Thursday, June 12, 2014

Wine Bottle Planters, Compost Tea, and a Garden Update - June 2014

I've been working on a post about the Lanikai Stage project, and I've got that ready to roll just as soon as one last video comes in from Hawaii.  In the meanwhile, I've been doing some puttering around the house (as usual).  Here's an update on the gardening stuff.

First, I have been doing some seed starting experiments with my wine bottle planters.  Over the past couple of years since I started making them, I experimented with using a variety of "soil."  I tried potting soil, but that stayed far too wet.  So I tried a mixture of green roof "soil" and smashed-up terra-cotta pots for drainage, but they were still retaining too much moisture in the top for most plants that I tried.  I remembered seeing some Grow Bottles at The Green Depot (one of my favorite stores) and reading on the package that they used expanded clay pebbles as the growing medium.  I've kept that in the back of my mind as I was doing these experiments, and since none of them was particularly successful, I finally bought some expanded clay pebbles (they're mainly used in hydroponics; I bought Hydroton, but if I ever need more, I'll be getting Growstones).

I sewed a bunch of seeds in my wine bottle planters and put them in the window - forgetting the basic rules about seed starting (keeping them in a dimly lit place being the main one).  After two weeks, only my friend Rosie's dill seeds had sprouted.  I moved those out onto the window ledge where they could get more sun, and a warm day dried them up and killed them.  Clearly, I now had a problem of not enough moisture!

So, I took a peek at the instructions online for Grow Bottles, and discovered they mix vermiculite in with the clay pebbles for moisture retention!  Well, I don't have any vermiculite on hand, but I do have some left over peat moss from when I made the hypertufa planters for the roof (click the link and scroll down to see pictures and read about the process), so I sprinkled that among the pebbles, sewed some more seeds, and have been spritzing them with a water bottle every morning and evening.  And I'm having some success!  So far, the eggplant, cucumbers, tomatoes, and (once again) Rosie's dill have sprouted and are looking strong.  Now I just need to give them some fertilizer.




Speaking of fertilizer, I'm making my first batch of "compost tea" as I type this.  Soil health is foundational to plant health, and plant health is related to Cindy's and my health.

Let me explain: healthy soil is not unlike our own bodies.  The human body is comprised of more bacterial cells than actual human cells (skeptical?  read this article from Scientific American).  Healthy soil is, we are learning, is also comprised largely of bacterial cells.  These tiny bacteria break down the minerals and nutrients in the soil so that they can be absorbed by plants' roots.  The bacteria create sort of a transitionary zone around plants' roots that is not exactly plant and not exactly non-plant (such a Buddhist concept!).  When we kill off the bacteria in and around our bodies, or we kill off the bacteria in and around our plants, we are interrupting ecosystems on the micro scale.  These ecosystems, actually known as "micro-biomes" are responsible for all sorts of mechanisms related to processing food (or sunlight and fertilizer, if you're a plant) as well as protecting us from disease (and pests, also in the case of plants).  This is a pretty great article to read if you want to know more.

Cindy and I compost our kitchen scraps, but our compost operation isn't big enough to make enough compost to create healthy micro-biomes in all the new potting soil and potted plants that went up on the green roof this year.  And the wine bottle planters don't have any nutrients in them yet either.  So, I'm making my own liquid fertilizer that is rich with aerobic bacteria by putting a net bag of compost (actually, I believe we originally received this bag as a wrapper for a bottle of champagne we were given), a couple of tablespoons of unsulphered molasses, and some water in a bucket.  I'm then forcing air through the water with some aquarium air stones and a used aquarium pump.  The molasses is a bit of extra food for the bacteria (like flower and sugar are for yeast when making bread), and the bubbles going through the water allow for the mixture to support aerobic bacteria (which are highly beneficial to plants) as opposed to anaerobic bacteria (which could be trouble).  A small amount of compost itself acts as the starter (think sourdough bread starter) - introducing the good bacteria to the water, which then multiply with the abundant food (molasses) and air.  Tomorrow, I'll put the compost tea in our new sprayer and spray it on all our plants and surrounding soil.

Here's the "brewing" operation with the net bag hanging off the handle and two air lines running into the bucket with the air stones bubbling away:


I learned about this stuff by doing youtube searches for "compost tea."  Although he doesn't tell you what type of yeast he's putting in his compost tea in addition to compost, this Alaskan guy is sort of an adorable coot, and I like his video: Compost Tea for BIG Vegetables.

In other Project Happy Life gardening news, I'm trying a new technique with the chicken wire squirrel protection up on the roof.  I started putting chicken wire directly over the soil around plants rather than upside down baskets over the plants, because now a lot of the plants are getting too big for the baskets.  It seems to be working, but there's more to do.  Here are some pictures from this morning's trip up to the roof to get my bucket.

The squashes are getting huge.  The watermelon on the left is lagging behind.

 The lavender is blooming!

 The row of seedlings on the West side are getting taller, and I have to sort out the chicken wire/squirrel problem this weekend.

 The artichoke is getting bigger.

 And the blue potatoes are off and running - again, another chicken wire problem to solve this weekend.  There's a zinnia on the right.  I kept it in the kitchen window for too long, and it got leggy.  Then I transplanted it to the roof and it didn't get enough water... inadvertent zinnia torture.

The hairy hens and chicks are getting VERY prolific.

The red sunflower is also getting ready to outgrow its chicken wire.

Tomato seedlings doing well.

Rosemary, fairy squash, and two eggplant seedlings. 

 And the green roof sedum are getting ready for their second round of flowers.

And on the left, you can see the beginnings of a chicken wire cage I'm making to protect the strawberries from the g. d. squirrels.

Anyway, hang on, all you plants!  Compost tea is a-comin'!!

1 comment:

  1. It is amazing fact that you can use your scrap or new glass bottle which is used at least on time from you for growing or maintaining the small flower on it like a vase. Glass bottles are also used for decorating purpose for your home if you do some crafting or painting on it will be a perfect center peace for your room. Sri design

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