A late update

It’s been a while, but herewith some gardening updates! The damn spider mites seem to be a recurring nightmare on my black eyed suzans. Cooler winter weather coming, so perhaps that will give me a chance to bring them under control. I’ve also had my first good harvest of basil; used it to make pesto. Had no idea pine nuts were so expensive (R60 for 100g!), ended up substituting wallnuts. Tasted good though.

I also planted a rosemary bush into the “real” ground outside my apartment. My “garden” is covered with decorative gravel, but there seems to be (very sandy) soil underneath. Good for rosemary, and since my potted rosemaries don’t seem to be doing anything, I gave it a try. The bush seemed to be doing well till I carelessly stepped on it (while spraying the black eyed susans for spider mite) and broke half the twigs off. Hope it recovers.

Procreational update

A while ago I went about creating a whole bunch of baby plants! The tomatoes are looking good, and I’ve re-potted them again into somewhat larger pots. The bell pepper seedlings are doing similarly well. One of the bell pepper seedlings have been planted into a self watering container made from 7l chutney containers that I got (for free!) from a local restaurant.

I ended up giving one each of the tomato and bell pepper seedlings to a colleague. Also gave her one of the successful origanum cuttings. The other (along with a bell pepper, chives, marigolds and store-bought rosemary and thyme plants) were given as a wedding gift. The wedding couple really seemed to like they idea of receiving plants, although I did have inside info that they were looking to gussy up the garden at their new home :)

Have had no luck with thyme cuttings, even when using growth hormones! I dunno what’s up with that. May be that I used too small cuttings and put them in too shallow soil. Have now tried a much longer (and tender) cutting, planted in more soil, and so far it seems to have made what looks like the beginning of roots fingers crossed. As an aside, it is useful not to harvest your thyme for a while if you are looking for longer tender shoots :)

The garlic seedling has been planted in a 50l washbasin container along with some chives, garlic chives and basil. The basil seems to be thriving, while the garlic chives and garlic are doing fairly well, while the normal chives seem to be just hanging on. Not sure if the (single) basil plant is interfering with the others, or if the basil just doesn’t care as much about the mix of container soil and earth in the pot. I’ll see how it goes, perhaps the chives will do well once they establish themselves, otherwise I’ll make a different plan.

The End

Bed time for this one, folks. Hope to share some more soon, as well as a recipe or two. For now, all the best!

Making Amends and Other Exciting Updates

Quite a busy gardening day! In fact, probably my only whole day spent gardening to date :) In part it was sad, since I had to admit to earlier mistakes and throw out my tatsoi and pinokio cos lettuce, neither of which yielded anything. This allowed me to make amends by amending the terrible soil that I think resulted in my lettuce no-shows. I also finished building a 50l self-watering container to plant rocket in, and started my dry-herb container. To top it all off, I planted tomato and garlic chive seeds.

Lessons about soil

When I first started gardening (not too long ago) I had the attitude that potting mix is expensive, and that I should water it down, so to speak, using normal soil. I felt I was on solid ground, since my GF’s mother plants all her containers using exclusively garden soil with some success. Initially this worked for me too, but later cought up with me.

The thing is, my GF’s house has very nice soil that is fairly light and well airated and full of organic matter. When I started I took a bag of soil from her house, and mixed that with the potting mix. Later, when I adding more pots, I started using soil from my flat complex’s beds, expecting the same results, but oh-no. Not a good idea.

The Dead Rosemary Bush

After killing a rosemary bush (which is quite hard), I found that the bottom two-thirds of the pot was pretty much a solid lump of clay, completely preventing drainage. Mystery solved there. So, I think, let’s just remove half the soil, and mix it down with more potting mix. Certainly that should be good enough. Well, it was better, but after a while the new rosemary plant was going nowhere. By now I’ve come to respect the importance of drainage for potting soils, and realised what was going on.

Of Al and his Mixes

There is a regular container mix guru on the gardenweb forums known as Al. What he has impressed on me is the importance of good drainage and aeration for pot plants. As he puts it, on a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is gardening in regular soil and 10 is hydroponics, container growing is about a 7-8.

When gardening in the real earth there are natural processing going about the conversion of organic matter to plant-nutrients (bacteria, earthworms), processes keeping the ground aerated (earthworms, burrowing animals, etc) and probably a hundred other processes doing a hundred important things I’m not aware of ;) In container gardening you can’t depend on them.

His chief aims when choosing a potting mix is that it is

  1. Well aerated. Surprisingly, plants actually need to obtain most of their oxygen an CO2 requirement via their roots rather than their leaves.
  2. Durable. Some components used in a potting mix can decompose and turn the mix into “soup” that kills aeration.
  3. Well drained.

Al has some mixes that he prescribes, and also goes to some length to explain the rationale behind his mix-design. He also discusses container fertilisation.

Paying for Sins Past

Well, as I mentioned, the new rosemary bush also started looking not so good. After the first death I took care not to over-water, and occasionally tilled the soil bit, but there is only so much you can do in a pot!. For my efforts the top layer of soil was in reasonable condition, but as I went deeper I found pretty much a replay of the soild conditions implicated in the first rosemary death, including a nice rotten-egg smell in the bottom layer. The rotten smell indicates a complete lack of oxygen, resulting in anaerobic bacteria doing their stinky thing.

And so, I decided, enough messing around. Time to get rid of all my bad soil. Out came the old rotten soil, and in came fresh Culterra potting mix. I hope Rosemary enjoys her re-decorated home. An added advantage of using proper potting mix is that it is much lighter than garden dirt, making it much easier to move pots around.

I also ripped out the pinokio Cos Lettuces that I planted some time ago. After going absolutely nowhere since I first planted them, they started to bolt without having given me a single usable leaf! Also planted with them was some tatsoi that also suffered from going nowhere. I remembered doing some dodgy soil-mixing with that container, but was surprised when the soil appeared to be pretty much pure potting mix. As I dug deeper, however, I soon came to a solid-blocked layer of clay-soil again. Ahah. I planted two of the bolting lettuce plants in another container with the hope of harvesting some seeds, so perhaps I will get something for my efforts in another generation of plant!

Planting out Rocket Seedlings

In the 50l self-watering container I built today, I planted out some of the rocket seedlings that I raised from seed. I also removed a wild rocket plant from another pot that had bolted before making hardly any leaves. I think the problem with that rocket was that it was in the small pot at the nursery for way too long. I was about to throw all of it away when I saw that it actually consisted of several separate plants, and that a couple of them looked like young plants and were not bolting. I planted those out for the joke too. I may have been a bit hard-handed in removing them from the other pot, so we’ll see if they make it.

What was interesting to note was how quickly the seedling roots grew down, through the bottom aeration holes and into the water resevoir! I hope that does not cause problems later.

Planting out Marigold Seedlings

I planted Marigold seeds at the same time as the rocket mentioned above, and planted a couple of them out into the pot vacated by the wild rocket. Their roots had grown even more crazily than the rocket seedlings’. The roots of some of the seedlings were probably 20 times longer than the seedling itself! I may have broken some of them off in the process of transferring the seedlings, so I’m hoping for the best.

Bellpepper seedlings.

Lo and behold, the seeds I saved from a store-bought pepper have germinated. Now we must see what we get!

Dry-herb Container

By dry I mean herbs that like dry growing conditions, such as rosemary, thyme and origanum. I re-purposed the 50l basin-type container vacated by the cos lettuce (I think I’ll try a self-watering container next time I grow lettuce) for this. To make the soil even better drained, I added (what I hope is) pine bark-fines to the potting mix, making up about a third of the mix. I haven’t come across bark-fines at local nurseries yet, but the bark sold as mulch usually has a fair portion of fines. By fishing out the largest pieces by hand, a reasonable mix can be had.

The reason I hope it is pine is that some other tree bark can inhibit growth; I bought at Cape Garden Centre on the R44, but they could not tell me if it was pine or not. It looks like pine though. Earlier the day I was at the Stellenbosch Builder’s Warehouse Express where they were certain that their product was pine, but I did not buy it then. Later when I realised I wanted it, they were closed, and I had to go the the Garden Centre.

I re-planted another rosemary bush in this container; this bush was previously in the same container as my basil and chives. Since the basil and chives like more water than rosemary, replanting seemed like a good idea. I also planted a new thyme plant that I bought at a supermarket. I have a thyme plant in another container, but did not want to re-plant it at this time. I will probably add origanum if/when my cuttings take off, and then see if it makes sense to add anything else to this container.

Garlic Chives and Tomato seeds

I planted about 10 garlic chive seeds in the 2l self-watering container vacated by the rocket I planted out today. I also planted some Season Red tomatoes. These being hybrid seeds, you only get about 10 or so seeds in a packet. In fact, they package the seeds within another little paper envelope inside the seed-packet. For now I’m only planning to grow one plant, but just in case I planted four seeds into 5cm pots. with the Master Organics Super Premium Potting Mix. I’m keeping them wet from below in a tray. If they all germinate successfully I’ll decide what to do with the extra seedlings.

The End

Phew, what a day. I hope I can one day pick the fruits of my labour :) It’s getting a little late, so Good Night!

Chives have sprouted

Today I noticed that my chives have finally sprouted! Yay!

My first gardening log: Chives, Rocket and Marigolds

OK, been a bit busy, and I’m up past my bed-time (again, sigh), but I had better write this stuff down before I forget.

On Friday I planted some Chives, mainly to test my 10 Litre Self-watering Bucket (don’t bother clicking yet, I will do pictures and stuff later). The bucket is probably bigger than neccesary, but I’m not yet convinced of it’s proper functioning ;)

Front of Starke Ayres chives packet

Sorry about the poor picture quality, my decent camera is elsewhere.

I also planted some Marigolds and Rocket in 2L icecream-container self-waterers tonight (actually last night by now, i.e. the 18th), but more about that later.