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Citrus- you can grow that


The leaves are falling, must be time to cover the tomatoes and bring in the houseplants.

Freeze predicted tonight-the radio people keep saying “temperatures in the 30’s” which seems unfairly vague. It is  time to move my pots of citrus inside for the zone 5 fall and winter. and much of spring, if we are honest.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, now 12, I bought a lemon, a lime and an “orange” tree for about 10 bucks, for all 3 from a catalog- don’t remember which one. I thought I was getting a huge bargain- when they arrived, they were twigs.
The biggest was the lemon, which had a trunk as big around as a pencil, and about 4 leaves. The other two were like q-tips. So I planted them and waited.
I didn’t just wait- I had a baby, and watched the baby grow, and taught middle school, and then had another baby and watched that baby grow, and when that baby was walking, the orange tree bloomed.
Heavenly smell, tiny bb sized fruit, that grew to marble sized, then…what’s smaller than a ping pong ball? A big marble? Yeah, big marble-sized. They ripened to orange, but remained small and sour.
Since then, the lemon has produced actual real sized lemons, but not very many, and the lime has produced actual real sized limes, but, again, not very many.
Why bother, then?
They are pretty plants. I have other house plants that don’t do much of anything other than purify the air. When these bloom, they smell amazing, even on the patio. In the Boy’s room, which has the best light, they fill the air with fragrance when they bloom in the winter. The novelty is another reason- one year I brought them to school for the winter, when I had a classroom with windows, and students would bring their friends in and dare them to eat the oranges.
Order them, or if you have a good local nursery with citrus, buy there. Once they are big, they take a big pot- mine are about 12 years old now, and are in 14 inch pots. I use a dolly to move them outside in the spring and back inside in October.
When they come in, spray with the hose attachment of the kitchen sink, under the leaves especially to get rid of any hitchhikers. Looking at this, I realize it might make more sense to spray them outside, instead of in the kitchen, especially if by “hitchhikers” I mean “tiny bugs.”  Which I do.
Citrus like bright indirect light, and humidity. Much like myself. Not too much humidity, though. Dry air can make them drop leaves. It hasn’t been cold enough for the heat to come on very much yet, so there isn’t too much difference in humidity bringing them inside. The Boy’s room has a fish tank which evaporates enough that the plants do okay.
You don’t have to buy a plant, if you are in it to experiment. A neighbor of my mom’s planted a grapefruit seed, or her toddler did, probably close to 50 years ago. It grew big enough that they couldn’t fit it in their house, so they donated it to the public library, where it brushed the ceiling in the children’s section when I was a kid. Don’t know if it is still there.

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The Ubiquitous Mason Jar


lots of duckweed, little bit of water

We went to the river park this week. There are steps down to the Big Thompson river, where you can float or splash, or put in your tubes and drift down the river. We didn’t bring tubes, but ran into friends who shared with Kate.  There are sprayers where the little kids can shriek and splash and get soaked in relative safety, and there is a bridge under which the water slows down a little, spreads out into shallows, where you can look for crawdads. This is where we spent the bulk of our time. The boy discovered that when crawdads are really little, they just tickle when they pinch.

In Gaia’a Garden (I know, terrible title, great book) there is a description of a project where you take water samples from several different places, with plants and muck and life, mix them in a mason jar, put the lid on and then watch. The idea is that you are mixing elements and creating an ecosystem that is not quite pond, not quite river, not quite lake, but a blend of the three.
I told the boy about the mason jar project at bedtime, and he was fired up- he couldn’t think about anything else. Right after breakfast he asked for a jar, and kept asking when we could go. Obviously, I needed coffee first. And there was that pesky dental appointment…

We went out in the afternoon, after a wonderful thunderstorm. There is a wetland by Kate’s school, but no way to get to open water, so we wound up going to the Sculpture park near our house. This park has a chain of wetlands, culverts and open water, so we were able to find swampy still water, fast running aerated water, and duckweed covered water.

This lake is usually deeper than this…

The final piece of the puzzle was mud, from the reservoir. They have been lowering the water level alarmingly, and we had to walk out quite a ways in the mud. It was pretty gross.

The water is clearing, and the mud has settled, and we can see stuff swimming around.  The boy had high hopes for a minnow, but I don’t think we caught one.

Yes, I am aware of what 3 cups of pond water would smell like if it spilled on top of legos. We would probably have to move. But, we are also trying not to spill.

Vanilla Vine update


Not only has my vanilla plant survived the winter, but it has even grown- it isn’t to the top of the trellis, but it has quite a bit of new growth on it, and some aerial roots going into the moss on the trellis. The trellis is made of 2 layers of hardware cloth, with sheet moss in between the layers and orchid potting mix inside the cylinder.

Ignore the messy kitchen counter…

My pop bottle humidity system is not perfect- it takes a while to dial it in to slow drip, and about once a week I just bring the whole contraption to the kitchen and hose it down with the sprayer. I moved it out to the back porch today, and I’ll splash it with the hose regularly.

I added a grocery store orchid to the pot- vanilla is a type of orchid, after all, and they should like the same conditions. I don’t remember what kind of orchid it is, and the tag just says “orchid.” C’m0n, grocery store…

Short on rupees? Aren’t we all.


I used to spend a lot of time on a message board at You Grow Girl.com  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.

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! http://wholelifegardening.com

Bloom Day- Welcome Back Topside, Persephone!


I love these flowers! Even if they weren't the first thing blooming, only thing blooming, right now, I would still love them.

Technically, as both my children are fond of pointing out, it isn’t spring until the equinox, but it sure feels like Spring. Like Hades has lost his grip on his lovely wife, and she has moved back in with Mom.

Only two things blooming in my zone 5 yard right now, Iris Reticulata, also known as dwarf iris, and crocus. I looked for squill, which I have mixed in the with lawn, but didn’t find any, so either it didn’t survive, or it will bloom later.

I wonder why the yellow crocus seem to bloom earlier than the purple?

Inside, we have blooms on the lemon tree, or it might be lime…I lost the tags, and I know I have one of each the same age, but can’t remember which is which. I’ll pollinate it with a watercolor brush, and hopefully when it bears fruit, I’ll remember to put a label on it.

Lemon or lime?

You can grow this- microgreens


mmmm...microgreens

Yuppie chow. Rabbit Food. Microgreens. All the same thing- bags of tiny salad mix work out to 20 bucks a pound, but really, you can grow this, right now, on your kitchen counter.
I got a packet of seeds at the store- Botanical Interests is a local company. Their “mild mix” has beet, red cabbage, kohlrabi, pak choi and swiss chard in it. The sprouts are supposed to emerge in 5-10 days, and the leaves are ready to pick in around 25 days, once they get 1-2 inches tall.
You can cut them, toss into a salad or onto a sandwich, and the plants keep growing there in the pot. A few days later, there is enough for another salad- theoretically.
I put them into a 6″pot on the kitchen counter- they don’t need much light until they sprout, and once they sprout, I’ll move them to where they’ll get more light. There is enough in the package for a whole flat, but I don’t want to give up that much space for it. It suits me better to get a pot going now, then start another in a few weeks, that way as the first pot is petering out, the new one is coming into production.  As the weather gets warmer, I can grow this same mix outside as well. So can you- you can grow this.

I scattered the seeds thinly on moist soil, and I gently spray it twice a day with the kitchen sink sprayer.

CSI- Meyer Lemon


Now, that's what I call a dead parrot.

A corollary to the idea that I should be knitting (and skiing) at the top ten percent of my ability, is that if I am not killing plants, I am not challenging myself as a gardener. Well, I killed my Meyer lemon tree, so I guess that counts.
It isn’t terribly mysterious why, though. Not enough water.
Interesting fact, more houseplants are killed by overwatering than underwatering.

Not in my house, you say, well maybe. Usually, overzealous plant owners water too much, which waterlogs the roots. Roots need oxygen, and when they can’t get it, the plant dies.
Not in this case, however. The Boy’s room has windows facing south and west, and he is generous enough to let me keep my plants in there- in the winter he lives in the jungle room, essentially. I usually go in there every few weeks with a jug of water and splash everything. Most of the plants are in fairly large ceramic pots, but the Meyer lemon is…was in an 8 inch diameter clay pot. The splash of water every couple of weeks was not enough to keep the soil moist.
When I discovered the wilty leaves, I overcompensated by thoroughly soaking it in the kitchen sink. It died anyway.
Cue the sad music.
I’ll get another Meyer lemon- try to keep it going. I can’t decide whether I should buy a larger size than what I started with (I paid roughly $10 for a tiny plant in a 2.5 inch pot) so I can just pretend I didn’t lose a year’s growth…what do you think?

Vanilla Vine Update


So, I built this whole elaborate trellis, and posted a tutorial, for a vanilla orchid vine that is supposed to get to 20 feet tall.

I do think having the sheetmoss-filled tower was helpful in raising the humidity around the plant.

It turns out, I could have waited a while.
The humidity tower/trellis is two feet tall. The vanilla orchid is 6 inches tall. Assuming I can keep it alive over the winter, I am going to hope it grows faster next summer. If you got here through Google, researching the care and feeding of homegrown vanilla, rest assured that you don’t need a huge trellis for your vanilla cutting right away.
If you are just a friend or relation, well, I guess you already knew I was an optimist.
We had a frost warning at around sunset last week, causing me to whine and moan and get out the dolly so I could move big flowerpots around, and whine and moan some more. That is when I brought in the vanilla, and took a quick picture, under the lovely fluorescent lighting of the kitchen.
I had picked all the ripe tomatoes I could see, and put a giant duvet cover over the trellis, so I wasn’t too worried about that.
The stress is bringing in the houseplants- tropicals that love the summer weather but can’t take the cold. I usually spray them off so fewer hitchhikers come inside with them- the occasional spider is fine, but no aphids or scale, thank you very much. I couldn’t face doing that last night. This week has been busy for DH and me, and I was hoping I could wait and move flowerpots on Sunday…
It turns out the frost alert was a false alarm, and predictions are for temps in the 70’s and 80’s. Next week,  I will have the strength to wheel flowerpots with citrus trees inside, heave them up to the sink, spray them off, mop the floor….Just thinking about it makes me tired.

I do think having the sheetmoss-filled tower was helpful in raising the humidity around the plant.

Rhapsody in Terra Cotta


I love the way clay pots age- I have had this terra cotta pot for maybe 10 years- I remember being a little appalled at how much it cost- we were broke back then, and it felt like $20 was just so much money for a flower pot. But as the years have gone by, it has acquired such a nice patina, so earthy.

I have since budgeted more money for containers, and buy fancy ceramic pots with blue glaze, but I still really like these beat up old terra cotta pots.

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