Celebrate the culture of agriculture & share skills (Growing! Cooking! Eating!)

Just Because You Have A Cold, Black Heart Doesn't Mean You Have A Black Thumb

NOTE: These posts I do, I also write for my blog, which is here (with proper links). But I've been mainly just writing for my friends, many of whom are still dead set against buying organic foods and who mostly just listen politely and laugh when I try to talk up my compost machine. So a lot of what I'm writing about, people on this site probably already know about, and reading this might be like when you read your high school diary entry talking about how much you love "that hot new jam, 'Thong Song.'" But maybe some of it will be helpful or the awkwardness will make you laugh, like, hey, young blood, your attempts at baby hydroponics are silly?

There's something about plants that makes people uneasy. It's like, hey, you've got chlorophyll, you think you're better than me? And
maybe my basil is secretly mad greazy and does tend towards elitism in
its daily ponderings. Who knows. But in any case, it doesn't have to
be a struggle to keep plants alive. I know a lot of my bros are
reticent about growing plants of their own because they've had failures
before, but I've managed it, and a tranny once had to pull me out of
the gutter where I'd collapsed vomiting, and if my sloppy ass can do
it, anyone can.

My mom used to give me plants all the time that I would put in some
random corner of my kitchen and forget to water, and then I'd be GREAT
JUST GREAT the plant died. Some plants can take that kind of abuse,
like the coleus I had in my stairwell for awhile. But most plants
cannot. This sounds so basic, but because plants don't bark at you and
vomit in the crevice between your bed and dresser to get your attention
like some hoodrat Pomeranians I know that sleep on my Yoda pillow, you
sometimes forget about them. But a way to not forget about your
plants, especially if you are a city dweller with limited space and
resources, is to only grow things you will be excited about and anxious
to eat or use. I mean, ornamental plants are nice, but if all you have
in your neighborhood are bodegas with Goya products and Utz potato
chips from, by all appearances, the early 90s, you might be able to
muster more enthusiasm for herbs that can be used in salads and edible
flowers and the like. Particularly if you grow things you can't even
get at the grocery store, like nasturtium or lemonbalm leaves.

So here is a list of things that might make you resistant to growing
plants, and what you can do to really live the dream, if by "live the
dream" you mean "have a reliable supply of wormwood that hasn't died
yet, unlike your hopes and non-plant related dreams, thanks broken
toilet and broken public education system." Who's jazzed?

1) Soil in large containers is heavy, messy, and potentially full of bugs and/or disease bearing organisms.

2) I often travel/am hungover/am too lethargic because of the crushing weight of modern life to water plants regularly.

3) I was super on it about watering my last plant, and it died anyway, and now I just feel like an idiot, GREAT.

4) I live in a dark apartment in Brooklyn that most closely
resembles Grendel's cave, where I spend my time being hideous and hey,
kind of monstrous but, in my opinion, largely misunderstood, because
it's not like any of Hrothgar's douchebags offered me any mead
, and
we all know mead is delicious, so if you think about it, I was kind of
in the right by devouring their flesh, and also, Beowulf cut off my
arm, and that sucked.

I think we can all relate to #4 particularly. For #1-3, there is one
solution that takes care of it all- "self-watering" or, more properly,
"sub-irrigating" planters. These are planters that feature some kind
of reservoir, and through science, slowly bring water up to the plants
over the course of a few weeks (or possibly shorter, depending on the
size of the reservoir). I learned how to make them using Greenscaper's Flickr directions,
with some hoodrat modifications because I lack power tools. He has
several very useful posts about making sub-irrigating planters on his
website, Inside Urban Green, especially this one about making giant tote-sized ones out of recycled materials.
I've never talked to him before, even though I think he's in Brooklyn
too, because I feel like he might look at me quizzically the way my
grandpa does when I talk to him about gardening while excessively
referencing trannies, but his posts are very helpful, and out of all
the ones I've looked through on the internet, his design seems the
easiest and most practical.

Basically, for those of you who, like me, are often too lazy to click on links, you cut a soda bottle in half, cut some "xs"
near the bottle top with a box cutter to allow for aeration, stick some
felt in the bottle neck, and throw the top half upside into the bottom
or some other container, so that it looks like this:

Here, I took a wide-mouthed vase and stuck the top half of the soda bottle into it. If you look closely, there's some felt sticking out of
the bottle neck, and you can super easily see that the vase functions
as the water reservoir. This is the first sub-irrigating planter I
ever made, about six weeks ago, and I've only refilled it with water
twice since I started. And the wormwood is seriously just living its
life and growing profusely.

Here you can see the felt-as-wick situation more clearly. This is a temporary placement, probs, but I stuck this wine glass that I broke,
because I am a sloppy mess, into the soil in the aloe I have planted,
and threw the nasturtium soda planter on top. This picture also shows
you one of the key elements of the whole self-watering business: a
soilless growing medium, like perlite. I didn't know this until I
started researching it, but plants really don't need to grow in soil.
If you feed them some kind of nutrients, they can grow in all kinds of
things, from these crazy clay balls people use in hydroponics:
to vermiculite, gravel, and more. They sell an 8 quart bag of perlite
with 4-5 months of nutrients in it for about $5 at Home Depot, so
that's what I went with. In a sub-irrigating planter, you can't use
regular garden soil, because the small particles would clog everything,
so you need to use one of these alternatives. Fortunately, perlite is
also way, way lighter than garden soil, is probably completely disease
and insect free, and its makeup means that the plants' roots get enough
air. Yeah, also, apparently plant roots need air. I had no idea about
this until very recently. That's why things go badly if you overwater
them, because then the soil compacts itself, and I think the plants
essentially drown (although I am not even kind of a scientist, so Rae
[who I need to call back, sorry that I am an uncommunicative
misanthrope] correct me if that is wrong).

I don't like the look of the soda bottle inside itself, so I've been
throwing bottles of various sizes into containers I have lying around
my apartment. I put chives in an old bottle of tonic inside a tea pot:
and hung it on the bracket holding my window shelf up. I also took this
long, rectangular container I had, threw some sea shells and rocks I
had lying around in the bottom, and stuck a bunch of soda bottles
planters in it. These plants were just recently transplanted, so
they're a little struggly, but hopefully they'll thrive after awhile:

(Obviously I had to relocate the flamingo my grandpa most likely stole from someone's yard to this location, but guys, it's cool, he's still
wearing the shrimp boot necklace.)

This brings me to problem #4, the aforementioned Grendel-like
situation. As you can sort of see from the picture above, I live in a
brownstone in Bed-Stuy, my front windows face the south, and there
isn't a building directly across the street from mine shading my
apartment. This is a fairly ideal situation when it comes to plant
growing, and the light was actually one of the reasons we picked the
place last August. However, my last apartment in Greenpoint was a sad,
albeit gingersnap-infested dark hole. It had a nice grandma's house
charm, but it was one of those building renovations where they
essentially create two tunnel apartments out of what was probably one
before. Luckily, we had a backyard where I could garden, but if we had
been limited to windows, it would have been much tougher, but- and this
is the important part if you are the new tenant there- not impossible.

Without even going into artificial light, which you can totally do, (stick a fluorescent desklight a couple of inches above
a plant and it's like a baby sun!) there are a number of plants that
will grow in shadier situations. And I should know, because I make it
my business to be involved in myriad shady situations, particularly if
they involve binge drinking, shorts featuring the marble penis of
Michaelangelo's David on them, and attempted doing it that fails
hilariously. So, for example, there are like 87 different kinds of
mint, and they will tolerate lower light. Pennyroyal is a kind of
mint, and allegedly it repels both insects and fetuses, so if you want
to take your life that way, hey, there's an option. Or there's sweet
woodruff, which is this wonderful little plant with tiny white flowers,
and when you dry it, it smells like vanilla. Apparently, German people
used to use it in this wine punch they made for May Day, or something,
so I'm planning to add some to my north-facing bedroom window. Oh, and
I also want to put chocolate mint in my bedroom window, because that
shit smells delicious. It doesn't really taste like chocolate,
especially if you try to infuse it in alcohol and you have big dreams
of Andes mint liqueurs, but it's nice for the scent, anyway, and one of
my neighbors suggested that it goes lovely in a nice fruit salad.

So hey gang. Now you can have an extreme! plant! party! It takes a
boxcutter, some scissors, a tiny piece of felt or most other fabrics,
and like five minutes to turn a soda bottle into a wonderful planter
where lavender or basil or rosemary or something can live. Can live
what, you ask? The dream. Where they can Live The Dream. Party all
the time, plants. Party all the time.

Views: 588

Comment by mollie Engelhart on March 13, 2010 at 2:08am
very cool


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