...if you have a backyard and a kitchen, this blog might be for you!

a chronicle of tips and recipes on everything from gardening to canning and baking your produce, even if you're planted in suburbia...in fact, especially if you are planted in suburbia.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Winter-prep for the Burrow

Or...the garden comes indoors.

Frost. That end-all moment when life in the garden changes seasons "for good" and the soil takes its rest. The first serious frost hit our area recently, prompting me to make that final shift into fall and winter mode. The last three scrawny tomatoes sit in the kitchen window, a last few peppers hit the crisper drawer. Was it really only a week ago, I pulled this last basketful of salad-worthy produce from my garden? That little plot of ground has been more than faithful this year, providing a long season of fresh fare to the family's dinner table. How quickly things can change--yet another larger-life reminder that all gardens offer to the attentive grower.

One of the transitions that lessens the starkness of a growing season's end is the march of potted plants to their indoor setting. (OK, I'm the one who marches, the plants just come along for the ride.) I particularly like to grow some of my herbs in pots--despite their less prolific growth in pot versus in ground setting. I grow them in the pots for the very purpose of bringing them indoors. The rosemary plant on the left is now making its second winter appearance indoors and is as hearty as ever.

But indoor gardens are completely different from their outdoor cousins, so for the next couple of posts, I'm sharing tips on houseplant care from Emilie's Creative Home Organizer.

  • Regarding ferns: ferns love a tea party. Dump your leftover tea into fern pots. A used tea bag planted in the soil will read beautiful, healthy ferns. Ferns are a bit sensitive to chlorine in tap water, so let the water sit overnight before watering. This allows the chlorine to evaporate. Ferns also like to be misted.

  • Save that old barbecue grill that you plan to replace next season. Use this one as a conversation piece by painting it, filling it with soil and planting flowers or vines in it.

  • Melted snow contains minerals that make for good plant water.

  • Pots of sweet basil in a near a doorway repel flies.
  • Repot only when needed. Spring is the best time because it favors new growth.

  • Before using an old pot to replant in, clean it thoroughly with hot water with a squirt or two of regular dish washing detergent. Let the pot soak for several hours in a solution of one part chlorine bleach to eight parts water. Rinse well and dry, then reuse. This will help to prevent the spread of plant disease.

  • To make an indoor plant display, cover the floor with a heavy-duty plastic bag to protect it from water or soil stains. Then cover the plastic with ceramic tiles and set your potted plants on the tiles.

  • Four tablespoons of dish washing liquid in one gallon of water will get rid of red spider mites on your plants. Spray the plant weekly until there are no signs of the mites. I also had mold in the soil of some of my plants. I used a solution of one tablespoon of vinegar in two quarts of water, and watered weekly with the solution until all the mold was gone.

  • Rather than throw the water out every time I boil eggs, I let it cool down and water my plants with it. It is packed with growth-stimulating minerals.

  • On the same line, cool the water in which you've cooked spaghetti or potatoes and use it to water your plants. The starch is good for them.

  • On the kitchen window, a row of herb plants that you can grow from seed or buy in three-inch pots will not only be decorative, but will add some distinctive flavor to gourmet dishes.

  • Brighten the dining room with an indoor window box of impatiens or leaf lettuce.

  • Going on vacation? Simply put all your house plants in the bathtub with a few inches of water. They will drink the water as needed.

  • Schedule your indoor plant feedings the first of every month. You'll never forget to do it, and your plants will reward you with renewed vigor and beauty.

  • Dust plants with a hair blower set to cool.

  • Cracked walnut shells, marbles, or stones can be used to provide drainage at the bottom of a houseplant pot.

  • If children or pets keep knocking your plants over, try double-potting. Put the plant and its original pot inside another, larger pot with rocks or gravel between the two.

  • Cats are territorial, so don't position a pot in the cat's favorite place in the sun. Also, if your dog likes to people-watch through the window, leave that spot free.

  • Plant a garlic clove beside a houseplant to keep all types of pests away.

  • If you're not sure whether a houseplant needs water or not, poke your index finger a inch into the topsoil. If there is still moisture, don't water. If it's dry, do.

  • Water from an aquarium is perfect for fertilizing houseplants.

  • During cold winter months, a room filled with houseplants will benefit from the moisture provided by a portable vaporizer.

  • Here's a novel but effective way to grow parsley indoors. Slice sponges in half and sprinkle with parsley seeds. Arrange the sponges on dishes in a sunny location, keep them moist and watch your parsley grow.

  • Treat an ailing houseplant by dribbling a tablespoon of Castor oil on the soil in the pot; then water thoroughly.

  • If you think that worms in the soil of your potted plant may be eating away at the roots, place a slice of raw potato on the surface of the soil in each pot. The worms will crawl out to get at the potatoes, and you can capture them.

  • If you have the space, you can grow vegetables indoors. Lettuce does especially well when grown under fluorescent plant lights. Plant your lettuce garden in the basement, attic, or anywhere the temperature stays between 65 and 70 degrees in the day and drops a little at night.

  • If you pinch new shoots at the growing points, you'll encourage branching, which produces more growth for flowering.

  • If you suspect that one of your houseplants has a pest problem, attach a pest strip, then cover the plant for a few days with a clear plastic bag. By the time you remove the bag, the plant should have perked up.

  • All plants need adequate light if they are to grow properly. Here's a way to test how much light your plants will get in a given location: place a sheet of paper where you want to put a plant, and hold your hand a foot above the paper. If your hand casts a sharp, well-defined shadow, you have bright light. If all you get is a blur on the paper, you light condition is shady and you will have to choose your plants carefully or consider supplementing the available light.

Houseplants need a little more TLC overall than those that grow in the natural elements. Don't we all! When cold weather sets in and we come indoors for good, those little chance encounters by the side of the garden no longer present themselves, and we just might get a little lonesome for face-to-face visits.

With Thanksgiving and Christmas right around the corner, now is the time to turn thoughts more intentionally and appreciatively toward remembrance of those whose company we enjoyed under the summer sun. A post is coming soon about how you can take some of that stock from your summer canning and drying and kick it up a notch for a homespun holiday gift.

Happy re-positioning!

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