Friday, March 30, 2007

How to make a selfwatering container

I'm as absentminded as a college professor and keep forgetting to water my plants. Self watering pots (or containers) have saved many a plant's life in our home. They are expensive, though, especially when you need big ones. That's why I'm making my own.

You need this

Plastic box/container (in this post I'm using the plastic box FLAJ from IKEA.)
Synthetic fabric or tulle
Plastic tube

Remember to check that the place where you put the container can hold heavy objects. The pot described down below weighs twenty kilos (44.5 pounds) when it's finnished.

1 Start by covering the bottom of the box with a thick layer of leca (at least 7cm/3inches). Dig a hole in the middle to sink part of the soil into the water, this part will wick water into the rest of the soil.

2 Cut the plastic tube into the prefered length and cut an opening at the side of one end to allow water to flow into the magazine. The best length of the tube is from the bottom of the container to the rim or one centimeter (1/2 inch) above it.

3 Put the tube, with the opening end down, into the leca layer, close to the corner of the box - that way you'll loose the least growing space.

4 Take a piece of synthetic fabric/tulle and cover the leca layer as well as a big part of the sides of the container. It will keep the soil from drissling down between the leca pebbles. You don't have to sow any fancy bag, just cut a square big enough in roughly the same shape as the box. To fit in the tube, just make a cut from one of the corners towards the middle of the piece and wrap the two ends around the tube.

The reason to use synthetics is that your soil may carry worm eggs. These hatches and the worms tend to eat anything from natural sources. (And no, you don't have to use as fancy fabric as I do on the pictures - that's my old bride's veil now serving a better prupose. Usually I use brown tulle.)

5 Fill the container with soil. Be carefull in the beginning untill you have stabilized the tube, then you can dig away till your hearts content. Be sure to leave a rim of at least two centimeters (one inch) so you wont get problem with running soil.

The advantage of using semitransparent boxes is that you can see how much water there's left in the magazine. This box store about two and a half litres, which means you'll have to water twice a week when it's sunny outside.

Congratulations! You are now the proud owner of a home made selfwatering container.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Progress at the end of March

I took a look at my purslane seedlings the other day and realised that quite a few of them had fallen. The bigger part of their lines looks like Uppsala students the last day of April*. Only a few plants close to the window seemed to be thriving.


Was there anything wrong with the grow light? I didn't need any special machine to find out what was lacking. I put my hand under the armature. The lamp was shadowing the plants from the sunlight. We may be in the last days of March and the sunlight reaches amounts close to tropical, but I do expect more 'bite' from a grow light. I've myself to blame, currently I'm using the flourescent light that was enclosed with the armature, and that was not meant to be a grow light in the first place, plus it's rather old. My new quest is therefore to get out there and buy a bright full colour flourescent light.

In the last days of March I'm adding outdoor gardener to my identity. My balcony is starting to come alive. Every day I walk out and take a look at the different buds. You may recall that my mints and lavendar have died - sic transit gloria mundi. The strawberries have survided, though, and needs some weeding and general shape up. The leaves have brown brims, which is a bad sign, but I hope to find some way to make them thrive anyway. What makes me most happy is that my big ones seems to have survived. The buds of both my roses are swelling, and soon they will be leaves instead. The same is happening to the cherry tree that I'm giving a close study every day. Can I hope for home grown cherries this autumn?

*In Uppsala the last day of April is celebrated with "sillfrukost" (breakfast with pickled herring, small glases of strong liquor are more or less required to this), champagne gallop down Carolina Rediviva hill at noon and spring ball in the evening. Not all students are making it all through the day.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Grow light for beginners

Grow light is a good thing to have when you are gardening indoors. If you're not buying that, take a look at the photo series on my small sage and mint garden. Today it looks like this:

In the beginning it looked like this. The plants had survived a long swedish winter in one of our darker windows.

After a few days with grow lights, it looked like this.

And now I have mint enough to drink tea made from fresh leaves several times a week, and have problems finding purposes for my amounts of sage. Clearly an indoor gardener, at least an indoor gardener with the ambition of growing eatable things, cannot do without extra light. But why?

The reason is that the plant need three things to survive; light+water+soil (ie. nutriants from...). It needs light of the right amount and quality in the same way it needs nutriants of right amount and quality.

During the summer in Sweden (we are roughly at the same longitude as Canada) most plants are doing pretty well since we have almost the same amount of lights as in the tropics. In the winter, however, we have only a third or in worst case a twohundredth part. Our human eye cannot register those big differences, but the plants do - and starves.

If you are gardening indoors you need to think both of the right amount of light for the season, and the right quality of light. Roughly light is divided into red and blue, where red gives long plants and blue compact and leafy ones. Gardeners deep into this field has long ago lost themselves into the world of lux, lumen and LED. I might join them in the future, but today we're looking at the basics.

The easisest way to get good light is to visit the apropriate chain in gardening or hardware or do it your self. I bought mine at a swedish hardware/do it yourself chain. When you find flourescent lights neetly labled "grow light", buy it. If you want to grow in big pots, buy a long 'normal' flourescent light and the appropriate armature.

Now, grow light tend to be expensive, so it may come as a relief that if you are keeping your plants in your windowsills you can make do with complementing the sunlight. In that case you can buy normal full colour flourescent light.

The last part was interesting for me. My instant herbgarden and sow box are endowed with a futuristic bluewhite light. Eventhough it's been up for several days I haven't noticed any difference like I did with the sage and mint. I guess the light is of inferiour quality, which means I have to change. Full colour light will dig a hole in my budget, but a far smaller one than 'real' grow light. I'll update on this subject.

And wave a dead hen over the keyboard...

Swedish blogdirectories have very strange and funny rules for submission. This blog is a daughter to my swedish blog Parkettodlaren, and mirrors most of the posts I write there (I have to make some exceptions for book reviews, I think). To submit Parkettodlaren to the swedish (a geographical index) I have to make sure my blog is listed by, and to be listed by I have to ping

I'm not entirely happy to be forced to make a post about swedish blogdirectories in a blog that strictly records gardening, especially not since the post is mirrored in english. But rules is rules, and since the siteowners where kind enough to provide a standard text with a link for the purpose (not displayed here) I wrote it anyway.

On a sidenote I think that with all its sockpuppets could take a look at the submission rules for, for exemple, Blogarama and Bloghub.

More interesting post to follow, soon.

Monday, March 26, 2007

I just wanted some culinary facts on garden sage!

This photo is called "sage" and the photografer is Sporkist. You can read more about Sporkist and watch his photos here.


I'm starting to get quite a lot of garden sage in my boxes, and have reached the "what am I to do with all this?" stage. Ordinary gardeners mostly reaches it in the autumn, but I suspect I have to live with it the year around.

I decided to make a search on the web to see if I could gain some deeper knowledge about this plant - and maybe find one or two recipes.

I learnt one thing pretty fast. Sage attracts bees, people who wants magic in their life, and people who likes to smoke things.

If anyone of my readers are half way to Tescos or Walmart I have to make you disappointed. There are many kinds of sage, and the variety that do have hallucinogenic effects is an american one, not for sale in ordinary grocery stores (at least not in Sweden). But all kinds of sage are poisonous in bigger amounts, so don't serve it as a salad or to pregnant women.

I'm not a big fan of fooling around with magic, so I skipped those parts. I wanted recipes - or at least some general culinary advices. In the shadow of all "magical uses" my harvest seemed a bit meager.

Sage is used with fat fish, pork and mutton. It's particularly popular in Italy where it's often used together with rosemary. Cheese is also spiced with sage. Whatever the use it's preferable to use fresh leaves, since the aroma disappears to some extent with drying. It is possible to use it in tea to cure colds (works sometimes), but be frugal both in the dosage and the length of the cure - see above.

Ah well, I'll make another search - on food fora this time.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Smoked pork and tomato pytt, recipe

So, I've cooked our first meal using home grown herbs. It turned out tasty, so I decided to share. Unfortunately I can't give you exact messures, since I seldom use messures myself. Besides, I don't want to spoil the fun in experimenting to get the right proportions according to your tastes :-).

("Pytt" is the swedish version of paella, ie. a dish made from a little bit of this and a little bit of that, mostly leftovers, everything diced. In general a swedish pytt has root vegetables and potatos, but I omitted them here.)

Smoked pork and tomato pytt

Smoked pork, diced
Cherry tomatoes, split
Onions, chopped
Fresh sage
Fresh basil
Pepper, freshly ground
A hint of tabasco

Fry the pork and onions together until the onion is soft, add cherry tomatoes, spices and salt. Fry until the tomato looks soft enough. If you like you can put a lid on the pan and let the dish 'simmer' for a while on low heat.

Serve with homemade potato mash

Friday, March 23, 2007

Avatar of Roses cuttings, report #1

I don't know if the photo captures it, but the jars with fertilizers have slightly muckier water than the one without.

And that's about it.

I was hoping for greener leaves, and perhaps one or two roots. But the only thing happening seems to be that I have to change water more often. And I procrastinate that. I bet I wake up some day only to find two jars with dark green goo with a brown stump stuck into it.

I could by some hormones to speed up the rooting process, but I'm not happy about that. Since I have troubbles with my own hormones I do know how much that can go wrong.

At a second thought... [leaving the computer]

Now I've cleaned the jars. Wasn't that hard.

Interestingly enough the cutting in fresh water seems to be more healthy than those with added fertilizer. I have to take a closer look at fertilizing, maybe I'm overfeeding my babies? Well, if one of them survives I'm happy. Scented geraniums are good for flavouring sponge cakes.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

First gardening weblog/website contest

The Mouse and Trowel Awards

This is the first gardening weblog/website contest. Go there, nominate and vote!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Progress so far

Here we can see my little seedlings, looking at themselves in the window. They don't seem to have noticed the added light, so I have lowered the lamp at their half of the window. The tilted armature gives our library a somewhat anarchisitic look, which in a way adds to the austere book cases. I'm not a friend of too much order.

Today I had to fill the magazines in my homemade selfwatering containers, and I'm overjoyed! This means they are working like they should. The box with the instant herb garden was empty, whereas the seedling box had a few drips of water left. I took the risk of giving both herb garden and seedling box fertilizer to see what impact it'll have.

And my carrots have surfaced. Jay!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Turnip Brassica rapa ssp. rapa f. majalis

This photo is called "turnips"
Photografer is Saidunsaid, and you can find more of her photos here.

Turnip seems to be a dream crop for the indoor gardener, it's fast growing and both root and leaves can be eaten. It prefers light soils, but I suspect it can grow almost everywhere. It's a coldclimate crop, which makes it most popular on the nortern parts of the globe.

Since I've found cooking tips both for root bulbs and leaves I conclude that they both are tasty. The plant contains a lot of vitamin C, as well as B2, B1, B6, folat and niacine. The leaves are the most concentrated and contains a comparable large amount of protein (to be a plant of that kind, that is).

The downside is that turnip contains oxalat, which - if you eat a lot of it - crystallize in the body and causes different kinds of health problems. What concerns me more is that turnip contains goitrogens that surpress the thyroid function. Any person with diagnosed but untreated thyroid problems should avoid turnip. Since many of our old cultivated crops do contain oxalats (spinach and rubarb) or goitrogens (most cabbages) I suspect that these 'back sides' can be balanced by a varied diet and by drinking an healthy amount of water (1-2 litres or 1/3 - 2/3 gallon).

A side note on thyroid problems; If you are suspecting that your thyroid are causing you problems you MUST go to a doctor and get a proper diagnose and treatment. Do never ever EVER think that changing the diet will be enough. Thyroid problems are deadly, and the treatments are often cheap and comfortable. Still, since I have an underfunctioning thyroid myself, I can't help but smile when I read that chocolate and saturated fat stimulates the thyroid. Turnip fried in real butter, mmmmmmm...

The turnip bulb is useful raw, in stews and casseroles and fried as an dish of its own. It gets wooden if it gets to big, so make sure to harvest before it's bigger than 10cm / 4" across. This should not be a big problem for an indoor gardener - I plan to harvest my first roots when they are as big as radishes. The leaves could be eaten fresh as salad, they are said to resemble ruccola in taste. In cooking they are used as - you guessed it - spinach.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


This afternoon I opened the micro and found the milk my hubby warmed for me for elevensis (our forenoon snack). We've had little sleep these last days.

When I'm feeling soggy like this I do handywork, which means I spent the day putting up the added light for my little indoor garden. It's about time. The little purslane and turnip seedlings has reached for the light so much that they almost lay horisontal over the soil.

Setting up this lamp involved drilling, tampering bolts and electricity work. I'm as happy as a kid when I manage to do things like that and feel like a Super Strong Woman (tm). The fact that my son said one of his first two word sentences made it even better.
"Mom drilling."

Now I'm savouring this, looking out over an indoor garden that has truly reached space age.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Little things...

Today has been a Big and Serious Study day (tm), which means I haven't been able to do much with my garden. The good thing about studies is that you have to move around every now and then to prevent falling to sleep over the keybord. This is a the ultimate incentive to, for exemple, clean up the balcony after the winter. Our two HOL benches bought at IKEA last year have started to disintegrate, so I finished the process quickly and put the remnants inside to dry (I'm planning to make toy storage out of them for my son - I guess I have to start a new blog recording my interior design projects). I checked the roses and put the stuff I've stored in the HOL benches into plastic boxes instead.

The shelf for the added light is up, did it meself - mostly. It's become the perfect place for my geraniums. The garden geranium that was given to me when we moved here needed some water and general care, as well as the cuttings from my "Avatar of Roses" - a scented geranium I like much. They had formed roots pretty nice and should have been planted in soil long ago. Very long ago. In fact several months ago. The pot was filled with muck and the surface of the water had started to mold. So I cut the tips of the cuttings and placed them individually in new pots. Their leaves were light green with darker nerves, and I suspect they've lost their "body fat" (or whatever it's called on a plant) due to their long time in water. As an experiment I added two drops of liquid fertilizer to two of the pots. This will probably make some algae happy, but I hope the nourishment will be of benefit for the cuttings too.

A tip from Colleen made me remove the plastic from my little kitchen garden. Turned out that eventhough purslane and turnip had put up their little leaves the carrot still stays under the surface. Note to self; sow carrot in a separate container from now on. Let's see if this round grows anyhow. In other case, well, I prefer turnip to carrot every time...

Thursday, March 15, 2007

In the beginning

One of the good things about gardening is that you get so many beginnings. I just took a peak into my box with purslane, turnip and carrot, and they all had put up little leaves above the soil. It's only two days since I sowed them. This time I did exactly as one should (instead of "this will do"...) and apparently this payed off. I have to look up if there are any instructions on when I should remove the transparent plastic, else I will be very nervous. What if I remove the plastic too early? Or worse, to late so the tender plants get mouldy. I'll watch this poor plants almost as close as I watch over my son...

The balcony season is beginning too. I'm writing this with my feet in a bath (aaaaaaaah) and the door open to the balcony. I can see the rose "Polstjärnan" ("polaris"). It's hardy up to swedish zone 7 (approx. US zone 4) and it will be interesting to see if it survives my recklessness. I have a feeling that roses should be covered in the spring to prevent them from budding early and then freeze in an late frost attac. This doesn't mean that I've got my acts together and actually done so. The other rose is a read hybrid rose I bought on an impuls because it was red. Unfortunately it doesn't smell right, so I wont shed any tears if it dies. I'll already decided to replace it with a "Dubbel kanelros" ("doubble cinnamon rose") in that case...

Most of my lavendar plants seems to have died. They were hybrids with the wrong smell too, so I'm not that sorry. Last, but not least; my strawberries and the cherry tree have survived! Yippeee!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Instant herbgarden

The two things that have worked well so far is 1. added light and 2 selfwatering pots. Today I took the consequences of this and built two giant selfwatering pots, using the plastic box "Flaj" from IKEA. (We have an enormous amont of these, and they are used for everything, from wind shield to foot bath.) I sowed common purslane, turnip and carrot in one, and planted herbs and sallat in the other. A small spot that's green already makes gardening more fun. I bought the herbs and the sallat in the vegetable section at ICA (like Walmarts or Tesco), which is both a curse and a blessing. A curse since you have absolutely no guarantee that the plants are free from pests. A blessing since the herbs are big in size and cheap. Right now I'm looking at the result of my efforts and wonder how many of the plants that will recover once they realise that they are in a new garden. Some of them seems to be weak (should have been more picke at the mall), so I've already made a replacement plan.

Sowed in box 1
Common Purslane

Planted in box 2

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Muji pruning shears

Yesterday my hubby gave a cool gift; a pair of pruning shears. But not just any pair of garden scissors, it's a multi tool. It comes with a handy belt pouch and are stored with the handles folded around the knives, and you unfold it like every other multi tool I've seen. A small pin keeps the knives shut while you are opening the thing or working with one of the other tools. In the handles you find a knife, two saws and a dandy lion weeder. Hopefully I wont have to handle dandy lions in my indoor garden, but this tool will sure come in handy now when the balcony season are starting. Last year I had to use my fingers when I pruned my lavender. It hurt a bit.

Big hug hubby! I love you too!

Friday, March 09, 2007

Back again!

I promised you interesting articles about carrot and turnip, and then I diappeared for a week. What happened? Well, the surf speed of my computer was severly decreased when I downloaded an upgrade from my anti virus software (MacAfee - be warned!...) My laptop is eight months old, I use a ten meg broadband, and still it takes 3-5 minutes to download a page from BBC international. Our second computer, on the same line but more than six years old, loads the same page in less than twenty seconds.

Oh, I can speed up the surfing by using Ms Internet Explorer, but not being able to use my other browser on the same conditions makes me mad. Mozilla Firefox is known enought to make it feasable to adjust the software to it.

Right now I'm using Ubuntu (a linux distro) with Mozilla Firefox to surf the web. This makes the speed almost the same as to before I downloaded the upgrade. Unfortunately not precisely the same, which hints at hardware problems, or that MacAfee have rewritten bios. I'm not geek enough to know which one of the theories that is anything to work on. What I do know is which company I'd really want to bury in crab grass.