Archive for May 2011

Temporary Housing

Originally posted on The Expat Garden(er)

Just like myself, a lot of my plants have had to withstand a transitional dwelling, with no indication of when they'll receive their permanent home. I didn't want my unrooted cuttings, leaves, or bareroot plants to die before I got out of the shared townhouse and into my permanent house--that might be months, if I'm lucky, although I'm repeatedly told "Oh, in just a few weeks, it'll only be two or three more weeks." I won't get my shipment with my grow lights, shelving units, and pots (along with other important things, such as cooking supplies and appliances) until I get into my permanent dwelling, so I didn't want to chance losing plants by waiting around.

Until I can get something more sophisticated set up in this transitionary place, a lot of my cuttings are in water bottles that I cut the top off of, filled with hydroton and potting soil, and then replaced the top snuggly to create cheap mini greenhouses.

Step 1:

Drink the water out of your 1.5 liter Aquafina water bottle with Arabic and English label. (I guess your label could have any language you want on it, because it really doesn't matter--see Step 2.)

Step 2:

Remove Arabic and English Aquafina label. Cut top of bottle off.

Step 3 and 4:

I didn't take a photo of Step 3 (because I created this mini how-to after-the-fact), but it involves placing moist hydroton (because that's all you have, remember--there's nothing else available) in a layer on the bottom of the bottle followed by a thin (about an inch or two) layer of moist unknown-quality potting soil on top of that.

Step 4 is put the plants in and replace the lid snugly around the top of the bottle's base!

See how easy it is to make a home-made, free, environmentally friendly terrarium for temporary housing of humidity-loving cuttings, leaves, and other plant vegetative propagatory bits? If you're living in a place where other supplies are available, the bottom can still be a single or double layer of hydroton, topped with perlite, topped with a moist mixture of whatever potting medium you'd grow the plant in (I like to use milled peat amended with perlite, a little vermiculite, and possibly a tiny tiny tiny bit of worm castings). Usually, this is maybe, say, 1/6 or 1/5 the height of the container, depending, but I've mostly used containers no larger than about 1 gallon.

The Raphidophora celatocaulis is really happy with this situation, as are my mini Philodendron, Nautilocalyx pemphidus, Saintpaulia 'Tiny Wood Trail,' and basically anything else that was small enough to shove together in a cut up bottle. A lot of the plants I brought with me are in two categories: succulent, or humidity-loving and easy to propagate. The second group are the ones that did well in plastic baggies with a bit of moist paper towel, so they're the ones loving the ghetto terraria. I had my Columnea schiedeana in a semihydroponic living situation with Episcia 'Coco,' but I think he prefers the more humid terrarium environment, so I stuck him in the bottle with the Saintpaulia, mini Philodendron, and the N. pemphidus. The Episcia 'Coco,' Paphiopedilum, and Dendrobium loddigesii in the semihydroponic setup get wet once or twice each day in a pot that has a reservoir in the bottom. The room I live in is always exceedingly dry because of the air conditioning, so I really don't think that's overwatering for these particular plants. I have a Rodrumnia x Tolumnia 'Charlie' (that's my name for him, because his real name is just horridly long and confusing to me) in pure hydroton, too--which is what I had originally purchased him in, so I figure he's well-adapted to it.

Almost every other plant is sharing space, too, but in either pure potting soil or various mixtures of potting soil and hydroton. For example, my Streptocarpus 'Crystal Ice' is in hydroton mixed with a bit of soil, but the Chirita 'Dreamtime,' Philodendron bipinnatifidum, and Pandanus veitchii are in pure potting soil. Some of those in pure potting soil are because I didn't find hydroton until after my first week here, but maybe they will be okay with the situation. At least, until I return from my travels with some fancy supplies that I took for granted in my previous life.

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A Swift Kick In The Gut

Originally posted on The Expat Garden(er)

I started with the plant outlet in the superstore on campus; I traveled beyond to the campus landscaping greenhouse; I Googled for resources and braved the big city on the weeekend. And I suffered the most tragic challenge to life here.

I cannot find vermiculite, perlite, or sphagnum in Saudi Arabia.

In fact, I was told by a large garden centre manager that although at one point people used to import these supplies, they are expensive to get into the country and no one really bought them, so they don't import them anymore. I have a lot of plants that require good, fast-draining, sterile growing media. Although I'm used to using things prepackaged for specific purposes, I could always crush up packing peanuts or Styrofoam cups, and I know that sand can be added to potting mixes to allow more drainage and air flow. I do live in a desert, I guess. But the sand is, likely, kind of salty from the Red Sea, and it's not as grainy as, say, horticultural sand--in fact, it's quite compact, hard, fine sand. Not unlike the clay soils I know and love in Washington, DC--just much, much drier. So I'm not entirely convinced that adding it to potting soil will really help matters much.

On the optimistic side, I haven't yet looked very closely at the sand on the beach, so there may be more grainy sand there that I can wash out somehow so I can use it to ammend my potting soil. I would imagine a series of boiling the sand in a pot or just rinsing it with hot water a couple of times would be good enough (the heat of the water will help salts and other minerals dissolve and get washed away from the sand), but I don't want any of my orchids or gesneriads getting fussy with me just because I wanted to add some sand to their growing medium.

Right now, I have all of my plants in various ratios of hydroton and potting soil. Or, rather, some plants have a mix of hydroton and potting soil in various unmeasured but still slightly planned handful-style mixes. I'll have more on that later.

I will be trying to bring some of these supplies back to Saudi Arabia in my luggage after my trip to California next week. I don't need a heck of a lot, but it will make a marked difference in the success of my plants in the long term.


The First To Go

Originally posted on The Expat Garden(er)

Yes, that's right--I haven't been here even two weeks yet, and I've already killed a plant. The Aloe variegata, lovingly carted from New York City to Washington, DC, and then to Saudi Arabia, went all mushy. I had it too wet for several weeks. It was bound to rot. And it did.

There had been some moisture in the ziploc baggie I carted the plant over in. I had grouped a lot of Haworthia and other succulents in the same baggie for transit, but I had rinsed the potting soil off of some of them prior to bagging, and the small amount of moisture that clung to them went into the baggie as well. When I was able to take the plants out of the bag after my arrival, A. variegata already showed signs of rotten sogginess, so I removed another leaf or two from the base and potted it in a mix of the "German Quality Potting Soil" and hydroton instead of waiting for it to dry out and callous (I'm still waiting to find vermiculite, perlite, and all that good stuff here, but hydroton is available in abundance). Also, the "German Quality Potting Soil" holds a lot of moisture--cold moisture, at that, because of the 24/7 air conditioning. Other plants may keel over, too, but I'm hoping that most will survive.

It's a shame. Back in DC, this was a beautiful, if small, plant. Now, it's mush. Luckily, I still have the Haworthia attenuata that was similarly lovingly carted from New York City to Washington, DC, to Saudi Arabia to care for, and I intend for it to remain alive.


Black-Ish Cherry Tomatoes

Originally posted on The Expat Garden(er)

In my first weekend here, I was invited to a tea. I baked a babka (actually, I twisted a chocolate babka dough and a cinnamon babka dough together, so it was a twofer) to bring; had a lovely afternoon chatting about my new employer, gardening, and greening efforts on campus; and was offered some delicious cherry tomatoes from an organic grocer in what's-considered-to-be-nearby Jeddah.

I used some in an omelette a few days ago and more in some pasta I made this evening. I have a few more left, but those I'll probably pop right into my mouth when I want a juicy, refreshing, flavourful snack. These black cherry tomatoes are incredibly yummy, and hard to describe. Not quite smokey and deep, not only sweet and tart, kind of all of the above at the same time. I couldn't find any named varieties of black cherry tomato--they're all just called "black cherry tomato." So I squeezed out some seed to save, and I'll grow a few plants on the patio here!


Pretty Plants: Euphorbia maculata

I have seen these tiny plants all over campus. They are only a few inches--some grow close to the ground, others are more erect. I believe that they could be Euphorbia maculata.

The one I chose to photograph doesn't look like all the others around it--it's erect, for one thing, and has red variegation instead of the purple spots in the center of the leaf, branching habit, and smaller leaves that seem to be more usual. There are ones nearby in the uncropped version of this photo that are growing close to the ground, have smaller leaves, and with and without purple spotting, as well as ones that are erect with the purple spotting and larger leaves. I don't know if this is variation in genetics or actual different species of Euphorbia. My favourite, however, is the one pictured above. It's cute enough that I'd grow a bunch together beneath a slender, taller plant, maybe in a tiny pot for the "Gosh that's cute" effect.

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Originally posted on The Expat Garden(er)

After weeks of frantic furniture divestment, an international destination wedding, something of a sinus infection, and a 12-hour direct flight from Washington, DC, to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, I would have plenty of reason to be flustered at customs upon my arrival: I was, y'know, carrying 99 different plant units into the country.

I had (still have) a phytosanitary certificate, but I didn't know whether I'd be asked for an import permit as well. But not one person even asked to look at my gym duffel bag full of bareroot plants, plant cuttings, bulbs, rhizomes, and other goodies. I feel almost cheated after all that effort I went through to get it (I ended up meeting my inspector in a parking lot of a Tex-Mex restaurant at 11:15 PM last Friday night).

My first order of business upon arrival in my temporary housing was to check the plants for stress due to excess water, excess lack of water, light deprivation, or physical damage from transportation. These are the ones I decided to give light, water, lack of water, or otherwise pay attention to a little bit to help give them a bit more chance of survival until I get my permanent housing in one to three weeks and can pot them.

This is the grocery bag full of cuttings, bareroot plants, et cetera that I don't think will need a great level of care for at least another few days. I have had a Columnea schiedeana in a baggie since 9 April already--what's another week or two for that cutting? I think the rest of these will be alright, generally, as well.


Posting Is Suspended

Posting to The Indoor Garden(er) is suspended while I am living and blogging in Saudi Arabia as The Expat Garden(er). Stop on by and take a gander!

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Bad Timing

I just got back from five days in Nova Scotia for two friends' wedding. It was beautiful, but like a step back in time--the Crocus and such are only just now blooming, and there are only hints of green on the trees.

Upon my return, I was greeted with this inflorescence on my Haworthia limifolia. But, in just two or so days, I'll be chopping it down to get the plant inspected for a phytosanitary certificate and sent bareroot to Saudi Arabia. The flowers will not have time to fully develop, nor will I have the opportunity to try to make babies from this plant. I hope there's a next time so I can try!


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