and really get these guys comfortable.

The humidity is still creeping up.  It says 71 now.