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Tangled Branches: Cultivated

happenings in and around my zone 6b gardens in northern Virginia and in central Virginia

Monday, December 31, 2007

The Cycle

As the clock ticks out the last few hours of 2007, I find myself wondering why the Roman/Julian/Gregorian calendar seems so arbitrary. Shouldn't we mark off the years at some meaningful point in the Earth's orbit around the sun? A solstice or an equinox or something? But we don't. For thirteen years or so (1793-1805), the French started the New Year at the autumnal equinox, coinciding with the grape harvest. This makes a lot more sense to me, especially given the prominent role played by alcohol in our New Year's celebrations. Got your party hat on yet?

I like the idea of representing the year as a circle (because it is, really) and there's an elegantly information-packed circular calendar available as a free download at The Natural Year. This nifty chart shows the length of days, the moon's phases, weather cycles, and more. All the data are based on the author's location near Kansas City, but the broad trends apply across a swath of North America.

In late afternoon today I headed out to the vegetable garden, where lettuce, spinach and dill are still growing under their Agribon covers. I picked enough lettuce and spinach for a salad, and parsley and thyme to flavor our souffle for dinner tonight. That's a part of the annual cycle I plan to explore more fully in 2008 - the idea that I can harvest something fresh to eat most of the year. And I had to wash aphids off the lettuce!

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posted by Entangled at 4:52 PM
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Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Holidays!

This feather tree has been part of our family Christmas celebrations for about 70 years and reflects changing times and fashions. Many years ago it had a set of homemade lights which were telephone switchboard lights strung together. The wooden base has had several paint jobs, but is now the original (we think) with remnants of later colors. These ornaments are only about 15 to 20 years old, but I remember when it wore tiny glass spheres.

Happy Holidays to all those who celebrate this time of year!


posted by Entangled at 7:54 AM
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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

There was a lively debate here yesterday between me and myself about whether to post anything for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. It went something like this.

Me: Why on earth would you want to show those pathetic flowers to anybody?
Myself: But they're flowers. In December. Outside. And it is Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.

Just as it was getting dark, myself prevailed and went outside to snap a couple of photos of two very long-blooming alyssum varieties - 'Snowdrift' and 'Navy Blue'. (Navy Blue isn't, BTW; it's quite purple.) Checking my previous bloom day posts, they've been blooming since June 15 at least (probably earlier) from an early spring direct-sowing. I don't think I ever planted alyssum in the ground before this year - always in containers. They grew much better in the ground, and didn't curl up and die in the heat of the summer.

So that's it for December Bloom Day. I'm hoping for snowdrops for the January edition.


posted by Entangled at 7:38 AM
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Saturday, December 08, 2007

Earliest Sunset and Cool Software

Later sunsets starting tomorrow!

Around this time of year I'm intensely interested in the motions of the stars and planets - most particularly the Big Star without which none of us would be gardening. It's only a couple of weeks until the winter solstice and longer days, but nature is kind (sometimes) and provides us with longer afternoons even before the solstice. I thought I knew when the earliest sunset of the year occurs, and that it occurs about December 8, but that turns out to be true only if you are located at about 40 degrees N latitude. For those further north, who I'm sure would be even happier to have longer afternoons, you'll have to wait a few more days. For those further south, you're enjoying later sunsets already.

I've recently discovered some amazing software. It's easily the most beautiful astronomy desktop program I've ever seen. So it costs big bucks, right? Wrong. It's free. And open source. My only complaint, and it's not that big a deal to me, is that it's a wee bit programmer-y. If you're running it on Windows, you'll see something that looks like a DOS window open and close before the program itself opens, and once the program is open the controls are not quite intuitive (to me). There's a basic control bar at the bottom of the screen, but certain functions require keyboard commands, and you have to remember what those are, or open the help screen for a list. But, hey, you can't beat the price, and did I mention that the display is beautiful? If you're even the least bit curious about the stars and planets, go to and check it out.


posted by Entangled at 8:51 PM
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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Non-Calamintha Snow

What's the Inuit word for "snow too heavy and wet to make the calamintha look pretty"?

That's the kind we had today. This isn't all that bad, but the Calaminthas need something fluffier and lighter to look their winter best. Maybe we'll get another chance later in the season, if they're not totally flattened by then.

Here's an antique video for the first snow of the season. For you folks who aren't from the Chicago area, have you ever seen it?


posted by Entangled at 4:39 PM
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Primitive Tapestries

It's December. The leaves have fallen, the snow has had not, and the woods look gray and brown.
The view from the deck, Central Virginia

A closer look, though, is rewarded. Nearly every tree has draped about its base a green tapestry, self-woven by mosses and lichens.
An especially varied example

Even closer inspection changes the tapestry into miniature landscapes.

I'm no closer to knowing the names of these primitive plants and lichens than I was last winter, so you're own your own as to the IDs. I think for the time being, I'll just enjoy looking at them and not worry about their names.

I got a little carried away with the photographs and narrowed it down to just a few here, but the entire collection is in my December Picasa album.

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posted by Entangled at 3:49 PM
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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Green Thoughts, Red Face

Did you read the part of my Green Thoughts review where I said "An illustration would have been nice here"? Ask and ye shall receive.

Annie in Austin kindly pointed out that the cover illlustration on some editions of Green Thoughts was the very illustration I wished to see.

For a nice clear picture of that cover, I refer you to Annie's Addendum.

Those who read that edition must have wondered what I was complaining about.

So, to quote Emily Litella, never mind.

Thanks for helping me out, Annie!

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posted by Entangled at 1:13 PM
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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Blogger Tech

I spent this rainy afternoon and evening catching up on my blog-reading and found everywhere howls of protest at recent changes in Blogger's comment forms. Specifically that people without Blogger accounts who leave a comment no longer have an automated way to include a link back to their sites.

Agreed, this is an annoyance for genuine commenters, but there's a way around it. Here's an example showing how to put a link in a comment. Type the following exactly, except replace with your website address and replace Tangled Branches: Cultivated with the text you want to see displayed as a link.

<a href="">Tangled Branches: Cultivated</a>

All that gibberish will look like this when posted in a comment:
Tangled Branches: Cultivated

This was going to be a post about mosses and lichens, but I'm just about cross-eyed from staring at the screen too long today. Look for a moss and lichen post later this week.


posted by Entangled at 9:22 PM
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