18 Year Wait

Wisteria in bloom for the 1st time in 18 years

I’d given up hope on this wisteria ever blooming. We received it as a gift when we moved here 18 years ago. But yesterday, it stunned us by blooming for the first time. Lovely white and purple fragrant flowers with dabs of yellow.

Wisteria blossoms up close

I read once that soil with too much nitrogen can keep wisteria from blooming. Made sense as I planted it near an old septic system. Perhaps by now the rain has leached the soil enough so the wisteria can bloom. Or maybe this plant just needed all those years to decide what kind of flowers to put on display.

False lily of the valley

The false lily of the valley are in bloom. They give the forest floor a soothing, cool look. They are also called snake berry and two-leaved Solomon’s seal. Maianthemum dilatatum is their scientific name.

I’ve always wanted a quick way to see the etymology of these scientific names. And now I have one. According to ChatGPT Maianthemum dilatatum means:

Maianthemum: This genus name is derived from the Greek words “Maios” meaning “May” and “anthemon” meaning “flower”. It refers to the flowering period of plants in this genus, which often occurs in May.

dilatatum: This species name comes from Latin, where “dilatatus” means “spread out” or “expanded”. It likely refers to a characteristic of the plant, possibly the spread of its leaves or its colony-forming habit.

So Maianthemum dilatatum means a May flower that spreads out. That pretty much describes it. Spreading May flower, I almost like that better than the common names.

Bleeding hearts

I always called these bleeding hearts, but they are actually Pacific bleeding hearts, Dicentra formosa, which means Two-spurred beauty.

Apple blossoms

And the apples are about done blooming. When the apples are done blooming, spring is almost over.

The many blooms of this time of year ease the stress of modern life. You know how words change their meaning over time. I think that the use of tech companies to describe their products as “smart” will eventually change the meaning of smart to mean stupid, aggravating, even deranged and insane, Alice in Wonderland mad.

I decided after many years of consideration to try an iRobot Roomba to vacuum the house. iRobot claims it is smart. It can make a map of your floors and vacuum any room on command. Sounds good. Sounds smart. What is not to like?

Before I begin my rant, my floors have never been cleaner. They get thoroughly vacuumed every day. So that is a plus. But to call a Roomba smart is a stretch, a leap of faith, a voyage into absurdity. A claim that could put you in an insane asylum.

After many, many, many hours it will eventually create a map of your floors that is decent. But can the Roomba read this map it created and follow it? Evidently the programmers at iRobot forgot to program that ability into this “smart” device.

I think they purposely left out the feature where the app places a dot on the map where the Roomba thinks it is. Because the Roomba has no clue where it is! Neither does it have any sense of direction. I’ve learned that in order for it to reach the dining room, I need to make sure it cleans one or two rooms between the homebase where it resides and charges. Otherwise, it will never find the dining room. Forget about finding rooms further away from the homebase.

I tell it to vacuum the dining room. Once it is in the hallway, it is a straight 15 foot path to the dining room. All it has to do is get into the hallway and go straight. A smart thing surely could do that. But the Roomba is incapable of going straight. It will bang against the walls of the hallway, turn around, meander into other rooms along the way, get hopelessly lost, and return to the homebase, with a message that the pathway is blocked. Of course it is blocked if you aim for the walls! I’ve seen it get to the edge of the dining room. Another inch forward and it would be there! But it is hopelessly lost and decides to go home. Starting another arduous effort, zig-zagging down the hallway until by sheer luck it finds the homebase. Not something a “smart” device would ever do.

I sometimes wonder if our dogs have found where the local drug dealers hide their stashes of cocaine in the woods. Maybe they are bringing back cocaine dust on their feet and spreading it around the house. Cocaine dust that the Roomba sucks up and gets high from. That would explain its mindless behavior.

I’ve had it a week, and learned to accept its lack of smarts. It works well if I just give it simple tasks, clean one or two rooms at a time. If I want it to go all the way to the other end of the house, give it a room or two along the way to vacuum, and make sure the doors to other rooms are closed. It has the attention span of a three year old. It wants to go into any open door it finds. Forget about the map. There’s an open door here! What’s in there?

And if all else fails, carry the thing into the room, turn it on, and close the door. Let it clean until it starts banging against the door or wall looking for a way to get out. By then the room will be clean. It’s like asking a two year old child to do chores.

And now, after lowering my expectations to nil, I’ve figured out how to get the stupid thing to do what I want it to.

When I first started programming, my bosses always told me to under promise and over deliver. It seems that those in charge of tech companies today love to promise the moon and deliver turds. It’s no wonder everyone is in therapy these days.

So if you are thinking of getting one of these “smart” vacuuming robots, lower your expectations. Laugh at their silly antics as they go zig-zagging every which way but the direction they should be going. And in time, you’ll get them to do what you want. Just don’t call them smart. Or wait 18 years. They may be smart by then.

Of Bleeding Hearts and Fading Cherry Blossoms

Cherry blossoms on the ground

The cherry blossoms all drifted to the ground a while back. One late, warm, spring snow to say good bye to winter for good this season.

Bleeding heart blossoms.
Fruiting cherry blossoms

Bleeding hearts and fruiting cherry blossoms take their place. With so many flowers in bloom, the humming bird feeder dangles empty. I might as well put it away until first frost. If I was a humming bird I’d rather sip fresh nectar from flowers instead of bland sugar water. I’m sure the flavors of the different flower nectars are far more interesting than sugar water.

Chicks eating cantaloupe

The Bielefelder chicks keep growing. They love cantaloupe. They also love liver, probably their favorite thing to eat next to earthworms. When I put a plate out piled with slivers of raw liver, it is like feeding sharks. The chicks go wild scarfing up the liver and chasing each other around until every last bit is gone. I’d post a video of it, but it may make you faint. One second you have calm, peaceful chicks. The next second you have blood thirsty carnivores ripping things to shreds. If chickens were the size of ostriches, we’d all be in trouble.

Chickens on hand.

It’s hard to imagine these lovely birds as blood thirsty carnivores. But looks can be deceiving.

Chicks perched on leg.

Or these friendly chicks, hopping all over me. But who knows what they are thinking? Maybe they are just looking for an open sore to start pecking away until I am nothing but a skeleton.

On May 10 they will be a month old.

These are going to be the tamest chickens I’ve ever had. Hopefully when they have young next year or next, they will still be tame and teach their young I am not a monster to be feared.

I Could Have Worse Problems

Red tulips blooming

The tulips opened up yesterday. They are very late this year. But why fret about them blooming so late? I could have worse problems.

Bielefelder chicks

I ordered some Bielefelder chicks which arrived here on Wednesday, April 12. What a relief. They only took 2 days to arrive. They hatched on the 10th, went out the door in Iowa that afternoon, got to St. Paul, MN, that night, were in Kent, WA, on the 11th at night, and were at the Bow Post Office on the 12th. When baby chicks arrive in two days they are in great health. If it takes 3 days, some are weak, and some may be dead. if it takes 4 days, very few survive. So, yeah, I could have worse problems.

I think if you would have told settlers crossing the Rockies in covered wagons that some day in the future, chicks born in Iowa will be in rural Washington State in two days, they would have had you committed for being insane.

This year, I tried a heat plate instead of a heat lamp. The thing in the back with the yellow legs is the heat plate. The underside of it is around 102ºF (39ºC), plenty warm for the chicks to huddle underneath when they get cold. It’s much better than the heat lamps I used before which bathe the chicks in light 24 hours a day.

With a heat plate, they get to sleep in the dark. It’s much more like sleeping underneath a mother.

First dandelion

I prefer to have a hen raise the chicks, but I wanted some more Bielefelder chickens, and when I ordered these chicks last fall, April 10th was the first delivery. Without any broody hens, I have to raise these myself. I could have worse problems than not having a broody hen when I need one.

The first of the dandelions bloomed last week. So did the Japanese pear.

Japanese pear, nashi, flower
Lazy dog

Is a lazy dog a big problem? She’s not really lazy, just tired after hunting much of the night. I never considered dogs to be nocturnal beasts, but our two dogs love to go our hunting at 2 in the morning for an hour or two. Sometimes they are out hunting all night long. I could have bigger problems, though any raccoon, possum, or other night hunter who ventures too close when our two dogs are out at night wishes they had gone another way.

Pecking chick on hand

But I do have this problem. A chick which likes to peck the other chicks too much. She is OK with them late in the evening, through the night, and through the early morning. But once it gets too light, she likes to peck them too aggressively. I’ll spare you the details of where she likes to peck them.

Chick by keyboard

So she likes to hang out with me. She hates being left alone. So I have a box next to me and take her out from time to time. Or I have to hang an arm in the box to keep her company.

Chick on hand as I type

Quite a problem, don’t you think? I’m hoping that once the chicks feather out, she’ll lose her motivation to peck. Whatever happens, she will be the most tame chicken I’ve ever had.

Sunshine Brings Spring Magic

Skunk cabbage in boom

An afternoon of sunshine brought out the magic of spring today. Days of rain and mist evaporated and brilliant light poured down from the sky. Skunk cabbage were in full bloom along the way to pick up coffee beans in Alger.

And on the drive into town to get feed, fresh snow blanketed the tops of the foot hills. The green pastures seem a bit sad without flocks of swans. But they are far north now. They will soon be laying eggs and incubating them. While we get on planting our gardens and watching new shoots spring out of the warming earth.

The flowering cherry tree is in full bloom now. On a sunny afternoon like today, they are spectacular. Their soft, baby power fragrance, brings pure joy.

Musings on Licorice Root

Rhubarb leaves unfolding.

More spring unfolds out of the soil. When rhubarb leaves sprout, you can see the intricate way they are tightly folded inside their buds. So what keeps these folds from sticking together? And how many folds are there?

Lovage sprouting

The lovage is up too. You can’t watch spring unfold without getting curious.

Many years ago I noticed a warning on Egyptian Licorice Tea, a sweet, pleasant tea from Yogi I liked to drink. But the warning on the tea made me pause:

Warning: Not recommended for use if you are pregnant or nursing, have high blood pressure, or for daily use beyond 4 to 6 weeks.

That’s not usual to have such a warning on tea.

Egyptian Licorice

The warning was about licorice root, the ingredient that gives the tea its sweetness. I enjoyed the taste so much that I bought a pound of licorice root. And I sometimes add it to other teas. But I can tell from subtle changes in my body that licorice root is something I can only seep sparingly. Which lead me to this long conversation with ChatGTP this morning:

Me: What are the dangers of drinking tea made from licorice root?

ChatGPT: Drinking tea made from licorice root can have several potential dangers or side effects, especially when consumed in large quantities or over an extended period. While licorice root has been used in traditional medicine and as a flavoring agent for centuries, it is important to be aware of its potential risks. Some of the main dangers associated with licorice root tea consumption include:

  1. Hypertension: Licorice root contains a compound called glycyrrhizin, which can cause an increase in blood pressure in some individuals. This can lead to hypertension, which is a risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and kidney problems.
  2. Electrolyte imbalance: The glycyrrhizin in licorice root can cause the body to retain sodium and lose potassium, leading to an electrolyte imbalance. This can result in symptoms such as muscle weakness, abnormal heart rhythms, and in severe cases, paralysis.
  3. Drug interactions: Licorice root can interact with certain medications, such as diuretics, blood pressure medications, and blood thinners, potentially causing dangerous side effects or reducing the effectiveness of the medication.
  4. Pregnancy risks: Consuming large amounts of licorice root during pregnancy has been associated with an increased risk of preterm birth and other adverse effects on the developing fetus.
  5. Adrenal insufficiency: Chronic consumption of licorice root can lead to suppression of the adrenal glands, causing a reduction in the production of cortisol, a hormone that helps regulate the body’s response to stress.
  6. Hormonal imbalances: Licorice root can have estrogen-like effects, which may cause hormonal imbalances and lead to menstrual irregularities, reduced fertility, and other issues in susceptible individuals.

To minimize these risks, it’s essential to consume licorice root tea in moderation and consult with a healthcare professional before adding it to your diet, particularly if you have pre-existing health conditions or are taking medications.

Ask a question and you end up with more questions popping up in your brain, don’t you?

Me: Why would a plant like licorice produce glycyrrhizin? What does glycyrrhizin do for the plant?

ChatGPT: Plants produce a wide variety of secondary metabolites, which are organic compounds that are not directly involved in the growth, development, or reproduction of the plant. These secondary metabolites often play important roles in plant defense against herbivores, pathogens, and environmental stressors. Glycyrrhizin, a triterpenoid saponin found in licorice root, is one such secondary metabolite.

While the specific function of glycyrrhizin in the licorice plant (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is not fully understood, it is believed to serve several possible roles:

  1. Defense against herbivores: The bitter taste of glycyrrhizin may deter herbivores from consuming the plant, protecting it from being eaten. Additionally, the compound can cause digestive irritation in some animals, further discouraging consumption.
  2. Antimicrobial activity: Glycyrrhizin has been found to possess antimicrobial properties, which may help the plant defend against pathogenic bacteria, fungi, and viruses.
  3. Defense against environmental stress: Glycyrrhizin has also been shown to exhibit antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These properties may help the plant cope with environmental stressors, such as oxidative damage caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation, drought, or extreme temperatures.
  4. Allelopathic effects: Some secondary metabolites, including saponins like glycyrrhizin, can have allelopathic effects on other plants, inhibiting their growth and potentially reducing competition for resources like nutrients, water, and sunlight.

Overall, the production of glycyrrhizin is likely an evolutionary adaptation that provides the licorice plant with a competitive advantage in its natural environment.

Me: What are saponins?

ChatGPT: Saponins are a diverse group of naturally occurring plant compounds characterized by their distinctive molecular structure, which includes a water-soluble sugar portion (glycone) and a fat-soluble non-sugar portion (aglycone). The term “saponin” is derived from the Latin word “sapo,” meaning soap, as many saponins can form a soapy froth when mixed with water due to their amphiphilic nature (having both hydrophilic and lipophilic properties).

Saponins are found in various plant species, including legumes, yucca, quinoa, and licorice. They serve several important functions in plants, such as:

  • Defense against herbivores: The bitter taste of saponins can deter herbivores from consuming the plant. Additionally, saponins can interfere with the absorption of nutrients in the digestive systems of animals, causing digestive distress and further discouraging herbivory.
  • Antimicrobial activity: Saponins can have antimicrobial properties, protecting plants against pathogens like bacteria, fungi, and viruses.
  • Protection against environmental stressors: Saponins can exhibit antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, helping plants cope with various environmental stressors such as UV radiation, drought, or extreme temperatures.
  • Allelopathic effects: Saponins can have allelopathic effects on neighboring plants, inhibiting their growth and reducing competition for resources like water, nutrients, and sunlight.

In addition to their roles in plants, saponins have been studied for their potential health benefits and applications in human nutrition and medicine. Some saponins have been found to possess anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and immune-boosting properties, while others have been investigated for their potential anticancer, antiviral, and cholesterol-lowering effects. However, it is important to note that not all saponins are beneficial, and some can be toxic or have undesirable side effects, depending on the specific compound and its concentration.

Me: How are plants able to produce saponins. For humans to make saponins they need a laboratory with all kinds of equipment.

What followed were many more answers and many more questions about biosynthetic pathways, enzyme production in plants, signals plants create to start gene transcription, transcription factors, and how RNA polymerase move and what happens when they collide. There is no end to knowing.

Cherry blossoms

You look at something as lovely as cherry blossoms, and they look so simple, yet they are a result of a mind blowing complex process of gene transcription and chemical pathways producing substances to create their delicate petals and stamen and pistils. And how do they count to five? Why don’t you see four petal and six petal cherry blossoms? Nature is incredibly complex and wondrous. Just being alive to enjoy it is enough.

The Cherry Blossoms Open

Cherry blossoms opening

The Cherry Blossoms are starting to open. The first few buds opened on the 25th. And today the temperature rose to over 60ºF, the first time since October 20. So many more blossoms opened today.

Opening cherry blossoms
Cherry blossoms at 20% bloom

The tree is about 20% in bloom. Another week or so and the Cherry Blossoms should be in full bloom.

Bleeding heart leaves

The Bleeding Hearts have yet to bloom. Usually their delicate pink flowers sway in the breeze by now. But this cool spring, just their delicate leaves grace the forest floor. So why do they have such delicate, beautiful leaves? What advantage do their frilly leaves give them?

Daffodils in full bloom.

But the Daffodils are finally in full bloom. Is there a flower that sings spring like Daffodils?

No More Frosts?

Flower with frost

Just three days ago, Friday the 17th, frost decorated the flowers in the morning. Was it our last frost? Will there be no more frosts? The forecast is for it to be below freezing Monday morning. I hope not.

The thing about the last frost, you never know when you see a frosty morning if it is the last frost of the season. Not until things have warmed up so much that there is no chance of it freezing again until fall can you look back and say with certainty, that was the last frost of the season.

Daffodil opening

Two days before the spring equinox, the daffodils started to open. They are very late this year. And two days ago I heard bumblebees while planting potatoes. This year, the bees should be out when the fruit trees bloom. Last year, late, cool weather kept the bees snuggled in their burrows while the fruit trees bloomed. I had to hand pollinate a number of fruit trees.

Bumblebee on cherry blossoms.

You can see the blur of the bumblebee’s wings as it gets nectar and gathers pollen from one of the cherry trees. This is the oddest of cherry trees. It blooms year round. At times there are just a handful of flowers on it, but through the cold of winter, it always has a few blossoms.

Dog in window watching bald eagle fly by.

This morning when I drove the car into town to have a dent fixed, I noticed two bald eagles hanging out nearby. They were still around when I came back several hours later. One even perched in a tree close to the house, and Ena watched it fly away when I tried to take a picture of it.

So are the eagles seeing our chickens and noticing the many ducks on the pond and thinking, “If we could do something about those dogs and people, this would make a great place to raise a family.”?

Butt warming button

I did have a good laugh driving home in the rental car I have while they fix the dent in our car. I noticed this button and wondered what it did. It looked like a person sitting down with waves of heat at their rear end. “Ah ha! A seat warmer,” I thought. Either that or it is a special function to deodorize farts so when you sense you are about to let one rip, you press it.

But when I pressed it, no seat warming happened. No pine scent filled the air. Instead the car asked me out loud what command I wanted to give it. So it’s supposed to be a person’s face with the person talking. Not a person’s butt getting warmed or deodorized.

So it goes.

Today is the spring equinox. It happened at 2:24 pm Pacific Time. In Iran, the spring equinox is the first day of the year. I like their calendar. The first six months, the months of spring and summer, all have 31 days. The next 5 months all have 30 days. And the last month of the year has 29 days and 30 days in a leap year. It’s very easy to remember.

When Will They Bloom?

Cherry blossoms buds

The cherry blossom buds are still wrapped up tight. You can feel them shivering, waiting for the warmth of spring to arrive. They are late this year. But how late? And when will they bloom? I’m guessing it will be the end of March or the beginning of April.

I went back through my photos of the cherry blossoms of this very tree. The earliest they bloomed was on March 4. The latest, on April 10. Around March 21~27 seems to be the most reliable time they bloom.

Cherry blossom blooms over the years

I couldn’t find photos for every year, but this one stood out from April 20, 2008.

Cherry blossoms blanketed in snow on April 20, 2008

Heavy snow blankets the cherry blossoms on April 20! That year was a very snowy year. Our well froze. We melted snow for two weeks on the wood stove. It snowed every day from the end of December until March or so. We were snowbound for over a week.

Crocus on March 14, 2023

The crocus are very late this year. The first flower buds are just started to poke out. The narcissus have not bloomed yet either, and usually by this time they are in full bloom. Proof it’s been a cool start to spring.

Spring has Spung

Rhubarb shoots prove spring has sprung

Rhubarb shoots are proof enough for me that spring has sprung. I’ve been planting onion and leek shoots the last few days and discovered that the rhubarb has awaken and is sending up its colorful shoots. Rhubarb red, rhubarb green, spring’s vibrants colors.

Swans on a spring field

What do the swans think of the warming days? Are their minds already planning their trips north? Are they discussing where to go? We did the Kenai Peninsula last summer. Let’s do the Copper River Delta this summer? Is that what they are thinking?

I stopped today on my way to the Post Office to watch the flocks on the pasture. Soon, one day I will go looking for them and they will be gone, flying north on their way to their summer homes.

They were nearly hunted to extinction. By 1932 scientists knew of only 69 trumpeter swans left in the wild. Fortunately, they were protected and now there are tens of thousands. It’s hard to imagine the Skagit Valley in winter without the swans. And we almost lost them.

Bear buds
Forsythia blossoms

Each day there is more color brightening the day, and buds swelling, getting read to unfurl their new leaves.

Chickens on weeds

The chickens dig scratching through the buttercup I pull out of the garden. They find numerous bugs and earthworms to devour. I’d let them in the garden but they’d dig up everything up. They’ll have plenty of buttercup and other goodies to scratch through while I prepare the garden over the next few months.

Snow Geese are Never Alone

Snowgeese on pasture look like snow

On my way into town today I encountered a flock of snow geese along Chuckanut Drive. Snow geese flocks cover pastures in such numbers that they look like patches of snow on the ground.

Didn’t I say just yesterday that every day is unique? Seeing thousands of snow geese feeding just in front of you is the very definition of unique. How often do you go make an errand and have to stop to take in all the snow geese swarming on pasture?

And when they take flight, snow geese look like clouds. Do birds who live in such huge flocks have any concept of loneliness? For their whole lives they are never more than a wingtip away from other snow geese. If a snow goose goes to see a therapist what do they talk about?

If you have a chance to watch snow geese, it is the constant chatter that stands out. They are forever talking, all at once. What are they saying? When they are here are they talking about their summer homes in the arctic? And when they are in the arctic are they talking about their time south?

Snow geese landing on a pasture

I suppose that some day we will be able to point our phones at the snow geese and have all their chatter translated and marvel at what they are talking about.