Inside-out Self-watering Pot

This pot has onion sets in a double row around the terra cotta resevoir. A 4" pot with salad greens goes inside it.

A couple of years ago, I was doing research on building do-it-yourself self watering pots- where there is a resevoir of water on the bottom of the pot, and through capillary action, the water wicks up through the soil, keeping the pot evenly moist. there are numerous designs, Gardener’s supply company sells the Earthbox, and people have posted other designs. with rubbermaid tubs, or recycled recycle bins. The one thing they have in common is they are butt ugly. I have spent money on pretty blue ceramic pots, and I don’t want to uglify my yard…
I did pay for one liner, from gardener’s supply, and thought about making more with bowls, and mesh, and PVC pipe…the whole idea made me tired.

Then I saw these terra cotta vases at Hobby Lobby- about 6 inches across, 10 inches tall, no drainage hole in the bottom, but unglazed, so they are porous.  They hold about 2 liters of water.

I bought one to start, and put it in a 14 inch pot, and put geraniums into the pot. They did great. The soil stayed evenly moist, and I was able to put a smaller pot on top of the vase, too.  Roots dangled into the water from above, and water continually seeps through the pores of the terra cotta. If you pour a half gallon of water into the soil of a regular pot, most of it drains out the bottom, and you need to water again the next day. Under my conditions (arid west, bright sun, YMMV) I can fill the resevoirs once or twice a week.

I now have 3 or 4 of the vases- they aren’t great for everything, and they need to be covered with either a plant or a saucer so mosquitos don’t breed in the water. I have read about them being used in raised beds, also, but have never tried it. If your craft emporium doesn’t carry them, check thrift stores- I’ve seen terra cotta wine coolers every once in a while that would work pretty well, I think.


Fig tree update

A little battered from the wind, but it should be okay.

I successfully dragged my little fig tree up the stairs from the basement, and put it into a bigger pot with a self watering liner in the base.I got the liner from Gardener’s supply,default,pd.html?SC=XNET8035&utm_campaign=cse&mr:referralID=c03a828f-6d41-11e0-a86a-001b2166c2c0

It has snowed a couple of times, but the plant is under the porch roof, so it has done fine. The spring winds have torn up some of the bigger leaves, but there is new growth, so I think the move was successful. The next step will be to move it into full sun. And hope it doesn’t snow again. Welcome to Colorado.


We've added prunings from the apple tree to the original poles- the more poles in the frame, the better.

Last summer, the Girl got very stingy with the playhouse, wouldn’t let the Boy play in it, etc. He came to me and asked if we would build him his own playhouse, and I suggested a teepee, instead. He was satisfied with the idea, and made plans to camp out in it with his cousins and everything.

Then I started researching the construction of teepees. There are a lot of places online offering to sell teepees, but not very many with instructions for building. The most helpful was here :  and it appears to be a scan of an old book.

I figured out that the fabric covering is basically a half circle, with the round end on the ground, and the center of the straight side goes at the top of the cone.  The support for the cone is at least three, but preferably more, poles. The height of the cone is the radius of the half circle of fabric, and that is also roughly the diameter of the footprint of the teepee. I’ve blamed teachers before for my lack of understanding of stuff like this, but in this case, it is totally my fault for not paying attention- this all would have been easier to figure out if I’d paid attention in 9th grade math.

So, I did a lot of drawings, and estimates, and decided I would make my tripod out of 8′ long 2×2 dimensional lumber. I decided they would cross at the 6′ mark. That meant I needed to make a half circle with a 12 foot diameter.  At this point I went shopping for canvas. Ouch. If I were going to do this again, and I might someday, I would have gotten a canvas tarp, cut the corners and hemmed the cut edges. Or, contacted a friend in the awning business.

Instead, I got 7 yards of  white cotton muslin, cut it into a 4 yard section and a 3 yard section. (it suddenly strikes me that the internet is international, and if  ever get any readers who think in metric this will be the worst possible form of blog post, filled with 2×2’s, 3 yards, 4 yards, 6 feet. On the other hand, it feels awkward to put metric translations on each number…I guess if you live in Germany and want to make a teepee, build it to fit yourself, and pay attention to the ratios)

I sewed the two panels together, then laid it out on the lawn. I hammered a piece of bamboo into the ground and looped a 6 foot piece of twine on it with a marker tied to it, and drew a half circle. I cut and stitched along this line- doing a zigzag stitch along the edge to reinforce it. Then I learned how to use the buttonholer function on my sewing machine, and made a double row of holes along the diameter, about 4 feet up from the bottom. These holes overlap each other when you wrap it around the poles, and small sticks thread through the holes to hold the cover on the frame.

Anyway- love the teepee. Very sculptural. My friend in the awning business (yes, I really have one!) has suggested I let the kids paint designs on it, but honestly, I am way too much of a control freak for that- What if the designs came out horrible, then we’d have this ugly teepee in the backyard. As a white cone, it glows in the sun, and makes a cozy hangout for either kid. Actually, when the Girl saw how cool it was last summer, she insisted on playing in it as well. There hasn’t yet been a sleepover in it yet, but we’re hoping when the weather gets warm, they’ll roll out the sleeping bags.

On a lawn care note- I thought we would have to move it regularly in order to prevent the grass from going yellow, but the muslin is thin enough that it hasn’t been a problem.With heavier canvas, it might be an issue. When the kid from up the street mows, we collapse it like an umbrella and move it under the ash tree, then move it back on the grass when he’s finished.

Cold-Brewed Coffee- oh my gosh!

I’ve written before about deciding to spend less money on trips out for coffee, and I mostly have. The hot brewed coffee using the little Melitta filter funnel has been great. The magic moment, though, was when I learned about brewing coffee at room temperature to use as iced coffee.

 Holy cow- there are apparently devices that you can get to make it for you, but honestly, if you have a jar and a strainer…
Here’s what you do- put about a cup of coarsely ground coffee into a jar, then add a quart of room temperature water. I’ve tried it with filtered water and straight out of the tap, and I don’t think there’s much of a difference. We have good tap water here- if it’s good enough to drink, it’s probably good enough to brew cold.
So, where were we? Oh yeah, coffee in jar, water in jar, let it sit…I go about 12 hours, or as long as I can remember. A woman at City News, a non-Starbucks coffee institution, told me they brew it for 24 hours. I think the longest I’ve gone was about 16 hours. Then strain- I strain it through a mesh strainer, then use a coffee filter as well.It gets muddy if you skip the second straining.

No photos…jars with coffee… a more talented photographer maybe could make that work.

 I keep a jar in the fridge, and pour it over ice, with a bit of milk and a little raw sugar. I drink it through a straw, so I get little chunks of undissolved sugar on my tongue…bliss. Caffeinated bliss.


worm's eye view of the blooms

In my never ending quest to eliminate lawn (well, I guess it will end someday, when there is no more lawn…) I have planted Siberian Squill in the back yard, next to the hillbilly goldfish pond. I bought  48 bulbs from McClure and Zimmerman, and stabbed into the lawn with my trowel, opened up slits, and placed the bulbs in.

 I’d like to believe it was by design, but I love the way the flowers in the bed by the pond look as if they have just spilled over the sides, and there are little blue flowers mixed in with the grass. They are supposed to spread over the years, and this is the space where the grass is worst- no shade at all, and I don’t water or fertilize. I spread some of my precious compost on the area last year, and I dig out the perennial mallow, but I have to say, the lawn is never my top priority.
Squill has pretty blue flowers, and there are variations- like blue with white stripes and white with blue stripes. Sigh. I just got my new McClure and Zimmerman catalogue, which means they’ve already got me thinking about a new order. I hope to let squill self-seed, and naturalize on its own. To get it to spread, I need to  let the foliage go yellow, which means don’t let the kid from up the street mow for a couple of weeks.

 The kid from up the street said to me today, “can you just give me the money?”

ahahahahah… No.

Bloom Day-Tulips

Looking over the edge of the pond- this is a new bed I just planted last year.

Tiny red/orange species tulips(T. clusiana chrysantha)  that I planted in the same hole with tall white emperor tulips(Purissima). They got snowed on yesterday morning, but have bounced back and are ready for more. I love Spring.

The native shrubs in the xeric bed (i.e. the bed I don’t water very much) are just about to bloom all over the place- so far the only one with open flowers is the golden currant.

Happy little flowers are almost open on the Golden Currant (ribes aureum)

I have seen some lilacs open around town, and an ornamental cherry tree blooming in the park, but so far, not in my yard. We got over an inch of moisture this week from our “rain-snow mix” so everything is greening up, and the bees are waking up. That doesn’t have anything to do with the moisture, though. Anyway, my last bloom is ubiquitous- and I like to believe that if you call plants by their latin name, they aren’t really weeds.

A bee gathering pollen on taraxacum oficianale (dandelion). Yeah, the Latin thing doesn't help...

Citrus in containers

 When the girl was just a twinkle in her dad’s eye, I bought 3 citrus trees from a catalog- tangerine, lemon and lime, all for around 10 bucks. When they arrived, they were tiny- the largest was the lemon, and it was about the size of a pencil, the others were stems with roots. I put them in 8 inch pots, and put them on our west facing porch for the summer. When it got cold in the fall I brought them in, put them in a south window, took care of them through the winter, waited for them to bloom.
And waited…
The girl was a kindergartner when the tangerine tree bloomed, and produced tiny sour fruits… it blooms every other year, or so, and the lemon more regularly. The lime only has bloomed once.
The best winter for them was a year when I took them to school with me- my classroom at the time had a wall of north facing windows, and the heat was turned off at night. Perfect conditions. Indirect sun and cool nights are what everyone recommends for citrus in pots, and that room was perfect for it.

One of my favorite memories of the tangerine is from that year I brought it to school- I had a student who was hungry all the time- all teenage boys are, to a degree, but this guy- hungry all the time. The tangerines were hanging from the branches, still green, still wickedly sour. I was on hall duty, the bell rang and I came inside. The air was fragrant- I could tell someone had picked and eaten a tangerine- “Who?” all the boys tried to look innocent, especially Miguel, whose lips were in a permanent pucker.

Unfortunately, I only had that classroom for a year, and now the trees have to suffer through winter at my house.We have a low-slung ranch house, and there are no north windows, the west ones are shaded. The citrus live in the boy’s room, which therefore has a jungle aura to it. He doesn’t mind, at this point…

I underplanted the lemon with a jade plant- neither seems to suffer, although I can’t say either is benefitting. I have wondered if I should try to separate them, but I think I’d wind up killing both. It’s in a 14 inch pot, near a west window that is shaded. I move it outside in May, and watch the low temperature predictions.
The tangerine is the giant of the bunch, and it bloomed tremendously this winter. Because it bloomed inside, there weren’t any pollinators around, so I had to play bee. I took a paint brush out of the boy’s watercolor set and went around transferring pollen from one blossom to another. There are tiny green marbles on the plant now- although not as many fruits as there were flowers…not an exact science.
The lime is still the tiniest of the three, I may move it to a different pot, with new soil, this spring to see if that will jump start it.

So, at 11 years old,, are these plants thriving? Not really. If I lived in a place where citrus could grow in the ground, and these were ten year old trees, I think I would have more fruit than I could give away. In containers, they are much more like pet houseplants than anything that contributes to my food pantry. The Logee’ s book I reviewed the other day has some helpful tips, that I mostly already learned the hard way, in keeping them alive for 11 years.

 Someday, when I get my conservatory (dreams can come true) maybe they’ll produce more, but right now, I’m kind of disappointed.

 But, hope springs eternal, I’ve ordered a Meyer lemon, also cheap and tiny, and I’ll nurse it to adulthood as well, fighting for window space in my kids’ rooms. It arrived the other day, and I’ll now count down the years until I can make lemon curd. We’ll have a party, with vanilla ice cream, too.

Book Review: Growing Tasty Tropical Plants

I decided I needed a vanilla plant….never mind why… and did a little research on how hard it would be to take care of. I found a very discouraging website that told me vanilla orchids are vines that won’t bloom until they grow 20 feet tall, and that a person needs a large greenhouse to even think about having one.  I was sad. Cue the Charlie Brown music.

Then I went to the Denver Botanic gardens, and found hope. As we were getting ready to leave, at the greenhouse in the children’s section, I saw an employee wrapping a vine around  a structure that appeared to be made of chicken wire and sheet moss. I asked him what it was, and when he said, “Vanilla,” I did actually squee. I told my wonderful mother in law that this meant her son didn’t have to build me a two story greenhouse. (he could, and I wouldn’t mind…but he doesn’t have to).  Vanilla can grow wrapped around a trellis, with bright indirect light, and with the right conditions will bloom in a couple of years.

I discovered the book “Growing Tasty Edible Plants” at the library, and it covers vanilla, as well as citrus, which I have had for a few years, as well as coffee, pomegranate, tea, passion fruit, which I am always tempted by when I see the plants in catalogues, as well as stuff I’ve never heard of before. Peanut butter fruit, anyone?

The authors are Laurelynn Martin and Bryon Martin, and they are co-owners of Logee’s Tropical Plants. Logee’s has a tropical fruit catalogue and nursery, and they’ve apparently appeared on Martha Stewart. I wouldn’t know, I’m much too cool to watch Martha…  The book is informative- it is obvious that these people know their stuff about plants. The writing isn’t stellar, but it is obvious that these guys have lived with the plants they are writing about, they have grown them inside regular houses and greenhouses, and they have eaten the fruit. I get tired of researching plants and finding people who are writing articles about plants they haven’t grown.  The Martins seem to know what they are talking about. 

I went ahead and ordered a vanilla orchid from eBay, and I’ll use the info in this book to help me keep it alive. We should be able to make homemade ice cream in about 2015. You’re all invited.

Dead Goldfish Haiku

Floating sideways up
Milky eye stares at nothing
Fins flapping no more

I bought nine goldfish a couple of weeks ago- I didn’t mean to get so many, but the fish girl and I got to talking, and we both got distracted. She said, “how many did you want?” and I breezily answered that whatever was in the bag was fine…they went into a 30 gallon holding tank in the basement, and they weren’t fine. They went through that nitrogen cycle that you’re supposed to learn about in junior high science, but my science teachers were ski coaches, and I didn’t really pay attention anyway…. Anyway, all nine died pretty quickly, which is what inspired my haiku.

They went into the holding tank because it is still pretty cold here at night. Also, the purpose of having the fish is to eat mosquito larvae; since there aren’t any of those around yet, I would have to feed them fish food, which I try to avoid.
I have put some duckweed in the pond, and a water lily, which has a couple of leaves. When it warms up more I’ll get some water hyacinth from the nursery, and a papyrus to replace one that died.

Today I got 4 goldfish, put them in the holding tank, and hope that chemistry doesn’t go quite so crazy this time. I thought about putting them in the tank outside, but I think it is still too cold at night for them to do well. I’ll have to check my journal to see when I put fish out last year- I think later in April than this… Writing this down makes me wonder why I bothered to get the fish this early, anyway, just to keep them in a holding tank? That’s a good question.

Growing Flax for Fiber

I love it when two nerdy habits intersect- here, gardening intersecting with love of fibery, knitty, spinny stuff. I ordered some flax seed from Pinetree Garden seeds- these are slightly different from the flax seeds that get added to smoothies for their nutritional properties- the varieties used for seed production are different from the variety used for making yarn. The Latin is Linum Usisittissimum- I love it when the Latin name of a plant is so transparent- “useful,” anyone?

herbal image from "C of Books"

I’ve soaked the seeds overnight, and cleared a little spot in the xeric bed that doesn’t currently have anything in it. I scraped away the mulch, and chopped up the soil a little.  I sprinkled the seed, and now I need to keep it moist for… 20-25 days til it germinates.What? That really seems like a long time- probably not a typo on the seed packet, though. If it were a wetter spring, I wouldn’t be so worried, but it has been super dry here, so it has to be me with a watering can until they get established.

The flowers may be either blue or white, on 3-4 foot tall plants, with light, feathery leaves.

At the end of the summer, I’ll pull the plants, and learn how to process them- I’ve already seen some videos made by a living history museum, there seems to be a lot of pounding involved. Can’t wait!

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