Gardening time already!

I know it probably won’t last, but 20°C weather before the equinox is unprecedented here, so I was out in the sun.  I even did a bit of rototilling, even though I hate the noise.  Luckily, it quit after about 15 minutes; usually does at this time of year as the fuel probably has some water in it after being in the garden shed all winter – it freezes onto the inside of the tank and then percolates into the water.  I’ll have to go and buy some more as there are too many weeds in this spot (the sunflower garden) and the vegetable garden, and I don’t have enough time to dig that much by hand twice, which is what it would take to get the grass roots out.

Eric tilling the sunflower garden

In case you’re wondering why the metal sleeve around the pole: there is a bird house on top for the bluebirds or swallows (whoever gets it first) and the sleeve stops mammals from getting up and eating the eggs.

There may have been a few flowers sneaked out during the week, but I was working late.  There are a lot this weekend where there were none last week.  (Stop sniggering, you people on the Wet Coast or the UK).

Here are the first wildflowers, the coltsfoots:


For those not paying attention during your botany classes, coltsfoot are composite flowers, like daisies and dandelions.  Look really close and you can see that the outside “petals” are tiny strap-like flowers with stamens sticking out at the base, and the little dots in the middle are tiny star flowers.  Each flower head for a composite is actually an entire bunch of flowers all by itself.

It might be clearer in this close-up.

Coltsfoot close up

Just three of the disc florets have opened, the rest are buds which will open soon.  You can see the circle of stamens for the ray florets just outside the circle of buds.

There are also crocuses.  I have in my spice cupboard a package of saffron.  Saffron is the stamens from crocuses.  It make wonderfully scented rice, but I haven’t tried picking my own.

Purple crocus

Last but not least, the frogs are back.  Their song is not as pretty as the birds, except for the spring peepers, but I haven’t heard them yet – they are tiny so they probably won’t risk coming out until they are sure it is going to stay warm.

Frog by the fish pond
Frog by the fish pond

Happy St Patrick’s Day

I’d like to wish you all a Happy St. Patrick’s Day.  We’re still working on a trip to Ireland in late September, to go to the Clifden festival, but it’s taking us a while to get plane tickets since we’re trying to fly (mostly) on points.

Happy St Padraig's Day

Notice the shamrock.  We got the plant many years ago and it had died off, been resurrected and been split and given away many times.  We’re not Irish but we listen to lots of Irish music.

The Irish people have always been very friendly to us, certainly our friends in Canada of Irish extraction, and also we maintained contact for many years with a few people we met in Ireland while travelling.

I’ve been listening to Irish music all day – I was shocked when my music software said I had 288 hours of Celtic music.  There are some beautiful Irish songs and tunes but today I was focusing on the story-telling.  Many are great stories of the Irish diaspora as well as good and bad times at home.  Today one that stuck in my mind was Ronnie Drew and Eleanor Shanley performing “Vive la Quinta Brigada”, the story of the Irish who went to fight against (and some for) Franco in the Spanish Civil war, a reminder that the Irish were sensitive not only to their own troubles but to the struggles of all across the world.

More signs of spring

We had a record-breaking temperature day here. Not, of course, proof of climate change but it sure makes me think that way. We’ve had several days of +15-ish (Celsius) with forecast of over a week more. It’s usually only +2-ish.

The robins have been here for several weeks (British visitors to this site may say “that’s not a robin!” – no, but I find it interesting that what we call a robin in North America, a type of thrush, has the same red breast and bobbing walk as it hunts for food in just the same way as the English robin. What selective advantage does a red breast have for this ecological niche? Guesses anybody?

Robin and Junco
Robin and Junco

No, the glass snail is not dinner for these guys.  I’m not sure what is for the robin.  They normally eat insects, worms and the like but the ground was still frozen solid down a good 10cm when they arrived and now has only the cm or two thawed – not much to eat there.  I did see it throwing around dead leaves so maybe there is the odd insect to be found under a leaf pile.


Cardinal and Chickadee
Cardinal and Chickadee

We have also had the red-winged blackbirds back and yesterday a tree filled with a flock of cedar waxwings: about 30 of them.  I’m afraid no pictures of those because all my SLR lenses are on loan to my son who is shooting a movie with them, so I can only take these lower-quality with my point-and-shoot; even at maximum 5x zoom, I can’t get close enough so most of the megapixels are on the cutting room floor after cropping.

Heaven scent

I have had this house plant for many years but one day, a few years ago, at this time of year, I noticed a strong perfume throughout the basement and it took me several days to track it down.  It was this plant, which was at the back in my winter plant room, where I bring in the tropical plants to overwinter until the greenhouse is warm enough again.

Dracaena fragrans
Dracaena fragrans

It’s not much to look at, but the perfume is very pleasant and fills the entire house from this one little spike. It’s quite tall, you can see it is up to the roof; about 2m.  It is very easy to grow; I don’t water more than about twice all winter and it could probably do without even that.  You can read more about it on Wikipedia.

As I’ve mentioned a few times, we have had such a mild winter that the squirrels didn’t really hibernate.  I’ve also mentioned that, unlike my former home in the U.K., the reds and greys (here they’re black) seem to get on fine together.  But here’s evidence that perhaps they get on only too well.  This black seems to have a red tail:

Black squirrel with red tail
Strange bird for you to identify

The caption is a nod to @GrrlScientist – if you like birds or politics you would be well-advised to follow her – because this strange bird is shovelling up all my bird food which I put on the ground for the various ground-feeding birds like these juncoes.


I haven’t seen the snow buntings recently.

Finally, back to plants.  This orchid blooms several times a year for me and lasts about 6 weeks.


This time, though, it has been infested with scale insects.  I’ve had these for several years on another Oncidium variety but there has never been more than a few so I never did anything about them.  Suddenly, this year, they are all over several plants and the plants are dripping honeydew from them.  Luckily, this seems to have attracted ladybirds/ladybugs (I’m still bilingual) and I am picking them off by hand.  They don’t move visibly so I should be able to catch up with them.  Most plants seem (so far) immune.

Scale insects
Scale insects

It’s not easy even to tell they are insects as they soon grow a hard shell and settle down to feed.  You need a strong magnifying glass to see the baby ones which are more insect-like.



Something fishy about this sauce

Fish sauce bottle
Fish sauce bottle

I’ve been making phở at home recently (Vietnamese noodle soup for those not familiar with this delicious dish) but the recipe calls for fish sauce, which I didn’t have, so I went and bought a bottle.

I was somewhat intrigued to find that below the picture of crab, shrimp, pomfret and squid was a note saying that it “does not contain crab, shrimp, pomfret, squid”.

I’m looking forward to my next bowl of phở, as, fortunately, I was reassured by another notice on the side that warned me “allergy warning: contains fish”.  Normally, I would have been content to assume that fish sauce did in fact contain fish, but the front label had reduced my confidence.