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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Black-Eyed Susan

Black Eyed Susans are wonderful flowers to have in your apartment garden. I love having fresh floral arrangements inside my apartment, and black eyed susans serve as an excellent source of cutting flowers. The plant produces what seems like an everlasting supply of cutting flowers, and the flowers last long in a vase.

Black eyed susans have yellow petals, a dark dome-like center, and long stems. This plant is a perennial, which means it will come back year after year. Because the plant can be propagated by dividing the rhizomes, I do not bother collecting the seeds. In fact, I do not allow the flowers to go to seed because I want the longest blooming period possible. To prolong the blooming period, take regular flower cuttings or dead head spent flowers.

These flowers do well in full sun, but can survive in light shade. Once these plants are established, they are fairly drought-tolerant. I started these plants from seeds earlier this year. I currently grow these flowers outside in full sun in an unsealed terracotta container. They have been able to easily withstand California's dry, hot weather even when I have neglected to water them for a few days. I plan on dividing the rhizomes later this fall.

Available for Purchase at Park's Seed

Monday, June 30, 2008

Harvesting Cilantro Seeds

I just harvested coriander from my cilantro plant. I was pleasantly surprised by the abundant supply of coriander my small cilantro plant produced. "Cilantro" is an annual herb. The tender aromatic leaves are often used in the last stages of Mexican and Asian cooking. "Coriander" is the cilantro seed and it is also used in cooking. For example, I use ground coriander to flavor my meats and stews. I plan on using the bulk of my cilantro seeds for culinary purposes, but I will save a few to grow some more cilantro.

How to Harvest Coriander:
Harvesting coriander is simple and effortless. Your cilantro plant will eventually produce tiny white flowers with lavender accents (See Figure B below).

Once these flowers are pollinated, they will produce seeds (i.e., coriander) in its place (See Figure C below). Small flowers normally do not need help pollinating. However, if you are growing cilantro indoors, you will want to gently shake the cilantro plant or place it in a windy area to assist pollination. This will help the plant produce higher yields of coriander.

It took two to three weeks for my cilantro seeds to fully mature. You will want to pick the cilantro seeds when they are ripe. Cilantro seeds are ripe when the seeds are just starting to turn brown (See Figure C). Snip off the stems of plant, and place it in a paper bag. Allow the seeds to dry in a cool, dark place. After the seeds have dried out, collect the seeds and store them in a glass jar or other airtight container until you are ready to use them.

Figure A
Young Cilantro Plant

Figure B
Blooming Cilantro Flowers

Figure C
The round balls are cilantro seeds a.k.a. coriander

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

More Trash into Treasure: Diluted Brewed Coffee Fertilizer

I rarely drink coffee, but when I do I tend to make too much. I did a little research to find out what I could do with my left over coffee, and I learned you can turn brewed coffee into a fast-acting fertilizer by diluting the coffee with water.

The sites I visited suggested diluting the brewed coffee down to 1 part coffee to 4 parts water. I have been using a weaker solution (1:10 or 1:5 coffee-to-water ratio). I have about 1 to 2 cups of coffee left over so I just fill the coffee pot with water until it reaches the 10 cup mark, and use that to water my plants. Brewed coffee is acidic so I use this solution to water my acidic loving plants (e.g., blueberries, azaleas, hydrangea, roses, etc.).

I did not notice dramatic changes in my blueberries, but my 1 year old hydrangea noticeably perked up within a day after the first application.

Note: You should refrain from using this solution too often, especially if you use this on non-acidic loving plants.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Trash into Treasure: Coffee Fertilizer

If you drink coffee, save your used coffee grounds instead of throwing them away. Dried coffee grounds have essential nutrients that plants need for healthy development. Generally, used coffee grounds are composed of approximately 2.0% nitrogen (N), 0.4% phosphorous (P), and 0.7% potassium (K), but it also contains other beneficial trace elements. This natural fertilizer contains a good amount of nitrogen, which promotes lush, green growth in plants.

Some people may be concerned about the acidity of coffee affecting their soil pH balance, but unlike brewed coffee which is acidic, used coffee grounds are nearly neutral in pH (~6.9 pH). It appears that the brewing process strips away the acidity of the coffee grounds. Therefore, adding small quantities of used grounds to your soil should not dramatically change your soil's pH level.

My friend tells me her worms love this stuff so if you have a worm compost bin feed your worms your wet or dry used coffee grounds. I do not have a worm compost bin so I spread the dried used coffee grounds on the soil and work the grounds slightly beneath the surface. The plants will still get the nutrients, and the stowaway worms in my pots can enjoy a snack too.

I seldom drink coffee, but my coffee-loving friends are more than happy to give me their used coffee grounds. I have so much of it now that I give away extra used coffee grounds to other garden enthusiasts who have larger outdoor gardens.

Sources of Used Coffee Grounds:
  • Your Home
  • Your Office - Place a bag or jar beside the coffee machine and ask your co-workers to dump the used coffee grounds in the container.
  • Friends or Neighbors
  • Coffee Shops (See Starbucks as an Example)
  • Starbucks gives away free used coffee grounds to its customers and local parks as a soil amendment through a program called "Grounds for Your Garden." To find out more about this program, visit Starbuck's website and look under about us > social responsibility > environmental affairs > store initiatives.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Blooming Chamomile Buds

Just thought I'd share a few photos of my blooming chamomile buds. At first I thought my chamomile was blooming without any petals, but a day or two later the petals grew out from the buds to form perfect little chamomile flowers.

Photo of Chamomile Buds

Photo of Chamomile Petals Growing

Photo of Chamomile Flower in Full Bloom

Photo of Chamomile Flower Going to Seed

Monday, May 5, 2008

Mourning Dove's New Home

My friend discovered three new roommates on his balcony. A mourning dove laid two eggs in one of his planters.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Free Organic Nitrogen Fertilizer

Photo of Edamame Plant Trailing Up a Young Avocado Tree

Get free organic Nitrogen fertilizer and help our earth at the same time.

Instead of buying commercial Nitrogen fertilizers, first try planting a few legumes in your plant beds or container garden. Legumes have the ability to naturally convert atmospheric nitrogen (nitrogen dioxide) into nitrate, an organic form of nitrogen that plants can use. Peas, beans, clover, lentils, peanuts and alfalfa are a few examples of legumes.

By using legumes to fix nitrogen in our soil we are also helping out our planet. Nitrogen dioxide is a pollutant. It is a major component of smog, and can irritate the lungs, lower resistance to respiratory infection, and increase sensitivity for people with asthma and bronchitis. Some of the major contributors to nitrogen dioxide are automobiles and electric power plants. Additionally, home heaters and gas stoves can also emit nitrogen dioxide. Nitrogen oxides also help form acid rain, which eventually runoff into our sewers and water channels. These increased levels of nitrogen in our bodies of water lead to explosive algae growth. This is problematic because algae competes with natural grasses in the water beds. Furthermore, algae overgrowth depletes oxygen supply that oysters, clams and other marine life rely on for survival.

In My Garden:
This is my first year planting legumes with my other plants. I chose to use edamame plants (a.k.a. "soy bean" plants) because edamame beans are tasty and they have some unique properties. For example, edamame beans "contain all of the amino acids needed to make a complete protein, just like meat" (Mayo Clinic). Edamame beans "also contain isoflavones, a plant-based compound that may reduce the risk of some types of cancer" (Mayo Clinic).
I planted an edamame plant in the same container as my avocado tree. The avocado seems to like the edamame's company. My avocado plant now has several new baby leaves. I cannot be sure it is because of the edamame's presence, but I can confidently say that my tree is performing better than last year, and that the edamame's presence is at least not harming my avocado plant.

Photo of Edamame Plant Trailing Up a Young Avocado Plant

Neat Fact:
Early Native Americans have used companion planting methods to grow corn, beans and squash. The Iroquois referred to these crops as "The Three Sisters," and considered them to be special gifts from the Great Spirit (Dodson). To read more about the Legend of the Three Sisters click here.
The corn serves as a support structure for the beans.
The beans provide "nutrients" to the other plants.
The squash acts as mulch and preserves moisture in the soil. Its prickly vines also deters raccoons from ravaging the corn (Dodson).


Dodson, Mardi. "Companion Planting: Basic Concepts & Resources-Ancient Companions." National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. available at (last visited Apr. 28, 2008).

Fahrenthold, David. "EPA Told to Set Timeline for Cutting Nitrogen Pollution," Washington Post. 26 Mar. 2008: B02. available at (last visited Apr. 27, 2008).

Mayo Clinic. "Legumes: Using Beans, Peas and Lentils Instead of Meat." CNN.17 Jun. 2005. available at (last visited Apr. 28, 2008).

"Nitrogen Dioxide. " Clean Air Trust. available at (last visited Apr. 27, 2008).

"Nitrogen Cycle," Soil Food Web, Inc. available at (last visited Apr. 27, 2008).

Sunday, April 27, 2008

African Daisy (Venidium Jaffa Ice)

Photo of African Daisy (Venidium Jaffa Ice): First Bloom

My first African Daisy (Venidium Jaffa Ice) bloom of the season! I planted a few venidium jaffa ice seeds in my succulent container to make the container appear fuller. The venidium jaffa ice foliage is "hairy" and has a frosted pale green tint. The seedlings resemble a hairy succulent until it shoots out its miniature sunflower-like blooms. My African Daisy is about 17-inches tall and has blooms that are about 2-inches wide across, but the seed packet says the plant can reach heights of up to 24-inches and have blooms as large as 4-inches wide across.

This African Daisy is an annual. I love annuals because they grow quickly and usually work well in containers. Although they only last one season, I can easily start them from seeds the following year.

Photo of White African Daisy (Venidium Jaffa Ice)

View of African Daisy's Double Row of Petals

Friday, April 25, 2008

UC Berkeley Botanical Garden Events

Public Plant Sale:
Saturday, April 26th, 2008 (10 a.m. - 2 p.m.)
UC Berkeley's Botanical Garden is having a Public Sale Saturday April 26th, 2008, 10:00 a.m.- 2:00 p.m.

Free Plant Clinic:
Saturday, May 3rd (9 a.m. - 12 p.m.)
Free plant clinic.
Find out which diseases ail your plants. Entomologists are also available to identify the pests that are living in your plants too! Please bring cover plants and disease samples in containers or bags before entering the Garden.

Native Plant Sale:
Saturday, May 3rd - Sunday, May 4th
On the weekend of May 3rd and 4th in cooperation with the Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour ( UC Botanical Gardens will also release a special selection of native plants for their native plant sale extravaganza. Their native plant propagators and California area horticulturist Ken Bates will be on hand to answer questions.

Bug Exhibit:
Tuesday, April 1, 2008 - Thursday, May 15, 2008 (9 a.m. - 5 p.m.)
Walk through the Garden to see a variety of original sculptures by local artist Patrick E, including antlion larvae, a dragonfly, the golden orb weaver spider Argiope and a scattering of ladybugs along with a special new giant insectivorous insect member of the Garden.
The Bug Exhibit is free with Garden Admission.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Propagating Succulents is Easy

Photo of Mature Black Aeonium and its new babies

My mature black aeonium sprouted baby aeoniums, and it's time for me to find these babies a new home. Propagating succulents is easy. I used a sharp pair of shears to cut the baby succulents from the mother plant. Then I removed the leaves from the base of the stem to expose about 2-inches of the stem.

Photo of Black Aeonium Cuttings

Then I dipped the tips of the stems in some inexpensive rooting hormone, and stuck the cuttings in the ground. I'm giving the succulent cuttings a good watering once every morning. So far everything looks good. I'll give you an update in a month or two.

Note: I have successfully propagated some succulents like jade and christmas cactus by skipping the rooting hormone and just sticking the cuttings in the ground. I chose to use the rooting hormone with the black aeoniums because I'm not sure how hardy black aeoniums are.

Photo of planted Black Aeonium cuttings

I tried this method with an aloe cutting I took a while ago. As you can see in the photo above, the aloe cutting has developed a beautiful root system.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

German Chamomile

German Chamomile Seedlings as of 02-24-2008

Common Name: German Chamomile
Latin Name: matricaria recutita
I started some German Chamomile seeds indoors in Dixie cups in January. I planted about 5 seedlings in a 6” standard flower pot. All but one of them are growing at a steady, decent rate. I’m going to pull the center plant out and give it away to one of my friends. The plants are about 4-inches tall now, but should grow up to 2-feet tall.
As soon as the chamomile plant matures, I’m going to harvest the flowers and make my own tea. I’ve heard that chamomile tea can calm the nerves, help you put you to sleep, and ease stomach pains, but I was surprised to learn that drinking hot chamomile tea can also help stop allergies.
If you’d like to make your own chamomile tea, make sure you choose German Chamomile (an annual plant) and not Roman Chamomile (a perennial plant) because Roman Chamomile can produce allergic skin reactions in a few rare instances. Pick the chamomile flowers when they are in full bloom. Gently rinse the flowers (without bruising them), and then allow them to dry in a cool, dark place. Store the dried flowers in an air tight container, in a cool, dark place until you are ready to use them. When you are ready to drink some tea, boil a cup of water. Place about 1 teaspoon of crushed chamomile flowers in a tea ball strainer and steep it in the water for 5 to 10 minutes before drinking your tea.
Chamomile has antianxiety, antihistamine, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antispasmodic properties. It also contains natural blood thinners. The chemicals in chamomile is similar to a prescription drug warfarin (Coumadin). So if you are taking warfarin you should avoid drinking chamomile tea.  If you are presently taking any medication, you should consult your doctor to rule out any potentially dangerous reactions to using the herb in question. 

Source: Balch, Phyliss. Prescription for Herbal Healing, New York: Penguin Putnam Inc., 2002.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Tomato Seedling Sale Tomorrow (Saturday, April 12)

Hi everyone,

I just wanted to remind those of you in the area that
Bountiful Garden is having their tomato seedling sale tomorrow!

Saturday, April 12th, 2008 starting at 8:00 a.m
at 21901 Columbus Avenue, Cupertino, CA.
  • All plants come in large one-gallon pots. They have a great selection of heirloom tomatoes. Click here to see what kinds of tomatoes they have.
  • 100% Organic, no pesticides, herbicide, fungicides.
  • Each plant is $5.00, and that money will go directly to disaster relief! "[E]very penny of the money that is given to [them] by people at [their] vegetable stands goes directly to disaster relief. This means that all of the costs in operating the organization must come from other forms of fund raising (tomato seedling sales, donations, sponsors)." To learn more about Bountiful Garden, click here.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Bountiful Garden's Tomato Seedling Sale on April 12, 2008

Bountiful Garden is having a tomato seedling sale on

Saturday, April 12th, 2008 starting at 8:00 a.m
at 21901 Columbus Avenue, Cupertino, CA.
  • All plants come in large one-gallon pots. They have a great selection of heirloom tomatoes. Click here to see what kinds of tomatoes they have.
  • 100% Organic, no pesticides, herbicide, fungicides.
  • Each plant is $5.00, and that money will go directly to disaster relief! "[E]very penny of the money that is given to [them] by people at [their] vegetable stands goes directly to disaster relief. This means that all of the costs in operating the organization must come from other forms of fund raising (tomato seedling sales, donations, sponsors)." To learn more about Bountiful Garden, click here.
Tomato Growing Tips from Bountiful Garden:
If you would like tips on growing "15 Foot Tall Tomato Plants" visit Bountiful Garden's Growing Tips.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Space Saver: Germinate Seeds By Using The Plastic Bag Method

I received a bad batch of seeds, and wasted a lot of window sill space trying to get these puppies to germinate. I decided to use the plastic bag method with the remaining seeds to save space on my windowsill. The basic idea is to "plant" a lot of seeds in a bag, and only transfer the seeds that sprout. If you have never used this method before, it is a cool project to try out.

Note: I would not recommend using this method for very tiny or delicate seeds if you plan to transplant the seeds.

  • Large Clear Ziploc bag or other clear resealable airtight bag.
  • Paper Towel
  • Water
  • Seeds
  • Pen
  • Spray bottle (optional)


1. Wet a paper towel with water, and squeeze out the excess water. The towel should be moist, but not dripping wet. If it is too wet, the seed can "drown," develop bacteria and/or rot. If you have a spray bottle handy, you might want to use it to lightly mist the paper towel.

2. Spread out the paper towel and then drop the seeds on one half of the paper towel. Space out the seeds so that they are not too clumped together. Fold over the other side of the paper towel over the seeds, and gently press your hands over the edges and the spaces between the seeds. This will create a seal and keep the seeds from falling out.

3. Slide the paper towel holding the seeds inside the plastic bag. Seal the plastic bag. The bag will keep the water from escaping and provide constant moisture to the seeds, which is key to a successful germination.

4. Use the pen to label the bag. I write down the name of the plant and the date. Hang the plastic bag up. You can use magnets to fix the bag to the refrigerator or weave the top portion of the bag in and out of the window blinds. Then wait for the seeds to sprout.

5. Once the seeds sprout, remove them from the bag and plant them in the ground. Do not pull on the seeds or seedlings because you are likely to damage the tender root system. Just take two fingers, place one finger on either side of the seedling, press down onto the moist paper towel and gently pull or tear apart the paper towel to free the seedings. If a bit of the paper towel remains on the root system just leave it and plant the whole thing in soil. It will eventually break down. Discard all of the seeds that did not sprout.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

DIY Painted Planters

I have a friend who loves to cook, and he is constantly going to the store to buy fresh herbs. His recipes normally only require a small amount of herbs, which meant most of the herbs would go to waste. Sometimes he would be disappointed in their lack of quality and freshness. Moreover, he gets frustrated when the store runs out of a particular herb.

He has a nice outdoor balcony so I decided to give him a set of potted herbs. This way he will have fresh herbs whenever he needs them, and will also be saving a lot of time and money.
Because this is a gift, I wanted to plant the herbs in pretty pots. I could not find a set of pots to my liking within my budget so I decided to customize my own planters.

I took ordinary, inexpensive 6" terracotta pots, and used acrylic paint to paint an image of a sprig of the herb on the pot, and then painted the name of the herb in calligraphy at the top of the pot. I sealed the outside of the pot with 2 coats of clear, water-based polyurethane sealant. I purchased a rosemary plant, a sage plant, and a spearmint plant from my local nursery. All I need now is for my oregano, thyme, dill weed, parsley, and basil seeds to sprout, and to plant them in these pots. I can't wait to present them to him. I know he will really appreciate this and will use this year after year!

Learn how to customize your own terracotta pots...

  • Small Can of Clear Water-based (or oil-based) Polyurethane Paint. (I used a semi-gloss finish for my project, but you can choose another.)
  • Stirring Stick
  • Painter's brush
  • 6" Terracotta Pots
  • Acrylic Paints
  • Thin paintbrush
  • Pencil
  • Drop cloth or other protection for floor
  • Sandpaper (may be optional)
  • Scrubbing Brush (may be optional)

1. Get a clean terracotta pot. If it is not clean, use a scrubbing brush to scrub it vigorously with soap and water. Rinse it off and allow it to completely dry. Sand down any rough edges or imperfections with the sand paper.

2. Use a pencil to lightly draw a sketch of what you are going to paint on the terracotta pot. When you are done, use the thin paint brush to paint in your image. Make sure you paint the pot over cardboard or newspaper and wear old clothing because this can get messy.

3. After the acrylic paint has completely dried, use the large paint brush and apply a thin coat of the protective paint on the outside of the pot. Make sure you do this in a well ventilated area. If you apply a thick coat of paint, it will drip everywhere and dry unevenly. Although I initially allowed my pots to dry on the cardboard, I would advise you to let them dry on a set of bricks. If you allow them to dry on the cardboard, odds are the cardboard is going to stick to the sealant and you will have to use sand paper to sand off the remains of the cardboard. Allow the first coat to dry completely. I let them sit over night.

4. After the first coat has completely dried, apply the second coat and allow it to completely dry. I only applied to two coats, but you can apply three coats if you like.

Note: This pot is still wet. It will look less glossy once it dries.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Going Native Garden Tour 2008

Sign-up now to take a free tour of native California gardens in Santa Clara Valley, the Peninsula, and San Francisco Bay Area. Make sure you confirm your registration by clicking on the email they send you within 3 days of registering.

The tour will take place on Sunday, April 20, 2008 from 10am to 4pm.

To take a sneak peek at some of the gardens included in this year's tour visit

Frequently Asked Questions


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Sharp-Tailed Slug Eating Snake

Sample Photo of a Sharp-Tailed Snake

A few years ago, I had the good fortune to come across the endangered sharp-tailed snake while hiking through the Berkeley hills. It was about 5 or 6 inches long and about as thick as a pencil. It caught my eye because although it looked like a worm, it was moving gracefully like a snake. When I took a closer look, I saw its cute, tiny tongue sticking out and confirmed it was a snake.

Later I learned that these snakes only eat slugs or slug eggs. How amazing is that?! I wish I had these little guys in my garden to help control the slug population in my garden.

Emerging Hosta leaves
Last fall slugs or snails stripped my lush hosta plant of all of its leaves overnight. I thought I had lost the entire plant, but yesterday I discovered the first signs of life since the incident.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Worms in my Pots

One of the worms I found today

I was pleasantly surprised to find a couple of worms hanging around my plants today. I hope they work their way into my pots and decide to stay.

Benefits of Having Worms in Your Garden:
  • Worms eat decomposing organic materials and/or raw dirt, and produce "worm castings." Worm castings is another term for worm manure or worm excrement. The castings are dark and granular like soil, and are rich in nutrients that are easily digested by plants.
  • Worms help aerate the soil.
  • Worms improve drainage.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Dahlia Bulbs

White Dahlia Bulbs

In 2006 I planted a Dahlia seed. By the end of that growing season, the seed had grown into a 1" by 1/4" bulb. When I pulled up my bulbs today, I was amazed to find 8 new "baby" bulbs. The mother bulb is about 3" long, and the baby bulbs are anywhere from 1/2" to 2". You can see a photo of the Dahlia bulbs above. I had gently pulled away the 8 baby bulbs from the mother bulb to replant them in new pots.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Root-bound or Pot-bound Plants

Root-bound Passionate Pink Asiatic Lily

If your container plant is looking less lush, droopy, or if you notice the soil is not holding as much water as it should, your plant may be root-bound. Root-bound (or Pot-bound) plants are plants that have grown too large for its container resulting in matting or tangling of the roots. The roots can "choke" and eventually kill the plant if it is left unmaintained.

I check my plants once a year or once every couple of years depending on how vigorous the plant grows and the size of its container. I deal with root-bound plants in two ways. If I want to keep them in their original containers, I trim back the roots and replant them in their original container. Otherwise, I will untangle the roots and set the plant in a larger pot.

Re-Potting in Original Pot
  1. Loosen up the sides of the plant with a hand shovel.
  2. Slide the plant out of the pot.
  3. Score the sides of the root-bound plant with the edge of the hand shovel.
  4. Gently break up the tangled roots.
  5. Trim back the roots. I trim back the thick growth encircling the bottom and the sides, but I have never trimmed back more than a 1/3 of a plant's root system.
  6. Replant the plants in the original pot.

Upgrading to a Larger Pot
  1. Loosen up the sides of the plant with a hand shovel.
  2. Slide the plant out of the pot.
  3. Score the sides of the root-bound plant with the edge of the hand shovel.
  4. Gently break up the tangled roots.
  5. Replant the plant in a pot that is one or two-sizes bigger than the original pot.

Monday, January 14, 2008

DIY Container Watering System: No Need to Water Plants for Weeks!

Last month, I went on a 3 week vacation. I have never left my plants alone for that long so I was a little worried they would die while I was gone. I transferred a bulk of my seedlings to a friend's backyard, and saved a few to test out a homemade greenhouse & drip system combo I had in mind. My experiment worked out beautifully! I returned to find all of my plants visibly taller, fuller and happy.

Ironically, a majority of the seedlings I had transferred to my friend's backyard died. The area I planted the seedlings in flooded, and the poor things were submerged under 3-inches of rainfall. Fortunately, the roma tomato, red bell pepper, bush bean and habanero I planted in her organic garden survived.

This system worked so well, I plan on using this system year-round. It is very simple to make, virtually free to create, and best of all I can literally go weeks without watering my garden!

DIY Container Watering System
  • Materials:
    • Large Plastic Ziploc Bag or Other Plastic Bag
    • Empty Water Bottle with Cap
    • Thumbtack (or some object that can puncture a water bottle)
    • Pen
    • Duct Tape or Rubber Bands*
    • Bamboo Stakes*

  • Directions:
    1. Allow yourself at least one to two days prior to departure to setup and adjust your watering system.
    2. Water your plant(s) thoroughly.
    3. Take the thumbtack and stick it through the bottom of the empty water bottle to create a small hole. You can alternatively puncture the flimsier side wall, but make the hole near the bottom of the bottle. See Fig 2.

    4. Fig 1

      Fig 2
    5. Fill up the water bottle with water. At this point, you will see the water freely spilling out of the hole. See Fig 5. Replace the water bottle cap, and tighten the cap until the water is just slowly dripping out of the hole. See Fig 6.
    6. Place the water bottle right next to your plant. Mark the water level with a pen. See Fig 3.

    7. Red Bell Pepper Seedling

      Fig 3

    8. Create a tent over plant with the plastic bag. Make sure the plant leaves are not touching the plastic bag. If you are leaving your plants alone for a long time, make sure there is enough room at top to accommodate new plant growth. See Fig 4.

      Fig 4
    9. Check and Adjust your System. Check on the plants the next day to see how much water was released. You will probably find that some bottles released water at faster rates than others. I tinkered with my system so that no more than an 1/8 of the water was absorbed a day. Adjust the release of water to your liking. You can loosen the cap to increase the water flow. Or you can tighten the cap to decrease water flow. The make-shift greenhouse (i.e., the plastic tent) will help conserve the moisture. See Photo.

Fig 5

Fig 6

(*) You can use bamboo stakes, duct tape or rubber bands to help create the tent. If you have a standard 6" terracotta pot and a small plant, then just use the large ziploc bags. The bag is stiff, sturdy, and fits snuggly over the lid of the pot.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Gardening in Winter

Free Seeds from

Who says you have to wait until spring to start gardening? You can successfully germinate seeds throughout the winter both indoors and outdoors.
  • Indoors - You can easily start seedlings indoors if you have a sunny windowsill in your apartment. See Blog Post Dixie Cup Seedling Starter for more information on inexpensive seedling starters.
Visit for more information about sowing in the winter. Trudi Davidoff has an informative essay on selecting seeds for winter sowing and recycling materials into seed flats.