Friday, August 15, 2014

Urban garden update, August 15th.

(I'm trying something special this year and am keeping a "photo blog," telling my story mostly through images but with a bit of description added as well, concerning my first-ever year of being an urban gardener. Check the "Garden 2014" photoset at my Flickr account for the entire series, including more photos for each entry than you see here.)

August 15: Well, okay, lots of updates to the garden to share with you...

Inspired by a suggestion from my aunt, I pruned the middles of my coleus plants, so that there's more room for the existing leaves to grow and get sunlight. The plant continues to do insanely well -- the tallest stalks are up to three and a half feet now, and many of them have sprouted these vertical flower blooms as well.

In a big surprise, after months of regular growth with my newer moonflower plant, it's starting to bloom itself for the very first time; in fact, the very first flowers bloomed just this morning, purple here instead of white in my older plant. I can see at least 20 more little bulbs growing in other areas, so I think this entire lamp stand is going to be blooming purple before too long.

The older moonflower plant, meanwhile, seems to finally be reaching the end of its life cycle; this is doubly-confirmed by the fact that it keeps giving off new seeds as well. I imagine this one will be ready for the compost pile by another month or two from now.

The lantana plants that Carrie recently gave me continue to grow fast and strong, and now they too are displaying the very first signs of their very first flowers, although at this point nothing more than little matchstick-head-sized tiny little green bulbs. It's still going to be awhile before these bloom, but that point is now definitely coming.

Surprisingly, two of my salad-green plants look like they're going to give me one more small harvest; so since I have the room in my windowsill right now, I'm just leaving them there to grow a little more.

And the last of my warm-weather crops have been moved into small pots for the first time. On the left, you can see that the sage is growing like gangbusters, and smells amazing when you hold it up directly to your nose and take a deep whiff. I'm looking forward to trying out a bunch of sage recipes later this fall. But on the right, the chamomile (planted on the same day) is struggling a lot more, and I'm not sure at this point that I'm going to ever going to get mature plants out of them or not. Unfortunately my apartment turns out to just not have enough sun to grow chamomile or lavender, which I'll have to keep in mind in future years.

And then two "caretaker" photos to share too, not of anything new but just a progress report on how they're doing: first, that my basil plants continue to thrive and harvest regularly; and second, that my exotic plants over on the radiator continue to do well too, and my palm tree has easily grown a foot since I got it earlier this summer. That's it for now, but in another two or three weeks I'm going to plant my first cool-weather crops, so there will be lots of updates again starting around then.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Urban gardening update, August 4th.

(I'm trying something special this year and am keeping a "photo blog," telling my story mostly through images but with a bit of description added as well, concerning my first-ever year of being an urban gardener. Check the "Garden 2014" photoset at my Flickr account for the entire series, including more photos for each entry than you see here.)

August 4: Well, a bit of a sad day last week -- I harvested the last of my salad greens for this growing season, because of this being my first year and not realizing that I should've been staggering out their plantings on a regular basis all through the spring. I'll definitely be changing my plans for next year, though, to make sure to have lettuce and mesclun ready to be harvested every few days all summer long. That leaves me with just a few last sproutings left, but mostly with all my plants now in their fully adult form, as you're seeing in these photos, including my coleus which is now grown to three feet tall and still counting, my moonflower plant which has really taken over my floor lamp at this point (I just wish it'd start actually flowering!), my tropical plants over by the radiator which still continue to grow well, and my old pot of violas that are sadly now starting to die, just like the gardening guides predicted it would once the hot weather hit. And in the meanwhile, Carrie stopped by the other day with new lantana plants for me that she had been planning on throwing out, which you're seeing in photo F; in that same photo, you can see that my sage has nicely grown out enough now to warrant putting all together in one pot for the first time, although sadly not the same can be said about the lavender and chamomile sprouts, which I'm just about to give up on soon. Carrie also pointed out while she was over that the hard purple bulbs on my original moonflower plant from March, that grow afterwards in the location of a flower that had just bloomed and died, actually each hold a pea-sized seed for next year's crop; so I'm collecting those each time they're ready now, and am doing what the guidebooks say and am storing them in a paper envelope in a cool, dark place until next spring. More updates soon, I'm sure!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Urban gardening update, July 14th.

July 14: Hey, so no "news" to speak of with my indoor garden this year, but I did at least clean up my apartment this weekend into "company mode" and shot some photos, so everyone could see how everything is growing here here in the halfway point of the summer. In general I'm very happy with how everything is going right now, and am kind of amazed that I was able to get so many plants to get this successful in just my first year of trying.

As you can see in these overview shots, generally my plan for what I wanted to happen overall this year is really starting to come to fruition: when arranged correctly, these really are starting to form an overhanging ring around my main living space, in the hopes of sort of making it partly feel like a forgotten Victorian solarium that's half-gone to seed. There's still some growing to do before it really feels like this (and now that I know which trailing plants are going to do well in my place and which aren't, I need to grow about twice as many of the former plants next year as I did this year, if I want to cover all bookcase tops in this area of my apartment), but in general you can really start to see by now what I've been going for when I came up with this idea in the first place.

Two of the only three store-bought plants in my collection, both exotic -- a coleus bush and a palm tree, both less than $10 apiece at Home Depot -- and the pot of violas I seeded in April, which is growing long enough for the first time to start needing a place to comfortably hang down in the sunlight, and also covered in lovely little purple and white flowers at this point.

Four of my trailing plants: from left, my one surviving morning glory plant from my March seedlings, which is growing healthy and long at this point but unfortunately hasn't had even one flower yet; one of my two moonflower plants, this one also from March, which has grown into an adult and has flowered but is only spindly because of being started too early in the year; my store-bought ivy, which continues to grow up and up but hasn't gotten long enough to start bending over and down yet; and my cinnamon basil plant, grown primarily as an edible but that surprisingly has turned out to be quite a nice decorative plant as well.

My coleus, planted only ten weeks ago but already two feet tall, and bunchy enough that my two medium pots required replanting into this giant horizontal two-foot windowsill planter. I'm getting lots of good color from them at this point too, although sadly it looks like I'm not getting enough sun to produce the vivid pinks and yellows I've seen in other people's photos.

Some of my edibles from the other room, moved into the front room to take the spaces of the plants currently on tops of the bookcases. (All these plants live directly in front of the windows when company isn't over.) My two sweet basil plants from March 10th continue to yield tremendous amount of leaves on a regular basis, now that we're in the middle of the summer and they're growing at their fastest, while the green onions I brought home from the grocery store and replanted in May are already starting to often shrink their new growth to just minimal. (But this was eight weeks of uninterrupted growth and cutting and growth, for just two bucks' worth of stalks at the grocery store, so it really wouldn't hurt me to replace these stalks every two months with fresh ones, given how many recuttings I'm getting from them.) On the far left, one of the salad-green pots I completely harvested a couple of weeks, with there being a question of whether I'd get another round of growth from it; as predicted, there's been another, but much smaller and thinner than the original one that grew before it. That's exactly like what my gardening guides told me would happen, so no surprises there.

My second moonflower plant, started and cared for later in the year when days were warmer and sunnier (specifically, seeded May 11th, which makes what you're seeing here only eight weeks of growth), which as you can see has turned into my biggest success story so far of the year, in terms of plants I've grown literally out of hard little pebbles put into the dirt (a process I still find kind of amazing, every time I stop and think about it). Unfortunately, though, still no flowers, which is a bummer but not altogether unexpected: as I've been learning this year, there's a difference between a plant simply having the ability to grow in an indoor environment, and having the ability to grow to the fullest of its potential, and unfortunately one of the first things sacrificed with a lack of bright, direct sunlight for at least eight to ten hours a day is the ability to grow and bloom flowers. Still, I'm very happy with at least this plant's original goal, the ability to grow down and over the edges of all my furniture, to make the person sitting in my living area feel like they're inside a surround-sense living green space, one that warmly embraces them from all sides.

On the right, in front of the book, the only ivy cuttings I've tried this year to actually catch on and not die, these from April 9th. The process of recutting has been iffy at best this year, and at the very least I've learned that it's a long-term process even when successful, which has to be done exactly right and that relies on a certain amount of random luck just to work.

And then speaking of this surround-sense green space, here are some more shots of the entire thing from sitting eye level, then a few more pulled-back shots from a little later in the evening, when the sun was starting to go down and I had the indoor lights on for the first time. I have to say, from some of these angles, the place really is starting to finally achieve the look and feel I've wanted ever since moving in last August -- partly the cozy, slightly cluttered, dark, warm and intimate feel of a Victorian parlor, but filled with the kind of American Modernist furniture that I personally really like. I don't think these styles are necessarily incompatible, and I think I'm actually kind of pulling it off in these shots for the first time. Anyway, as always, more later!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Urban gardening update, June 23rd.

June 23: Well, exciting news in the last week -- I picked up my second-ever store-bought plant! And that's because I finally found a large and inexpensive garden center in the city but without all the attitude -- turns out the Home Depot on North Avenue has a huge garden section, for both indoor and outdoor gardeners. After some debate, I picked up the croton plant you're seeing in these photos next to the palm, on sale for six bucks; like the palm, it's a tropical plant that likes a lot of water but needs to drain quickly as well, likes lots of indirect light but will wilt under direct exposure to the sun's rays, and that needs to be kept humid at all times, which I've usually been doing by misting both plants once every 24 hours, but just today finally also got a rock garden with water set up underneath them, so the evaporating water will constantly be going up the lengths of the plants too. That's why these plants are always so cheap, because they need a fairly decent amount of care to keep them thriving.

I also finally sat down and read up again in detail about lettuce and mesclun plants, and realized that if I didn't harvest my three adult pots soon, they would "bolt" and the leaves would turn bitter; I got one large salad and one small one out of the pickings (I gave the small one to Carrie), plus a big pot of pesto (my two adult basil plants produced three packed cups of leaves here on its latest harvesting). Sadly, though, I also learned that salad greens are not really a "cut and carry on" crop; you can pretty much expect to get only one good harvest from each plant, and MAYBE a second or third smaller one if you cut the first harvesting right (that is, all the way down to the last inch of the previous stalks). And that seems to be bearing fruit so far -- as you can see in the photos taken today, there are new leaves already coming up on these stripped lettuce plants just a week later.

Other than that, everything else is looking great right now too -- especially impressive are the coleus plants, which were literally seeds just seven weeks ago, and also how nice the newest moonflower plant looks when put next to my older and now untangled morning glory plant, both of them on top of my lamp during the day so they can trail down in the direct sunlight. (These get moved to the top of my bookshelves during the night and when company is over, along with my ivy.) And I started a new round of seeds today too, although just three new crops of warm-weather plants (chamomile, lavender, and sage), to try again after the sudden death of all three last month during a random cold day while they were next to an open window. I THINK the weather in Chicago has finally turned warm for good by now (it freaking BETTER have), so I'm excited to try all three of these again and see if I can grow them into adult form. These are part my plan for Christmas presents this year -- to harvest and dry all these myself, then make my own customized "bath bombs" to give out to everyone -- so it'd be nice if I could get these more delicate and fragrant plants to bloom well in August when they'll just be hitting their adult forms and flowering for the first time. As always, more later!

Oh, and one more surprise -- my viola plant from April 8th finally bloomed for the very first time yesterday! Here's hoping it's the first flower of many!