Deep freeze

It’s cold. Not the wimpy kind of cold we Torontonians generally moan about — inducing much eye rolling from other parts of the country, except the west coast of BC, of course — but real cold. 22 below zero cold, with a -36C wind chill.

The first clue that today was even colder than yesterday was when I let the dog out this morning, and my fingers stuck to the metal doorknob — on the inside! My second clue was when I tried to run the shower, and nothing came out but scalding hot water. The cold water pipes have frozen on the outside wall of the building. It could be worse — at least we have hot water, and the cold water is running in the kitchen. I managed to avoid second degree burns by using the watering cans to ferry cold water to the tub.

The third clue owes its dues to Murphy’s Law. The streetcar stop is right outside my door, and runs every 5 minutes during rush hour. This morning I waited with a dozen other miserable commuters, perfect strangers huddled for warmth as far as propriety would allow, waiting for a streetcar that never arrived. Every once in a while someone would break from the crowd to run and stand in the middle of the road, peering anxiously down the street to see if it was coming while the rest of us watched hopefully. Repeated disappointment induced disgusted shaking of heads and stamping of feet. Finally the stamping turned into a stampede of people speed-walking several blocks up to the subway station, suffering all the way. By the time I burst through the doors, my nostrils were stuck together, my forehead and ears were burning, my eyes were streaming, and my thighs were numb. So were my fingers, and it took several tries to hold the token long enough to push it into the slot to let me through the turnstiles.

After listening patiently to my whining (a taste of which you have just experienced), Laird told me he is taking me to Mountain Equipment Co-op tomorrow to buy me a warm down jacket with a hood. I keep borrowing his, so the joke is that only one of us can go outside at a time.

Tonight when I let the dog out, I spotted the raccoon huddled in the tree branches beside the deck, looking miserable. He was gazing sadly at the door, aware that therein lay warmth, orchids to chew, and a big bag of pet food to raid. I really felt sorry for him. So, God help me, I put out some dog food. He gobbled it down, and I refilled it. He looked at me, I looked at him and we called a truce for the moment. Once the cold breaks, the free lunch is over, buster.

Raccoon raid & orchid miscellany

I watered and fertilized my orchids last night with Dyna-Grow “ProteKt” and “Bloom”, and I tossed a few crystals of epsom salts in the water as well. I write this for my own benefit because my record-keeping is at best, haphazard. Next time I get the urge to give them the epsom salt treatment, I can check the date on the blog to make sure it’s been at least 4 months.

Why epsom salts? Mostly because I read on a forum somewhere that the plants like it. I like epsom salts in my bath water too.

Most of my orchids are in semi-hydro, though I’ve repotted all my phals in New Zealand sphagnum moss because none of them were happy. More than half the blame for that can be laid at the doorstep of that destructive racoon, who couldn’t be convinced that those were roots, not fat grubs. Since the only healthy phal I own is in moss (and was kept indoors under lights all summer), I decided to see if changing the medium would give the poor beaten-up and broken things a boost.
Don’t get me wrong, semi-hydro works great for most of my orchids. The phrags and the zygos love it. It’s just the phals that aren’t thriving in it, for me at least. I’ve heard the same from a couple of other people.

Speaking of raccons, Laird had a heart attack the morning of the day I arrived home. He walked into the kitchen and the dog food was knocked over, and what little was left was all over the kitchen floor. Once this evidence of a midnight racoon raid registered, he raced to the back porch to check my orchids. They were untouched. Obviously the F.B. (fat bastard) gorged himself to the point he couldn’t be bothered with mere flowers. Laird’s first act of the morning was mopping up the back stairs, as the wretched creature had left a trail of pee all the way down and out the door (the door he had pried open the night before).

A closer look

Here’s a closer look at some of my jungle:

Red morning glories screen the roof of the revue theatre next door, and stop the wind from blasting across the deck.


Along the south-east corner of the deck, a nice crop of jalapeno peppers, red peppers and eggplant (not shown), and a bright mixture of nasturtiums. They’re doing extremely well, dying back when the weather get hot, and then perking right back up again when it turns cool.

Speaking of peppers, my neighbour gave me two “Scotch Bonnet” hot peppers plants. His mother brought them over for him from Trinidad, but he thought I could give them a much better home than he could.  After an iffy start (I didn’t plant them immediately and they spent a day exposed to the hot sun in a little plastic bag) they now seem to be established in their new home. My neighbour tells me that Scotch Bonnet peppers are about as hot as peppers can get.

The old rose seedling that I collected from that old pioneer graveyard in Burlington has done very well this year, lots of new growth and no sign of disease. No sign of flowers either, but it’s still a young’un. I’m fretting a bit over what to do with this rose over the winter, because I don’t think it will survive in the container — the roots will freeze solid. I may ask my friend Deb if I can plant it in her backyard this fall, and dig it back up again in the spring.


My Staghorn Fern has loved it’s summer holiday outdoors, and has rewarded me with lots of new growth. It has more than doubled in size over the last couple of months. The fairies are dressed up, I figure the tiara and magic wand look better on her than on me. The racoon likes to knock the magic wand out of the Queen Fairy’s hand almost every night, and the fairies STILL haven’t turned him into a toad. There are two little plants sitting in the water, both gifts from my friends Atilla and Anne. I can’t remember what they’re called (some kind of plant-of-the-year some time back, according to my friends), but after a visit to a nursery I learned that they are bog plants, so I wrapped their roots and a bit of soil in an old nylon stocking and stuck them in. They are much happier now.

IMG_0644Finally, a picture of the racoon fortifications around my orchid stand. I wrapped what’s left of the tattered cover over top of the chicken wire each night. I have the satisfaction of knowing that I am finally frustrating the old fatso, because each morning there’s a big dent in the top of the chicken wire where he’s tried in vain to break through.

Raccoon Rant no. 164

Had a racoon visitation last night. I was watching tv when Jake started barking his head off, the kind of alarm he usually raises when Mousepad is tangling with another cat and lets loose a cry of distress. As designated cavalry, he and I raced down the back stairs and flung the door open, only to find Mousepad sitting on the deck, calmly observing two racoons in the tree beside him. One of the racoons was making an oinking sound, and the other something that I thought might have been a growl. I figured one was bullying and the other whining for mercy. I yelled at them to knock it off, and then ignored Mousepad’s squawks of protest as I picked him up and brought him in the house.

A quick Google search for “racoon sounds” revealed that they weren’t bickering at all. The oinker was making “contented” vocalizations, and the other one was purring. How sweet, a lovefest in the trees. I went back to the balcony, where they were still carrying on, and grumpily hosed them in their perches in the tree. There was a lot of shuffling and shaking of leaves and branches, and then all was still. I went back in and went to bed.

The Epic Adventures of the Garden Statuary

I’m a sucker for cement things and other assorted kinds of garden art. Knowing that, my loved ones have contributed to the population explosion of eccentric characters on my deck. I swear one night they’ll come alive and attempt a coup d’etat. Better yet, they’ll mobilize and stage a counter-attack when that pesky raccoon knocks one of them over one too many times….

I can see it now. The fountain fairies and dragonfly sundial will do aerial divebombing, the big sundial will used as advanced weaponry, the pig will charge, the windman will blow as hard as he can, and Inukshuk (made of bricks collected from the shores of Lake Ontario) will hold the territory and show the raccoon the way to the door. Deborah will pray for peace and Buddha will cheer our success. Mr Raccoon may think he’s a cartoon action hero, but he’s got nothing on my garden thingies.

Racoon Rant no. 81

Another racoon encounter last night…. I was up late blogging, and heard a telltale “thump” coming from the back. I went out to the back porch, unlocked and opened the sliding door (I’ve learned my lesson there), and searched around. Nothing for a few seconds. Then a fat raccoon scurried past me, right beside the now open door. Fortunately, he didn’t have the temerity to invite himself in – he scooted behind the bbq to hide. Ha! I smiled grimly, and grabbed the hose. “Get outta here you fat bastard!!! N O W!!!!” I yelled. Jake cowered in the kitchen, no doubt sympathetic to his furry cousin and relieved that HE wasn’t the object of my rage. My neighbours were probably listening and wondering just who I was yelling at.

I hosed him out of his hiding place, and he bolted for another corner. I blasted him again, soaking him to the skin. He made a break for the rainspout, and in an impressive feat of agility, he leaped over the railing, grabbed the slippery (and now very wet) metal gutter with both hands and feet. Then, to my surprise he slid headfirst all the way down to the ground. It was a creditable imitation of an upside down fireman’s slide down a pole, and I was full of admiration as I continued blast him with water all the way down. It was an escape worthy of a cartoon action hero.

I don’t care how cute you are

He’s baaaaack…. 10PM last night I heard a thump in the back porch. I ran back just in time to catch a furry ringed tail disappear down the back stairs. Ha! I knew he was trapped. The door wasn’t open at the bottom of the stairs. He certainly looked very apologetic, grovelling almost. He tried to hide his eyes under the stairs, in a comical version of “If I can’t see you then you can’t see me”, then when he peeked and saw that I hadn’t disappeared, he wisely realized there was no hiding. Busted!!! He laid his head on the step in a most resigned and pitiful way. Do with me what you will, he seemed to say. As a precaution, and mindful of the fact that cornered animals can be unpredictable, I grabbed a corn broom and stuck it between us. He cowered, and gave me with a pleading look — “Please don’t hit me!!!”. Faker. I reached over him and opened the door, and he got up slowly, turned his back on me and sauntered out with as much dignity and ceremony as a fat raccoon can muster. He doesn’t fool me for a minute.