Tuesday, March 2, 2010

No white AVs? I blame you, Mother Nature!

Mother Nature’s gone on her monthlies (centuries’ses?). Earthquakes in Haiti, earthquakes in Chile, one massive, continuous snowstorm over east coast of the US… Dear Mother Nature, please think of the birds. They have to live on this planet too, it’s not just us people. Granted, I don’t see how earthquakes might have an effect on birds, except for maybe disturb their nesting sites. But the thaw->freeze->thaw->freeze->2 inches of snow->thaw->etc cycle isn’t good for wildlife.

Black-capped chickadees are telling this to us by emptying the second feeder of its sunflower seed load in under 4 days. It is possible that chickadees may just be sneaking the seeds off to hide them in cracks of bark (similar to bluejays and woodpeckers at my grandmothers’ feeder in the midwest. She must be going through a pound of nuts a week for those avian thieves.), but I’m going to go out on a limb and blame their resourcefulness on global coo..warming.


African violets are still in bloom, and I’m afraid that the mystery-violet grown from the leaves gotten through a plant trade will turn out to be solid purple, after all. There goes Errant’s long-standing dream of a mostly-white violet.

While the conjunction of the words “white” and “violet” may seem nonsensical, this is actually far from the case. African Violet (AV) hybridizers have developed literally thousands of varieties, and their work continues around the world (or, at least, in US and Russia. Though when I was growing up in the latter, all –we- had were several pots of solid purple ones, which faded from the scene shortly after a power outage in the middle of the winter).

Colors of AV vary enormously, from trademark purple, to white, green, pink, light blue and red, with yellow making an occasional much-discussed appearance. There is also an AV society of America, which has a website with a good photo library. I’ve long thought of actually going to an AV convention, and there –was- one in Virginia sometime last November, but in the end, the date disappeared under a pile of other concerns and things to do. That’s life, I guess.

For me, AVs have been a challenge (though flowers make it all worth it): they’re somewhat finicky in terms of preferred level of light, and it’s very easy to under/overwater them due to the size of their containers. Water on the leaves spots them, and preferred growth medium is what you’d call ‘soilless soil’, aka peat/vermiculite/perilite at a ratio of 1:1:1. This soil ratio is not sold commercially outside spring/sprouting season, so the rest of the year you’re stuck hunting down the ingredients, and mixing the stuff yourself.

For some time, I’ve used this mix for all of my potted plants with exception of cacti, with mixed results. Spider plants absolutely adore it, but need to be kept an eye on, because they do dry easily. Kalanchoes (both mother of millions and chandelier plant) did well, too. Begonia absolutely hated it, and grown-from-seed lemon are still undecided. The dislike on begonia’s part may’ve been due to under-fertilization. I’ve been using a 7-7-7 fertilizer for most all plants, but have now reformed and mixed a batch of 24-8-16 for everything but the violets. With soilless media, you’re the only source of nutrients that the plant has access to, which means that 99% of the time, you’re watering with very diluted plant food.


Robins continue to stalk the neighborhood, glaring from under cars and behind buildings. A number of hawks has been sighted, majestically gliding above the highway, or balancing precariously on telephone wires. Outside our windows, song and white-crowned* sparrows seem content to raid feeders and start up ungodly cacophony of “I’m hawt!” and “Your place, or mine!?” sort earlier and earlier every morning.

There was (what I suspect is) an eastern phoebe in the back yard a few days back.. identifying a new specie is refreshing, to say the least.

*I’ve yet to determine if these are white-crowned or white-throated. The birds definitely have the white throat, but not the yellow spot that would identify them as white-throated. Will try to get a better look and/or a picture this week.