Monday, March 24, 2014

Spring Cleaning the indoor plants

Since my outdoor First day of spring was uh... uninspiring, I decided to clean up and re-pot my indoor plants.  Partly to take care of the damaged plants, partly because many of them needed to be re-potted and finally because I needed to make room for the seed starting trays on the rack as I was tired of them being on the counter.

Always have the right size and color pot.

This plant was given to me by one of my sisters and has since grown many pups.  I don't know what it is so I have called it the Thorny Beast plant as it will make you notice it if you aren't respectful of its space.  It was so pot bound that I really had to work to get it out.  A couple of the pups now grace a young friend's lizard aquarium.  I have to imagine that their new home is a much more interesting environment than my plant rack.

Thorny Beast plant

My attempts to clean up always result in a bigger mess before it gets better.

My mess....

I removed the dead plants from my mini succulent garden and replaced them.  An aloe and a thorny beast have a new home.  The tub of plants on the left I passed on to friends.

One of my succulent mini gardens

Neat rows of cuttings

The babies are coming up!

Succulent jungle

The finished product... everything is tidy and fits!

First day of spring garden tour

On this first day of spring I thought to go out in the yard to see if I could find any signs of spring.  After the endless winter we have had, I thought to cheer myself up by finding a snowdrop, which is an early blooming flower.  Well....   This is what I found.

Lots of snow... about 18 to 24 inches yet on the ground

However a bit of joy is found near the cement wall.  I see the ground!

Raspberry terraced beds to the west of the deck

East terraced beds

Traversing snow that is higher than the boots I am wearing, I go to check out my pond.  I did not keep the water open this year due to several factors, a huge one in that the constant sub-zero temperatures would have made it near impossible.  I fear that all of my fish are dead and the frogs too.  My clean up job when it does thaw is going to be... messy.

Site of a very frozen pond - top of East terraced beds

The snow load on the roof this winter was very heavy.  In fact our neighbor's porch post snapped under the weight which prompted Timothy to clear our roof off.  Approximately three feet of very packed snow was heaved off.  A tremendously huge job to do and while doing it, little thought was given to what might be below.  Our Japanese maple which was covered in snow already, was crushed by the additional avalanche.  Perhaps with some pruning we can save it....

Casualty of war

We have made a "When do you think ALL the snow will be gone in our yard?" pool of which Timothy said this monster of a snowbank is included.  I am being extremely optimistic and saying by Mother's day, May 11th.  Timothy is probably much more realistic and guessing June 1st.  I am not allowed to "help" the snow disappear by knocking it down either.  We'll see....

Snow mountain

Well, I found a lot of snow, lots of dead plants and some hens and chicks in the small area on the south facing East terraced bed.  It is a plant that, yes I know is green all winter but I am going to have to be happy with the fact that now I can see it.

What I settled for...

Dead plants, dead plants... what-cha gonna do?

This is what happens when you leave your tropical plants home while you go to Costa Rica....

Tender succulent was more tender than I realized

Timothy turned the heat down while we were gone to save on utilities... a wonderful plan except for the fact that many of my house plants come from where we were going and did not appreciate the 50 degree temperature which was probably colder at night next to the sliding window.

Not so peaceful lily

When we got home after a difficult trip, we found many dead and dying plants.  Not for lack of water, but for lack of warmth.  The final death toll was dozens of plants including all my coleus that I had started from cuttings in the fall.  So, lesson learned, do not turn down the heat too much when you leave on a trip or plan to have someone else babysit them.

Very unhappy paleopolis orchid

This is the one plant that I will truly morn if it does not bounce back.  At this point, a week after this picture was taken, the two left leaves are completely orange and the center leaf is curling up on itself.  I have had this orchid for seven years if memory serves right and it has bloomed for me almost every year.  I might cry....

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Gardening Experience Class

For anyone who lives in the West Michigan area, we are presenting a free 9 week gardening series class at the Holland Herrick District Library on Monday evenings starting May 5th 2014.  The class starts at 6:30 pm and runs for one hour.  It will be held every other other week from May 5th to Aug. 25.  You can sign up for the classes you are interested in attending by clicking here.

Below is our class syllabus, please let us know if you have any questions or comments.

The Gardening Experience Class Syllabus 2014

This is a hands on course which will take you on a tour through a garden season. You will be introduced to gardening concepts and ideas to help you improve your own garden.  There will be classroom presentations, hands on assignments, and the opportunity to get your hands dirty at the Park Township Community Garden.  We will include local guided garden tours to introduce different successful gardens and their owners.  This course will be taught by Advanced Master Gardener Shannon Campau and her husband and fellow gardener Timothy.

Course Outline:
Week 1  May 5  Garden Planning

  • Why Grow Your Own Food
  • Choosing Crops
  • Planning Layout
  • Preparing a Calendar

Week 2  May 19 Preparing and Planting the Garden

  • Discuss Soils
  • Sunlight and Watering
  • Amendments
  • Seeds and Plants

Week 3  June 2  Field Trip: Bill’s Greenhouse Tour

  • Explore a Greenhouse in Operation with Calvin
  • Opportunity to Purchase Locally Grown Plants

Week 4  June 16  Why Organic

  • Organic vs Non-Organic
  • Nutrients and Fertilizers
  • Beginning Harvesting

Week 5 June 30  Field Trip:  Holland Community Garden Tour and Work Day

  • Tour a volunteer based garden which donates all produce to charities.
  • Opportunity to “get your hands dirty” for a good cause.

Week 6  July 14  Pesky Pests and Problems

  • Bugs, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
  • Diseases and cures

Week 7  July 28  Field Trip: Eighth Day Farm Tour

Week 8 Aug 11 Harvesting into Fall

  • Harvesting tips, tricks, and preserving
  • Season extension
  • Garden cleanup

Week 9  Aug 25  Field Trip: Season Wrap-up Party at Our Home Garden

  • Tour of instructor’s flower and vegetable gardens.
  • Class Review
  • Share your harvest bounty snacks 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Journey to Costa Rica

We had the opportunity to go to Costa Rica as part of a teen leadership camp in mid-February.  We left behind more than 10’ of fallen snow and subzero temperatures.

Will all this snow ever melt?

Airplane view of Costa Rica

We landed in San Jose on the western side of the mountain range which runs down the middle of Costa Rica.  The western side is more arid because it is in the rain shadow of the mountains.  We headed over the mountain range to the lush Caribbean side and made our way to the Bocuare Jungle Camp.

Over the mountain and through the woods, I mean jungle...

View from our cabin.

Bocuare Jungle Outdoor Kitchen, no electricity required.

S. Crossing the dangerous swamp...  Look, strong bridge!

One of our expeditions took us on the Caribean Chocolate Tour.  Paul, the owner explained his goal to grow cacao sustainably and organically in a permaculture setting.  Paul showed us how he processes his organic cacao seeds by fermenting and sun-drying them which preserves the healthful properties including the antioxidants in the finished chocolate. The more common chocolate found in candy bars does not have these properties because of the chemical manufacturing process called “Dutch Processed”.  We sampled several varieties of the fine chocolate bars on the tour and found them to be unique, rich, and satisfying.

Permaculture cocao jungle at Caribeans.

Another picture at Caribeans.

Cocao press... thick, rich, and chocolaty.

Removing cocao beans from the pod.

Scenic view of the Caribbean ocean.

View from our cabin.

The road to Bocuare went through a bamboo forest that we were told was planted by the banana companies.  The bamboo was intended to be used as supports for the banana plants but was abandoned for another support system.  The highly invasive bamboo is changing the local eco system.

Bamboo forest.

There are two main fruit companies in Central America called Standard Fruit Company and United Fruit Company.  From what we were told by people who live in the area, these companies’ practices are focused on profits over the good of the local people and environment.  We heard a crop duster plane flying overhead nearly every morning.  The people who lived nearby often get sprayed during their commute on foot to work and school as they have to use the roads that run through the banana plantation.  We have decided to boycott these companies because of their practices and purchase organic bananas.

Passing through a banana plantation.

Warning:  danger of hazardous spraying...

The sponsor of the camp took everyone to his property where he has 3 acres of edible jungle.  He interplanted bananas, coconuts, pepitas, lemons, limes, sugarcane, mangos, papaya and several other varieties of trees.  He hoped that the permaculture aspects of the orchard would create a beneficial habitat.  We did see a large number of spiders and bugs that you wouldn’t find in a commercial monoculture orchard.

Living tree fence.

View from top of mountain.

Banana tree.

Pineapple plant near the house.

His neighbor is a local missionary who has started food gardening in his yard.  Most Costa Ricans do not grow personal food gardens and even believe that it is impossible.  We were told the supposed reason why was that they lost the knowledge when Europeans changed their culture.

Tomato plants.

Other various raised beds with hoops.

Pictures from a walk we took at Bocuare.

Jungle walk.

Swamp land, look out for the crocs!

Beautiful Aloe plant.

T's favorite pic, dubbed the "fiber optic flower".

More Bocuare Jungle

Red Beauty.

Last 2 pictures sums it all up...

From the picture perfect Caribbean sea... the land of the frozen.