Feeding My Plants

Part of me wonders if fertilizing is really necessary or if it’s all just a big marketing ploy. I guess it makes sense that houseplants – which live in a controlled environment in a pot – would need fertilizer, since they have no other inputs other than sun and the water you give it. I happen to have some old fertilizer on hand, so I’m going to use it.

The fertilizer I have is Miracle-Gro All Purpose Plant Food. My mom had bought this stuff probably over 20 years ago, and it’s been sitting under our kitchen sink doing nothing.

To educate myself about fertilizing my plants, I watched Summer Rayne Oakes’s YouTube video on this topic. Here are some things I learned from her video:

  1. To be called a fertilizer, the manufacturer must guarantee a certain amount of nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), and potassium (K) in the product. If the amounts of N, P, and K in the product are not precisely quantified, the product would need to be called a “soil amendment” or some other euphemism for fertilizer.
  2. N-P-K ratios are actually the percent-by-weight of the product that are N, P, and K. So, if a fertilizer says it is “20-10-10”, then 100 grams of the fertilizer would contain 20 grams nitrogen, 10 grams phosphorous, and 10 grams potassium. The other 60 grams are “filler.”
  3. Organic fertilizers are not as strong as synthetic fertilizers. They will have much lower N-P-K numbers (for example, 2-3-3) as compared to synthetic fertilizers (e.g. 20-20-20). Synthetic processes can concentrate the elements much better than any natural/organic process. Stronger is not necessarily better (see #8).
  4. Organic fertilizers may also contain beneficial bacteria or fungi to help the soil. There are also other micronutrients (like calcium or iron) in some fertilizers – either organic or synthetic.
  5. Nitrogen is necessary for making chlorophyll, and therefore is supposedly good for promoting strong foliage on plants.
  6. Phosphorous is good for flowering plants. It’s a “bloom booster.” (Other sources say phosphorous is necessary for genetic functions and energy storage, and thus a plant low in P will be slower to mature. This makes sense, I guess, since phosphorous is part of DNA and ATP.)
  7. Potassium is good for…generally strong plants? According to wikipedia, K is needed to “provide the ionic environment for metabolic processes.”
  8. Less is more. Plants only need *tiny* amounts of N-P-K, and you can do more harm by over-fertilizing than under-fertilizing.
  9. You only need to fertilize during the plant’s growing season (spring and summer for me).

Miracle-Gro is a synthetic fertilizer that is heavy on the nitrogen and potassium: 24-8-16. It’s “Guaranteed Analysis” says it also contains the following micronutrients: boron, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum (0.0005%), and zinc. (Side note: Apparently, Miracle-Gro is owned by the makers of RoundUp.)

The instructions say for houseplants use a mix of 1/2 tsp Miracle-Gro per gallon of water on your plants every two weeks. So that’s what I did.

Here’s my light blue fertilizer water

I actually watched Summer Rayne Oakes’s video after I put the first fertilizer on my plants, and she recommends using half the recommended strength when using a synthetic fertilizer because of the risk of over-fertilizing. She also doesn’t fertilize nearly as often as the manufacturers suggest.

It’s been about 5 days since I fertilized my plants, and so far they seem ok. They don’t look like they’ve been “burned” (over-fertilized), but they also haven’t had any miraculous growth spurts. Shucks.

Happy Earth Day!

Earth Day is Wednesday, April 22nd this year. It’s also the 50th anniversary of Earth Day!

Typically on Earth Day, kids, families and individuals celebrate our planet Earth by planting trees while wearing “Earth Day” t-shirts (oh, the irony). Those community service projects won’t be happening this year, but here are some other things you can do:

  1. Stay home – don’t drive anywhere.
  2. Don’t dry clean your nice work clothes.
  3. Have a zoom meeting instead of traveling to an in-person meeting.
  4. Eat what’s in your fridge and pantry to reduce food waste.
  5. Cancel your vacation to France and visit the Louvre online for free!

You’re already doing all of those things, you say? Great!

Kidding.

If you are looking for things you can do to celebrate, take a look at EarthDay.org’s 22-Day Earth Day Challenge. Each day in April leading up to Earth Day, they put out small “challenges” or suggestions of things you can do to help the earth. Examples include, switching to green power in your home, reading suggestions to expand your knowledge of climate issues, and committing to Vote Earth.

50th Anniversary Global Advisory Committee | Earth Day

I’m curious to see how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect global carbon emissions. I think most people anticipate that CO2 emissions will drop, but by how much and whether the change will last is anyone’s guess.

Emissions from transportation (flights, commuting, etc) will go down in the short term. But when this is all over, will people continue to work from home and have zoom meetings rather than drive into an office or take business flights to meet in person? Yet to be seen.

People are also reducing food waste by using up what’s in their fridge and pantries before going to the store to buy more. This is another upside that will hopefully become a habit that will outlive the coronavirus.

On the other hand, what about disposable products? Putting aside all the masks and gloves and other PPE that is being used these days (it’s necessary, I know), a lot of grocery stores and coffee shops are no longer allowing people to bring their own bags, containers for bulk items, or mugs for coffee. I understand why it wouldn’t be smart to have baristas handling multiple reusable coffee mugs, but it seems to me that reusable cloth grocery bags can still be used safely. I almost always use the self-check out, and bag my own groceries, so the cashiers aren’t touching my bags. In fact, I’ve continued to bring my own bag, and no one has stopped me. I worry that the progress we’ve made recently in encouraging people to use fewer single-use items will go out the window. After this is over, people will have gotten out of the habit of remembering to bring their cloth bag or reusable mug. Plus, there will probably be lingering fears and germophobia that will dissuade people from using reusable products.

If history is any indication, COVID-19 will be but another mere blip in the upward trajectory of global climate emissions.

Covid-19 and climate change - The epidemic provides a chance to do ...
Source: The Economist

Let’s hope something better comes from all this.

It Was Too Good To Be True

Well. The horsetail is back again. The north blueberry patch – the one we spent several work parties weeding and covering with newspaper and bark chips – has horsetail again.

We hadn’t seen any horsetail the past few weekends, so I was optimistic that maybe – just maybe – all that weeding and mulching had done some good. But of course not. It’s back again.

Nate and I spent a couple of hours on Sunday weeding that blueberry patch. Hopefully we can stay on top of it this year. Persistence persistence persistence.


It was a beautiful day out, and, while we were weeding, four other members of the garden were there working in shifts to plant the zinnia hedge.

The zinnia hedge prior to planting

This space separates the garden from the sidewalk/street, and so its nice to have some flowers out there for everyone to admire. We get a lot of compliments on the zinnias. Several passersby today said they couldn’t wait until the flowers were up: something for us all to look forward to.

Zinnias: planted and watered in

Gardening Podcast Recommendations

Since WA state has had “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” orders in place, I’ve been taking a lot of walks around the neighborhood. While, on my walks, I often listen to podcasts — usually gardening podcasts.

For those of you who also enjoy podcasts, here are some of my favorites.

The Joe Gardener Show

This podcast, by Joe Lamp’l, “the Joe in Joe Gardner,” is a well-produced and informative podcast about a range of topics. Joe is a professional gardener and has a show on PBS called “Growing a Greener World,” so he really knows his stuff and is also able to put his gardening knowledge into a format fit for an audience.


Plantrama

C.L Fornari and Ellen Zachos are garden writers who have created a well-produced, interesting, and entertaining podcast. Unlike the Joe Gardener Show which has a single main focus for each podcast episode, each episode of Plantrama covers a handful of diverse topics in short segments.


Encyclopedia Botanica

The creator of this podcast is now, sadly, not putting out more episodes at the moment, but it’s still a great one and worth going back to listen to the archives. The host, Hilary Dahl, is a Seattle-based professional gardener, so many of her growing tips are particularly suited for me.


The Organic Gardening Podcast

This podcast is produced by Garden Organic, a non-profit that promotes organic gardening in the UK. They put out a podcast once a month that covers a potpourri of topic similar to Plantrama. You’ll need to have your British English translator handy when listening


A Way To Garden

Of course Margaret Roach’s podcast is going to be on this list. Many of her podcast episodes are interviews with experts on very specific subjects, such as composting, ferns, or orchids. In addition to flora, she is very interested in the fauna of gardens, in particular, birds and bugs, so there are quite a number of episodes on those topics as well.


Happy listening!

It’s springtime, and love is in the air. (I’m talking about avian mating season, of course).

My name is Nate Ennist, and I’m Marie’s boyfriend, subbing in to write a bird watching post on her gardening blog.  The day before yesterday, Tuesday, April 14, 2020, was my first osprey sighting of the year, and I was so excited I dropped everything and commandeered Marie’s blog so I could tell you about it.  Ospreys are birds of prey that eat mostly fish (fish are 99% of their diet, according to National Geographic), and they serve as a “sentinel species,” or a species that is an indicator of environmental health.

An osprey carries its fish facing forward to decrease drag.  (Image from All About Birds)

Ospreys in northern latitudes (like here in Seattle) migrate south in the winter.  They prefer to hunt where the water is warmer, because fish become less active and seek deeper water when the water is cold, but ospreys can only dive to a depth of 3-5 ft at the most.  (Also, ospreys can’t get to the fish if the water is frozen).  Ospreys may also migrate to seek more daylight hours for hunting or to avoid competition from other predators.

Despite being the Seattle NFL football team’s mascot (sort of—”seahawk” isn’t really a proper term; see this article in Smithsonian Magazine), 2016 was possibly the first time in 100 years that ospreys nested in the Union Bay area according to Larry Hubbell’s blog.  In the past few years, ospreys have returned to Seattle in mid-April after their southern migration.  Tuesday was April 14, and right on cue, I saw two ospreys in the skies above Northeast Seattle from my University District apartment window.  As is typical, they were trying to escape relentless pestering from crows.  What a way to welcome them back!

Crows don’t take kindly to birds of prey since they recognize them as predators, and crows are abundant in Seattle, to say the least.  Nearby Bothell has become known for its crow roosts numbering in the thousands.  Crows will often team up and squawk at and dive-bomb raptors, sometimes scratching or pecking at them and inflicting harm.  On the bright side, this makes it easier to find raptors—just look for a mob of angry crows!  Sometimes crows will even attack people, as Marie can tell you.  Last year, a crow attacked Marie’s head from behind as she was walking down the sidewalk and minding her own business.  Presumably the crow was trying to establish its territory near its nest.

Yesterday morning, April 15, I went out to see what the ospreys were up to.  I walked down to the Union Bay Natural Area, AKA the Montlake Fill, where two pairs of ospreys nested last year.  On the way there, while crossing the Husky Stadium parking lot, I looked up and saw an osprey carrying what looked like a fish!  It was quite high up, but through my binoculars, the fish appeared to be facing forward along the direction of the osprey’s flight; ospreys carry their prey this way to make them more aerodynamic. 

Ospreys frequently have their fish stolen by the larger bald eagles, three breeding pairs of which nest in the Union Bay area.  However, rather than quickly flying to a quiet place to devour its catch in peace, this osprey was soaring in circles as if showing off its prize.  After a couple minutes, I watched as it began to fly almost straight up and then swoop down repeatedly.  This is a well-known mating behavior in male ospreys, and it is often called a “sky-dance” or a “fish flight.”  See the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website for details here and here.  After a few minutes, the osprey flew back in the direction of one of the nests from last year and the year before.  Once it was out of sight, I took off running around the golf driving range to see if the ospreys had returned to same nesting site.  When I rounded the driving range and crossed the baseball fields, there they were, perched on top of the light posts just like last year.  One was sitting in the nest and the other was on a nearby light post.

Above are the ospreys on June 9, 2018.
Above is one of (presumably) the same ospreys this year (April 15, 2020), but in a much bigger nest, as you can see.

Normally after a fish flight, the male gives the fish to the female and she eats it.  If the exchange happened, I must have missed it as I was running around the driving range.  By the time I arrived at the nest, I couldn’t tell which was the male and which was the female, but one of them was eating the fish.

The other osprey eats the fish on a light post next to the post with the nest (April 15, 2020).

Once the fish was eaten, the well-fed osprey joined the other at the nest.

Ospreys together on the nest (April 15, 2020).

Don’t they make a cute couple?  Ospreys normally lay eggs between mid-April and late-May, so the female will likely lay eggs in the next few weeks.

They probably shouldn’t be nesting on top of a powerful baseball field light, but you try telling an osprey where to nest!  According to Larry Hubbell’s blog, the University of Washington Athletic Department did just that in 2016.  After two ospreys (who Larry christened Chester and Lacey) started to build a nest on a light post, UW installed an osprey platform in the Montlake Fill and dismantled the nest on the light.  Apparently, Chester and Lacey took the hint and built a new nest on the platform.  Now that there are two breeding pairs of ospreys, the problem has returned.  I guess they’ll have to build another platform?

The nesting platform in the Montlake Fill appeared to be empty as of yesterday.  I didn’t see any sign of Chester or Lacey in nearby trees or flying over Union Bay.  Maybe they haven’t returned to Seattle yet.  I hope to see them soon!

Chester and Lacey’s home sweet home awaits their return (April 15, 2020).

Update: This evening, April 16, I saw the two ospreys on the light post in the act of mating! They’re off to a great start, as long as no one disassembles their nest.

If I had my own vegetable garden this year…

At the moment, I don’t have a backyard in which to grow vegetables. Additionally, I’m moving to a new state in the middle of the summer, which throughs another wrench in this year’s garden plans. Nevertheless, a favorite pastime of mine (and a form of self-torture?) is dreaming about which vegetables I would be growing.

Now, this is not my *dream* garden obviously…the list of vegetables (and varieties of those vegetables) that I want to grow in my backyard someday is extensive. But if I could just grow a few vegetables this year, these would be the ones I would pick.


Walla Walla Onion
Boston/Butterhead Lettuce
Zucchini
Sugar Snap Pea
Sungold Tomato
Butternut Squash
Winterbor Kale
Lemon Cucmber
Beet

This was really hard. I considered leeks, potatoes, carrots, rhubarb, asparagus….sigh… someday.

What would you grow in your garden?

The Community Garden is Looking Good!

As we continue to be under strict social distancing orders in the state of WA, Nate and I worked at the community garden on Saturday morning alone again. We continued weeding the blueberry patch – the half that is still thick with weeds. We didn’t make a ton of progress, so I don’t have cool before and after photos to show you.

Instead, I’ll show you some of the other things growing in the garden. The garden members have all been working in the garden at different times throughout the week to keep things going. I think we accomplished more this week than we normally would with our usual two-hour Sunday work party, perhaps because people are spending extra time in the garden these days to keep busy and take their minds off of the current global situation. Also, since we’re not able to socialize, we’re more focused on the task at hand.

The asparagus beds, weeded, mulched, and staked out.

The asparagus beds (photo above) are looking really good! At the beginning of the season, these beds were so overrun with weeds that we couldn’t tell what was bed and what was path. Some of the other members of the community garden spent a lot of time weeding them and then mulching them up with more soil and compost to get them to this state.

The asparagus are coming up!

And so are the horsetail (sigh). There was bit of a snafu with the horsetail in the asparagus bed this week…someone mistook horsetail for asparagus and asparagus for horsetail. They pulled out the asparagus and left the horsetail! Oops.

Note: this is horsetail (kinda looks like asparagus, I suppose)

Fortunately, the mistake was caught that same day, and the asparagus was replanted with extra mulch, so (fingers crossed) it wasn’t too badly damaged.

In the raised beds, the peas are looking good and the onions are slowly growing.

Peas
Onions

We’ve also planted lettuce, beets, and carrots (carrots not pictured).

Lettuce
Beets

The rhubarb is growing rapidly! Soon enough we’ll have rhubarb to harvest, and I can’t wait!

Update on the Citrus Seeds!

It’s been 26 days since I planted/chitted the citrus seeds, and the update is….well…mixed.

None of the seeds that were planted directly in soil have sprouted yet.

One of my chitted blood orange seeds rotted.

The seed at the bottom of this image is just soft white mush inside a seed coating

But….. one of the chitted Meyer Lemons has sprouted! Hooray!

A sprout!

The photo above is from 3 days ago. Nine days prior to that, I had removed the outer shells on the Meyer Lemons, after seeing no changes to the seeds for 14 days.

This, according to Plant Parenting, is called scarification.

While most annual vegetable seeds do not require pre-soaking or any special preparation for germination, seeds of some natives, perennials, and fruits with hard coats will require a bit of extra work on your part, whether it be a longer chitting/soaking period, scarification, stratification, or inoculation with rhizobium bacteria…. Seed scarification involves scraping away part of the hard coating to expose the seed to water and gases that trigger germination. In the natural environment, temperature, soil microbes, and even fire can break down seed coats. Animals eat seeds, which are then exposed to stomach acid which breaks down the seed coat.

Planting Parenting by Leslie Halleck

She has some very interesting suggestions for how to scarify seeds.

I just pulled off the seed coating using my finger nails. It’s hard to know if the scarification helped, or if the seeds just needed more time…

Now that I have a sprouted seed, I need to plant it! But how soon do I plant it? Should I plant it right away, as soon as I see a sprout? Or do I wait for the sprout to get bigger?

I couldn’t find any consistent solid guidance on this, so I decided to wait for the sprout to get a little bigger. Here it is two days after I first noticed the sprout (yesterday):

It grew a tiny bit more.

I decided to plant it at that point. I put it in the same pot as the direct-sown Meyer lemon seeds. As you can see there is no growth of the other Meyer Lemons (at least from what I can see above the soil). After planting the seed, I covered the pot again with a plastic bag to keep the humidity in, and crossed my fingers.

What is this flowering hedge?

I go for a lot of walks around the neighborhood these days. The other day, I came across this bright flowering hedge on one of my walks:

These tiny orange flowers are so pretty, but what is it?

After a number of other google searches, I came up with Darwin’s Barberry! Hmmm…interesting…. This plant gets its name from Charles Darwin, who first discovered it in South America.

The flowers will eventually develop into berries, which are edible and (FYI, Dad) apparently high in nutrients!

Berberis darwinii – PlantRight
Image from: https://plantright.org/watch/berberis-darwinii/

But don’t get too excited — it’s not native to the PNW, and, in fact, it’s considered an invasive species in some areas, such as New Zealand. PlantRight.org says it’s on the “watch” list of potentially invasive plants in California, and suggests planting Oregon Grape (Mahonia) instead, which is also in the Barberry family. The Oregon State University website doesn’t mention anything about it being invasive in Oregon or Washington, but they do point out that it’s not native. Too bad.

Oregon grape is fine, I guess….I just don’t particularly care for its bright yellow flowers ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

What Is Oregon Grape? Uses and Side Effects
Image form: healthline.com
Tall Oregon Grape, Mahonia aquifolium | Native Plants PNW
Image from: nativeplants.com

Work in the Blueberry Patch Continues: Newspaper and Wood Chips

Whew! I am tired. I’m writing this on Saturday afternoon after spending 4 hours this morning pulling out more horsetail from the blueberry patch at the community garden and then laying down a thick layer of newspaper and wood chips.

Here’s what the blueberry patch looked like when we left it last week:

After pulling out any horsetail that had sprung up since we were last there, we laid down newspaper — 4-6 sheets thick — and then a 4-5″ thick layer of wood chips.

Since the blueberry patch is enclosed in a wire mesh cage, we have to hand carry all the wood chips in using 5 gallon buckets. This is no easy feat. Nate filled two buckets at a time with wood chips from a pile sitting at the far end of the other blueberry patch, and carried them over to me. I weeded the blueberry patch as we went, and then laid down the newspaper and woodchips.

It took us four hours, and by the end, we were exhausted.

But here’s how it looks now:

We’re so proud!

This next photo is perhaps a better perspective.

Left side: Not weeded Right side: weeded, Newspapered, and wood chipped

This is where we ended – we only did about half of the bed. The blueberry bushes are mostly only planted that half (I’m not sure if that was intentional or not — I wasn’t part of the garden group when the blueberries were originally planted). In the other half, we’ve planted squash in years past, but last year it was just too overrun with weeds to do anything with it.

Our main goal this week was to mulch around the blueberry bushes. Mission accomplished! We are exhausted, but doing projects like this is my favorite way to spend a day.

Maybe next week we’ll try to tackle the weeds in the other end of the bed….