Monday, June 28, 2010

Des Moines Brassavolas

This Brassavola was one of a dozen blooming orchids that greeted us at the Des Moines Botanical and Environmental Center.  I think it's a Brassavola, but only a few of the plants had garden markers.  I'm a big believer in labeling.  So, inside the show room I was frustrated by the rows of unidentified orchids.  Maybe there's a special labeling system I'm not aware of.  Maybe the tags receeded into the mix.  Maybe. 

Brassavolas are going to look magical with or without a label and with or without knowing their proper names, but if you live in the Des Moines area I'm sure the botanical center would love your volunteer help. 

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Beer Bad

Do you remember the slug that was headed for certain death into small container of beer?  Well, that was the only slug taken out by that method.  I left the container out for a few days, but it didn't seem to work very well. Then, a few things occurred to me.  Since I don't drink, how well will this system work?  Will I, like this last time, have to wait until someone leaves beer in the refrigerator?  If I did drink, would I want to waste my beer on slugs?

It's been an especially wet June and I haven't completed the plastic rain cover for the shade house.  I checked out the roots of some of the orchids I was worried about and found slugs, ants, sow bugs, and roaches.  The variety and quantity of the pests pushed me to take extreme action (i.e. Sluggo Plus, etc.).  It's going to be an uphill battle against the bugs, but I'm determined to win it.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Sudamerlycaste nana, Beautiful Helen of Troy's Meth-Addicted Sister

[Lyc. 'Sunrise,' New Vision Orchids, Oklahoma City Show, 2010]

Leo Schordje recently gave a talk to the Orchid Society of Greater Kansas City about Lycastes.  I found it thorough and informative but I don't see Lycastes in my future collection.  My collection is going in a smaller, paphy-er, brachty-er, direction, so it speaks well to his talk that he got me to be interested.  Enthusiasm tends to be infectious that way.  Also, it's like Leo predicted my brachtyosis and offered a nice blooming-size bellatulum (Bella Lucia x Triple Trix) on his vendor's table.  And you bet I snatched it up.  Here, I should also note that Schordje also sells fine Phrag. Paph. and Miltoniopsis species and hybrids -- he's not all about Lycastes.

I'm a sucker for fragrance.  I've shown my love for Brassavolas on many occassions and I busy myself at orchid shows by burying my nose in every cattleya that looks promising.  So, a strength of Schordje's talk from my perspective was the multiple references to the ways different species smelled.  He interlaced his narrative with commentary on fertilizing, repotting, and hybridizing trends (e.g. look for more intergeneric hybrids involving Lyc. x Max. in the future).  

As an act of enormous intellectual generosity, Schordje made his notes available for review.  Some of these notes refer to fragrant species, but some of his off-the-cuff comments didn't make it into print.  One of these, coming in the final minutes of the talk, referenced Sudamerlycaste nana (formerly Ida nana).  He said that "This has a powerful scent.  Really powerful, and it's not for everyone.  It's a real industrial scent....  Something only a meth-head could really appreciate."

I took a measure of comfort knowing that I was just given the perfect gift idea for the next occasion we have meth-heads over for an afternoon tea. 

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Frog Friday! A Minute with Horst

In today's Frog Friday! Horst, the newest member of our fire-bellied toad commune, pursues a few crickets we've dropped within his range.  Some escape, while others meet a brutal fate -- it's a tense 60-plus seconds, all set to funky dance music.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Guest Kitty! Cats and Catts Welcomes "Kitty!"

Yes, it says "Kitty" on her name tag, too.  But please don't make any jokes about the originality of her name.  She's very sensitive.  And, like "vanilla," the name might misleadingly indicate plainness when the reality is much more exciting.  The Catts and Cats crew report that Kitty has tons of personality and affection, and is definitely one of the best kitties in the neighborhood, if not in all of Iowa.  Here, she looks after a semi-alba Phal. from Home Depot.  She looks like she's doing a good job, but if things get rough she might want to consider the Phalaenopsis advice from the good people at  This is how it all starts, folks.  You buy a pretty orchid from Home Depot one day and, six months later, you're at the Oklahoma Show discussing the hybridizing virtues of Phal. equestris with an AOS judge from Texas.

Kitty had a lot to say, and some of it might have touched on the dangers of orchid addiction.  Personally, I appreciated her Sunday morning greeting.  I think one of the things she was trying to tell me (as she gazing into the aquarium in the corner of the room) was, "I know of an excellent recipe for angel fish!  Let me have at 'em!"

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Large-Flowered Cattleyas part 2b -- Now With More Kitties!

Here is the latest installment in the Cats and Catts video series on large-flowered cattleyas discussed in Chadwick and Chadwick's The Classic Cattleyas (Timber Press, 2006).  Video 2a looked at the first six in order of their botanical description (C. labiataCtrianaei).  Videos 2b considers the next six (CwarneriCpercivaliana).  I explained my pedagogical ulterior motives in the last Cats and Catts video post.  One thing that's occurred to me since the last time was the current video series lacks "anchor images" for the species covered in the videos (moss for mossiae, a triangle for trianaei, etc.).  I think of them as "coat hanger images" because they are the simple structure on which you hang a bunch of information.  This is an important step in the Harry Loranye memory method, but my vast army of viewers will have to let their own imaginations work a little harder on this particular video series.  Memory-wise, that might not be a bad thing.  You can expect part 2c sometime in July.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Today's Conversation at the Grocery Store

HyVee Checkout Lady: Is this collard greens?
Me: No, it's kale.
HyVee Checkout Lady: Oh, that's supposed to be really healthy, right.
Me: Oh yeah.  Kale is rich in antioxidants and beta carotene.  It has all of these health properties.
HyVee Checkout Lady: So, how are you going to prepare it.
Me: Actually -- and this is going to sound weird -- actually, it's for my my frogs.  Well, I have these frogs.  Actually, it's not for the frogs.  I mean, the frogs are going to eat the crickets and the crickets eat the kale.  It's a process...
HyVee Checkout Lady (seeming disappointed and confused): So, you're not going to eat the kale?
Me: No, it's for the crickets.
HyVee Checkout Lady: Oh.    

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Slug: Killing It Softly

This isn't a terribly glamorous Cats and Catts photo, but it illustrates a method I've adopted to combat slugs, and it shows one of the pests headed for certain death.  I haven't seen a lot of slug damage on my plants, but I've spotted the slugs crawling near a few of my favorite Cattleyas, and I decided to take action.

I'm not opposed to using Sluggo or some other method, but drowing the slugs in beer seems particularly attractive.  Orchid Growing Illustrated by Brian and Wilma Rittershausen refer to this strategy of slug control as "the famous slug pub" (pg. 126).  The 1978 Time Life Encyclopedia of Gardening volume on Orchids is surprisingly good, but you might want to overlook their enthusiasm for Diazinon (banned in the US in 2004) and Dicofol (related to DDT).  They suggest the beer method, but only after the obligatory opening pitch for chemical pesticides: "Trap snails and slugs with pesticide bait... Or lure slugs at night into a saucer of beer to drown" (pg. 149).  Frowine's Orchids for Dummies recommends the beer trap as a first line of defense against the dreaded slug: "wait for these creatures to belly up to the bar at nightfall" (pg. 119).

Just as I took some measure of delight in killing aphids last December, I hope to see some dead slugs in the morning.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Always Wear Sunscreen

Trixie mentioned that I was an official "red neck" this morning.  I was shocked and incredulous -- not because of the term's association with Southern stereotypes -- because I religiously apply sunscreen during my garden time.  So, I balked until she provided the photographic evidence.  

Likewise, I wanted to believe that I provided good shade for my smaller catt hybrids, but the truth was much more harsh.  One plant in particular has had a bad reaction to summertime.  It first started with some black blotches on a fresh leaf tip, then the entire tip turned black and dry.  I razored off the dead part and put the plant in shadier spot, and yet the leaf die-back continues.

I've made peace with my inexperience and have taken the plant indoors for rehab.  The kitties are going to look after it.  Me?  I'm going to escalate my sunscreen usage because the Midwest summer is no joke.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Dispatches from the Shade House

Once upon a time, Trixie and I imagined that we would paint our house on our own.  We would buy the paint, lay down the drop cloth, and knock the thing out in a weekend.  What could go wrong?

We quickly noted cracks in our plan and some deficits in our house painting experience.  I also noticed my neighbor across the way, trying to paint his house in order to sell it, and it took a lot longer than a weekend.  In fact, my neighbor's DIY house painting job seemed interminable.  So, we hired an expert and they did professional work.  It was worth every penny.

An orchid shade house?  Now, that's a weekend project if I ever saw one.  Buy the paint, tape some things...  What could wrong?

Well, I've put in three long days and it's still not done.  I've faced no major setbacks, but every step has taken a little longer than I thought.  I mean, how long does it take to tape up some lattice?  (a longer time than you think...)  Also, my town is under a tornado watch until late tonight, so the painting project is going to go into Day 5 (at least).  But the end is in sight -- I need to add another coat of base color and then touch-up.

Having had a taste of comfort in the shade house, the orchids are itching to go back.  I've taken most of them inside during the painting process, but I'm keeping them away from the orchids that are staying indoors permanently during the summer (I want to prevent the spread of possible insect problems).

I've spent many hours in the last few days drenched from head-to-toe in a noxious mixture of sunscreen, mosquito repellent, and sweat.  I've had to crane my body in all manner of unergonomic positions to paint hard-to-reach corners.  During these moments, I recalled the time when Trixie and I planned to paint our house on our own.  And I laughed.   

Friday, June 4, 2010

It's June? You've Got to be Kidding Me....

There's been crazy business at the Cats and Catts house!  I haven't had a chance to post in the last two weeks, but it's not for lack of orchid and cat activity.  The kitties had a dog visitor from Alaska for a few days.  Nicki (below) kept the cats on their toes.  When they weren't hiding under the bed, they were walking around with puffy tails, all suspicious or jumping into the lap of our guest who was allergic (Griffin was the main culprit, naturally).

Then, we entertained guests from Florida and Iowa.  So, I've been hanging out with friends and family and/or spending time in the garden.  I'm slowly acquiring the weed-hating mentality of Michael Pollan's grandfather.  I have a number of new irises and daylilies I acquired last year from a gardening-guru friend, and I'm trying to give those plants the best possible shot at greatness.

The orchids have been demanding, too.  The longer, hotter days have required more watering sessions.  I've already sunburned one mini-catt and I probably put more at risk.  So, I moved ahead with plans to build a shade house.  My brother-in-law drove down from Iowa for the occasion and led the design and construction effort.  We built the structure (see below) in about two and a half days.  I promise to follow up with a step-by-step description, but I still need to paint it and landscape the perimeter.  

Also, the Cats and Catts Video crew is working on a how-to video for the shade house and we're finishing the Large-Flowered Cattleya educational video series.  We're looking ahead to do a series on the Brazilian Laelias drawn from Chadwick and Chadwick's book and the recent article in Orchids magazine, but we promise more kitties and frogs in the coming weeks.