Bringing Up Bromeliads

Another Bromeliad
Originally posted August 2013

If you read my last blog post you are aware I recently returned from my first trip to Hawaii. I feel very blessed to have been able to go to such a wonderful place, witnessing the remarkable and interestingly, contrasting, plant life of the islands. The rainforests to the north and east on the islands are abundant with what we in the 48 grow as “houseplants”, yet the terrains south and west on the islands are arid and complete with sun-loving lantana and varieties of cacti. Not only are there vast differences in rainfall on each individual island, but there are also great variances in altitude and thus, correspondingly variances in temperature. The abundance and variety of greenery in Hawaii makes it not only a paradise for vacationers in general, but truly the pinnacle experience for plant lovers.

 Bromeliads in Maui

Exhausted mother plants and ratoons/pups

Today I’d like to focus on bromeliads. Probably the most popular plant of the Bromeliaceae family is the pineapple. As a curious plant lover my entire life, I hate to admit I had no idea pineapples grew on the stalk of a relatively small plant (see below) versus growing on a tree. After all, the pineapple is a rather large fruit and I felt its mother plant would be comparable in size. To my credit, I was aware pineapples are related to the colorful bromeliads we typically see in our nurseries – yet I still felt sure they were derived from larger, taller plants than their ornamental cousins.

Pineapple Plant

Another interesting tidbit I learned when touring a pineapple winery on Maui is that each plant bears only one fruit per long season and after the third season the plant has usually exhausted its fruiting ability. The first season’s fruit is large and sweet and is harvested from the primary stalk and the next two years’ fruits can be somewhat smaller and are borne from offshoots of the mother plant called ratoons. While I found this remarkable about pineapples, it shouldn’t have been surprising since this is similar to the behavior of most ornamental terrestrial bromeliads. Typically they produce one beautiful, colorful center stalk, or bloom, if you will, and fortunately this bloom stays fresh and vivid for many months. After the center stalk matures, fades to brown, and falls away, the mother plant has essentially exhausted its ornamental abilities. However, about this time one or two offshoots (ratoons or pups) can usually be found at the base of the mother plant. These offshoots can be left as they are to grow as side plants (although again, the mother plant may look a bit drab in comparison and the ratoon crop will not be as vigorous) or better yet, you may wish to separate them from the mother and transplant them to create a new, center-oriented mother plant. Last year, I performed this task with a bromeliad I received as a gift. Right on cue, as the center stalk faded, two ratoons appeared. (Look closely at the base of the mother plant below and you’ll see two new stalks have formed.)

mother bromeliad and pups

mother bromeliad and pups 2

I allowed the ratoons to continue to grow for several weeks along with the mother plant. Once they were of the same height as the mother, I took the entire group (mother and ratoons) out of the pot and sliced the pups from the central plant using a sharp knife, making certain I maintained as many roots as possible on each piece. I then transplanted the pups into their own pots filled with potting material with good drainage ability (I used equal parts regular potting soil combined with orchid mix). As a side note, the bromeliad family is comprised of epiphytes (plants that grow in debris-filled crevices of trees) as well as the terrestrial plants I am focusing on here. As such, they all enjoy growing in coarse, rich, organic material that drains well.

separated bromeliad pups

mother bromeliad and pups 3

Bromeliad babies

Well, unfortunately only one of the pups mentioned above survived my transplant process. For several months now, the thriving “baby” has been situated on my desk at work, in a prominent spot near a northwesterly window. Each week its center stalk appears to be getting more and more tinged with magenta. Part of its success, I know, is the fact I water the bromeliad, as recommended, predominately through its center stalk. While you may wish to moisten the soil around the base of the plant to alleviate very dry conditions on rare occasions, bromeliads should be watered almost solely through their center stalks, allowing excess water to cup within the leaves of the plant. Be careful not to water too often at the base of the plant or allow too much overflow from the leaf cups as bromeliads can be prone to root rot. Having had the pleasure of seeing not only pineapples in Hawaii, but many other varieties of bromeliads, most of which were found on the windward side of the island in sun filtered, humid rainforests, I was able to witness the natural pooling of rainwater in their center stalk and at their leaf bases. I didn’t realize the practice of watering bromeliads in that manner was based on imitating Mother Nature. But after all, she does know best! (See rainwater within the bloom and leaf cups in the photo below and the intro picture above, compliments of Chris Smith, who took many botanical photos on our group’s recent trip to Hawaii as we toured the equally beautiful Garden of Eden Botanical Gardens and Arboretum and the Ali i Kula Lavender Farm on Maui.)

Bromeliads in Rain Forest in Maui

Speaking of the wonder of Mother Nature, the rain caught in the leaf cups of bromeliads in the wild not only nurtures the plant itself, but it also provides fresh water nourishment for reptiles, amphibians and small mammals of the tropical forest.

In conclusion, if you are looking for a unique and striking house plant with blooms that last for months and months and afterwards, offers you the opportunity to bring up its offspring, you may wish to try your hand at bromeliads. There are numerous varieties and colors available, including variegated types, and I’m sure there is one or two that will fit your home and/or office decor. There is even an ornamental dwarf pineapple available if you are so inclined to give it a try. (Ornamental pineapples are non-edible, and incidentally the true pineapple bears the one and only edible fruit of all bromeliads.)

A few reminders from above to keep in mind when raising bromeliads:

  • Think “rainforest” with regard to basic care: warmth (65 – 75 degrees, if possible), high humidity, bright indirect window or filtered sunlight, and consistent moisture to the center stalk and leaf cups.
  • Once the mother plant has exhausted its blooming period, anywhere from 4 -9 months depending on the variety, watch for offshoots (ratoons or pups) to form at the base of the plant.
  • Continue to care for the plant and allow the pups to grow to about a third of the size of the mother and then divide and transplant them.
  • Plant or transplant bromeliads in coarse, well-draining soil material similar to that which you would use for orchids or Christmas Cactus.
  • Enjoy 12 – 18 months admiring a tropical beauty from the rainforest and then repeat!

Until next time,

Cindy

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Nature is Nurture Begins

Originally posted 2010

As I type this blog on an early Saturday morning (yes, 8 a.m. is early for me) a finch just landed on the window immediately in front of me, giving me an enviable view of his slightly yellow underbelly. This might not sound at all that terribly exciting, but there is actually no pane or landing area, so to speak, outside this window. The finch was grasping the window screen for several minutes, it seemed, peering into my kitchen. Quite an unusual occurrence, even though I feed the wild birds regularly. Thus, I take this as a sure sign I made the right choice in my blog title! Speaking of natureisnurture.net, I’d like to tell you a little more about what I envision this blog will bring to you.

My goal is to share with you the peace and beauty of nature; peace and beauty that is here for you 24/7 no matter your current circumstances. Peace and beauty that is absolutely free. What do I consider to be “nature” or “natural?”  Anything that nurtures your soul. It is our relationships with family and friends (present and loved ones passed), our pets, flowers, trees, seashells, birds, fish, rocks, etc.  It is our experiences with new places and new faces. It is finding meaning, joy and yes – humor – in everyday life. So, I hope you choose to subscribe and join me on my journeys – present, future and past.

Cindy

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Snow Blindness in Dogs . . . in Dallas?

Hello everyone!  I have been debating which topic to write about the past few days in light of the very odd ice and snow storm we experienced this week in the Dallas area. Having lived here my entire life, I cannot remember a time when schools were closed 4 days in a row – and when they actually announced the closings the night before.

The warm sunlight this Saturday morning is indeed a very welcomed sight. Speaking of sight – this morning I concluded my elderly and almost blind dog, Buzz, apparently has been suffering from the effects of snow blindness. Over the past few days, and especially today with the sun shining so brightly, Buzz became disoriented in the snow. He would begin on his familiar path in the back yard, but would end up in the corner of the fence or behind a hollowed out log planter, unable (or unwilling) to back up. Good thing I was off work to monitor his outings during this freak winter event or otherwise he may have frozen to death in the 19 degree daytime temps. I had to venture out a couple of times and bring him back inside. This led me to research snow blindness in dogs. Yes, apparently it exists! Below are a couple of interesting (and humorous) Web sites I came across that sell doggie goggles!

http://www.kindly.de/petlenses/veterinary.html

http://doggles.com/index.html

You see (no pun intended), in addition to being almost blind, Buzz is totally deaf. However, he never ceases to amaze me in that while lacking hearing and sight, he still manages to successfully get to the doggie door every day to trail his familiar path in the back yard and take care of business. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for this one specific blessing! In addition, he has no problem finding his two comfy dog beds (one in the living room and one in the bedroom), or his food and water bowls. Considering Buzz’s usual path in the back yard also leads to immediately beneath the bird feeder, it got me to thinking that it may be his heightened sense of smell that aids him in continuing his life’s routines as his other senses are deteriorating. No doubt he walks a straighter line to the bird feeder when I’ve placed leftover biscuits on the platform versus sunflower seeds!

Thus, with the exception of a little snow blindness this week and perhaps less available scents to follow on the frozen ground, Buzz managed to weather the storm, even if it was with a little help. All in all, Buzz serves as inspiration that we can all have a good life, even as our senses begin to fade and our bodies age. It is just a matter of focusing on our talents and abilities that remain, and accepting help from a friend now and then.

Until next time,

Cindy

buzz in snow

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Gerbera Does Double-Duty Indoors

Gerbera
Originally posted January 2011

This morning I walked into my home office and noticed the Gerbera Daisy I had brought in from my outdoor patio a couple of months ago had sprouted yet another beautiful orange-red bloom. It is doing wonderfully on my desk, which faces a window with a southern exposure. You can see in the photo below that another bloom is presently emerging as well. Apparently the indoor temperature of my home (usually at 68 degrees) coupled with the bright sunlight shining through the window has made a perfect environment for this plant. The main reason I brought the Gerbera indoors was to merely shelter and preserve the plant until the spring, when I planned to return it back onto my patio table with hopes of it resuming its blooming at that time. I must admit, though, another reason I thought it would be nice to bring the Gerbera inside was that I recalled, back when I was studying horticulture, that NASA named the Gerbera Daisy among the top 10 – 12 best “air-filtering” plants. This quality is especially beneficial indoors during the winter months, where the Gebera helps eliminate common household toxins associated with oils, paints, varnishes, inks and dry cleaning.

Gerbera 2

So . . . while I fully intended to reap the benefits of cleaner air while maintaining the Gerbera plant indoors, I certainly didn’t expect to be able to enjoy such a continuous, beautiful display of flowers as well!  I hope you will consider purchasing or bringing inside a Gerbera this fall to thrive in a southern window in your home or office too.

If you’d like to read more about NASA’s clean air study and discover other houseplants that would be beneficial to your home, office, school, etc., go to:

http://www.mnn.com/health/healthy-spaces/stories/houseplants-that-clean-the-air

Until next time,

Cindy

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Blue Jays Will Work for Peanuts

Blue_Jay_with_Peanut

Originally posted Feb 2010

If you live in North Texas, you are probably at home today or you are one of the brave and dedicated souls that spent hours getting into work on the sheet of ice that Mother Nature laid down at 4 a.m. this morning! I am one of the former – I am at home today. Although I don’t drive on ice, I did brave it on foot by getting out and filling my three bird feeders this morning – although later than usual. You see, I awoke at 4 a.m. to the sound of sleet pounding on my window. Peering outside, I realized quickly that I probably wasn’t going into work and so I turned off my alarm clock and huddled back under the covers.

At about 8 a.m., I awoke to blue jays pounding on my gutters. Yes – they act as my secondary alarm clock. If I do not get the bird seed out at daybreak, I am reminded they are waiting.

The magnificently handsome blue jays are regulars at my feeders. They are loud and raucous and bullying. However, they tend to grab their food and go – giving the doves, sparrows, juncos and finches an opportunity to feed as well. Speaking of grabbing and going . . . whole peanuts are the absolute favorite seed of the jays. If you want to attract blue jays, invest in a platform feeder and a bag of whole peanuts. You fill it and they will surely come!

Once you establish your peanut feeding routine, spend some time watching the behavior of the jays. Their antics are very interesting and entertaining. Some jays are very discerning about which peanut they choose to swipe away. The finicky jay will pick up and shake a few shells with his beak to determine which one weighs the most before flying away with it. If you follow the jay with your gaze, most likely you will see the bird bury the peanut in the ground before coming back for more. I personally watched a jay retrieve several whole peanuts from my feeder one day and take them to my back yard where he first pegged holes in the ground with his strong beak and then placed each peanut into a separate hole, hammering them one by one into the ground and out of sight.

Because acorns are another of the blue jay’s favorite foods, this type of hoarding behavior is one of the reasons the blue jay is attributed with helping spread the oak forests of our nation. When acorn seeds were plenty, they would bury so many of them they would forget where they were “planted”!

To read more fascinating information about blue jays, including listening to their various calls, go to: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Blue_Jay/id.

Until next time,

Cindy

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Christmas . . . or Valentine’s Day Cactus?

Christmas CactusImage compliments of waterloogardens.com.
Originally posted 2010

My Christmas Cactus never bloomed this past December. It is finally blooming now, on February 9th. It is a beautiful white-flowered variety with hot pink stamen. Stamen are the thin, long stalks with fuzzy heads that protrude out of the center of the flower. The fuzzy stuff is pollen. If you look extremely close at a flower, you’ll also see a pistil, which is a tube-like stalk, usually dead center of the stamen, that when the pollen drops in, it produces the seed. It is where the ovaries are located. Oops, this is starting to sound like a biology lesson! Well, I guess it might be actually, but it is not about reproduction . . .

As I mentioned, my Christmas Cactus never bloomed in December. I was disappointed. I had a former Christmas Cactus for years that was a dependable bloomer during the holidays. It finally met its demise and I purchased this white variety. Although it was a summertime clearance purchase, I had high hopes for it. While Christmas Cacti are fairly easy to keep alive and green, they are indeed quite finicky when it comes to blooming. You see, Christmas Cacti originate from a very unique environment and we must mimic that environment for the plant to be able to successfully produce the beautiful blooms we desire in our homes at Christmastime or otherwise.

Christmas Cacti are epiphytes in nature (as are orchids and some bromeliads.) Epiphytes are not to be confused with parasites, but they are indeed similar in that they live on other plants. Epiphytes live on other plants for support and light – not to suck the life out of them, so to speak! The Christmas Cactus in particular is native to the Brazilian rainforest. It thrives in the debris and decay (dead leaves, mostly) that collects in the crevices of tree limb joints, usually near the canopy of the forest where there is bright, but filtered, light. Although a succulent, the Christmas Cactus is not as drought tolerant as it’s desert cousins. It needs to be treated like the tropical it is when it comes to watering and fertilizing (i.e., moderately). I’m getting to my point about timing of blooming, I promise . . .

The rainforests of the world are located at the Equator and are blessed with receiving a balance of 12 hours of sunlight every day with 12 hours of darkness. This is where the finicky part comes in regarding the success of a Christmas Cactus as a houseplant. If you wish for your Christmas Cactus to bloom nicely, you need to ensure it receives 12 hours of uninterrupted darkness every night for about 8 – 10 weeks. As such, the best place for a Christmas Cactus in your home is near a sun filtered window in a room that you do not frequent during the longer nights of winter. Slightly closing the heating vents of the unused room will keep it a tad cooler as well. These actions will provide the Christmas Cactus the perfect environment it needs to prepare to bloom.

So . . . why is my Christmas Cactus blooming in February? Very simply, I moved it in early December (10 weeks ago, hint, hint) from a well-lighted living room to a rarely used den. My previous Christmas Cactus existed before I had furniture and a TV in this living room, so it did fine there. My new plant did not do well . . . until I moved it to its optimal environment.

If you are having difficulty blooming due to a life circumstance, as with the Christmas Cactus, give yourself adequate time to adjust. If there isn’t progress, though, don’t stay too long in the darkness. A new environment, even if a temporary vacation, may be all that is needed to get those buds started.

Until next time,

Cindy

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The Giant Hailstone

hail
Originally posted in 2010

Listening to the weather forecast for the next few days, I realized we will be seeing an increase in temperatures by about 60 degrees from earlier this week. There is still ice and snow on the ground in the shady areas of my back yard, but I’ll probably be able to hang out in short sleeves over the weekend.

Crazy Texas weather!

Speaking of, as most of you know it is the seemingly constant clash of very warm and very cold air that brings us our infamous thunderstorms and tornadoes in the spring and fall here in North Texas. I recall one spring weekend day when I was about 10 years old, a violent storm passed over my neighborhood in Oak Cliff, located in southwest Dallas. My two younger sisters and I were at home with our dad – lucky him! Of course we were panicked by the storm, but we were also in awe of it as we watched large hailstones pummel our front yard and, unfortunately, our car as we had no garage or car port.

As the three of us girls watched out the screen door, we became determined to locate the largest hailstone and put it in the freezer so we could show our mom when she arrived home. (I don’t remember where she was that Saturday, but she and my infant brother were probably at the grocery store as usual on the weekend.) As we peered through the screen door, competing with each other’s eyesight, our gazes simultaneously fell upon a huge, round, white object across the street. It was so enormous we yelled at our dad to come to the door and see it.

“Daddy, Daddy . . . come look at this giant piece of hail!  Please go get it so we can save it in the freezer!”  The hail was loudly pounding our roof as my dad reluctantly came to the door. I remember his very puzzled look as he peered outside. Typically we girls were a bit over dramatic, but this time he too was in shock about the size of this hailstone. We begged him to run across the street and get the giant stone as we moved food around in our small refrigerator’s freezer to make room for it.

He did.

In great anticipation, we watched as our dad picked up our record find.

Uh oh . . . the giant “hailstone” wasn’t what we thought it was – it was a discarded football helmet!

old football helmet

I still have a vision of my dad standing across the street holding the white helmet by the facemask that had been obstructed from our view.  No doubt, he felt very silly standing outside in the middle of a turbulent storm holding an old football helmet.  It didn’t help that we three little girls were laughing hysterically!  We watched as he tossed the helmet back into our neighbor’s yard – but in hindsight, he probably should’ve used it for head protection as he embarrassingly ran back to our house through the pounding hail.

To view the largest hailstone on record, go to: http://www.keloland.com/news/NewsDetail6371.cfm?Id=102949.

Until next time,

Cindy

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Parenting Skills of the Brown-Headed Cowbird

brown headed cowbird
Originally posted 2010

Unusual facts about nature are very interesting to me. The harshness of some facts is very hard to understand, but usually there is good reason – even if it isn’t apparent right away. Speaking of “a-parent”, let’s discuss the brown-headed cowbird. (OK, I admit, that was a bad lead-in!)

Basically, the brown-headed cowbird does not parent in the sense that it doesn’t build a nest, incubate, or raise its young. It is what is called a “brood parasite”. Brood parasites deposit their offspring in the nests of others. Brood parasites are not common; they are found in only a few species of birds, fish and insects around the world. Among the avian of North America, only the brown-headed cowbird can claim this title. When the brown-headed cowbird is ready to lay an egg, it searches for a nest that is already inhabited with the eggs of another species of bird. The cowbird is not picky; it will lay its egg in the nests of over 200 “host” species. Most of the host birds do not realize a foreign egg has been laid in their nest. This is exactly what the cowbird is counting on.

Although the cowbird’s egg may look different in color and size of the host bird’s eggs, the ignorantly adoptive mother incubates it along with her own. Once the cowbird chick hatches, the adoptive mother continues to treat it as her own, although the majority of the time, the cowbird hatches early and rapidly grows to be twice her size!

While it may be endearing to see a tiny mother bird feed a Baby Huey hatchling, the cowbird chick can easily exhaust a foster mother finch, sparrow or warbler with its voracious appetite! Most of the time, the addition of an orphan cowbird to a nest does not affect the survival of the existing eggs or hatchlings. The cowbird will get the lion’s share of attention and food, however.

brownheaded cowbird chicks with adoptive mom

Foster Mom to Brown-Headed Cowbird Chicks

Our first thoughts about the parenting practices of the brown-headed cowbird may cause us to consider them as the dead-beat moms and dads of the avian world.

Maybe so, but . . . maybe not.

You see, in the past, a cowbird’s habitat was the great plains. They followed herds of buffalo and cattle (their namesake), as they grazed from range to range, hoping to feed upon the insects flushed out by and surrounding these large animals. Unlike other species of birds, cowbirds were nomadic – they had to follow their food. Instinctively, they knew they did not have time to build a nest, incubate the eggs and raise their chicks. Their food source would be long gone by that time. Thus, they left their young (usually one egg at a time) in the capable beaks of more resourceful birds along their routes. Of course, this isn’t the case now as cattle are confined to fences and not too many wild bison are roaming the range, but I guess not enough time has passed for the cowbird’s life pattern to adapt to present times.

I believe the message here is this: Sometimes we don’t understand why things are done the way they are until we are forced to walk in another person’s shoes or happen to come to know their history. I believe the majority of the time good intentions are deeply rooted in most decisions, no matter how controversial they may be. The brown-headed cowbird isn’t lazy, irresponsible, or as cold-heartedly cruel as it first seems to be. The cowbird is merely continuing the practice (albeit outdated) of making the best of a bad situation, to ensure its offspring has a good chance of survival.

Now that’s a good parent.

 

Until next time,

Cindy

 

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Gardening in a Flash

Circular-Raised-Garden
Originally published Feb 2010

Back when I was unhappily married (1993-2005), I had a very nice wooden raised garden bed along my driveway. It was about 12′ X 6′ and had a height of about 6 inches. I considered it a permanent feature, but after about 20 years it disintegrated. Unfortunately, with my busy work life, extended family obligations, new single-dom and much more pressing home improvement projects, I had to forego planting a veggie garden for several years. I missed it terribly.

In the meantime, grass had begun to grow throughout the area of my former garden. I knew I eventually wanted to have another harvest of homegrown vegetables, so I “suffocated” the grass in the area last year by staking down black plastic for several months during the late winter. By the way, this method doesn’t suffocate all of it, but it definitely helps and is much, much safer than using chemicals to kill the grass. (If you are planning a vegetable garden, it is highly advised that you do not use grass killing chemicals as your veggies’ roots will extend into that chemicalized area even in a raised bed.)

Raised beds are very efficient in that not only do they provide great control of grass invasion, they “contain” the healthy soil components you chose to add to your garden. Thus, organic gardening is much quicker and easier to accomplish with a raised bed. Even at merely 8 inches, a raised bed is easier on a gardener’s knees and back with regard to the planting, caring and harvesting of plants. Last year, I did not (and still do not) have the time, energy or money to build or have built an elaborate, permanent raised garden bed. I expected that if I was to resume my vegetable garden, I would have to resort to planting at ground level. This meant I would need to till the now very hard ground and really work at keeping grass out and organic nutrients in.

However, one day when browsing the garden section at Wal-Mart, I came across a wonderfully quick, easy and inexpensive solution to my situation. It is called the Easy Gardener Round Raised Garden Bed Kit. Don’t worry – it has more letters in its name than dollars in its price! Depending on where you make your purchase, it will cost you $18 – $24. The Easy Gardener Round Raised Garden Bed Kit contains everything you need to instantly create a raised garden bed. The composite material of the edging is extremely flexible and a bonus is it is also eco-friendly. It will create a 42 inch diameter raised bed of 8 inches in height. As the product states, all you need to do is add soil and plants. You can certainly place the product directly on top of existing grass, but if you have the time and energy, I recommend suffocating or lightly tilling up the grass before placing the bed over it – just to be sure our all too resilient grasses and weeds don’t have an opportunity to invade your planting area.

I admit, the one very minor negative of this product is that it looks and feels like the “plastic” composite that it is – it certainly doesn’t have the rustic, sturdy appearance of wood or stone. However, this is not to say the Easy Gardener product doesn’t look good – it indeed looks nice, especially from the distance of the street or alley. An advantage of the composite material is that it will not chip or rust as would metal edging. My Easy Gardener Round Raised Bed is placed alongside my driveway in the back yard and looks marvelous there. Its ease and functionality are superb and outweigh any cosmetic issues it may or may not have. I was able to create a raised vegetable garden in one afternoon! In fact, I purchased two kits and joined them together to create one large oval, very near the same square footage as I had with my previous wooden bed.

So, for you folks that have dreamed of having a raised garden but just didn’t have the time, energy, or money to create it – this is your answer! Sure, you will have to dedicate time and care to the garden once you plant the veggies (or flowers) but trust me; the reward for that effort is 100 times worth it. You will forget that you are “working” in the garden once you taste the pleasure of your produce and/or experience the beauty of the flowers you helped bring forth. This product is also an excellent choice as a gift, especially to an elderly parent or a science-oriented school-aged kid. I could also see a nursing home or school yard benefiting from the donation of an Easy Gardener Round Raised Garden Bed Kit. After installing for any recipient, this gift would keep on giving throughout the growing season!

For detailed information about the Easy Gardener Round Raised Garden Bed Kit and other products by Easy Gardener, Inc., please go to http://www.easygardener.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=category.display&category_ID=240.

Until next time,

Cindy

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Don’t Send Your Hamster to Heaven Too Soon!

Originally published 2/21/2011

WARNING . . . WARNING . . . If you are about to eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner, you may wish to forego this post! Also, if you aren’t particularly fond of little furry creatures (essentially, mice with fuzzy hairdo’s) you may not feel much empathy concerning the information I am about to convey. Nonetheless, should you choose to continue reading, I double-bet that you will not only learn something new but you might just develop an inkling of compassion for our furry little friends!

Personally, I can say I pretty much love ALL furry creatures, hamsters included. I’ve had a few hamsters in my lifetime although I have none now. Currently, I have a dog, two cats and three tropical fish. As you know from this blog, I also feed the wild birds around my house, so I consider them as pets too. I guess I draw the line at bugs, snakes and reptiles (although they do interest me). I did own a mini-turtle once (who had living quarters complete with an island and tiny fake palm tree). I also owned a chameleon as a very small child, but it didn’t last very long unfortunately. The chameleon story will be for another time – if I garner up the courage to tell it!

Back to hamsters . . . Yesterday, I was drinking ice tea at my house with a good friend when my youngest sister frantically called on my cell. As I answered the phone, she shouted, “The hamster you bought for Kristin last year has thrown up its guts! Its stomach is hanging out of his mouth! I don’t know what to do! I don’t know what to do! He looks like he is in pain and I think he should be put out of his misery – NOW!”   Please note . . . she didn’t call the hamster by its given name, Emmitt. At this crisis point, is it is known as “the hamster I bought for Kristin.”  Sortof alludes that the sick critter is at least partly my doing, huh?

Not quite able to fathom the image my sister was painting in my mind, I asked her to call an emergency animal clinic and get some expert advice. Of course, she had already done this and had been told there is no diagnosing over the phone, a Sunday afternoon initial office visit is $120, plus, if the little guy has to be put down, she could count on at least an additional $108. Considering Emmitt only cost $19.99, I think you know why my sister hung up on the vet and immediately called me!

I reminded her I had company over at the house and promised to do a little research and get back to her very soon. I asked her not to do anything drastic in the meantime.

Shortly after, she snapped a photo of Emmitt and sent it to me on my cell phone so I could “see” the problem. (Don’t our camera phones come in handy these days?!!)  Well, the pic looked pretty darn bad I admit. I decided, after my friend left, that I would scoot over to my sister’s house and pay Emmitt a visit.

When I arrived, I learned my niece had placed a towel over Emmitt’s cage. I don’t know if it was to calm him down, but I suspect it was meant to shield her from witnessing his awful dilemma instead. I looked under the towel and although Emmitt looked disgusting, he didn’t appear to be in any pain. He actually was drinking water. He just seemed extremely agitated that this hunk of pink flesh half the size of his body was hanging out of the side of his mouth. I looked a little closer at him and, out of curiosity, asked my niece, Kristin, to Google hamster cheeks. I had a gut feeling . . . . (no pun intended!)

Yes, indeed. Emmitt is plagued with an uncommon condition in hamsters – an “everted cheek pouch.” Basically, one of his cheek pouches got caught up with an oversized nut or it simply broke loose from its place, turned inside out, and then unraveled out of his mouth. The incredible thing about this is this – his cheek pouch is humongous!

Reading about the condition online, I discovered that hamster pouches in fact extend way past their shoulder blades and into their upper backs. No wonder hamsters look like they are about to burst open when they are hoarding their food.  No wonder they can stuff a whole baby carrot in their mouth.  Believe me, there is plenty of room!

While it is great news to know that Emmitt is probably not in much pain, the bad news is his dilemma has to be fixed by a professional. No stuffing the cheek pouch back into his mouth with a Q-tip as I was considering!  You see, the pouch must be turned back outside in and stitched into its proper place, otherwise it may fall out again.  So . . . my sister is taking Emmitt to the vet this afternoon for a little procedure. Yes, it is going to cost her some big bucks and quite frankly, he may have a really rough time with it, but gee whiz . . . it is the right thing to do by Emmitt. I hope he comes through OK.

By the way, you will be happy to know I gladly contributed to the Emmitt Everted Cheek Repair Fund – after all, he is also known as “the hamster I bought for Kristin.”

Emmitt and Snowbell2 Emmitt and Snowbell

Emmitt and Snowbell, my Niece’s Unusually Hamster-Friendly Cat!

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