Friday, February 7, 2014

Winter, continued...

With all of the cardinals hanging out by the feeders during these past few bitter days, we realize that rearview mirrors on any vehicles parked at our place are in danger. All visitors will drive away with beak grease on all exterior mirrors and bird poop on the car below the mirror.

These red birds viciously attack their reflections... repeatedly. At least they have largely left the windows on the house alone in the last couple of summers, but the small window in the sauna got attacked. We counted 10 cardinals by the feeders the other day... that was just the bright red males. The less brightly colored females are there in abundance, as well.

We received about 12 inches of snow on Tuesday, which was absolutely gorgeous. I went walking in it for a short while... so, so beautiful! The snow was followed by bitter cold, but not quite as cold as predicted. Minus 5 degrees F the other morning instead of the minus 8 or 9 that had been forecast. We are quite grateful not to have had some of the more extreme weather that other areas have experienced.

But we are usually past the single digit and below zero temperatures by February, so I wonder if spring planting will be delayed. I worry about our bees, too, wondering if they have enough honey to get them through this cold. I did not expect such extended periods of cold, or I would have planned better, providing supplemental feeding early in the season so they wouldn't use up their honey stores. I don't like using sugar water, but it's better than letting them starve.

I have neglected this blog, telling the readers of my newspaper column that they can find more info on things here, yet failing to provide more information. One of those topics is growing jujube fruit trees. Early last fall, a friend of ours gave us a few jujube fruit from his own tree. They were quite tasty. A little later, another friend brought us dried jujubes from New Mexico. Yum yum! So we are convinced that jujubes must be grown here.

They like hot summers and can tolerate quite cold winters, even though they originate from somewhat tropical climates. You want to be sure and let the fruit fully ripen on the tree, as they don't ripen after harvest. Supposedly, you also can let them dry on the tree -- but my guess is that the critters around here wouldn't let us have any if we tried that. So we'll dry them in our solar dryer. Here are a couple of links to jujube trees and cultivation information. Here in Kansas, we want to plant the regular jujube, Ziziphus jujube, not the Indian jujube, which is less cold tolerant. I had considered planting these fruit trees in the past, but balked at it because they are a bit more expensive than other fruit trees. But they are rarely bothered by pests and disease, so I will bite the bullet and get a couple this year.

Icicles on the back of the honeysuckle next to the house.
Another topic I promised more information on was seedless watermelons. I am happy to spit out or even swallow the seeds, but my husband wants seedless. So I will actually grow several varieties of watermelon this year, including the seeded Black Tail Mountain, an orange-fleshed variety and one seedless variety. Have you ever wondered how you can plant SEEDS for a SEEDLESS watermelon?

Getting seedless watermelons is a process. First you plant a regular watermelon, then treat the seed or plant, I'm not sure which, with a special chemical that gives you a plant with double the normal number of chromosome sets (normal is two, so this gives them four sets), then you cross that with a regular watermelon variety and the result is a plant with three sets of chromosomes and fruit with no seeds. Now this final plant has sterile pollen, so you must plant another regular watermelon with it in order to get fruit set. Seedless watermelon seeds germinate less readily than regular ones, so they must be started in pots indoors, then babied until they get established. Because they don't put energy into making seeds, the vines are more vigorous. We'll see how this goes

I will let you know how well or if our bees survive this winter, and keep you updated on the progress of the jujube trees and seedless watermelon project. Right now, though, I am just looking forward to the end of winter, to the moment when we clean out the stove for the last time and put away the wood rack. By the middle of next week, we should see temperatures in the 30s (Fahrenheit). Break out the bathing suits!

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