My love-hate relationship with rain

Over the past weeks, I have mentioned quite a couple of times the tansy plants that were still growing in our greenhouses, after we had established our field experiment in Jena. First of all, there were the original 120 ‘mother plants’ that were the source for the 18 selection lines that I created and cloned. Then, there were the clones. Now, I overdid it a bit with the cloning. I initially knew nothing about whether it would work or not. This was my first time cloning Tanacetum vulgare, and I went against the advice to use root clones. (Stubborn ass here.) I needed about 30 clones for every selected line, and I figured that if I would just clone 45, probably enough would make it through to fill the field design. It turns out that I am quite good at cloning. I have made cuttings for a nursery professionally for five or six years when I was younger. There literally are hundreds of thousands of Buxus sempervirens, Prunus laurocerasus, and countless other ornamental plant species that have me as their maker. I’d better be good at it. Although I couldn’t get enough material from all plants to make it to 45 (some topped out at 28 clones), for many – if not most – I did. The average success rate turned to be about 95%. Not bad. It did mean, however, that I had about 750 plants prepared for a field experiment that needed only 504.

You didn’t seriously believe that I would throw that all away, did you?

We made an inventory of what was still there. I sat down and thought about it some. My boss thought about it some. This time I thought his idea was not much use. So I sat down and thought about it some more. I have convinced him that this was an awesome idea, and that I would be using it (among others) for student projects next summer. (Having a field experiment in Jena, when you live about 300 km away is not ideal for student projects.)

Over the past weeks I have prepared a nicedesign (well at least I think it is), for both the 120 mothers, and for the leftover clones. Admittedly, I could only use 90 properly in a manipulative design, so I had to still throw some away. It broke my heart. In my defence, I saved an entire line of plants that I did not use in the field experiment, to potentially start rearing aphid colonies on. That saved another 16 from the compost pile. I try not to waste. Over the past couple of weeks, I also prepared labels, and we readied the plants for getting outside. A nice field plot was assigned to me, and prepared. Today, I was making the final plot layout in the field. Literally everything is ready to go…

…but all afternoon, I was standing ankle-deep in mud. The Bavarian summer has been particularly wet this year (hence my indoor swimming pool). This afternoon it was – again – bucketing down for hours. I am pretty happy with rain, especially since I planned to establish an unplanned field experiment in mid-July. Drought can be a real party pooper there. Now, I know tansy can handle quite a range of conditions, and I don’t think they would mind wet soil for a while once firmly established, but they’re not pond plants either. I don’t feel like planting them in mud is a great idea. Looking at the weather forecasts, it will take at least about a week to dry up here, so I’m afraid there will be another change of plans. Instead of planting the site this week, I will postpone it another week (or maybe two). So next week: emergency harvest week. The week after: planting the two new field experiments. If our baby sticks to the plan (due 2 August), I will make it just in time, and then – finally – will have the empty desk I need to go on parental leave for two months! (Well, empty if I also submit that 80% written grant proposal, and that almost ready Functional Ecology revision.)

This is my muddy field, complete with abstract-looking blue sticks, some of which indicate where my plants will be, while others mark the corners of my plots. In the front will be my chemodiversity block design. In the back, there will be the 120 mother plants. As is pretty evident, the loamy soil is quite wet, but I must add that this shot was taken just after a heavy shower. The puddles usually drain pretty fast. It is not THAT bad! (The grassy patches surrounding it are pretty firm ground.)
The mother plants in the back, the leftover clones in the front. (I have since trimmed the mothers, and the leftovers have grown a bit)

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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