Archive for the ‘How To’ Category
Have you heard the one about the rabbi and the zucchini?
There are a lot of dirty jokes you can make about zucchinis, to state the obvious.
But somehow it escaped my attention, until very recently, that zucchini plants have male and female flowers – of which the male flowers (above) must pollinate the female flowers (below) in order to make babies.
Now, I’ve grown zucchini for years – never successfully, mind you – but year after year I planted seeds, nurtured the plants, watched the little phallic fruits grow… and shrivel and die. And I would shrug it off, blasting the gardening gods for being against me again that year. It was only this year that, faced with another shriveled yellow curcubit, I dragged myself to the Internet and discovered that I was dealing with sexual disfunction in my garden. Or at least a lack of bee action.
This just goes to show you that a) Gardening is an ongoing learning process and b) I’m stubborn, lazy, and dumb as sh*t.
I am capable of learning, thank goodness. Armed with an article on zucchini blossom end rot I learned that rotting baby zucchinis are usually a result of lack of pollination. IE: if bees don’t pollinate your zucchini, you have to do it yourself.
And thus, in what was probably the closest thing to my experimental college days, I decided to intervene in another couple’s sex life.
Hand pollinating feels kind of illicit (at least to my dirty mind). Basically, you locate a male flower (one with a slender stem), open it up and, using a cotton swab, gather some of the yellow pollen from its central pistol. Then you find a female flower (one with a swollen, baby zucchini-like stem) and gently roll the pollen onto its inner stigma. And just like that – we’re in the baby business. You can also forgo the cotton swab and just break off the male flower and nuzzle it into the female’s business.
It’s easy, but yet somehow feels wrong. But as long as my now-pollinated little zucchinis “set” and provide me with chocolate zucchini bread for months to come, I guess I’ll get used to the idea.
Makeshift herb garden
After months of searching for an affordable modern trough for my herbs, I was getting desperate, and my herbs were getting leggy in their little starter pots.
Enter the Fniss wastepaper basket, discovered while standing in the Ikea checkout line. At $2.99 each, they make great little planters, non?
I bought five and lined them up where I had wanted a trough to go – I think it’s a great solution.
Here’s how I did it: I carefully drilled three holes in each bottom using a 5mm (1/4″) drill bit (the plastic is thin so you have to apply gentle pressure with the drill or the bottom may crack). I filled each one with a mixture of Coco Earth (to retain water) and Sea Soil, a gorgeous dark soil that practically matches the black of the containers.
A good home for houseplants
Ta da! After months of coveting others’ creations and searching for the right vessel, I finally made my own terrarium. The photos are kind of bad due to the reflection, unfortunately, but you get the idea.
I started with a layer of charcoal, which prevents mold from growing, added soil-less potting mix, then followed with the plants: a plumosa (asparagus fern), lipstick plant and Irish moss. I added the “lawn fawn”, a perfectly-kitschy little deer, just for fun, but you could easily skip it for a more sophisticated look.
Did I mention that I can’t fit my hand in the top, so this was all done with my husband’s barbecue tongs?
You like? I think it’s fab. (As an aside, there was a lot of grumbling last year about houseplant hatred; could terrariums turn it around for the piteous old houseplant?)
Wanna try it? Here’s a good article on the how-to of building a terrarium.
Getting kids into gardening
I don’t have children yet but I am lucky enough to live next door to some awesome little kids, who were my happy models for the photos in this article. They are my practice/surrogate children, and I am slowly indoctrinating them into the Cult of Gardening. It seems to be working, as they love “working” in the garden. This, I guess, qualified me enough to write the following article, which was recently published in Urbanbaby Magazine. Enjoy.
Getting kids into gardening
Ask many people about gardening and they claim to have a black thumb. “My mom always made me weed when I was a kid,” is a common refrain, followed closely by, “I always kill everything.”
Of course, gardening was a chore for many of us growing up. It was done not with pleasure or the spirit of exploration many gardeners enjoy, but reluctantly. Because of that, some of us may have vowed not to inflict the same torture upon our children.
It’s a shame, really, because gardening doesn’t have to be a chore. In fact, gardening with your kids is a fantastic way to get them outdoors, teach patience and sensitivity, instill an appreciation for the natural world, and to provide a gateway to a healthy lifelong activity.
Let’s set one thing straight: gardening is right up most kids’ alleys. There’s dirt. Bugs. Grass to pluck. Sunshine. As long as it’s introduced in an appealing way, kids will grow to love gardening. But how do you make gardening appealing to a toddler or young child?
How to make seedballs
Seedballs: microcosms of the living world.
This past weekend, Al from my guerilla gardening group led a seedball-making workshop. I loved it; it was so satisfying just to get my hands muddy and spend a couple hours in a zen-like trance rolling seedballs… I highly recommend the process!
Here’s the recipe:
5 parts dry red clay*
3 parts dry organic compost
1 part seed**
1 – 2 parts water
We used a 16oz. plastic cup as a measure, which made enough for approximately 300 seedballs. After mixing together all the dry ingredients, we added enough water to form a mix that held together without crumbling but wasn’t so wet that it wouldn’t roll into balls. Pinching off small bits of the lovely mud, we rolled penny-sized balls and set them in trays. They will sit on my windowsill for three or four days until completely dry.
*Dry red clay: Yes, this is the stuff that potters use. Commonly it comes pre-mixed, which you don’t want. You want the dry powder so it can be easily mixed. I’ve tried using grey clay from a riverbank – it doesn’t work so well. In Greater Vancouver there is something called Red Art Clay which is available at Greenbarn Potters Supply Ltd., 9548 – 192nd Street in Surrey (604-888-3411). Try asking at your local art supply store.
**Seeds: Workshop organizer Al provided crimson clover, white dutch clover and wild flower seeds, while the rest of the participants donated appropriate seeds – I put in California poppy, nasturtium and cilantro. Al also suggested using the edible, perennial and drought-tolerant plants listed at Plants for a Future.
Here we are, rolling away.
One of these kids is doing their own thing.
More on seedballs:
Path to Freedom
Fun with the Rooter Pot
Lee Valley carries this neat little system called The Rooter Pot, which is essentially a fancy version of the traditional air layering method of propagating cuttings.
Basically, it allows you to create a good-sized plant from a stem or branch of another. You choose your stem, wound it, slap some root stimulator on the wound, snap the Rooter Pot around it, fill it with peat and water, and then wait for roots to develop. In about eight weeks, you cut off the branch, and voila, you’ve got yourself a new plant. I got a Rooter Pot a couple of years ago, and have used it to clone fig trees with success, so I thought I’d try it on my rather gangly-looking rubber plant, or, Ficus elastica (below).
Fun with fallen leaves
Have you ever wondered how to make roses out of maple leaves? Nah, me neither. But this is kind of cool in that kitchy autumn craft kind of way.
If you’re so inclined, there are step-by-step photo instructions here. Enjoy.
How to: make an organic all-purpose pesticide
If it’s not slugs, it’s aphids, apparently. The little buggers have arrived and are determined to shrivel up all the new growth on my Clematis jackmanii. It being in its third year (third year leap – check!) there is a lot of new growth at stake.
I’ve always used a two-pronged approach to deal with aphids. I plant nasturtiums as a decoy (I call them sacrificial nasturtiums) because aphids go for them and leave my basil and other tender morsels alone. Second, I use a dishwashing liquid-and-water solution to deal with the aphids that do go after my prized plants (never had enough of a problem to buy lady bugs). It seems to work alright, but I came across this recipe in the Farmer’s Almanac and I think I’ll give it a try:
Organic all-purpose pesticide
In a jar, combine 1 teaspoon dishwashing liquid and 1 cup vegetable oil. Shake vigorously. In an empty spray bottle, combine 2 teaspoons of this mixture and 1 cup water. Use at ten-day intervals (or more often if needed) to rid plants of whiteflies, mites, aphids, scales, and other pests.
How to: get your plants drunk
Now here’s a worthwhile study. A new Cornell University researcher has found a way to keep paperwhite narcissists from tipping over – by getting them tipsy.
The study finds that a touch of booze keeps certain houseplants from getting too tall by stunting their growth. “Dilute solutions of alcohol — though not beer or wine — are a simple and effective way to reduce stem and leaf growth,” said William Miller, professor of horticulture and director of the Flower Bulb Research Program at Cornell.
“While solutions greater than 10 percent alcohol were toxic, solutions between four and six percent alcohol stunted the paperwhites effectively,” said Miller.
To control stem and leaf growth, he suggests waiting until paperwhites or other daffodil shoots are several inches long to drain the water and replace it with a solution of four to six percent alcohol — hard liquor or rubbing alcohol.
To get a five percent solution from 80-proof liquor, which is 40 percent alcohol (such as gin, vodka, whiskey, rum or tequila), add one part liquor to seven parts water. To use rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol), which is 70 percent alcohol, dilute one part with 10-11 parts water.
Read more here.
How to make seed balls
At the Seattle Flower and Garden Show this weekend, these Seedballz reminded me of a personal project, dormant while I lived in the suburbs, but ripe for rebirth now that I’ve moved back to Vancouver (well, sort of. We’re still moving!).
Seed balls are a method of sowing seeds that apparently originated with our First Nations people. To protect seeds from being blown away or eaten by birds, they’d hide seeds inside little balls of clay.
Regular readers will recall that I have a bit of a fascination with guerilla gardening, so it won’t come as a surprise that the first thing that crossed my mind when I saw the Seedballz booth at the Show was, “Those would be perfect for chucking into empty lots!” Except I wasn’t about to pay $6.50 for a package. So I googled “seed balls” and two seconds later, had my own recipe for making seed balls!
For my next spare moment. LOL.