Sunday, May 31, 2009

What Is Hydroculture?

I grow my houseplants in a water-based system called hydroculture, not in soil. I didn’t always grow my plants this way. Like everyone else, I used soil as a medium, until about three or four years ago when I stumbled upon the hydroculture growing method by chance and fell in love with it.

So what is it?

Hydroculture is the method of growing plants without soil. You have most likely heard about ‘hydroponics’, an automated method of growing plants in water, mostly related to the production of food. Hydroculture, related to hydroponics but functioning quite differently, is the low-end of growing plants in water. It is also referred to as passive hydroponics, which means that it lacks all the automation commonly associated with hydroponics.

Hydroculture is often confused with self-watering pots. Although they share some similarities – both systems ease the task of providing the plant with the appropriate amount of water – there are significant differences. Hydroculture does not include soil, at all. It has gone one step further and replaced the soil with a more sterile medium: expanded clay.

Hydroculture is easy, clean, odorless and non-allergenic; it’s especially welcomed by people with allergies to fungi, among other things, and eliminates the possibility of non-allergenic individuals developing an allergic reaction at some point because there’s no more soil. The need to transplant is greatly reduced and there are no more soil-related pests or diseases.

In addition, the water juggling associated with soil-grown plants is over; there’s no more over or under-watering, therefore fewer plant losses. With a quick glance, you can determine whether your plant needs more water or not. It’s as simple as that. Hydroculture requires such little effort in caring for your plants that I wonder why in the world I’d ever want to go back to the hassles of soil now that I’ve started this method.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

If You Feed Them, They Will Come

Having lived in a rented dwelling for the past ten years without a backyard and all the other joys that owning a house has to offer, you can well imagine that I’m a little overwhelmed now that we finally have our own home. And excited. And perhaps acquiring a few obsessions along the way, like these:

Bird feeders galore!

So far, I’ve put up three all-purpose feeders that will accommodate a variety of seeds, two hummingbird feeders, an oriole feeder, a finch feeder and a suet feeder. I’ve also added a large bird bath near our kitchen window and hung a very small one near the finch feeder. And I’m afraid that it’s only the beginning; I may add more bird stuff. Well, I’m not afraid, actually, my husband is. I’m having a grand old time.

But you know, despite my family’s fear that I may be developing yet another obsession, similar to my betta and houseplant craze (couldn’t settle for just one betta fish and a few houseplants), they’re enjoying the end result of this super bird-friendly backyard. One thing’s for sure: ‘If you feed them, the birds will come’. To date we’ve managed to see Cardinals, Orioles, Goldfinches, Robins, Sparrows, Blue Jays, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Hummingbirds, Mourning Doves and an assortment of other birds that I’ve yet to identify. Our backyard is brimming with beautiful colours and a flurry of activity, not to mention all the soothing bird sounds.

Sure I may be going a little overboard, but it seems to me that everyone is enjoying the benefits of my madness.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Blushing Bromeliad

I love bromeliads, but unfortunately they’re not always available at the local greenhouses. On the rare occasion that they are offered for sale, the selection is limited to a few standard types, and the price tag attached to them is obscene. It’s rare that I will pay a hefty price for a houseplant, unless I run across something like this:


Neoregelia carolinae ‘Tricolor’ is an ornamental, hardy tank-style bromeliad that can endure extended periods of neglect that include insufficient light, watering blunders and low humidity. Because of this, it’s worth a few more bucks.

Care Info:

You can water exclusively through the funnel of leaves; keep the central rosette (cup) filled with fresh water. Flush the tank periodically (every 1 – 2 months) to remove salt buildup and prevent stagnation, and refill it with fresh water. If you choose instead to water through the medium, allow it to dry out considerably and then water thoroughly until it runs out of the bottom.

Provide as much light as possible. Some early morning or late afternoon sunshine is very beneficial; protect against midday sun. Keep humidity above average by placing the plant on a pebble tray or by adding a humidifier nearby. If your plant is actively growing, feed it about once a month with an all-purpose liquid fertilizer that is diluted to half strength or less. Do not fertilize during the winter months or if the plant is grown in low light. If you are watering exclusively through the tank, fill a spray bottle with a very weak fertilizer solution and mist the leaves lightly. Average household room temperatures between 15°C (60°F) to 24°C (75°F) are fine.

I can’t resist a bromeliad that I don’t have. Because they’re my favourite plants. And because I’m weak. I just hope that the plant lives long enough to produce offsets that will produce their own offsets, which will cover the obscene price I paid for the original plant.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Whaddya gotta do to get a drink around here?

My husband likes chipmunks. He thinks they’re ‘really cute critters’. So he was quite pleased when this little guy posed for a photo near our home.

Chipmunks drop by once in awhile to munch on the food that the birds drop from the feeders. In the beginning they ran for their lives when I approached them, but as time went by they began to inch their way closer to me. Apparently, they’re quite docile and easily persuaded to accept nuts and seeds from a person’s hand. I’m working on it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Gardenias Don’t Live Here Anymore

Once upon a time I couldn’t pass up gardenias. Every year I’d bring one home from the greenhouse, only to end up tossing it out a few weeks later. My gardenias did not make the slightest effort to tolerate my indoor environment; everything had to be perfect for them. I gave them all I had. The only thing they gave me is a floor full of dead leaves. To say that these plants are temperamental would be a severe understatement.

I decided at one point that I have enough to deal with in my life and that I’m much too busy for these arrogant plants. I don’t need this grief. I don’t deserve to be treated this way. So I gave them up. The gardenias and I finally went our separate ways and it’s been years since I’ve grown one. I’m still on the wagon.

Gardenias and I don’t get along because I can’t give them everything they need. But if you’re interested in growing these lovely plants, here’s some care info about them:

Provide bright light but avoid direct midday sun in the summer. Humidity is absolutely essential; keep it high. Use a porous, well-draining, slightly acidic soil; keep it evenly moist but never soggy. Feed your gardenia about once a month with an acidic fertilizer between April and November. Ideal temperature range is between 15°C (60°F) to 18°C (65°F) during the night and about 10 degrees higher during the day. If possible, move your gardenia outdoors in the summer in an east or west position in partial shade.

If your plant is not blooming, or if it’s dropping flower buds prematurely, some of the most common reasons include: low humidity, insufficient light, cold drafts, changing the plant’s location (especially while in bud), temperature fluctuations, over or under watering, pest infestations and high temperatures. Gardenias fare poorly in very warm rooms; keep them cool.

If you can provide gardenias with the care they need, they will flourish in your home. If you can’t, consider getting something a little easier to please. Like an Aglaonema.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Backyard Feathered Surprises

A few weeks ago, I discovered this yellow beauty in the backyard of my home in Kingston, Ontario that I will be moving into on June 29.

I’d never seen an American Goldfinch (yes, that’s what the bird in the photo above is for those of you who are as clueless about birds as I am). Come to think of it, I’m not even sure I’d even heard of them.

Apparently, during the mating season, the male goldfinch has a canary yellow body with a black forehead, wings and tail. But outside of the breeding season, he’s rather dull looking; his feathers are a drab yellow-brown and the black cap may disappear completely.

Isn’t that something? The little bugger actually dresses up in the spring to impress the ladies.

Well, needless to say that the discovery of these feathered cuties led to this:

Yup, it didn’t take long to run out and pick up a finch feeder to bribe them into coming into my backyard where I can enjoy viewing them all day long. And they do come all day long, one after the other. To eat and eat and eat...

They are as entertaining as they are stunning, so it’s worth all the seed they consume.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Houseplant Book

Every so often, one of the visitors to my Water Roots website asks me to recommend a good houseplant book. I have many favourites, all of which have found their way into my home library. Instead of including a complete list of them in one post, which would run much too long, I will feature one at a time. This will also be a great way to create many posts. Am I sharp or what?

Let’s start with this good book:

Complete Guide to Houseplants
Author: Ortho
ISBN: 0897215028

If you know absolutely nothing about houseplants, this is a great book to start with. Step-by-step information & instructions are included throughout the book on everything from choosing houseplants, to basic plant care, to individualized requirements, to special concerns, troubleshooting and more. 275 houseplants are featured in the extensive encyclopedia with quality, detailed care advice. Loaded with beautiful colour photographs, this is truly a complete guide to houseplants.

Give this one a try. You'll love it!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Decadent Cookies

What the heck. Since I’m finally joining the blogging world, I may as well go all out. I’ve decided that I’m going to include some of my culinary talents on this blog in addition to everything else.

Below is a photo of some delicious cookies I make for the family every now and then. Not too often, though. At my age, the calories don’t burn as quickly as they used to, so (ugh) moderation is essential.

I’ve included the recipe below (from Hershey’s website), if anyone is interested in consuming a few hundred calories. Albeit very tasty ones.



- 1 cup (250 mL) golden shortening (I use butter)
- 1 cup (250 mL) packed brown sugar
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) granulated sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/2 teaspoons (7 mL) vanilla
- 2 cups (500 mL) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon (5 mL) baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) salt
- 1 package (225 g) CHIPITS® White Chocolate Chips
- 1 cup (250 mL) coarsely chopped macadamia nuts, pecans, walnuts or almonds


1. Heat oven to 375°F (190°C).

2. In large bowl, beat shortening, brown sugar and granulated sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla until creamy.

3. In medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda and salt. Gradually blend into creamed mixture.

4. Stir in white chocolate chips and nuts.

5. Drop from spoon onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 8 to 12 minutes until lightly browned. Let cool 1 minute. Remove to wire rack.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Eat with caution...

Friday, May 22, 2009

Favourite Indoor Plant

I’ve been growing houseplants for the past twenty years. And twenty years later, my all-time favourite is still the Aechmea fasciata. There’s just something about this cool-looking, epiphytic bromeliad that keeps it at the top of my ‘favourite houseplants’ list, year after year. Its unique look definitely contributes to this, but it’s also very easy to care for, which scores big points with me.

Care info:

Place the Aechmea fasciata in a southern, eastern or western location; protect it from the hot afternoon sun. Pot it up in a very porous medium that allows for sufficient air circulation and prevents water logging. Water the compost only when it dries out considerably and then water thoroughly. Keep the tank filled with water at all times, flush it every 4 – 8 weeks and refill with fresh water. You may also choose to grow this plant in the hydroculture system to which it is an ideal candidate. Average room temperatures between 15°C (60°F) and 24°C (75°F) are satisfactory but plants may require temperatures of 24°C (75°F) and above to bloom. Add a humidifier nearby to increase humidity levels or place the plant on a pebble tray.

If you haven’t grown this plant yet, give it a try. It won’t disappoint.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

In The Beginning…

Okay, so I finally started a blog. All the cool kids have one, so why shouldn’t I? Aren’t I a cool kid too? (This is a rhetorical question, so there’s no need to answer, especially if you’re one of the smarta$$ visitors from my Water Roots site. You know who you are…)

Alright. Now you’re probably wondering what to expect from this blog. To be honest, I don’t know what to tell you. Hopefully you’ll find a new post now and again. That would certainly be a good start. But I’m not going to make any promises because I’m a blog-commitment-phobe and the very thought of having to actually make a promise to keep up with this thing causes me anxiety. So, instead of worrying about when I’m going to post, I’ll just post whenever I find the time. Or whenever I have something post-worthy.

And what am I planning to post about? Well, plants, of course. Information about them, pictures of them, day to day moments with them. But I will include other things too. Now that I’m moving to a new city and becoming a home owner, I will also post about the goings-on in the backyard (garden, birds, other critters), experiences as a home owner and even day to day life in Kingston.

Yup, it’ll be a real mixed bag. Hope to see some of you here.