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.

Ack! Undormant Fig Tree!

I peeked under the laundry bag which had protected my Chicago Hardy fig from any light in the basement this winter, and was shocked to see that it had leaves, it had buds, it had broken dormancy. Crud. (no pictures, I seem to have misplaced my camera, again) It is warm out, but too cold at night to expose tender new growth. I had also been planning to transplant it into a bigger pot with a self watering resevoir in the bottom, but I don’t think I’ll be able to manhandle it out of the current pot, root prune it, then stick it in the new pot without killing the thing. Or myself.

But it is such a cool plant! Big biblical leaves, dark and shiny in the summer, and last year, it actually produced 2 real live figs- they tasted just like Newtons, except without the cookie part. I think in a bigger pot, with more reliable water, it can produce even more. Here in zone 5, it is not likely to be hardy in the ground, so I am struggling with the pot, and the dormancy. 

I know, some people buy figs at the grocery store. Or they just don’t eat them. Or, they don’t complain about their trees.  From what I have read, though, figs have a long history of people messing with them- I’ve read about Italian immigrants in the Northeast wrapping their fig trees in tarpaper and straw. So, my plan is, wait two weeks, bring it upstairs and put it on the covered porch- it will get more sun, a little cold, but not enough to freeze the new growth, we hope. Next step, ask for help in the transplant process, so I’m not dragging it around myself.

The Logee’s Catalogue

I am on so many plant mailing lists- they know a sucker discriminating plant buyer when they see one. Got a new one the other day, and on one hand, it drives me crazy, and on the other hand, I feel very want-y about,  like, 6 different items. Logee’s specializes in tropical and subtropical plants for containers and greenhouses. I crave almost everything in this thing.

What drives me crazy is the organization. Flipping through it, there are figs and citrus on this page, then blueberries and passionflower, then…more figs and citrus…then papaya and sugar cane, then…another page with figs. Then more citrus. OOh, vanilla! But I have researched this already, and to grow vanilla you need a 2 story greenhouse. (SOMEDAY!)

What tempts me is the Meyer lemon plant, at only $11.50. In most other catalogues, Meyer lemons run about $50. I realize it will be tiny, and I will have to wait many years for the sweet little aromatic lemons to grow to maturity. At this point in my life, though, I honestly do have more time than money.

Also tempted by a tea plant- imagine, I could grow my own tea!!! And a coffee plant- I could grow my own coffee!!! And papyrus- I could grow my own…Egyptian paper!!!

Deep breaths. Deep breaths.

I (accidently) grew a sweet potato!

Way back last summer, there was a sweet potato sprouting in the bin, so I chucked it into an empty flowerpot, with some soil, of course, and put it out on the patio. Sweet potatoes have pretty, heart shaped leaves, and I enjoyed the greenery all summer, honestly not expecting it to have enough soil or water, or warmth, to produce tubers. I didn’t even check at the end of the summer.
Today it’s warm and sunny, so I went out to do some fall clean-up which I should have done when it was actually fall, and emptied out the pot with the sweet potato plant. Imagine my surprise to see an actual sweet potato. there were a couple of small mushy ones, but one was the size of one you’d see at a grocery store. I’m going to eat it on Christmas.

The leaves froze sometime in October, but the tuber stayed alive in a 10 inch flowerpot.

Forcing tulips to do what?

Forcing tulips to bloom, of course, but earlier than they would ordinarily. I’m trying this as an experiment this year- I bought 48 white “Purissima” tulips this year and purposely kept out a six pack to force (okay, okay, I was just sick of digging holes, after also planting 96 species tulips and about a million siberian squill). 

I put them in a six inch pot, kind of cramming them in, and then started thinking. The bulbs need to be cold for at least 8 weeks, but not frozen. Our garage gets too cold, the fridge is perfect, but it really isn’t ideal  for me to have flowerpots in the fridge. Probably somebody else could get away with it… not me.

The previous owners decided to store old curtain rods in here for some reason, but I am going with tulips...

Then I had a brainstorm: in our basement, there is a little door to an undercrawl- the main part of the basement is finished and heated and civilized, but the undercrawl is open to Mother Earth herself. I was considering where to put my pot of tulips, when I thought of that little door. So, the pot is there, to wait out the rest of fall, and a chunk of winter, and then in the dark days of January, after the tree is down, the dangly sparkly things put away, the twinkly lights rolled up and boxed, I will have a little pot of spring waiting for me in the basement.

Hillbilly Goldfish Pond

I keep upgrading my water gardens- I started with a galvanized washtub, which held pretty much 1 fish and some floating plants, then I got a plastic liner for a whiskey barrel, which had space for 2 fish and some floating plants. 

This year, I invested my fortune in a horse trough, which holds about 130 gallons of water, lots of plants and 10 goldfish. At least at the beginning of the year it had 10 goldfish. There’s been some attrition.  oooh, shiny.

Birds love any water feature, no matter what size, and in the years since I have been putting in container ponds, more and more birds have come to the yard.

I have made a concious decision not to have a pond in the ground- for one thing, I think it shrinks the pond.  My tank takes up a good amount of space in the landscape- it provides a structure, a shiny backdrop, a formal oval of water reflecting the sky.  Most naturalistic ponds don’tlook very natural to me, unless they are a lot huger than I have space for.  I think A 130 gallon in-ground pond would look puny and insecure in my garden. When I chose the galvanized metal tank, I decided that I wanted it to not look naturalistic- I wanted the informal formality of an above ground pond. When we had a party this summer, we put in floating candles. It looked magical.

Intalling was easy- I leveled out the place I wanted it to go, digging out the weedy grass next to the patio, and stretching space out- there is a foot wide tulip bed to the west of it, where tulips and irises will help conceal the metal. 

Maintainance is easy, too, maybe too easy, considering how many fish have died this summer.  I dip my watering can in every few days to water tomatoes and potted plants, then top the tank up with a hose. Water hyacinth and a papyrus provide filtration and ogygenation for the fish, and mosquito larvae provide a food source. I don’t have a fountain, because I haven’t wanted to deal with the hassle of electricity. In the future, maybe solar fountain technology will improve, but for now, it is a still water pond.

Fall is here, and the weather is too cold for the water hyacinth and I have moved the papyrus in for the winter.

Growing Lemons in Zone 5 and Other Crazy Hobbies

It is nearly time to move my citrus trees in for the winter. I have a lemon, lime and orange in pots which spend the summer outside, then move inside when it is cold. The dream is one day to get a supply of homegrown citrus. 

There's new growth on the lemon tree, and we hope it blooms this winter.

The reality is disappointing. One year we had quite a few oranges, and tremendous blossoms in January, but that was when the plants came to school with me- I had a classroom with north windows, and it wasn’t heated at night, and I think that was the perfect climate for them.  I changed schools, and my current classroom doesn’t have windows ( I wonder what they were thinking, those school building designers of the late 60’s- “I know, those kids are getting distracted by looking out the windows, so lets make it so they can’t!”) so I have to cram them into the boy’s room, which has the best south and west windows, and hope for the best. They are all three in 14 in diameter pots, and some years they bloom and produce a few fruits, but I am a looong way from self-sufficiency in citrus.

Last year I added another edible plant which won’t survive the winter here, a Chicago Hardy Fig.(    It arrived at the end of the summer, a twig smaller than a pencil with two leaves and a hefty bundle of roots.  The half  page of instructions said:  pot immediately, not let it get colder than 20, and when it went dormant bring it inside to a cool, dark place, keep it moist, but not wet, then bring it into the daylight when there was no longer risk of freezing temps. It was complicated, and made me a little nervous, but the plant made it through the winter, and is currently alive. 

A porous clay vase turns any pot into a self watering container- it holds about 1/2 gallon, and seeps into the soil slowly.

I set up a large clay pot with a porous clay vase inside- the vase holds about ½ gallon of water and slowly seeps through to the soil. While it is outside I fill it every few days.  I kept it in our guest room in the basement last winter, with the twig under a flowerpot to keep it genuinely dark, and periodically filled the vase with water.  In April, I peeked at it, and saw that there were white buds popping, so I moved it to the back porch, ready to bring it inside when frost threatened.

It has grown beautifully all summer. I didn’t expect fruit for a few years, but there are 2 tiny figs on it. It is probably 18 inches tall, and sometime in October I’ll bring it down to the basement again, to start the process again.

Pomegranates might be next on my list of impossible fruits for Colorado- what else?

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