indoor garden – taking joy in human unreason Tue, 20 Mar 2018 17:06:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 2017 Gardening Round Up Tue, 20 Mar 2018 20:00:24 +0000 Continue reading 2017 Gardening Round Up ]]> Huh… How have I not posted on my recent gardening work at all? In fact, I haven’t posted about gardening since 2011, which is, like, forever ago and very different from what I’m doing now. Here’s a little insight into what I did last year, and I’ll do a follow-up on how I’m kicking off 2018.

Early spring 2017 Mammillaria zeilmanniana, flowering.
Early spring 2017 Mammillaria zeilmanniana, flowering.

Last year, I expanded from the single saguaro I mentioned in 2011 (who has been through some shit, I tell you) to a pretty sweet cactus/succulent garden for a newbie. Anything I bought directly was targeted to be able to handle USDA Zone 7 winter living at least–I have some great books to help with this–but I ended up with a bunch of stuff straight out of Mexico and Arizona that need much more coddling.

The season went well!

  • My first loss was a cactus that died to a fungus it probably had before I got it (the autopsy is graphically documented on cactiguide).
  • I had to perform surgery on my saguaro to remove some rot.
  • One of my pricklies suffered a bit of rot during hurricane season, but recovered.
  • I lost a little one, maybe due to rot? at the end of the season.
  • I lost one just a few weeks ago to mealy bugs or something that got in as a result of them (I haven’t autopsied it yet).

Out of 25 or so plants of interest, that ain’t bad.

It might sound strange, but the fact that my first loss was due to something that wasn’t my fault kept me from abandoning the garden. Everyone, everyone says that noobs will overwater their cacti and kill them. And yeah, I did eventually struggle with that.

But if my first death had been a cactus I carefully put in no organic soil whatsoever for moisture control and photographed meticulously to check for issues and did a ton of research on before even purchasing… I would have been really bummed. What else could I have done, if I had already done the best I could? With no experience to draw on yet, I wouldn’t have known what factors to change. The fungus was a good way for the first to go.

Opuntia phaeacantha "Dark Knight", early 2017 season.
Opuntia phaeacantha “Dark Knight”, early 2017 season.

I took a lot of pictures. With the slow-growing nature of cacti, the surprisingly fast growth of the succulents, and the uncertainty of whether any of these plants would live, I wanted to see how they were doing. That helped me catch a lot the above issues early (except for the mealy bugs).

I was sending a rude number of pictures over Google Hangouts, so I started an Instagram account for select photos. (You can now also see those if you follow me on Mastodon.) I have a ton more weekly photos just stored away, though, stored by plant and taken from the same angles so I can check growth.

With the right soil mixture, these plants generally don’t need any attention but once a week, which suits my schedule very well. I’ve churned through more conventional plants this season, too: rosemary, catnip, dill, a false cypress, a few other things probably… all lived and died due to my irregularity in care of them. The cacti and succulents suffered a bit at times, but that mostly meant I probably didn’t get maximum growth out them.

Summer 2017 cactus garden additions.
Summer 2017 cactus garden additions.

There were a few particularly tricky parts in the year, though:

In late May and June, Charlotte got a total of about 12 inches of rainfall. Phoenix, Arizona gets about 8 inches per year. Twelve inches felt like a deluge even as someone living here. Except for the prickly pears, my cacti are planted in pure pumice (no soil/organics) due to the quantity of rainfall we get here, but all that rain meant I wasn’t adding fertilizer (needed for pumice-only growing), so growth stagnated and I worried about rot constantly.

Early fall brought a hurricane pretty close to Charlotte, NC, and the winds were violent enough that I needed to bring all the little ones in, and the rain heavy enough that I needed to bring anything that could get waterlogged indoors. That was a mess.

My house, taken over by my garden.
Gollum Jade cutting
One of the original gollum jade cuttings I received in spring 2017.

As winter approached, I needed to get them all somewhere stable. My research suggests that all my cacti and many/most/all? of the succulents want to be dry in the winter. The cacti want no water.

For the plants I bought directly that were Zone 3-7, I bought a cold frame, put some flat stones under it, and set all  those plants in there. The temperature wasn’t hugely raised by the cold frame except on sunny says, but they were kept dry.

The rest… came indoors. Gregory was a champ, because this was just a few weeks after the hysterectomy, so I couldn’t lift even the medium-sized pots. From early November until just this past weekend, I had about 15 plants inside on a coffee table right under one of the two windows in my apartment. All the succulents had to come indoors, and several cacti.

Gollum Jade Early Spring 2018
Gollum Jade, early spring 2018 after a loooong winter indoors.

Luckily, my cats were pretty disinterested in them, because they’re all poisonous to them.

Despite the fact that “Zone 7” doesn’t sound far off from “Zone 9” (e.g., Phoenix, AZ), our last frost is traditionally late March/early April, I think. Hell, we just got snow last week (mid-March), even though it didn’t stick. So my most fragile cacti are still indoors, even though I’ve finally kicked the succulents outside.

With those outside, my winter impulse buys incorporated, and some new stuff about to be shipped to me (some storefronts wait until your zone is ready for planting), it’s time to kick off 2018. Plans, details, and pictures up next.

If you want to see my day-to-day pictures, Instagram or Mastodon are the ways to go.

2011 Gardening: Some Stall, Some Progress Mon, 23 May 2011 17:00:45 +0000 Continue reading 2011 Gardening: Some Stall, Some Progress ]]> Let’s go ahead and get the bad out of the way:


I put several of the two-leaf seedlings outside for a day or two, thinking that sun is awesome. Tomatoes want “full sun”, right?

…Sun isn’t awesome.

Luckily, a couple days indoor and some water, and more of the seeds I’d already planted of the tomato, basil, and cilantro sprouted.

The cilantro, unfortunately, picked up a case of mildew-ish stuff that killed it and thoroughly grossed me out. Too much water, too poor drainage. It was creepy anyway, because the seed casings stayed stuck on the tips of the plants, making them look like droopy aliens.

Buh-bye, cilantro. I’ll try again soon. I really want some basil growing first, though.

I finally gave up hope on the peach pit I planted and dumped it outside. I figured if I saw some sort of sprout when I dumped it, that I’d replant that.

What I saw instead was a bit of a nightmare: I tossed the dirt from the pot, and flies/gnats went with the dirt! What?! Ew. That was in my house.

Also, no pit. Creepy.

So that’s done. I think that pot is substandard, too–ceramic, all painted. It doesn’t seem to drain well.

For the tomatoes and basil, I was back to a few small seedlings in a pot. They aren’t growing nearly as fast as the first set did, but we also haven’t been letting as much sunlight into the house as we were.


The orange seeds sprouted! (Well, two of the three I planted.) I read a book a couple of weekends ago that talked about citrus trees and how they cross-breed very easily. Who knows what this seed will turn out to be? Greg confirms that the leaves are, in fact, characteristic orange tree leaves–round and waxy.

As long as it’s less gross than the cilantro, I’m cool. As it is, it’s cute and tiny.

They’re right next to each other, though. When do I separate them?

My garlic is on it! All three cloves sprouted and have grown. The lower leaves were looking wilty, so I harvested one. My first ever harvest!

…Unfortunately, it wasn’t a bulb yet. But it was an edible shoot!

We put it in pizza (the term is “garlic scallions”). So delish.

The garlic was outgrowing its cramped home (3 in one pot), so the two remaining have their own pots now.

The green onion got so tall that it fell over. I replanted it when it started looking wilty and stagnant into the substandard pot I mentioned above. I didn’t have the best success getting it out of its original tiny pot. The roots had wrapped themselves around the entirety of the dirt (all the roots were in a circle around the base of the onion–none in the middle), and the dirt was firmly ensconced in the pot. It took some tugging, but I got it out, sans all the dirt.


It didn’t look like anything tore, but I quickly planted it in new, nicer soil, and although it’s still too heavy to hold itself up, it’s growing again. I gave it a stick to lean on. I’m honestly not sure what this thing is supposed to do, but the top tips (about 2 inches out of about a foot) stay browned/shriveled (even before I moved it), even when the bottoms look good. I was hoping for flowers. Should I eat it instead? Should I cut off the brown parts and let it grow more?

The garlic is also brown/yellow at the tips and bottom leaves. I’m very attached to this garlic, so Imma need it to use its words. Hopefully, this is normal. It’s only early summer here now.

I picked up a gardener’s reference from the library that I’m hoping will help me sleep better.

Recent Learnings

I’ve been reading a few gardening books over the last couple of weeks, so I’ve learned how to be even less sure of what I’m doing. Am I over-watering (the cilantro, yes, clearly)? Under-watering (hence the brown on the onion)? Lacking nutrients in my brand-new potting soil (unlikely)? There’s a lot to learn.

I’ve learned that I don’t really want to do tomatoes. Stakes/cages/log cabins/skyscrapers, all to support a vegetable that I don’t go crazy over? Meh.

I tossed the tomato sprouts and planted more basil. Instead of scattering seeds everywhere in the pot, I just put a few in the middle of the pot. That way I won’t have to risk all this shady transplanting and culling business. I also took the small pots that formerly held the cilantro (*shudder*) and green onion and put a few basil seeds in each. It may be another week before they sprout.

A trip two weekends ago included a visit to the Brookgreen Gardens. I now want an oak tree, please. Just a little one. In a pot when I get it, not from a seed.

Unfortunately, there’s a nursery just down the road from us. How dangerous is that? I’m supposed to be getting rid of Stuff, not collecting Life.

One of my recent reads featured a whole lot of flower/foliage gardens for “weekend gardening” (less time-intensive). Some of the varieties were actually very pretty. If I try out the square foot gardening idea after we move, I could go for a segment being flowers, especially lupines.

For now, more waiting and reading. I want garlic bulbs, damn it.

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2011 Gardening: The Start of Awesomeness Tue, 19 Apr 2011 21:30:57 +0000 Continue reading 2011 Gardening: The Start of Awesomeness ]]> This spring–and, admittedly, my impending marriage–brought out my green thumb. The prospect of moving this summer to an apartment that will probably have fewer windows makes me want more green in my house.

Much to Greg and Chris’s amusement, I’m planting almost everything I get my hands on:

  • a peach pit (planted before winter in the hopes of a spring sprout that hasn’t come),
  • cilantro (from packaged seeds),
  • basil (also from packaged seeds),
  • tomatoes (packaged seeds),
  • garlic cloves (unused in a risotto dinner),
  • orange seeds (from a late-night snack), and
  • a green onion (unused from a frittata meal)

This is all in addition to my two trusty cacti (a saguaro and a tephrocactus articulatus). Seventy-plus years until the first saguaro arm!

The pots and cans are covering our tall “bar” counter, fireplace mantle, and encroaching onto the stand where we keep movies and games.

The packaged seed plants were all messily planted on the same afternoon. The tomatoes sprouted first in less than a week:

Young tomato sprouts.
Picture taken 4/16/2011 afternoon.
Less-young tomato sprouts.
Picture taken 4/18/2011 morning.

They’re growing about a half-inch to an inch a day, and are happily arcing toward the window. I’m rotating them daily. I’m not sure yet when I’ll need to separate out the ones I want to grow super-big. I’m also not sure how to do so safely.

The cilantro took another two days, and the seeds are actually at the tip of the plants, which is awesome:

Tiny cilantro sprouts.
Picture taken 4/18/2011 morning, when I first saw the sprouting.
Cilantro, with much more growth.
Cilantro as of the afternoon of 4/19/2011.

My biggest hope lies in the basil, though, which hadn’t sprouted as of this morning. Basil is so easy to maintain and we’d use it in a crap-ton of dishes when we cook. If the cilantro turns out hardy, I may give this little batch to Michael, who would probably use cilantro as much as I’d use the basil.

The garlic cloves were planted about a day after the seeded plants, and their growth has been the most miraculous to watch: they’re literally growing half an inch every 8 hours. We’re keeping a paper clip in the pot to mark the big one’s height at night before bed and checking on it in the morning.

First garlic to sprout.
Picture taken 4/18/2011 morning. It's grown another 2 inches since then, as has the little one over there.

This thing is beeyootiful. I can just stare at it all day, wondering if I’m actually seeing growth. I’m curious as to what’s going on under the soil, though, because I only planted one clove, but I know I’m going to get a whole garlic out of the deal. Are there itty-bitty clove-buds forming that will grow to match the original one I planted? If the third one I planted in the pot spouts, I’ll unearth it and examine it.

The green onion came from the store with stubby roots still attached, so planting it is more an experiment in seeing if it will take root and flower. It’s a little sad; we had to attach a pencil to get it to stand upright:

Green onion in a small pot.
Even the pencil can't hold it up.

After the green onion, I was out of conventional pots that will fit on shelves, so the orange seeds went into a corn can. First tree to poke up (either the oranges or the peach) gets the huge shrub pot.

The corn can containing the orange seeds.
The corn can containing the orange seeds.

I think my saguaro is showing signs of sun deficiency, so I set up a halogen lamp for it last night (to run during the day, not 24/7). I think it’s far away enough to avoid burning, but I’ll run it for a couple of days and keep an eye out. I’m mostly looking to lighten and even up the color a bit–my tephrocactus articulatus has always done fine indoors, but the saguaro got knocked over by the cats and replanted about a year ago (shortly after its plane trip to Charlotte), so it’s a bit distressed.

I’ll admit, the foodie plants are much more immediately satisfying than the cacti. I’ve had my tephrocactus articulatus for over five years now (first trip to Arizona!), and it’s grown one healthy third prong in that time. Noticable, but not like, you know, half an inch overnight:

Three day-old garlic.
Garlic as of the afternoon of 4/19/2011.

Updated to add pictures from the afternoon of 4/19/2011.

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