Invicible summer

I woke up this morning to the sound of wet tires on a busy street, the road splashes that signal a rainy day. The sky looked grey through the blinds on the window, and my first thought was, “rats, I wasted a bright sunny day yesterday doing housework and laundry”.

I walked to the kitchen to feed the critters, and my spirits lifted at the sight out the back deck: snow. The first, bright, heavy snowfall of the year. The air was thick with white, clinging to the grey naked  trees and covering the muddy schoolyard with a clean undisturbed layer of snow. I love the quiet mornings after a storm, before feet and cars and warmer daytime temperatures and maybe rain turn it all into a mucky slushy mess.

It was almost a relief, really. Fall can be a trying time emotionally and physically while our bodies adapt to the cold and the long dark days, as we resign ourselves to winter. I have not been coping well this year — it all seems to have happened so…fast. Wasn’t it just last week that I was out enjoying my deck garden in a t-shirt, battling raccoons and taking pictures of flowers? Well, the sight of snow snapped me out of denial, once and for all. Time to face facts: it’ll be another five months before the leaves on the trees come out again to play. Winter is a time to go inward. I’ll be in my grow room if you’re
looking for me.

“In the depths of winter I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer.”
Albert Camus

Cattleya Portia var. coerulea

Two of the five inflorescents on the cattleya Portia var. coerulea have bloomed, they look especially pretty beside the pink bougainvillea blooming in the corner of my grow room.

The last picture shows an unknown variety of stanhopea that I picked up at John’s sale. You can see two inflorescents coming out of the bottom of the cage it’s sitting in — for obvious reasons, this particular type of orchid can’t be placed in a regular pot, because the blooms would get trapped trying to emerge from the bottom. This plant will bloom in the next day or two. I used to think stanhopea’s were ugly orchids, but I think “bizarre” is a better description of them. And they do have a lovely scent when they open.

Lost in the suburbs

On the weekend my 1000w bulb went out, leaving my grow room in the dark, and I spent a fairly miserable rainy afternoon on Sunday trying to track down a new one. When I first set out, I was confident that it would be just a quick trip out to the hydroponics store at Applewood Plaza off Dixie Road, and when I got there I was dismayed to find that they had changed their hours and were no longer open on Sundays. I drove around a bit, and finally found a phone booth at a nearby gas station. I stepped out into the pouring rain and into the booth, only to find myself ankle deep in water. Grimacing at the cold water soaking my through my socks, I quickly looked up “hydroponics” in the yellow pages, and picked up the phone to make a call. No place to put in a quarter. I could hardly believe it, a phone booth that didn’t take money! It accepted phone cards and credit cards, but no coins. Frustrated, I tore the page out of the phone book, and ran back to my car in shoes that were now squishing water.

The next hour and a half was spent driving around Mississauga, cursing bad roads and depressing suburbs, frustrated that every hydroponics store I stopped at was closed on Sundays. Most of them were tucked away in seedy industrial buildings with taped up windows, and looked disreputable. What’s with Mississauga and Sunday shopping? Am I to believe that every hydroponic marijuana grower is in church?

By 3:30PM I was extremely grumpy. I stopped at a grocery store to find a REAL phone booth. I struck out on my first call — Happy Girl Hydroponics in Kensington Market did not have the bulb I needed in stock. Pretty much fed up by now, I called 411 for the number of a store in Toronto that I recalled seeing during an internet search – my last try before giving up, and going home. Bingo! Bustan on Harbord Street, right beside Wonderworks and the Toronto Women’s Bookstore – just east of Spadina – had it in stock, and they were open until 5PM. I jumped in my car and drove all the way back to Toronto, braving bad visibility, slippery highways and kamikaze truck drivers, to land safely in front of their store.

I was well taken care of at the end of my miserable journey. I left there with the proper HID metal halide bulb, and a few other things as well, including a really neat 65watt full spectrum compact fluorescent bulb that fits into regular light fixtures. It works beautifully to light up the dark side of my grow room, so there’s no need to buy an expensive light mover now. I also left there with a ph pen and a hard-to-find bottle of Superthrive. The owners, Nurit & Harley, spent a lot of time with me explaining the different products, and when I described the semi-hydro method of growing orchids, they promised to look into perhaps stocking up on Prime Agra, which I have had no luck finding in Canada so far.

I finally got home at around 5:30, soaking wet but finally content. After an afternoon fruitlessly scouring the suburbs, my quest ended, close to home after all. Yes, there are good reasons to live right smack in the middle of a big city, and this is one of them. 🙂

Blooming at my house today…

This is a Phrag. Sedenii ‘Blush’, otherwise known as a Phragmipedium. I bought this one in bloom from John Marcotte, it has a second spike that is about to bust out another set of flowers any day now.
Phrags are my favourite orchids — I love the slipper lip on the blooms, and they seem to grow well for me. They need lots and lots of water, so they don’t have any objections to my heavy-handed watering ways. I like a flower that likes me back.

This is Mtdm. Bartley Schwarz ‘Highland’ AM/AOS. “Mtdm.” stands for Miltonidium, which is a Miltonia crossed with an Oncidium. I guess if you don’t know what a Miltonia or an Oncidium look like, that’s not much help. But, it’s a pretty flower, there are several on the spike, and they’re a deep burgundy red with a creamy white lip. I can take full credit for this one, it’s the first time it has bloomed for me.

This little cutie isn’t an orchid, it’s an air plant of some kind. I think it’s really a Tribble from an old Star Trek episode.

Darkness awaits…

c_percivallinanaWhile on the hunt for that miltonia I talked about a few days ago, I had an email chat with a wonderful grower named John, who sold me several interesting orchids last year. I asked him what it would take to induce flowers on my c. percivaliana var. semi-alba, and here’s what he told me:

“In regard to the C. percivalliana, as a matter of fact, yes, there is something that you can do to persuade it.  That species blooms around Christmas.  The trigger is the long nights, beginning about right now.  So, be sure that you give it short days and long, uninterrupted nights.  That means total darkness for at least 12, preferably 14 or 15 hours.  It needs this treatment for about 4 to 6 weeks.  Soon after, if not already by then, you will see buds coming up inside the flower sheaths.  Good luck!”

Hmmm, a dilemna. I love coming home from work to an entire evening of light in my grow room, where I sit and stare and poke to wind down from a day at the office. Turning the lights on later in the day won’t work, because there are too many windows in the room. So, I sucked it up and re-set the timer to go off at 8pm. In a couple of weeks, I’ll (gulp) set it off to go off at 6pm. Until Christmas, when I hope to have not only cattleya but also lots of blooms on my Epiphyllums as well (Christmas cactus) as a result of the “dark” treatment.

I know — I’ll start setting it later on the Solstice (Dec. 21st). It’ll be my own personal indoor solstice celebration.

Missed the show

I’m back! This visit to Montreal was mostly work, very little play. Though I did get a chance to walk around my old haunts in St. Lambert, on the south shore. What a lovely little town – it just works, somehow. The trees are mature and reproducing like mad, to the extent that yardwork involves beating back strong saplings on a regular basis. It’s almost as though nature and habitation* have shaken hands and decided they’re comfortable living together. When I was a kid, I used to collect rocks along an abandoned railway line by the golf course. I remember it as a very industrial environment, all steel and gravel and creosote ties. 30 years later (ok, maybe a little more….), nature has moved in and it’s a footpath through a young forest. Amazing. And hopeful.

I arrived home tonight to find that as expected, the Queen of the Night (night-blooming cereus) had finished blooming – a flower for each night that I was away. Sigh. The evidence was four long limp dead flower things hanging off the side of the leaves. Oh well….

My labours in tacking up clear plastic on the walls and floors of the “grow” room (back porch) have paid off. When I walked in to check on my charges, the air was soft and smelled of growing things. With the humidity at 75% tonight, it’s a tropical jungle in there. The orchids, and all the other plants, are loving it. Lots of new growth and a couple of spikes.

Great weather – it’s Indian Summer. I sat in an outdoor cafe in Old Montreal this afternoon, and had a tourtierre (traditional pork pie) and a beer. These warm days are precious — the cold weather will settle in soon. It’s supposed to be nice right through until Sunday.

*“Habitation” is apt in many ways. The town got it’s start in the 1640’s as part of the Longueuil seigneurie. The old and elegant stone “habitant” homes still dot Riverside Drive along the St. Lawrence river.