Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Rule #60

The Cats and Catts household is making some changes in how we buy and eat food.  Our food shift has been prompted by realizations, evolved opinions, new knowledge, and good old fashioned peer pressure.  Perhaps I'm warming up to the idea that sustainability is sustainable.  So, maybe all of these people telling me to read Michael Pollan for the last five years have a point?  I loved Botany of Desire, especially the tulip part (obviously).  Trixie was approaching Pollan through a series of youtube videos about environmental sustainability, American health trends, and the complicated evolutionary relationship humans have with food.  (I also think she has a tendency to find bald men especially attractive, but that's a separate topic).  Feeling the pull of the Pollan, we started with the basic primer Food Rules: An Eater's Manual. He says "You can read it in an hour and it just might change your eating life."

Food Rules has advice for the kitties, too.  Rule #60 stuck out at me: "Treat treats as treats."  The only problem with that as a command is that Griffin will only hear "treats" and beg for more.  That rule has three utterances of the word "treat," and that's asking for trouble.

Lan Lan, I don't think, reacts to the word "treat" in quite the same way.  The "treat treats as treats" motto might actually work.  But watch out if you have animal cookies because -- treat rule or not -- she will get up in your face and demand her share of jimmies.  

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Orchid Enlightment

Pickles and Boomer (left) are featured here taking a little nap.   It must be exhausting to watch over the thousands of plants from EnLightened Orchids in Illinois.  

Ernie Gemeinhart from  
EnLightened was one of the standout speakers at the Mid-America Orchid Congress meetings this year.  He offered a lively exposition on the advantages of growing orchids under lights, but it had an overriding budget conscious, DIY message.  Instead of extolling the virtues of high intensity discharge lamps, Ernie championed a set-up of four 4' T8 40W shop light bulbs as a basic starting point.  One can build from there -- and he mapped the pros and cons of different lighting approaches -- but the overall strategy was inspirational in its hardware store simplicity.  You don't need expensive lights with elaborate rotating systems and cooling fans in order to grow prize-winning orchids.

He described some low-tech tricks to improve our orchid growing culture, like increasing humidity by pointing a box fan in a corner of the growing room facing a pan of water.  When the box fan burns out, he takes them apart and uses the grate to fashion homemade humidity trays.  Genius!  A lot of Ernie's insights can be found in an article he wrote for Orchids in 2007.  You can find more information at his website Enlightened Orchids where they specialize in orchids suitable for growing under lights and on windowsills (check out these gorgeous Paph. Species and Paph. Hybrids!)

I knew that Enlightened Orchids would make the Kitties Approved list because he mentioned that cat hair is the "magic ingredient" in his potting mix.

So, what insights are we going to incorporate into the Cats and Catts growing set-up?  I need Sabine to look into the possibilities.  Ernie seemed to think I had the right approach with supplementing my West-facing windowsill with two 42W compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) about an inch from our big plants (Blc. Mem-al-Na and B. Little Stars, both from Bird's Botanicals).  We might expand in that direction and increase the wattage and/or the number of the bulbs.  And if we increase the light we will have to consider adjusting the other cultural factors (another bit of wisdom reinforced in Ernie's talk).  But I'll have to review it all with Bean.      

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Bean at the Space Opera

Bean (superimposed over a grey background for some kind of bizarre artistic effect) eyes the new paphiopedilum with suspicion.  Maybe she likes the name?  Paph. Concobell 'Space Opera' x Paph. Conco-bellatulum 'Hirashi.'  Who doesn't like a space opera?  I purchased this one from the good people at the Orchid Inn in Bloomington Illinois at the Omaha Orchid Show last weekend.  The Orchid Inn website notes: "Complex Conco-bellatulum breeding!  Yellow with bold spots!"  I think that means that it has Paph. bellatulum and Paph. concolor as species ancestors.  It's terribly cute.  Not as cute as Bean, but still.

I don't know much more about it, so I'll have Bean research the species involved in the breeding.  Until then, I'll just treat it like my other paphiopedilums and I'll make sure Griffin stays away. 

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Miss Me?

As soon as Lan Lan (left) sees the suitcase, she knows one of us is going out of town.  She will usually escalate her state of neediness and demand extra pets and attention.  No amount of rational conversation can talk her down from acting freaky.  I mention that it's going to be a short trip, or that Trixie is staying home, but it doesn't to quiet her.
On the other hand, as Lan Lan matures, she's become less traumatized by the occasional out-of-town trips.  I think she knows that we will return and it's less of a big deal. Riley (seen here working on some filing) is less mature, less patient, and therefore more prone to emotional displays.  For instance, if you look closely at the picture, you can see a scratch mark on the bridge of his nose from (I'm guessing) a battle with Griffin.  Riley is a freak.  We all know this.

So, while I'm away at the Omaha Orchid Show and the Mid-America Orchid Congress this weekend, who is missing me the most?  Riley or Lan Lan?  As I type this, Bean is howling like a maniac.  Maybe I have it all wrong?  Or maybe it's just a show and as soon as I'm out the door they simply go about their business of taking naps and begging for treats.  Perhaps Trixie has some insights.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Vanilla Bean (part 2)

Sabine -- pictured here having a little Photoshop moment -- previously reported on the important developments in the history of mass-produced ice cream treats.  As we all know, Bean is a vanilla hound.  She can hear the sound of a vanilla ice cream carton from several yards away.  Vanilla is a treasured orchid product in the Cats and Catts house.

Riley, of course, could care less about the whole thing. Griffin and Lan Lan like vanilla, but not nearly with the same enthusiasm as Selena Sabine.  But Bean isn't alone in her vanilla craze.  The U.S. consume approximately 1,200 tons of vanilla beans a year.

The world supply of vanilla, however, is more precarious than any of the cats would like to admit  (the lazy freaks. . . .).  From 1998 to 2005, we suffered a drastic shortage of vanilla.  A cyclone and political unrest in Madagascar laid waste to vanilla crops, and it took years to recover.  According to Patricia Rain, the world used about 2,300 metric tons of vanilla, but in 2004 the world used on 1,200.  Companies that made the vanilla products the Cats and Catts crew like to consume shifted to "flavor identical alternatives."  The New York Times reported in April 2004, "Shortage Makes Vanilla as Precious as Gold." 

Now, here's some good news.  The vanilla supply rebounded after a lush 2005 crop in Madagascar.  One newspaper reported "happy days for vanilla lovers are almost here again" (Lincoln Journal Star, "Vanilla, Good & Plenty," 5/18/2005).  If you're in the hunt for real vanilla, we recommend you start with vanilla products endorsed by the "Vanilla Queen" Patricia Rain.  Bean, however, endorses a wider range of vanilla treats, as long as she beats the other kitties to the bowl. 

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Guest Kitties! Bonetta Jumps the Squirrel Hurdle

In this fine action shot, Squirrel poses like a beauty queen as Bonetta leaps over her.  

Squirrel might be insecure about the curvature in her back, but the Cats and Catts crew think it's a mark of distinction.  The curvature, of course, makes for an awesome hurdle where Bonetta can show off her grace and coordination.

Squirrel appears to be checking for the identity of this orchid.  Without a proper label marker, Squirrel relies on the appearance of the leaves and pseudobulbs to make an educated guess.  I think we're dealing with a cybidium.  This AOS Care Sheet offers a nice overview of general cybidium care: high nitrogen fertilizer in spring and summer, cool evenings in the Fall to initiate flowering, and plenty of light.  I'm sure Bonetta has it covered ...

Thanks Angela!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Worst Kitty in the House!

Can you believe this?  Riley instantly became the official worst kitty in the house when he started hassling the brassavolas that arrived from Oak Hills Gardens.  It began first with a little bump and nudge from his cheek.  Then, as I looked away, Riley decided to chow on the David Sander (B. cucullata x Rl. digbyana).  Trixie -- quick with the camera -- caught it on film.

I want to say "Brassavola David Sander" but Sabine, our resident brasssavola expert, says that I should say "Ryncholaelia David Sander" because Brassavola digbyana is now Ryncholaelia digbyana and its hybrids have changed their name, too. 

No offense to Bean, but nomenclature is the last thing we need to be worrying about now.  Why is Riley so bad?  Why does he insist on being the worst kitty?  How can he be so cute one moment and a terror the next?  Anyway, I quickly put the orchids in their new home in front of the window.  They're still vulnerable, but I tried to position them away from where the cats can access them.  According to this AOS article on B. cucullata the David Sander hybrid is something to behold: "The frilly lip of both parents combine to make a large exotic flower with grace and beauty."  Unless, of course, your bad cats eat them before they bloom.

I'm surprised Griffin wasn't involved, but maybe that goes without saying.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Trouble Cat, Trouble Orchid

Riley seems at home with this masdevallia (Dean Hass 'Max' HCC/AOS) I bought from Prairie Orchids at the Kansas City Orchid Show.  It's a good match because Riley causes me as much worry as this orchid.  It's a cool-growing species requiring a careful environment that's cool, but not too cold, wet, but not too wet, and lots of light, but no direct light.  Yet, like almost all orchid advice, the cultural parameters of masdevallias vary widely, so general guidance is tricky.  

Why masdevallias?  I can think of a few reasons I bought this plant.  I've grown to love the triangle flower shape of Brassavolas and Rhyncholaelias, and masdevallias take it to the next level.  I'm also following the advice of Kansas City orchid expert Terrence Thompson who says that "The best advice I can give to a new grower is to start out with a variety of orchid types and see what thrives best in your growing situation."  Maybe masdevallias will explode with colorful flowers on the windowsill?

Within days my poor Masd. showed obvious signs of unhappiness.  One of the leaves developed a black spot.  They all looked a little too leathery and developed a darkened shade of green.  It didn't help matters that I dropped the plant and had to repot it.  (I wish I could blame Griffin, but I simply can't).  Maybe it's simply missing its greenhouse?  Maybe it needs more water?  I'm being patient with it and making slight adjustments.  Someday . . . maybe . . . we'll see brilliant orange flowers.  But I'm putting Riley in charge of it, so don't hold your breath.      

Friday, March 5, 2010

Frog Friday! The Lost Frog Edition

Does Alice (left) ever think about extinction?  The supply of crickets must be constantly on her mind, but existential obliteration is probably too heavy to contemplate.

This week, Australian officials confirmed that a species of yellow-spotted bell frogs -- thought to have been extinct for thirty years -- was found in rural Australia.  Luke Pearce, a fisheries conservation officer, found one of the frogs in October 2008 while researching an endangered fish.  He returned to the spot a year later with a team of experts.  They found 100 of the yellow-spotted frogs in the same location.  The New South Wales Environment Minister compared the finding to the hypothetical rediscovery of the Tasmanian tiger.  Australian scientists have started a breeding program to revive the lost species.

Other frogs aren't so lucky.  About 170 frog species have disappeared in the last decade.  The continued survival of almost 2,000 species are threatened.  This is bad, not just for frogs and frog fans, but for science and medicine.  For instance, the Austrailian red-eyed tree frog (Litoria chloris) secretes peptides that block HIV infection of T cells.  Poison from an extremely cute-looking Ecuadoran frog called Epibpedobates tricolor has been used to develop new painkillers

Lan Lan mentioned that there's some kind of fungus that has devastated frogs and other amphibians across the globe.  I asked her about current conservation efforts, and I suspect she'll have a full report for us in a few weeks.   

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Report from the Kansas City Orchid Show

The 2010 Kansas City Orchid Show was rather awesome.  There were a lot of good looking plants and creative displays.  I also had the opportunity to act as a clerk during the judging process, putting the ribbons on the plants that won awards.  It was actually harder than it sounds.  I ended up having fun and learning a lot.  At one point, the lead judge solicited opinions from the clerks and I said something like "me think flower looks pretty" (or something equally trenchant). 

In his observations of orchid judging Eric Hansen said, "No one could ever claim that the orchid people are svelte" (Orchid Fever pg. 117).  By contrast, our group was in fine shape, weaving in and out of the exhibits, bestowing honor on the all of the fine flowers.  I didn't see any of the curmudgeons that populate Hansen's book, just dazzling flowers, fellow friendly orchid freaks, and a few helpful vendors

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Cats and Catts Visit Vista, California

Here, Oliver stands next to a Den. speciosum-gracilicaule x specio-kingianum. Trixie picked this up on her visit to Ontario Orchids in Vista California.  I visited Ontario Orchids a few days later based on Trixie's positive review.  We were both impressed by the friendly and helpful staff.  We were also knocked over by their collection of gorgeous dendrobiumThey also had cool looking phalaenopsis and a number of mounted species.  Back in the corner, I found a small number of slipper orchids, including a handful of Phrag. Haley Decker.  Unfortunately, they weren't for sale (but it never hurts to ask).  All in all, Cats and Catts gives Ontario Orchids the "kitty approved" seal of quality, so check them out if you find yourself in the North County of San Diego.

I'm not sure if Oliver knows what to do with the dendrobium, except for chew at the leaves, but I think Sidney (the grey kitty) has some solid ideas about its care. First, he notes that dendrobium are one of the largest species of orchids, so it's difficult to give general advice.   

In Vista, with its Mediterranean climate, this kind of orchid can probably stay outdoors in a bright, but shady, spot.  I will look forward to the kitties' reports, but this seems like an easy-to-care for hybrid that likes 1) sunlight, 2) regular watering 3) reasonably heavy fertilizer, and a drastic cutback in water and fertilizer during the winter.  The best advice for caring for these plants is probably this AOS article on the Australian Hard Cane Dendrobium Group.  

Ontario Orchids sell the hybrid featured with the kitties (speciosum-gracilicaule x specio-kingianum) as well as the natural hybrid Den. x specio-kingianum.  Each has a slightly different perfume, but they're both nicely fragrant.

 (above, Trixie and the ladies from Ontario Orchids