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.

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2 Responses to A Swift Kick In The Gut

  1. Just got caught up, you have been very busy indeed! So what is the living situation now, details, details! Do you have a balcony to grow on? Do you have more or less room for your plants? Inquiring minds... :)

  2. Right now, I'm in a three-bedroom sharing unit. I have one bedroom across the hall from one housemate with whom I share a bathroom. All of my plant shelving, lighting systems, and humidity enclosures are stuck in the port in Jeddah awaiting my final housing assignment, so some of my plants are a lot less happy than they should be. I'm not certain where I can acquire fluorescent tubes for my fixtures, but I hope to find some soon..! I bought small pots, potting soil, and hydroton for my plants, and some are potted and living on the balcony, others are in the apartment near the desk lamp getting way too little light but don't have to withstand the crazy environment outside.

    There's no way really to say how long I'll be in my temporary housing--it's actually the subject of a post I wrote the other day but have yet to put up, because I wanted a few photos. I will have it up soon!


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