Epsom Salt Issues Wake-Up Call to Indoor Plants

A few weeks ago, I read about Epsom Salt as an additive to improve performance and yield of vegetable gardens. I thought to myself, “Hmm, I wonder if it would help any of my discouraged and unmotivated indoor garden denizens.”

Epsom Salt Rumored to Bring the Power

Happy happy year-old basil in its pot with the ginger roots.

Happy happy year-old basil in its pot with the ginger roots.

The instructions on the DIY website that I’d found (and can’t seem to find again) said to add a tablespoon of Epsom Salt to a gallon of water before giving the plants their daily watering in the morning – and to do so for ten days. That’s a lot of Epsom Salt, folks, even more than I’d normally add to a soaking bath.

Instead of the full recommended dose, I took just a wee pinch (that’s the scientific term for about 1/32 of a teaspoon, give or take a grain), and sprinkled it on top of the water in the plastic drinking glass that I use to water the dining room plants each morning.

Seven Days to Overnight Epsom Salt Success

I marked the calendar to give this a ten-day try, just to see if it would help the plants or turn them into candidates for the compost heap.

Naturally, since I have the patience of a four year old, I started looking for signs of progress the same day I started. Nothing happened.

Next day – nothing.

Can you see the new peppers? Huge!

Can you see the new peppers? Huge!

Third day, however, there were five new blossoms on the pepper plant… unusual since I am pleasantly astounded when I get ONE.

Fourth day, and the unnamed green leafy houseplant-resembling thing on the top of the bookcase was starting to look a bit happier, greener and leafier.

I was still skeptical, but by the fifth day the two year old mint had morphed from a scrawny heap of twisted half-dead vines to a small field of leaf buds.

Day six, and the clump of ginger roots had started to produce sprouts after five months of nada. Its companion basil (they share a large pot) had gained about 20% more healthy leaves.

The bright green leaves are all brand new!

The rubber tree’s bright green leaves are all brand new! (*NOT a rubber tree – turns out I was misinformed)

And by the seventh day, every single plant was showing signs of growth or reactivation (except the sumac, and that’s been dead for over a year).

I gave them a few days off, then started using the Epsom Salt again on the third day. Now, after a total of ten days of ‘salting’, even the ancient rubber tree (still recovering from being nipped and chewed on by Annie “Godzilla” Wingnut, our new two-year-old cat) is showing signs of renewed hope in the form of five HUGE leaves.

The Science Behind the Miracle

Pardon me while I climb off my proud-gardener-mommy soapbox a moment to explain what’s going on.

The Epsom Salt Council website says (and I quote):

Magnesium and sulfur are two naturally occurring minerals that are major components of Epsom salt. Magnesium is a critical mineral for seed germination. Plants use it to produce chlorophyll and as an aid in the absorption of phosphorus and nitrogen. Sulfur is also a key element in plant growth, helping produce vitamins. Tests by the National Gardening Association show that Epsom salt helps produce more flowers and makes pepper plants grow larger.

More flowers and larger plants? Yes, please – and it’s definitely working.

So if your garden is showing signs of being tired and disillusioned, just slip a wee bit of Epsom Salt into their drinking water – and stand back. You can pick up boxes of Epsom Salt almost anywhere, or you can click this handy-dandy little link that’ll help you buy some at Amazon in the Epsom Salt department. (Yep, that’s an affiliate link)

To your garden success!
Casey – the Garden Lass

7 Reasons to Fall in Love with Click and Grow Systems

I am learning to garden indoors for many reasons — chiefly wind, heat, and brutal sunshine. I don’t attempt to grow much stuff outside on the patio since seeing my Topsy Turvy tomato plant hangers snapping in the breeze over the fence like extremely expensive wind socks.

Not since seeing our ‘normal wind’ rip the cover off my VegTrug and nearly fling it out across the valley, despite hefty tie-downs, duct tape and zip ties.

The compost system is now tied down with concrete blocks and is going nowhere now. You’re welcome, neighbor.

So, yes, the dream of an indoor grow system has crossed my mind on more than one occasion.

Smashing Some Preconceived Notions about Grow Systems

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I’ve thought of grow systems as being along the lines of the coolest one I’ve ever seen – from the 1972 sci-fi movie Silent Running with Bruce Dern – and that one didn’t even exist.

Since I never had the urge to colonize Mars or boldly go where no person has gone before, grow systems didn’t make much sense to worry about. Now, 42 years later, real life technology has caught up with and surpassed my sci-fi-conceived notions.

This is not a grow systems review, but it’s some good reasons to fall in love…

Under the best conditions, I would be writing a review of a system with which I’ve had a few months of experience. In this case, I haven’t tried the grow systems I just ‘met’ – Click & Grow – but I can hardly wait for my Smart Herb Garden to arrive!

  1. For one thing, the Click & Grow system is small (13.9″ x 4.96″ x 12.1″ – weighs 2.19 pounds), so I will not have to build a space-traversing bubble-enclosed space vessel to use it. That’s a good thing, given how difficult air travel is these days.
  2. The Click & Grow systems only need to be watered every few weeks, and the system will tell me when to do so. I’ll take that peace of mind any day! No more need to guess which plant needs how much water and when – or fretting about over-watering, under-watering, or feeding.
  3. Click & Grow systems modules are available with mini tomato, chili pepper, basil, thyme, garden sage, lemon balm, sugar leaf.  You can also grow decorative plants: busy lizzy, china pink, cockscomb, lamb’s ear, painted nettle, and more plants are in line to be offered.
  4. They’re in the process of setting up to provide Pro refills for those who want to sow their own seeds – that’ll be me in a few months, given that I love starting stuff from seeds!
  5. There are no pesticides, fungicides, insecticides, plant hormones or other suspicious substances. And not a single GMO in the bunch.
  6. To quote their Facebook page: What makes Click & Grow special is that plants grow in [the system] on their own, without any outside help. A plant that grows in the Click & Grow flowerpot does not need watering, fertilizing or any other kind of care. The whole process of plant growth is taken care of by the sensors, processor and special software in the pot. A truly remarkable gadget for the modern person! (I’m a modern person; I want that!)
  7. The dang thing runs on batteries (although I’m getting the Click & Grow Smart Herb Garden that’s supposed to plug into a wall).

Click and Grow Systems are More than Just Cool Tech Stuff

One of the coolest things about Click & Grow is that it was ‘grown’ with the help of Kickstarter. I’m a major fan of and constant participant in crowdsourced innovation at Kickstarter. Participating companies can run fast and low to the ground, eyes open and on high alert, listening to their crowd.

“What’s that got to do with gardening?” I hear you ask. Not much… and everything. Lots of gardeners are innovators and inventors. As our planet’s climate rock ‘n rolls in chaotic directions, we’ve gotten smarter and better, more creative, more responsive. I’m all for getting behind products and processes that will keep us getting smarter and better – and Click & Grow feels like one of them.

How to Turn Your Unused Dining Room into a Garden Paradise

Do People Dine in Your Dining Room?

Used to be a dining room!

Used to be a dining room!

Has your family gathered together around a dining room table — during this century?

When was the last time you held a formal dinner party? In this lifetime, that is?

Does that big expensive oak dining room table support stacks of old magazines and tax paperwork for 2003?

If you stopped laughing long enough to answer ‘no’ to any of the above (or all of the above), wouldn’t you love to stop torturing yourself and enjoy that room?

“HA!” I hear you say. “The folks come over once every nine years for Thanksgiving dinner. Where oh where would I feed them?” (A restaurant? Rent a table? An unfinished door, turned sideways, and supported by sawhorses or trestles, Tuscany style? You’re clever; you’ll figure it out when the time comes.)

Erase the Dining Room and Build a Garden

Sell the dining room table – or foist it off on “someone who dines” (or still thinks they can get everyone to sit down around a dining room table once a year).

Take the money and buy some old shelves from the second-hand store. Cover them with contact paper if you’re craftily inclined. While you’re there, pick up some old pots and saucers.

Dirt and water obey the laws of gravity, no matter how careful you are. Your white carpet will not survive this. Trust me. If your former dining room has carpet, consider removing it.

Don’t go all fancy with super-duper plant lighting systems and gro-everything fixtures, or you risk replacing a guilt-filled dining room with a guilt-filled garden room.

The local garden center will see you coming a mile away, and want to help you get your new garden area outfitted with the latest and greatest. Run away. Don’t buy a load of expensive gardening gear if there’s the slightest chance that you’d feel terrible about if you end up tossing it in a year.

Get some soil – or dirt (to use the nontechnical term). It comes in bags, and some of them have zip closures. Don’t worry about being fussy with additives and amendments. Get a little bottle of Miracle Gro to mix into your plant water once in a while. It might work, if only to make you feel like you’re doing garden’y stuff for your plants.

Add Plants to Your “Dining Room” Garden

Plant stuff. Doesn’t have to be fancy stuff. In fact, the low-rent stuff at the grocery checkout counter will do just fine for starters. Just don’t get the plastic and silk ones. They won’t grow, and watering them is a waste of time.

When you find yourself reaching for the ninth plant, stop. Begin with a few little plants, and see how things go. You’ll know when it’s time to add to the plant count.

Get a small stack of peat pots. They work well for starting seeds, and they feel garden’ish and productive. You may not need them if you have a ton of old butter dishes and cottage cheese containers –  those work great if you stack two together and poke drainage holes in the bottom of the inside one.

Resist the kits where you plant six herbs in one dish. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme songs notwithstanding, one will thrive and eat the others out of house and home. None of the herbs will want exactly what the others do, and it’s easier to avoid a fight by keeping them in separate pots.

Some plants will live; some will chug along and gripe every second of the way. Some will outright die. Plants do that, no matter what color your thumbs. It’s the journey, not the destination salad. Grow things you love to look at and talk to.

Admire, and Water Once in a While

Now, in the morning when you go past the room that used to be your dining room on the way to get coffee, detour and admire your new plants. Water when they’re thirsty. Turn some toward the sunshine if they’re groping for more light. When one gets too big for a pot, put it in a bigger pot.

Voila. You’re the proud owner of an indoor garden, minus the dining room guilt.

To your garden success!
Casey – the Garden Lass

Bonsai for the Utterly Clueless Like Me

Back when I was first thinking about starting a garden, when my eyes were full of stars and unrealistic expectations, I decided to get my inexperienced feet wet with a couple of bonsai projects. Don’t ask what I was thinking.

Before Bonsai, Chaos

two bonsai

Rosemary bonsai (left), dwarf jade (right)

Keep in mind, this is me. No houseplant was safe under the same roof as me at the old house. Even the silk roses and decorative artificials trembled at my passing, for fear I’d water them. I’d like to blame Feng Shui. The old place had a bad layout, bad karma, bad attitude – but the truth is more like “I was completely clueless.” There. Truth in blogging.

Fast forward a few months and now I’m growing yellow squash, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, a jalapeno plant, two tamarind trees, a staghorn sumac and two bonsai who should know better since they were the first to suffer at my hand under this roof. (We won’t count the outside roses which are doing shockingly well.)

Bonsai in Survival Mode Despite Me

Today’s Examiner article about Top 5 essential bonsai care tasks got me to thinking about my own success or sheer luck. I think part of the reason the bonsai – a dwarf jade and a rosemary – are doing so well is that I was petrified of wrecking them so I did approximately nothing for four months. Each morning I’d sneak up on them and wave the watering can overhead, check the soil to make sure it hadn’t turned into concrete, and slink away.

To be fair, I did try to prune the rosemary bonsai. BAD idea. Picture a mountain lion, and how happy it’d be when trimmed like a French poodle. After that, I just kept the scissors out of sight unless I was baking chicken.

The dwarf jade bonsai is doing ok, considering the period of benign neglect it got at first. Let’s not talk about the two weeks where I misplaced it, ok? I’m a bad plant mom – and a dwarf jade is a small plant. I had nestled it between two pots of very robust decorative green thingamabobs, species unknown, and sorta — forgot to check it.  **scuffs foot**

Bottom Line

If you’re with me this far, you’ll know I’m quite happy to recommend bonsai to anyone who needs to relax. It takes time, patience, a little space, and the ability to watch peacefully for a few years – all traits I’d love to cultivate to their fullest.  I also started by buying a large armful of books – everything I could find about bonsai for beginners, bonsai for learning, bonsai for dummies – and read ’em all.

Here’s my Readaholic’s Recommendation: Totally Bonsai: A Guide to Growing, Shaping, and Caring for Miniature Trees and Shrubs for more about bonsai including starting, care, and the species most suited to beginner bonsai. That’ll definitely get you off on the right foot. It’s by Craig Coussins, is beautifully illustrated, and spends time on facts and recommendations without being dry and scientific. I give it – and Craig – five BIG gold stars.

From Here to Maturity: Cauliflower needs to morph into cauliflower soon

jade cauliflower compared with seed packet

Doesn’t look all that cauliflower’y for now…

The back of the package says, “Harvest 60 days.” I beam with anticipation. I love cauliflower – steamed, roasted, baked, pan-fried, covered with a tangy low-sodium lemon spray.

Then I do the count of days between when the cauliflower was seeded and when it sprouted, and out 60 days. Cauliflower for dinner on the 26th of June!

Then I look at the package picture as I look at the cauliflower plants. When exactly is this dude going to look like a cauliflower, anyway? By my calculations, it has 13 days to turn into what I see on the package. I’m assuming it’s not going to happen overnight – but no assumption is out of range for the neophyte gardener that I am.

Do you have a good pictorial guide that shows what to expect at the various stages of cauliflower becoming cauliflower? Anyone?

 

Planting ginger now for a ginger rice chicken dinner in two years

ginger root straight from the market

Some beautiful ginger roots ready to grow (and season chicken)

This afternoon Erik brought home a lovely ginger root, some of which is destined for a ginger chicken recipe I’ve been hoarding. Since we’ve gone low-sodium, any recipe that complies with doctor’s orders is a keeper.  Now that I’m gardening as well as cooking, I look at almost anything as an ingredient I could grow. Well, not tuna or chicken or other proteins with legs! But beans, peas, carrots, broccoli – ginger!

I started my usual way, search engine in hand, looking for suggestion about growing ginger (and found a wonderful gardening place in north eastern Ohio named Chiot’s Run as a result – waves hi to Susy!) Lucky for me, she’s given a step-by-step plan of attack.

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Within the first few paragraphs, I knew why my previous efforts had failed. So I set off determined to follow HER guideline instead of the accumulation of nine other sites that I’d tried before (and failed).

Moral of the story? Listen to the wizard in front of you.

Tonight the ginger gets soaked overnight, and tomorrow it’ll get planted. Big question is: Will it get planted with the buds UP? or DOWN? So far I’ve seen it 50% UP and 50% down, and I could use a tiebreaker!

Run, darling! Save yourself! Indoor gardening out of control.

yellow squash threatens neighborhood

Yellow squash leans out window and threatens neighborhood horses

When I read Sunset Magazine, it’s the shaded emerald lawns and rock-path back yards and graceful koi ponds that grab my attention. The ones with the ivy-glazed gazebos and hobbit-sized reading benches, and nary a weed in sight.

Nothing in any magazine could have prepared me for the yellow squash that has taken over the dining room.

Seed packages need information for beginning gardeners

Warning, this squash will eat your sofa

Nowhere on the seed packet did it say “When it grows up, this plant will produce leaves bigger than your average domestic cat.”

No. Nobody would buy yellow squash plant seeds if they said “This squash may inhale your dining room chairs.”

I now believe that seed packages need to have warning labels specifically designed for the new gardener: “Warning. This zucchini will hold your Pomeranian hostage until you distract it with buffalo bones and harness it with razor wire.”

Cymbidium Basic Must-Know Gotta-Have Essentials

Lady Cymbidium, of the Spoiled Brat Genus, takes her tea with lemon

From the moment I acquired my cymbidium from Home Depot .. wait, what? Doesn’t everybody buy their orchids at the local big box home improvement outlet?

As I was saying, from that moment, I was enchanted with the graceful leaves, the delicate stem of perfect orchid-like flowers – that is, by the ones I’d seen in home decorating magazines and adorning wealth-laden apartments on TV. The real one? Not so much. It was nice, but it felt far from what I’d expected. Now this had nothing to do with where I bought it and, probably, more to do with where we live. We’re desert-dwellers, California Zone 10, “High Desert Areas of Arizona and New Mexico” per Sunset Magazine.  This might be code for “we kill almost anything that grows.”

I brought home Lady Cymbidium, and spent the afternoon surfing the web for some operating instructions. After the first few oft-conflicting sites, I was wondering about the wisdom of taking on this particular prima donna. I have met teenagers less picky than a cymbidium.

Temperature:  Cymbidium tolerates high summer heat if it can have cool mild nights (50-65 F). Keep away from frost.

Light: Cymbidium wants morning and afternoon sun, but not mid-day sun. If it has a light green leaf with just a touch of yellow, it’s getting plenty of sun. If its leaves turn dark green, it needs more sun.

Feeding: From February to June, feed with HIGH nitrogen fertilizers (25-9-9). From August until January, feed with LOW nitrogen fertilizers (6-25-25). Feed one teaspoon to a gallon of water once a month.

Repot: Repot every two to three years from February to June with a well-draining soil. In mild summer, use fine bark. In warmer summer areas, use a medium orchid mix.

Location: When you get your cymbidium, find a spot for it and leave it there, moving it as little as possible. When acclimated, cymbidium stays healthiest if not moved.

Watering: When you receive cymbidium, do not water for 10 days. Then water it once a week. Make sure all residual water drains before putting it back in its surrounding pot.

So… I watered it sparingly, kept it out of bright sunlight unless it wanted bright sunlight, in which case I put it in bright sunlight unless it wanted shade. After a few weeks, it lost its flowers, then a couple of leaves. THEN I found out that these grow from one side to the other, not up and out, and it was doing its level best to grow out of the pot by the end of April.

This afternoon, even though it hasn’t been two to three years, and even though I don’t have fine bark or even a good dull roar, Lady Cymbidium got repotted.  Even though several sites had warned just how to do this – stand on the left foot, recite this mantra while burning that incense and sipping THIS tea – I just basically took it out of one pot, wibbled it a bit and stretched out a few weird roots, and put it in a bigger pot. No ceremonial tap-dancing involved.

While I was shoveling non-bark planting medium (aka soil) back in around the root ball, I threw in a couple of lemon slices. Don’t ask why – it just seemed like the right thing to do for a plant reputed to have such a bad attitude. Maybe tomorrow I’ll toss in a tea bag to go with it. The way I figure, if the tea and lemon trick works, I’ll write a Cymbidium Care website that includes tea and lemon as must-haves for your 8-month-old cymbidium, along with her other observations, and that should drive some cymbidium experts right up the wall!