Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Recycled Hydroculture: A "Green" Project

When the sun has retreated fully from the sky, as it is now earlier and earlier, it becomes too dark to garden outside. Going through your recycling bin and a closet or two will net you the materials you need for this fun Hydroculture project.
Once I located everything, this took me a matter of minutes to complete.

Search around your place and find a glass container. I used a clean glass jar from some marinated artichoke hearts. (Hint: hot water will help remove the labels from the glass. If you have an instant hot water dispenser in your kitchen, by all means use that. If not, just steaming water from the tap should do! Score the label slightly, and run hot water over until soaked. Repeat for especially stubborn labels.) Clean your container thoroughly, if you need soap to remove any oils or heavy dirt, make sure you rinse your container very well!

Now, your aggregate! I used a mix of glass beads I had laying around in a craft box collecting dust. You could use marbles, or the smooth glass craft stones you get in bags at the dollar store as well, or use your imagination! Leftover colored easter egg grass might be interesting.

Hydroculture officionados will tell you to use an absorbent aggregate like the small clay balls. If you want Hydroculture to work for you long term as a way to sustain your plants, by all means make that investment! When I did the project for myself, I did it with the understanding that I probably wouldn't make this plant live for years. You can fully expect a beautiful "arrangement" that will last for months!

Some old crafty things put to good use!

Now, fill your glass jar at least halfway full with your "aggregate". Even better if you can fill it to the top, it'll allow more room for the roots to grow, and have a more stand-out appearance. There were only enough beads to fill this jar halfway. If you have it available, add a small amount of charcoal to the mix to keep the water from getting too putrid. In a small container, you will replace water so often that it won't get much of a chance to get nasty.
The hardest part could very well be deciding what you want to grow in there! There are many houseplants that are suited to hydroculture. Just a few are:
Arrowhead Vine
Spider Plant

I decided on this little cutting from an Arrowhead Vine. This is a cutting I started in water previously, you can see it has almost a two-inch root. You can pre-root the cutting if you wish, or you can make a new cutting to put into your container with the aggregate and let it root right there amongst the beads. (Or whatever you use.)
It is easier to get a plant to adjust to the conditions of hydroculture when it was started with the rooting process in water. It's already used to wetter conditions around the root.
Carefully insert your little plant in the center of your container, and bury the stem a bit in your aggregate. If you are very particular about the plant standing up straight, insert it deeper so it is supported. To me, it didn't matter with a vining plant that will inevitably end up "touching the sides" anyway.

(Please note: Arrowhead vine is on the ASPCA's list of plants considered to be toxic to cats. Do not let your cat chew or eat your plants without first making sure they are safe for them to chew! Many popular house plants are not safe for chewing! He was promptly scolded for checking out a "bad plant". Keep all potentially toxic houseplants away from your pets and children. For the full list, please see the ASPCA's list on their website, or just click http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control/plants/?plant_toxicity=toxic-to-cats )
Now, to add the water! Just plain water will do, but if you're extra ambitious you can add a small amount of liquid fertilizer to your water. Just make sure you change the water every week if you use fertilizer. I filled the water up to almost the top line of my aggregate, but just below. You don't want too much water around the stem part of your plant, it will be less likely to rot that way. Don't fret if you overfill just a little, evaporation will make up for it in a matter of days in a small container.
Select a position where your plant will receive bright, but indirect light. Avoid too much direct sunshine. I have a large window, and a skylight. During the summer months the plants live on the mantle, where they are not accessible to chewing kitty mouths and they get a double dose of bright light. You are now ready to enjoy! Cheaper, greener, and longer lasting than a bouquet of flowers.

Friday, August 13, 2010

It was many years ago I first fell in love with gardening whilst dreaming of a way to make my surroundings more pleasant, and having access to many books on herbs and gardening. My first attempts at making things grow were heartfelt, but feeble. I still remember the first plant I bought, an ornamental sage of some kind. I was so proud as I unceremoniously planted it into our native clay soil, with little more than hope, and a dream.

I was always amazed that little plant soldiered through some rough treatment. Later I would learn that Salvia is ok with the abuse. It rewarded me with beautiful purple flowers, and years of enjoyment before finally succumbing to a combination of drought and strangulation. Never dream to grow healthy looking plants beneath a tulip tree. It isn't going to happen unless you enjoy digging up your flower bed every year to sort through the compacted roots.

I digress. My introduction to gardening by twilight came about 6 years ago, when I began helping a friend in her herb garden. Being in the yard in the evening makes sense, especially with California summers. This particular summer (2010) has been quite the exception, but it's normally unbearably hot all through June, July and August. As the sun disappeared beyond the tree line, we would joyfully mix a brew of fish emulsion and feed the herbs, water them, pull weeds, talk to them and stroke them gently to encourage the most vigorous growth. After a long day of work, an evening retreat to the garden has always been heaven to me.

There are benefits to gardening by twilight, and there are of course downfalls too. The biggest downfall being mosquito attack. Wait a little longer, and the little buggers (hee hee) are gone. The darker it gets the harder it is to see, and if you are intent on getting a project finished before bed, you'd better count on some additional lighting.

Late into the afternoon and into the evening plants are especially receptive to water, and as long as you aren't flinging water willy-nilly everywhere really late onto your leaves, you don't have to worry much about mold. In areas prone to Summer drought, like our beautiful piece of the Sierra Nevada, it helps allieviate drought stress since the plant will have all night and morning to get its fill of water before the Summer sun sucks the moisture from the soil.

This fall I am planning a moon garden for next year, a special corner of my garden made especially for enjoyment by twilight. This trend has been catching on for a few years now, and I'm ready to try out my own moon garden.