Short on rupees? Aren’t we all.

I used to spend a lot of time on a message board at You Grow  and there was a thread once about the advisability of re-using potting soil, and using fillers in the bottoms of pots to take up space, rather than filling an entire pot with soil. There was a lot of advice back and forth about using Styrofoam peanuts, or aluminum cans, in order to avoid buying that extra bag of potting soil. There was another poster, who was on the boards frequently, a guy from India, and he responded to this thread uncomprehendingly, “Why are you so worried, a bag of soil only costs a few rupees, just buy another bag of soil!”

Well, maybe you don’t have very many rupees to start with, or maybe you just spent a bunch of rupees on a really pretty flower pot, or ski tickets, or new shoes…

I do wind up buying new bags of soil every year, of course, because I have a lot of containers. I also re-use soil. I typically dump my annual pots out into a big bin, as well as the pots of things that were supposed to be perennial but didn’t get that information and died anyway. I dump the pots out, break up clumps and stir in more compost.

The other strategy I have been using is to fill space in the bottom of big pots with stuff other than soil. Like I said before, I have seen recommendations for using styrofoam peanuts or pop cans. The one time I tried styrofoam, it was really gross when I tried to dump it and reuse the soil- muddy foam chunks.  It was such a mess, I never want to try it again.

Last year, I read on the interwebs) about a development group  in urban Mexico which was helping people grow their own food in 5 gallon buckets. They got free buckets from stores, but their soil was in short supply, and they were low on rupees (er, I mean pesos) too. They did have access to weeds, sticks and branches. They experimented with chopping up twigs and weeds and filling the buckets most of the way, then filling to the top with good soil. Then they would plant tomatoes and other plants. By the end of the growing season, the sticks and leaves would have decomposed, and they would have rich new soil for the next time.

So, I read this last year, thought about my shortage of pesos, rupees, er, dollars… and thought to myself, I have weeds, sticks and branches… I tried it with two pots, I used twigs no bigger than a pencil to fill most of the pot, then a big wad of dandelions. Since I knew it would break down, I filled it to within a couple of inches of the top, then put in the decent soil and plants.

bucket of weeds- there's more where that came from

One pot held an artichoke, and it didn’t do well at all. I suspect it was because when we left town it got too dry. I was counting on all the organic matter in the bottom to be a reservoir for moisture, but the roots just hadn’t gotten that far down yet when we went on vacation.

The other pot had a pomegranate tree, and it is doing fine a year later. I brought it inside last fall, it went dormant for a couple of months, then woke up again and started putting out leaves with the sun that came through the basement window. The soil level did sink down- it started an inch below the rim, now it is probably 4 inches below the rim.  I had planned on re-potting the pomegranate anyway, the sinking soil just accelerated the process.

In the future, I don’t think I’ll use this method for perennials, it is kind of a pain to re-pot anyway, so doing it twice as often doesn’t seem to be worth it.  I have done it again this year, with a pot of lilies mixed with  sugar snap peas- I want the peas on the patio for snacking on, and the lilies are for color. I could say I want the lilies to act as living trellises for the peas, but that would imply I had planned ahead.  I have a couple other big pots that need filling, for geraniums and stuff, and we certainly have enough weeds and sticks.


Diagonal Apple Tree

I’ve written before about my travails with my Golden Delicious apple tree( it’s my favorite-). After 5 years of struggling in my orchard without quite enough water, the poor guy went horizontal last October in an early season snowstorm. I pulled it back as close as I could to vertical, which is about 75 degrees, (I don’t know, I don’t have a protractor!) and tied it to 2 stakes. My most recent worry was a late season snowstorm, when rain turned to snow on April 2. I wasn’t so much worried that the buds would freeze, I was worried that branches would break off, or that it would go horizontal again and just keel over completely.

It didn’t. So, that’s good news, I guess, if not exactly worthy of a whole blog post…My worries were groundless. The blossoms look fine, and it is getting warm enough for pollinators, so we should have some apples- Golden Delicious, my favorite.

I am keeping the stakes in place, the tree is still leaning to the north, and the 2 stakes pull is pretty steadily to the south. I may add another stake to take some of the pressure off. This June, I again plan to put paper bags on the fruit to get organic apples– I’m bringing my good stapler home from work.

Shows how much you know, it’s only mostly dead!

it's alive!

A Northstar sour cherry tree was one of the first things I planted when we moved to this house, 11 years ago. It is what enabled me to call the mini fenced off garden area “the orchard” which I think still makes people wonder about me- um, rampant raspberries, a horizontal apple tree, some wayward herbs and a dead cherry tree? That’s an orchard?
Ha! The cherrry tree isn’t dead, I found out today- it actually has one major branch that is still alive, with buds breaking out and everything. The sprinkler is on it now, and it will get a scoop of compost, and as soon as everything that is going to leaf out does, I will go in with a pruning saw and take out dead wood. The major branch that is still alive will make a new leader, and we’ll see how well it does.

My hope is that the root system is still healthy enough that the one living limb can become the new leader.  I am guessing that lack of moisture is the problem with this tree.   The herbs and strawberries that are the understory of the orchard thrive without supplemental irrigation. What the lemon balm, chives and spring bulbs need, in terms of water, is much less than what the cherry needs. I need to solve that problem this summer. I have been building the soil with mulch and compost, and I’ll continue to do that. This could be a case of the tree solving its own problem- not enough water for a mid sized tree? Okay, kill off some branches, here’s enough water for a tiny tree.

I will ahve to decide, at some point, when to cut my losses, take out the tree and replace it- what do you think? One more year?

Bloom Day- Apple Blossoms

A wall of flower petals.

I have an elderly apple tree which continually grows into the power lines and every year city crews come by to whack it back. The apples are sour, and numerous (overly numerous most years). This is the best year for blossoms I can remember- the tree is a shower and curtain of blooms. And, they are predicting a snow tonight, and a low of 28 degrees. Sigh. I guess we won’t have to worry about numerous apples this year.

"Ooh-leee-oool" I think that's how you say it, anyway. The French don't spell things like they say them.

Also in bloom- species tulips, white,purple and yellow hybrid tulips ones whose variety I can’t remember. There is one blooming “oullioules” tulip, out of 50 I planted several years ago. It is my absolute favorite pink tulip- it is kind of on the orchid-colored range of pink, with white stripes. It makes me realize I should buy a bunch more. I also have siberian squill and grape hyacinth, which are both naturalizing nicely.
Golden currant, lilac and mock orange shrubs are blossoming as well, and a goumi shrub. Goumi is related to russian olive and is a nitrogen fixer. It is supposed to have delicious fruit, but this one has never produced any, to my knowledge. It is windy enough that the flowers on shrubs are coming out ridiculously blurry. It is the storm coming in.
And, of course, the dandelions are in full bloom. hooray! I know, I should have picked them before they bloomed and eaten them…

Spring Cleaning- the Hillbilly Goldfish Pond

Even pond scum looks pretty in the sunset.

I left the water lily in the pond (okay, it’s a horse trough) over the winter, and didn’t cover the tank up, so any and all leaves and detritus that got in, stayed in.

I skimmed the scum off the other day with a mesh thing that I got at the dollar store- I think it was originally intended to prevent grease from splatting all over the place when you fry stuff. It works great for skimming scum, though. Frugal, or cheap? Either way.
I pulled up the lily, and it had new growth. I pulled off some of the last leaves from last year and tossed the plant back in the tank. My pond book says to re-pot in a mesh basket in heavy clay with fine gravel on top, but I think I am going to be lazy. I’ll let you know how that turns out.

We wait for warmer weather before putting in goldfish- cheap feeder ones from the pet store. I mostly have them to eat mosquito larvae, and it isn’t hot enough for mosquitoes yet. In the past, I have brought goldfish inside for the winter, but we are starting over with young, cheap ones this year. Wow, I did say cheap twice to describe my choice of fish…I bought a $10 koi one time, when I first started with an outside pond. It died pretty quickly.

White emporor tulips on the west side of my 100 gallon horse trough

White emperor tulips on the west side of my 100 gallon horse trough.

Before the fish come home, I will scoop out most of the leaves and rotten gunk in the bottom of the pond and put it  in the compost. I am waiting for a warmer day- the water is still pretty cold. I think we’ll also do some science, and do an ammonia and pH test on the water. The boy recently learned about the pH scale, and spent a happy afternoon cleaning the copper bottoms of my pans with lemon juice, lime juice and vinegar.

Speaking of science, if you didn’t get a chance to see Nova’s recent episode about the periodic table, check it out Nova link There are explosions and everything!

Chives- you can grow that!

One of the first perennial edibles to pop up in spring, good old reliable chives.

Do you have a tiny amount of space, and want some herbs? Or, do you have a lot of space to fill and are looking for something cheap that will spread? One of the most reliable edibles that come up this time of year is chives.
They belong to the onion family, but the greens taste much milder than green onions- not as sharp. To start from seed, dump a whole packet on the soil of a small pot, water regularly. Very fine grass like leaves will start to come up, with a sharp bend in the end, and the seed coat still attached to the shoot. Leave it alone, it will fall off on it’s own. If you are starting the seeds inside, harden them off by leaving them outside for an hour or two per day- if you transplant them straight to the outside they’ll burn and die. Moment of silence…
Okay- if you buy a pot at a nursery, they will most likely be hardened off already, and you can plop them into the ground or into a container. They have such a shallow root system they can go into a container with other things.
Snip off individual shoots and flowers- the flowers are edible, and have a funky texture- funky in a good way. Eat them with potatoes, obviously, or deviled eggs. That reminds me, we need to get eggs and mess up the kitchen…there is still dye on the tablecloth from last year.
If you wind up not eating the flowers, let them go to seed, that way your patch will spread. As I said, chives don’t need very deep soil- in fact, when I build my dream shed, I plan to plant chives on the green roof. We just have to tear down that playhouse, mwah ha ha ha!!!

I have also considered the possibility of a chive lawn- it looks so grassy, and doesn’t take much water…and just think of the fragrance when you mow…yeah, maybe not.


Edited to add- I keep forgetting to mention that “You can grow that” is a meme created by C.L. Fornari, genius garden writer. If you came here via her site, welcome.  To find more blogs with growing tips, go to C.L.’s site!