Growing Ginger in Containers or How We Stumbled Upon A Thing

I say Stumbled Upon because like a lot of my ideas, it was due to a rapid fire exchange of ideas with a good friend of mine up in the Atlanta suburbs, Craig.

800px-ingwer_2_fcm
Picture from https://en.wikipedia.com/wiki/ginger

You see Craig and I have been exchanging ideas on what to plant for a while.  The Climate there is about the same as I had in Philadelphia, Zone 7a or 7b depending on whether you live on the East or West of Philly.

When I lived there, I would fill my back deck with dozens of pots that would all march their way indoors by Halloween or whenever the first cold snap into the mid 30s would happen.

That would be a low of 2 or 3 C for the Fahrenheit Impaired.

Apparently with Ginger, you don’t have to be so concerned.  The plants will die back in colder areas and Zone 8 should be fine – that’s 10F or about -7C.  Colder than that and it’s a container plant.

I had mentioned that we were given a pot of Variegated Ginger and wondered if it was the same “stuff” that I use when I stir fry chicken.  He said No, but you can grow that stuff from the stores.

We banged it back and forth and the method we put together was this.

  • First, get yourself a piece of ginger with a lot of “fingers” on it.
  • Select a finger about the length and size of the first joint of your thumb to the length of your thumb.
  • Wash all the pieces you wish to plant in Dish Soap thoroughly.
  • Don’t bruise the skin while washing the pieces.
  • No, you didn’t wash it enough, repeat the wash another two or three times.
  • Plant in well drained soil, or a pot, and wait.
  • Water periodically and hope that the Squirrels don’t put peanuts in the pot.

The reason why I mention those damn Squirrels is my neighbors feed them raw peanuts.  They grab the peanuts and bury them in my pots.  I have peanuts growing in about a quarter of the pots I have out back.

It is the same thing with me, I guess.  I’m the kind of guy that throws pieces of tomato or fruit that is past its prime in the garden and watches to see if it grows.  Win-win, if it doesn’t I get fertilizer for this beach sand we call soil here.

I had actually forgotten that I put those thumbs in the ground in my front garden because when I walked out there one afternoon, I noticed that two ginger plants were mixed in with all the other confusion that I have out front.

I dug them up and then put into a pot, minus the peanut plants, so I could watch over them.

Ginger does not seem to mind being crowded in a pot, so you can plant it and grow it “Up North”.

Now, if you live in a zone that is on the edge, like my sister does in Zone 7b Cherry Hill, NJ, you may be able to “get away with it” in the ground.  Find a south facing wall of your house.  Plant close to the foundation because the sun hitting your walls will warm the soil just a few degrees, and it may be just enough.

Here, 8 miles south of the freezing temp lines, I don’t have to worry at all.  But as always, your mileage may vary.

Why would you bother?

My friend Craig got further along than I did with this.  Of course you can go to your favorite market and buy ginger root, that’s not the point.  The point is that the flavor of absolutely fresh Ginger Root is much more complex than some that has been shipped, treated with anti-growing chemicals, and sitting in the store waiting for you to use it.  Any natural product will taste different depending on where it grows.  In fact, certain plantings in certain fields in certain farms will yield different results.

Oh and the green parts of the plant?  You won’t find those in stores, but Ginger Greens and Stems are edible as well.  They can be tough, so you may limit that to tea or used in soups or stirfry but it’s worth a shot.  You may find a new favorite. Chop fine until you realize your own way of using them.  You will have a lot since the plant grows waist high.

That is called the “Terroir” by the French and is used to describe the effect of the environment on the grapes that go into the wine.  Similar effects happen with Coffee where one specific estate on one specific mountain will taste different than the adjacent field because there’s just a tiny difference in the amount of water or sunlight or …

Well you get the idea. 

So give it a shot, the worst thing that could happen is that you get a “pretty plant” and a great story to tell the nosy neighbors.

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Safflower and Milkweed

Why do you want to grow those things again?

Because they’re DIFFERENT!

But they look like weeds, the thorns on the leaves pinch, and then the flowers dry up and …

I said they’re different.  Besides, we’ve got the seeds.  Why not grow weird plants?

I have basil growing in my garden so I can make pizza.  Green onion in pots make so much that even I can’t eat it all.  My Rosemary has grown into a carpet of green.  I have banana plants in a pot that are taller than I am by a solid two feet that I need to break into separate pots for gifts. I can’t give away my spare coleus or mango trees.  There are peanuts growing all over the place…

Yes, PEANUTS!  As in Jimmy Carter’s pride

And the conversation petered off at the end.  People let their artichokes grow all the time and they end up with a big purple poof that looks like the yellow safflower blossoms.

Beauty is where you find it.  No, I mean YOU find it.  I may not agree, so don’t let that hold you back.  Be creative.  Grow what you like, especially if you like it on a pizza.

Gardening here is simple, drop a seed, it grows.  It may grow out of control.  Up North, that hardy Asparagus Fern you grow in your bathroom.  Down here, it is a noxious and invasive weed.  I can’t understand why someone wants all those thorns growing inside their house anyway.

But they like it.  *sigh*

So I’ll grow a few more oil seeds in my garden.  The flower bloomed, and stayed intact. I put the dried flower in a plastic bag, rolled it between my hands, and got more seeds.

You might ask where I get safflower seeds?  We ordered something electronic online.  It showed up saying that it was shipped from Bahrain of all places.

Bahrain?  Don’t they usually sell products in barrels?  Crude Oil?  Safflower oil too I guess.  There has to be a reason why you live where you do for centuries, so enjoy.

I put some seeds in the front garden and watched.  Landscapers came by and raked them up.  I put more seeds down and will “box” them off with old roof tiles.  They are good at figuring that all out.

I hope.

As for the Milkweed, well it was in the pot first.  It made it to the seed pod because the Monarchs never discovered it.  I carpet bombed the neighborhood with milkweed seeds where ever they were left to grow from the last time I did that.  The butterflies will enjoy that,  they’re back already eating the daylights out of what is in my yard.

Now, if I can only figure out how to squeeze inside my hedge so I can plant that variegated hibiscus to fill in some bare spots, I may be getting my flowers back!

Snail on Tree

In the yard, there is a little garden.

The little garden is an island afloat on a sea of grassy green.

In the middle of that island is an old snag of a tree.

I can’t bring myself to cut it down.  It’s old, it’s moth-eaten, and it’s partly dead.  But the parts of that old snag are quite thoroughly alive.

The old snag is a bottle brush tree.  It puts out red flowers that look like a bottle brush from time to time.  So I cut the dead spots off and leave the thing be.  I’m overdue for cutting more dead spots off that tree.  Because of those dead branches, I also have lots of air plants, Tillandsia, growing on the bark.

It is its own little ecosystem.

Spanish Moss, ants, birds.  It’s full of life even if the tree can’t decide what to do.

After a rain, much of that life is forced to the surface.  You can go out there and watch the lizards crawl over it and poach a few insects.  That is their place in life, to keep the pests down.

They don’t seem to mind being watched anyway.

But on the bark this one day was a snail.  They usually are seen stuck to a window or a post or some other vertical object.  When they are there, normally, they are not alive.  In fact it is rare that I see one out in the open like this particular day.

A little piece of Escargot trailing a shell that looks like a fancy chocolate, right there in the open, on my half alive tree.

Sure, I could cut it all down but what is the point.  I already have a palm tree next to it.  I did not plant that palm.  It ‘involuntarily’ grew in my pot in the back yard, and took it over.  Most likely thanks to some errant bird that left the seed when it was getting ready to fly from my Sea Grape tree in the back yard.  I did not weed the palm until I realized it was too late so I cut the pot away from the plant and dragged the root ball to the front yard where I figured I would need it.

The blasted palm tree is now more than 15 feet tall.

So it’s all a nice little family.  Half dead bottle brush tree.  Out sized palm tree.  Some red screw palms and another clump of green ones on the other side.

And the chocolate shelled snail lives there happily as well.

We will just call it a garden, uplight the palm, and call it done.  May as well.  You get some interesting visitors from time to time, you know.

Green Onion Flower, or When Internet Memes Bloom

We have all read them.

Internet Memes that promise that you can grow your own food forever.

Guess what, they’re right.

Actually, in some cases they are.  Others depend on how good a gardener you are.

When I was a wee brat, I had pots and plants all over my bedroom.  Along with fish tanks and the sort, there was always something growing, living, bubbling.  The room was always a little more humid than the rest of the house which was great in Winter I guess.

Those Suburban South Jersey split level tract homes could be rather dry, even if you had the bedroom over top of the garage.

I guess I had some luck with growing flowers.  I had a marigold bloom that grew in a thimble sized pot once with a tiny little flower that surprised me.

But this was a surprise.

The meme said that there was a list of food plants that you could grow from the root portion of the plant.  This promised to be a “forever” thing, if you got it right and used them well.

Carrots, Onions, Green Onions, and Celery, as well as a laundry list of other things.

Green Onions.   We would get a package of them and end up tossing some of them every time.  There is an ongoing “discussion” here about green onions.  When I was growing up you used up the entire plant.  Green leaves and the bulb.  Nothing was wasted.  Others would only use the bulb and leave the leaves in the trash.

I decided to stick those extras in a pot.  They started to grow.  I would cut a leaf off when I needed some green onion for my Pizza or what ever else I was making.  They kept growing.

In fact, the problem I have now is that the plants are a bit too prolific.  I have two pots that have green onion in them and we don’t use that much in the way of greens.

One of the plants in particular must have been very happy because it sent up a little spike that bloomed.  I never thought too much of a Green Onion as a garden flower, but this was a rather beautiful white and green tinged puff that came up in the pot.

All of this out of some plants that I rescued from the trash.

So yes, as for this Meme?  You can grow them over and over.  If you do, you can just stick the extras in the soil.  As for recipes, the green portion tastes the same, the white is there for crunch.

Simply leave a little bulb on the bottom of the white portion of your Green Onion and you may get good results.  The suggestion with regular onions is to slice about 1/2 inch or 1.5 cm above the bottom root portion, and stick it in water until you see growth.  If you do get some root stock showing, then you can plant that and later get another onion.

Bottomless, never buy vegetables again?  I won’t go that far but I certainly can’t see buying Green Onion in the next trip to the grocer, that’s for sure!

Mexican Milkweed is Surprisingly Easy to Propagate

Living as close to a nature preserve at M.E. DePalma Park means Monarch Butterflies float past my windows frequently.

I enjoy having them around, but it does mean that the food that I grow for them, Mexican Milkweed, is almost always eaten down to sticks.

It’s a bit frustrating because the cycle of life being what it is, the plants never get to the point where the

seeds will ripen enough to actually be able to replant.

I took a step back and looked at what was happening and realized that these things should be simple to propagate.  It turns out that I was absolutely correct.  Why wait for seeds, just wait for leaves.

The Monarchs being what they are will find the

milkweed, leave an egg or three on it, and move on.  This usually ends up where one sad little plant has three to six caterpillars fighting for food.  It also means that few live long enough to be butterflies.

My own attitude toward gardening is a pragmatic one.  If I have a plant that I like, I will try to propagate it.  If it propagates successfully, I end up having a lot of it.  For example, I am currently using “Screw Palms” or Dracenea Cane plants as ground cover because I have so much of it.  Take a cutting, drive it into semi moist soil to about the depth of your hand, and it almost always roots.

… In My Climate.  Your mileage may vary.

I have a long line of plant pots on a drip feed irrigation line.  This is specifically designed to allow me to grow more plants to take more cuttings to make the yard have more of the same plants.   It was also designed to be within the local watering regulations of a drip feed line – each head should be no more than one gallon per hour for example.

It’s quite successful.

So applying all that noise and technology, here is how I propagated my Mexican Milkweed.   I am seeing about an 80 to 90 percent success rate.

Step 1:  When the Milkweed has been eaten down to sticks, check for plant remnants where there is actually some leaf growth on it.  This will be your mother plant.  See above.

Step 2:  Cut a piece of the plant that has a leaf bud growing on it, that is at least a finger length long.  4 inches or 10 cm would be perfect.  I have had success with a cutting that had two leaf nodes on it.  About 2 inches or 5 cm.  I did not use rooting hormone, but that will only improve your success if you dip the root side of the cutting in the powder.

Step 3:  Push the cutting down into the soil to allow the existing last leaf node or two to show above ground level.

Step 4:  Make sure that the soil is kept moist and that normal growing conditions continue.  Growth should be fast and visible within a week or even a couple days.

Step 5:  When the cuttings begin to show some signs of vigor and begin to put forth new limbs, consider replanting in the ground or another pot.

That’s about it.  I have at least 20 cuttings growing now, and will be starting more when the mother plant puts out some more growth. The result would be like this flower head if ever the Monarchs let it get that far.  Usually this is where I spot the caterpillars doing their thing and turning the plant into Crudite.

Two Monarch Caterpillars

Apparently, I like to grow sticks.

Being where I am, there are Monarch Butterflies around me all year.  Wilton Manors, Florida seems to have a thing about turning itself into a nature habitat.  I’m near a park that is a nature preserve, the M. E. DePalma Park.

I’m lucky that it is handy, that park, because I walk past it frequently looking for seeds for more Milkweed.  I’ve got to borrow some more.  Monarchs are back.

They seem to know.  When the Milkweed just puts forth a flower, I notice them fluttering by my porch looking for a place to lay eggs.  I make it a point to go out back and look at my pots and sure enough under a leaf there is a grain of sand.

Monarch Butterfly eggs are about the size of a grain of sand and have a swirled pattern on top like a Chinese Bun.

The flowers never really come to term.  I almost never get seeds.   The park does, although usually about the time that the park is down to sticks, I sneak in some flowers and may even get a seed or three out of them.

We trade back and forth.

At this point I’m down to sticks.

Orchids are in bloom.

 

 

 

I have a pot of Poinsettia that is hip high, and I am 6’4″ tall.  It is in bloom.

 

 

 

My Coleus is running amok, even if I am recycling this and most of these pictures…

 

 

 

I have Podocarpus ready to plant.

 

 

 

I have red variegated Hibiscus ready to plant.

 

 

 

But that Mexican Milkweed?  That’s what it is there for.  Food for the Monarchs.  The last time I checked there were six caterpillars on one single plant.   Those plants won’t win.

Oh well, at least the Monarchs are happy and I have pictures of some that slipped in there when they weren’t watching last time!

Coffee Grounds – Mosquito Repellent or Just Gardener’s Gold

There’s a lot of things flying by on the internet these days.

Facebook is adding to it.

But some of it is true, some of it is false, and some of it has a bit of both in it.

I may have stumbled onto something here.

When I moved to South Florida, I ended up with a lot of really fascinating people around me.

My godmother was fresh from being one of the people directly responsible for having pig production being protected so that they do not end up in crates on factory farms.   She’s a gardener and her husband was into making some amazing Bonsai trees.  I’m fortunate to have her and two of those trees in my yard today.

I have other friends here who amaze me just as much as my own godmother.

Some are teaching appreciation for the environment by their own hands.  Others have a strong hand in creating ecological parks.  More are directly involved in horticultural pursuits.

I find life greatly improved as a result.

I do my own part to give back.  I’ve got a pot farm.  Well not THAT kind of pot.  A farm of pots with gardening plants in the back yard.  One after another is growing and taking root to later go into the garden.

The yard is so chock full of plants that I have a lot of trouble finding room for them.

Meanwhile I am trying to figure out how to grow more.  Our hedge is dying back so I am pre-growing Podocarpus for the next hedge.  May as well, I have the time!

I go out in the morning with coffee mug in hand and look for things to improve the yard.

But that coffee.  I was told never to throw the grounds in the garbage.  It’s “Rich Organic Material – Gardener’s Gold”.  May as well just toss it in the gardens, right?

We had gotten a few pots for the front porch, Lemongrass.  It was bought to keep down pests, mosquitoes primarily.  I would splash water on it when I go to wash the dog’s feet off before going into the house, and didn’t think too much more about the lemongrass.

At one point I was having a discussion of how there seemed to be fewer mosquitoes out front as a result.  The problem was that out back where there was another plant, I had a much worse problem with mosquitoes.  It wasn’t working.

But out front was tolerable.  I just would spray a fog of poison out the back door before going onto the Lanai

to cut back the mosquitoes.

There was something different about out front and one of those annoying Internet Memes gave me the answer.

That gardener’s gold – Coffee Grounds seemed to be having its own effect.

You see, to the one side of the lemongrass, I would throw the morning’s coffee grounds onto the top of the soil.  It was right under the bathroom window and the soil was visibly just a sheen of soil over some stones put there over the years.  It was getting thicker.

The picture in the meme said to toss the grounds near where you have a problem spot with mosquitoes, drain your pots.  This was because “Mosquitoes Hate The Smell of Coffee Grounds”.

We may be onto something.

My backyard was a fog of little tiger mosquitoes that I would literally run away from to get out to work in the yard.

My front yard and porch I could work on the windows, even rest my coffee mug on Aunt Betty’s table and not get bit badly.

It’s all relative.

So I got a lightbulb go off in my head.

Why not try coffee grounds in the plant pots out back.  I have more than 30 of them.  Orchids, Podocarpus,

Hibiscus, and Banana Trees.

So I did.  Started on the Lanai, worked my way out.  When I got to the end, repeat as needed.  I even put a stripe of the stuff over by the pool equipment which is a corridor about the same width as my own armspan.  I can touch fence and wall and it collected a cloud of the nasty little blood suckers.

I won’t say that the mosquitoes are all gone.  I would need a dome over the property and then pump it full of pesticides.  That would be no fun because I would never be able to use the thing.

But…

I have to say that since I started doing this, there is a definite difference.

Much fewer mosquitoes.

Much less of a panic.

I can use the lanai out back and my front porch.

Yes there are mosquitoes, but they are the exception and not the rule

My Lanai does not smell like a combination of Brazilian Cerrado and Pumpkin Spice at all.

And I can actually use it!

This is kind of a “Chicken Soup” thing – It couldn’t hurt.  May not work for you, but couldn’t work

But…
I will keep doing it since it IS working for me.

While those folks up North won’t need to think about this since it is getting colder and they’re going into winter, down here we wont’ see 60F/15C for another two months.  By then I will have a nice coating of brown over all my plants and much fewer mosquitoes.

I guess once in a while, those memes have something to them.  At least in my eyes.

Your mileage may vary.