I closed up shop on my rooftop garden this weekend. The terra cotta containers are all brought indoors and stored away for the winter. I’ll admit that while I’m sad to see it end for another season, I have begun to realize that I really need the freed-up time and energy to focus on indoor plants. Winter’s reduced light intensity and the dry air created by electric baseboard heating make keeping plants with a delicate constitution a battle requiring strategy and commitment. While this is going to seem a little insane and labor-intensive, a big part of my strategy for combating the intensely dry air involves 1. placement and 2. showering.
Here’s how I do it:
Placement: Organize and locate your plants according to their required conditions. We keep a humidifier in our bedroom for our own sake but it just so happens to serve as a great environment for humidity-loving plants. Plants that require warm, moist conditions are kept in that room, while dry, desert plants are kept elsewhere. The bathroom is an obvious choice for humidity-loving plants however my bathroom is windowless. Because all the humidity and care in the world will not allow you to forgo rule #1: plants need light…. for photosynthesis and all that jive.
Showering: Unfortunately I have too many plants to keep everything that needs humidity in the bedroom. Despite the warm, moist air it is a bedroom, not a jungle, and a small one no-less. Additionally, some plants just can’t seem to get enough humidity in which case they are also subjected to the shower treatment. Once a month, sometimes more, I schlep the begonias, epiphytic cacti, and citrus trees into the bathroom where I place them all into the bathtub and run the shower at room-temperature for several minutes until each plant is thoroughly soaked. I then shake them gently to remove excess water and schlep them back to their permanent locations. You can choose to follow along with rainy days as a way to mimic nature and keep a cycle, however baseboard heating can be so drying the typical rules (watering only during sunny days, and avoiding night-time showers) can be thrown out the window. I often take this opportunity to inspect each plant for diseases or pests and check the soil to see if it needs topping up.
Some plants can not make it through the winter without grow lights to help them along during the dark days of winter, but I am convinced that regularly showering the citrus trees is the main reason they have made it alive through the winter months in time to go outside for the summer.
While setting up my “Eggling Experience” I thought it would fall more into the spirit of the much loved but long forgotten “The Lab” section of this site if I were to make this into an Eggling versus Real Egg experiment. I made the claim in my introductory post that an Eggling could be closely approximated for free using the shell of a real egg, and so I present to you a wholly unscientific experiment in which I will attempt to back that claim up with anecdotal evidence.
I haven’t done this since high school so bear with me.
A real egg is just as effective as an Eggling ceramic egg when used as a vessel for growing thyme from seed.
1. Set up an Eggling according to the supplied directions.*
2. Hard boil a large chicken egg. You can use a raw egg and just plop out the contents but I felt like eating a boiled egg.
3. Peel off a section from the top and scoop out the contents.
4. Remove a section from the bottom so that the egg sits flat.
5. Cut a small square of coffee filter and place in the bottom of the egg to cover the hole. This will keep the dirt from falling out.
6. Fill the egg with sterile seed-starting mix and a dash of vermicompost (aka worm poo). I was out of potting soil and too involved in the scientific process to go out for some, so I cheated and used soil from another pot. The soil wasn’t sterile but… I added worm castings in an attempt to approximate the Eggling growing medium which is said (in the instructions) to include, “…enough nutrients for plants to grow in it for up to 5 months.”
7. Sprinkle seeds on top of the soil. I used the extra seeds that came with the Eggling kit in an attempt to keep the projects as similar as possible (okay maybe no “as possible.” More like, as possible as I can be bothered without making a special trip to the store for additional supplies).
8. Water the egg slowly until water begins to drain into the tray from the bottom. I followed the directions outlined by the Eggling so that they followed the same routine.
9. Place both Eggling and Real Egg in a warm place to germinate. Mine are sat on top of the television awaiting germination.
*The supplied directions were seriously lacking in direction. When setting this up I tried to think like a beginner and I will say that as a fake beginner the lack of instructions left me feeling anxious as to whether I was doing the right thing. Did I make the hole big enough? How long will it take to germinate? How do I care for the plant once it has germinated? How do I prune? How do I transplant it? What happens next? p.s. In step #4 of the instruction pamphlet it is suggested that you shatter the Eggling and add the pieces to the soil of the transplanted plant “as fertilizer.” Dudes, last time I checked ceramic did not qualify as “fertilizer.”
p.s. NaBloPoMo is HARD.
Today was a dry and mild reprieve from the awful cold, wet and sometimes windy late fall weather we’ve been enduring here in Southern Ontario — a good day to do some garden work. I have found frozen water in the trays underneath the containers on the roof a couple of times recently increasing my concern about getting everything cleaned up in time. You can pretty much forego cleaning up in-ground gardens (I know because I have) and expect minor plant loss, however container gardens in these parts can’t be ignored. The heaving caused by freezing and thawing conditions will crack and destroy terra cotta and some plastic containers. I’ve got A LOT of containers out there and would like to keep the collection I’ve cobbled together for as long as possible.
Here’s what I do to clean-up the container garden:
- Bring houseplants and plants that are still producing fruit indoors – I did this back in September well before the first frost.
- Harvest remaining produce – I found a couple of missed tomatoes, sweet potatoes, hot peppers, and a few small red onions.
- Remove all plant matter from terracotta and small containers – Cut them into manageable pieces and compost. If you don’t have a composter put them into garden waste bags for city composting.
- Remove stakes from containers and pile together.
- Dump soil from pots that will be stored away – I dump all of my soil into the large, plastic garbage cans that are used for growing tomatoes. They stay outside for the winter.
- Hardy perennials can be safely overwintered in large planter boxes – I sometimes add a blanket of mulch or dried branches, but they do just fine regardless. You can prune them back if breakage is an issue, but the plants in my boxes are so tough I leave the stems for added interest. The birds like to perch on the branches on mild winter days searching for seeds to munch on. They also collect dried grass bits for their nests come spring.
- Soak and scrub all terracotta pots and containers that are too fragile for outdoor storage – I wash mine in hot soapy water to which I add a couple of splashes of oxygenated bleach (aka hydrogen peroxide).
- Over-turn, stack, and store your pots somewhere sheltered such as a garage, basement, or shed. I don’t have any of those so I stack mine on shelves in our hallway and tuck the treasured containers away in the back of kitchen cupboards.
Related: Preparing Your Garden for Winter
Despite the cold — and the fact that we experienced a brief and light snowfall this afternoon — outdoor gardening is still happening here in Toronto. I am yet to put any of my gardens to bed. The side garden is fine really. Doing a last clean-up is pretty much my choice. I choose to be lazy until such time when and if I am struck with the spirit of Martha.
Hardneck garlic before planting. I bought these cloves at the Organic Farmer’s Market… specifically from The Dufferin Grove Market and the Plan B Farm. They were still selling cloves today if you’re looking in Toronto.
The rooftop container garden is another thing entirely. I have really got to get on that action. Dead annuals need to be composted, soil collected, pots scrubbed clean and brought indoors, and everything put away — it’s a crucifixion! Things are starting to freeze up there. I should be out there right now, not inside in the warmth, heating my body by the warm monitor glow. I’ll get on that tomorrow.
Planting Thyme in the cold, wet dirt. Sure is fun!
Thankfully I have been slowly working on the community garden since the first signs of fall back in September. I planted hardneck garlic last week, and Egyptian clumping onions at least a month prior. I pulled up or cut back most of the dead calendula and borage, pulled up a zucchini plant, harvested everything that wasn’t going to see another day, and laid straw down. Rather than overwintering potted perennial herbs as I often do, I elected to plant the marjoram and various thyme varieties in a section of the new community plot. All of the still-green tomatoes were picked and are sat on top of the warm fridge ripening. I’ve got a single precious ‘Black Pear’ tomato left that I am saving until the absolute perfect moment to enjoy on a fried egg sandwich with pesto.
As things get colder I am finding myself longing for the days of summer when I was out in the garden sweating in a t-shirt. Sweat and heat exhaustion sound good right now. I was at the community garden on Saturday wearing several layers to protect against both the cold and the rain. When I got home my hands were frozen and went through that terrible dethawing process that is a mix of both itchiness and pain. I love gardening and even those those wet days can be some of the best for things like planting perennials even I can’t sell it. Digging in cold wet dirt just sucks!
Guest post by Emira Mears
The only remaining bulbs I had on my list to plant for the Fall was my garlic. Planting out the garlic required a bit more preparation as I had to clean up some space in my veggie beds getting rid of finished beans, cukes and some arugula that had bolted and I swear was making a run for the basement door, before I would have room to put the garlic in.
This will be my first time growing garlic and so far I’ve already learned a lot. For starters, I ordered way too much (so if you’re in Canada and would like some lovely garlic to plant let me know via ourdomicile at gmail dot com and perhaps we can work something out in the way of a trade) getting a bit confused by the whole bulb vs. clove business when I placed my bulb orders. You see, it was obvious to me when they arrived, but for some reason not so obvious when I placed the order that five bulbs of garlic meant five bulbs full of a bunch of wee cloves that then get broken up and planted individually. But I was thinking more along the lines of 5 bulbs = 5 bulbs to plant like with my tulip order and so foolishly ordered 10 thinking that was quite conservative. I now have planted about 40 cloves of garlic and have some extras for those who are interested.
Anyway. I woke up to another sunny day yesterday and decided I would use the opportunity to get my garlic in the ground. I did a bit of web searching and discovered that there are all kinds of opinions about what one has to do to grow good garlic. Many of the web sites I read stressed the difference between “growing garlic” (which is apparently easy) and “growing good garlic” which is apparently trickier. I followed the advice of a few handy tips I read online and soaked the cloves in a mixture of baking soda (1 heaping tablespoon for one bowl containing the cloves of 5 bulbs) and water for a few hours to make it easier to slip off the skins and apparently to help kill any fungus that might be on the cloves. I also read suggestions to add liquid seaweed to this mixture to help feed the garlic but I didn’t have any around the house and I was feeling mighty impatient (and like this may be my last sunny Sunday of the season). I then prepped the soil, turning it over well and adding some compost. After that I undertook the very laborious task of peeling the skin off all those cloves which took a fair while, and then drained the baking soda liquid off to replace it with a quick soak in some 100 proof vodka. This was recommended as a further way to ensure any fungus on the garlic was killed, and given the wiff of garlic/vodka I got as I was planting these little nuggets I’d say that was successful.
I planted them at a 2″ depth about 4″ apart and was careful to mark all my spots so I don’t dig them up again next Spring. I’ve also read in numerous spots now that applying some mulch to the ground for the winter is a good idea to help keep them warm. I had been planning on mulching my veggie beds anyway to help keep weeds down and add nutrients so now I’ve got an extra incentive. If even half of my garlic comes up we’ll be doing pretty well, which is great as I use a lot of it in the kitchen and even more when I’m preserving in the Summer. I’ll let you know how it goes and if I suspect any of these tips were useful, but I’m afraid you’ll have to sit tight for a good six months or so to find out.