Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Already behind on Gardening

It's only February, and I am already behind on my gardening!

During the Spring and Summer, most of my time is focused on my outside plants. That means the only chance my indoor plants have, is if I take care of them in the "off" season of Winter.

Granted, I don't take care of my houseplants as much as I should, but I try to re-pot them or refresh their soil every couple years. I usually try to have pretty low maintenance houseplants with a couple of exceptions.

One of those exceptions is my amaryllis.  I have had it for about 5 or 6 years, and I think it has bloomed three times (see right for an old photo). For most of the year, you can treat it like any other houseplant, just making sure it is a little damp, but then around September it needs a rest.

Over the course of the past year, the long, elegant leaves have been absorbing sunlight and collecting energy. It uses some of that energy to grow more roots, but it also stores it in the bulb of the plant. Think of it like a battery.

In September you are supposed to stop watering. I know, it sounds wrong, but it's true. This is like pressing the "reset" button and it signals the plant to start hibernation mode. (That's right, your life is so hectic even your plants need a break!)

You will also want to move your pot down to the basement, or into a closet. They want it dark, cool (50-55 degrees), and dry.
Without water, those beautiful leaves will start to wilt and turn yellow. As they do, you can cut them off, leaving one or two inches above the bulb (which should be poking out of the soil).

Eight to ten weeks later, you are supposed to bring it out of the darkness and into the light! But for me: out of sight = out of mind. That's right, I neglected my plant. Even though I waited until November/December to start the hibernation, I didn't bring it upstairs until now (end of February), when I retrieved it to re-pot it.

  The result? It sprouted without me and I now have an albino amaryllis! Just kidding... No sun = no photosynthesis = no chlorophyll (which gives plants their green color). The color should come back as it  (slowly) gets more exposure to the sun. Do not place it from the dark, into the direct sun. That is like walking out of a movie theater in the middle of the day and being blinded!

So how did it grow without the sun? It used that stored up energy in the bulb (battery) to get started, and it already has two flower stalks!
(Update: as the leaves started greening up, they flopped outward and broke one of the flower stalks off. *sniff* I nearly cried.)

In the background you can see Dear Husband (DH) working on his computer, and Eva wandering around to help me. She always insists on sniffing everything (and sometimes licking things) to make sure I don't mess up!

I was going to pull out the bulb and put new soil in the pot, but now that it is already flourishing I don't want to disturb the roots too much and stress the plant. So instead I did my best to scoop out all the top soil (about 3-4 inches) and replace it with fresh potting soil. While it's not ideal, this should provide some new nutrients for a growing plant.

Thankfully, it looks like I saved it in time and it should bloom in a few weeks. I will try my best to remember to post pictures!

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Drafty Door with a Jiggly Handle

I know you have all been there... you jostle the lock, turn the handle just so, tug the door, and then turn the key. All to unlock the stubborn door.

For us, the door between the garage and the house has always given us issues.  First it was just a "sticky" deadbolt. In order to lock the door, you had to yank on the handle with one hand, and turn the key with the other. Good luck if you were trying to carry anything!
And there was another complication: if you didn't lock the deadbolt, cold air would come whistling through the gap between the door and the frame. It was bad enough that you would feel a breeze unless the door was locked.

Bad turned to worse. Since I was pulling with all my weight on the handle, it started to become loose. I was worried that soon we would yank it off completely, as it had already started to jiggle.
Replacing just the handle would fix the symptom, but not the cause... I would have to realign the lock. 

First, to stop the arctic gusts, Dear Husband (DH) replaced the old, worn-out weatherstripping. You can see the old one (on the left) is crushed and can't flex back, where the new one (on the right) has plenty of wind-sealing spring built in.
The weatherstripping is designed to grip into a groove in the door frame, so just pry out the old one and shove the new in. DH even said this must be the easiest home improvement ever!

Normally if the deadbolt is just a smidgen off, you can file down the edge of the plate, but ours was so misaligned I would have had to cut out the entire left half.
Instead, I had to shift the entire plate over about half an inch. That meant I had to carve out more of the frame for the hole that the deadbolt slides into.
You may worry that removing all this wood could affect the integrity of the lock if someone tried to break in. Fear not, that steel plate (shown left) bolts into the door frame studs with 3" screws.

The decorative plate is then screwed on top of that. You can see from the final picture on the right, how far I had to move the lock over.

I know it isn't pretty, but I only had a utility knife to work with. Perhaps if we lived near Grandpa H (GPaH) I could have borrowed his woodworking tools. Oh well, hopefully no one will be scrutinizing our locks.

After that was fixed, I replaced the old jiggly handle with a new sturdy one. (This actually misaligned the lock again and I had to slightly adjust it again. 20-20 hindsight, oh well.)
You may notice something is a little... off. Yes, we bought a silver handle and kept the old gold lock. We will eventually be replacing everything with silver, and I didn't really want to change this handle twice! (Don't mind the dirty smudges around the door, ok? Nobody's perfect.)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

2014 Garden Planning

It may seem early to think about gardening, but you have to have a plan. After all: A garden starts in January, with a dream.

Well I already have garlic and shallots wintering over in half of a raised bed, and another bed will be dedicated to starting asparagus this year. That still leaves plenty of room to figure out what I want. I use which is great at reminding you what to plant when, and even suggesting where to plant it!

Generally I keep my herbs in giant pots so I can scoot them into the sun for the spring, then into the shade for the heat of summer. The three big circles below are barrel size planters each with a Basil, two Thyme and two Oregano. Other herbs in various pots include chives, cilantro, parsley, mint and rosemary.
Make sure to keep your mint separate in a pot, NOT in the ground!!! It will take over your garden and choke out any vulnerable plant. Also, I know my pots are too small for the rosemary, but they are not winter hearty here in zone 5, so I have to be able to haul them inside for the winter.

You may be wondering what those orange things are in the upper left... sweet potatoes! I have decided to try and grow sweet potatoes for the first time ever. They will also be in large containers so when it comes time to harvest, all I have to do is tip over the container instead of trying to dig them up. That's the theory anyway.

The first raised bed is dedicated to asparagus. It will take a few years to come in, so I don't expect any true harvest at all this year.

The second raised bed is mostly tomatoes: the upper left is two Roma Tomato plants, then a yellow pear tomato below, and a cherry tomato to the right. The yellow circles are marigolds to keep bugs away, and all the way to the right are the cucumbers.
In the bottom middle I am going to try and grow spinach/salad greens for the first time.

Finally, the last raised bed is still half up for grabs... half of it has garlic and shallots, and I am (foolishly) going to try green beans again. Since the garlic gets pulled up in July/August I might be able to squeeze brussel sprouts in after them, but I need to research that more.

What else should I try to grow?
Post below to give your suggestions! I'm maybe thinking snap peas, beets, or carrots...