The spirepose or “sprout bag”

I’m always happy to receive odd gardening innovations as presents, as I wouldn’t buy them for myself: the ecopotagator is in its second year, only suffering from the rather poor compost that I used for some planting.

This year, for my birthday, I got a “spirepose”, or sprout bag. From what I can find online, this is some kind of traditional Scandinavian method of growing small sprout seeds. The company Flying Tiger produce these foil-lined bags, which I think is what I’ve got:

Spirepose at Flying Tiger

How was mine, then, at growing oregano? In a word, hopeless:

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This one tiny sprout died shortly afterwards. I think I followed the instructions properly:

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But the soil level in the bag I found was much lower than those diaagrams imply.

To be honest, I’m not convinced these would ever work. The foil-lined bag is too likely to either waterlog or dry out; the growing medium (which appears to be moss, groan, with perlite) doesn’t seem particularly forthcoming with nutrients, and the bag too deep to let light in. I did later on trim the sprout bag down somewhat more, to try to get more light to the seeds, but perhaps the depth is the point, to encourage sprouting.

Either way, I’m not convinced the spirepose is for me. A bit too wasteful, even if it had worked. Nice to try it out, though!

Division and subtraction

As a bit of a break from trench digging, I spent a day or so dividing, repotting and tidying indoor and outdoor plants.

On my list was:

Outdoor: Crocosmia.

I’d rescued two pots’ worth of Crocosmia bulbs from behind the Acer before the privet came down and the fencing went up. Given the mudpit that the whole area eventually became, I’m rather glad I did!

To protect the plants, I’d left the old foliage in place all winter, but as green shoots were starting to come through I felt it was time to pull out the brown, dead foliage; it does just come out if you sort of claw at it.

Before… and after:

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Outdoor: hardy perennials

I have a load of hardy perennials I bought at plant festivals and the like, including a Cirsium rivulare, Geum “Prinses Juliana”, Lamprocapnos, Tiarella “Sugar and Spice”, Stipa tenuissima… and two mints that the Welsh Rose had put by them to keep them company.

I’m not sure the Cirsium is going to bounce back from pest attacks, but I pruned back all the dead foliage on everything else, revealing definite new shoots and generally cleaning it all up. The Stipa, like the Crocosmia, benefits from kind of clawing through it: the green shoots stay behind; the brown strands come away, opening up the plant a bit.

Before:

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and after:

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Indoor: repotting and splitting

I needed to do quite a bit of indoor work, not least on the damp-loving inhabitants of the gravel tray: the Ficus elastica “Tineke” has outgrown its small pot; the Spathiphyllum cochlearispathum (peace lily to you and me) even more so, with straggly roots out of the bottom of the pot; and the Billbergia x windii needed splitting into its pups, which was probably the biggest job. Along with all that, a pot rose needed transplanting, a lavender needed trimming etc. etc.

In the absence of a proper shed (it’s about twenty tasks behind the current state of the trenches) I managed to convince the Welsh rose to let me turn our old gatefold table into a temporary potting area:

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This worked a treat, letting me do all the jobs in the warm, and protecting the house plants. Before, the old state of the gravel tray plants:

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And after, we see that WAIT A SECOND:

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Ahem, after, we see that the Billbergia has made four pots, and I hope at least two of them will survive, surrounding the peace lily:

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The Ficus, meanwhile, is now on its own, proud and tall in a corner of the room:

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It’s nice to see this go from small houseplant to big, statement plant. The Welsh rose is a bit worried that the house is getting a 1970s feel; I’m sat listening to my copies of David Bowie’s Berlin trilogy, and thinking: bring it on.

Pelargoniums arrived and planted up

When I was visiting Dublin Botanic Garden last month, a particular Pelargonium “Attar of Roses” made me wistful for the plants I’d ordered from Fibrex earlier this year. Propagation being what it is (especially of reasonably hard-to-get species) then a small and dedicated nursery can’t just conjure new plants out of thin air.

Way back when, October 24 was the date Fibrex gave me, and shortly after that time, my plants arrived! I’d never received delivery of specialist plant material before, so it was a bit of a surprise to find them wrapped in newspaper:

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Unwrapping them, I found their roots were in plastic bags, wrapped around biodegradable cardboard-ish pots. There were instructions included on how to plant them up, and so despite the presence of fencing landscapers I decided to sort them all out sooner rather than later:

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(Clockwise from top: P. “Rose of Attar”, P. peltatum “Mini Cascade Pink”, P. “Chocolate Peppermint”.)

For want of specialized compost I used a mix of organic multipurpose with a lot of sand. I’ve found the Bord na Mona this year has got very claggy, and rubbing sand into it has been like trying to rub sugar into butter for baking, but it was mostly OK.

Despite having been in transit, the foliage looks lovely:

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And after repotting I felt like I could see them recovering hour by hour, and really settling in! I gave them a good soak of water but I’m going to let the soil dry out before fiddling with them again.

While I was poking and prodding at them, I did notice some markings on the underside of the P. peltatum:

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But after asking Fibrex on Twitter, I got a reassurance that they’d be fine. It seems like oedema can affect ivy-leaf pellies, and the wildly differing behaviours of all the varieties of cutting probable means that they’re more likely to throw a fit when they’re babies. Anyway, I’ll try to keep the soil for this one one drier than the others between watering, and see what the new growth looks like.

And the Rose of Attar, and the Chocolate Peppermint? The leaves smell divine. It’s all I can do to stop rubbing them and let the poor things settle in!

Tomato comparison: Totem vs Tumbling Tom

The weather has decidedly turned from late summer to mid-autumn, and no tomato is going to ripen on the vine in this weather. So yesterday I denuded our two plants of their remaining produce:

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On the left you see the remaining Tumbling Toms—a trailing, bush variety that has been producing little cherry tomatoes, a dozen or so a week, since perhaps late August—and on the right you see our entire harvest of Totem. That’s it: eight crowded, wonky-looking fruits.

Worse for Totem, the stem scars seem quite pronounced:

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I can’t tell whether or not this is normal, because the still-green skin might be making it more obvious. But some of the fruits have a weird embedded peduncle, as though they’re wearing a second skin; it’s quite hard to photograph, but:

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This could be a result of uneven watering, but it’s odd that the fruits are otherwise unsplit. Anyway, I’ve now put all of this fruit with a ripening banana, to hopefully tip at least some of them over into yellow or even red skins (we’ve had great success with this method previously). The worry for Totem is that the ripening process is going to kick off some kind of rot on those stems.

What’s clear is that Tumbling Tom—which I was initially unconvinced of, because it’s almost impossible to prune out trailing varieties and prevent blight—has been the winner for us this year. Less certain, but still likely, is that the climate only a little further north doesn’t favour squash or large tomatoes, without some kind of greenhouse or other lights. Better put that on the plan, then!

Update: how’s the ecopotagator working for windowsill basil?

Back in mid-March I planted up an Ecopotagator with the basil seed that came with it:

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At the end of April, I transferred this “little pot” of sprouting basil seedlings into the upturned “big pot” that the ecopotagator forms when you flip it over. This was probably the most worrisome part of the whole process: the instructions did say that you should do this as soon as the seedlings were touching the clear-plastic cover/jug fitting; but I was convinced that tapping it out would just leave me with a loose collection of soil and seedlings all over the place.

In the end, the roots had knitted together really strongly, but given I had to juggle (a) the plug of seedlings (b) the pot it was originally in, and was going to be in again (c) enough soil to fill said pot up when I flipped it, then it was slightly awkward. And if it had gone wrong, it would’ve gone wrong quite badly!

Immediately afterwards, though, it was looking pretty good:

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What was the base, now detaches to form a saucer to put water in. I found that, without this saucer being very full indeed, the shallow-rooted plug was prone to wilting for the first week or so. But another few weeks, and some judicious pruning, later and the seedlings are doing very well:

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Would I recommend the ecopotagator? I think so. It’s made from recycled materials, and in its initial propagation form is really quite handy, insofar as it provides that winning formula of both moist and free-draining compost. But the switcheroo from propagator to big pot was tense and fiddly, and it does take up a lot of space on the windowsill. I guess one option would be to have two ecopotagators, and use them to succession-plant over a season. But maybe that’s how they get you!

Houseplant: Billbergia x windii, or Angel’s Tears

One of my little birthday purchases was a Bilbergia x windii “Angel’s Tears”. You can see it here keeping company with Ficus elastica var Robusta “Tineke” and a peace lily:

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Plus an obligatory birthday pot rose, which my parents always buy, and I always love to bits, and always dies on me. (But hasn’t that wall been improved by a coat of paint since the Ficus arrived? Don’t the plants look much nicer in front of the white background?)

Each little blue-mauve-green flower dart bursts open in turn, a bit like a Geranium seed-pod, until the flower spike is spent. But these darts don’t look much like angel’s tears, do they?

It turns out that the name comes from the nectar, which you can see in little drops here:

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Unlike Bob Flowerdew with his Kniphofia‘s nectar, I don’t plan to drink this any time soon, as I’ve not been able to find out whether it’s toxic (or at least irritant). But it has led me to learn a bit more about the plant itself.

It turns out that it’s monocarpic, which I didn’t realise when I bought it. In theory that means that the plant dies off after flowering! At first I was a bit annoyed, as I’d only just bought it. Luckily, though, like other bromeliads Billbergia pups, each pup forming a rosette or “vase” of flowers that you water into. Only the particular “vase” that the flower spike has come out of, will die off along with the flower spike.

This plant already has at least a couple of other pups, including one that’s practically “mother-sized”. So when the flowered vase starts to look unwell, I’ll have a go at separating them all out!

First planting and the ecopotagator

On Friday I did my first proper veg planting of this growing season. Much as I love garlic, I don’t quite count them, as they were planted along with the ornamental bulbs at the start of what’s felt like a long, wet, dismal winter.

Here’s my first round of planting:

  • Broad beans “Super Aguadulce”: 24 plug cells; in the growhouse.
  • Lettuce “Tantan”: a seed tray, with 30-35 seeds; in the growhouse.
  • Carrot “Parisian” (the weird rounded ones): a drill of 125cm to thin later; in one of the decking-board planters left behind by the previous owners.

A couple of days later, I planted more in the growhouse:

  • Rainbow chard: 20 plug cells.
  • Lettuce “Tantan”: 20 plug cells with 2–3 seeds in each.

You can see the locations of both planter (covered with black tarpaulin, weighed down with bricks) and growhouse (bright green) in the following picture:

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Exciting as it was to start planting, I appreciate pictures of watered compost aren’t visually very stimulating. So here’s something a bit more exciting: the Welsh Rose bought me an ecopotagator for Christmas, and I planted that up with basil.

The compost for it comes in a small puck, which expands when you immerse it in water:

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The base forms a small, well-drained pot for said compost:

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Later on, you can disassemble it and turn the top bit upside-down, to form a bigger pot plus saucer.

Here’s the whole ecopotagator, potted up with the basil seeds included in the pack, with the measuring jug as a lid to keep the moisture in:

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It’s an interesting experiment: the hardest bit has been finding somewhere in the house consistently 10-15 degrees, also with sunshine. The second hardest bit has been stopping myself calling it an ecopotager, which gives it a decidedly confusing French feel. We’ll see if I get any actual basil out of it.

Brief hiatus, but luckily no hernia (only bruising)

On Friday I was struck by a car while cycling. Luckily neither of us was going very fast, but I’m still feeling a bit shook up: bruised and grazed, and achy in the joints that took my weight as I fell.

On Saturday I’d planned to get a load of plant supplies in a borrowed car anyway, so while I was stocking up on organic compost and manure, this Ficus elastica var Robusta “Tineke” just happened to fall into my trolley:

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Here you see it keeping a peace lily company, on a gravel tray for reasons of humidity. Please ignore the wallpaper behind them, even if the chocolate and green tones eerily match the Ficus. The artificial plant, by the way, is a memento mori: placed there for balance, until we buy more plants! All three of them have been helping the Welsh Rose out, by looking after me when I needed it.

Today, after having to paint over that terrible wallpaper (unavoidable, for complicated timetabling reasons) I’m resting up. Given that paid work needs to take priority over the next couple of weeks anyway, expect a brief pause on this blog!

How much house could a growhouse grow

… if a growhouse could grow house?

I bought a growhouse a month or so ago from The Organic Gardening Catalogue. It was still sitting in its box, so I decided to put it up this afternoon:

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It fits nicely in that alcove, although I need to remember it’s meant for plants and not just as a set of shelves. It’s about 160cm high, with four mesh tiers. You can see the polythene cover there on the bottom shelf, still folded up.

Because… I’m not completely sure what I should do with it in winter. Surely at this time of year seeds just won’t germinate, which means I’ll need to buy potted plants; which means (avoiding all the houseplants like poinsettias that have flooded DIY centres) I need to work out exactly what would benefit the most from being purchased now and overwintered, rather than purchased later and germinated.

The internet suggests overwintering half-hardies: really, all I have at the moment are the pellies: which a snowfall has failed to kill! I’m also not particularly keen on forcing bulbs for winter ornamentation, so I don’t need it for that either. Someone did chip in on Twitter and suggest a range of hardy and half-hardy herbs, which would at least be an improvement on it standing idle.

Right now, though, it’s improving the tidiness of our kitchen, which has been low on furniture since our move:

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But I need to keep telling myself: it’s meant for plants; not just as a set of shelves. Not just shelves.