Saturday, November 27, 2010

Fruit and vegetable still lifes

What do you do when it’s cold outside and you don’t feel like braving the elements? Well, I like to photograph fruit and vegetables that are on hand. We eat them every day, but how often do we really stop and admire their beauty?

Patty pan and acorn squash
Patty pan squash and garlic
Patty pan squash, butternut squash and garlic
Butternut squash and garlic
Hachiya persimmon and garlic
One hachiya and two fuyu persimmons
Two fuyu persimmons
One fuyu persimmon

Friday, November 26, 2010

Winter in the mountains

We’re still at my in-laws in Mount Shasta, about an hour south of the Oregon border. This small town of 4,500 is nestled against the base of Mount Shasta, at 14,179 ft. the fifth highest peak in California and considered a dormant volcano although it may erupt again in the next several hundred years.

Contrary to where we live just west of Sacramento, they do have snow here, as evidenced by the pictures below. Enjoy my photographic impressions of early winter in the Northern California mountains.

Black Butte, a 6334 ft. cinder cone. When Mt. Shasta is hidden by clouds, travelers driving by on I-5 often mistake Black Butte for the much larger volcano.
Mount Shasta rises abruptly from the surrounding terrain and seems even more imposing since there are no other mountains nearby. In New Age circles, Mount Shasta is considered a major power vortex.
To me icicles are the most beautiful harbingers of winter
Ice crystals forming on the hood of a car—beauty can be found in the most unlikely places
Japanese maple leaf encased in ice
A vivid reminder of a season gone by
Bleeding heart leaves
Still life with bottle and oregano
The last of the deciduous trees in my
in-laws’ yard

11/27/10 update: Woke up to gently falling snow—and a winter wonderland. Here are some new photos from today.

Falling snow and pine trees in my in-laws’ back yard
Exploding tree
Fresh snow clinging to tree bark
Rhododendron bud
Back yard idyll
Potted plants in garden window
Mount Shasta in all its glory

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Bamboos in the snow

This summer we planted several bamboos at my in-laws’ place in Mount Shasta in the mountains of Northern California (zone 7b): golden vivax (Phyllostachys vivax ‘Aureocaulis’), stone bamboo (Phyllostachys angusta), yellow groove bamboo (Phyllostachys aureosulcata), Fargesia dracocephala ‘Rufa’, Fargesia denudata and Chusquea gigantea. We also put a container-grown black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) in the ground.

We’re back in Mount Shasta for Thanksgiving and I just took some pictures of the bamboos. Quite a difference, to say the least. Some of them I couldn’t even find!

11/27/10 update: It snowed all night and most of the morning. Everything looks magical when covered with new snow, especially bamboos, so I’m adding new photos from this morning.

Stone bamboo (Phyllostachys angusta) in July 2010 right after we planted it…
…and now in the snow
Golden vivax (Phyllostachys vivax ‘Aureocaulis’) in July 2010…
…and now in the snow
Chusquea gigantea, barely visible in the foreground
Yellow groove bamboo (Phyllostachys aureosulcata) in the snow. Since this was was quite small, just 4 ft. tall, it didn’t get bent over by the snow like the others.
Peek-a-boo! A Fargesia dracocephala ‘Rufa’ is hidden under the mound in the foreground.
Black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) in early October…
…and now, flattened by the snow and almost invisible

All of this is business as usual for those of you who live in areas that regularly get snow, but for us fair-weather people, it’s startling to see how plants 4,6 or even 8 ft. tall can virtually disappear under the weight of the snow.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The demise of Creepy Joe

For a month this 7 ft. scarecrow has been standing guard at our front door. It’s a fisherman, complete with a creel and bamboo fishing pole, and it even has Gore-Tex boots and a Ralph Lauren shirt (wonder what guy was duped into getting rid of those). While its face is quite cheery, it sheer size is enough to give you the chills, especially if have a vivid imagination and are a horror movie addict like I am.


Anyway, Halloween is over and the time has come to say goodbye to Creepy Joe.

It is just a scarecrow filled with straw after all!
Pants with nobody inside them
Ashes to ashes, and straw into compost tumbler

That’s the end of Joe the Fisherman. May he make good compost!

Good thing our younger daughter’s elementary school will have another scarecrow auction next year.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

First freeze of the season

Tonight the thermometer is forecast to drop to below freezing for the first time this season. If the weather people are right, this will be followed by two more nights of freezing temperatures before night-time lows climb back above 32°.

Most of our succulents are quite hardy so the 28° to 30° forecast for the next three nights shouldn’t be a big deal. However, last winter a few of them were damaged at 26° so I’m going to take precautions, especially since I don’t trust forecasts 100%.

Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’.
Lost 50% of its leaves last winter at 26° but came back with a vengeance this year and is now looking better than ever.

To protect this tropical soft-leaf agave, we draped a strand of holiday lights over it and then covered it and a few neighboring plants with a frost blanket.

Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’, protected with holiday lights and frost blanket

Our flapjack plant (Kalanchoe thyrsiflora) was damaged badly last winter as well. The little plant in the top left in the first photo below completely melted in last winter’s three-day freeze, and it’s much smaller this year than it originally was. The larger plant is one I bought in the spring. It’s just now developing its signature flapjack leaves and I want to do everything I can to save it.


Flapjack plant (Kalanchoe thyrsiflora)

To protect the flapjack plant, I simply put a plastic bin over it and added an old sheet. I hope that this is sufficient to protect it.

Flapjack plant with protection

Even a mild freeze lays waste to our large-leaf tropicals such as this giant elephant ear (Alocasia macrorrhiza ‘Borneo Giant’). I’m not too worried about losing the leaves because the tubers are fully hardy in our climate and will resume their explosive growth when temperatures warm up in the late spring. It seems that consistent temperatures in the mid to high 70s are needed to trigger new growth.

Giant elephant ear (Alocasia macrorrhiza ‘Borneo Giant’)

One tropical I’ve decided to protect at the last minute is our Golden Lotus banana (Musella lasiocarpa). Its corm is supposed to be hardy down to 10°F but its leaves will not survive a hard freeze. Since our plant has put on so much growth this year—it’s easily 5 ft tall now and has at least 5 pups (babies growing from the crown of the plant)—I want to try to protect the leaves. It may be a fool-hardy endeavor but I’ll give it a shot anyway.

Golden Lotus banana (Musella lasiocarpa) as of this afternoon
Golden Lotus banana (Musella lasiocarpa) protected with a frost blanket

Another plant we need to protect is our potted Key lime (Citrus aurantifolia). It has a reputation for being very frost sensitive. We just got it this summer so we don’t have any first-hand experience with this citrus species.

Potted Key lime in its previous home

We moved this Key lime from its previous home on the flagstone walkway in front of the house to a more sheltered location under the eaves, strung Christmas lights over it, and covered it with a frost blanket.

Key lime with frost protection

I’ve added quite a few new bamboo species this year, but even the subtropical bambusas I’ve planted, such as Asian lemon bamboo (Bambusa eutuldoides ‘Viridividatta’) and Baby Blue bamboo (Bambusa chungii ‘Barbellata’) are hardy to the mid to low 20s. I’m not going to worry about protecting them, which would be an impossible task anyway considering how large they’ve gotten.

We have several tender perennials in our front yard, both inside and outside the fence. Experience has shown that some of them, especially the salvias native to southern Mexico, are very frost-sensitive whereas others, like autumn sage cultivars (Salvia greggii) don’t seem to be fazed. I don’t spend much time obsessing over these plants. If they live, fine. If not, we’ll replace them in the spring. After all, getting new plants is half the fun of gardening!

Many of you who live in colder climates will probably laugh at the extent we go to when a low of 28° is expected. For you, 28° might be a balmy day-time high in the winter. But we are attached to our wimpy plants and want them to live so we can enjoy them again next year.

Note: The frost blankets we use (N-Sulate brand) are made of a medium-weight permeable fabric. There’s quite a bit of debate as to whether frost blankets actually work. For our purposes they do seem to be effective. All we need them to do is provide an environment that is a couple of degrees warmer than the air to prevent damage to our plants.