Yellow Squash Because I am a Really Slow Learner

Yellow squash: Before. Way way before.

Yellow squash: Before.
Way way before.
And turtle.

I planted yellow squash this afternoon because (a) it’s August, (b) I’m a slow learner, (c) tomorrow’s my birthday, and (d) I was in the mood to plant something edible and happened to have some yellow squash seeds and not much else except scary climbing spinach (or poison ivy).

I’ve sworn off planting yellow squash twice before – yes, twice. Maybe three times.

The last few times I’ve planted yellow squash, the results have ranged from ‘meh’ to a resounding ‘wow, those plants are HUGE! – where’s the squash?’

Since I don’t allow bees in the house, any blossoms that do show up have to be pollinated by hand with q-tips. I figured that out after the first time planting yellow squash, and getting plenty of flowers —and no squash. Shortly thereafter, I learned how to tell which blossoms are female, which saved a lot of time and frustration.

By the time I did figure everything out, there were no more blossoms to pollinate, I’d wasted 10% of a box of q-tips, and I’d ditched the whole mess onto the patio (and from there to the compost heap) and sworn I would never ever EVER again plant yellow squash. That swearing lasted a whole four months or so.

Not that we’re starving, but the garden is (Mostly) inedible

However, since there’s nothing edible growing in my dining room besides ginger root, basil, peppers I won’t eat because they taste like bell peppers (ew), and that stuff that might be spinach or poison ivy, I hereby take back my swearing never ever again to plant yellow squash, and am giving it another try – again.

This time I followed the planting instructions to the letter. The package says to plant one to two seeds per hole, one inch down, 36 inches apart, and water well. Ok, not to the letter then… to get them 36 inches apart, I’d have to plant them in the hallway or kitchen or garage or someone else’s garden.

One thing I’m learning about this gardening stuff is that it doesn’t have to make sense to anyone but the plant.

So I invoked the rules of New-Gardener Creativity, folded time-space slightly, and planted one seed one inch down on at 3:00 and 9:00 along the side of a 12″ pot. Then planted two more at 12:00 and 6:00 respectively, just for good measure.

I suppose, if I can bring myself to do so, I can always yank out the extras and put them in the infamous spinning compost monster on the patio.

At least I watered well.

To your garden success!
Casey – the Garden Lass

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

Herb Garden Cautions for New Gardeners [Video]

Sometimes when I write tips and clues, I get advice from more masterful gardeners. This time, though, I’m writing about the indoor herb garden I started myself and my tips and clues come from my own personal experience.

P Allen Smith planting herbs

P Allen Smith does herb planting right in his video about Herbs for Beginners

How Not to Start a Herb Garden

First, I am not going to name brands, especially as the results were probably not the brand’s fault – good or bad. I followed the instructions up until the point I lost the package.

  • Wet the soil,
  • sprinkle with seed,
  • cover with a thin layer of soil,
  • water,
  • grow.

Then, once I found the package a few months later, I noticed that there really weren’t any more instructions to follow – so I don’t go overboard trying to follow what isn’t there.

My first mistake was looking at the pretty pictures. I was enticed into thinking I was actually going to grow lush circles of tasty herbs in a long rectangular’ish oval pot – on my very first try.

My second mistake was believing that it was going to grow everything in the package:

  • Sweet basil,
  • oregano,
  • flat leaf parsley,
  • sage,
  • thyme,
  • cilantro.

It grew basil. LOTS of basil – and one reedy, rangy, thin-leafed gangle of a plant that looked as out of place as a concert violinist at a sumo wrestler convention.

Sprinkle Herb Garden with Seed – NOT

The fact that nothing else grew in my herb garden – no oregano, parsley, sage, cilantro – and MAYBE that rangy stuff is thyme – tells me that broadcasting a handful of seed over a long narrow pot full of dubious soil is not the best way to begin.

It was supposed to sprout better in temperatures over 70F, so I was careful to ensure the herb garden had a nice even temperature, no breezes, good sunlight. Even so, when something did sprout, it was most certainly not the variety I was told to expect. Even now, three months after planting, I have lots of sweet basil and – whatever that is.

Next Time I Plant a “First” Herb Garden

Well, the next time I plant a herb garden, I’m going to follow the advice that I found in this video by P. Allen Smith, and buy individual pots of seedlings, plant them in individual growing pots, and tend them as individual plants with different needs and personalities. I’d like to think I’m done with kits – except they’re so durn fun, and I just know then next time I see one, I’ll have to buy it and try it out – and I’ll be wide-eyed and enthusiastic again like a new gardener should be.

Bottom Line

I am having too much fun to let a little herb garden failure wreck my joy. Any projects that don’t thrill me get taken outside to the evergreen and placed in the Bunny Buffet. I predict that we’ll have many very happy, well-fed neighborhood bunnies for many years to come!

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.

First squash harvest crucial to Friday lunch plans

Yellow squash is slightly smaller than a Michener paperback

Our first yellow squash is slightly smaller than a Michener paperback

It is difficult to refer to this morning’s actions as a “harvest.” I picked the one and only yellow squash off the overachieving plant in the sunny former dining room and carried it with way too much pride to the kitchen, where it posed for its last portrait — last because it’s going to turn into lunch shortly.

That’s it, reclining in front of “Mexico” by James A. Michener, a sprawling, complex historical fiction relating the growth of a na— whups, sorry. Seems my Inner Book Critic wants to come out to play.

You may remember my mention of a lack of bees in the house. In their stead, I’ve been watching patiently for “girl” squashes, q-tip in hand, to emulate Gregor Mendel and a whole host of bees, dabbing pollen from the dozens of male fruits onto the rare female blossom. So far, only one has taken. We’re calling her “Baked Squash Lunch”  — or “Lunch” for short.

The half-life of a squash blossom appears to be about five hours. They begin to open just before I wake up… about 5:45 AM.

By the time the sun is hitting the dining room window, they’re fully open and waiting for the bees that never show up. Instead it’s me — groggy, half-awake and suffering from a lack of caffeine.

In about five minutes I check all the open blossoms, q-tip in hand, searching a crop of brilliant yellow for the telltale bulb beneath. One plant can produce both male and female blossoms at the same time, depending on several variables including humidity, sunshine, temperature, and its mood in general.

Female yellow squash blossom

One lone girl, “Yeah, baby!”

Ok, kidding about the mood (maybe), but these are on a macho trend this week – all guys for days, then FINALLY a lone girl, to the tune of wolf whistles and shouts of “Yeah, baby! Let’s see them petals!”

By noon they’ve begun to retire, each furling to form a wilty looking cone. By afternoon, they’ve closed up shop — and by nightfall, they’re history.

If one “takes,” then we’ll have squash for lunch again someday. If not, then there’s always the supermarket less than a mile away.

Telling little-boy squash blossoms about the bees and the birds

squash blossoms

Lots of squash blossoms but no squash

It struck me as strange that the dining room is awash with huge orange squash blossoms and yet there’s nary a sign of a squash in sight. This could have a lot to do with the fact that there’s nary a sign of a bee in sight.

If there WERE signs of a bee in the house, I would be writing this missive from the safety of my car, windows up and AC blasting, driving as fast and as far from our house as I can possibly get. I would also be frantically screaming for a certain tall, dark and handsome someone (specifically the one I’ve been blissfully married to for 21+ years who puts up with my occasional nutty hobbies like obsessive indoor amateur gardening and mozzarella-cheese-making-attempting) to please be so kind as to remove the bee from our house so I can come back home with my sanity intact.

I don’t do bees or wasps. Or bugs or worms, or spiders or ants. Or snakes. Especially snakes. Gad, why am I gardening? I must be out of my skull.

To Bee or Not to Bee

Acting on some past-life-as-a-gardener instincts , I grabbed a handful of q-tips and carefully dabbed from one flower to another, swapping out q-tips each time to prevent – something, I don’t know.

squash blossoms, males on right

Females on left; males on right

I was feeling very proud of myself in my new role as Indoor Queen Bee and thought I’d write about this breakthrough. In preparation, I searched for an authoritative site covering indoor gardening and pollination issues- and found a very nice one in the University of Florida IFAS Extension, crammed full of Latin terminology (a dead giveaway), complete with very clear illustrations (one of which I’m borrowing to demonstrate my – well, you’ll see).

Imagine my chagrin when I learned that I’d very carefully carried squash powder from four male flowers to four other male flowers.

Go ahead and laugh. You’re safe from a surprise squash-bag-in-the-back-of-your-car – for NOW.

On an Entirely Unrelated(?) Bee Pollen Note

So what’s the big deal about bee pollen? Apparently quite a bit of a big deal. According to this Bee Pollen Benefits report I found, bee pollen can

  1. facilitate weight loss,
  2. reduce cholesterol,
  3. help fight cancer,
  4. help build up immunities to allergens,
  5. increase your energy and endurance,
  6. boost your immune system,
  7. lower stress,
  8. boost metabolism,
  9. lower blood pressure,
  10. balance hormones,
  11. alleviate arthritis inflammation,
  12. stave off premature aging,
  13. reduce insomnia and
  14. manage your online banking.

Ok, kidding about the online banking part, but the others are serious. So, in the interest of keeping us all healthy and stress free, I’ve also included some bee pollen sources below this post. (Fine print in footer.)