November 29, 2014

Another Peek into the Greenhouse

The heaters are unplugged. Tonight's low above 40º leads into a week of temps above 50º -- we do have ups and downs.

 Bloggers have discussed recently about whether their Schlumbergeras are Thanksgiving or Christmas Cactus.

With careful choosing and the least bit of manipulation of light, water and temperature you might produce a Thanksgiving Cactus and others for Advent,
Hanukkuh, Christmas and Boxing Day.

The Schlumbergera behind this pink one have buds of varying sizes, none about to open.

I'll spare you another look at my Tomato Plant that reaches to the roof. Cold has delayed ripening but the fruits look super.

I tugged at a culm of an Areca Palm this summer and it came out of the pot. It's putting on new fronds. You know how I am about every little piece of anything not being tossed aside?

Bromeliad tree. I didn't step back far enough to get the top.

These two little fellows still have a piece of their dead mother attached.
They are in too much shade to have bright color.

A house full of all one kind of Bromeliad is kind of overwhelming. The ones in pots demand a lot of room. I almost let one over behind other plants die for lack of water. Maybe I don't have to save every little pup. I am surprised that Spanish Moss seems content hanging with the Neoregelias.

When it was too cold to play outdoors I did a lot of reading about ways of keeping plants through the winter. A sunny window will carry lots of plants as will a grow light. Gardeners will find a way.

November 27, 2014

Update on Manipulating Hyacinth Bulbs

Hyacinths in refrigerated pots are forming roots on schedule.

Nice white roots.


Roots have the contractile ability to pull the bulb down into the soil. I helped them a bit by adding more soil over the top so they don't have to waste as much energy and the soil level comes up, having settled a bit.

All smug about my project, I thought to look in what I thought was an empty  vegetable drawer and found the rotting remains of a half dozen forgotten pears.

Ethylene gas! Horrors. My bulbs may shrink and the embryonic flowers inside the bulbs may be damaged or dead. They'll remain despite this, so that I can know first hand the real effects of ripening fruit on bulbs, verifying what every extension site says. I have not seen actual results of a trial, so this is mine.

There should still be foliage, so the bulbs if flower-less this spring can still be planted out in the garden to grow on when I determine whether there are no buds. The next year (2016) they should bloom in the garden as usual, blooms formed in spring of 2015.


There will still be hyacinths in the garden. previous years' bulbs. This is a ten dollar experiment that I would not have done if I'd looked in both fridge drawers before I started.

November 25, 2014

Greenhouse Update on a Wet and Raw Day

It was wet and raw outside today. It was damp in the greenhouse and not much warmer because the sun never peeked out.

Thanksgiving Cactuses are beginning bloom.

Just a bouquet -- some of these may root.


Paper whites in a pot of soil with roots and shoots.
These are homegrown bulbs from a neighbor, not purchased.

I did not hang around after I filled the water jugs and set heaters back in place in preparation for colder nights near Thanksgiving. I've been doing more reading about heat loss, temperature mediation and insulation techniques.

November 21, 2014

The Insouciant Gardener

'Lackadaisical' was the other word I considered but it isn't that I lack bodily energy or enthusiasm, I just fail to be as diligent about some things as I could.

One of the things I am not diligent about is labeling. The Amaryllis above bloomed last month out of regular Amaryllis season through my failed diligence. I don't know its name -- it lost its label. Does it really matter? No. What matters is that it is healthy and hardy.

Now that the freezes are done for a few days, I poked around in the greenhouse and hauled up the Amaryllis that were lying on their sides to keep water out of the pots, ripped off the dead leaves and took stock. Some could use just a scoop of topdressing with fresh potting soil. They have more resting to do.  

I've more Amaryllis than I remembered. There are two pots labeled 'Benfica.' I remembered only one. They're both awfully fat for one to be an offset. Some pots have no labels. I am not distressed about labels. When they bloom I recognize them most of the time.

There are plants that I have not rested because some are seedlings or offsets and not quite blooming size. If they get a notion to bloom, they'll bloom without rest -- and without labels.

 I am hoping that pots of bulbs sitting around the greenhouse will eventually produce blooms like these from 2011. I'm experimenting with Tazetta narcissus that grew in someone's garden for the past five decades to see if they'll bloom in a pot. I dug Exotica Amaryllis from my own garden before the freeze to see if they'll bloom again in a pot. 

I may still order off for Amaryllis. Vendors continue to send tempting emails. I can make room.

November 19, 2014

The Best Part of Waking Up

I love the story about the little boy who put toy soldiers in his Grandmother's coffee mug because 'the best part of waking up is soldiers in your cup.'

He-Who-Mows and Makes Coffee sometimes has to reset the coffee maker before I drag out of bed but this morning I was up before daylight to see if the temperature really got as low as predicted. Shortly after I got up, it dropped one more degree to 24º which I think was the low. The greenhouse stayed well above freezing because I set the heaters higher than necessary, still fine tuning.  

A blog that I read had links to all kinds of accessories for coffee drinkers on her post this morning. One of the items was a deluxe milk frother. For free I put a little milk in a pint jar and shake hard. Take off the lid and microwave a few  seconds for hot froth. The deluxe machine does not heat. 

Usually if there isn't much milk in the jug, I just shake the jug hard for instant froth which cools my coffee just enough.

Oh, did you notice the Thanksgiving Cactus? First Schlumbergera to bloom in the greenhouse. I brought it in last night to enjoy indoors. I had to coax a tiny frog out of the outer pot before I left the greenhouse.

Another freeze predicted tonight. I'll wake up to Folgers in my cup and Frost on the landscape. My children never called them soldiers, they said 'Little Army Men.' I think I'll buy a bag of them for Christmas.

Folgers does not know that we use their product. We buy our own. 

November 18, 2014

Forcing Narcissus

You cannot force a bulb to do anything, but you can trick it into thinking it might be time to bloom.

In previous years I've purchased Narcissus and used to put them in water and stones the way Mama did 50 years ago. I've outgrown forcing anything in water, a cruel trick that leaves water roots that fail to nourish a bulb that may be planted out in the garden after bloom if there are good roots to support it.

Tazetta Narcissus in the Garden:

This summer our neighbor, Farmer John brought me a half bushel of Narcissus bulbs that have grown for decades in his yard. Remember that this is a warm climate. 

Yesterday I went to the greenhouse and potted up groups of 4 and 5 in pots. 

I found a pot that will fit in this tin cache pot from my late friend Burt.
The monkey tin held paperwhites in 2009.


I don't know about my timing, Paperwhites may not bloom in time for Christmas, which matters little because we need blossoms throughout Winter.

I've been reckless about planning and planting bulbs this year. No telling when I'll see Amaryllis again, but there are pots in various stages of resting. I haven't looked to see what is going on in pots of hyacinth bulbs in a refrigerator; they are on their own until Christmas.

I keep looking at emails from Van Engelen and Longfield Gardens announcing sales. So far I've resisted. 

November 15, 2014

The Greenhouse by Night Is not the Greenhouse of Daylight Hours

Most everybody who has a greenhouse or is contemplating one has a plan for freezing nights: electric or propane heaters, water barrels and solar mass for heat mediation and a back-up plan if power fails or gas supplies run out.

A frequent question on garden forums is how to heat one's greenhouse using sunlight. Unless there's a grid of solar collection panels and a bank of batteries for energy storage and superlative insulation, it isn't going to happen during freezing temperatures. The best affordable practices use supplemental heat and conservation of energy.

What is going to happen on sunny days is heat buildup in the greenhouse. We can store a little heat using containers of water. Brick, stone and concrete in the floor absorbs heat that radiates back when the sun goes down. Even clay pots of soil hold some heat.

At noon here, the outside temperature was 46º and the greenhouse was 78.º
I did the obvious thing and opened the doors.

If you want to dig further into the science of heating and cooling a greenhouse, you could search for words like enthalpy, convection, mass transfer, phase change materials and radiation. I tend to garden indoors with a minimum of sophistication.

I've experimented a little with water jugs in front of the heaters -- we use 2 electric heaters set on low. (Electric space heaters generally all use the same amount of wattage, 1500 watts when placed on high, and 750 watts when using the space heater on low. We use separate circuits for each heater. Running them on low prolongs the life of the wiring.) 

My theory is that if the fans blow directly on gallon jugs of water, some energy exchange goes on there instead of all the heat rising directly to the ceiling. If the water heats up a bit, then it is more slowly released, delaying the time the heaters will come on again. I have not been inspired to go out there and time all this, it's still a theory unproven but it makes me happy to think that it might mediate the heat loss just a little. I put several jugs about 3 feet in front of the heaters.

I also undertook a sunlight trial with capping some jugs, leaving the tops of others open and covering a few with a black trash bag. Interesting to me is that the water does not heat up appreciably except where the sun shines directly on the jug but the air space in the top of the jug does get very warm. I may try half full jugs and other air spaces to see how that works, considering air as a fluid.

Ventilation Maintenance by way of Rutgers University
Greenhouse Heat Info from Auburn University
Low Tech Tips for Greenhouse Cooling 
Humidity and Temperature via U Mass 

Do what works and uses the least energy. I have not addressed using free or inexpensive materials like bubble wrap to insulate north walls and polyester fleece to protect sensitive individual plants.

November 13, 2014

Greenhouse Update, a Sort of Peek

I rearranged the Burro Tails:

Bromeliad Tree below with a drape of Spanish Moss. I gathered more Spanish Moss yesterday that was in easy reach while I waited for the end of the chain-sawing/moving trees that He-Who-Mows and Saws was completing. I have not found a good place to hang it that doesn't look awkward. Maybe I'll just put it outside for birds to line their nests without flying nearly a mile to find some.

Schlumbergera pots below with varying stages of buds in all colors. Larger pots are on the floor in front of Bromeliad tree above.

... and bits and pieces of rooted cuttings and seedlings that almost got left outside when I was moving things around.

Looking through a mess of stems above of leggy Graptopetalum and Firecracker Fern stems into a jungle of Tomato stems and fruit. If I can remember to keep oceans of water to the Russellia it will bloom little red firecrackers all winter, below.

When cuttings like this 'take' I want to rush out ahead of the coming freeze and take more cuttings to stick. Persian Shield is tricky to root; Purple Heart will almost root without a medium.

I gave away a good pot of rooted Alternanthera 'Chartreuse' on Monday and immediately pinched two more pots full to root, and some Red. I gathered Pentas seeds yesterday. I didn't think Pentas were easy from seeds until they started coming up in the greenhouse floor.

It's a grey day outside. Maybe we'll have a little rain. There's a cold wind blowing "right out of the North" as Daddy Mack used to say, as if 'right out of the North' was somehow more disagreeable (Mama's term) than 'from' the North. How did your folks describe cold weather?

Thanksgiving Cactus?

November 07, 2014

A Month Behind on Bulbs

I'm not behind on bulbs to plant in the garden -- it's still warm here and those can wait. I am behind on forcing bulbs, despite having had an Amaryllis bloom in a pot already.


We went to the city yesterday and stopped at Lowe's because their selections are a little different from our local HD. I found a bag of 15 Hyacinths for ten dollars. The cardboard label showed 10 different hyacinth shades. I would bet from the bulbs I separated that their are no more than 3 different in this bag.

I always separate Hyacinth bulbs by color and plant like colors together. Even if they are different cultivars they will blend better that way, pinks and purples together, whites and yellows in another pot.

After I gave them a small drink of water I put the pots in plastic bags, labeled and put to chill in a dedicated refrigerator where no fruit is stored.

 I always put a future date so I don't have to count from the date I potted them. They need more than 7 weeks of chill but this will give me a target date for checking on them -- right after Christmas.


After I potted the Hyacinths, I went out and dug some Amaryllis bulbs crowded by this Kniphofia that bloomed a last blossom two weeks ago. There were 5 small bulbs and one full-sized.

Last April they looked like this:

I'll hope for bloom sometime after Christmas. The smaller bulbs can grow on in some fresh potting mix. 

While I was out there, I clipped some Alternanthera to root in water during winter. The mug has sentiment -- my brother bought it at a yard sale. My nephew mailed it to me after Bob's death, saying he knew it was meant for me.

Notice the cedar boards above? We had to improvise a way to make the boards stay in place after there was a minor disaster when He-Who pulled on a shelf when he climbed up to oil the exhaust fan motor.

Each center board now has two metal screws on each end, holding the metal frame to the board and securing the frame so that it does not bow out.

Moving everything to take the shelf unit down freed up space when the Schlumbergeras moved to the north wall. It will fill up fast. Even the colored lights had to be repositioned.

Yellow pots have gone into hiding as soon as the bottom shelf gets green plants in front of them. The back shelf of the potting bench has changed pots again (below). I like a line of white best, I think. 

There's a Schlumbergera in the center planning to be a Thanksgiving Cactus.

November 03, 2014

First Frost November 3

We are about to have the 'here comes winter weather' roller coaster. Last night's predicted low of 32º did not dip that low but low enough for scattered frost.

The next 3 days predicted lows are 42, 52, and 62 on Thursday morning. Then we go the other way: 49, 39. Who knows what lies after that? I am just hopeful that my plants are getting the idea about making sugars for freeze protection before it is too late.

A gopher tortoise has his winter home ready. He'll probably be joined by a snake or two, maybe an armadillo and who knows what else.
I found this new tortoise burrow on the way to look at the persimmon trees. They were stripped of all fruit and most of the leave have fallen.

Nice groves of sumac have sprung up under the edges of Live Oak trees. These and Sassafras are our best source of fall red color.

A different sumac grove. Deer browse these. I found some today that still had berries, now dry and brown. Notice grasses near the fence at left.

November 02, 2014

Just a Peek, There Is a Freeze Advisory

I'm not ready. I didn't take cuttings in August. Late cuttings look poorly; I may dump some of them.

Rethinking, always rethinking. Perhaps I'll plant more Tropical seeds in the spring for an early start of Ricinus and other exotic plants. I've saved many annual seeds. The tray at right upper holds bits and pieces of rooted plants where tiny pieces broke off. I can't resist rooting. There are 2 pots across the way full of Angel Wing Begonia. I was compelled to root that one little piece that broke.

Wait! It's time to plant November seeds and the beds are not ready. Jonquillas and Narcissus await planting. I didn't bring in pots of Amaryllis -- if frost burns the leaves I'll cut them back and let them rest which they should be doing anyhow.

 I so enjoyed this Amaryllis that bloomed kind of out of season and is fading.

This is how a collection starts -- in 2012 this was a single tiny pot of Burro Tail. I saved every little piece that broke and every little bean-like leaf. You can't see the yoghurt cups with more little rootlings.

Ah, Autumn. Comes the buds of Camellia sasanqua beginning to show white. Late this afternoon I plugged in the heaters, checked the thermostats and shut the greenhouse doors.

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