Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Cedar Moon

For the last month or so when I go outside to work in the garden, I've noticed this lovely smell. It's a fresh, clean smell, like Christmas trees or pine shavings. I'd inhale deeply and go "aah" and wonder what it was.

I finally figured it out.

This is the culprit! It's a male Ashe Juniper tree in my next door neighbor's yard. That golden hue is pollen cones. I never realized before that juniper pollen has a smell, but juniper is what the air smells like. That's what it must be. The rest of the tree is very fragrant: the wood, scales, berries, and bark. Makes sense the pollen would be too.

I love Ashe Juniper trees, but I might not feel the same way if I was allergic to them. Ashe Junipers are commonly known as "cedars" around here, even though they're in a completely different genus than true cedars and don't even look much like them (true cedars look much more like pine trees, with needles and cones, instead of scales and berries). Like most conifers, they're very fragrant. I love the smell of a campfire made with some Ashe juniper wood, and the branches make good smudge sticks.

I might also love them because they're such a hated tree, so they seem like underdogs. Besides the notorious allergy, they're also hated for "encroaching" on pastures (similarly to mesquite trees in some areas, another tree I like that a lot of people hate), and even depleting the Edward's Aquifer of water.

Personally, I think it's a bit unfair. Like other "encroaching" woody plants, I don't think it's fair to blame junipers for being able to survive in overgrazed, under-burned, and overall poorly managed pastures when grass cannot. (In other words, they're a symptom of that problem, not a cause.) I was always skeptical of the idea that junipers are especially "thirsty" plants that are sucking up all our water, and now there may be science backing me up on this. And while I feel sorry for people who are suffering from Cedar Fever right now, people are allergic to oaks and elms too. However, those trees just don't seem to draw the same kind of hatred that cedar does (I am allergic to something in the spring. I'm not sure what it is, but I'm afraid it might be oak).

According to my next door neighbor, the owner of this house hated cedar so much that he cut them all down in this yard. That explains why my yard only has oaks and elms and ash, while the yards surrounding us all have mature juniper trees in the mix. Seems pretty silly to chop down all the junipers in this yard when there are plenty right next door. It's not like pollen respects property lines. But maybe the desire for revenge against the evil cedar outweighed any logic in this case.

My pineapple sage is also trying to reproduce. Pineapple sage is supposed to flower in the autumn, not the dead of winter, so I wonder why it's late like this. Maybe it was too stressed from the drought at first, and now that's it's finally started raining a lot, it's making up for lost time. We've also had a fairly mild winter so far, with only a couple of mild freezes. This may also be why the cedar pollen is especially high.

The mild weather also might be making the cabbage worms worse. My cauliflower and collards are getting eaten up very badly. I just sprayed them with Bt again. Normally winter-grown brassicas don't have a big problem with bugs, but we haven't had any hard enough freezes to kill the bugs yet.
The only brassica they aren't bothering are the mustards. Maybe they don't like spicy food. My CSA farmer gave me transplants of something called Horned Mustard to plant in my own garden. He's been giving me it for eating for a while, and it's really good in stir fries. The transplants seem to have taken well.
The Curly Mustard I planted a while ago is also doing fine. It's a lighter color and more frilly than any of the other brassicas. The other plants in this picture are some volunteer elephant garlic (sprouted up from bulbils I missed), some bunching onions, and some wild clover I'm letting grow so it can add nitrogen to the soil.
The garlic is doing well too, but now I'm sad because I might end up moving before it's time to harvest the garlic in May. Daniel suggested that we could transplant it to the new place, but I'm not sure if it will make it through that. I guess that would be better than giving up on it entirely though.
The peas are doing fine, but I haven't harvested any so far. I also might not get any before we move, though peas are less of a big deal to me than garlic.
I don't know why the peas over here are so much lighter in color than the ones along the fence. Something in the soil? Surrounding them are the rutabagas which are just starting to swell up.
The lettuce is doing well too. Here you can see the difference between my first planting and second planting. Hopefully the second one will catch up.
I'm still working on starting my nightshades, but I've gotten a setback. The tomatoes are getting really bad rotting or damping off or something like that. The top of the soil has gotten all green and slimy, and the tomato sprouts just sort of shrivel up. I wonder if I should replant and start microwaving the soil to sterilize it first. I have done that before, but I wasn't sure if it made a big difference, so this year I haven't bothered yet. Maybe it is important after all.

I can keep the nightshades in pots until we move and then plant them at the new place.

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