Haiku by Taffy

My claws are tingling

Visitors have invaded

They will taste my wrath

I am Taffy. Nessie, I have your people here. I am holding them hostage until you stop your complaining and act sensible. One more simpering post from you and I do not hesitate to shred them. Oh yes little missy; I still have my claws. Heh-heh.

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Dahlias

We have been having fun growing dahlias for a couple years now.  I have seen other people grow them over the years.  At one time Detroit had a dahlia society and they would plant a nice display garden at the zoo.  I have also seen them used 50 years ago as big tall plants in the back of the flower garden producing dinner plate sized blooms.  Over the past decades they have been developed as a specialty bedding plant grown from seeds in garden flats and growing into dwarf plants no more than 12 inches tall.  They have been bred to cover the color spectrum from white to maroon, yellow, orange, pink and bicolored.  The petal shapes vary also from pointed to twisted, curved and uniform to daisy centered.  Leaf colors are mostly green but there are purple foliaged types.  There are named varieties that are in just about every size and description except blue. 

Growing dahlias is very easy.  They are botanically a perennial, meaning they will grow from year to year without going to seed and starting over.  However they are sensitive to cold weather and cannot withstand freezing.  For that reason, they are grown as annual flowers in most temperate gardens.  They can be grown easily from seed, but seed from them is not usually available unless you save it yourself.  More commonly, the tuberous roots are sold or you may buy them in flats along with annual flowers.

When you buy the tubers in the spring you should look for a living bud or sprout at the neck of the tuber before the old stem base.  If the tuber was stored correctly, it should feel like a potato or a little dryer, but not spongy or decayed.  If you get one and it does have some damage, you can trim off the bad part and air dry the cut end for about a week until it skins over.  They usually will grow out of minor damage if you plant them in warm soil in the sun.  Do not try to plant these plants too early in the spring.  They are a warm weather grower and in cool soil they will just sit there and may rot.  You can start them in the house in flats but I do not think you really gain any blooming time by doing that.  They grow and they bloom when the weather is hot and they get lots of sun. 

When you plant them outside, just plant them shallowly under a few inches of soil laying the tuber lengthwise in the hole.  The plant will develop from the eye or sprout.  As the plant gets bigger, the plant will grow new tubers in a starfish pattern all around the crown.  The tubers are carbohydrate sinks, so in order to get lots of tubers, they need to grow vigorously and have lots of leaf surface to make sugars they want to store for the winter. 

Cleanish tuberous roots ready for storage over winter

The dahlia is the national flower of Mexico.  It can be found in many works of art and flags and family symbols.  It is a hot-weather grower.  By that I mean that its metabolism is not very active until the temperature reaches 60-70 degrees.  Colder temperatures can be endured, but the plant will sit there and not grow or change until it is warmer.  The sugars it creates are stored as a form of starchy fiber called inulin.  This is edible but has a very high, indigestible fiber content.  They are non poisonous and people can eat them, but they are not that good to eat. 

As the plants grow larger, they can be staked or not.  If you do not stake them, they fall over and grow in a curve up from the ground into a candelabra shaped plant.  The wind can crack off the plants if they are staked too low and the ties create a fulcrum point that pinches the stem and cracks it.  The peony cages are a good idea for supporting the plant but not pinching the stem at a single point.  I have had success with them by not staking them at all. 

If you are growing single blooms that you want for a plant show or something, pinch off the buds as they form in the axil of the leaves.  Just leave one flower bud per stem and supposedly, the remaining bud grows to a larger flower size.  Actually, I think the flower may grow about 10-20 percent larger on a single flowered stem, but you get more nice flowers if you let them grow without thinning. 

At the end of the summer, the plants will die off from a hard frost.  If you leave them in the ground for a week or two after the tops die, the buds at the base will think it is time for them to begin to grow.  You want them to get the idea that the next thing to do is to grow from that basal bud but do not let them actually begin to sprout.  Pull them up, trim off the stems, and shake off the soil.  Allow them to dry thoroughly on newspapers or somewhere where they will really dry out and not mildew.  Shake off the rest of the soil, and box them up in a flip top tote covered with peat moss or vermiculite.  Any cuts or breaks on the tubers will skin over and dry like a potato.  They will stay dormant like that if they can be kept above freezing but as cold as 40 degrees.  If they are too warm, they may try to start growing. 

Tuberous roots covered with peat moss for winter storage

The pests and diseases that dahlias get seem to be minimal.  I have had some lepidopterous caterpillars get into the flower petals and eat, but that has been the extent of it so far.  

If you want to grow dahlias, you can get certain colors or forms by contacting a dahlia club in your area.  It seems to be a flower with many fanciers who get into growing them for a hobby.

Dahlia Hill, Midland, MI

http://www.dahliahill.org/                   See these guys for a very cool Dahlia Garden locale in Midland, Michigan

Public Apology

It has been brought to my attention that a very emo cat has been posting to this science blog.  Now I fully admit that the subjects of this blog are varied.  I have tried to keep it 50% science content and 50% other topics.  I see that the “visits” counter have peaked on days when non-science topics are featured.  So as not to contribute to the dumbing down of America, I will now only post serious science topics.

On second thought, if the only reason the readers are coming to my blog is to read non-science stuff maybe I better keep it going.  They may stumble upon the serious articles by accident. 

But I swear, Nessie, get off my blog!  Maybe you should get your own.  Infamous.

Today’s Haiku

Dying of lack of attensions

Waiting in the cold

 Providers turned traitor 

Bleak existence; I keen

Day Three

The loud people are still here.  I am on constant alert watching for the scurvy dog. 

Me in my bathroom baskey where I live now

The noises coming from outside the door are terrifying.  Besides the baskey, I now sit and while away the hours watching birds out the bathroom window.  I have only some towels to keep by soft little toes warm on the cold tile. 

The cold windowsill in winter. This is me suffering in silence.

 

The scurvy dog continues to run around the house like a herd of elephants.  He is a devildog.  Here is what he looks like. 

Shudder.

New recipe Phyllo Pizza

Pesto Puff Pastry Pizza

We had some left over phyllo dough from a fantastic Christmas dinner yesterday.  Since I am trying to use things up around here, we used it to make PIZZA.  I may never make boring crust pizza again.  My future-daughter-in-law laid out the phyllo sheets and basted them with butter.  We then spread mozallella cheese on them and prebaked the two pizzas we were creating to set the crust and cheese together.  The cheese made a nice waterproof layer in the bottom.  We  then added for the Pepperoni Pizza:

  • fennel seeds
  • chorrizo
  • pepperoni
  • more mozarella
  • tomato sauce with oregano and cilantro in it

For the Pesto Pizza, we started with the phyllo crust and mozarella cheese layer, then:

  • pesto sauce
  • chorrizo and pepperoni
  • pine nuts
  • garlic
  • feta cheese
  • and little discs of tomato cut very thin

Yum.  Everyone loved it.

Solitary

Me, suffering so

I am now in solitary confinement.  The scurvy dog has arrived with some loud people.  Dad took my litter box and food and locked me up in the bathroom.  The scurvy dog sniffs at the space under the door.  He is awful.  I must make myself small and hide behind the toilet tank.  I am worried about mousie out there in the cookie jar.  The scurvy dog may bite him.  I think the people call this holiday Christmas.  Just hard to overstate my dissatisfaction.

My Mom Cannot Sleep

This is when I saw my mousie in the cookie jar

This is me checking my green toy mousie inside the cookie jar

My Mom had trouble sleeping last night.  At 5:30 AM I brought her a mouse I had found under the sofa. She was so pleased with me, she had to give me a big tummy rub.  She loved the mouse so much she put it in my secret cookie jar.  I checked it several times.  The mouse seemed happy in the cookie jar.  I had to check him about 7 times to be sure he was OK.  I jumped back and forth from Mom’s pillow to the cookie jar above the bedroom TV in joy.  By then it was 6 AM.  Mom wanted to get up then to go downstairs and check to see if I had enough food in my dish and if my litter box was daisy fresh.   Mom left early, at about 8:30 AM  just when I was getting sleepy in the morning sun.  I slept all day in the sun dreaming of more mice.  Maybe tonight Mom and I can play mice together.  Sometimes Mom seems to get sleepy at night.  I know that she loves it when I sit on her head on her pillow and purr very loudly.  Here are some pictures.

Picture of me, Nessie, Mom loves me best

More recipes…Today make Crack Pie

This recipe is from the Momofuku folks who decribed it on Martha Stewart.  I wrote the recipe down as they told it rapid-fire, so I think this is right.  Also, like all good chefs, they give the ingredients by weight rather than by dry measure.  You can make this on your kitchen scale easily.  You DO have a kitchen scale, don’t you?

Crack Pie

Crust

  • 4 oz butter
  • 1.25 oz granulated sugar
  • 2.5 oz. brown sugar
  • 3 oz flour
  • 3.5 oz rolled oats
  • pinch of baking soda
  • pinch of baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 egg

Spread the above in a shallow pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes.   Crumble after baking and add

  • 2 oz butter, melted
  • 3/4 oz brown sugarline your pie pan like a graham cracker crust. 

Press into a pie pan with your fingers like a graham cracker crust.

Filling

  • 10.5 oz sugar
  • 7 oz brown sugar
  • salt-little bit
  • 3/4 oz milk powder
  • 8 oz melted butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 6.25 oz heavy cream
  • 8 egg yolks

Mix all that stuff together for the filling.  Bake the pie in a hot oven for 10 minutes and then turn down the heat to 350 degrees.  I have no idea how long it will take to set up.  I would guess about 50 minutes, but better monitor it.

Fruitbowl Science

Bananas and ethylene

This time of year I am reminded about a good recipe for Banana bread that I make.  Sometimes Infamous buys a bit too many ‘naners at the warehouse store and ends up with some overripe ones.  These are fragrant, soft, sweet and perfect for bread but a bit too ripe for fresh eating.  This would be a good time to discuss ripeness and how a plant   hormone affects everything from harvest, storage, delivery, and shelf life.

The main hormone we are talking about here is Ethylene.  It is a gas which is a bit unusual for a hormone.  Ethylene’s molecular structure is quite simple. It has 2 carbons hooked together with a double bond and a couple of hydrogens on each end.  As a gas, it is emitted by ripening fruit.  Usually, hormones and a lot of other things in biologic systems have a feedback mechanism which detects when a lot of the hormone is around and tells the organism to slow or quit making it for a while.  Ethylene is strange in that it not only has no feedback mechanism, it actually induces its own synthesis.  This has the effect of making more, which has the effect of making even more.  If this sounds like a runaway freight train, you should see my bananas. 

The plant begins to make a little bit of ethylene to do several things to its fruit.  It softens it, sweetens it, changes its color and makes it aromatic.  And then things go horribly wrong.  Because, you see, it just won’t stop!!  The first ripe fruit sends all these chemical signals (as a gas) next door to another fruit which makes that one ripen.  All of a sudden, there are ripe fruits all over the plant and all over the grove and all over the hillside and, well, you get the picture. 

Besides encouraging synchronous ripening in fruits, ethylene has many uses by man.  Orchardists have used ethylene for years to ripen under-ripe fruits.  They can pick the fruit while it is firm and slightly under-ripe and ship it that way.  The tougher consistency makes a better product since it does not bruise as easily.  Then, when the fruits are either enroute or near the destination, they can be ripened by ethylene gas to look like tree ripened fruit. 

There is a slight catch to doing that trick though.  Although many plants can take stored starches, for example, and make them turn into sugars when exposed to ethylene, there is a limit to how much stored starch there is in a detached fruit.  When most of that starch has been cleaved into nice tasty sugars, the fruit cannot get any more sugar from the tree.  If the fruit wants to really ramp it up and make the most delicious sugary fruit possible, it can only do that by getting extra sugar from the branch it is growing on.  This is why, in certain fruits like apples, you can taste the difference in tree ripened versus crate ripened fruit. 

Back to the bananas.  Some fruit has the ability to store tremendous amounts of carbohydrate as starch.  Bananas were originally a rather non-sweet starchy fruit.  If you have ever cooked Plantains, you have tasted an old-fashioned banana.  People have selected and bred and selected some varieties of banana to make it the sugary fruit we know today.  A banana can store so much starch, that it can make a lot of sugar when the ethylene train gets rolling.  That is why, for this fruit, they ripen as well in your fruit bowl as they do on the tree.  A banana does not need the tree to supplement its sugar content.  That is a convenient thing for a fruit that gets very soft and mushy when it ripens.  They would not ship very well in the mush stage. 

If you ever get fruits that you need to ripen, put them with a ripe fruit.  The ethylene will do the trick.  Alternatively, if you have fruits you would like to slow down, give them cool temperatures and good ventilation.  Get the ethylene out of the container.   Or you could make my banana bread recipe…

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