Thursday, April 26, 2012

Creepy Orange Goo

Last week we had a long day with good soaking rains, and I knew that these creepy orange goo balls would soon appear in our cedars. Sure enough, I found them on the first red cedar I checked.

No doubt you're asking yourself what the heck are these things? Worms? Orange ectoplasm? Tentacled blobs from Mars?

Actually this is a plant pathogen known as cedar-apple rustGymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae
. The blobs are sometimes called cedar-apple galls. This pathogen alternates between junipers and apples, thus its name. Infected apple trees exhibit different symptoms, though. Infected apples merely have warty-looking lesions on the leaves and fruits instead of these shockingly orange, fleshy blobs throughout the canopy.

This particular cedar is simply festooned with the things.

Sometimes the galls look like orange snot on the branches. The gelatinous mess you see in these pictures sheds spores into the moist, humid air during rainfall. No doubt I was being bombarded by enormous numbers of infective spores while taking these pictures. Good thing I'm not an apple tree.

In a way, they are a little festive, no?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Wordy Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Carpenter ants on a peony bud. No, they don't harm the flowers, nor are they are not necessary for the plant to bloom. Apparently they just like the secretions produced by the opening buds.

I love this image of new white oak leaves because of the pale celadon foliage and chartreuse pompom flowers underneath.

A firefly contemplating take off.

This little guy looks like a caterpillar dropping, but it's a warty leaf beetle, one of my absolute favorite beetles. You need to see one under the scope to truly appreciate the ornate sculpting and bronze coloration of the exoskeleton. You can see an excellent image of this at

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Please Canada, Come Take Your Cold Front Back

While we had had some unseasonably warm temperatures earlier in March, we've had a number of frost and freeze warnings in late March and this week. Unfortunately all that warm weather earlier got the growing season off to a great start and now all that tender foliage is susceptible to frost and freeze damage.

Here's a shot of one evening last month, when we had a frost warning. We keep a pile of old sheets and shower curtains to cover things up when this occurs. Our temperatures often fluctuate quite a bit in late March and in April, so there's the yearly dance of sheeting and unsheeting every so often. Removing the sheets in the day is critical as the daytime temps can be high enough to cook the tender plants if they're left covered. Then it's back to covering things up again that evening.

But this week we're also experiencing lots of gusty winds. A cold front from Canada has jumped the border fence and keeps running through our region. Normally some breeze will keep the frost from settling on the plants, but this time it's so cold at night that plants are vulnerable even with the wind. I even saw several snow flakes on Wednesday. And the plants have grown another couple of inches tall so the draped sheets are hard to keep on the plants in this wind, even when weighted down with bricks and scrap lumber. 

So Steve, never one to back down from an engineering challenge, bought some tarps and tented the garden. Thankfully the daytime temps were only in the 50s on Wednesday and Thursday so we could leave the tarps in place for three nights in a row.

After three consecutive nights with frost and freeze warning, if I'm lucky enough to have peony blooms in late April it will be all because of Steve.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter Eggs, 2012

So we didn't actually get around to dyeing Easter eggs until Easter Sunday. Ally's grandmother had given us a PAAS egg dye kit but I've been admiring over Martha Stewart's marbleized Easter eggs. Martha's technique didn't look too difficult, at least in the clipping that I'd torn from her magazine a year or so ago. The instructions in the magazine were to dye the eggs one color and let dry. Add one tablespoon olive oil to a darker dye, swirl with a fork, then dip the previously dyed eggs in the mixture. Roll the egg around to pick up the streaks of the darker dye and remove from the dye. Gently blot the egg dry.

Easy peasey, huh? I figured that I could use the PAAS kit for the first dye bath, then add some oil to the darker dyes and get swirled eggs. And so I was still decorating Easter eggs at 6:40 pm last night.

Like many of Martha's projects, reality simply does not measure up to the artistically beautiful and perfect product presented on the glossy pages of her magazines. And inexplicably she doesn't always provide the full set of directions in the magazine. It wasn't until after I gave up on the project that I found the project on her website and I realized that 1) of course she used special liquid food coloring to dye her eggs, 2) the bowl containing the oil and dye mixute should be shallow to create wide swaths of marbled colors (unlike my Solo cups), and 3) you must use organic eggs from free range chickens and cold pressed imported olive oil.

No, I'm making up #3. I'm sure that my Walmart eggs and canola oil cannot be to blame why this project didn't fully achieve the level of artistic vision that I had hoped for.


This is what Martha's eggs look like. They're beautiful.

And here are mine.

See the resemblance? Yeah, me neither. Mine are sorta splotchy with a semi-interesting tie dye effect. Not quite what I had envisioned.

So here's what I learned through this um, experiment.

1) PAAS might advertise that their dye tablets will dissolve in under 3 minutes, but I suspect that's only if you use vinegar with the water. I didn't do that as I wanted lighter, pastel colors and not the traditional or "neon" colors mentioned on the packaging of the kit.

2) PAAS tablets will take approximately forever to dissolve in just water.

3) Once the dye dissolves in water, eggs will take another forever to achieve a passable pastel color and not look like they're just an off shade of brown. Thirty minutes was not enough for some colors.

4) Your four year old will lose interest in this project long before the eggs actually look colored.

5) Gently blotting the egg dry with a paper towel will actually remove most of the swirled colors.

6) Also, eggs coated in oil are really slippery and you will crack a shell or two if you accidently drop one into the bowl containing the others. (Ooooops!) Hopefully your four year old has already left the kitchen in search of something fun to do before then.

Still, my daughter declared the spotty pink and purple eggs to be her favorite. I'm merely thankful that all Easter eggs, even if they were done by Martha herself, will taste about the same when they turn into egg salad for our lunches this week.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Spring Flowers, 2012

Spring came early in Virginia this year. Usually I spend a lot of time taking flower pictures in the spring. This year I seem to be missing the prime time to take photos of my favorite plants because they're blooming earlier than I expected. Here are a few of my favorites that I've taken so far this year.


White camellia



Pin Cherry


Spring Beauty


Jack Frost Brunnera


Pine Knot Strain Hellebore


White Bleeding Heart


Creeping Charlie (I had no idea this was an edible, medicinal herb.)