The Life & Times of Avi the Avocado and the Annual Indoor Orchard Update!

Last week we got our first taste of the 2020 jungle. The first frost warning of the season arrived early in the week with a chilly 37-degree night. Since that is too cold for all the orchard plants that have been happily sunning themselves outdoors on the balcony all summer long, this change in temperature meant a mass migration of all potted plants from the outside in. It was time for the annual interior decision of where to set up wintertime living arrangements and how best to fit everyone in.

I love this yearly transition ritual with the plants. It not only signals a new season but also it’s close to Avi the Avocado’s birthday (he’ll be 4 in November!) which means Thanksgiving is right around the corner. Also, it’s a great time to check the growth process of the fruit trees. The last time I posted a garden update was November 18th, 2019. It was a different world back then. Not only for us humans but for these city plants too. Last year our orchard round-up consisted of potted avocado, lemon, grapefruit and date palm trees, each grown from seed (except the lemon which was a grafted gift several years ago).

Fitting for the times, just like our traumatic 2020 pandemic year, the orchard plants have also experienced their own turbulent events over the past 344 days. I’d like to say that everyone flourished and that the garden bloomed and blossomed under the extra care from all the stay-at-home attention that quarantining invited. But nature is never that predictable. With every success I celebrated in the potted orchard experiment this year, there was an equal amount of setbacks.

The 20th-century British writer, Elizabeth von Arnim (1866-1941)  once said, “every gardening failure must be used as a stepping stone to something better.” And so we step. The life and times of the indoor orchard continue, for plants and human,  as we learn and grow together into year 4.  Failures and setbacks aside, there is much to report. Let’s look…

Avi The Avocado

We’ll start with Avi first since he’s the one celebrating his fourth birthday three weeks from now. Last year Avi looked like this…

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He had made real strides in the growth department and was busily filling out his canopy of leaves – especially up top. As of last posting in November 2019, he was 4′ 7″ inches tall and destined for a bigger container that would allow him plenty of room to continue his sky-high stretch.

This is what Avi looks like today…

 

The good news is that he’s almost too tall to fit in the whole photograph. Cheers for growth! The bad news is that’s he’s stooped over, weary and a little bedraggled-looking. Unlike the other plants, Avi has remained indoors all year long, preferring this environment much more than the heat, humidity, and direct sunlight on the balcony. This is odd for an avocado tree. Normally they revel in such tropical conditions. But from the very beginning, when he was just a small sprouting pit…

The start of Avi – November 2016.

Avi has lived indoors and decidedly said he preferred that much more (see previous posts about this behavior here). As of late, he’s been looking so unfortunate I’ve deemed him the family H.S.P. (highly sensitive plant) and can’t help but think he’s feeling everyone’s emotions in the world these days.

 

Despite this woebegone appearance, there have been several successes for Avi this year. He now measures 5′ feet tall (a growth spurt of 5″ inches since last November!), he lives in a new larger container to accommodate his larger size, and he’s completely 100% rid of the pesky scale bugs that plagued him for over two years. I suspect that his current beleaguered state might be due to a nutrient deficiency. Even though he receives a regular sprinkle of organic avocado fertilizer, he hasn’t made any new leaves in months – an unusual circumstance for the once gusto grower.  His latest troubles are an issue affecting some of the tips…

This weekend, I’m going to take him to our local garden center for some advice from the experts on how to get those leaves back up in the air instead of drooping down around his trunk. In the meantime, if any avocado enthusiasts out there have some helpful advice, both I and Avi would greatly appreciate it!

Grace the Grapefruit

As if she was trying to make up for Avi’s struggle or at least encourage him to keep growing, Grace, the grapefruit tree, has done nothing but flourish this year. When I last documented her height a year ago, she was 3′ 2″ inches tall.

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Grace in November 2019

Like Avi, she is another one insisting on growing outside the frame. This is Grace now …

At first you might say, she doesn’t look that different.  But she’s not done showing off her portrait yet. This is her too, still going…

And then this is her again – still going and growing some more…

All the way up to the ceiling in fact! To give you some perspective… that’s the tip of a ceiling fan paddle in the top left corner. Grace, I am happy and amazed to say, now stands 6′ 2″ inches! In just two and a half years she has grown to the size of a very tall person!

Initially, I attributed this doubling in size to an energetic offshoot that citrus plants sometimes get. It’s where they grow a random branch in a quick minute, one that gets much longer than the others and gives the whole tree a wonky, wild look. But upon closer inspection, that’s not the case with Grace. This long stem waving above her rounder section of leafy greens is the central trunk growing taller. It’s her way of saying she’s ready for a bigger container (her fifth one so far since she first sprouted in March 2018!) As it turns out, Grace is well on her way to fulfilling her ultimate goal of being a few dozen feet tall. Oh my. Bigger pots await!

The mighty evolution of Grace the Grapefruit from seed to tree!

Liz Lemon- The Lemon Tree

While Grace and Avi were determined to grow higher, Liz in 2020 was determined to grow wider. As of last November, Liz looked like this…

 

Liz showing off a bright yellow lemon in November 2019.
She measured 2′ 4″ inches tall and was being pruned into a nice round shape. This year, Liz sustained some wind damage when we went through the terrible tornado in March. Unfortunately, the night the tornado happened, it was also the first night of the season that Liz was moved out to the balcony.  The storm blew through town and loped off all her top leaves like an unwanted haircut. Because of that shock to her system, I didn’t want to prune her at all this year. She needed time to recover from the storm damage, which left her, not only with missing foliage but also with a loose main branch at the base of the trunk. Before the storm, this branch was very strong and firmly rooted. After the storm, it was barely attached at the soil line.  She was ragged and wind-beaten (two things lemon trees do no like at all). But with great aplomb, and a summer of steady heat and sun, Liz went about repairing herself. She now looks like this…

Despite the traumatic storm and the unfortunate haircut, Liz managed to grow an extra inch in height, making her 29″ inches tall now. What she lacks vertically she more than makes up for horizontally. She is twice as wide as last year. I wish I had measured her width back then – but you can see in the photos from last year to this year, in relation to the tabletop, that there is a definite dramatic increase. Her width as of yesterday was 3′ feet across branch tip to branch tip. She is also sporting three almost ripe lemons…

 

 

and a brand new cluster of flowers…

It will be fun to see if these flowers make it all the way to the adult lemon stage over the winter. Typically that is her dormant time, where she hibernates her way through the cold months, so we’ll see what happens. Fingers crossed!

Jools – The Medjool Date Palm

Jools, last November 2019.

Jools was a real grower all winter, but sadly, we lost her in the spring. I don’t know what happened to her. One week she was doing fine outdoors in the sun, fanning out her leaves, growing tall, and long, and then mysteriously, the next week she just shriveled up and dried out. Poor thing. I tried to revive her with all sorts of attention, but nothing brought her back. In a final last-ditch effort, I cut off all her palm shoots above the soil line hoping that would refresh her roots and encourage new growth, but that didn’t work either. So it’s back to the drawing board on the date palm front. This winter I’ll try seed starting again and hopefully, I’ll have a new Jools in the orchard to write about next year.

And introducing our newest arrival…

Even though it was disappointing to lose Jools, I am excited to announce that there is a new plant in the orchard to fill her spot. Meet Pappy…

the papaya who was grown from the seeds of a grocery store specimen. 

Pappy was in there somewhere just waiting to grow!

In April 2020, Pappy poked his head above the ground along with a couple of his brothers and sisters…

In May, Pappy proudly declared that he was embarking on this journey of life accompanied by not two, not four, but eight siblings…

And by June, the family portrait looked like this…

Four months later, here’s Pappy now…

Too big to be grown together, at the end of June each of the papayas were separated and transplanted into bigger containers. As you can see Pappy didn’t mind the move at all. Some papayas can be temperamental about transplant, but I’m happy to say that the whole gang – all nine of them did great with the move. 

There are three more members of Pappy’s family tucked inside this photo. Can you spot each one?

As of this weekend, Pappy has leaves as big as my hand, a trunk as thick as a sausage and a stature of impressive height. Measuring exactly 3′ feet tall, he’s already about  1/5 of his natural height. I’m not anticipating that Pappy will get over 15′ feet tall due to container restraints, but I am hoping for at least 10 feet. That multiplied by his eight brothers and sisters and the inclusion of  Liz, Grace and Avi will make a full jungle out of the indoor orchard this winter if everyone keeps growing like they have been.

The pencil is here to illustrate how thick Pappy’s trunk is already! He’s such a hearty grower:)

Even though it will be tricky trying to figure out where everyone will fit, I have my eye on one more little project to complete the green dream team. Over the summer, I discovered a very inspiring book…

that is fueling my next experiment this winter. Indoor tomatoes! The volunteer tomato seed planted by the birds (or maybe the breeze) on the balcony this summer…

continues to grow and bloom even though the typical tomato season is over now. I’m excited to see if I can keep some re-rooted sprouts going indoors for the next five months. It requires no special equipment except for a sunny windowsill and a little extra love and attention. It’s an attempt that Elizabeth, in her book, said was a bit difficult but was definitely do-able, so the challenge is officially on. We’ll see what happens! 

In the meantime, while we wait and watch the orchard and see what sort of tomato tales will spring from this latest garden experiment, if you’d like to read more about the past growing adventures of Avi, Liz, Grace, and Jools visit this post, this post and this post. If you’d like to grow your own Pappy, all you need to do is scoop out the seeds from a grocery store papaya, rinse them in cold water and let them dry on a paper towel for up to a week until they resemble whole dried peppercorns. Then plant them in some potting soil, keep them evenly moist with warm water and watch them sprout sometime between a week to a month later. Keep them in the warmest sunniest place you can find and watch them grow grow grow. And then send me a photo so we can marvel at Pappy’s relatives too.

Last year, blog reader Gloria, shared a photo of her avocado tree that she planted in her Florida garden about the same time that Avi sprouted. As of November 2019, her avocado was  7′ feet tall…

Now it’s up to 8′ feet and just got a recent trim…

It is not bearing avocados yet, but maybe there will be some for her in 2021!

That’s the lovely thing about gardening, isn’t it? You just never know what might happen exactly or even when, but you always have your fingers crossed that it’s all going to work out for the best.  Audrey Hepburn said it most eloquently… “to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” I love that. These plants don’t always make life look easy or foolproof but they do always make it look rewarding and hopeful.  

Cheers to gardens big and small, indoors and out. And cheers to Audrey and Elizabeth and the indoor orchard gang for the continual motivation and inspiration.

Now… onto those tomatoes;) 

The Indoor Urban Orchard: What’s Growing Now?

This time of year recipe ideas start floating around the kitchen and vegetables start piling up on the counters. Pie pumpkins and sweet potatoes, herb bouquets and onions, lemons, limes, mushrooms, pomegranates, garlic, apples, cranberries, carrots, celery and what seems like all the nuts in all the world spill out from bowls and plates and baskets as we get ready for Thanksgiving Day. Nestled among all that Autumn bounty is an avocado. Not exactly the first food you think of when talking turkey day fare, but around here the avocado is king of the Kitchen, especially in November, when it comes to a certain someone’s birthday. I’m not talking about the kind of avocado that is small, round and rumply skinned though. Here in the kitchen, the king I’m referring to looks like this…

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It’s Avi the Avocado! On November 22nd, he’ll celebrate his third birthday.  If you have been reading the blog for a few years, you’ll remember that Avi started out as a seed experiment in November 2016. The kind of experiment where you pierce a regular avocado seed with toothpicks and set it in a glass of water and then wait and watch for it to grow into something green like this…

…which he did with aplomb! Months into the experiment Avi sprouted, gained a name and grew taller as each day passed. Three years into life now, he’s survived a move, a very fretful, almost fatal batch of scale, a fall off the kitchen counter and numerous jockeys around the house as he grew, and then subsequently outgrew, each and every perch. In that time, he’s also developed quite the personality – clearly communicating his loathing for the city patio, the wet blanket heat that is a Southern summer, and the blustery winds off the river that perpetually zip and zoom around the city skyline. Instead, in a very unusual flight of fancy for his kind, Avi decided that he preferred the air conditioning, the bright yet indirect light of the indoors and the resting spots that always seem to be in closest proximity to the hustle and bustle of the kitchen. Perhaps he’s a gourmand at heart:)  Long story short, Avi began and became the inspiration for an indoor orchard of fruit plants all started from seed.

In today’s post we are checking up on the state of the garden and the four inhabitants that now comprise the indoor orchard. It’s been 15 months, since I last posted about their progress and because Avi turns 3 on November 22nd, this seemed like a perfect time to check-in and check up to see how this indoor garden experiment is faring. Let’s take a peek…

Avi the Avocado:

The last time we checked up on Avi’s growth here on the blog it was mid-summer 2018. Outside the temperatures were hot and humid, but indoors everything was as cool as a cucumber. At that point, Avi measured 3′ 5″ inches tall and had just turned a hopeful corner of recovery from the terrible scale outbreak. When this photo was taken, Avi was just returning to his more handsome, happy, healthy state…

July 31, 2018

Today, I’m happy to share that Avi is still at it. Growing by leaps and bounds, he now measures 4′ 7″ inches tall and his leaves are widening out into a broad canopy…

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In just 15 months he grew 1′ 3″ inches. That’s an impressive inch a month! You can see the dramatic difference in this side by side picture if you use the black framed wall art on the left as a reference point…

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If he keeps growing at this rate, by next Thanksgiving Avi will be as tall as me:) Most thankfully, the scale is almost all gone. Soon he’ll transfer to a bigger pot where he’ll stay for a couple of years while he fills out leaf -wise. One thing I learned recently about transplanting flowers and plants is that you should only go to a slightly bigger pot than what you are already using – otherwise the plant spends all its energy below expanding its roots instead of growing taller above the soil line. The next pot size for Avi will be 12″ inches in diameter which should give him enough room to grow up and out for at least the next year and a half. Like a little kid graduating from crib to bed, Avi will be a true floor plant at that point, not longer able to be carried from perch to perch, an exciting milestone!

Grace the Grapefruit:

Not be outdone by Avi, a little friendly competition ensued between fruit trees. In this past year, Grace also also hit a spectacular growth spurt. She went from this in March 2018…

Grace the grapefruit almost 1″ inch tall in March 2018

to this in July 2018…

Five months later ( July 30th, 2018)

to this in November 2019…

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Just over 3′ 2″ inches tall now, Grace grew so fast that she’s been re-potted four times already. I’d like to say that all this robust enthusiasm caused her to literally break out of her planter,  but her current abode was a cracked-then-repaired pot meant as a temporary holder for her. But she’s so happy in her blue space, there she’ll stay until she outgrows it. Meanwhile she’s very busy growing extra everything – skyscraper limbs, big green leaves and sharp thorns, especially on her trunk…

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This is lovely to see, because just like Avi, Grace also succumbed to scale when I was away for a month taking care of my sick dad last January. When I got home, she had lost 70% of her leaves and had so much scale that the local garden center (where I took her for emergency help) declared it the worst case of scale outbreak that they’d ever seen. They also gave her a doomed prognosis, saying she probably wouldn’t make it. If you’ve never experienced scale before, this is what it looks like…(on overdrive as in Grace’s case)…

A series of flesh or clear sticky, jelly-like insects, scale wind up sucking the life out of plants. They are pretty gross looking and can be difficult to both see and eradicate but determined, I loaded up on Neem oil and bottles of rubbing alcohol (a trick I learned at the garden center) and then got to work every few days wiping down each of the leaves and the trunk. The rubbing alcohol kills the scale, and the Neem oil protects the plant from re-infestation. As it turns out, that was exactly what she needed and thankfully, Grace made a full recovery in just a few weeks. Now she’s racing to catch up with Avi!

Liz Lemon – The Lemon Tree

If we were giving out awards for the least amount of drama this year, the award would definitely go to Liz Lemon. By far the most low maintenance plant of the bunch, she just carried on over the past year the way all good lemon trees should – growing flowers, making lemons, filling out. Here she was in July 2018, a sprig of sharp angles…

Now she’s a more stately, shapely tree thanks to some careful pruning and lots of sunshine…

Not as fast a grower as Grace or Avi in the height department, Liz spent her past 15 months growing out instead of up. Coming in at 2′ 4″ inches tall she is the smallest of the household orchard trees but she supplied the most color of the bunch with her bright yellow lemons and her pretty perfume-scented flowers.

Just the other day, she started growing a new batch of tiny little lemons so I’m hoping our yield this year will be greater than last year’s, which produced a total of two lemons. Fingers crossed:)

Jools – The Medjool Date Palm

Finally, the baby of the group, born from seed in July 2018, was the Medjool date palm, who was so tiny it didn’t even have a name yet…

The spike is the date palm!

Four hundred and fifty six days later, the date palm looks like this. Meet Jools…

Standing at just over 16″ inches tall, Jools put forth a new leaf every few months last year. She lost a couple  of green shoots to wind damage over the summer, but apparently that’s not really fazing her, as she just grows another one in its place. Low maintenance like Liz, Jools just requires a sunny window sill and a good dose of water every few days.  When I look at her I can’t help but imagine those grand date palms that grow in India and Egypt – the ones that are big and lush and beautiful and radiate notions of exotic locales and foreign flavors. It will be exciting to see how big she grows over the winter now that she has taken up residence indoors and is out of the wind tunnel on the patio altogether.

Of all the orchard plants, Jools is the one I’ve researched least. There is an air of spontaneity in just watching her grow and imagining what might happen next. The container of dates that she came from was purchased at a fantastic international shop in the farmers market that unfortunately is no longer there. So not only is this date palm named Jools a fun growing experiment, but she’s also a good little memory of a place I loved, but can no longer visit. That’s the cool thing about plants isn’t it? How active they are in our lives… as decoration, as curious living creatures, and as memory holders. Each one is like a quirky little (or in some cases big!) character sharing our space, making it feel natural and welcoming, just like home.

Not every experiment I try turns out to be a successful one. This year I attempted apples (success up to month 5!) and papayas but neither lasted long enough to see the sprouts that start the story. Gardening is a game of chance after all. Somehow that makes the ones that do grow into a Grace or an Avi or a Jools all the more significant. While you are peeling and chopping and cutting stuff up this holiday season in your kitchen, keep your eye out for the seeds, and all the potential and possibility that is contained in those small packages tucked inside your favorite fruits and vegetables.  Worlds of adventure stir inside our kitchens everyday, none more dramatic or miraculous than the lives that feed our lives.

If anyone has started their indoor gardens from seed, please comment on this post and share with us what you are growing and how it is going. One of our blog readers, Gloria, recently shared photos of her avocado tree in Florida, which she started from seed around the same time as Avi began. She planted hers outside, a smart decision thanks to Florida’s ideal growing climate. Three years in, her avocado seed now looks like this…

Wow! An absolute beauty towering over the garden at a majestic 7″ feet tall! Well on its way to being a proper shade tree in her yard, Gloria is hoping that by next year, she’ll be able to eliminate avocados from her market shopping list and instead just pick them right off her own tree. What an exciting thought! Our fingers are crossed that she is flush with avocado by this time next year:)

If you need a little more inspiration when it comes to building your own plant paradise, consider these colorful and beautifully illustrated  mid-century books in the shop. They are packed full of helpful advice regarding citrus trees, orchards, edible plantings and indoor gardening…

They make fun gifts for yourself or your fellow garden lover, and unlike the internet, lay everything out before you all at once, instead of hunting and pecking your way through endless garden sites plant by plant.

If you missed the previous posts about the start of the indoor orchard, catch up here.

In the meantime, cheers and happy birthday to Avi, to all the seedlings out there who grow big with just a little extra dose of love and attention, and to Gloria for sharing her own personal gardening adventure with us:)

Update From the Urban Jungle: Where’s Avi the Avocado Tree Now?

It’s National Avocado Day and I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate than to write a post featuring the Vintage Kitchen’s favorite green guy – Avi the Avocado!  When I last posted about Avi, it was February. The days were cold, somewhat scattered with snow flurries and spring was struggling to get its foot in the door.  Avi was recovering from an almost fatal bout of too much tap water and too much sun. Here he was in February…

On the road to recovery!

Now we are barreling through mid-summer.  The temperatures outside are hot, humid and oven-like from morning to night. But not for Avi. He’s inside in the air conditioning, living a healthy, happy existence and growing like gangbusters. In fact, he’s growing so much that he outgrew his winter space and had to be transferred to a new perch…

Avi the Avocado mid summer 2018.

Now measuring 3’5″ inches tall, Avi grew a total of three inches in the past six months in his indoor environment. If he continues to grow at such a pace, he should be close to 4′ feet tall by his second birthday near Thanksgiving.  Isn’t it incredible to think that he was just this small seed a year and a half ago…

and now he towers over Deer Hudson like a magic bean stalk…

Avi the Avocado: Age 1 and 1/2

Still a character, Avi detests the outdoor heat and the all-day sunshine, something most avocado plants adore. But not our guy.  He immediately sags and shrivels if he’s left out on the balcony even for just a few minutes.  Instead, he much prefers the bright ambient light inside, the cooler temperature and the clamor of the Kitchen activity.

You can see from the above photo with Hudson that he hasn’t completely recovered from all his ailments yet as there are still a few minor spotting issues on some leaves, but for the most part, he’s back in good shape. After doing some experiments, testing the effects of sun strength and watering frequency, it looks like the thing that causes Avi the most trouble is the salt in the tap water.  I’ll be back to using distilled water again this weekend to see if those remaining brown spots can’t be corrected yet.

I thought Avi would be the winner in the growth spurt department as far as the other urban jungle garden plants go, but Grace the Grapefruit has been the real surprise champion of the summer season. If you have been following her progress on Instagram, you’ll know that she looked like this on March 15, 2018…

Grace, the grapefruit tree started from seed in March 2018

Almost 1″ inch tall in March 2018

Today she looks this…

Five months later ( July 30th, 2018)

In five months she grew 9″ inches! I’d like to say that Avi was an encourager in that department but he’s inside and she’s outside so clearly she’s a grower all on her accord.

And then there is Liz Lemon, whom I had forgotten to measure when she first joined the family back in June…

But she now she stands a few inches taller herself these days…

The funny thing about lemon trees is that when their new leaves emerge they are very weak. Emerging utterly exhausted, they are limpy, fragile to the touch and so droopy they look like they are in desperate need of everything – light, water, heat, shade, cool air. But after a few days of this behaviour, they firm right up, turn shades darker and develop a more rigid support system. You can see their first instincts in  Liz Lemon’s tallest section of leaves in the above photograph. But in a few days, they’ll look more like this…

All this confidence in the plant growth department has been a real source of inspiration lately. Every time I chop a vegetable or peel a fruit now, I think about all the plant possibilities. My latest batch of recent seed-starting experiments involved apricots and dates. The apricots weren’t successful – they turned moldy before having a chance to do anything exciting. But the dates, now they were a different story. I’m pleased to announce just this week our newest member of the garden emerged…

A Medjool date palm seedling! And she brought along a flower friend to join her (the green spike is the date palm).

I can now understand how Luther Burbank kept going and growing year after year. Nature  is fascinating if you take some time to really study it and see it. In November, when Avi turns two, I’ll share another update on the whole garden gang to see what sort of progress has been made. By then we’ll have a name picked out for the date palm too. In the meantime, if you are celebrating the day with guacamole or avocado toast, stuffed shells or just simple slices in a summer salad, I hope you enjoy all the lovely attributes of your avocado. Luther believed that flowers and plants made people better, happier and more helpful. “They are sunshine, food, and medicine for the soul,” he believed. Exactly. Well said Luther!

If you’d like to learn how to grow your own Avi, refer this post here. If you missed the post on 20th-century botanist, Luther Burbank and the potato he made famous, catch up here.

Cheers to seeds that turn into food that turn into gardens all over again!

Lady Nature and the Summer Magic

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Dear readers! This morning Ms. Jeannie went grocery shopping in her backyard for the very first time! In just two months, with the help of her greenhouse and a certain sensational lady, Ms. Jeannie’s garden project went from this…

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to this…

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Isn’t lady nature just marvelous?! With time being so scarce for Ms. Jeannie these past few months, lady nature  truly proved to be the greatest of friends. “Don’t worry about your garden Ms. Jeannie – I’ll take care of it!”

And take care, she did! Boy that lady  – there’s no stopping her abilities!

Today, the garden was offering a sale on cucumbers…

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Ms. Jeannie picked six today, and as you can see there are what seems like a million in all stages still growing growing, growing. Ms. Jeannie could actually hear the cucumber plant say thank you as she plucked the ripe ones.  Baby cucumbers moved right into the empty spots. Productive little creatures:)

The cantaloupe melons are in a race with the cucumbers. Who can outgrow their metal frames first?

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Everyone is hedging their bets in the garden. The beets are betting on the melons.

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The okra is betting on the cucumbers.

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And the peas…

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well, they are just betting on themselves and their ability to outwit the mammoth sunflowers. They’ve already outgrown their trellis and moved on to the sunflower stalks – so really at this point – the sky is the limit for them! Take that, cucumber melon competition!

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Do you remember Ms. Jeannie’s grand plan for her re-purposed gift from the ground? A home for zinnias, ha!  Four weeks into that growing project … they looked like gawky teenagers in ill-fitting clothing…

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They immediately were sent to summer camp in the herb garden where they could spread out and be as wild and wooly as they wanted…

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This suits them just fine!

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Speaking of herbs, Ms. Jeannie just recently gave her chives a major haircut for a simple new recipe, which solved two problems at once – what to make for dinner and how to keep these fast growing onions from taking over! She’ll share that culinary feat in her next post – so stay tuned.

In the meantime, Boyo sends his best from the porch…

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As you can see he is working just as hard as the ladies:)

The Little Fig That Could: An Update and a Nanny

The cutest little thing greeted Ms. Jeannie on the screen porch this morning…

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It’s a fig leaf, dear readers! And can you guess where it came from?

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That’s right! It came from our very own fig clipping water method! It’s hard to believe that this was the easiest most uncomplicated way to grow a fig tree. And yet, here our little dazzler is – her own version of jazz hands greeting the day.

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If you recall from previous posts, Ms. Jeannie tried two different ways to grow a fig tree from a clipping.  There was the newspaper method and the water method. After trial and error, which you can catch up on here, the clear winner was the water method. In a nutshell… cut a fig clipping in winter, stick it in a jar of water for several months and watch the roots grow.

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Then transfer the rooty clipping to a pot filled with potting soil. Ms. Jeannie at this point still kept the clipping indoors for a couple of weeks, but placed it next to a window that receives indirect sunlight. Then, on a bit of a whim one gorgeous afternoon, she moved the pot to the screened-in porch. That side of the house gets late afternoon sun for a few hours and apparently that was the ticket for this little one to sprout!

And so here we are, in newborn fig heaven.

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When this little darling sprouts a few more leaves, she’ll transfer it to a bigger pot. In the meantime, she’ll just watch it grow.

Another little delight that greeted Ms. Jeannie recently, was this fellow…

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Just like the kitty that surprised Ms. Jeannie in the fig bush last year – this visitor also found his way into the yard from the fig bushes. Perhaps there is some sort of trap door in those fig bushes! A little underground network of tunnels for stray cats, with a special sign at Ms. Jeannie’s fig roots that reads REST STOP – THIS WAY!

Whatever the case – it seems Ms. Jeannie is on some sort of list now to receive a new cat every summer. This one she has named Boy-O because he’s very clearly a chap, and he’s got green eyes and that handsome black and white coat which favors the Irish complexion.  Ms. Jeannie actually went through a whole roster of names beginning in Italy (since he was in the figs on a hot summer afternoon of course!) … there was Paolo, Giuseppe, Jono. He was completely indifferent to those names so Ms. Jeannie changed directions… Adolph, George (this was long before the royal baby!), Leo, Sam, Charlie. No interest again. Then she said in exasperation – “Boy Cat what is your name?!”  And he turned his head and looked at her. Aha! Something was ringing a bell. “Boy. Boy Cat. Boy-O? Could that be it? Boy-O?” Immediately right after she posed this question, he meowed.  Clearly there was  a winner in the name department!

So it’s been about a month now that Boy-O has visited here with Ms. Jeannie. He loves to eat and he loves to pal around with Ms. Jeannie’s two cats.  He enjoys walking around the garden, licking fallen figs and drinking out of the bird bath.   But perhaps his most favorite thing to do is nap. He loves the side porch, more than anything,  just like the little fig sprout does. Most afternoons, Ms. Jeannie sees him sprawled out like this…

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All this afternoon bonding time with the fig sprout has led Ms. Jeannie to think that perhaps Boy-O is a fig nanny. Maybe that sign in the underground tunnel reads FIG NANNIES – APPLY HERE, and Boy-O just showed up because he needed a job.

Whatever the circumstance, Ms. Jeannie is working with her local vet to try and find a home for him. It’s a daunting task as  they have their own giant book of Boy-Os that also need homes. “But mine comes with a skill,” Ms. Jeannie told them. “And he’s dedicated!” The proof is in the pictures…

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Fig nannies just don’t come along every day, dear readers, so if you know of anyone – who might need such a talent, than Boy-O is their man(cat).

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Announcing the Butterflies: One, Two and Three

They’ve arrived, they’ve arrived!

The butterflies, dear readers, are born! Here’s their first photo shoot. Each butterfly emerged on a different day so Ms. Jeannie named them appropriately.

Meet Wednesday – the first butterfly…

Brand-new!
Brand-new!

Wednesday was the one, if you recall, who chose to cocoon underneath the flower petals of the gerber daisy. A most pretty spot.

Ta-dah!
Ta-dah!

Here she was stepping out of the cocoon. Ms. Jeannie just missed her actual emergence by sheer minutes. She had just checked on all three of the cocoons (status quo) and had gone around the corner to cut some herbs for dinner. Five minutes later – here was Wednesday fanning out her new wings.

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It was a slow-going little journey up the stalk of the flower while she figured out her legs  and the tricky business of holding on. But by the time Ms. Jeannie took this aerial view, Wednesday was an expert!

Hello butterfly!
Hello butterfly!

Because Ms. Jeannie had missed the actual moment of Wednesday unzipping the cocoon doors, she was determined to at least catch Wednesday’s  first moment of flight on camera. She didn’t how long this would take. So she waited. And she waited.

Ms. Jeannie’s cat, Satchem (incidentally named after a butterfly, herself) even waited with her for awhile.

oh the anticipation...
oh the anticipation…

This gave Ms. Jeannie some time to explain to Satchem that there would indeed be no butterfly dinners in her future. She seemed to understand. Eventually though, she lost interest in the butterflies altogether and fell asleep underneath the tulip tree.

Meanwhile, Wednesday just stayed in her same spot, fanning those wings and taking in her new surroundings.

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After 25 minutes of waiting, Ms. Jeannie got side-tracked and went on to other projects – but she came back to check every few minutes. Going into the second hour, Ms. Jeannie came out to check and there was Wednesday on her petal and  then in a flash of a second, there she wasn’t.

She flew off into the garden so fast it was all Ms. Jeannie could do to frantically photograph her flying through the air. Unfortunately this is the best photo she got…

First flight!
First flight!

You can just make out the fuzzy swatches of orange as Wednesday flapped her wings. So long pretty girl!

The next butterfly to emerge was Thursday…

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Like Wednesday, Thursday also chose the afternoon hours to emerge – although this little butterfly decided to come out just as the storm clouds started to rumble.  The wind picked up considerably, and Ms. Jeannie feared that Thursday would get blown away before he had any sort of chance to get his bearings.

With some his legs, not attached - it looked perilous for a moment...
You can see him sort of half-hanging there – it looked perilous for a moment…

But Thursday knew what he was doing. He was being blown about quite a bit – but he para-sailed through the high winds like a champ. Apparently, those stickly little legs are a lot stronger than they look!

Then the rains came – torrential downpours so heavy Ms. Jeannie considered clipping the stalk he was on and bringing it onto the screened porch just to give him a chance to get his act together.

But again, Thursday, adapted. Although this time, he crawled back down to his cocoon and hung onto both the casing and the stalk for extra support.

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The rain came down for hours and Thursday hung on. The moment the sun came out, he fanned his wings out  a few times and went in search of sunnier skies. Again – Ms. Jeannie managed to grab her camera in time for the first flight – but Thursday was fast – so this is the best she could do…

Only a slight improvement was Wednesday's photograph!
Only a slight improvement was Wednesday’s photograph!

The next day it was back to full hot Georgia sunshine and Friday decided that this was his day to join his pals.  Friday was the one who chose to cocoon behind the wooden spinach sign – in what Ms. Jeannie thought was the most disguised location of the group.

Ms. Jeannie was most curious about this ones color pattern since he had a different color cocoon than the others. But he turned out just the same!
Ms. Jeannie was most curious about this one’s color pattern since he had a different color cocoon than the others. But he turned out just the same!

If Friday picked a shy spot to nest, he certainly wasn’t shy about coming out. He immediately started climbing up the wood spike…

So long cocoon, Friday's on a mission!
So long cocoon, Friday’s on a mission!

Friday's on a mission.
He climbed…

He climbed and climbed...

…and climbed…

and climbed...
and climbed…

All the way to the top of the sign, he climbed. And then do you know what he did?

He climbed over the other side and gave Ms. Jeannie the most beautiful display…

Ohh...
Ohh…

So handsome and so perfectly balanced, he almost looked fake. Like someone had positioned him there on purpose!

so perfect!

And then, just like the others he was there one minute and off exploring the world the next. This time, Ms. Jeannie was sort of ready – but boy is it hard to capture these little fellas when they are flying!

Definietly the best of the flight pictures - but no photo awards for Ms. Jeannie on this front:)
Definitely, the best of the flight pictures – but no photo awards for Ms. Jeannie on this front:)

So there it is – the tale of the three black swallowtails.  Most likely, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday will stay close to the garden enjoying a bevy of summer flowers before finding their own loves and making more swallowtail babies. Ms. Jeannie hasn’t seen them since their birthdays – but she feels like they could be close by. Of course, if she sees any fluttering about the garden, she will photo them for you to see too. Hopefully by that time, she’ll have improved upon those flight photos!

Watching these little guys grow was a completely amazing experience for Ms. Jeannie, packed to the brim with hope and wonder. If you missed the previous posts, read about the beginnings of the butterflies (as caterpillars)  here and (cocoons) here.

From Caterpillars to Cocoons: Ms. Jeannie’s Nature Show

Oh the butterflies did not prove to disappoint, dear readers! Three little caterpillars built their nests in Ms. Jeannie’s garden, and they did it, so kindly, right where she could see them!

On Tuesday, she went out to water and noticed that all the caterpillars had vanished. Well, all except one who was still hanging out on the parsley. He had been in that same spot for quite a few days although this day, Ms. Jeannie saw two little spider web like threads projecting from each side of his bright little body.  When she checked on him in the evening, this is what she found…

A cocoon!
A cocoon!

If she hadn’t known exactly the spot to look for the caterpillar she would have missed him completely. He has built a cocoon which totally blends in with his surroundings –  an overturned parsley sprig – so he matches the pale underside exactly. Here’s another view…

Would you have noticed him in a passing glance?
Would you have noticed him in a passing glance?

You can see the little threads here too that keep him anchored to the stalk. This sort of reminds Ms. Jeannie of rock climbers who propel mountains with their thin little safety ropes.

Knowing that all the other caterpillars might have gone on their search for long grasses or house foundations or dead tree limbs to find their nesting site, she looked in all the areas around the pots. Not sure how far a caterpillar could travel or would travel for such a task, she just looked a few yards around each pot. Guess where she found caterpillar number 2?

On the back of her spinach sign!
On the back of her spinach sign!

Ms. Jeannie thinks this one might be the Einstein of the bunch. That was a pretty good place to nest as it backs up to the side of the house.  Here he is…

Check out his color!
Check out his color!

Notice how he has completely camouflaged himself to match the wood grain. There are even little striations in his cocoon that match the light and dark veins of the wood. Even more amazing is that from an aerial viewpoint, the “belly” of his cocoon matches the green leaves of the gerber daisies down below, so again if you were passing by quickly you would just think it was a leaf or something similar.

From a different angle.
From a different angle.

Caterpillars build their cocoons to protect themselves during the chrysalis stage. Sometimes the cocoon shells are hard and sometimes they are soft (Ms. Jeannie is afraid to poke at her three in case she breaks the threads, so she hasn’t investigated this aspect further)  but they are all made out of silk produced by the caterpillars.

Now knowing that they are such good camouflagers, Ms. Jeannie made one last careful check of the pots to see if she could find any others. That’s when she found this last one…

The prettiest spot!
The prettiest spot!

If Ms. Jeannie was a caterpillar she would have picked this spot too – right underneath the flower petals. Clearly, this little one was all about having a lovely view! She gets an “A” in the camouflage department too…

Notice the sun stripes!
Notice the sun stripes!

They create cases that blend in to their surroundings so that hopefully they can go unnoticed by predators such as birds and lizards. It’s amazing to think that they will live in these cocoons for a couple of weeks when all that tethers them are those two thin strings. Hardly, it seems, they would be able to stand up to a wind storm or even a summer rain storm. Ms. Jeannie has even taken to watering her containers down at the base, just so her sprinkler wand won’t interfere! Of course they must be strong little threads, just like the webs of spiders, but still, Ms. Jeannie would hate to be the cause of their demise.

So the next step in the butterfly cycle, if all goes well, will be the emergence of each butterfly in the next 10 days or so.  According to research, most butterflies like to emerge in the early morning to give their wings a chance to dry out in the weaker light of the morning sun before flying off. Ms. Jeannie would love to capture that moment on camera so she is crossing her fingers (yet again!) for that experience.

Stay tuned for Part Three of this mini-series!

Crunch, Crunch, Crunch…

…crunch…crunch…crunch…

What’s that in the garden, Ms. Jeannie hears?

someone's been enjoying the garden greens...
someone’s been enjoying the garden greens…

It appears as if someone’s dived into the salad bar in the garden! The feasting is happening in the parsley plant that Ms. Jeannie just blogged about the other day. Do you remember this…

Parsley, spinach and gerbers!

That was the parsley plant just 9 days ago. And now this is what it looks like today…

it's a stem garden!
it’s a stem garden!

Oh dear! What happened you ask? Well, my darlings, it seems Ms. Jeannie’s been invaded by these little characters…

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The culprits!

The swallowtail butterflies. Or, to be more exact, the infants of  swallowtail butterflies.

Upon first spotting them, Ms. Jeannie had to make an immediate decision – save the parsley or propagate the butterflies. Apparently in nature you cannot have both! This turned out to be an easy decision for Ms. Jeannie. After all,  parsley is not nearly as exciting as a butterfly (sorry green leafy friends), even though her herb did look beautiful and bountiful next to the gerber daisies and spinach.

Once she became pro butterfly, Ms. Jeannie began to thoroughly enjoy her new dinner guests. They are quite cute in that young baby way, with their fat bellies and their energetic ways.

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This is the last stage of babyhood for these guys. They are ferociously devouring the parsley (oh the eating habits of teenagers!) so that they can build enough strength, stamina and sustenance to cocoon themselves for the nest few weeks while they grow into butterflies.

Ms. Jeannie is seriously hoping that they cocoon  in the pot, but she’s not sure what the game plan is for that stage. Research says they like long grasses or house foundations, somewhere away from the birds. Ms. Jeannie has both of those nearby but how would she ever find them in the long grasses?

Ms. Jeannie looks forward to seeing the butterflies emerge and hopefully spend a little time in her garden once they’ve winged out.

Once they are at that stage, they’ll look like this…

Swallowtail Butterfly photograph by Michelle Reynolds
Swallowtail Butterfly photograph by Michelle Reynolds. Click for info.

Butterflies in mythology have long symbolized renewal. Perhaps Ms. Jeannie is cultivating some new changes in her life, or perhaps it’s just nature taking its course. Every summer it seems like there is some magical event that occurs over and over again in Ms. Jeannie’s life, a theme if you will, or a special situation that heralds that specific year with a specific reference. Last year it was the summer of the cows, the year before that, it was the summer of the fireworks. Ms. Jeannie would be thrilled if this was the summer of the butterflies:)

If all goes well with her brood, she’ll have just under a dozen butterflies, floating on the mid-summer breeze. Keep your fingers crossed! Adult butterflies impact the environment most actively by pollinating plants and flowers which is why they are beneficial to have in your garden. Even though they have short life spans, most just a few weeks, they can bring endless joy to a garden for seasons and spirits long after they are gone.

Ms. Jeannie never fails to be amazed and surprised by the sight of a butterfly. For such a fragile creature to last for weeks, let alone minutes in our environment astounds her. Perhaps that’s why they are so magical. They start out camouflaged en masse, creeping and crawling, but one by one they turn inward, wrapping themselves in their own comforter, stewing in their own protection, before emerging a changed creature, light and independent.  They are the best case scenarios, the happy endings, the freedoms of ability that is at the root of all human yearnings.

Ms. Jeannie is glad to have a little part in the continuation of such symbolism and hope in her little corner of the world.

The Lamb and the Butterfly via pinterest
The Lamb and the Butterfly via pinterest

More on the butterflies  (hopefully) coming soon!

Garden Update! Notes from an Experimentalist…

Oh, dear readers, the great big fig tree experiment has just gotten a little more interesting. It’s been a little over two months since Ms. Jeannie last reported on the status of the fig tree that she’s trying to grow from a clipping.

To refresh, this is where we left off…

Fig clipping sprouts as they looked on March 9, 2013.
After 2 months in plastic bag hibernation, the  fig clipping sprouts! Here is how it looked on March 9, 2013.

Clipping then incorporated into a potting soil, peanut shell mixture.
The clipping was then incorporated that same day into a potting soil/peanut shell mixture.

Since early March, Ms. Jeannie has been watering it and keeping her eye on the progress. Only it’s been difficult to see what’s going on in there, even though the cup is clear.  The peanut shells have little threads on them which can look like roots if you are an optimist like Ms. Jeannie! So yesterday, Ms. Jeannie decided to dump out (carefully) the contents of the cup to check on the status of her little sprouts.

This is what she found…

Before the dump.
Before the dump.

And after the dump…

Hmmm...
Hmmm…

Not a sprout in sight! Where oh where have they all gone? Now the only thing in their place is a mysterious white powdery fungus, and shriveled, wrinkly bark.

what happened?
what happened?

The little sprouts had been doing so good in the newspaper and plastic bag leg of the journey. But once they made the big leap to the cup, it seems things went awry. Hmmm…

After some discussion with Mr. Jeannie Ology, it was discovered that the peanut shells may have been the culprit. They were whole roasted peanut shells, lightly salted. Ohhh. Ms. Jeannie hadn’t even considered that aspect before she added the shells into her soil mixture. Oops. Essentially, she “salt cured” her fig clipping. Which evidently, newly formed sprouts do not favor.

Too much salt in soil causes water to move outside of plant cells, so even though Ms. Jeannie was watering her clipping occasionally – the plant cells weren’t getting the proper amount of hydration causing the sprouts to shrivel up and fall off. This also explains why the stem looks dry and wrinkly.

As for the fungus, Ms. Jeannie could have removed it with a little toothbrush cleaning – but she felt awful about the salting, and the clipping looked pretty much done in, so off it went to the great garbage can graveyard. Sorry clipping – we’ll do better next time.

But funny enough, do you remember the other fig experiment? The one where she was trying to root the clipping in water? In March this is how it looked…

Method 2: Rooting a fig twig in a container of water.
Method 2: Rooting a fig twig in a container of water.

And now in May…this is how it looks…

On top it still looks exactly the same but...
On top it still looks exactly the same but…

Look at the underwater view…

Roots!
Roots!

And not just one or two - but many many roots!
And not just one or two – but many, many roots!

So many roots and so little effort!

This is by far the easiest way to grow a fig clipping. No maintenance involved here – just clip and store in water for about three months. Now all Ms. Jeannie has to do is figure out how to handle these sprouts best. Should she pull it out of the jar and plant it in plain potting soil? Or should she leave it to linger in the water longer?

She could also dig up a few scoopfuls of dirt from underneath her well established big fig bushes in the yard. Clearly they are happy with that type of soil, so that could be the base for her potting soil mixture.  Common sense tells her that in the wild, these fig bushes would not have been coddled so much! It’s not rocket science after all, but Ms. Jeannie would hate to lose two fig clippings to carelessness. Such decisions!

While she decides what to do about the figs, let’s look and see how the homemade newspaper seed pots are holding up. Six weeks ago, they looked like this in all their brand new beauty…

Aerial view!
Aerial view!

Side view!
Side view!

And here they are now, after surviving out of doors, for 40+ days including 7 days of continuous rain…

Aerial view!
Aerial view!

Side view!
Side view!

Close-up with spinach sprouts.
Close-up with spinach sprouts.

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A little more crinkly, but other than that practically as good as new! Ms. Jeannie really thought that after that week-long rain event last week that they were going to be a soggy mess! But they weren’t at all. These newspaper pots held up beautifully. Ms. Jeannie speculates it is because she double wrapped them using two sections of newspaper instead of one. If you’d like  simple step by step instruction on how to make these budget friendly seed pots, click here.

Now all we have to do is wait for the spinach to grow, grow, grow. Ms. Jeannie planted some seeds directly in two of her flower pots as well. The pots were supposed to be spinach, parsley and basil but, the Gerber daisies from last year over-wintered and now decided they were ready for round two!

Parsley, spinach and gerbers!
Parsley, spinach and gerbers!

Ms. Jeannie’s hoping that there is room underneath the soil for all three! The parsley is taking off like wildfire and the gerber daisies are an inch taller every time Ms. Jeannie looks at them! To encourage her vegetable – Ms. Jeannie painted a sign and stuck it in the pot. Maybe it will help inspire the seedlings:)

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So there you have it, two garden experiments  both turning out differently then expected.  That is sort of the thrill of gardening though, isn’t it?

When you are playing games with Mother Nature, you just never know exactly what could happen.  You may have a general idea, or a general course of action, but Mother Nature  likes to play her own hand from time to time as well. She’s quite a card shark that one. And talk about a poker face? She’ll bluff with the best of them:)

Vintage Floral playing cards from 2BlueDogsDesign
Vintage Floral Playing Cards from 2BlueDogsDesign

Are you experimenting with (or gambling on!) anything in your garden this year? If so, please share your adventure in the comments section!

Fig Clipping Update! What a Month Can Do!

Here’s an update from the January blog post: Figs for All: How to Grow a Fig Tree In Your Garden

After carefully cutting, wrapping, storing and dating (January 31st, 2013) her fig cutting as the NewEnglandGardener instructed, Ms. Jeannie was a little disappointed when she checked the clipping a week ago, only to see that nothing happened.

For three weeks the clipping had been tucked inside it’s plastic Ziploc, stored in a warm spot (on a shelf in the stairwell) and left unbothered to grow, grow, grow.  But as of last week, the twig still looked exactly the same as when she started. No sprouts, no new green, no shoots.  In the NewEngland Gardeners video, he already had sprouts after three weeks, so Ms. Jeannie worried that, perhaps, she had done something wrong and that she may have led her readers down a rocky garden path.

In speaking with a friend of hers about this matter, Ms. Jeannie learned another way that you could grow a fig clipping.

Method 2: Rooting a fig twig in a container of water.
Method 2: Rooting a fig twig in a container of water.

In water! So Ms. Jeannie went out, cut another twig and placed that one in a jar of water and set it on her sill away from the sun.

This morning, she checked the status of both the Ziploc bag and the jar. This would now now be week 4 for the Ziploc bag and week 2 for the jar.

She was delighted to find this in her bag:

After 4 weeks in a ziploc bag!
After 4 weeks in a ziploc bag!

Look closely and you’ll see a sprout at the very base of the twig…

A sprout!
A sprout!

Yey! Ms. Jeannie must have been a little impatient last week. This is a good reminder that you can’t rush Mother Nature. She is ready, when she’s ready!

The grocery circular that Ms. Jeannie wrapped the twig in is still moist, even though she has never added any more water since the start, and it is a little spotted with mold…

Still damp!
Still damp!

The Ziploc bag also contains condensation…

Condensation of bubles
Condensation bubbles

…so essentially, Ms. Jeannie created her own little greenhouse!

Nothing’s happening with the twig in the jar of water yet, but now Ms. Jeannie knows just to give it time!

So what’s next for the sprouted twig? Well, Ms. Jeannie is going to keep it in the Ziploc for one more week to see if any new shoots will form and then transfer it to a shoe-box size plastic container with potting soil as the NorthernGardener suggested.  In the meantime, she’ll keep her eye on the water twig to see what happens.

Until next time, dear readers,  grow fearless!

Grow Fearless Art Print by Feed Yor Soul Art on Etsy (click the photo for more info about this print)
Grow Fearless Art Print by Feed Your Soul Art on Etsy

And don’t forget! You have until midnight tonight to enter to win this photograph (click on the ladies for contest information)…

Win this vintage photograph!
Win this vintage photograph!