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Meyer Lemon Tree BlossomsDespite a warmer than average winter, I’ve been going over my gardening plans for the coming seasons as I focus on my indoor garden. It’s rare for me to talk about what I do and my upcoming gardening plans. I currently live in an urban apartment where gardening space is limited, but have learned to maximize the small space available with container gardening.

I base most of what I do with my garden off of gut instinct and luck in combination with the knowledge I’ve picked up through trial and error over the years.

What Worked

  • Mixing My Own Soil

Living in an apartment, my access to soil and compost is incredibly limited. In the past I’ve relied on a popular brand of potting soil with varying results. My goal this past year was to find a more rich soil mixture that required less maintenance. I ended up using a mixture of potting soil, a high quality compost, sand, and soil conditioner mixed in accordance to the needs of individual plants.

Mixing my own soil turned out to be the best thing I could have done for my little container garden—it retained moisture without becoming waterlogged. To cut down on cost, I looked for ripped, discounted bags at garden centers. The potting soil I used was leftover from the prior year and I would recommend cutting it out completely if possible.

  • OrchidsOrchids

During the winter, mold can be a major problem with indoor plants. My apartment has poor air circulation that created a severe mold problem with the sphagnum moss potting medium used for my orchids. The mold caused root rot, so the decision was made to replant them in bark which has completely abolished the mold problem. While still healing from the mold attack a year later, all have stabilized and look to be healthy.

  • Lizard TerrariumTerrarium

After longing for a terrarium, I finally created a large and nearly self-maintaining eco-system plus an additional lizard. A layer of rocks under the soil help create a self-watering system that the plants thrive on. Beneficial springtails help to tidy the enclosure and decompose waste. Can’t wait to add some live moss!

  • Overwintering Herbs

Currently, our mild winter has made wintering over the many herbs and plants incredibly simple. The hardier plants are unmoved since summer while the more tender are housed in a small pop-up greenhouse for protection from the winter nip.

  • Container PondContainer Pond

Mid-summer, I picked up side project and turned a large, cracked planter into a container pond. This was an especially cheap and simple project—the container was clearanced for $6. Easy to maintain, the pond and goldfish within provided a tranquil addition to an already relaxing jungle. The goldfish have adapted well to overwintering in a tank inside

What Didn’t Work

  • Balcony GardenLack of Space

This past year, I grew both lemongrass and tomatoes; however, both plants grow fairly large and take up a lot of space. Since they shaded out many of my other plants, I have decided I will not grow them this coming year in order to make room for new plants.

  • Various Tropicals

I grow many tropicals that rotate between inside and outside depending on the weather. Both last winter and this current winter, I have found molding soil due to my apartment’s poor air circulation. Currently I have been treating with cinnamon to keep the mold at bay, but would like to find a better solution in the future.

After busting the pot on my large White Bird of Paradise, I attempted to repot it on my own despite suspicions it would be a two person job. I was unprepared for the thick, stiff roots that grew straight down and the three plants separated as I loosened the old soil. In the end, I ended up with leaning plants that were growing into one another.

My cats have done a good job of eating the foliage and even killing a few. I have resorted to placing them in odd places so the plants will have time to begin their recovery.

Looking Ahead

  • Seed SproutingSeed Sprouting

The warmer than average winter is wreaking havoc on my gardening plans as I’ve been cautious of planting seeds with worries they’ll sprout too early. However, I have picked up some new seeds to try of which includes fenugreek, cattails for my pond and cat grass in hopes of distracting the cats from my tropicals.

  • Enduring Soil

When I created a soil mixture last spring, I tried to plan ahead in anticipation of this growing season as I wanted the repotting to be minimal. I added plenty of soil conditioner to each pot in hopes that it would decompose throughout the year, leaving another year of rich soil for each plant to continue growing in. I am eager to see how well (hopefully) this has worked out.

  • Meyer Lemon Tree in FlowerLemon Tree

I will endure the continual wait for the first lemons to ripen on my Meyer Lemon tree. I’m also hoping to see the growth even out a little more this year. The tree is currently in full bloom with a scent that fills the entire room; however, I won’t be leaving many lemons to grow as it’s still a young tree.

After a fairly successful year, this coming year looks to be a promising experience with plenty of room to grow and expand my gardening knowledge. So, how did your garden grow this past year? Got any interesting plans for the 2013 season?

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Highly aromatic, lemongrass grows in thick, cascading clumps that make an attractive indoor or outdoor plant. This plant isn’t just a beauty; it also has medicinal properties and can be made into a delicate tea. In addition to being healthy, this herb will also impart a citrus flavor into any cuisine. If you’ve been interested in experimenting with it, growing lemongrass couldn’t be easier.

Getting Started

Purchase lemongrass stalks that are fresh and still green; avoid stalks that are turning brown and drying out. The ones I purchased were beginning to yellow, but still rooted. Each stalk will multiply to create several new stalks by the end of the season. Fresh lemongrass may be difficult to find in some regions, so I suggest looking in specialty shops—I found mine in an international food market.

Watching Grass Take Root

I prefer to make a fresh slice on the end of the lemongrass to help it take in water until the new roots form. Now simply plop them into a jar of water, making sure the bottom bulb section is covered. After 2-4 weeks, roots and new growth should begin to appear.

Watching Grass Grow

Once 1-2” of roots develop, the lemongrass may be planted into soil. If unable to plant right away, don’t worry–lemongrass is patient. It was still chilly outside when the roots developed on mine, so I left mine in water until the roots were approximately 5-6” in length and the weather had warmed.

Choose a well-draining container to plant the stalks in. When planting, ensure that soil covers the root base. To prevent a risk of rot, do not bury into the soil any deeper than where the highest root nodule is. Water thoroughly. The stalks may feel loose at first, but will soon grow new roots to anchor them securely into the soil.

Lemongrass is not frost-hardy and must be brought inside if temperatures dip below 45°F/7°C.

Health benefits

According to The Herb Bible: A Complete Guide to Growing and Using Herbs (Harding, 2006), lemongrass has many medicinal benefits such as:

  • Lower fever, especially malarial
  • Treating stress-related symptoms
  • Aromatherapy
  • Aids digestion
  • Essential oil relieves muscle aches and pains, injuries, and poor circulation
  • Insect repellent

Making tea

Lemongrass tea is a delicate, citrus flavored tea. It can be made by either steeping the top leaves or the stalk of the plant. The top leaves make for a lighter citrus flavored tea. Simply cut up the leaves and steep as normal—approximately 5 minutes.

When using the stalk, peel off the outer leaves—these are bitter. It is necessary to bruise the stalk by either bending it several times or crushing it under the blade of a chef’s knife. Cut the stalk into pieces. Add to boiling water and steep until preferred strength is reached—approximately 5-10 minutes.

Cookery

Lemongrass is one of those mystery herbs you typically see sold as dried, brown stalks in a little glass bottle at the grocery store. Well-known in Thai cuisine and common in Southeast Asian dishes, lemongrass can be added to soups and curries or made into a tea. It pairs well with coconut milk and will provide a delicate and acidic lemon flavor to balance and compliment a dish.

Lime and Lemongrass Cooler

Servings: 4

  • 2 limes, peeled and each cut into 8 pieces
  • 1 small lemongrass stem, coarsely chopped
  • 3 Tbps. Sweetened condensed milk
  • 4 crushed ice cubes
  • ½ cup water
  • 4 slices of lime
  • Soda water, to top off

Place lime pieces, lemongrass, and crushed ice cubes in a food processor.

Add the water and sweetened condensed milk, process for a few seconds, but not until completely smooth. Strain the mixture into glasses. Add a slice of lime to each glass and top off to taste with soda water. Serve at once.

Enjoy!

After removing, the outer leaves of lemongrass make great cat toys!

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Starting your garden from seed may sound like a great, thrifty way to save some cash. However, there are several herbs that will give a variety of disastrous results when grown from seed. I strongly recommend propagating the following by cuttings or plant division.

Tarragon

When looking to grow Tarragon, never buy seeds. It is very important to be aware of what you’re buying because incorrect labeling does occur. Many times, when you see seed or plants for sale, they will either be Russian Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus L.) or Mexican Tarragon (Tageteslucida). Look for French Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa). Taste a leaf before purchase to ensure the plant is labeled correctly—look for a numbing effect on the tongue when purchasing French Tarragon.

The Differences

French Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa)

  • Superior flavor
  • Preferred in culinary
  • Numbing effect on tongue
  • Rarely flowers, seeds are typically sterile
  • Can be finicky to grow

Russian Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus L.)

  • Belongs to same family as French Tarragon
  • Lacks flavor, may be bitter
  • Readily flowers and sets seed
  • Hardier and more tolerant than French Tarragon

Mexican Tarragon (Tageteslucida)

  • Actually a variety of Marigold
  • Closest in flavor to French Tarragon, so may be used as a substitute

Rosemary

I recommend everybody interested in growing rosemary to buy an already established plant or start with a cutting from an established plant. The seed germination rate is incredibly low—I had only one germinate last year. If you’re lucky enough to get the seeds to germinate, the seedlings can be fussy and difficult to keep alive. The seedlings seem to prefer a moist, well-draining soil and will quickly die if the soil remains dry too long. Rosemary is also slow growing and will take at least a year to establish.

Mint

Mint plants should be incredibly easy to find and are even easier to propagate from cuttings or division. Due to hybridization, mint should not be started from seeds. This causes the mint to have a rank odor and taste. If possible, I strongly recommend finding a good wild or heirloom variety to start with. I have purchased mint varieties from stores that turn rank after a couple years of growth. Since mint tends to readily take over where it’s grown, I encourage everybody interested in growing mint to check with friends and family for a clipping or plant division.

Lavender

If absolutely insistent upon starting from seed, Lavender would be the safest from this list. The biggest problem with Lavender seed is that it can take up to three months to sprout. From there, it may take one year for the plant to become established and bloom. There are also many varieties of Lavender to choose from, just make sure to choose an edible variety.

These plants may sound discouraging to grow, but with a little attention a garden can be saved from imposters. Starting plants from seeds may sound like a cost-efficient method to acquiring a garden, but it may have the hidden cost of replacing poor quality varieties with the proper plant. If looking to save money, cutting and plant division are the keys to success with these four plants.

Looking to start from seeds? Try reading “Seed Sowing: Timely, Thrifty, Universal Methods”

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