Thursday, December 31, 2009

Old Year ending with some highs, lows, and woes/whoas!

(Warning: This entry contains some whining and ranting and great deviation from gardening, but gets back to it eventually in a hopefully entertaining fashion)

This year has been a year of ups and downs in my gardening and personal life. (What year isn't full of these things for anyone, you might attest?)

 I am terrible pessimist and often become so blinded by the bad that I don't often see the good, and sadly this year is ending on more bad than good (more on that later).

Good things this year include growing tomatoes rather well this time around and having a good bounty of them for once.  My summer garden was not as pretty as the year before but more plentiful if not as squash-full. 

I've been attempting winter gardening with some success and wished I had planned better and attempted more/had more time to plant before the fall/winter began.

I was introduced to a local magazine editor who is on good terms with me and has been the publisher of my first written articles, a big step for someone who aspires to be a full time writer.

I did an excellent job with my other silly very part time job with trouble shooting and making things work with teams of people in other cities and recommended by my manager to be a manager of an entire region.

On to the bad news....
....the squash vine borers are the bane of my gardening life (next to slugs who all ought to be electrocuted by powdered copper).

I have not published more writing than I like, but need to remember that receiving any money at all is still big step.

I was totally turned down for a potential managerial promotion because I live in the wrong city apparently even though I've proven that I can work easily on 4 different cities in different states at the same time via email/phone.  *sigh* Oh well.

My car broke down a few days ago.  It's technically somewhat driveable but utterly not safe and unreliable and the cost for the repair would be more than the car is worth and could be better spent on getting a new used car.  I would love to be all Rhonda Hetzel-like, and go completely single car-ish but car insurance is actually cheaper with two cars and I think it's good to have an extra one in the garage for an emergency.

So, my husband and I are on the search for a small truck (for mulch and compost hauling of course!) that we can use for only moving things around purposes around a 3 mile diameter of the house and ignore for the rest of time in the garage and reduce our car insurance immensely.  We'd use his car primarily (all the time) as it just sits in his work parking lot all day anyways.

Only problem is that we can only afford about $5000-$6000 for a used truck (with reasonable mileage please) and being on a single income (because I am a stupidly wonderfully pampered woman whose husband loves me way too much and supports this writing thing), this is tough.  I mean, we can afford more probably, but it's just that we have been trying really, really, really, REALLY F-ing hard to try to save especially in this economy, especially as everyone's taking pay cuts and etc.

We're the type who try to save by allocating paycheck money to be transferred immediately into specific savings accounts so we don't see it, we can't touch it, and will not be tempted of it from our regular accounts.  We know that Roth IRAs are important and if you want to max out on them we need to be putting in $450 APIECE per month in them, or $5,000/year.  Then there's the house, the dog (she's fat anyways and needs to go on a diet; just kidding), bills of every sort and etc.  We rarely eat out, we have no tv/cable, my husband makes freakin' excel tables for the groceries and calculates cents per ounces for food at the grocery store and is a double coupon freak...

Ack.  We're not poor.  We're just very frugal and very much want to avoid being poor, and can afford seeing friends (via car of course) and eating out with people we rarely get to spend time with, but it's just so frustrating when your Toyota at 109,000 craps out of you when it should be able to go for at least another 100,000 miles.  It won't kill us to get another car, it just will sting like hell.  We're not the paycheck to paycheck type of people either, so we won't get anything new at this point in our lives because it's not really viable with the way we want to save.

I've become a little nervous and have been sorting through my seed piles and hoping I have stockpiled a good amount to start me up and think I will have to be more discriminating and sadly pass on interesting exotic vegetable seed purchases and be very careful with my potting soil purchases.  And I so wanted to try soil blocking this year.

ANYWAYs, this end of year story ends a little funny.

So today I went in to see what options I had available with my crapped out car and was told that it could be traded in for a good bit of money, not grand but some to take a dent out of a used car.  I sit down with my sales person and he goes out to find a car for me.  I take out my little netbook to start an excel file and get some spreadsheets going for prices and etc. when this guy all in black, who clearly works there sits down next to me and asks me about my netbook, what I'm up to, why I'm here and what I do.

I talk computers a little, chat a bit and tell him that I garden and write about it and he talks about how he could never garden because he has no patience and I tell him he could, it's not that hard! (My usual, everyone can garden thing, I can't help myself)

Next thing I know, he tells my salesperson guy to hold on, tells me to follow him and he leads me to the backroom of the Toyota dealership to an internet sales manager.  Who then proceeds to tell me all about the business they do, what they do, the system they use and everything!

I think I was being sort of interviewed???  Turns out the guy who led me to the room was the dealership GM and he wanted to introduce me to the internet business manager.

This proceeds for 2 hours.

Finally, they let me go after they realize the insane amount of time they've held me and I'm given a card and told to contact them if I'm interested.

(I get to look at a car later, but this bizarre interview-y thing clearly topped my day)

A sales position would entail lots of hours (retail) but could potentially lead to great earnings, is what they kept espousing.  Money that we could totally use now.  No free Saturdays though and crummy hours are assured.  Husband and I are talking and he won't push or pull me in any particular direction, but I get the impression he think I'd find it soul sucking and all the time I get money -wise would be ironically unhappy because I would not be able to find time to garden or etc.  (Granted one might say you always have time to garden, but I get it).

So, potential job to solve sort of money issue that might eradicate some degree of happiness.


Then to top off the year I dropped my cell phone in a part full of water dishwasher tonight as I was putting a dirty dish quickly in.

While my husband worked busily to try to salvage my phone and dry it out entirely, I went into screaming at my self in self-loathing mode and cleaned like a mad woman.  While I vacuuming I had an epiphany and started laughing.  I realized why the GM tried to interview/potentially hire me.

I was totally selling plants/gardening.  The GM would talk about how he couldn't garden and I would say of course he could and explain how.  He would say he didn't have the time, and I would say it isn't so bad and some things re-seed themselves.  And so on and so forth.   I was overturning objections all over the place, one of the most important thing sales people do.

And I thought he just saw my netbook and thought I was tech savvy.


Resolutions I'd like to make for this upcoming year:
1) PLAN BETTER! (sheesh, I need to delineate, and label, label, label my plants more!)
2) Combine pretty gardening with the edible gardening! (I do it somewhat, but could do it better)
3) Try to do more cascading plant things to look nice and hide stuff (like ugly water barrels)
4) Seed save (even more)
5)  Try not to fall into temptation and plant squash because the borers will just get to them
6)  Use more cover crops
7)  plant even more densely
8) Time my planting better so there's little blank parts of my garden period
9)  Combat slugs better so that I can get a serious strawberry harvest
10)  Eat more weeds (I might as well use them!)
11)  Learn more weed identification (I don't want to kill myself)
12)  DO NOT take my citrus trees in too early.  Cold helps them blossom and I always get antsy at the first sign of chill.  They're really hardier than I think they are and I want limes/lemons dammit!
13) Give away extra house plants to combat the winter fungus gnats woes
14) Keep a cleaner "potting shed" (sunroom) and garden area (I want to show it off without some embarassment!)
15)  Stop the perilla before it attacks with purple waves of crazy!

and I am sure I'll think of more things!

Have a safe and wonderful New Year and may your gardening (and finances!) be healthy and well in 2010 (well, and always!)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Mustard Snow Cones anyone? (posted yesterday really, but I accidently saved rather than posted..?)

It seems that the Minnesota snow decided to follow me because tonight/tomorrow morning Memphis is expected to have snow and sleet enough to close things down.

Snow fell just before I left earlier in the week and I was amazed to see all the tatsoi mustard, collards, regular mustard, broccoli, peas, pak choy, little beet seedlings and chard babies all still doing fine despite my negligence of not covering them before I left.

So.... I'm thinking about not covering them again.

A little gamble. But I'm a gambling woman!

I like my tough little plants.  Sort of slow growing in the winter but I planted a bunch so I can take a little from each.

Tatsoi mustard and so tasty!  Beautiful rosettes! I planted them all too close and had to heavily thin and they are doing ok with it despite this weather!

It's just as pretty as an orchid isn't it?  Pak choy turned out to be so much fun and they say it's cut and come again...  had it in soup yesterday, put it in a little too early and so it got a little mushy, but still A+ to me for getting my veggies!

It's weird seeing pak choy bolt in the winter, but sort of uplifting that something is working so hard to flower/seed in this weather.  Hardy things.

PS update: no snow/sleet thus far, yeah! NPR and their bad weather forecasting

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Holiday Haiku Time Warp: (no day but) Today!

And I'm back to present, with my presence!

A holiday haiku or two more to get me firmly planted and garden updates and info will be back in order.  Luckily I have boring New Years and do nothing, so I'll probably have garden resolutions up the wazoo to share because there were a LOT of issues that I need to address for next year's garden.

From: Minnesota
Snow on car refused to melt.
To: Memphis

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Holiday Haiku Time Warp: One Day ago

"Happy Holiday What the Hells" again!  Another time traveling post for my holiday haiku of one day ago:

Fourteen hour drive:
Python skin clouds overhead,
Swallowing the sky.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Haiku Time Warp: Two Days ago

"Happy Holiday What the Hells!"  Here's a time traveling post for a holiday haiku of two days ago as my declaration of a haiku every day went bust quickly!  Car travel + newborn + 2 year old + unfamiliar house + helping = -progress!

Digging in the snow
I discover dirt beneath.
Yearn for spring again.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Holiday Haiku

Not wanting to take a full hiatus for the holidays, I will be composing haikus everyday until things get a little CALMer.

My recent travelings have brought me to snowier regions and the barren land of my sister's home (she's not a gardener either) and I have a serious bent to want to "help" her become one.  Her husband and I scheme to try easy things like beans and cucumbers to entice her and if they want to be a little more attentive, maybe some 'maters.

Sometimes I wonder if I lived in a truly northern, snow-nasty locale (it's only pretty for me for the first 10 minutes in the cold) if I would enjoy the nature imposed garden vacation and be better at planning for the spring garden rather than trying to garden all winter just to make it "challenging."  I think I'd probably just be miserable and whine and attempt to grow things indoors or work on getting that greenhouse in a hurry!

Anyways, haiku time, baby:

Still drunk on summer,
tea steeped from August's bounty.
Winter's not so bad.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Soil Nutrition Part 3 of 3: Zinc, Boron, Copper, Manganese (and maybe some Molybdenum!) (FINALLY!)

(I would like to note that I am not a horticulturist but have simply compiled a lot or research and resources and wish to share what I have learned in hope it helps others.  As there is a lot of info and resources in this, I have broken this article into 3 pieces and will list all the resources at the end of this last part)

(<-- This is the revised “I’m not a horticulturist warning” as it was terrible grammatically before.  Did it when I was lacking sleep and then forgot to re-read it.  Newb is I)
    Zinc is one of those elements that get little credit.  Seed savers take note however as zinc is necessary for plant metabolism, growth hormones, cell and SEED formation.  If you’re a health nut (no pun intended) you’ve probably heard of the benefits of eating seeds and nuts for their zinc content, so all this makes sense.  Like many of the elements before, zinc can be difficult for plants to uptake if the pH level is too high and thus remedied by the addition of an alkaline.

Sign of Zinc deficiency include:
-yellowing between new growth  while veins remain green
-smaller leaves and shortening between the nodes so that they are bunched and appear rosette-like.

“Natural” Sources of Zinc:
-Pennies:  Have a zinc core, so if you have a “Will it Blend?” blender… well….

         Boron is needed in the smallest amounts, but its deficiency in the soil can affect metabolic processes, cell division, germination of seeds, and a plant’s ability to flower and fruit.  It is often tied with calcium and like calcium soil moisture is necessary.  Treating a boron deficiency is tenuous as it can be easily over-added to the soil so be very conservative when treating especially as certain plants are more sensitive to boron than others.

Sign of Boron deficiency include:
-yellowing of leaves with green veins (like a light chlorosis)
-Stem and root growth poor
-Terminal buds may be affected and die
-Branching aka “Witches brooms” can form

“Natural” Sources of Boron:
-Borax: Can be purchased from the grocery store in the laundry aisle

Copper (it’s electric! OK, it’s not electric, but it carries it very well)  is considered to be a poison and nutrient at the same time for plants and like boron, it is very important to be careful of how much is added when a deficiency is noted.  Water transportation and proper leaf development is copper’s place in the plant world.
Sign of Copper deficiency include:
-yellowing of leaves with green veins (light chlorosis looking)
-limp young new leaves
-spots on leaves
- “bleached” appearance on mature leaves
-sunken spots on leaves
-small leaves

Natural Sources of Copper:
-Pennies:  are copper clad, so once again, if you have a “Will it Blend?” blender…

    You may notice, many of these micro-nutrients, though needed in tiny amounts, make a great difference in proper plant formation and growth with a tendency to reveal their deficiency in a light chlorosis type appearance and can easily be locked up in overly acid soil.  Manganese is no different and is vital to chlorophyll formation with young leaves showing yellowing first and then mature leaves taking on a netted appearance obviously affecting chlorophyll production and thus energy intake.  Manganese is needed in leaves, shoots and fruit production as a plant may fail to bloom with this deficiency.

Sign of Manganese deficiency include:
-yellowing of leaves with green veins (light chlorosis looking)
-metallic or purplish sheen on leaves
-dead or dark spots on leaves
-slow growth lack of bloom
-loss of fruit production

Natural Sources of Manganese:

-fruits for compost

       Molybdenum is one of those “huh?” elements that no one ever hears about and I wondered about even mentioning.  A nifty trick about molybdenum is that itsover use of it makes your plants bright orange! (Not recommended)

Sign of Molybdenum deficiency include:
-yellowing of older leaves similar to chlorosis while rest of foliage turns light green
-narrowing and distortion of leaves

Natural Sources of Molybdenum:
-No clue... help?

To reiterate:
     Though plants cannot apparently tell the difference between nutrient sources being organic or synthetic, I prefer to use organic methods by all means possible because it adds to soil matter and I feel it is safer for the environment.  Adding the above mentioned organic materials increases your soil’s biomass thus "volumizing" the soil (giving it some fluff)  aka drainage and reduces compaction of the soil in the process. So, it's not all just about simple chemical elements and poof happy plants!
         Chemical fertilizers also will not increase or attract biodiversity such as microorganisms and worms that will help breakdown and slowly release nutrients.  There are plenty of everyday resources and products made from natural materials within my budget (such as organic chicken manure, a great example of using all parts of an animal!). 
      I also choose organic because I am wary of residual chemicals in items like commercial bone /blood meal, or fertilizers which have been derived from the petroleum industry (petroleum is ‘natural’ but you know what I mean) as I am not thrilled with the methods used to create them and their effect on the environment.
         Chemicals can help your plants in a pinch, but over-application of any nutrient, organic or chemical is almost always over-kill. Though the pure chemical forms in fertilizers are easily taken  up by plants (as they are formulated for specific purpose) the source these nutrients are coming from is worrisome to me and if I believe if we have the ability to preserve the purity of our fluids… keep our bodies free of contaminants, why not do it?

Resources (thank you!): (great pics!)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Holidays have attacked.

Gah.  Holidays have snuck up behind me (My fault, I was just being unobservative) when they utterly jumped me.  In the middle of a 3 part entry too! HOW RUDE.

Plans to update by latest tonight or tomorrow. Aieee! Forgiveness?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Soil Nutrition Part 2 of 3: Calcium, Magnesium, Iron & Sulfur

(I would like to note that I am not a horticulturist but have simply compiled a lot or research and resources and wish to share what I have learned in hope it helps others.  As there is a lot of info and resources in this, I have broken this article into 3 pieces and will list all the resources at the end of this part 3)

Just like many living organisms (especially for us women), plants need calcium as well to produce a STRONG structure.  Bones in our case, and cell walls for them.  Calcium is also important for protein formation and its alkaline pH  neutralizes overly acid soil that might prevent uptake of other important elements plants need.  Straight calcium is hard for plants to utilize as it is not readily dissolved, and better forms of calcium for uptake include lime, gypsum or seaweed/algae.

Sign of Calcium deficiency include:

-blossom end rot
-curling or yellowing of leaves
-brown tipped leaves
-growing points show damage and die off
-stunted plants
-forked root crops

Natural Sources of Calcium:

-Egg shells: better if dried and crushed or powdered ahead (though I rarely do)
-Powdered milk/sour milk/yogurt: Sprinkle powder milk around base of plant or make into liquid form (or use dilute milk or yogurt) and water.  Spraying with either reduces powdery  mildew because of its lactic acid.

If you have ever noticed your plant going all Prince (Artist Formerly Known As/weird symbol/whatever) on you, aka Purple-y, you’re probably experiencing a magnesium deficiency.  Magnesium is needed for chlorophyll formation and when it gets out of whack in a plant, things get a little psychedelic purple… or just yellow, blah.  This elements needs to be in balance with calcium so if magnesium is going wrong, your calcium might too.

Sign of Magnesium
deficiency include:
-yellowing or yellow spotting of leaves
-purple/reddish leaves
-poor crop flavor

Natural Sources of Magnesium
-Epsom salts: (magnesium and sulfur source) There is caution in this, especially about over application of Epsom salts and if you are unaware of the needs of your plants/soil conditions, please research before application
(Cautionary link:

If we couldn’t get all our plant symptoms all the more mixed up, with yellow leaves being an indicator of EVERYTHING it seems, then plants lacking iron will not surprise you by looking anemic (yellow) too when they are lacking this element.  Iron is vital to chlorophyll production and thus, when there is a shortage this deficiency is called chlorosis.  One trick to note if your plant has chlorosis  is to note if it has green veins.  Iron also helps make plant proteins (think of muscles/meat=protein) as well as enables plants to fix nitrogen for use.  As fixed elements go, if the pH is too high iron becomes locked up and an alkaline like lime can free it.  (I imagine a lime fruit riding in on a horse, wielding a sword to free a laundry device in a tall tower.  I know, I’m weird).

Sign of Iron deficiency include:

-yellowing of leaves with green veins
-quick growing plants will show signs of damage first

Natural Sources of Iron:

-Blood: (either in meal form or I have heard that some farmers in the old days would use slaughtered animals’ blood or in ancient times they would water plants with high iron needs by hanging an animal whose throat they slit above such plants.  Gruesome, but it works I suppose).
-Some hardwood mulches might leach out iron I’ve read, but I can’t find it confirmed.

The last necessary element for this section I want to mention is sulfur.  Proper protein production  requires sulfur (it's used in certain bonds to form protein) and a plant that lacks available sulfur will find it difficult to produce new leaves as plant growth hormone regulators need this element to form.  Sulfur is linked with iron and can help remedy chlorosis, when sulphates are added.

Sign of Sulfur deficiency (usually only a problem in sandy soils) include:
-even yellowing of leaves especially in new leaves
-slow growth of new leaves

Natural Sources of Sulfur:
-Matches: Only a little is needed and some people swear by burying wood or paper matches with plants or if they think there’s a deficiency.
-Epsom Salts
-Blackstrap molasses: sulfur and trace minerals (great after baking gingerbread or molasses cookies!)

-unfortunately can’t find more ‘natural’ sources… if you can think of any that don’t come in a bag, please tell me!

Next time, on to the tiny and fabulous world of micronutrients and the last part of this set, Soil Nutrition Part 3 of 3:  Zinc, Boron, Copper, Manganese (and maybe some Molybdenum!)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Soil Nutrition Part 1 of 3: Carbon, Nitrogen, Phosphorus & Potassium

(I would like to note that I am not a horticulturist but have simply compiled a lot or research and resources and wish to share what I have learned in hope it helps others.  As there is a lot of info and resources in this, I have broken this article into 3 pieces and will list all the resources at the end of  part 3)

I am always in the mood to educate myself about how my plants tick, but sadly sometimes lazy to write about it because of the time it takes.  I know though that if I don’t write about it, I’m never really going to remember and learn what I just ‘educated’ myself about.  So, I’ve dawdled for the past few months on this article about soil nutrients and know that I need to get things in gear for my sake and for content’s sake!

Soil nutrition is important for obvious reasons for the garden, and knowing what does what helps us better learn about our plants’ needs and how to make them thrive.

This will focus on organic gardening soil nutrition, rather than sterile “chemical elements do this and that” because even though it may be a fact that straight chemical fertilizers produce a desired effect on plants, it is my belief that beyond simple chemicals, organically improving your soil is essential for sustained upkeep of your garden/plants through conservation of the environment, building of soil mass, biodiversity of beneficial bacteria and slow uptake of nutrition for your plants.  Plus, it tends to be cheaper and that my friends is always a plus in my book!

(ADDENDUM: While soil nutrition is important, too much of a good thing is no good either.  Don't over do it! Too much nitrogen often occurs with straight chemical fertilizers and it runs off, which is bad for the ecosystem and for crops/plants because they become "fat and lazy" eventually as I call it.  Also, it can make for less flavorful crops, or more leafing rather than fruiting!  Thanks to vtlarica for point this out!)

Many gardeners are aware or at least have seen this N-P-K (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) formulas on bags of fertilizer or compost they purchase.  The levels are important to note if you have over or under abundance in any of the letters as these are the most important macro-nutrients that plants need for their most basic development and structure.  When you get down to it, plants are a whole heck of a lot of cellulose  (what gives the plant its structure) and chlorophyll (what makes the plants work and grow) and all these vital parts are composed of a lot of carbon and nitrogen.

As you have probably heard from all the environmental talk, there is a lot of carbon in the world (too much some say) so there's no real dearth of it.  Free-wheeling carbon in the atmosphere=not good but contained in the earth it’s great for plants and they have little trouble getting this element for their needs.  Carbon, in its organic rich physical form typically manifests itself in brown (like the soil) and black colors (like charcoal).  When making compost for example, when they say you need a balance of browns and greens, they are talking about carbon and nitrogen.

Good sources of carbon:

•    Cardboard eg. cereal packets and egg boxes
•    Waste paper and junk mail, including shredded confidential waste
•    Cardboard tubes
•    Glossy magazines (although it is better for the environment to pass them on to your local doctor’s or dentists' surgery or send them for recycling
•    Newspaper (although it is better for the environment to send your newspapers for recycling)
•    Bedding from vegetarian pets (eg. rabbits, guinea pigs  hay, straw, shredded paper, wood shavings)
•    Tough hedge clippings
•    Woody prunings
•    Old bedding plants
•    Bracken
•    Sawdust
•    Wood shavings
•    Fallen leaves can be composted but the best use of them is to make leaf mould
•    Wood ash, in moderation
•    Hair, nail clippings
•    Egg shells (crushed)
•    Natural fibres eg. 100% wool or cotton

Which brings us to nitrogen (N), our greens.  Nitrogen is a little harder to come by for plants and obvious sources tend to be on the greenish side eg. excrement (sorry, icky I know) which can eventually develop into ammonia which is an excellent source of nitrogen (and for cleaning ironically). 

If carbon can be considered the backbone of your plant structure, nitrogen might be considered the “protein" or muscle that helps keep things together.  Analogy-wise (because I am a big fan of analogies), a plant would not be a full plant like a human would not be a full human without its bones and muscles/organs.  Only bones and you have a skeleton (a dead dried up plant), and only muscle and you have mush (think of a cold damaged succulent?)

As it is such a major player in plant formation, let’s just be blunt and say if you have a severe nitrogen shortage, your plant is SCREWED and you need to remedy that post-haste (but not too the point that excess nitrogen is applied).  As it has such a major role, any sign of your plant looking like its having trouble could nearly always be chalked up to a nitrogen deficiency.

Sign of Nitrogen deficiency include:

-stunted growth
-yellowing of plants (ADDENDUM: from the older leaves and then upwards)

Unfortunately nitrogen does not like to stay put and fix itself to the soil (unlike in beans and peas which have beneficial bacteria) where plants can get to it, or it gets washed away by water via human or natural methods.  So unless plants are receiving a good steady source, regular applications of compost or other organic fertilizer might be needed.

Natural Sources of Nitrogen (and pretty much P/K too):
-Grass/leaves: (avoid black walnut leaves which can impede growth!) help with their breakdown by shredding/compost ahead
- Potash (n-phos): Wood ashes, so if you like a good wood fire, use them ashes later in your garden!  (REMEMBER: Never burn treated wood!) (ADDENDUM: Can be VERY alkaline, so use caution when adding as you don't want to whack your pH out of line! Thanks Jeansgarden for noting this!)
-Tea leaves w/paper bags: good NPK all around and trace minerals; can toss whole or cut up
-Urine (as I often tout, really is great!) - full of uric acid and nitrogen and phosphorus... a great compost activator, so you if you have a guy in the house, tell him that #1 is great in the garden.
-Ammonia: is alkaline (basic) and balances out acid, breaking down to nitrogen later (great for slug killing too)
-Brewing grain (if you live near breweries): the fermented items leftover from beer or alcohol brewing are a rich source of nitrogen and trace minerals (apparently farm animals like it for feed too).
-Coffee grounds: Either from your own pot/pods/filters or your local Starbucks or coffee shop is usually more than happy to let you take their bags of grounds, keeping them from making a trip to the dump behind the store. It's full of trace minerals, carbon-nitrogen of 20-1 and is slightly acidic.

From the Starbuck's website:
Primary Nutrients
Nitrogen    ________________________________________    1.45%
Phosphorus    ________________________________________    ND ug/g
Potassium    ________________________________________    1204 ug/g

Secondary Nutrients
Calcium    ________________________________________    389 ug/g
Magnesium    ________________________________________    448 ug/g
Sulfur    ________________________________________    high ug/g

My husband is awesome and even brings in his coffee grounds from his office coffee maker without me even asking!

The next macro-nutrient would be phosphorus (P) and what helps plants mature and grow and develop flowers to make what every living thing apparently wants: BABIES.  You might think of it like hormones (I’m not saying this is what it is, but to remember this helps).  Phosophorus can get “locked up” in the soil at times when the soil is too acidic and so to free it from the soil, soil pH must be increased and alkaline for the plants to be able to uptake it.  Early growth requires phosphorus and eventual “woodifying” of plants such as for trees and shrubs.  It’s best applied in its soluble form in the summer rather than the spring as soft new growth is wanted earlier in the season.

Sign of Phosphorus deficiency include:

-stunted growth
-bitterness in crop

Natural Sources of Phosphorus:
-bananas: bury them (cut them up best); some say to dry them in the oven and crumble them into the soil

(K) is highly important in plants, in the same fashion humans need it.  Both of us require proper fluid balance in our cells via potassium channels, and this is why potassium is essential for us both.  It also keeps enzymes working effectively and all things living run on enzymes and proteins!  This vital element also ensures good root formation and allows plants store their food.

Sign of Potassium deficiency include
-stunted growth
-yellowing leaves
-weak stems
-premature fruit drop

Natural Sources of Potassium:
-Bananas: bury them (cut them up best); some say to dry them in the oven and crumble them into the soil
-Seaweed: made yourself some homemade sushi or Asian food? Use leftover seaweed in the garden!

More up in a day or so. Prepare for: Soil Nutrition Part 2 of 3:  Calcium, Magnesium, Iron & Sulfur!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Do you see what I see? Artsy pics of fungus and things (WARNING: image heavy!)

When off on my trip last month I captured a few snapshots of things I wanted to share from my parents-in-law's property.  Mostly they're images of fungus, lichen and moss that remind me of other things which I will suggest below the pics.  Granted fungi  and lichen are not plants, but we all sort of like to lump 'em there.  (Click on the pics for better resolution of the prettiness!)

Here it looks like it is, fungi on a tree stump!

A closer peak and you can see the stripes and whorls and texture, a little fuzzy but pine cone-like? Sadly, it also reminds me of swirls of bacon (<---always hungry for bacon!)

The cold setting makes the fungus remind me of stone, like an agate!

It's so ruffly! Icing on a cupcake or an autumn tu-tu?

I like this detail and angle.

Pure texture here.  Makes me think of something Martian/alien; a mars'-scape.

This one made me think of stylistic Chinese clouds.

Just likin' the lichen! Reminds one of coral sea reef.

...with sea urchins!

Lots of them! on a stony ocean floor.

Moss/sea urchin city!

Monolithic  acorn caps!

The colors, Duke!

Just stumped by the texture. A bit circle labyrinthian.

Hope you enjoyed seeing things from my point of view!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

She's a very geeky girl....Supergeek!

(I apologize for the title link, it's terrible I know, but it makes me think of the movie Little Miss Sunshine, and that makes me happy!)

Nothing like a good intelligent magazine article to get the mind buzzing I say.  The Atlantic recently published an article, "The Science of Success" that really got me thinking.  The basis of the article is about what makes certain people successful in their environment by stating how there are people who are like dandelions (able to adapt anywhere despite their environment and abuse) while others are more like orchids (who bloom and perform exceptionally when given greenhouse-like conditions). 

This plant analogy is not the only reason why I enjoyed this article (and I figure it is relative to this blog), but also because I have been mulling about Jean's comment from JeansGarden about needing bread /wheat and roses, rather than my usual all edible plant-ness.  I was thinking tangentially of her comment when I read this article because of the parallels of wheat being a grass and able to tough it out and spread everywhere unlike roses, which only look good when paid LOTS of attention too (but can be admittedly tough in their own right).

I also found this article to be important to me as well because I am somewhat neurotic and get depressive at times, and thought it was elucidating, if not instructive (which is good for me because I really hate instructions.  If I'm doing complicated baking or I am fixing my car, yes instructions are helpful.  Other than that, I tend to stay away from baking and mechanical work).

While this entry/article doesn't pertain specifically to plants, I believe life and plants/gardening are a constant analogies for each other and provide us with mini bits of enlightenment (satori?) that are difficult notice in our normally frenetic lives. 

So go read.  Feel the little bolts of electrical learning jolting in your noggin and mull about what makes us tick.

(Caution: the article is long and bit heavy at times, but plug through it and ignore the small super science-y parts if it bores you)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

I'm having babies! *

Every so often my orchids actually do something that get my attention.  Recently this was sprouting a few leaves in a couple of unexpected places, their upper stems.  “That’s interesting,” I thought when it first happened.

Then the leaves got bigger,

 and my other orchid decided to join in on the action and sprouted a set of leaves on one stem

and then on it’s OTHER stem!

Not being a total idjit, I looked around for a father and then came to the conclusion that I’m having babies! *Well, the orchids are at least… not me for a long while yet!

The babies are called keikis technically and I am giving them the original names of Keiki #1, Keiki #2 and Keiki #3.  Or maybe I’ll be cute and call ‘em Ke, i, and Ki.  We’ll see.

 They still have a while yet before they have enough roots (2 or 3 at about an inch and a half long) before they can leave their roosts off their respective mama orchids.  I have to wait until then before I can be plant midwife-like and yank them off their mothers and replant them in their own pots.  It’s a cold world little orchids, just you wait and see! (Man, I feel slightly evil.  I blame the awful rainy weather.)

The cool thing about keikis is that they are clones of their mothers and because they have been growing piggyback on mommy for a while, they are hearty and strong and will bloom within a year or two rather than the usual 3-5 years seedling orchids take.

I have never had any problems growing an orchid interestingly enough and am slightly mystified by how other people seem to think of them as terribly difficult to keep.  All the orchids I have kept too are the generic “grocery-store-didn’t-know-how-to-take-care-of-me-and-now-I’m-dying-and-on-sale” kinds.  Maybe they only stay alive out of gratitude to me?  My only tricks are professional orchid potting material, little water and whatever light my dining room table gives it.

If anything,  I wish more people would grow orchids and not feel so intimidated by them.  Adopt a discounted one from your grocery store so it doesn’t feel like such an expensive investment!  Just do a little research to get them spruced up again (a good bit of fertilizer, a sheltered spot, and some neem spray for good measure) and you’ll have yourself a nice orchid to cherish for years!

What do orchids, other than being interesting lovely plants, have to do with my blog?  Ta da, they’re edible!  The most common edible orchid is the vanilla orchid (which I desire greatly to have), but in general ALL orchids are edible.  The flowers can be used in many dishes and salads, too.  The roots also are purported to be edible (though I wouldn’t recommend it if you like your plant living).

Flavors can vary from sweet to bitter to chive-like, so be wary if you decide to nosh.

Interesting links:

Sunday, December 6, 2009

I'm a procrastinating dork. But in happier news, my vegs vs frost= veg WIN!

Ugh, the winter season is always the worst.  It's cold (so my superhuman powers of being energetic go bust), the holiday season is in full swing (and since I make gifts this is the closest I feel like busy busy busy a holiday elf), and lastly, the garden goes SLOWLY.

We've had a few hard frosts here already and I've been too busy/chilly/scared to check on the plants (terrible, I know).

Hurray though when I went out today to see that my plants are winning the war against frost (uncovered too at boot!)  Kales, bok choy, mustards, chards, collards, small broccoli plants, and snap peas are still kickin' it and with luck we'll see what deliciousness they will bring.  If anything, I know that the mustards will make the winter gardening worthwhile.  I'd like to note too that perhaps I should learn to love/eat weeds like chickweed because it's cropped up everywhere too.   Damn vernalization here.  Cold one day, then rainy and spring-like another.  Mother Nature being bi-polar again.

 (red leaf kale and blue Siberian kale)

(baby bok choy)

(baby parsley seedlings, for the monarch butterflies since they decimated my crop this year)

 (tatsoi mustard)


Randomly, I had a slight beauty epiphany.  I'm a little nutty but every so often a little thing in the world really strikes my eye and I am just in AWE by its simple loveliness.  Today it was the peel of an onion.  This was a regular yellow onion, with a coppery paper peel and the sheer color and orderliness of the lines was really breathtaking to me.  (I know, I'm weird)   I tried to take a picture but as usual, like the Loch Ness monster or a yeti it was impossible to get a clear shot or do it justice.

If you are needing some simple beauty today though, just check out your nearest onion folks.

On another random note, because I have been CRAP-tastic about keeping up with the blog at a good normal pace and I wanted to assure you that I have a PLAN!  Oh yes, I have been writing out little notes on my tiny netbook and compiling links and information about good plant keeping, troubleshooting and eventually cataloging knowing in full depth all my plants in my inventory.  I hope for it to be amazing this winter as I was starting to lose track as to where the heck I was going with this blog (winter does that to me, muddles the mind and increases my run-on sentences).

FINALLY,  I have proof of my industriousness that has been keeping me from posting on this blog more!  The silly gifts for my little niece that her mother (my sister) requested (about a year ago) that I failed to make until now!

It started out with my sister asking for felt cupcake things.  Granted, I have NEVER made any fake felt food before, and I was feeling more inspired to make some breakfast food:

Bacon, eggs, toast (w/removeable jam and butter!) and um, a breakfast burger?

after feeling a little more confident from that, I made her her cupcakes at last after a little research:

(these still need sprinkle-age and more confections on them)
(Oh, and pardon if any of the pics are fuzzy, these are felt :)

As my sister and her 2 year old niece don't read this site (I think,) I hope it will be a pleasant surprise, because auntie endured MANY a needle prick from this endeavour!

I sent my Mother in law pics of the food and she said that she once was going to make felt vegetables for her kids once where they could pull out of felt dirt!  This sounded like an awesome idea, but a time consuming project I'd like to do for my niece for another Christmas.  Currently, I need a break!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Guest Post from non-gardening friend. Tom Nix, and his reasons as to why he doesn't share our obsession (longest title ever award goes to me!)

  Hello all, my friend and I did a saucy little article exchange for our various sites and here is my zombie movie obsessed friend's contribution as to why he doesn't share our plant sentiments:

You should all know what you're getting into.

This is an attempt by an individual completely unenamored with the the gardening lifestyle to come to some sort of definitive conclusion as to why he does not partake in the growing and nurturing of ANYTHING, even a potted plant or a flower. I'd like to think that it won't help you "know your enemy" any better. As far away as my interests lie from gardening, there's an odd appeal to it. I have layers of respect for the people that do it often and do it well. Watching my friend Persephone tackle her beautiful monstrosity on a daily basis is almost heroic. She's so little! It's so big! It makes her so angry! Why does she keep going back?! I can't imagine being a dedicated gardener is anything less impressive than being a true geek about anything. Its just that you guys seem to get the proper amount of exercise. Hm. Exercise. Free food. Sunlight. What isn't there to like?

There must be some kind of invisible force keeping me away from the act of nurturing plants, vegetables, fruits and herbs. They would be tasty in my meals, and I could simply walk outside to the backyard and grab something to eat instead of plopping down what little money I have on gas and fast food. It would even make most trips to the grocery obsolete. It makes a ton of sense in my head, and it makes even more cents in my wallet. So what in the world could be stopping me from making my life easier, cheaper, and busier.

I guess it comes down to two things. One, I don't have a backyard. And two, you can't grow meat on a tree. Because as soon as a beefergreen is invented, I will be the first one in line with my cash, a large pot, and all the love and care a human can give an inanimate life form. In my current situation (i.e. a single bedroom apartments with nowhere to put any plants besides the patio), there is simply no room for something that won't produce a tangible thing for me. My apartment is pretty bare as is, except for a couple of movie posters snagged from Best Buy in the middle of the decade. I don't typically feel the need to keep the place adorned with items of purely decorative purpose, especially not the ones that cost money and time to maintain. Even my 4 ft x 4 ft Kill Bill poster would come down if it required a daily glossing and rehanging. Those things just aren't that crucial to where I am in life. In short, flowers and ferns don't do it for me. I need something to gain out of what I'm putting in. I don't cook enough to warrant growing my own spices (I switch between "just not good enough at it" and "just don't want to" on a regular basis). The fact is, if I am going to provide and care for something, it had better fit one of the following criteria: Make me food or play fetch.

Right now, in 2009, these are the only things that will allow living organisms in my house. Since I live in an apartment complex that doesn't even allow fish, the organisms fighting for my attention have decreased even more substantially. In addition to the strict rules and space constraints of my home life, there's the work life to consider. I work in retail. I have no set schedule, and some months out of the year are insanely demanding. I also run a movie and media website when I get home (You guys cultivate soil, I cultivate articles), and it has increasingly been taking up about 20 to 30 hours a week of my time just providing it with the care it needs just to stay online and attract an audience. Adding ANOTHER routine to these already existing ones - especially one that offers no incentive other than "it looks pretty" - simply doesn't rate.

To be perfectly honest, as a single guy, gardening is just a little silly. And to counteract that, I can give this guarantee: When I have a house with a backyard, a wife, and kids, you can bet your butt I'll be getting a garden. There will be a rotating arrangement of people to watch it. There will be a cheaper way to feed multiple mouths. It'll be healthier and more delicious for all involved. Plus, the economy will have long tanked by that time and a garden will be the only place to get reliable food in our Mad Maxian country without resorting to cannibalism. What I'm saying is that I am not beyond hope. It just may take the apocalypse to really get me 100% behind this plant thing.

On a slight tangent around cooking one's own food - if Persephone ever offers to send you some of the food that she makes, take her up on it. It's almost 100% homegrown, and it is the best homecooked food I have ever had in my life. Ooh, that's another bullshit reason why I don't grow anything. I can't do it nearly as well as she can, so why try? I could do this all day.

What it all boils down to is this simple fact. As a 29-year-old apartment living, retail working, website running human, there is not enough time for me to garden the way I want to, and not enough incentive to take care of anything that would provide me with anything useful. I look forward to the time in my life where I have several other human beings dependent on my ability to feed and clothe them. I plan on growing a good portion of the amount consumed myself, hopefully with the input of Persephone and her Greenthumb Army. It'll be an adventure, and one I'll attack with gusto. All of the right components have to fall into place first. Including beefergreens. Man, I can't wait until we invent beefergreens.

Tom Nix is a media enthusiast currently living in Memphis, TN. He is the primary content provider and editor-at-large for The Red Circle dot Com. When not contributing to the site, he enjoys an unfortunately expensive DVD and Blu-Ray collection, arguing film and music as often as possible, and tearing through Rock Band drumsets like butter. One day he will amount to something. Wait for it.   (