Noah’s Hermit Crab

A few months ago, Noah’s homework packet came back with a slip that says, this semester, Noah’s classroom has 5 hermit crabs that students can adopt at the end of school year, since there were 5 crabs, and 21 kids in the room, there will be a lottery. If parents are okay with their child participating in the lottery, sign here.
So we signed the paper, half hoping Noah wont’ be so lucky.

Lo and behold, a week before school ended, Noah came back all excited saying he would get a hermit crab to take home!  That was a Friday, we had one weekend to prepare since the crab would come back on Monday!

I started researching what we needed to buy, what Yangmama has that we could use. Initially i thought we will just go to the pet store and buy a set.  Then came the surprise. Apparently everything the pet store sells for a hermit crab was the wrong thing:

  • The hermit crab sand they sell are poisonous to the crab because of the color and material.
  • The water dish you see in the pet store are the wrong kind. They needed fully submersible “pool” not a shallow dog-dish.
  • The hermit crab food pallet are the least healthy for a hermit crab.
  • painted shells are poisonous to the crab, those crab in pet store wearing painted shells were all forced into them hoping for better sale. Crab will abandon them in a heartbeat if there are any other suitable natural shell choices.
  • The worst is the depth of the sand. In pet store, you will see a very thin layer of sand at the bottom of the tank, what hermit crab need is a thick layer (usually takes up half of a 20 gallon tank) so they could dig a tunnel and bury themselves to molt.
Molting is the most fascinating thing about hermit crabs. They bury themselves (crab and shell together) under the sand, then they shed their outer shell and skin. This is a time of renewal. Any limb that was missing prior to the molt will regrew itself during this time (even eyes can regrow!). While they live deep in their sand tunnel waiting for their new skin/shell to grow back and harden, they ate the old shell for nutrition and energy. Molting could last a few weeks to a few months!! Depends on the size of the crab.
Because of all these mistakes that pet store marketing to the buyers, most hermit crabs die after one year or less. mostly because they couldn’t molt.  While with correct condition they could live up to 15, even 30 years!
Among the five crabs from Noah’s classroom, two were giant ones, three were small. Noah ended up with largest of the 5.
By Monday we setup the tank based on the initial research i had done.
Once the crab is in the tank, we had more problems to solve.

First the salt water pool and fresh water pool’s edge were too high above the sand surface, and the tapperware wall was too slippery, Crab couldn’t climb in, and once its in, it might not be able to get out.

Noah solved this by building two lego stairs!

San Francisco was in a heat wave during the couple of weeks prior to the crab’s arrival. But the heat wave ended right after the crab came home.No matter how we try the humidity couldn’t reach the 80% required. The temperature is also too low (ideally 80F or warmer).
Mi made another trip back to my Mom’s on Tuesday to pick up the heat lamp and an extra cover. bought a heatpad from the pet store, correct chemical to condition the tab water. I ordered a digital Thermometer-Hygrometer.
Initially i had a bubbler running to increase the humidity. But both Noah and Mi thought it was too loud, crab didn’t like it.  Maybe it was the loud bubbler, maybe it was the new environment, maybe it was because the crab had been in pet-store like condition for so long (even in the classroom setup, the sand was only a thin layer) that it was dying to molt, by Tuesday evening, the crab had disappeared. Buried itself in the sand completely, with its giant shell.

By Wednesday, all was well, we had both heatlamp and the heatpad running. the digital thermometer-hygrometer is more accurate. turned out our temperature and humidity were both okay. humidity above 80%, temperature above 80F. the previous analog thermometer and hygrometer weren’t accurate. whew.

According to the internet, hermit crab bury itself in the sand, sometimes to de-stress (especially after coming to a brand new environment), sometimes to molt.  If the former they will re-surface after a few days. Molting could take much longer.
The day when the crab came home was 5/22. It buried itself on 5/23.  It didn’t come up after one week, i thought, okay, it is molting. three weeks later, still no sign.  Mi started saying it must be dead by then. But we couldn’t dig it out. Since a molting crab is very vulnerable. digging it out will mean certain death.  After a month, i started to wonder whether it would ever come back up.
Noah completely bought into my molting theory. Every time when Mi hinted the crab might be dead, Noah would protest, “It is molting!” 它在换皮!and he still asks me from time to time when should we transfer the tank to Grandma’s place since we won’t be around during our vacation, and someone has to look after it.

Today is 6/29, almost 5 weeks after it has buried itself.  I checked the temperature and humidity this morning, it was around 76F and 77%. i turned up the heatlamp temperature a little bit. and went to work.

Mid-morning, Mi sent me a message, “I see sands all over the legos and the sea sponge dish, could it be alive?!”

OMG! It is alive! after five weeks buried in sand! (the red part is its claw)

Noah was so happy to hear the news, he drew a picture in the car on his way home. The top was a hermit crab in spacesuit (the label says NASA), the middle was a hermit crab in water, and the last was a hermit crab in our tank.
The crab’s claw changed color after molting. Prior it was a dark orange. Now it is a bright red. Noah decided to name it “Strawberry.”
Here is our Hermit Crab Album.

P.S. Last night as i was writing this post, Noah came by and saw the title, “Noah’s Hermit Crab?!” He demanded that I read the whole thing to him. Afterwards, he drew another picture.
Note the four triangle in a circle on the four corners were meant to indicate this was seen from a camera, a diver's camera. and the three T-shaped stand by the stairs are balconies.

Succulent Fever

I got infected with “Succulent fever” about a year ago.  San Francisco’s Mediterranean weather seems so tailor made for succulent growth, it is very easy to get addicted. It is one of the most satisfying gardening experience i’ve had because such a vast varieties of succulent can grow so well with next to zero effort from the grower. Nature takes care of it all!

Spring seems to be the time that Succulent loves to bloom.


more blooms are on their way.


Mystery Orchid #2

Eight years ago, when I first tried my hands at keeping orchids at home. I came across the orchid community on I used to browse that forum full of admiration, watching those orchid expert describing how excited they were cuz the dying orchid they picked up from a-store/a-florist/a-side-walk were finally about to bloom and they had no idea what it looked like.

At the time, orchids that i bought just withered away after their store-bought bloom were spent.

Then, things change, and I learn.

Two years ago, I witnessed my first mystery orchid bloom, it was every bit as exciting as those orchid people described in that orkut community.

Today, the second mystery is solved. The process of waiting for it to bloom is like reading a very slow going novel…that has a very satisfying ending.

Dtps. I-Hsin Sun Beauty ( Phal. Salu Peoker x Dtps. Leopard Prince)

Mom picked this one up from the garbage dump of a florist near her work place. I’ve had it for a little over a year, i think. It grew two new leaves in that period. Originally mom suspected the entire batch (there were three of them) were the most common kind white moth orchid. But as the flower stem developed this winter, the colorful dots hidden inside become more and more prominent.

Looks like mom’s first orchid, a birthday gift from my sis back in 2002.

The Orchid Saga Continues

“What goes around comes around…”

Friend Bonnie got a moth orchid for her office desk. After the bloom was gone, a keiki developed on the flower stem! it was fascinating. I’ve never seen a live keiki before. Then the keiki started to grow roots. New leaves and new roots were growing left and right, but no more flower.

Right before my maternity leave, our department was due for another move. On packing day, Bonnie said she wanted to throw away her orchid since it didn’t look like it would bloom anytime soon. She was tired of carrying it around. I jumped, “I will take it! With all that healthy leaves and roots, all it needs is a little sunlight, then it would bloom.” I told her that she could have it back once the flower shows up.

The new flower stem grow out of the keiki this time. I think it was around the time when Noah was born. I’ve forgotten what the bloom was like. So we waited. And here it is. Exactly like my first orchid, which i’ve managed to kill while we were on Cole street. Some kind of reincarnation, maybe?

The New Comer

The New Comer

Orchid, Round II

Growing up, I never thought of myself as a gardener.  Even though we’ve always lived in places with a backyard and/or a balcony that’s full of plants since i could remember. I seldom paid a passing attention to them, except during the Fall when we harvested rose petals off our giant rose bush in the yard, and made them into rose jam. When plants turn to yummy food, i’m interested plenty. 🙂

I didn’t even realize my Mom was really into gardening until we moved into our place in the south bay. She planted all sorts of plants she used to crave in secret and told me of her grandpa’s tiny garden in their tiny courtyard at Shanghai. She sought out the kind of blossom and fragrance from her childhood: osmanthus, night blooming Jasmine, Wisteria, bougainvillea, gardenia, etc.. Luckily they all seem to thrive in Bay Area weather. Along the way she discovered and adopted plants she found in the bay area. She became an extremely proficient African Violet grower. Her favorite pass-time was to browsing the nursery at homedepot, and pick up leaves/twigs fell along side of the nursery isle. Came home, she would try to grow them into full plants by first place them into small jar of water, once enough roots grow out, she will move them to a pot of soil.

I observed and grew very fond of Mom’s gardening philosophy. She dislikes bonsai and any kind of restrictive cultivation method. She prefer to let plants grow wild naturally and she would not force anything to grow in places that they are unhappy. She joked that that’s how she raised my sister and I as well. I feel so fortunate!

When i moved to SF with ZM in 2004, Mom started dispatching plants she deemed suitable for our apartment to SF with us. Following her simple instructions, I found out that i was not exactly bad at gardening either. I applied Mom’s principle well. Only the ones suited my lazy habit got to live.

Then came the orchids. My first attempt started shortly after we moved to our apartment on Cole st.. I was obsessed. Read everything i could find on-line, and tried to follow instructions no matter how strange it was. But it was not meant to be. One by one my orchids all died. 🙁 Mom thinks it is the light and air in our apartment that’s not suitable for orchids. Most of our living space faced west, the sun was too hot for most of the orchids i tried then. The only east facing window was in our kitchen, where the air circulation was not that great. But looking back, i suspect the main reason was my obsession. I was way too attentive. Orchid really thrive under mild negligent. Most orchid growers were intimidated by the perception of orchid’s fussiness, so they tend to err on paying too much attention to them. Most of orchids end up either drowned by too much watering, or stressed out by constantly changing location by their owners.

After we moved in our current place 2 years ago, my orchid obsession came back. First, both Mom and i thought our central patio was the ideal place for orchid. Initially it seemed to be true. Every orchid we brought in the patio thrived. Encouraged, both Mom and i started enlarge our orchid collection. I soon ran out of places to put new orchids in the patio, they started invading my living room, which have two large South-East facing windows.

After going through one full year of season changes, my orchids in the patio started to decline, but the ones in the living room continue to do well. And I also noticed that moth orchid does very well in my living room, but dancing doll and others don’t.

Meanwhile, Mom has discovered the orchid stand in San Mateo farmer’s market on Tuesdays, where you could get gorgeous and large orchid for as low as $5! Her orchid collection exploded. But she noticed something else, exactly opposite to my house, eventually her moth orchid would start to wilt but her dancing dolls, spiders and every other kinds continued thriving.

So we purged our collections and did some exchange. I end up with almost all the moth orchids, and she kept the rest.

If negligent is the key to the heart of orchid growing, then i have been practicing exactly that during the past winter.  I’ve left them unwatered for as long as 3 weeks. Came spring time, they all started to grow flower stems!

Among my current orchid collections were three baby ones that Mom had picked up last Fall from a flower shop’s garbage can. They have been sitting on my living room side table since Mom cleaned them up and potted them. Two of them  immediately  started growing new leaves, one stayed weak but managed to survive.

Around thanksgiving time, the two stronger “garbage” siblings started growing a flower stem each. I was amazed. Ever since my orchid fever started back in 2004, i’ve been reading admirably about the orchid expert who would pick up dried up orchid or discarded misshapen ones from the street and nurse them back to life, then anxiously waiting to discover what kind of flowers these orphaned darling would produce. I never thought I would get to do that one day too!

As the morning sunlight became more abundant during the last month or so, one of the baby orchid’s flower buds grew rounder and fuller every day. I was full of anticipation. What color would it be? Will it be the most common white with yellow center or will it be a surprise?!

This morning, I noticed the first petal opened a crack! Excited, i rushed over to take a look. Hmm… purple with strips…could be like this, which is rather common. Or maybe like Mom’s first orchid?

Mystery Moth Orchid

Mystery Moth Orchid

Knowing it will probably be in full bloom during the day, I rushed through Friday evening traffic and got home to discover this:

Mystery Revealed

Mystery Revealed

It is not purple, but red! Stunning rich red with thick fuzzy stripes, and a velvety red center plus a white tip. White and purple are common moth orchid color. Haven’t see that many red.  I’m elated.

Close Up

Close Up

Have been googling all evening and eventually found it in one volume from Google Books: Moth Orchids: The Complete Guide to Phalaenopsis. The orchid is called Doritaenopsis Taida Salu ‘Alisan’. Originally from China!

Very happy. My first mystery orchid is blooming! And it is beautiful! 🙂

Chilly Summer

1. San Francisco
Seat warmer becomes my favorite feature of our car in the summer time. Only in San Francisco.

It was rainy during the week. Soft gentle drizzle, you could hardly feel it. Rain in July. Rare.

2. Plants
Woke up to a sunny morning! Glorious! Watered plants in the backyard. The Angel’s trumpet now sports TWO flower buds. Still very small, the bigger one is only an inch long. Can’t wait for them to materialize into the glorious giant “trumpet” bloom. Imagine the mysterious scent in the evening. Ahhhh!

Followed Mom’s advice, dug out the three barely alive cyclamen, which have been under continuous snail attack. Transferred them to a window box and moved them up to the balcony. Lined the window box against the wall under the windows, hopefully it is not too windy nor too sunny for them.

The sun was warm and inviting on the balcony. The lone window box with the cyclamen amplified the emptiness of the space, all that wasted sunshine! When we first moved in, i put a a giant pot of hydrangea on the balcony, and it was blew right over by the strong wind. I quickly gave up the idea of leaving any plants on this wuthering spot.

Today i decided to give it another try. Need to find things that’s wind resistant, sun loving and a pot that’s heavy enough that can stand firm in the gusty wind. I quickly took some succulent from the backyard and the central patio. Since i used sand to fill the pot, it would remain heavy even in between watering.

Our balcony immediately looked more cheerful with the new additions. We will see how that worked out.

3. Midnight in Sicily

Midnight in Sicily: On Art, Food, History, Travel and la Cosa Nostra by Peter Robb

Midnight in Sicily: On Art, Food, History, Travel and la Cosa Nostra by Peter Robb

Planning a trip to Italy in October, and Gui spotted this book at Greenapple last night. I took it home and started reading this morning.

Fascinating read so far. Italy/Sicily sounds horribly corrupted/violent, yet extremely intriguing at the same time. Greek speaking origin, conquered by the Roman then the Arabs then back to the Christians. Sun bleached hills, olive groves, orchards, mouth watering seafood, beautiful ocean, half ruined Palermo, politics and organized crime. assassination, murder, heroic effort by “the few honest Italians” to chase down la Cosa Nostra and their government backer(s).

I was horrified and hungry at the same time.

If we really ended up going, then we would have traveled “Roman Empire” backwards. First Turkey-Byzantine-East Roman Empire, now Italy-Western Roman Empire. 🙂

“The essence of travel was to slow the passage of time” – Rober Kaplan “The Ends of the Earth

Cataract Falls, Again

Mi and I hiked Cataract Falls during Thanksgiving holiday of 2004. Interesting enough that I recorded that hike in English, too! Maybe there is something about this hike that doesn’t trigger my Chinese speaking mind. Gui and Matthew went there on a separate trip. We’ve been thinking of going again for a while. In our memories, aside from the lovely waterfalls, there were also these endless stairs right next to the waterfalls that we had to climb. Fear of these stairs kept roaring its ugly intimidating head. 420ft elevation gain within the first half mile sounds near-torture.

This year, most of us have been sick throughout the entire January, and hiding indoors through the stormy and cold weather of Febuary. Here comes the first weekend of March, glorious sunny and summer-like warmth. When Gui suggested Cataract Falls on Saturday morning, I agreed to it enthusiastically.

We knew those waterfalls would be nice because of the massive rainfall just ended a couple of days ago. But we had no idea how lovely they actually were! There were so much mater pouring down the mountains that the slightest elevation turned the used-to-be creek into a small waterfall. Water was gushing out and around mossy boulders with so much happiness. The real waterfalls were also more voluptuous than we remembered. As always, the path was lush and moist. Ferns were grown into giants, wild flowers blooming quietly, redwood trees at the foot of the mountain were submerged in all the excessive water.

It was a popular hiking trail, we met many hikers along the way, almost all of them has a dog or two. And all the dogs are wet and happy. We kept on wondering which fall did the dogs dived under, and whether there are any fish live in the pool below each fall?

Along the path I noticed a small flower that seems to thrive to hide from view. Upon close inspection, it has orchid-like delicate flower petals and an intricate structure. But its leaves look like trillium that you often see in a redwood forest.

Gui thought it has to be a kind of orchid. I thought the leaves are so much like trillium, maybe it is somehow related? I don’t remember seeing orchid in a redwood forest before. As we were speculating, I said, well, i could search on the internet when i get home. But that statement of mine reminded me of something more interesting.

January in New York City, when we met up with Alice and James, we also were debating about some random trivia, and I ended it by saying, probably can search it on the net. James laughed and shook his head, “Internet again. It has ruined so many potentially interesting conversation. When the absolute fact is so ready at hand, people stopped speculating for the sake of fun.”

Isn’t that an interesting perspective? I, for one, hasn’t thought about it that way.

Anyway, back in the forest as we were hiking along the fern lined creeks, our speculation about this interesting flower didn’t go very far.

And i had to go on google to find out.

Turned out it is called “Fetid Adder’s Tongue,” and it belongs in the Lily family. Its official name is Scoliopus Bigelovii, and here is a nice collection of flowers in Mountain Tamalpais: Field Guide to Mtn. Tam.

More photos from our yesterday’s hike at Cataract Falls: Bay Area Hiking: Cataract Falls, 3/3/2007

Who’s eating those leaves of my rose?

Earlier this year, mom dug out one of her many mini-roses from the front garden and potted for me. Shortly after I took it home, it was attacked by aphids. Horrified, I drenched the plant with pesticide. Soon, all leaves fell off. I was left with a pot of bare branches.

I kept a regular watering schedule, and the weather stayed sunny. Slowly the plant came back to life and started growing new leaves like mad. On top of the dense foliage, it was soon dotted with flower buds. Following mom’s advice, I started spraying a milder version of anti-aphids liquid on a monthly basis. It was a mixture of water, cooking oil, and dish detergent. The aphids were kept at bay and the min-rose thrived.

Recently it started bloom its lovely pink flowers. But I noticed something else. The leaves on the top and a few on the side were “eaten” away in circular sections. The circle was really round and smooth. If someone used a compass to do the cutting, he wouldn’t have done a better job.

I looked up and down the plant, trying to find the trouble maker, without any luck.

Today I did a little googling and found out these cuttings were very likely the work of a “leafcutter bee”! The bee wasn’t eating leaves for food. Instead, it is cutting out the circular section to make a nest.

Bees are always so into geometry. 🙂 I’ve decided that, for now, my mini-rose has plenty of leaves to spare for a bee nest. 🙂