What I Did On My Winter Vacation


And out of the depths of winter comes the promise of spring. After months of cold and chill, Earth progresses in its orbit around the sun, with daffodils and quince blooming in anticipation. Two weeks short of the official vernal equinox, life and weather celebrate the change…with six inches of snow. Welcome to Dallas.

While it might be reasonable to assume that the Triffid Ranch shut down entirely over the last four months, I compare it more to hibernation. The plants were sleeping, the garden dormant, and available shows and events dropping to next to nothing, so the last four months involved a very extensive and thorough cleaning and reorganizing. When your best friend refers to the purges of unneeded books, magazines, fabric, and other items from the house as “Stalinesque”, and when you consider that this is a man who stretches the term “minimalist” until it screams, you get an idea of the effort involved. All of December, all of January, almost all of February: the house is better organized than any time since we moved into it five years ago. Some of the particulars:

  • Okay, so having Colorado as a relative neighboring state leads to lots of Beavis and Butt-Head chuckling about “grow houses” these days, but technology allowed a big expansion. Namely, the whole need for a separate office for computer work died off with CRT monitors and landline phones, so the Czarina and I made a command decision: why waste two perfectly good rooms on our separate offices when we were doing all of our correspondence and show organizing on laptops anyway. The whole of an 11-day holiday vacation went into stripping out both rooms, converting one into work area and dry goods storage, and the other into an interior propagation area for tropical carnivores, orchids, ferns, and other flora that couldn’t handle the temperatures in the greenhouse. Technology also assisted with the propagation racks: LED shop lights may cost a little more than standard fluorescent fixtures, but they work beautifully for sundews, bladderworts, and the one Tahitian vanilla orchid that survived last summer. We’re not quite ready for a full-time retail venue, but it’s getting a lot closer, and the increased production means being able to do more shows in 2015. Best of all, the LEDs mean more light and less heat for less power, and the plan is to move to high-output LED fixtures before the end of the year for more light-hungry plant species.
  • While it’s been quiet out here otherwise in preparation for Texas Frightmare Weekend in May, it’s not that quiet. The Triffid Ranch leaves its hiatus for an appearance at the Discovery Days Earth event at the Perot Museum in downtown Dallas this coming April 11. Considering that we have a bit of a track record for late snow and sleetfall in March over the last half-decade, any last-minute freezes should help keep emerging temperate carnivores chilled so they start blooming in April. If things work well, this means showing off both Sarracenia pitcher plant and triggerplant blooms in time for the event. Details will follow.
  • Speaking of Texas Frightmare Weekend, the year-long hiatus means lots of preparation for the tenth annual Frightmare show, and not just with plants. This year’s Frightmare spread includes new displays, new items, and a lot of larger plant arrangements that were just too big to justify bringing out to previous events. All told, the plans required getting an additional table to hold everything, and we have live video from the house upon getting the news that a second table was available:
  • And after that? If we don’t get completely snowbound, the fun continues. Due to both Day Job schedule conflicts and various issues outside of the scope of this posting, three-day convention events aren’t going to be practical for most of 2015, but that means lots of one-day shows and lectures. Keep an eye open for details on these as well.
  • Some of the conflict on show schedules involves other factors, including several big secret projects over the next nine months. In addition, influenced by Reptiles magazine republishing my 2011 article on carnivores in reptile enclosures, expect not quite a book, but something almost as good, by the end of the year. Either way, I’ll be stuck to the couch, frantically writing away, when I’m not tinkering in the greenhouse.

Oh, and about the beautiful photo from the top of the post? One of the few good things that came from 2013’s Icepocalypse was a deeper understanding of citrus trees, especially my beloved Buddha’s Hand citron. After a decade of attempts to stave off bloom and fruit drop, December 2014 gave up three full-sized and completely ripe Cthulhufruit, and the greenhouse is currently full of blooms for this year’s crop. The trick, which hasn’t shown up in any citrus guide I’ve encountered in the last ten years, is that Buddha’s Hands require much more humidity than most citrus trees. Mexican limes and Meyer lemons thrive in Dallas levels of low humidity in spring and summer, but Cthulhufruit requires humidity that only rarely goes below 60 percent. Once I understood that, well, that promise of homemade Cthulhufruit bars becomes more plausible every winter, and maybe even in time for Cephalopodmas. And so it goes.

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