Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Making Music . . .

Yesterday - last full day of vacation, and I got to celebrate my birthday a little longer!

My cousin, ME, and I headed over to the club to work out and then have mini tune up massages. They are great! Then, I spent a little time in the whirlpool in the locker room, and made sure my shoulder and arm got a really good massage from the jets. This is not so easy to do, I discovered. You have to really wiggle around to avoid getting blown off the seat ledge and still get your arm and shoulder low enough to reach the jets. Thankfully I was the only person in there :-D

Lunch at Carlo's with Peppermint ice cream for dessert. I'm not a big ice cream person - I really only like peppermint, so that was a great treat. And then . . . a little shopping excursion.

Many years ago I played the guitar. It was like an extra appendage - I was pretty much never without it. But, as sometimes happens, about 20 years ago, I had stopped playing for any number of reasons, and an instrument is meant to be played. Since I wasn't playing it, and I was pretty broke at the time, I sold it. It was a very hard decision, but a guy from Swallow Hill in Denver bought it for his students.

For the past few years, I have been thinking about getting a new guitar. It was a gentle but persistent thought that would come and then go, but always come back. After my cousin, Jimmy, passed away, his brother John let me foster his Martin for a bit. I didn't have it very long, but long enough to get the feel of the strings again and know that if I was going to play again that I would have to toughen up my fingers. The only way to do that is to be pressing on guitar strings. And the best way to do that, is to have them attached to a guitar.

So, after lunch, ME and I drove over to Country Club Hills to the Guitar Gallery store that is there, and I sat down to try a few out with the plan to not be hasty, but to wait for my tax return (and let me tell you they are taking their sweet time now that they owe me money). I tried a Yamaha (what I had years ago). Nope. Tried an Epiphone. Pretty nice. Tried something called a 3 series Parkwood. Very nice. Tried a couple of lower priced Martins. To my great surprise, not so good (wow!). Tried another Martin that cost twice as much - and the action was so high that it was twice as hard to play. No way. Tried a Taylor. Not great. Then the guy had me try another Parkwood - this time a 5 series.

Have you ever had an experience where something just fit you? Like it was made for you and had just been waiting for you to show up? I had it with my Lendrum spinning wheel - just sat down and it fit. Well, I sat down to play this PW510, and everything came together to make some musical magic for me. Even after decades of not playing I was able to play this neck. The action was really low and easy. The tone quality was rich yet bright. It fit my body and it sang in my hands. Wow . . . So I played the three I liked the best again, comparing them. The Epiphone's tone was deep but muddy. It was down to the two Parkwoods (Korean guitars that I never even heard of before!). The 3 series was nice, but played against the 5, there was no contest at all.

I got up to talk to the guy about holding it, and after some discussion with ME, I decided to whip out the plastic and deal with it later when my tax return comes. A few accessories, a hard shell case instead of a gig bag, and it was Happy Birthday to me. Music forever to come. Another step on the path back to myself.

Oh yeah . . .

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jig . . .

Can I just say how much fun I had? And how tired I am?! :-D

Sheri, of The Loopy Ewe fame knows how to throw a party. This was the second year for her Spring Fling event, and I was lucky enough to get to attend both years. It was so great to see old friends and make new ones. In fact, I could have done with a little more time to just relax and socialize! Still, it was wonderful, and I'm already hoping I will get to go again next year!

Last year, as I was driving down to St. Louis for The Fling, I rang My Crazy Cousin The Lawyer to tell him I was going on a knitting retreat. He rang me back, and you probably have to know him to know how truly funny this is, but he said, as only he can, "A knitting retreat? . . . . Whooaaa, let me get the bail money ready."

This year, he said, "Another knitting bee? [he gets confused ;-)] Listen, I've got the bail money ready, and I've alerted all the attorneys in St. Louis - but I'm a little concerned that you're crossing state lines - this could become a federal case." :-D

Well, not a federal case, but clearly, as you'll see below, I need more supervision . . .

I know I promised photos, but it turned out that I spent the majority of my time this year at my spinning wheel, helping and teaching some newer spinners so I didn't have the opportunity to take any photos at all!

I had no idea I would enjoy sharing my love of spinning as much as I did - I was nervous about it. I don't think of myself as a "teacher" because I haven't been spinning all that long (coming up on a couple of years now). And yet, apparently I am. A teacher. :-) So many new spinners this weekend!!! And they were all great, and the time just flew. Yesterday I sat down at my wheel at around 1 in the afternoon, and with one thing and another, I didn't stop until 6:30. Yikes!

Here's my new spinning motto: There is Always More Fiber.


There is. I used to not spin stuff I have because I was afraid I would wreck it. You know what? You can't wreck it. And even if it turns out to be something other than what you planned, it's still a beautiful work of your hands and spirit, and there is always more fiber . . . :-) If you're making yarn that you like, then rock on. Don't let anyone tell you you're doing it "wrong."

I did take one photo - here at home, on the sofa in the living room. Um . . . this is where that needing more supervision thing comes in . . . It's not really as bad as it looks. OK. Well, yeah, I guess it is. I'm going to have to remain calm at all times around fiber and yarn for the foreseeable future (except that I got another gift certificate for my birthday to Knitwerks from My Crazy Cousin the Lawyer, so that's not going to count :-D)

Anywho, lets see if I can go L-R, back row: A new Loopy Ewe T-Shirt because my old one got too big (this is a good thing). Some green and some green tweed Cascade 220 for a felting project. Some Yarn Love Merino Top in the Jewels of Autumn colorway. Two skeins of Opal sock yarn, a skein of Ancient Threads' Sockittome Select (all natural dyes - it's really really beautiful and it was on sale!), a blue skein of Cascade sock yarn (and on top of that the Schaefer Anne that was in my goodie bag), another skein of Opal and some more of the green Cascade for felting.

Next row: enough (6 skeins) of Dream in Color's Starry in the Romeo Blue colorway (got this idea from Not Now, I'm Counting - she had a beautiful skein one shade darker and I fell in love with it). Next is 40 oz. of Lorna's Laces Wool Top in the South Shore colorway (Beth at Lorna's Laces names a lot of her colorways after neighborhoods here in Chicago - and South Shore is where we lived when I was a baby :-) ). Sheri brought over some of this for us to use in the spinning demos, and as I was spinning it, the colors became even more vivid once the twist was in - I had to get some, so I got enough to spin for a sweater and probably some left over.

Next is a very very cute wooden peacock with little feet for its tail feathers - you knit little weeny socks to put on them! In front of him is a Namaste Buddy that will go very nicely with my Offhand Designs bag. Oh - and in front of the Starry are some little notions and such :-)

Last but by no means least, is enough Fiesta Boomerang in the Mochacino colorway to make a sweater. I'm just mad for it!! And I've been dying to make a sweater out of this yarn since I knit Michelle at Boulderneigh an Irish Hiking Scarf with it. It is the most wonderful stuff - and the extra good news is that I have two skeins of Baby Boomerang in the same colorway to make socks with! Wheeee!!!

So - I think it's back on the stash busting wagon for me, at least until I pick up my next batches of pin-drafted Corriedale roving at the Michigan Fiber Festival late in the summer. I've got a LOT to keep me busy with both spinning and knitting.

And now, I'm sleepy - I managed to get walking in every day, including a beautiful 10k volksmarch early this morning, but you never get to bed on time with you're having as much fun as I did this weekend. It was the perfect way to celebrate my birthday (which was Thursday :-) ), and it's not over yet!! I get to spend the day tomorrow (one more day off!!) with my cousin, ME. We're going to walk outside if it's not raining, and then we're going to the club to get mini tuneup massages, work out and have lunch. Sounds perfect to me!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Knit and Run . . .

Just a quick note - I'm off tomorrow to The Loopy Ewe's Spring Fling event. This year, I'm teaching some beginning spinning, so I'm a little nervous. It's not helping that I haven't been able to speak since Sunday - the worst case of laryngitis I think I've ever had. Whatever is blooming (I think it's actually probably tree pollen) is just killing me this year.

I'll be back - with photos and probably too much yarn, and undoubtedly some stories to tell.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Rain in Spring . . .

It's a rainy spring day, but today, it's not a "crappy-weather" day. It's warm - the kind of day I love without reservation. What is it about the rain that makes me feel safe? Never quite figured it out, but there it is. :-)

Oh yes - spring is finally here - I know this because I am on a first name basis with Red Sudafed, and OMG, they make you show your driver's license, sign for it, and promise not to sell it or make meth with it. It's the only one that works to keep my head clear when stuff is trying to bloom, so I sign away.

Yes, spring is finally here - because here is my annual picture of my beautiful magnolia tree. You can see the mists of rain, and what a grey day it is here. It's not fully in bloom yet - sort of reminds me of a sleeping giant just taking that last stretch before fully waking.

And yet, the beauty of its blossoms is fierce . . .

Look closer - the outer petals show the scars from the two recent, heavy spring snows we had, but it didn't stop them. They are the warriors of spring. When they have fully opened, they will be at the mercy of the wind. But for now, as they grow and pave the way for the leaves of summer, they are strong, and beautiful, and hold the promise of every good thing to come. And really, isn't that what spring's about? Isn't that the promise of this season the Celts call Imbolc?

The magnolia's leaves will follow, beautiful in their own rite, but for now, the riot of spring is upon these blossoms, just as it is upon my spirit. We have finally made it through this brutal winter and are renewed. Exciting and wonderful things are coming. I just know it . . . ;-)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Restarting a Crown - Plants IV

So - back to plants today :-) But first, here are some more resources for information and growing.

If you haven't already, you'll want to check out the African Violet Society of America. They publish a great magazine that is chock full of info on violets and activities surrounding them. They are on the web at: http://www.avsa.org/

Three books that I would not be without:

Handbook for Judges, Exhibitors and Growers. Commonly referred to as "the judges' handbook," this is the greatest reference available for growers of African violets. And it's not just for judges!

Growing to Show, by Pauline Bartholomew. Published originally many years ago and updated just last year by the AVSA, this is really my bible of growing. I follow Pauline's pre-show schedule, and have used this book for every area of growing and showing. My original copy is quite wibbly-wobbly looking for all the time it's spent on my potting bench, getting dirty and wet over and over as I look through it.

YOU CAN Grow African Violets, by Kent and Joyce Stork. Based on the columns they wrote over a 13-year period of time for African Violet Magazine, this is a great book and should be in your library. I highly recommend it.

All these books are available on the AVSA website store. It's not the easiest web store to navigate, but I'm sure you can figure it out :-)

So - let's talk about restarting the crown of a plant.

Why would you even want to restart a crown?? Well, restarting a crown is a measure of last resort. If you have been giving your plants consistent care, you would have repotted long before restarting a crown became necessary. I, on the other hand, went through a period of substantial neglect and my plants clearly show the type of care they were getting for an extended period of time :-(

Thankfully, most violets are very forgiving of neglect, and once you get back on the stick to provide consistent care, they will reward you with renewed vigor and growth, and eventually masses of beautiful blooms :-)

Here is Optimara Annabelle. This plant has a beautiful bell blossom, but it's been too cold in my sunroom over the winter. Although the leaves are in pretty good shape, they are curling down to hug the pot - often a sign of temperature problems. Actually, each individual leaf is also curling/cupping under. This is clearly visible in the photo on the right - as is a pretty substantial neck.

As I prepared to pot this plant down, it quickly became apparent that there was too much neck to successfully slice a bit of the root ball off and reseat the plant in the same size pot. How did it become apparent?

Voila! AV a la Palm Tree. :-S

I suppose if I was growing topiary shrubs outside, this might not be so bad. But I'm not. And it is. Bad, I mean. You can see that it's also leaning to the left - because it was reaching toward the light and I didn't turn it often enough. So - what to do now?

Another photo not for the faint of heart . . .

Cut it off at the knees. Make a sharp cut - use your Xacto knife (same reasons as before - you don't want rot). I've taken this crown down to around 6 leaves and I've removed all blossoms and emerging buds (called disbudding).

In fact, I probably should have mentioned this before, but when you are repotting, you should disbud in addition to removing usually the bottom row of leaves. You want the plant to be concerned with making new roots and growing strong and beautiful foliage rather than trying to bloom at this time. Once the plant is stable again and is growing (you'll be able to tell :-) ), then you can let it bloom as you like.

Once you have cut the crown and removed the majority of the leaves, you're going to prepare a small (SMALL!!!) pot. I use the same Solo cups that I use for putting leaves down (see Part III, below). After you have scraped the neck, if necessary, to remove any old scabbing, make a hole in the dirt with your tool of choice, in the CENTER of the pot, and drop the crown in. Then the directions are the same as for putting down a leaf. Water it in, and put in a domed tray or cover with a baggie to create a little micro climate where it can get busy making new roots.

This is also a great way to travel with your plants, i.e., if you have to move, it's not easy to take 30 or 40 potted plants, but a couple of gallon ziploc bags with smaller bags of crowns ready to restart when you get where you're going, is really easy :-)

There is one last thing I would like to talk about because I have mentioned it throughout all the recent "Plant" posts, and that is: Consistent Care. I'll be talking about that in the next post.

So. Now the major cleanup of most of the plants on my stands is complete. Crowns have been restarted, plants potted down, leaves put down to propagate. I'll check in with a plant update from time to time in the coming weeks and let you know how things are going.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Another Crappy Weather Day . . .

I'm home today, trying to head off a sore throat . . .

The PT for my shoulder is going pretty well. Sometimes it really hurts, but last night, not so much. Yay!

Today - another cold and rainy day here in Chicagoland. I'm beginning to think that spring is never going to come. This morning, out in the pond that is my backyard, there was a Mallard duck and his mate - I don't know if they were scouting for a place to make a nest, or what - but given the state of my yard with all the rain we've had, I wouldn't be surprised :-D I tried to get their photo, but it was still too dark, and by the time I ran out to the deck with the camera, they were waddling off back to the big Blue Spruces at the very end of the yard. I hope they come back :-)

I finished the Clapotis - not in time for the First Quarter Loopy Ewe Challenge, but at least it's done - just waiting for a little bit of finishing and some blocking. Photos of it and the Lucy Bag will be forthcoming.

Well, I've had another dose of Airborne, had breakfast, and I'm in my workout clothes - no reason to miss my walk just because I feel like crap. I'm reasonably sure it will make me feel better! I had to turn the heat back up to 68 (it's really cold and damp here), and I've got my new Loopy Ewe red hoody on to keep warm. It's a great hoody, BTW. I washed and dried mine and it fits great. Plus, it's really really soft. Yay for hoodies!

I also took the time to finally update my Ravelry stash. I think I got a little carried away after being on the stash busting wagon for so long. I really do not need any more yarn for a very long time. However, that's not likely to stop me from some fun shopping at The Loopy Ewe - the Spring Fling is in a couple of weeks and I can hardly wait!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter - and Plants, Part III

Happy Easter! It's a beautiful (but cold) day here in Chicagoland. Still, things are trying to bud and grow, and I'm hopeful that snow is behind us.

Being an indoor gardener here in the Midwest has its own set of joys - and African violets and their cousins, the "other gesneriads" are wonderful plants to have when you want to have some color pretty much year round. Before I get back into the dirt with you, I wanted to share some of my resources, because it occurred to me that you might not know where to get some of this stuff I've been talking about.

So - Dirt. You might have noticed that I haven't called it dirt until now. That's because it's not dirt :-D African violet potting mix is generally referred to as "soilless mix" and usually contains peat with some perlite. Depending on where you get it, it can have all manner of other stuff in it, too, none of which is bad, just for a show grower, not necessarily what you might want. I usually use professional mixes, but I have used commercial mix. And of the commercial mixes, I prefer Scotts.

Perlite. Any old perlite will do and you can get it at any garden center - I get mine at Ace Hardware, actually :-D

Tools. Most of the tools I have I got from The Violet Showcase, in Denver (Englewood, actually), Colorado. http://www.violetshowcase.com/ I have also gotten plants from them. A few of the tools I have are dental tools and I got them from a commercial grower in Southern California, but I'm reasonably sure that she got them at a flea market :-D They are not particularly necessary so you don't really need them.

Pots. I have also gotten pots from The Violet Showcase, but more recently I get pots from Cape Cod Violetry in Massachusetts. They do not have a website.

So - how do you "put down" a leaf? And why would you want to?!Most violets will propagate and come true through a leaf. Chimeras and some fantasies will not (these are types of blossoms) and must be grown from a sucker or crown. When I say "come true," I mean that the plant will grow and bloom according to its registered description - again, this is something more important to show growers :-)

But let's say that your Great Aunt Mathilda has an African violet and she is your favorite Aunt and you would love to grow that same plant, but since you can't very well ask her to give up her treasured plant, how can you grow the same one? Ask her for a leaf!

Here's are the steps:

1. Take a good looking leaf - one that's not too old and not too young. If you're getting a leaf from a variegated plant, get one with as much green as possible. There's the leaf I chose from Gail - one of the ones I removed when repotting. And there's the little pot, all ready to go!

2. Wash it! This is not quite so important if it's one of your own leaves (I washed because I just sprayed last week with fungicide), but when you're bringing a leaf in from some someplace else, WASH IT. I use whatever dish soap I have around. Sorry this is a bit fuzzy (using the camera with one hand, I'm afraid), but you get the idea. Blot it dry. BLOT not rub. It's OK if it's not all the way dry.

3. Make a sharp, fresh cut at a 45 degree angle on the stem, leaving yourself at least an inch and a half if at all possible. Use your Xacto knife, please, or a single-edged razor blade. It's important that this cut is sharp. If it's not, the leaf stem will just rot away.

4. Slice off the top of the leaf. Why??! Use your Xacto knife please (same reason). This stops the leaf from expending energy to keep growing and forces the energy into making roots and and plantlets, which is what you want :-)

5. Prepare a small pot - I use 3 oz. plastic Solo cups, which you can usually get at the grocery store - check the paper products aisle or the bathroom cup dispenser section. I use a solder gun to burn three holes in the bottom so there is drainage. Prepare this just as you would a regular pot - for me, that's a wick, some lava rock and then fill with your potting mix.

6. Make a hole in the center - I use the bottom end of my flat dental tool, but a pencil will work just as well :-)

7. Put the leaf in. Don't press/tamp the potting mix down, water it in with a a squirt bottle.

8. Put it in a domed tray (you can see some of the crowns I restarted yesterday - the leaves are over on the right side), or cover with a baggie and use some toothpicks to hold it away from the leaf to make a mini-greenhouse, and let it do its thing. Pretty soon we'll have some plantlets poking up! and I'll take pictures so you'll see them :-)

It's very easy to get carried away with putting leaves down - I know people who put down every single leaf that they pull from a plant. I would encourage you not to do this - unless, of course, you have unlimited time and space - or you're going to have zillions of baby plantlets that you're not going to know what to do with! Be choosy - be selective. I put down leaves yesterday of varieties that I have that are not particularly common or that are tried and true growers (the ones that everyone always wants).

Next time - restarting a crown. :-)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Plants, Part II

Alrighty, then. Today is a fruitful day - what I mean by that, is that the phase of the moon is in a fruitful place. Planting by the phases of the moon - and using various moon signs - is a method of planting as old as the hills. Many farmers still do it - plenty of fishermen fish by them, and I try to work with my violets by them. Today, the moon is in Scorpio, a very fruitful sign, and although I got a late start (not until around 1 or so), I got more done than I anticipated.

Before I really get started into the details - I want to give you the same caveat that I give every time I give a talk or presentation about growing African violets, so here it is:
I am an experienced grower, and where violets are concerned I pretty much know what I'm talking about. HOWEVER, what works for me may not work the same way for you. There is a whole host of reasons why that could be. What I'm sharing with you is what works for me, and these practices are what work for many, many
people. My methods work for me in my home, with my water, my climate, my light
stands and my growing conditions, which are quite likely much different than
yours. So please keep that in mind as we go along. :-) And remember: if what
you're currently doing is working, then it ain't broke! Rock on!

Let's pick up with Gail - but first - here are some of the tools that I use when working with my plants. L-R, there's a Sharpie marker, a meat thermometer, an Xacto knife with a fresh blade, bend scissors, a flat dental tool, bent tweezers and a very soft paint brush. In back some sharp scissors, a roll of Mason's twine and a saucer with cut bits of Mason's twine. What most of these things are used for will become quite clear as we go along :-)

Next? Potting mix. I'm currently potting with something called a "pro-mix" potting mix. It's mostly peat, with some perlite, and I think there are some trace minerals. I was advised that I should "cook" this batch of soil because of the possibility of some fungus gnats - which are harmless, but irritating. So, I put some mix in a glass bowl and heated it in my microwave for 4 minutes - long enough to get the temp up to at least 180 degrees. That kills pretty much anything ;-) And that's what the meat thermometer was for.

Why don't I use commercial African violet soil? Well, I have, from time to time, but most AV potting mix now has fertilizer added to it. If you're growing to have plants in your house to enjoy, using that type of mix for your base is fine. But when you're growing for show, it's important that you have more control over the amount and type of fertilizer that your plants are going to get on a daily and weekly basis.

You can use commercial mixes, but for best success, you’re going to want to cut them about 1:1.5 with perlite. Most commercial mixes are strictly peat, which is great, but when it’s wet, it’s very heavy. Most African violet death occurs from over-watering. If the roots stay wet for any great length of time, the plant is going to rot away. To hopefully avoid that, you cut your mix with perlite :-)

Here’s the pro-mix I got. There was about 2 gallons in the bowl, I think (that’s not the right measure, but it’s close :-)) and next it is with some perlite added (2 cups). Then I added water until the mix was moist – like a wrung out sponge – and decided that it needed a little more perlite, so I added another 2 cups. You can see the difference (and if you click it to biggify it, you can really see the difference).

What next? Pots. African violets light to be in a shallow rather than deep pot. Ideal are what are called "azalea pots." A regular 4" pot that you would get from the store will be deeper than you would ideally want. This is a 4" azalea pot. That's the size pot that Gail was in - she's going back into the same size because I had to pot down her neck and clean her up so she'll have a better chance to grow well :-) Here's her pot, all washed and ready to go. Make SURE you have written the name of the plant and the date you potted (Oh, I'll never forget this plant, It's my favorite . . . Right. Until you inadvertently lose a label or forget to label, and then you don't know what the plant is until it blooms again . . . which will be months away . . .) I use a label maker for the first one, and then I use the Sharpie to update the date if I'm staying in the same size pot. I washed Gail's pot, updated the date, prepared the pot as shown below, and plopped her in - filling in with new potting mix. Read on!

I use a style of potting that is called modified Texas style. It's a long and silly story about why it's called that, and I won't bore you with it - you'll just have to take my word for it that this is modified Texas style :-) It's a little tough to see, but in the first view, there is a wick (that cut up Mason's twine :-) ) in the bottom of the pot that travels across the bottom and up the opposite side. Mason's twine is acrylic, which makes it perfect for wicking - don't use a cotton fiber - it will rot. The purpose of a wick is to draw water up through the bottom of the pot into the soil and to the roots of the plant.

The second view is out of order (sorry) so look at the last view - on the right. The pot has a about a 1/2" to 3/4" layer of coarse perlite, also called lava rock, on the bottom. This creates air space at the bottom of the pot and keeps your plant's roots from ever sitting in water. Next is the center view - a small layer of the potting mix.

Here is Gail before I repotted her - I've removed a few more of her leaves and now you can really see that nasty long neck.

This next photo is not for the faint of heart - but it's the best way for me to show you how to pot down a neck. An African violet will, over time, lose it's lowest row of leaves, that normal, but as you remove them, you begin to get this neck. If' you've been faithful and consistent in your daily and weekly care of your plants, you would have repotted Gail much sooner than I did. For standard violets, every six months is usually pretty good - for minis and semis, every three months.

OK, that's enough small talk. Here's Gail, slipped out of the pot where she was living. Clearly visible is part of the bottom layer of lava rock. Also clearly visible in the first view is some yellowish looking stuff on the top of the root ball - that's fertilizer salts - you want to get rid of that very top layer. You also want to scrape away with your thumbnail the brown "scabs" that have formed on the neck of the plant - they are quite visible in the photo one up, and you can see fresh green neck in the photo just above. You scrape the scabs away so the new roots will have an easy place to form.

The second view is Gail with enough of her root ball cut off to equal the amount of neck I'm going to pot down, and the top layer of potting mix removed. It looks a little crookedy, but that's an optical illusion - I made a pretty straight cut - you can cut it with sharp scissors, or you can cut with a steak knife or you can cut with your Xacto knife. Just remember that your HAND is there along with the root ball. If you stab yourself with the Xacto knife because you weren't paying attention. you're going to have to stop your potting activities and wait for your slice to heal - or you're going to have to put on rubber gloves for the rest of your activities in the dirt, which is a complete pain in the ass. You can ask me how I know, but I'm reasonably sure you already figured that part out ;-)

And here she is. all ready to go!

Don't tamp down the mix around the roots. You want some air space in there - I generally water in the mix so that the plant is set in the pot and not moving around. I use a squirt bottle with a long nozzle on it - and somehow I managed to not take a picture of it :-D Sorry.

I think that's enough for now :-) Next time I'll talk about putting a leaf down, and also re-starting a crown.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

My Plants . . .

In addition to my knitting and spinning, I raise African violets.

Actually, the violets came first, and at one time I grew more than 115 varieties. But that was years ago - I found that when I have more than 50 varieties, nothing and no one is happy. At one time I was involved at the national level with the African Violet Society of America - the AVSA, but I'm not any longer. I have been involved in some capacity with the Illinois African Violet Society - IAVS, since I moved home from Southern California about 5 1/2 years ago. For a time I was a member of the Hoosier African Violet Society, but the drive and timing became an issue for me - still, it's a great club, and if you're anywhere around Crown Point, Indiana, I recommend them!

Anyway - I have downsized my plants over the past two years until I now have around 35 varieties. Doesn't seem like too many to me, but I haven't been taking very good care of them. However, in the last month, I've been bitten by the plant bug again, and have taken a good look at my stands . . . they are not a pretty site. I'm actually embarrassed to share these photos with you - but if my plants' recovery from serious neglect can help another grower, it will be good.

So - what really prompted this? Well, I was notified that the Illinois State African violet show, which in years past has always been a spring show, will be happening this fall, in September, at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. That got me thinking - plus, it's spring, and who doesn't like to get their hands in the dirt in the spring? Hmmmm - maybe that's only me.

Anywho - I'm not an outdoor gardener like Linda the Chicken Lady and like most of my family. I'm an indoor gardener. I have been an outdoor gardener, I mean, I know how, my mom was a champion outdoor gardener and you can't really avoid knowing how to garden when you have a champion gardener for your mom :-) I have enjoyed it in the past, but now that I have asthma, working in the yard isn't very good for me. But I've always been an indoor gardener. I've had a love of houseplants since I was in high school.

For as green a thumb as I have, my first college efforts with African violets were dismal at best, and I didn't try them again until probably about 15 years ago. I was at the Jewel one day (the local grocery store), and they had these three African violets, and I decided it could just NOT be rocket science to grow them. I brought them home, and thus began a serious love affair. I discovered the AVSA and their wonderful magazine, I even bought my first plant stand, a small 1' x 2' 2-shelf stand. It lives in my basement - I keep it for an isolation stand :-)

I never had very many plants back then, and I although I could get them to grow, I didn't really know all that much about them - and then things got crowded in my studio. I moved to Southern California with my then-husband, and one of the things I insisted on taking was my plant stand, and the two violets I had left.

Bringing plants in to California can be dicey. We did have to stop, and as I watched the agricultural agent grab my violets by the crowns and yank them out of the pots "looking for pests," I thought I would expire. But they made it, and soon, I had my little stand set back up and I began growing plants in earnest.

Fast forward to now - I've entered my share of shows - even won a Best in Show - I'm an Advanced Judge for the AVSA, and have held various positions in a number of the organizations I mentioned earlier.

And right now, my plants look like crap.

This has been a hell of a winter - everything has powdery mildew. What's that? Powdery Mildew falls into the category of Parasitic and Infectious Diseases. It's a fungus that appears suddenly, can spread rapidly and can be aggravated by poor ventilation, high humidity and fluctuating temperatures. In my experience, it's the poor ventilation and fluctuating temps that do it. Thankfully it's pretty easily taken care of with better, more consistent care, and a spray of fungicide. The one I use is called Fung-Away.

On this leaf you can see water spots, but you can also see some powdery mildew.

Here's a better shot.
If you look closely, you'll see that the outer leaves of this plant have a dusty look. That's powdery mildew. This is one of my favorite plants, Gail. Yes, they have names - but I didn't name them :-D Gail is an older variety, hybridized by Max Maas. Gail was registered in 1975, so it qualifies as a "vintage violet." Gail is a standard (I grow mainly standards), and it has a pretty simple description: "Double dark rose. Longifolia." The double dark rose refers to its blossoms, and the Longifolia refers to the foliage. Longifolia foliage is defined as: "Narrow pointed strap-like leaves with either plain or wavy edges. Although the center growth on this plant looks pretty good, you'll have to take my word for it that it's pretty stunted. This is from poor and inconsistent care.

Here's another view of powdery mildew. This is Mid-America. It's in way better physical shape than Gail is (apparently it can survive quite well even with terrible neglect) but it, too is suffering with powdery mildew. The mildew is clearly visible on pretty much every leaf in the outer ring of leaves.

I spent some time removing spent leaves and disbudding everything a few days ago. This morning, everything got a good spray of Fung-Away, and when I repot next weekend, all the affected leaves will be removed.

I have violets that look like palm trees - trust me this is not good. Here's Gail again - I'm holding up one of the leaves - take a good look and you'll see a neck that's about an inch and a half long. This is not good. You also can see a split leaf - another not good.

I'm going to document my work with Gail in the next few months and hopefully she'll make a great comeback in plenty of time for the show in September.

One other that I'll follow is Melodie Kimi. This is a small standard, and one of my my all-time favorites - here is its official description: "Single white sticktite pansy/purple-blue top petals, tips. Medium green, plain, quilted wavy."

Kimi doesn't have much mildew (some plants are more susceptible to it than others), but she's got some serious symmetry issues and, although you can't see it in this view, a neck like a giraffe.

And there are plants that are still in the pots they came home in last year from the national convention. That's Fresh Air - a stunner - and it's still in the pot it came in - I didn't even repot it into my own mix . . . and it has a sucker. See that little plantlet in the foreground? That's a sucker. It will be removed.

There are plantlets that I propagated from leaves that have needed to be separated for at least 6 months.

I could go on - but I'll spare you the rest of the gory details.

I hope you'll check back from time to time to see their progress :-) and if you'd like to see some of these plants in better days, please visit my Flickr photos.