Look what my spouse brought home for me yesterday as a gift for being sick. If this is what I get for being sick what do I get for being a fully-functioning, productive member of society? Actually being sick was a nice excuse to lay in bed watching Wonder Woman reruns and re-reading back issues of Bitch Magazine until today, the forth day, which just happens to be one day too long. I am both exhausted and bored out of my skull. Those last days of summer are passing me by while I sleep all day, wallowing in my own unshowered filth.
But this is not about being sick, this is supposed to be about the plant. When he presented me with this Nepenthes ventricosa all fancified in a perfect little box, complete with tissue paper and ribbon I have to admit that after the initial excitement and flattery my “thriftiness” (read cheapness) kicked in and my second thought was “But I could have put this together myself for about ten bucks!” I haven’t asked him how much it actually cost. I don’t want to know. Knowing might kill me if this unknown virus or utter boredom doesn’t first.
If you want to make something like this easily and without gift-store/fancy-pants floral shop prices here’s what you do:
1. Get yourself a pretty glass bowl, fish bowl, candy bowl or terrarium. Department stores sell them in the pet section and so do thrift stores.
2. Line the bowl with approximately 2-3 inches of gravel. This can also be purchased cheaply in a pet store. Gravel is inexpensive when purchased from the pet department. Repackaged as floral gravel and the price is jacked sky high. Go figure.
3. Add about 2 inches of long fiber sphagnum moss to the bowl. Remove the small Nepenthes plant from it’s pot and plant into the sphagnum. Personally I am not a fan of pure sphagnum as the “soil” for this plant. The Nepenthes will certainly survive since the sphagnum provides a light and airy bed that doesn’t stay too damp just as Nepenthes’ roots require, however the sphagnum can dry out too easily if you don’t watch it like a hawk. Try the following instead:
Nepenthes Soil Mix
- 1 part long fiber sphagnum moss
- 1 part orchid bark mix
- 1 part regular peat or coir
Two Tribes: Nepenthes are divided into two kinds: highland and lowland species. The plant in my terrarium is probably the most common variety, a highland species called Nepenthes ventricosa. Their name says a lot about where and how they grow with highlanders growing up in the mountains at a high elevations and lowlanders growing in hot, lowland tropical locations. As a result highlanders can withstand much lower temperatures as well as some fluctuations making them better suited to your average home or apartment. Lowlanders are better suited to greenhouses where conditions are very humid and stable.
Drainage: Unlike many other popular carnivorous plants Nepenthes are not bog growers. Instead, many types thrive in the tropics, growing epiphytically perched in trees much like many orchids. All of this means that they require lots of good drainage. A container with drainage holes is preferred so if you’re planning to go the terrarium bowl route than be sure to add lots of gravel and water carefully.
Water: Like all carnivorous plants you MUST use water low in dissolved mineral salts — your plant will die otherwise. Carnivores may seem tough as nails but they are a sensitive sort really — they’re sort of like the Jane Seymores of the plant world. Try collecting a little rain water now and again into a clean bowl and then funnel it into a bottle or jar for storage. If you’ve got a reverse osmosis filter at home you can use water from that otherwise you’re gonna be reduced to shelling out a few bucks now and again for special low-sodium or distilled bottled water.
Quick Nepenthes Growing Tips:
Nepenthes do not like wet feet — let the water in the gravel dry out just a little before adding more.
Temperatures: Nepenthes are tropical plants. While the highlanders can tolerate some temperature dips they should be kept in the high 70s F with night time temperatures that drop slightly into the mid 50s F to low 60s F.
Light: Nepenthes generally prefer bright but diffused light.
Humidity: Your plant will require humidity in order to produce more pitchers. A glass bowl like mine will go a long way in keeping humidity levels up around the leaves. You can also spritz your plants once or twice daily with the same de-mineralized water used to water.
Read This: If you are at all interested in growing carnvivorous plants I highly recommend The Savage Garden by Peter D’Amato. His book came out in 1998 and it is still by far the most interesting and most comprehensive book for home growers that I have seen.
The Carnivorous Plant FAQ: This is a great site if you’re interested in learning more about carnivores and how to care for them. There are also some fascinating pictures following author Barry Rice’s trips to carnivorous plant locations. The Nepenthes section begins here.
Grow a Carnivorous Bog: I’m a huge carnivorous plant fan and have a project in my book that walks you through the steps involved in putting together a container-grown carnivorous bog that can be kept on a porch, balcony, or deck. pgs 110-111. Just remember that unlike many carnivorous plants, Nepenthes are not a bog plant.
Get Some: Look for nurseries and plant societies that do not acquire their plants through field collection. If you’re in the U.S try California Carnivores. Canadians can try Keehns Carnivores in B.C.
A little red and sort-of white for Canada Day courtesy of my rooftop garden. We were hoping the ‘Whippersnapper’ would be ripe and ready for eating by today’s national holiday — some celebrate with a two-four of beer, over-sized sparklers, and things that explode, we get excited about ripening tomatoes — but it looks like the first almost-there tomato could use a day or two more. Based on when I started the seeds and planted out this still qualifies it as the fastest growing heirloom determinate I have ever grown.
I am growing three ‘Whippersnapper’ plants this year: one in an upside-down container (seen in photo), one in an upright container, and one in-ground at my community garden plot. Based only on growing experience and without a taste or texture test, this variety is poised to knock ‘Sunrise III’ out as the reigning cherry-sized, medium-small (the plants are bushing but seem to need a container that is about 1 ft-1.5 ft deep) determinate champion. And it’s not a hybrid which means I can save the seeds!
I’ll let you know how it makes out in the categories of flavor and texture when the time comes.
This is one of those ideas that is insanely simple yet effective. Grow a couple of lettuce varieties with pretty leaf shapes and bright colours. Put them together in a container that sets off their leaf colours or grow them in individual pots of a contrasting colour. In this case I have two leaf lettuce varieties with very curly leaves and contrasting colours (‘Ruby’ and ‘Henderson’s Black-Seeded Simpson’) set off by a black metal container. Hint: Chartreuse and yellowish greens always looks good when paired with deep reds or purple.
The key to keeping lettuce happy on a hot deck is to move the container to a less intense spot when the heat of summer kicks in and make sure to keep the soil moist — they’ll get bitter faster if they experience too much drought. You can cut each leaf off individually (remove from the outside if you want to keep a nice rosette) or just chop the whole thing off about an inch or so from the soil line and set the plant aside (somewhere less visible unless you’re comfortable with the stubby bits on display) until it grows back a second harvest.
By the end of the second round the leaves are usually too bitter to eat. Don’t toss it out into the composter just yet! You can still get some use out of your lettuce by setting the plant into hotter sun (don’t forget to water!) and allowing the plant to bolt. Bolting is when a plant produces flowers and then seeds prematurely in a mad rush to reproduce itself when the growing conditions become too extreme. This is usually caused by the increasing heat of summer and intense sun. The colour will often deepen in hotter sun and some lettuce varieties will grow into crazy, alien towers with pretty flowers perched on top. Don’t bother trying to eat it at this point since it will taste horrible and ooze a gluey substance when cut, but it makes a very cheap and easy bright spot when set amongst boring edibles like tomatoes and potatoes.
If you’re looking for a hardy herb that will produce a harvest all season-long, and can withstand just about anything you can throw at it then look no further than chives. I’ve been growing this wash basin of chives for so many years I can’t for the life of me recall where I got the tub or the plant. All I know is that it is one of the few perennial herbs that I can count on to withstand an inconsistent and sometimes bitter winter in a container and additionally be the first plant up and providing garnishes for early spring soups.
Every spring I try and find a new way to fill in the gaps left by the plants that don’t have the fortitude of chives and give the planter a place of prominence as the first pretty thing to look at out on the rooftop deck. This particular planting received a lot of positive attention this spring so I thought I’d share it with you.
I use just about ever part of the plant. The early buds and fully open chive blossoms taste great in salads or steeped in vinegar to make a salad dressing.
I’ve long held the belief that there are no green thumbs or black thumbs and that gardening is a process of learning and discovery with no peak or end goal. You can garden like a maniac your entire life and never know everything there is to be known. In fact I would say that the more I learn the less I realize I know. That sounds intimidating but it’s one aspect of this hobby/lifestyle that is most rewarding and optimistic. And knowing that you can’t possibly know everything there is to know should help to take some of the pressure off.
That said, I can say with absolute certainty that all gardeners have their weaknesses — there is always that one plant, that dirty little secret whose riddle just can’t be cracked. Mine used to be radishes. I know exactly how to grow them and if you had asked me I would have been able to explain exactly what they need without flinching. But when it came down to it I grew a pretty awful radish. I wrote about my radish problem in the You Grow Girl book because I wanted people to know that they should not give up on those embarassing failures and that it is sometimes one thing to understand what a plant needs on an intellectual level and another thing to apply that knowledge to a real plant.
And then low and behold, just last year I managed to grow my first crop of good container-grown radishes! And today, for a second year running, I have harvested my first tasty, crisp, not-at-all-woody container-grown radishes of the season. Woot! I’ve come to think that my radish mistake probably came down to my own insanely stubborn insistance on growing a variety that just couldn’t take the extra heat and drought on the deck. Again this was one of those instances where I KNEW what I should have been growing and had even appropriately advised many aspiring radish growers while stubbornly soldiering on in the wrong direction in my own garden.