Monthly Archives: February 2012

Garden shows in the Home of Happiness

I haven’t had any reason to visit Denton, home of the University of North Texas Flying Worms, since my best friend moved back to Dallas a decade ago while fleeing a hipster infestation. After reading about next April’s Redbud Festival, I think I now have reason. The show specifically states that vendor space is only open to home and garden-related services, and it may be time to bring a carnivorous plant show to the Home of Happiness. (And don’t think that I’m picking on Denton. Anything but. I still have nothing but fond memories of my time on the UNT campus, even as I’m also insanely glad that I never got my journalism degree from there. Or from anywhere else, for that matter. Talk about throwing my money into a tree mulcher.)

False Spring

Want to drive a gardener insane? Drop the poor schlub off in North Texas this time of the year and watch the reaction. Oh, sure, it may SEEM that winter is over, with ridiculously warm temperatures and only the threat of rain and the occasional tornado. Combine that with the local garden centers being overloaded with fresh new herb and vegetable seedlings, and it’s as if the earth itself is screaming “Go ahead. Put in that row of tomatoes. Everything’s fine. I promise.”

Longtimers such as myself know better. As a general rule, it’s best to wait until at least St. Patrick’s Day before planting anything that’s frost-intolerant or moving citrus from shelter, but that’s not an absolute. Two years ago, the Czarina and I moved into our new house on March 10, just in time to catch our second big snowstorm of the year, and gardening junkies still talk about the bad freeze we had in Dallas at the beginning of April 1997. As a general rule, though, any plantings by March 17 are usually safe. In fact, in this town, I recommend staying home and gardening on St. Patrick’s Day, instead of dealing with the annual city display of vomit and other bodily fluids. It’s just a bit more rational, y’know?

That doesn’t stop the newbies, the thrill-seekers, and the apprentice village idiots. “The weather’s fine. I can put in those tomatoes, and they won’t frost off.” Some are so determined, you’d think they were auditioning for the part in a slasher film. “Oh, don’t worry. Michael/Jason/Freddy’s just a myth. Now let me plant these peppers, and we’ll go have sex in that abandoned Indian burial ground turned chemical waste dump during the full moon.”

This isn’t helped by the great tempters. Longtimers know that you should wait until the local redbuds are in full bloom before risking frost-averse plantings, but it’s so, so tempting when everything else is going mad. Due to our abnormally mild winter, the daffodils and paperwhites were beaten in the early blooming sweepstakes by flowering quince, followed by magnolia, dogwood, and crabapple. However, the real harbinger of false spring is the local weed below.

Pseudo-cilantro

I’ve heard this described as “cilantro”, by people who know a lot more about local weeds than I, and it certainly superficially resembles that most beloved and detested of cooking herbs. In North Texas, our local cilantro is considered a pest because it takes over in most poor soils. Out here, the textbook illustration of “poor soil” is any photo of a lawn, so you can imagine how insane people can get about wiping it out. Me, I generally leave it alone, because it bolts, drops seed, and dies early in the year, much like most of our wildflowers, and it’s only a pain in spring.

Oh, but is it a pain. Those purple-red flowers are attractive, but the mass of the weed tends to grow quickly enough that the local city inspectors are handing out ordinance warnings two days after a fresh mowing. Mowing through a clump leaves the whole neighborhood smelling like a great Mexican restaurant (should you have wild garlic in the back yard to go with it, as many people in houses formerly frequented by big dogs, mowing makes you uncontrollably hungry for fresh pizza), but many of the individual stems stay out of range of the mower blade when the others give their lives. This means that two days later, the yard is once again scraggly and unkempt, and who has time to mow three times a week?

I should also mention another aspect that makes this weed a beautiful menace. It forms big pillowy bunches, true, but those tend to conceal road trash, bottles, chunks of wood, or anything else that couldn’t outrun its growth. Because of this, the first mowing of the season can be more exciting than mortal man can tolerate. There was that big patch, for instance, that was hiding a nearly full plastic bottle of battery acid back in 1987, and thankfully I saw a corner of said bottle before running it down. Insert your very own “Sounds like an ex of mine” joke here, because I was thinking it, too.

The real danger, though, comes from those blooms. Drive past the front yard, and see those rich flowers. Drive down the street, and watch them taking over everything. Head down the highway, and catch that scarlet flash at 70mph. After a while, it’s hard not to take it as a sign that the long winter is over and start with the weekend garden regimen. Then, when the last big freeze of the season hits, this fake cilantro, like the honey badger, doesn’t care. It’ll come back for another two months, while you whimper over the blasted black mess that used to be a sturdy heirloom tomato.

The good news to all of this? I have a mulching lawnmower. I will make fake cilantro pay for tempting me like this.

Have a Great Weekend

Three garden shows in two weeks, the pollen is so thick outside that you can watch it fall through a flashlight beam outdoors, and I have to mow the lawn and get the greenhouse set up for spring. Yeah, there’s a reason why this is my gardening theme song.

Plans for Next Year: The Arlington NARBC

It all started innocently enough. It started as a request from very old and dear friends Martin and Jen, asking for advice on a frog enclosure. Jen is a bit of a frog enthusiast, so in the midst of a major updating and repainting of her house, she thought “You know, that wall support in the living room would be just the perfect size for a vivarium.” I couldn’t agree more, so I promised her that I’d take her to the next reptile show on the schedule so she could search for just the right amphibians. Oh, and to get that vivarium as well.

NARBC

Now, luckily for her, the next big reptile show in the Dallas area was the North American Reptile Breeder’s Conference show in Arlington, halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth. This wasn’t just a regular reptile and amphibian show: this the event for which I waited the entire year. Lizards, snakes, arrow-poison frogs, T-shirts, vivarium plants, enclosures of every shape and size…for us herp junkies, this isn’t heaven, but it’s close enough for government work.

Anyway, Jen was enthused and thrilled by the prospects, but I worried about Martin. I’ve known Martin for nearly 13 years, and to say that he’s one of the most understated men I’ve ever met is itself an understatement. He’s a man of particular tastes, and he wanted to come along partly to see why Jen and I were glibbering and meeping about the possibilities. The other reason was so he could make absolutely sure that we didn’t come back with something that would have no choice but to snuggle at the foot of the bed in the middle of the night until the spare bedroom was converted into habitat. I tried to tell him “You know, crocodile monitors prefer to sleep on your head, not your feet,” and he was strangely unreassured by this news.

Making matters more problematic was that the Czarina was out of town for that weekend. At the moment all three of us started on our little jaunt, she was on the other side of the continent, and she was terrified that I was going to come home with a critter we could call our own. What really scared her is that I’m very literal in my promises to her. It wasn’t just enough for her to beg “Promise that you won’t get a crocodile monitor,” “Promise that you won’t buy ANY reptile,” or “Bring home a lizard, and I SWEAR that my elbows will be buried up to my shoulders in the top of your skull until you twitch like a galvanized frog carcass.” That’s just a challenge. For instance, as I told her later, she said absolutely nothing about critters that followed me home, and if that Salvator’s water monitor or matamata just jumped into the car of its own volition, I couldn’t be held responsible. She didn’t have to say anything, but the sound of her elbows sliding out of their sheathes and drooling venom onto the floor was enough. I couldn’t actually hear them from San Francisco, but the sound of the venom burning holes in the hotel carpet travels almost that far.

Greater Dallas-Fort Worth Bromeliad Society

Besides, my real personal interest was in the plants. After a particularly anaemic garden show at Market Hall in Dallas, I nuhdzed the folks at the Greater Dallas/Fort Worth Bromeliad Society about talking to the folks at the NARBC about a booth. The attendees were thrilled, because they usually have problems getting good bromeliads for frog and gecko enclosures. The Bromeliad Society folks were thrilled, because they were running out of plants by the time I left on Saturday afternoon. Everyone wins, as I like to put it.

Bromeliads

Now here I went (relatively) mad, picking up a large collection of Tillandsia for future arrangements. No Catopsis berteroniana at this show…yet, but I already have one at home, so that just meant more for everyone else.

Ruby the red tegu

Now, if I hadn’t been a man of my word and told the Czarina “I really don’t want to twitch like a galvanized frog carcass,” I could have come across some real surprises. One of these was Ruby, a red tegu (Tupinambis rufescens) with the sweetest disposition I’ve ever seen in a tegu. Technically, it wasn’t a monitor (just being the South American equivalent), but I knew that this would be a minor caveat when the Czarina went digging for my occipital lobes with a melon baller. Sadly, I had to leave Ruby for someone else, because the plants are enough work on their own.

Zac Freer

Zac Freer wasn’t one of the subjects of the show, but that’s not for lack of trying. You know how people assume I’m insane because I get all squidgy and sappy about giant lizards? Zac gets that way about crocodilians. He and his wife were out at the show to look around, and he’d already adopted a Dumeril’s boa for the trip home. I’d already turned him into a carnivorous plant junkie at a show last year, so now I got to see him in his native habitat.

Blue-tongued skink

Oh, and remember how the Czarina kept insisting “No crocodile monitors”? I checked several times, and she said absolutely nothing about Australian blue-tongued skinks.

Black Tree Monitor

And she absolutely said not a peep about not getting a black tree monitor. Problem is, there’s that issue with subtext, such as when she insists that “have fun on your weekend off” does not give me permission to install concrete dinosaurs in the front yard or heckle the Pope while dressed like Colin Baker. I swear, if she wasn’t such a good cook, I’d have problems with her being so arbitrary and unreasonable.

And for Martin and Jen? Well, while Martin isn’t exactly a herper, he wasn’t waving a marlin spike around while yelling about reptiles. (He was yelling about getting a pair of golf shoes because that was the only way to get around with all the blood on the floor, but he does that every time we hang out.) Jen, though, was in heaven, and we had to talk her, very gently, out of getting a stunning pair of red rat snakes to go with the four Dendrobates auratus arrow-poison frogs she purchased for her new vivarium. When I’m recommending to friends that they might want to start out a bit small, it’s only because I know that Jen will be breeding her own by next year and running a small zoo full of exotic frogs by the beginning of 2015.

Very seriously, it’s not just a matter of doing this next year. The plan, the grand glorious plan, is to become a vendor for next year’s show. True, most of the most interesting carnivores available will still be in winter dormancy, but there’s a lot to be said about tropical sundews and bladderworts, early-rising butterworts, and lots and lots of Nepenthes. Now I only have another 11 months to get everything together, and then we’re golden.

The first Triffid Ranch show of 2012: ConDFW

In previous years, I’ve avoided attempting plant shows before April with good reason. In 2010 and 2011, for instance, we had such foul weather through February and March that I wasn’t worried about the plants freezing on their way to the event. Instead, I was more worried about my frozen corpse, still seat-belted into the van, being found in a drainage ditch halfway there. Last year, we had a solid week of sub-freezing weather in February, which may not sound like much to the denizens of higher latitudes. Out here, though, that’s begging for arriving at a show with a batch of sundews indistinguishable from a batch of frozen spinach.

However, my friend Amie Spengler nuhdzed and nudged at previous shows about ConDFW, a big literary science fiction convention that runs in Dallas in the middle of February, so the Czarina and I decided to take a chance this year. I still had sundews and bladderworts potted up in containers and ready to go from last November’s disastrous Friends of Fair Park show, and we figured “What could it hurt?” The weather coincided with our plans: lots of rain on Saturday, but otherwise exceptional weather both setting up and breaking down on Friday and Sunday. And who knew that carnivorous plants would be so popular among the Texas A&M student volunteers helping out here while preparing for Aggiecon?

Brad at ConDFW

Some folks came by just out of curiosity, or because they’d seen the Triffid Ranch booth at previous shows. Brad, though, came out specifically because he wanted carnivores. He left with a spoonleaf sundew (Drosera spatulata) and a Cape sundew (Drosera capensis) to go with the big grin on his face.

Beth at ConDFW

Beth is a very old friend, with my having first met her back during my science fiction writing days. She had a craving for green in February, too, as can be told.

ConDFW

Another happy sundew adopter.

Tiffany at ConDFW

And then there’s Tiffany from local gaming company Roll2Play. Tiffany’s main hobby at these shows is to gang up with the Czarina and leave me crying in shame and humiliation as they demonstrate that it is possible to kill at 30 paces with a sharp twist of the tongue. Thankfully for my fragile self-esteem, she took a small break from wielding her wit cannon, took pity on my runny nose and puffy eyes (it was from the flu, honest) and snatched up a medusa head (Euphorbia flanaganii) before anybody else got to see it.

Medusa Head at ConDFW

A closer look at that medusa head. It wasn’t just that Tiffany loved the pot. She particularly loved the detritus within it, and threatened to kneecap anyone who messed with it. Time for me to hunt down a few more pots like this, I think.

And now it’s time to get ready for the next show of the season: All-Con 2012 in March. I’m even thinking of joining the costuming festivities after the main dealer’s room hours, with the obvious head explodey that goes with it. I can’t tell if 2012 is going to be a good year for shows, but if it isn’t, it won’t be from a lack of trying.

There’s always time for orchids

It’s always amazing what shows up at Gunter’s Orchids in February. (This is why the Czarina doesn’t worry about me when she goes out of town. Other wives take off on a week-long vacation in San Francisco and worry about their husbands doing things that require delousing, castration, or deportation afterward. Me, I go straight for the nurseries as soon as she’s on the plane, and usually in search of things to surprise her when she gets back. This Valentine’s Day, it was a beautiful Cattleya that she spotted as soon as she walked in the door.)

Orchids at Gunter's

Orchids

Orchids

Orchids

Orchids

Orchids

Orchids

Orchids

Orchids

And should I mention that Gunter’s has a regular orchid gazing event in the middle of March that’s worth the trip to Dallas?

Have a Great Weekend

You know, this could be my theme song for the last decade.

No Sleep ’til ConDFW

It may be a little early in the season, but the first Triffid Ranch show of the year starts February 17 at ConDFW in Dallas. Naturally, this is just when my voice goes out (I’m at the point where I can follow up my list of symptoms by exclaiming “We call it…’The Aristocrats‘!”, because I’m now chugging DayQuil the way my forebears used to chug Maalox back in the Eighties), but we’re going to make this work. If you’re in town, stop by and say hello. I’ll be the albino guy in the back of the dealer’s room, squeaking like a raccoon.

Peering upon Hello Kitty hell

So far as I can tell, and as far as the chronicler of Hello Kitty Hell can attest, almost nothing in this universe is too foul, too sacrosanct, or too pure to be turned into a licensing tool for Sanrio’s Hello Kitty juggernaut. And yes, I mean the term “juggernaut” in its original sense, as in “something that demands blind devotion or merciless sacrifice.” Ar-15 rifles, age-inappropriate halloween costumes, pipes, sex toys…I’m waiting for Hello Kitty-branded Mars rovers and thermonuclear weapons next.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the Hello Kitty cult has infected gardening. And that’s fine. Really. Much like being one of the only businesses in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex that hasn’t received a “Best of Dallas” award from D magazine (mostly because the main qualification for being one of the 783 entrants in each and every category, as announced every month, is paying for the advertising space), the Triffid Ranch is and will always remain Sanrio-free. No Hello Kitty planters, no tomato stakes, no terraria, and no cow manure compost. With the last, that would be redundant.

However, I can understand the appeal of attaching one’s products to an existing brand and running with it, hoping that this translates to business for the company’s other products. I just need to find something a bit more wholesome than Hello Kitty. You don’t think that Peter Jackson would have any issues giving a license for a line of Meet the Feebles garden gnomes, do you?

Once more into the breach, once more

For those who didn’t know me in the black days known as “the Nineties,” I used to be a writer. Specifically, I used to write nonfiction for a plethora of science fiction magazines, culture zines, weekly newspapers, and other gathering posts for society’s detritus. After about 13 years of little recognition and less pay, I came to my senses and quit nearly a decade ago. I refer to my two temporary returns to standard writing as “relapses”, and it’s because of writing that I have sympathy and offer support for recovering heroin addicts. Writing is a nasty, foul, vile little business, and the only reasons I can see for wanting to go back to dealing with science fiction publishing are either addiction to the subject matter or a level of masochism that usually entails bunny suits, overflowing toilets, and six-foot sandstone strap-ons lubed with habanero peppers. (Now’s about the time I’m told by friends “Tell us what you really think.” That’s when I tell them about how the only way I got paid for one of those relapses was by threatening to out the personal E-mail addresses and phone numbers of every executive at SyFy if I didn’t receive my check, and they understand why I’d sooner get a hot Clorox enema than have to deal with that again.)

Strangely enough, though, I don’t have that level of hatred toward writing about horticulture. I have no delusions of reaching the heights of a Gertrude Jeckyll or even a Neil Sperry in garden writing. For me, it’s pure relaxation, spiced with a thrill coming from sharing new wonders with friends. And then there’s the cross-pollination with people in other endeavors: I haven’t found the right opportunity for another article about plants for Reptiles magazine, but the response to last year’s article on carnivorous plants in the vivarium gives me an itch to try this again.

Then there’s the newest addiction: dark gardening. And so now I start as the new gardening columnist for Carpe Nocturne magazine, starting with the Spring 2012 issue. Arioch, Issek, and Nyarlathotep help us all.

Fear and Loathing in Bronchitis

The period between the end of January and the end of March is one of my favorites, and if you can’t hear the sarcasm dripping off every last word, it’s because you don’t have your ear close enough to the computer screen. One of the absolutes about weather in Texas has been “If you don’t like the weather, hang around for five minutes, and it’ll change,” and this year has been a beaut. One day, clear, sunny, and ridiculously dry. Ten hours later, below freezing, rainy, and a relative humidity perfectly suited for growing mushrooms. Mix and match these traits and add a few more (dust storm, snow, asteroid strikes), and this pretty much sums up the end of winter in North Texas. Start out the day in heavy coat and boots, and be prepared for shorts and sandals by the time you get off work.

For me, if the weather would stay consistent, I’d be fine, and I’d settle for shaving the insides of my lungs every few hours to keep the moss under control. Instead, almost without fail, having to go back and forth from indoors to outdoors leads to a visit from my old friend, bronchitis. Some visits, he brings his girlfriend viral pneumonia, and they spend the next few days trashing the environs before they finally get bored and move on. I regularly joke that “any idiot can cough up blood, but coughing up urine takes talent,” and that’s actually a fair assessment: I know I’m getting better when the end of a five-minute coughing fit brings up a nice tracery of arterial blood within the usual five kilos of yellow-green phlegm in the bathroom sink.

In one way, I can actually thank bronchitis for the reason why I have no interest whatsoever in mind-altering substances. I used to have a much worse time of things when I was a kid, and I was actually surprised to discover in first grade that my schoolmates didn’t have full near-death experiences when they were ill. (The first time I had actual pneumonia, I didn’t believe I was sick, because I wasn’t looking down on myself lying on the couch every few minutes.) I don’t need exotic pharmaceuticals to see floating Nixon heads flying off the television and intoning “Sacrifice…sacrifice…sacrifice…”, because I get worse things than that simply by closing my eyes and trying to sleep. If anything, I overdose on NyQuil just to keep the fever dreams under control. It’s bad for my kidneys and liver, but it beats watching dead babies crawling on the ceiling.

If there’s any good that comes out of all of this, it’s that April is going to be spectacular. After the amount of epoxy putty currently forming in my lungs, it had better be.

Have a Great Weekend

As a personal note, the only thing better than one-half of the denizens of the North American Reptile Breeders’ Conference in Arlington are the other half. Namely, the attendees. At times, it’s like a music video in there…

Just shut up and watch

All I can say is that some people have the BEST jobs.

A Cthulhufruit Boozeup

It’s now been eight years since my dear friend Allison Lonsdale introduced me to the awe and wonder that is the Buddha’s Hand citron. Or, as she likes to call it, Cthulhufruit. In the intervening four-fifths of a decade, I exaggerate not a whit when I say that Citrus medica var. sarcodactylis led me on quite the adventure. Trust me: orchids aren’t addictive. Citrus is addictive.

By way of example, finding a suitable source of Cthulhufruit for culinary experiments is much easier today than it was in 2004. Back then, the only hope for finding it in Dallas was during the two or three days of the year when the local Whole Foods had one, and that’s after getting past the managers apparently fired from Borders for arrogance and surliness. Now, the local Central Market tends to carry it in season, just as much to terrify the customers as for actual use. I still have a suitable supply of candied Cthulhufruit from a big cookup a year ago, so now it was time to go for another grand experiment. Now it’s time to make Cthulhufruit flavoring extract.

As mentioned in the past, I share one thing with my cousin Howard Phillips Lovecraft, and that is a complete inability to drink. I can appreciate the end-products of brewing and distillation, and I heartily encourage friends not to hold off on my account. Hence, the only reason why I don’t just say “Kids, today we’re making Cthulhufruit vodka” is because this really is for cooking. Now, if friends want to slam back a few shots, they’re welcome to it, but I understand from my best friend that this is a drink best sipped. When he tells me this, I just have to smile and nod.

Anyway, to start, you only need a few items before going to work:

3 ripe Buddha’s Hand citrons
1 2-liter glass jar with glass lid and rubber gasket
1 1.5 liter bottle of unflavored vodka
Sharp knife and cutting board

"If you go to Z'Ha'Dum, you will die."

To start, when choosing Cthulhufruit, your nose is your best tool. You want to buy one that is all-yellow, without any soft spots or mold, with a very clean citrus scent. As far as appearance is concerned, run amok, but remember that a lot of little tentacles will produce more essential oils than a few big ones. If you’re wanting to horrify friends and family, though, go mad and get the most horrifying one out of the batch. Other than that, avoid ones with brown bruising spots or ones that are obviously wilted or old.

The hold is full of leathery objects, like eggs or something.

Wash your Cthulhufruit well to remove any waxes or pesticides used on it in the orchard, and don’t be afraid to soak it in water for a few minutes to remove any dirt or dust collected during transport. Don’t soak it for hours, though, and definitely don’t use hot water. A five-minute bath should be fine.

Remove any moldy or soft spots

If you have to wait a few days between purchase and processing, put your Cthulhufruit in the refrigerator, preferably in the crisper. If it starts to mold, just cut out those soft parts with a sharp knife and toss them in the compost bin.

Remove the head and destroy the brain

At this point, it’s time to start slicing. The stem end needs to go. Until very recently, most Buddha’s Hand citrons were shipped with a little length of stem, mostly so they could be hung from the ceiling to freshen rooms. These days, with various nasty citrus diseases making the rounds, you won’t see any citrus leaves or stems on transported fruit, especially fruit that could be shipped to citrus-producing states in the US. Either way, you don’t want to leave that in your mix.

YOUR FACE, CLEAN OFF.

“Hasan…CHOP!”

Dismember your Cthulhufruit before it spawns

Starting from the stem end, get to slicing. Technically, you could mince up those Cthulhufruit in order to maximize the amount of surface area being exposed, but the idea is just as much for presentation as for efficiency. I generally slice until I get to distinctive tentacles at the blossom end of the fruit, and then separate those.

Hand-packing Cthulhufruit

Now take your clean glass jar, and wash it out if it isn’t already clean, and pack it with your freshly sliced Cthulhufruit. I generally stack the end slices in the center, leaving room around the edges for the tentacles.

Hand Packed Cthulhufruit

If you have more Cthulhufruit than you have room in the jar, don’t be afraid to put on the top and shake the hell out of it in order to get it to settle. Either way, that jar should hold three sliced citrons, unless you had a source for particularly big ones. In which case, I’m coming over to your house to eat your brain so I can steal your superpowers.

The choice pickling for Cthulhufruit

Now, some people may ask “Why use vodka? Why not use Everclear?” Well, that’s for several reasons. Firstly, most of the aromatics in citrons are both water-soluble and alcohol-soluble, so a good 90 proof mix works the best to get it all. Secondly, Everclear works best for making extracts of herbs and other purely alcohol-soluble spices. Thirdly, Everclear is ridiculously expensive, and vodka gets the job done for a much cheaper price.

As for the type of vodka used, that’s between you and the supreme deity of your choice. I’d recommend against flavored vodkas, because they’d likely overwhelm the more delicate notes that you’re trying to capture from the Cthulhufruit. My personal choice is Dripping Springs vodka, because I’m a Texas patriot, it’s very good vodka for the price, and it’s available in most liquor stores in North Texas. If you find anything better, please feel free to let me know.

Pour vodka over the sliced Cthulhufruit

Fill the jar right up to the rim with your vodka. If you have extra, that’s great. If you don’t, just do your best to keep the air gap at the top of the jar as small as possible. (I’ll explain why later.)

You say he was inside the bottle, sir?

Once the jar is full, seal it up. If you can possibly help it, use a jar with a glass or strong plastic lid, because you do NOT want this mix corroding a metal lid.

YOU FOOL, WARREN IS DEAD!

Finally, put this in a dark, cool place and don’t touch it for at least three months. In my case, I have the perfect place: the bar in the corner of the living room. It’s almost completely undisturbed all year round, and if anyone looks inside, won’t they be surprised?

When that steeping period is done, what remains is to drain off the vodka, bottle it, and put the extract back into a cool dark place until you’re ready to use it. It works very well in small doses, no more than a teaspoon, in fish dishes, and it can be used to complement the flavor of lemon and/or lime. This batch here is going to come in very handy with an experiment in kicking up a Key lime pie recipe I’ve been wanting to try for a while, and you can only imagine what will happen with adding it to lemon bars.

Now, I warned against leaving a large air gap at the top of the jar while the Cthulhufruit is steeping, and that’s for a very good reason. This new batch is being made because I left the last one steeping for a bit too long, with a little too little vodka. The oils and the vodka reacted with the oxygen in the air in the jar and some of the compounds oxidized: it’s still good for drinking and for cooking, but it adds a caramel-like flavor that drowns out the subtlety of many of the aromatic oils.

Giving up Nyarlathotep's share

Another factor to consider is that, no matter how good a seal, you’re going to lose a certain amount of alcohol from evaporation through the lid seal. In scotch production, this is referred to as “the angel’s share,” although I’m sure that no angel wants anything to do with it. Let’s call it “Nyarlathotep’s share” and leave it at that. The more vodka you have in the jar, the less Nyarlathotep’s share you’ll have by the time you’re ready to drain off the jar, and the less air that’s inside the jar to hasten oxidation. The above photo shows what happens after a year, and when you consider how much evaporation occurs through a whiskey barrel, now you understand why twenty-year and thirty-year scotch are so much more expensive than 12-year.

Cthulhufruit soup, anyone?

Another problem with leaving it too long is that the pulp tends to disintegrate slightly. Again, this doesn’t affect the drinkability or cookability of the extract. This just means that trying to strain the extract when bottling it isn’t going to work very well. I normally use a gold-plated coffee filter to strain Cthulhufruit extract, and after a year, the pulp sediment was just thick enough to jam up that filter.

For he IS the Kwizach Haderach

As can be seen, some of the vodka is absorbed by the Cthulhufruit pith, and Nyarlathotep’s share takes the rest. I plan to try both this and the fresh batch as extracts in different meals, and the rest of this one is going to friends. Now all I need is a new jar, a fresh Cthulhufruit, and a label reading “Specimen preserved in formalin, 8/20/1890”.

“If I paint my turtle black, will it be spooky?”

Thanks to general interests and the urge to accumulate potentially valuable information, I have a very odd horticultural library. The books on carnivorous plants are to be expected, as are the books on succulents, Datura, sharp gardens, scent gardens, bonsai, and Hon Non Bo. Then I have the inspirational guides for miniature gardens and terraria that cause guests’ eyebrows to shoot up so high that they’re latched to the ceiling by an eyelid. C’mon: how many other gardeners keep a copy of Wayne Barlowe’s Expedition in the reference library?

And then it comes down to getting good and dark. Now, Barlowe’s Inferno is a good start, but the trick with a good goth gardening library is to go subtle. At this point, half of the fun is having a fellow goth gardening enthusiasts look at a title on the shelf that doesn’t seem to fit…until they actually open it.

By way of example, I’ve mentioned the Joey Boxes in the past. Joey Shea and his lovely wife Cheryl LeBeau have been sending these to me for half my life as of this month, and there’s no telling what you can find in a given Joey Box. Naturally, I try to reciprocate without actually mailing anything alive. Yet. I think Cheryl needs a crocodile monitor about as badly as I do.

Anyway, I recently sent off a 20-kilo Joey Box out to Connecticut, and Joey retaliated with the ultimate in goth gardening volumes. We’re not talking about mere “if I paint my turtle black, will it be spooky?” gardening tips. We’re not talking vulgar, or obvious, or even well-documented. For me, the last time I received a compliment of this magnitude was when Harlan Ellison, one of my childhood role models, looked at me and said “Riddell, I like your writing, but DAMN you’re weird!” (I’d shaved my head the night before, so maybe he was biased. Either way, I took it in the spirit in which it was intended.) This may not be the Necronomicon of dark gardening, but it’s definitely on the level of The Pnakotic Manuscripts.

To start, this is what greeted me when I opened Joey’s package. No clues as to its history or heritage on the front cover.

The mysterious book

Nor anything on the spine.

The mysterious book's spine

Same with the frontspage. Obscure author, smaller publishing house, and publication from a year before I was born.

Book frontspage

The book is a good basic guide to gardening throughout the year, going day by day. The only thing that distinguishes it from other books on the same subject are these little drawings on chapter headings.

Twenty-Second Day

Twenty-Seventh Day

Sixteenth Day

May

Okay, so there has to be some deep, dark secret, right? This can’t be all there is to it, could it? Let’s take a quick peek at the copyright page, to see if any hint is available as to why Joey would have sent it.

Designed by Edward Gorey

No, you’re not imagining things. Take a closer look.

Designed by Edward Gorey closeup

That’s right: THAT Edward Gorey. Suddenly, those cheery little drawings have a whole new context, don’t they?

As can be expected, I’ll have to do some digging to find more backstory on this book and exactly what Gorey’s involvement was with the book and its illustrations. I don’t know for sure, for instance, if Gorey drew these wry little figures, or if all he did was the design of the book while using another artist’s work. The editor, Ralph Bailey, is equally obscure in today’s Web coverage, although he was apparently a talented enough photographer for House & Garden that Conde Nast sells a 1963 print of his fuchsia photo to this day. You can expect, though, that I’m going to have a lot of fun with the research. And knowing Joey, this is about the time he discovers a guide to Ford auto repair written and illustrated by Clark Ashton Smith.

Have a Great Weekend

For those outside of the US, you may have noticed that yesterday was the source of a lot of noise from this side of the Pond. (No, not THAT Pond. It’s bad enough that friends who knew the Czarina before they knew me are starting to call me “Rory”.) Yesterday was the day we Americans celebrated the first big holiday of the year, where we all remember that day a third of a century ago, when one of the great cultural heroes of our age rose from his grave, looked down at his shadow, and realized that he had to wait six more weeks until spring.

*bloop*

Blah blah “day job,” blah blah “frantic deadlines,” blah blah “no time for blogging,” blah blah blah, “severe apologies to the three people who are actually entertained or at least vaguely disgusted yet aroused by these posts.” Look at this as the call of Bloop.