Monday, July 24, 2017

How to Build a Simple Terrarium or Gardening with Cats

I probably don't need to argue with any of you about why indoor plants are great.  As gardeners, I feel pretty confident that we all have some type of "indoor garden".  We've had to get a little creative with ours.  See when I was in college I adopted a cat.  That's not exactly the end of that story.  He has one little quirk, he eats plants.  For instance, he used to climb up a dresser, onto a small wall shelf, tip-toe to the end and stretch himself another foot or two so he could nibble on a hanging plant I had in one of my apartments.  He even used to bite a cactus I had.  My cat didn't seem to miss a beat (and continued to bite it over time), the cactus died within days of the assault.  His vet says he's fine it's just part of who he is.

So needless to say we've had to get a little creative with our indoor plants.  When we moved into our current house, one of the things we like the most was how much light there was inside.  We had just sold our 100 year old farmhouse in the middle of the city that was very dark inside and wasn't really good for plants.  We were looking for a change, and the light filled living room of our current house was exactly right.  It even had a bay window that was begging for indoor plants.  Except that we had a cat.

For the first year and half the only thing we used the bay window for was displaying a small Christmas tree during the holidays and feeding the cat (ironic isn't it).  Finally we came up with a plan to add some additional greenery.  We came up with a little terrarium garden.

As it turns out terrariums aren't really hard to create or take care off.  All you need to get started is a glass container, potting soil, gravel, activated charcoal, some small plants, and any other decorations you want to add.  Some people like to make the whole process complicated with a lot of what I think are extra materials and steps.  My technique s pretty simple and streamlined.

So the fist thing you will want to do is add a layer of gravel to the bottom of the container.  More is better, but you also need to leave enough room so your plants will have space to grow.  It helps is you have an eager toddler who wants to add gravel for you, though she isn't necessary.  Once you have the gravel in, add a layer of activated charcoal.  This layer helps things from getting stinky inside the terrarium one its closed.  You don't need to add a lot, maybe and inch or so.  Then top off your layers with potting soil.  The key here is to make sure you have enough soil so your plant roots have a home, while not eliminating all the space for the actual plant.

Once you have the soil in you an start adding your plants.  Keep size in mind when you are buying plants.  Many nurseries have a selection of terrarium plants to pick from, so it makes it pretty easy.  Also remember that if you have a closed terrarium, it will be really humid in there.  Succulents will not like that, but you can use them if you have an open container.  You'll want to think about how everything  will look together and try to put the taller plants in the back, so you can see the smaller ones.  I like to try to have a variety of colors, textures, and plant sizes.  It's similar to planting a container garden outside or arranging flowers.  This is also where you could add any extra things, like decorative gravel mulch, or little fairy garden accessories.  We keep it simple here though.

Once it all planted, you will want to water everything.  The final step is to wipe the soil and any charcoal dust of the inside of the glass. If the opening of your container is big enough you an just use your hand and a paper towel.  If it's smaller, you may have to get creative.  I've had good luck with a skewer with paper towel wrapped on the end.  You don't want to skip this step.  Trust me, I have.  If you don't tidy things up, you will have dirt clods blocking your view of the plants and taunting you until you finally clean things up.

Terrariums don't really have a lot of ongoing maintenance.  If they are closed (have a lid) you won't even need to water them regularly.  Every few months I clean my terrariums up.  There really isn't a schedule, I just do it when I start to notice they need a little TLC.  This is when I trim off any dead leaves, pitch back any plants that are getting too tall, and remove anything that isn't working out.

So there you have it.  One cat proof indoor gardening idea, that looks pretty good.  Definitely better than a half eaten hanging plant, or a cactus dying due to cat bites.  How do you garden while still have furry four legged friends?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Best Tomatoes I've Ever Grown (in Texas)

I used to try and grow tomatoes.  Every year I would set out my plants and things would be going along, plants would grow, flowers would bloom, fruit would form and eventually ripen, and then every year without fail, my tomatoes would get a case of spider mites and decline to the point where it seemed more humane to yank them out of the planters and add them to the compost pile.

I tried lots of things to keep them going and some years I would manage to nurse a few along through the hot summer and into fall. (INSERT LINK)  After last summer’s tomato carnage, we re-purposed the vegetable garden planters.  Then this happened…a volunteer in my washing machine planter.  It has a few strawberry plants in it, and apparently last year a Supper Sweet 100 tomato ended up there.

The plan was to let it grow until the inevitable happened.  It hasn’t happened yet.  This volunteer is out growing my other attempts.

Now since it was a volunteer, it got kind of a late start.  The flowers and fruits are a little behind the normal schedule.  Maybe that’s been it’s saving grace.  I wasn’t a gigantic plant that rivaled Jack’s beanstalk when the true heat of summer arrived.  Or maybe it’s been all of the rain we’ve had the last few weeks.

Hopefully we will get to enjoy tomatoes for weeks to come, maybe well into July.  Eventually the heat will cause the tomato to stop fruiting.  If it’s still looking this good, I may try to nurse it along until it cools off in the fall.  

Regardless, it’s the best tomato plant we’ve grown in a l-o-n-g time.