Sunday, April 28, 2013

What Happens When An Animal Trainer Tries to Grow Plants: Botany 101.

I'd like to first apologize about the title of this blog.  This post is NOT Botany 101.  I don't even know if there's a level lower than 101.  Maybe I should've called it Botany .000000001.  Or "Botany For Blonds."  Or, "I stuck plants in the ground, will they grow?".

All of my posts up until now have been about working with animals.  They're easy to care for and interact with, if you're not an egotistical maniac.  Feed them (the animals, not the egotistical maniacs) appropriate amounts of high quality food, clean their habitats, provide them with medical care, give them a lot of unconditional love, and laugh it off when they ignore everything you ask them to do.

Some fish, some toys, lots of love and laughter means one happy sea lion!

But see, my interests aren't limited to animals.  Yes, my degree is in zoology, but that was just as function of practicality.  I only had four years* of school to learn something well, so I had to choose between a general major like biology and a more specific major.  Ultimately, I chose the latter.  But nonetheless, that doesn't change the fact that one of my interests is one of the largest and most under-rated groups of organisms on the planet: PLANTS.

I love plants.  They smell neat (or really bad), they are beautiful (or not), you can eat them (or die), they can heal (or burn, sting, rot, maim, kill), they provide shelter and security to almost every living thing to one degree or another, they cannot get cancer (but some plants can give you it!), and they can survive bizarre genetic mutations that would easily kill an animal and/or put Michael Crichton's imagination to shame.

So why haven't any of my posts been about my years of experience learning about and cultivating plants?  Because I have the King Midas Complex when it comes to vegetation. Every plant I touch turns to gold and dies (clarification: it does not turn to actual gold). Most of my plants end up looking like a pile of hay.

If they survive, it's because I gave them to someone else who knows what to do.

Let's revisit the list of what it takes to care for an animal, and then compare it to what it takes to care for a plant one would find in a garden. 

The Official and Scientifical List of Required Care of Animals and Garden Plants

Animal                                                              Plant

1. High Quality Food                                        1. Sunlight for photosynthesis of sugars 
2. Clean Habitats                                               2. Dirt with the correct  concentration of scientifical
                                                                              chemicals and pH, moisture, and soil drainage
3. Medical Care                                                 3. Super human vision and a sixth sense that can detect
                                                                              and respond to invasions of slugs, ants, white flies, etc   
                                                                              and in some way get rid of them in a effective manner 
                                                                              that does not require spraying Agent Orange all over
                                                                          4. Oh, and make sure  you watch for fungal infections
                                                                          5. Ensure your garden plants are not eaten 
                                                                              tranquilizing all wild animals to unconsciousness 
                                                                              within a 10 mile radius for the growing season
                                                                          6. Fertilize with appropriate amounts by becoming 
                                                                              familiar with advanced organic chemistry and its 
                                                                              effects on plant tissue on a microscopic level
                                                                          7. Thin your garden once seeds have sprouted; callously
                                                                              decide who lives and who dies, then toss the rejects' 
                                                                              bodies unceremoniously next to their luckier kin
4. Unconditional Love                                      8. Spent at least 9 hours a day worrying over your 
                                                                              garden and why none of your plants have leaves 
5. Don't sweat the small stuff                            9. Water 

Watering plants is a skill I've acquired thanks to my experience using water as enrichment for dolphins!

Despite all of this, I decided to give gardening a shot.  Now, there are a lot of blogs out there that do an amazing job tracking their homesteading or gardening projects.  These blogs are laced with beautiful photos, delicious recipes, creative ideas, and the occasional story of failure.  I can essentially guarantee that my gardening stories will not in any way resemble that.

Here are two crappy pictures of my garden:

Garden two
Garden one

Here is an itemized list of the plants in there:

1. Strawberries (so the slugs and sugar ants have something to eat out in the wilds of my backyard)
2. Green Beans (which hide the slugs and sugar ants from my sights)
3. Weeds (sons of #%&*(#$)
4. Peppers (I can't tell if they naturally grow slowly, or if I've killed them before they've even grown)
5. Collards 
6. One sunflower (because why do you need more than one?)
7. Okra
8. Beets
9. Cucumbers
10. Marigold (Which the pyramid ants ate already)
11. Weeds
12. Red beans
13. Lettuce (which must be delicious, because 8,035 whiteflies can't be wrong)

I also have some apple trees, two pecan saplings, a key lime shrub (with one-inch spines), and some other decorative flowers. 

All of these plants are actually doing well so far.  Well, except the desert rose, which is dying on the table outside.  But in my experience, the more I ignore a desert rose, the better it does.  So let's just forget it exists.

But what isn't going so well?  Controlling the insects.  I have a fire ant problem (as does the State of Florida, so I'm told).   Stay tuned for stories of battling those imps from hell.  

Slugs and sugar ants and whiteflies are now residents of my silly garden.  Putting pesticides on my plants is not an option, due to the fact that it's poisonous and at some point, I'd like to eat whatever my garden yields**.  Plus, I'm lazy, and I'd rather not kill other insects and arachnids that could kill the pests without me lifting a finger. 

After reading about safe methods of getting rid of tiny, pesky creatures eating all my crap, I decided to build an insectary, which is a garden whose sole purpose is attracting predatory insects.  A few weeks earlier, I realized that one of the native species of ants (the pyramid ants) in my backyard was starting to get rid of some of the fire ant colonies back there.  The pyramid ants haven't gotten all of them out, but they've done a good job.  

After spending a lot of time picking flowers and herbs that effectively contract out the Mafia of the Insect Realm, I came home and installed an insectary.  

Here's the Professional Digging Job I did for the insectary, with the Sprinkler Pipe I Totally Knew Was There Before I Dug. ***

Then, satisfied, I walked over to every single fire ant mound and cackled.  And dumped a mountain of diatomaceous earth on them, which will slice through their chitinous, armored bodies, dehydrating them to the point of death.  I also cackled while I did this.

And so officially begins the Middle Flipper's journey into botany.  Don't worry, most posts will be about animals.   But now, thanks to my black thumb, the Middle Flipper has tapped into an unused source of hilarity and frustration.  

If I were a plant, I'd wither if I saw this face.

* Before I drove nails into my eyes due to the amazingly underwhelming collegiate experience

** Probably two green beens and a lot of yard waste, in which case I won't eat it

*** I'll post photos of the actual insectary I planted when the plants have proven to me that they will live past 24 hours 


  1. This just reinforced how much I miss you. Come back.

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