June 28 2017

Orchid Blooms – A Matter of Light

Yellow Orchid Blooms

Orchids are beautiful flowers. They look exotic, and tropical, but are relatively easy to keep. All they require is a weekly watering and the right amount of light. Getting phalaenopsis orchids to bloom, however? That has been difficult. I have tried different amounts of light and water for the past two years, to no avail. So imagine my excitement when two beautiful red and yellow flowers appeared on my second oldest orchid plant.

I have read a variety of guides which suggest temperature, water, and light as the triggers for orchid blooms. For me, the key was light.

The Orchid Blooms At Last

Orchids need Light!

It really is all about the right level of light. Most guides will say that you need indirect light, but not all indirect light is equal.

When I started keeping orchids, all I had was a north facing window. There was nothing but indirect light. This kept the plants fairly healthy, but not happy. None of my orchids would bloom. The indirect light was just too indirect.

Then I moved, and put the orchids in a south facing window. This was too much light. The edges of the leaves started burning, and the plants were stressed.

So I put my three phalaenopsis in a west facing window. They get a little bit of direct light in the late afternoon, but the window is shaded by several trees. This was just the right amount of light, seemingly. Both of my older orchid plants have grown flower stalks!

Orchid Flowers require the right levels of light

Orchids need just the right kind of light to bloom. It needs to be indirect enough to not burn the leaves, but intense enough to trigger flower stalks.

I still have a lot to learn about keeping orchids. But now that I have found the right setting for my phalaenopsis, I hope that I will get to enjoy months of blooms.
Orchid Blooms

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June 11 2017

The Fig Lives! Ridding a Fig Tree of Mealybugs

how to rid a fig tree of mealybugs

One of my dreams is to have a large potted fruit bearing fig tree. Fresh delicious figs in the summer – yum! The key to this plan is keeping a fig tree alive, of course, and fig trees can be finicky. The last thing they need is a pest like mealybugs attacking them.

I overwintered my fig tree in a nice south facing window, and I thought it was doing really well. It put on two figs at the beginning of spring, and I was considering moving it outside.

But then came Mealybugs

The mealybug infestation I suffered looked something like this, only in the soil instead of on the tree trunk.

The first symptom I noticed was what looked at mold at the base of the plant. A few days later, the leaves wilted, and the new figs started withering.

When I picked up the pot, a few bits of a white moldy substance fell out of the drainage hole. I took to the internet to identify what I thought was fungus; but after searching around, I realized it was much more likely to be mealybugs. The bugs were infesting the entire pot. The tree was dying, but I did not want to just throw the whole thing out.

How to remove Mealybugs

Most of the information I found on the internet explains how to remove mealybugs from the stems and leaves of a plant. In my case, however, the bugs were attacking the root system. So I couldn’t just cut the infestation out.

First, I emptied the entire pot, taking care to remove the roots of my little tree from the soil without damage. I then washed the roots off outside to remove remaining particles of dirt. The removed most of the infection, but I did not want the bugs to come back.

Mealybugs attach themselves to the host plant with a waxy substance. So even though I couldn’t see any little larva or eggs latched onto the roots, I wasn’t sure they were entirely gone. To play it safe, I dipped the roots in water heated to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. This was warm enough to detach any remaining bugs, but not so warm that it would kill the plant.

Then, to be extra and especially sure that the bugs were gone, I sprayed the whole plant (roots and branches) down with Insecticidal Soap for Organic Gardening. This last part might have been overkill.

Fig Tree
Fortunately, it got better!

Satisfied that the bugs were gone, I replanted the fig tree. The poor thing dropped the rest of its leaves from stress. Only little brown buds were left. I was concerned that I had killed it.

The Aftermath

A week later, however, the buds sprouted green leaves. The pot is still bug-free, and the fig tree is happily existing on the back porch. Neither the mealybugs nor I killed it. So I leave this here in the hopes that someone else faced with a similar dilemma will be able to use some combination of the above methods to save their plant.

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June 4 2017

Growing Lemon Balm (and what to do after!)

A sprig of Lemon Balm

Summer is here, and my hard work all spring has been paying off in the form of harvestable herbs, flowers, and vegetables! The happiest plant in my garden right now is my lemon balm. I bought this plant on a whim three years ago. Since then, the lemon-scented herb has followed me from my porch-bound apartment container garden, to the back porch of my house, to a place in my back yard. The warm winter was very kind to the plant, and now it is bushing out like crazy!

What is Lemon Balm?

Melissa Officinalis FlowerLemon Balm is named for its light lemony fragrance and taste. I can taste just a hint of mint in the leaves as well – which makes sense given that this bushy herb is related to mint.

The scientific name of the lemony plant is Melissa Officialis. Melissa is the Greek word for bee, and this plant is known to attract them! The Officialis part comes from Latin, and refers to the plant’s place in the herbalists storeroom. Don’t confuse Lemon Balm with Bee Balm, though! Despite the suspicious similarity of names, the two “balms” are different plants.

Medicinal Uses

Lemon Balm is a fairly safe and useful herb. It can be taken to help with digestion, anxiety, and sleeplessness. Some people even think it helps improve mental function!

Some people have an adverse reaction to eating Lemon Balm straight (ironically, it upsets their stomachs). I had a similar reaction the first few times I tried the herb. So I suggest trying it in tea before adding it to a salad!

Growing Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm HerbLemon Balm is a perennial herb. The lemon-scented plant will survive in many soil conditions, but prefers rich well-drained soil. Like many herbs, it does best in full sun. It also responds well to being harvested – cutting my plant back is just making it bushier!

Due to its invasive habits, many gardeners recommend keeping Lemon Balm in a pot. It will not spread via runners, so there’s no need to physically isolate it in your garden. But it will spread by seed, so it is advisable to regularly cut back your plant.

So far, my Lemon Balm is doing very well in my Zone 5 Herb Garden. It has survived being under-watered in a pot, being light deprived in a north-facing apartment, and the transition to being planted in the ground. I think its safe to say that this is one hardy herb! The only “weakness” I have noticed is that my plant droops a bit in a mid-day summer sun, but that might just mean it needs more water to get through the day. Illinois sun can be brutal!

Lemon Balm Uses

Lemon Balm Flower CakeLemon Balm makes a lovely tea, and imparts a light lemony flavor to baked goods. During the summer, you can harvest it fresh from the garden for immediate use. The herb can also be dried for use over the winter. So without further ado, here are some ideas on what to do with Lemon Balm:

  1. Lemon Balm Iced Tea – An herbal iced tea with a light lemon flavor.
  2. Lemon Balm Cake with Candied Flower Syrup – A moist lemony cake glazed with a sweet chamomile syrup.
  3. Lemony Lemon Balm pudding – A deliciously lemony pudding recipe, made entirely with lemon balm. No lemons required!
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February 12 2017

Regrowing Green Onions

Green Onions, Regrown

Maybe you’ve seen the Pinterest posts about how its possible to re-grow any number of vegetables from their roots. But, like so many things on Pinterest, you’ve probably asked “does it work?” Can you really regrow green onions from the roots?

Green Onions in a Jar
The fully regrown green onions

Well, it turns out the answer is yes! I have a healthy set of green onions growing which I have been able to use three times now for different recipes. Originally, I purchased a bunch of green onions for my Heart of Palm Dip. I did not chop them quite back to the roots, but I did cut them down to the white of their stalks.

After making my dip a few weeks back, I put the onions in a glass of water. The next day, I saw new growth. I was sure it had to be because the skin was shrinking or something, and so dismissed it.

But a week later, it was unmistakable. The green onions grew longer roots. Then they grew back to at least their original length within a week. The new growth might be a bit more flimsy than the original green stems, but it is plenty usable. So far, I’ve chopped the new growth back twice for different recipes. The hardy stalks just keep coming back.

And its a good thing they keep growing back! I find that I enjoy the flavor of green onions more than regular old white onions. I suggest using them in the Heart of Palm Sandwich instead of onion. The heart of palm salad will be so much more flavorful!

Green Onion Gravy
Doesn’t the green look pretty? It automatically looks healthier!

If my new green onion plants last long enough, I intend to plant them outside for the spring. I suspect that water is not the best medium for growing them. There’s not really enough nutrients in a glass of water to support plants long term, especially when they keep having to regrow their tops!

But while I wait for the weather to get warmer, I’m going to enjoy trying out new things with green onions. For instance, as favoring for a quick gravy – milk, flour, green onions, and a little salt. Perfect on steak and mashed potatoes. Yum!

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January 11 2017

Pineapple Plant

Pineapple Plant

I was wandering through the aisles of one of the gardening stores in town (which shockingly, still has plants!) and discovered a pineapple plant! Needless to say, it needed to come home with me.

Baby Pineapple
The mini-pineapple fruit

Now last year, I tried the whole “grow a pineapple plant from the top of a store pineapple” thing. It didn’t go anywhere. See, by the time pineapples get to Illinois, they generally don’t have very healthy tops. My pineapple top just sort of withered and died.

But here it was, the chance to grow my very own pineapple.

The only reason I recognized the plant as anything other than one of those general tropical houseplants they were selling next to it was that it was actually growing a pineapple. Unfortunately, it didn’t product a strong enough stalk for the little guy, so he had to be pruned away. But there was a mini-pineapple, and it looks like there might be two more shoots trying to grow from the mother plant.

. . we’ll see whether the new fruit shoots go anywhere. In the meantime, its been stationed next to the lemon tree sprouts.

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November 9 2016

Lemon Trees

I recently became obsessed with using fresh lemons for their juice (and a bit of cleaning). Fresh lemon juice is so much more flavorful than the bottled stuff!

But this meant that I suddenly had an abundance of lemon seeds. So, I thought, why not try to grow a lemon tree?

There are lots of guides on the internet about how to grow lemon trees. This is the method that worked for me:

– Collect your lemon seeds from lemons you use making delicious things (like cheese!).

– Wash the seeds, and then allow them to soak overnight.

– Plant in your chosen location. Make sure they’re covered with about a 1/2 inch of soil.

– Keep the lemon-tree-to-be in a warm location, and keep the soil moist.

In a week or two, your seeds should sprout! I used about three lemons from the grocery store (the cheapest I could find), and got five seedlings. They will be living inside this winter. I can’t wait to see how they do!

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September 21 2016

Fig Tree

20160831_123751At the beginning of the year, I was determined to find a fig tree. Ideally, a Chicago Hardy fig tree – not because I was at all convinced that the Chicago Hardy figs could actually survive a bad Illinois winter (and let’s face it, those are every few years) – but because I figured it would be more tolerant of being left outside on chilly nights during the spring and fall. I absolutely intend to bring it inside in the winter.

I was lucky enough to find a healthy looking sapling at Lowes, and lucky me, it put on figs! I’m sure it would be better for the tree not to spend its energy on producing fruit right now, but I had to find out what they would be like. So I left them on the tree.

The tree bore five fruits. The first one was a little bland, but the others are nice and sweet. I’m so looking forward to when this tree is more mature and I get a real harvest off of it.

The ripe fig. Mmmm, yummy.
The ripe fig. Mmmm, yummy.
The fig on the tree. Its almost ready!
Its almost ready!
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