Sunday, December 17, 2017


ProfessorRoush still, occasionally, reads the monthly Reader's Digest.  Not as a regular subscriber, but in a spurious-purchase-at-the-checkout kind of way when I get captured by a headline about an uplifting story.  Sometimes, it jumps into my hand when I just want to get tickled by "Laughter is the Best Medicine," or "Humor in Uniform."  When it is in my hands, however, I always consume it word for word, except, of course, for the multitude of advertisements which I pass over like passing over sinners at the Apocalypse. The standard vocabulary/grammar column is one of my favorites, a momentary diversion in pursuit of a perfect grammar score, or sometimes just to catch a new word wafting around my native language.   

So it was with "petrichor," defined in the 09/2017 Reader's Digest as "the way it smells when rain falls on parched earth."  If there were ever a cromulent word created to express joy and seemingly made just for Kansans, it is "petrichor."  The Oxford Dictionary goes RD one better, defining it as "a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather."  The word blends "petra," referring to "stone," with "ichor," or "blood flowing in the veins of the gods."  Petrichor, most simply, is the scent of rain, although I prefer to think of it as the perfectly delicious scent of Mother Earth and the water that sustains her.

Petrichor is one of those words, in fact, whose exact origin is recorded.  It was coined in 1964 by Bear and Thomas in the journal Nature.  Their dry description of petrichor is not nearly so refreshing, attributing the odor to plant oils absorbed by clay-based soils and rocks and released into air during rain with another compound, geosmin, a metabolic by-product of actinobacteria.  In other words, to climate scientists, petrichor is merely the aerosolized combination of plant droppings and bacteria poop.  And we wonder what happened to romance in the garden?

This morning I woke early, in darkness to the pattering of rain on the window by my bed.  Comforting, yet perplexing, no rain forecast nor any seen in quantity since September, I listened and drifted back off, safe in the warm cocoon of covers with the portly lump of Bella pressed against my side.  As I woke later, an early dawn glance out the window confirmed, in fact, that moisture had fallen from Heaven down, enough to dampen the patio and evoke colors from the prairie grasses.

 Close your eyes.  Search your memories for the scent of petrichor.  Does it smell different in the summer, warm rain on warm ground, musk and earth mixed in languid pleasure, than it does in the winter, cool and minty, clean and brisk?  I think so.  The petrichor of high summer evokes joy and dancing, and celebration of new life.  It's a bouquet that tempts me to throw off clothes and feel the warm droplets on bare skin as I stroll through the yard and the neighbors frantically call 911.  Petrichor in summer is the purest caress of nature to relieve all the parched and dusty cracks of living.  In the winter, as this morning, it's still a welcome fragrance, but hardly as comforting.  Metallic and chilling, without the overtones of life and sex, a brief passing promise unfilled.  It has no power to draw me outside, it creates no inner urge to let the cold dampen the inner fire.  It is merely there, stripped of promise, barren of life.  I'll stay inside today, and allow my olfactory memory pretend that it is summer outside, the warm and cloying odor of rich earth all around me. 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Hawk Homage

I write today in awe of one of nature's most finely-tuned predators, the Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis, ubiquitous on the Kansas prairie and deadly in that realm.   It may have been first described to the Western world from sightings in Jamaica, hence the species name, but it does pretty well on mainland North America.  The photo at the right, of a watchful Red-Tail, ensconced on my cotton-less and currently leaf-less Cottonwood, was taken yesterday evening from my bathroom window, a mere 50 feet from the silent vigil.  The Cottonwoods in my yard are the tallest trees available for a circle of approximately 60 acres, and they are finally large enough to serve as aerial perches for surveillance and attack.  When I took the picture, the coyotes were beginning to howl from the bottoms and the hawk kept looking that way at each new howl, distracted from its concentration on the grass just below it.

We work, the Red-Tailed Hawk and I, with the common goal of population control of the prairie mice and pack rats, although our motives are vastly different.  She aims to feed, herself or her family, on the wholly scrumptious intestines of any little ball of rodent flesh she catches.  My intent is to protect the landscaping from damage, the house from infestation, and my family from disease (i.e. scary things such as Hantavirus).  I only wish she would rid me of the adult rabbit that is currently occupying my front garden beds. I see a brazen lagomorphic lout every morning;  as I open the door and flip on the outside lights to let Bella out, it runs across the front sidewalk, not 6 feet away.  Every morning.  I just know that if I don't get rid of it, I will soon find that the Burning Bushs' have been chewed down to kindling. I know that Red-Tails do feast on rabbits, but it is hard for me to believe they regularly make off with adult rabbits.  In that regard, I have hope for the Great Horned Owl that I hear hooting every few nights.   I suppose it is past time to set out the humane rabbit trap and relocate Mr. Cottontail far away.

As a soft human, I can only marvel at the sharp eyesight and patience of this common prairie denizen.  Sitting in a tree, or soaring in circles above the tallgrass prairie, they can spy the slightest movement, the most furtive rodent slinking, and pounce in an instant on prey.  I have the privilege to observe the moment of capture several times a year, so common is the occurrence here, but I'm always left breathless and stunned by the speed of the stealthy diving swoop. I'd love to show you a picture, but I'm sure that I would spend endless weeks in the grass, camera in hand, before I would ever get that lucky.   Just as recently as early September, however, when I was mowing some of the prairie grass to benefit the donkeys, a hawk audaciously grabbed a pack rat from right in front of the moving tractor.  Was it a Red-Tail?  I wish I could tell you.  There was a blur, a thump audible even over the tractor engine, and a large bird lifted off from the ground, a struggling pack rat clenched in its talons. 

I cheered the hawk, blessed the wonder of the moment, and kept on mowing.  I hope it ate well that night.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Witch Hazel Whitewash

As ProfessorRoush looked out his bedroom window two weeks ago, he spied yellow; yellow where it shouldn't be yellow.  In the garden, something was blooming in late fall!  Something that shouldn't have been blooming!  On closer examination, it turned out to be his witch hazel, purchased as Hamamelis × intermedia 'Jelena' and planted in 2008, profusely and vibrantly blooming its overhyped head off.

But, it wasn't, actually.  It wasn't his 'Jelena', because ProfessorRoush has to face the fact that he doesn't have a 'Jelena'.  'Jelena' should bloom in the spring.  'Jelena' should bloom in various shades of red-orange to yellow.  'Jelena' should have better fall foliage color than my obviously mislabeled 'not-Jelena'.  

I'm finally sure that I was sold a proverbial pig-in-a-poke, a witch hazel whitewash, as it were.  I've long suspected it;  the sporadic bloom, seeming to occur in fall or early winter, although sometimes it held off till February.  Plain fall foliage that turns tan and drops fairly quickly, and a slow growth rate.  The discordant fact that no one else seems to be able to grow witch hazel in this area.  Several of my garden visitors have inquired of it, and then proclaimed my green thumb at getting it to grow in these alkaline, dry soils.  Mine never thrived, but it lived, suffered through long summers of drought, and grew a little each year.  And those chrome yellow blooms, which didn't show nearly the length and visibility they were supposed to, in disappointing contrast to rave reports from plantsmen. 

It's now clear that I was sold, at a premium price, the common witchhazel, Hamamelis virginiana, or some variant thereof.  I'm going to have to find a way to live with that, to live with the knowledge of yet another mislabeled imposter in my garden.  I've accumulated a few over the years, wrong-labeled roses I can't identify, cultivars of perennials that were sold as something else.  How often, how curious, that the mislabeled plant lives and thrives while the cherished named cultivars perish.  I'm  suspicious that horticultural stores have a way of growing what is easy and then just responding to consumer demand.  "You want a 'Jelena' Witch Hazel?  Sure, we've got those, just give me a minute to type up a plant tag for these unlabeled shrubs over here."  One wonders, one worries, right up until the plant finally matures and shows its true, completely yellow colors, in the wrong season, no less.  And then one has to live with the imposter, right there, in the midst of a dry brown garden, blooming yellow with carefree abandon.  I suppose I can let this one pass.   It does, after all, contrast nicely with the blue Kansas sky.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Nesting Sunday

Last Sunday, ProfessorRoush was really wanting to rest and read, but the outside weather was so temperate (55ºF) and sunny that I just couldn't make myself stay put indoors.  I also knew that if I stalled cleaning out the bluebird houses any longer, it would only lead to the task being critical later when the temperatures were 20ºF and a blizzard was forming.  If you're responsible for a trail, you can't just let it go.  The bluebird houses need occasional repair and removing the old nests decreases parasite and disease incidence.  And I needed a walk, so the Bluebird Trail was calling out to me from the brown prairie. "Come out, Come out.  I need your care."  Perhaps, ProfessorRoush was just, himself, nesting for winter.

I always gain a nice warm fuzzy feeling as I find all those nests where happy little bluebirds and various other species have raised a family under my roof(s).  When you are walking a trail of houses, you can easily tell the ones that hold bluebird nests because their nests are thin and haphazardly constructed, usually of soft prairie grass, as pictured in the top photo.  Other birds, usually wrens, sometimes nest in my boxes, and those nests are formed of coarser twigs like the one at the left.  They are also loaded much higher, sometimes stuffing the box to the top except for the opening entrance.   This year, of my 19 self-designed, NABS-approved nesting boxes scattered over the edges of 20 acres with another 80 acres around them, I counted 10 bluebird nests, 6 wren nests, and 3 empties.  The empties were all houses laying on the ground where the donkeys had rubbed them off the posts.  Donkeys seem to have something against random bird houses around their pastures. 

Walking the perimeter of my land is always educational as well.  I was surprised to notice this small nest within a dried up Babtisia australis (Blue Wild Indigo) floating around the pasture.  These prairie legumes bloom early in spring and normally grow perhaps 2.5 feet tall and round alone or in clumps over the prairie.  In the fall, they dry up, break off, and blow all over the prairie like tumbleweeds, clogging fences and flower beds and becoming perfect tinder for prairie fires.  I've never known that they might serve as shrub hosts for low nesting birds, but here is the proof, a deep little cup formed within what was once thick green foliage. 

You can see, in the closeup at left, the careful construction and perfect form of the nest.  It seems a little big for hummingbird, but whatever was here was a pretty small little guy/girl.  I would put odds on it being a Dickcissel nest, since that species is ubiquitous on the prairie and nests on the ground or in low prairie shrubs.  Whoever the architect was, I hope it was a safe home, because birds and the prairie are meant to be together.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Round One; Advantage Me

ProfessorRoush has been busy and neglected his blog, but not particularly his garden.  It was a long, hot autumn, and I'm still diligently digging out Rose Rosette victims, which I can do in absent-minded fashion only while admiring how the grasses have bloomed.

I've put my garden away for winter, for the most part, and I'm looking forward to a long winter's rest.  One of my last chores, last weekend, was to replace a broken end-post on my vegetable garden's electric fence.  My rejuvenated strawberry patch has flourished this year and, last week, it occurred to me how delicious that tender green patch of strawberry leaves looked next to all the browned grass in the acres and acres around it.  Remembering the last time the patch looked so good, and remembering that the deer had, within weeks, chomped it down to the ground and destroyed the next season's strawberries, I resolved to immediately beef up my large-furry-rat defenses.

So I replaced the end post last week and fixed the electric fence where deer had already been through it, noting that its 10 year old charger was on its last legs. 

Lo and behold, I checked it again yesterday and discovered that the fence was again wrecked.  And, if you look closely at the picture at the right, you'll see that the varmints had eaten about half the leaves off, leaving naked stems, but thankfully they haven't yet eaten the crowns.

So yesterday, I replaced the charger with this brand-new, souped up charger pictured on the left, repaired the fence again, added a second line of twine strings to deter their attack, and baited the trap with the aluminum foil strips coated with peanut butter (see below).

My fiendish plan is for the deer to lick the peanut butter and get nasty shocks on their innocent little velvety tongues, providing a peanut-ty Pavlovian proselytism for their education.  I don't know how else to keep them away, short of chaining the intrepid Bella in the garden every night.

And yet this first morning, when I rose, I spotted the lone doe pictured at the top, from my kitchen window.   She meandered across the garden, joined two others in transit, and all proceeded to walk to the garden and stare at the new setup, the lush smorgasboard just beyond their reach.  Finally one reached up to the peanut butter, and then another, both reacting only slightly and then dejectedly moving away.  I suppose I won the first round, but I'm disappointed that they didn't get knocked off their feet and make a more hasty retreat.  More twine?  More fence?  Somehow, 25 quarts of homegrown strawberries at $4 a quart replacement value still seems worth it, don't you agree?   All this wire and plastic, though, isn't helping my carbon footprint.  Maybe it would be wiser to persuade my neighbor to take down his deer feeder.  Or to fill it with moldy corn.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Northeast Downtime

ProfessorRoush was away this week, visiting the Birthplace of Freedom;  Boston, Massachusetts.  Yes, I walked the Freedom Trail and I saw Plymouth Rock, and I crossed the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Presidential Library off my bucket list.  For those who care, I've now visited 5 presidential libraries in my lifetime and JFK's is the best, although I think the image of JFK they chose for the 100th anniversary of his birth, showing him with fat jaws and in sunglasses, is unflattering and jowl-ey.  But I guess they didn't ask my opinion.

I didn't do any personal physical gardening this week, nor, I must confess, did I visit a single public garden.  But since the NorthEast has been well-supplied with rain, I did spend some time admiring the health and vitality of a number of gardens, including the perfectly-maintained alleyway garden I saw in Salem, MA that is pictured above. As moist as things were, I was interested that the phlox here showed no signs of mildew at all.

Private lots are small in all the cities there, so, in fact, alleyways and hidden gardens were the main attractions in the area.  Otherwise, I rarely saw more than a windowbox or container in most of the city.  This shady courtyard near Bunker Hill, however, was well sited for the hosta grown there as focal points.  

One of the reasons for the visit was to expose a precocious nephew to the possibilities of Harvard and MIT, so I spent time on both campuses.  I was, frankly, not that impressed by the tour of Harvard, which never bothered to verify if my nephew even showed up for his scheduled tour and never took us into a single building.  I am limited in my admiration of expensive architecture if I'm not allowed inside the buildings.  I did find, however, Harvard's use of boulders as a student gathering and sitting area quite innovative, however uncomfortable it might be in cold weather or for long sitting periods.

I was much more impressed by MIT, which seemed to actually care if we kept our tour date.  A wonderful admissions director, Mr. Chris Peterson, gave a lively and informative presentation on MIT and its programs, and then we were led on a tour by a complete nerd, an astrophysics student who hailed from Oklahoma, that included a look INSIDE the labs and buildings and provided a broad look at student life on campus.  Kudos to the MIT admissions team for putting together a great program and to the entire university for a unique atmosphere.  And further congratulations to the landscape designer who included these columnar Sweet Gum outside the student activities building at MIT.  They are fabulously healthy and the first ones I'd ever seen.  I was salivating about the fall coloring they must exhibit.  Where do I get one?

On Friday, I bid farewell to the Northeast and its strange set of quirks, which included labeling each "roundabout" as a "rotary."  I've heard of rotary as a noun referring to an old telephone, but the first time I saw one of these signs, I though I was lost and being directed to the local Rotary club.  To further confuse the issue, some areas were labeled as rotaries when I never really saw a complete circle emerge from the traffic pattern.  And what happened to the strong Bostonian accents I was wanting to emulate?  The entire area is so cosmopolitian and diverse these days that I only talked to one individual with a classic Bostonian accent in five days in the area.

Now, I'm back to the prairie, staring out the window at a dew-covered overgrown lawn bordered with weedy flower beds that both need attention.  And where else can I watch a pack rat playing blatently on my front steps at 8:00 a.m. in the morning.  Just another thing one my to-do list;  bait the pack-rat traps!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Sensitive Brier

If I were a Native American child on the Kansas prairie, or perhaps if I were any current child who occupies these arid grassy deserts, my favorite plant might just be the Catclaw Sensitive Briar,  Mimosa quadrivalvis  L.  var. nuttallii  (DC. ), a low-lying perennial that is widespread over my native prairie plot.  It blooms in late May-June here, before the grass reaches high above it to blot out the sky, its pink puff-heads screaming for attention alongside the new shoots of bluestem and Indian grass, and its 4-foot long branches spreading through the prairie.  The yellow ends of mature flowers are the anthers.

Sensitive Briar is a member of the bean family, the Fabaceae, the latter scientific nomenclature sounding not so much like it describes a squat languorous legume as a pretentious ancient Roman dynasty.  Perhaps Sensitive Briar has a right to be a bit pretentious.  It is very nutritious for livestock, who seek it out and overgraze it, making the presence of Sensitive Brier an important indicator of overall range condition.  Some sources refer to it as a "brier" rather than a "briar," and after some searching, I admit that I will have to accept continued mystery about the proper form of reference. Perhaps Thomas Nuttall, the 18th Century English botanist honored by the subspecies name, could enlighten me if his spirit were to pass by this part of the continent.

The "sensitive" part of the name comes from the plants response to touch, an action scientifically termed "thigmonasty", although I don't know why it would be considered nasty unless one considers the impertinence of the touchers.  It folds its leaves from open, like the photo at the left, to closed, as seen at the right with the merest touch of child or wind, and also at night.  Other common names for the plant, Bashful Brier or Shame Vine, also refer to this thigmonastic action.  Thus, its attractiveness to children, who seem fascinated when they discover or are shown this little moment of cross-species contact.  I wonder, if such moments were the first introduction of many children to the world of plants, would ecology and Gaia be more prominent throughout life in our subsequent actions and thoughts?

The "catclaw" of the common name refers to the later pods of these flowers, their prickly nature making them far less attractive to children later in the summer.  These do not seem to cling to clothing so much as they scratch at anything in their vicinity, particularly any delicate little bare legs of children playing hide-and-seek in the tall prairie grass.  I suppose, like most of nature, one must always take the good with the bad, the rose with its thorns, the Catclaw Sensitive Briar with its pods.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Pink Sugar and Red Hearts

Hibiscus syriacus 'Sugar Tip'
If a happy place exists in my arid, almost-August garden, it would have to be near this Rose of Sharon, Hibicus syriacus 'Sugar Tip'.  I know the colors of the photos here are a little muted by the hazy sky within the not-yet-entirely-risen morning sun, but 'Sugar Tip' is a very pleasing blend of cream-tipped matte foliage that frames the clear, pink blossoms, and it is a fantastic focal point when nothing else is blooming nearby.

'Sugar Tip', 2 years planted
'Sugar Tip' is a mere adolescent, present in my garden since 2015, and she also goes by the name of 'American Irene Scott'.  Discovered in 2001 and patented by Spring Hill Nursery, She is touted as a refined Rose of Sharon, reported to have a semi-dwarf habit for shrubs of her type, although she is easily expected to grow 6 feet tall and nearly as wide.  I do find that she is restrained in her habits in my garden, gracious to the shrubs and roses around her, unlike a massive pussy-willow that grows in the same bed.  'Sugar Tip' is a "triple-threat" garden plant, if I can borrow that hardwood term here in baseball season, providing a spectacle in the garden in three seasons as she adds leaves, shows off those delicate, double 2.5 inch flowers, and then self-cleans back to eye-catching foliage in late summer.


Hibiscus syriacus 'Double Red'
If I didn't know better, I would have guessed that 'Sugar Tip'  was a sport of another Hibiscus in my garden, the more mundane 'Double Red'.  Although 'Sugar Tip' is supposed to be a chance seedling, the blossoms of both are identical, light pink and double, 'Double Red' only lacking the cream-tinted edges.

Hibiscus rojo 'Red Heart'
For sheer blossom power right now, however, neither can match Hibiscus rojo 'Red Heart'.  'Red Heart' has much larger blossoms, single-petaled, with the bright red center surrounding a towering yellow pistol group.   Unfortunately, one only notices 'Red Heart' in my garden from the rear of the garden because I placed her on the far side of a bed, hidden from the front by an oak and other shrubs.  She is one of those plants that I notice only when I mow, or when I'm on a full tour of my garden beds.  In her presence, I stop and look at each bloom individually, reveling in the deep soul of each heart.

In the King James Bible, Song of Solomon chapter 2, verse 1, the beloved says "I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys."  In my garden, there are many beloved ladies worthy of being called the "rose of Sharon", each with its own special beauty and charm.  Right now, they all shine, content to bask in the heat of the August sun, supremely confident in their unrivaled glory.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

It Could Be Worse

I just keep telling myself that there are many situations that could be worse than trying to keep a garden alive in Kansas in July.  We've only seen one substantial rain in two months and the temperatures have been hovering near or over 105ºF for a week, but it could be worse.  Lawn grasses have completely dried up and the trees are voluntarily shedding half their leaves, but it could be worse.  Daylilies are yellowing and drying on the ends, despite all the advantages of their fleshy, water-retaining tubers, but it could be worse.  That's daylily 'Beautiful Edging' at the right, not so beautiful at present as it edges my garden bed.
Yesterday, for instance, I was headed into my local Walmart at 10:00 a.m., clawing my way forward through the humid already-102ºF air, when it suddenly occurred to me that it would be worse if I had the job of the Walmart employee who had to round up all the carts.  Imagine the despair you'd feel to spend your day walking to the parking lot in that heat and humidity, bringing back a long line of carts, only to watch them disappear from the front end even as you were pushing them back into the busy store.  That entire job would be an endless, mind-numbing circle of frustration equal to that of Sisyphus ceaselessly rolling the stone uphill only to watch it roll back down.  I say that with every intention of not belittling the efforts of the struggling Walmart cart-person, but in sympathy for them.  

But then again, the cart-person knows exactly what lies ahead and is not endlessly teased with possibilities and relief.  They don't experience rain in the forecast for weeks-on-end, constantly present several days in the future, only to see the rain chances diminish as the appointed day nears. They don't experience what we did last night;  a large storm from the west that dissipates and dies within sight of our gardens, just as it meets the air mass of a large storm north and east that we watched form a few miles away and move away from us.  We received 0.4 inches of rain last night, penetrating only deep enough to nourish the crabgrass, leaving the poor lilac bush pictured here to languish in the oppressive heat.  When thick, succulent lilac leaves start to turn up their heels, you know the drought is bad.  You're from New York and afraid of coming to Kansas and experiencing tornadoes?  We hope to see them for the rain they'll bring in their paths. 

It could be worse.  In July, in a Kansas garden, I just keep telling myself ,"it could be worse."   At least I don't want to trade places with the cart-person at Walmart yet.  And I've got a great thriving stand of crabgrass.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

For the Bees, You See

Today, I'll show you why, in photos instead of my usual wordy rambling, that I handpick the Japanese beetles off my roses. All the photos are taken the same lovely morning.

No insecticides in my garden on anything that blooms.  I eliminated the bagworms by removing the junipers.  I'm letting the melyridaes make minimal and merry damage on whatever they want.  And I'll put up with momentarily holding a few squirming Japanese beetles in my palm to hear the music of the bees in my garden.    How could anyone possibly take a chance on hurting these wholly-innocent and innocently-beautiful creatures?  Here, Mr. Bumble is visiting delicious 'Snow Pavement'.

And here, another bee almost covers the private parts of this delicately-veined 'Applejack'.  

Fru Dagmar Hastrup' entertains and feeds this street urchin.  Look at that perfectly formed bloom against fabulous foliage here in the middle of summer and scorching sun.

Fru's short, nearby gentleman friend, 'Charles Albanel' allows another bumble deep into his double petals.  Charles doesn't make as many hips as Fru Dagmar, but he shows off more while he's in flower.

Okay, it's not a rose, it's a Rose of Sharon, Hibiscus syriacus 'Blue Bird', to be exact.  But it also has its part in feeding the bees in my garden.

One more of 'Snow Pavement'.  I'm going to write about 'Snow Pavement' more soon, as she is reaching her mature height and presentation in my garden..  In the meantime, I'll leave you with her soft pink blooms while you contemplate how you're helping the bee species in your garden.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Stalking Beetle Sign

Slowly and stealthly, the sly hunter stalks his prey beneath the searing sun.  He knows this foe, has studied its habits, sought out its secrets.  Bare hands and intellect his only, but most lethal weapons, sufficient for the moment.  Each perforated petal, each sullied sepal, mere arrows pellucidly pointing to the presence of another plump Popillia. The beast hides at night, beneath flowers folded for shelter.  At morning, the target is torpid, stuporous and stuffed by the night's chill and previous evening meal, difficult to find, but easily caught and easily dispatched.   But as the sun rises, so the creature is ever more foolhardy, warming to feast and fornicate, flinging frass over flower.  Brazenly breeding without heed to predator or voyeur in the daylight, it lives to eat, procreate, and preferentially die at the hands of the ancient hunter, the latter ever more determined, ever more skilled, at beetle genocide.

ProfessorRoush has spent several days now, morning and evening, examining the garden flower by flower, foliage by foliage, as intent to his purpose and unaware of its ultimate futility as Custer at the Little Big Horn.  After my initial discovery of the beetle re-invasion, I found more of the insects that very evening, lots more, and I've found a few every day since.  During the past few days, the beetle numbers are dwindling, and yet, my skill at finding them seems to improve every hour.  I subsequently feel responsible to pass on my hard-earned hunting skills.

Initially, I concentrated on the beetles lounging without care in the center of my flowers, swiping them into the palm of my bare hand even, as disgusting as it sounds, while they were paired in flagrante delicto.  As quickly as I could, I then dropped them onto the stones edging my garden beds and gleefully stomped them into beetle pulp.   I know it sounds barbaric, but I have to truthfully state that the crunch of a beetle shell brings a smile to my face every time, a brief moment of insectopathic glee.

But I have learned, as all great hunters before me, to stalk the dwindling prey less by sight and more by stealth.  I recognized quickly that beetles were often hiding beneath petals that had holes chewed in them.  Look at the perforated flower at the upper left.  A slight change in elevation and angle to the view of the same flower at the right, and voila, one finds the culprit hiding in the shade, easily collected and dispatched.  And I've given up beetle crunching, time-consuming and ultimately, probably, detrimental to my Karma, in favor of the time-tested method of knocking them into a cup of soapy water, to drown in silence.

I've also learned to read "sign," a polite hunting term that refers to the technique of following the   poop trail of a prey animal to its lair.  The droppings of an insect are more properly known as "frass," and Japanese Beetles leave more then their fair share behind, wallowing, eating and fornicating with glee right in the midst of it, like chitinous pigs at the county fair.  At the lower right of the picture of Blanc Double de Coubert on the left, you can see frass on the petal there. Where there is frass, there are beetles.  I have also decided that it is much more sanitary to sweep the frass along with the beetle into the soapy water of a cup, rather than into my hand.        

For the time-being, those are the best lessons for beetle-genocide that my vast experience can pass on.  I suppose I could erect a wall that reaches above their flight paths, perhaps even cover it in solar panels, but then I'd be making a social statement rather than a gardening one.  Good luck to everyone in your own beetle battles.

 I also hereby apologize for my previous aspersions against Blanc Double de Coubert and her beetle magnetism.  I've since found beetles on 7 individual roses, and so, while Blanc remains the beetle champion, she's not the only one to blame for luring them into my garden.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Blanc & Beetles

ProfessorRoush's cardiovascular health was tested this morning as I had a bit of a shock while enjoying my garden.  I went out for a "spot check" of things and got excited about how many blooms were being visited by bees, and then I saw this bloom, of Blanc Double de Coubert, that wasn't being visited by a bee.  Instead, I found the first Japanese Beetle of the season (in fact, the first of the last two years since I didn't see any here in 2016).  

Curses.  A brief panic ensued and then I settled down and looked the bush over closely, finding around 6-7 beetles in all, lounging in the blooms, creating holes in the petals and depositing frass all over those virgin white blossoms.  I took great pleasure in knocking all of them into the ground and grinding them into the hard prairie clay.

Those who have read my past statements about Blanc Double de Coubert are aware that she is far from my favorite rose, and not even my favorite white Rugosa.  In the past,  I've found it nearly impossible to get a perfect picture of her; petals are always browned by rain or dew, blossoms don't last long in the Kansas sun, and the bush is just generally a mess, as you can see in today's impromptu photo at the left.  She's short and squat and has been a prima donna in my garden, demanding close supervision and extra care unbecoming of a Rugosa.  And now, to top it off, she is the Japanese Beetle Magnet of my garden.  Today, out of about 30-35 roses currently in bloom, along with some early Rose-of-Sharon and among scads of blooming daylilies and hollyhocks, she was the only plant with Japanese Beetles on it.  The only one, and believe me, I scrutinized every other bush in my garden for signs of a second stealth attack.  Why Blanc?  Something about the degree of whiteness that is attractive while nearly-as-white Sir Thomas Lipton (also blooming and without beetles) isn't?  Something about the fragrance that is different from all the other roses in my garden?  All in all, this is just another reason for me to really not like this rose.

I will remain vigilant for the next few weeks and make sure to watch this rose and others for any further Japanese Beetle mischief.  I'm trying very hard to keep these blasted bugs from establishing a breeding colony in my back yard and I may have to go back to the traps I previously employed.  Squeezed between beetles and rosette disease is a hard place for a rose gardener to keep his chin up.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Sky Worship

I'm sure that many, especially those who reside near the coasts or mountains rather than "flyover states," may not understand my self-enforced and barely-borne tolerance of the trials and tribulations stemming from gardening in the Kansas climate.  Certainly my parents, from rich- and fertile-soiled Indiana, have occasionally expressed their lack of appreciation of the charms of Kansas.  I feel, therefore, obligated to show you a few photos that I've taken just in the past two weeks, lest you think that ProfessorRoush is entirely crazy.  For starters, this is a panorama of the view to my east a few mornings back as I was taking Bella out for an early stroll:

How could I possibly ask for a better greeting and start to my day?  Such sunrises are not at all unusual, pink clouds chased by warm sunshine until the entire sky glows.

A night or two later, it was this double rainbow that appeared, to my south, rain in the distance chased away by the setting western sun.  I've seen double rainbows on two occasions in the last month, and it has only rained twice all month!
Sometimes, it seems as if Mrs. ProfessorRoush tries to rouse me off the couch every evening at sunset, wanting me to take a "real" photo of a sunset instead of using an iPhone.  I actually often complain about how frequently my restful postprandial lethargy is interrupted by her enthusiastic worship of the sky.  I haven't yet mentioned the existence of Tengrism to her, for fear that she may forsake her Christian background to join others in formal worship of the Eternal Blue Sky.  The photo below is a wider panorama taken slightly before the photo at the left.

There are also those mornings where the beauty of the day stems from atmospheric turmoil more than the beneficent touch of the sun.  A few days ago, there was an entirely different appearance to the same morning view of the northeastern sky that I showed you in the first photo on this page.  A little past 5 a.m. Central, the rising sun and distant sky was a backdrop to these very low, fast-moving wisps of cloud.  This time-lapse is taken over about 15 seconds as I tried to hold the camera still.  There was no rain or moisture, just these strange clouds moving opposite the high altitude flow.  

Of course, what I've left out of all these pictures is the almost constant sunshine and moderately cloud-free days of this climate.  Manhattan, Kansas may not have one of the most sunny climates in the world, but officially we are around 240 days of sunshine a year, less then I would estimate (I figured it was over 300), but about 60 days more than Indiana/Ohio/Wisconsin where I've previously lived.  The picture below was taken Friday, June 30th, as I wrote this blog entry, when I realized that I haven't archived pictures of the "normal" sky, just the stormy scenes.  So, at random, this is yesterday, 3:00 p.m., taken right outside my front door, and you can consider it a "normal" Kansas sky.   Maybe those "Tengrists" aren't too far out  on a spritual limb after all.


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