Cut it Back: A Fresh New Start

Well, this is awkward.

Here I sit, writing this 6 months after my last post. That’s half a year!  What happened and, more importantly, what does this mean for the future?

“Spekter’s Plants” as a blog is not going anywhere.  Much like it is necessary to cut a banana tree back to the soil in order to get a new harvest, I have cut my blog to the ground in order to get an even better one.  I plan to start a new era of prosperity for this small community which is “Spekter’s plants.”

So, where have I been?  I have been many places, but the short answer is, “busy.”  After Costa Rica, I had to focus on finishing Junior year and moving out of the combined living space my divorced mom and dad shared.  I am much happier now that I am established in my new home in the next town over, and my plants are much happier too, since I can provide a much better environment for them.

All of this said, I still have a lot to answer for.  I have essentially ignored you guys.  My friend Akshay even promoted my blog, and I never thanked him for it.  Without that jump-start, the blog would be totally dead.  Akshay, I have you to thank for keeping me afloat.  I now sit firmly back in the captain’s chair, preparing to steer “Spekter’s Plants” into the future.

What does this mean?  “Spekter’s Plants” is going to be completely overhauled.  Instead of trying to recoup the lost horticultural events that occurred during my absence, I am simply going to look forward.  I am going to completely restart the page detailing my plant collection.  Too much has happened. I am also going to start submitting things to the recipe page, and contributing more to the other pages of the blog to make it more interactive.

Most importantly, the subject of this blog is going to be overhauled.  It will now cover all of my tasty and useful tropical plants.  This includes many plants that are not truly tropical, nor edible.  In fact, I use the term “tropical” more like “exotic.”  This means that I will not cover my standard garden fare and herbs, but I will cover my carnivorous plants, my rubber tree, and my other plants that are either non-native, unusual, or in any way exotic and useful.  The main theme tying this large group all together is that every plant is useful for something, be it eating pesky insects, producing delicious food, or producing raw materials.

This page is also going to have some more philosophic overtones in regards to the plants, due to my Buddhist faith.  I have found Buddhism to be my way to finding true peace and tranquility in a world I consider to be extremely chaotic.  I would be glad to discuss it with anyone who is interested.

How long will all of these changes take?  This is not going to happen all at once.  Things will be added gradually, and I will make a post marking the time when everything is finally up-to-date.  Thus, I appreciate your patience as I try to bring this mess back into order.  I think you will like the end result.

 

Most Sincerely,

Spekter

Costa Rican Passionflower: Can it Grow in New York?

Greetings from the grave of dead blogs!  If there is ever a chance for resurrection, then I hope this is it.  Over two months with no content, I am back, and hopefully back for good.

Instead of following my usual format of apologizing profusely, promising to be a better blogger, and then failing profusely, I am going to simply apologize once and be done with it.  This is a fresh start!  As such, I am sorry for my absence, but I am also glad to be back.

The highlight of the past few months has been my trip to Costa Rica several weeks ago.  It was a life-changing experience, and one I will not soon forget.  Costa Rica is technically a Third-World country, situated between Panama to the South and Nicaragua to the North.  My trip lasted about a week and took me through the multiple environments of the country.  For such a small nation, Costa Rica is indescribably diverse in regards to “el medio ambiente,” or “the environment.”  The purpose of this post, however, is to serve as a prelude to a more in-depth post I will do about my experience, hopefully coming soon.

The actual purpose of this post is to discuss the cultivation of Costa Rican passionflowers.  While near Volcan Arenal, in the town of La Fortuna, so-named for being saved from deadly pyroclastic flows in 1968, I bought four sealed packets of passionflower seeds.  I wanted to buy the varieties that would actually bear fruit, but I was unsure which species did so.  I guessed well, and chose P. edulis and P. alata, both of which produce edible fruit.  The other two species I bought do not tend to produce.

Passionflower is fun to grow from seed, since the seeds are plentiful in passionfruit.  However, the seeds quickly decline in germination if they are left too long.  Thus, I began to sprout my P. edulis soon after arriving back in-country.  I soaked it for almost three days in standard tap water, hoping to maximize my chances of germination.

When seeds are placed in water, the moisture will eventually penetrate the seed coat, speeding up the germination process, especially for seeds that would otherwise take excessive amounts of time.  With these guys being soaked for almost three days, small root tips had emerged from multiple seeds, an encouraging sign.  I planted them in Jiffy Pellets, my standard treatment for most seeds, covered the tray with kitchen wrap, and put them under my grow light.  Now, the waiting game begins.

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Setups for soaking seeds rarely have to be advanced.  These P. edulis seeds are simply soaking in a fast food container.  So long as you do not allow them to soak for too long, soaking is a great means of speeding up germination of most seeds.

 

What is next for the blog?  This blog requires extensive work, from the inside out.  I feel that it would be a tragedy if you were not informed of upcoming changes and additions.  First off, after taking inventory, my Plant Profiles are going to be completely overhauled, with new pictures and probably some new captions.  My database will finally be updated to include all of my plants, and not just a select few.  I am also going to add a recipe for “Simple Syrup,” an essential for tropical fruit growers and sweet tea fans alike.  Also, expect more promotion, as I am going to begin actively promoting my blog and drawing others to it.  I love every single one of you viewers, but I would really love to expand my community.  Finally, expect some cool upcoming posts!  I am definitely going to do one on my air plants, or Tillandsia, as well as my Costa Rican adventure.  Other than that, I am not sure!  I will see where the life of this blog takes me!

Until then, good growing, and thank you for your support of me and my blog!

Spekter

Farming Fish Poop: Yes, it is a Thing!

If only I had a nickel for every time my brother and I played video games and I had to make a farm of sorts.  The exchanges usually go as follows:

Brother: Spekter, we need to make a fireblossom farm.

Me: What the heck is fireblossom?

Brother: It’s a plant found in Hell that we can use to make Obsidian-skin Potions.

Me: I’m still confused.

Brother: Well, that is because you know nothing about Terraria.  Anyway, I’ll go make the farm myself.

Me: *Avatar gets brutally killed* Okay, have fun.

Fin 🙂

However, even in the realm of sandbox games, limits exist.  Thus, while I may do it in real life, I am not able to farm fish poop on Terraria or Minecraft.  A real pity.

Before you turn your backs and shun me forever, allow me to explain.  Fish feces make AMAZING fertilizer.

As most of you know, one of the key nutrients for plant growth, development, and health is nitrogen, among phosphorous, potassium, and other secondary and trace nutrients.  If you want to know more about plant nutrients and biochemistry, check out this amazing link for the “Periodic Table of Crop Nutrients”:  http://www.cropnutrition.com/nutrient-knowledge.  A large part of caring for plants in containers, therefore, is providing these nutrients within a closed environment for your plant’s consumption, generally through the addition of fertilizer.  It is here that we can digress to the differences between organic and inorganic fertilizers, but that is a topic for another day.

Enter fish poop.  If you remember from your biology days, the Nitrogen Cycle is a key system in the health of an environment.  In simplest terms, animals and other organisms produce a large amount of waste.  This waste is then decomposed into its basic chemical components before being consumed by organisms such as plants.  Water containing animals such as fish, in a system without any large decomposers provides a significant source of nutrient-rich water.  It is why crops were so successful in the Nile: because annual flooding inundated the soil with fish poop- laden water.

If you keep a freshwater aquarium at home, then you may be missing out on a useful fertilizer for your plants.  While many people throw away their wastewater after cleaning their aquariums, a better alternative is to use it for their plants.  Rich in all of the key nutrients mentioned above, plus many of the trace elements, aquarium water is an ideal source of both water and fertilizer for your plants.

I fully take advantage of this with my own plants.  In my room sits a betta aquarium, needing to be cleaned weekly.   Each week, my small aquarium and single fish can yield me about a gallon of this liquid gold.

My system is simple:  15 minute weekly cleanings of my tank, which contains only artificial plants and the fish yield an abundant harvest of poop water.  I put this in old milk jugs and then save it for my plants.

Thus, an aquarium can often be a helpful tool for horticulturists.  This exchange of nutrients for biological filtration is essential in aquaponic systems, often deemed highly effective.  Perhaps it is time to consider getting a small tank for yourself.  Not only are the fish pretty, but your prized collection of tasty tropical plants thrive off of it!

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Soap MacTavish, my betta fish, is not amused by my cleaning of his tank.  Nevertheless, it had to be done, and I got a nice harvest of plant fertilizer to boot.

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Fish poop water wouldn’t win any awards for attractiveness, but it earns its spot on the shelf as a (mostly) organic fertilizer.

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Here, Soap enjoys his nice, clean tank.  Next week, I will have a whole new harvest of this water of vitality (don’t drink it).  Under a microscope, the water looks terrifying, featuring rotifers, paramecia, amoeba, and others.  Always be sure to thoroughly wash your hands after handling this water.

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How can I tell if this water is any good?  Here, I am testing it with my TDS (Total Dissolved Solid) Meter.  Only $20, this handy tool displays, in ppm, the number of molecules of anything other than water.  While I may not know specifically what they are, I know that 480 out of every 1,000,000 molecules is something other than water.  This proves that the water is indeed rich and good for plants.

Until next time, save your fish poop water, and good growing!

Apologies to my Friends

Yes, I consider you all friends.  It is no small act of kindness to take time out of your day to read of the many exploits and failures of a teenager many of you have never even met.  So how do I repay you?  Sadly, I cannot send hugs to every single one of you over the web, nor can I give you all T-shirts with a sappy slogan on them.  What I can give you is constant, quality content about tasty and useful tropical plants.  I have one job, and I am currently failing at it.

Perhaps, like all members of the human race, I must make my pitiful excuses.  My mental health issues  (OCD, depression) have been relapsing.  My stress levels have been at elevated levels.  It’s sometimes hard to find something positive in every day.  I still have family trouble.  I still occasionally see the worst of society (my own identity is evidently the business of everyone else).  And my cat, who I loved dearly and who loved me unconditionally had to be put down because she, a healthy, 6 year old, young, spry cat developed violent, incurable brain cancer.  Things have been a little difficult.

That said, I find very little time to write, reflect, and generally enjoy my free-time.  Between school and work, personal life, public life, and everything else, it is difficult to find the motivation to go on WordPress and improve my blog.

I see you out there.  You are a small, dedicated core of readers interested in what I have to say.  And it is one of the best feelings in the world.  I do see your comments.  And I do see the statistics.  It warms my heart, and yet I have continually let you all down.  I do see everything, and I certainly feel the love.  You guys and girls all mean so much to me, and you have all helped to shape who I am as a person.

This post may seem depressing.  Perhaps it is my incoherent ranting, or the mention of mental illness.  But whatever the reason for the mood, I want to give out a more positive message today.  I am not leaving my blog.  Instead, I am continuing to find time to work on it, reflect on it, and develop as a blogger.  There may be a lot of noise in my head, but I refuse to let it deter me.  Let me cue you all in on what will be going on.

The coffee unboxing post is simply not going to happen.  Sincerest apologies.  I have had the plants for long enough now that to address my acquisition of them just seems silly.  That said, I will highlight the young trees in upcoming posts.

I am also switching my first book review to a different topic.  I hope to do my first review on my current read, “The Botany of Desire,” by Michael Pollan.  When I am done reading it, I will write my review.

Finally, my main focus for a little while is going to be on the flowering and fruiting of my mandarin orange tree.  As the little oranges begin to grow on the very boughs of vitality, I wish to chronicle it for all of you to see.

I guess that what I am trying to say is twofold.  First, I wish to apologize for my inactivity.  Things have been rough, but I will not quit.  I am not out of this game.  Second, I do have ideas for new content that should be coming soon.  I may not be perfect with my posting, but I will try my best.

Thank you all for sticking with me.  I truly appreciate it with all of my heart.

Spekter

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(Spekter may be confident in his identity, but is dismayed to find that not everyone shares this confidence.  He apologizes for the inactivity, but knows that sometimes he needs to take some time for himself.)

 

A Cup of Joe to Tide you Over

Greetings, my fellow horticulturists!

At this time of year, we continue to put our outdoor gardens to rest for their winter slumber.  However, my world of tropical plants is as exciting as ever!  The plants are all doing exceptionally well, although the banana tree died; it had simply grown too large for me to care for.  Next time I experiment with bananas, I hope to go with musa ‘Super Dwarf Cavendish,’ as sold by nurseries such as Logee’s  (http://www.logees.com/banana-super-dwarf-cavendish-musa-acuminata.html).

Speaking of Logee’s, they just made an amazing post on their blog regarding the cultivation of coffee at home!  The information provides essential cultivation techniques, and their videos are always of high quality!  Check it out; it will tide you over until my next big update on here: (https://logeesblog.wordpress.com/2015/11/19/grow-coffee-tea-chocolate-and-other-popular-beverage-plants/).

Expect some big updates this weekend, everyone, featuring flowers, fruits, and my new coffee tree with unboxing pictures! Until then, best of growing!

Spekter

 

A Brief November Update

It has been a long time since I have sat at the proverbial typewriter and opened the proverbial vein to provide my readers with content.  Certainly, if you have been on my blog lately, then you have noticed my extended absence.  I would like to apologize for this, and I wish to assure you that this is only temporary.  Plenty of new content is coming your way, and I intend to add some pictures as well!  Until I can get to all of this, I want to give you a list of some of the things that have been going on in my world of tasty tropical plants:

  • New Plants!  I have recently gone to my local grocery store and procured two more herbs to give me some more work to do over the winter. These herbs are rosemary and basil, two perennial favorites, in addition to some basil seeds that I planted in my Vertical-Gro garden.  I intend to dry many of their leaves and also use them fresh.  I will add their profiles later.
  • Incoming plant!  Even more exciting is my incoming plant, which I have ordered through Amazon from Hirt’s Garden Center.  I am getting my own coffee tree!  Perhaps it is because of the cold, or perhaps it is because I have been talking about the plant so much, but I am looking forward to this addition in my collection!  I hope to do an unboxing post on it, and the plant is in the mail as we speak.  Hooray!
  • Artificial lighting.  It is that time of year again.  Although the weather up here is fluctuating greatly, it is just cold enough to say “screw it,” and bring the plants inside.  They are now, for the most part, under artificial lighting.  Despite a fiasco involving an accident with a bulb and ARC-welding (not on purpose), the light is set up, and the plants are happy!
  • Lemon flowers!  The ‘Meyer’ lemon is exploding with buds once again.  I do not know how many blossoms will take, but the flowers smell heavenly and look amazing!  I hope to provide pictures of these beautiful blooms soon.

That is all I have for now, folks!  I hope that you will forgive me for my absence, but I do have some exciting upcoming content for everyone!

Until then, Good Growing!

Collateral Damage in Horticulture

It was first during the Iraqi War, or around that time, that the phrase “collateral damage” came into use.  This type of damage may be well-known in war, but we horticulturists have to deal with it as well, making decisions that hurt us initially, but improve our gardens overall.

Many times, accidents simply occur that are beyond our control.  I was disappointed, after an amazing weekend in Pennsylvania with a very special person in my life, to come home to my biggest ‘Meyer’ Lemon – the one that graces my home page – to be on the ground, having fallen off in a strong wind.  Indeed, it brought my mood down a bit, but the weekend itself has not been any less amazing.  What upsets me is a significant reduction in yield.  At least I have new flowers coming in.

More often, we gardeners and backyard plant scientists have to make cuts for the good of our plants.  Pruning always hurts me to a certain degree; my plants have spent energy to produce growths that I then proceed to remove.  This may be for the good of the plant, but I still feel slightly guilty, depriving the plants of their hard work.

What about the most painful experience for gardeners who grow from seed: thinning?  “Thinning” is the process of removing the weaker seedlings from a planting before they grow large, allowing the remainder to thrive.  This may benefit the stronger plants, but it still hurts – in many cases, the weaker sprouts are sent to the compost heap, never given a fair shake.

Collateral damage is a part of horticulture, and we are all forced to deal with it at some point.  The sooner we learn to simply accept occasional losses, the sooner we can all have healthier plants and greater yields in the future.

Sorry about the lack of specific content this week, but I have been ridiculously busy.  Of course, this is no excuse.  I hope to return to more regular posts and more specific content soon.  While I intend to do everything I can to provide you all with timely, accurate information, my personal life sometimes gets in the way.  Perhaps it is the biggest problem in blogging.  Sincerest apologies.

I’m Adding more Content!

Hello everybody!

While I have not been able to post in a while (sincerest apologies), I am excited to inform you that I have expanded my range of content!  My blog will now contain information on herbs that I grow in addition to my standard tropical plants.  My main reasons for this action were to increase the relevancy of my blog and to cover a wider array of plants (many herbs are tropical or subtropical in origin).  Hopefully you will enjoy this new content, featuring such plants as chamomile, basil, rosemary, and others.  For those of you concerned with my tropical plants, do not fear!  I will continue to focus on my tropical plants in addition to this new stuff.

Sincerely,

Spekter

The Great Grapefruit Experiment: Small Setbacks

Dear Spekter,

It is with great regret that we inform you of the demise of your unsprouted grapefruit seed.  Having attempted to sprout, the seed was overcome by an attack of mold, preventing germination.  We hope that this will not impact your future efforts to grow a grapefruit seed, but rather teach you an important lesson: don’t keep the seed too wet!  

Sincerely,

The Citrus Master

Hello everybody!  Today was a good day, albeit for the one setback in the Great Grapefruit Experiment!  Having seen no signs of life in almost a month, despite me soaking the seed, I decided that a small checkup on the seed was in order.  It appears that the seed attempted to germinate, but mold set in.  As the mysterious Citrus Master mentioned above, it was largely due to me keeping the soil to wet.  A note to self and to all people trying to grow citrus from seed: keep the seed moist, but not eternally soaked.

While this is a setback to my plan, especially since seeds are rare in this area, I refuse to give up, but to look forward to my next attempt, ever the wiser from my failure.  As a wise man once said: “The only true way to fail is to give up.”  I have no intentions of doing such.  In addition, the seed that I planted was from a sub-par grapefruit, being way more bitter than the first one, which was seedless.  Perhaps it is a good thing it did not sprout, potentially cursing me with bitter fruit!

On another note, guys, stay tuned for a book review, coming soon!  I recently procured a new book with lots of helpful information on growing tasty tropical plants from seed!  I plan to release my review of the book soon, and create a separate page for book reviews, in addition to writing it as a blog post.  I am hoping that the addition of book reviews every once in a while will not only quell my insatiable desire to provide you all with the best information, but also to make the blog more entertaining.

Until then, cheers all, and good growing!

A Little More on Tea Cultivation: for Keren

Hello everybody!

I just received a wonderful comment from Keren, a reader who asked me about my tea plant.  While my plant may not still be alive, I’ve learned a lot about the tea plant and wish to make a more interactive post for you all.  Keren, this one goes out to you!  I am pleased to no end that you enjoy the blog!

Sadly, my plant collection is current right now on this webpage; my last tea plant died about a year ago. It’s a pity because it was one of my favorites and I do hope to grow it again in the future.

The tea plant is of the Camellia family, well-known for its showy flowers (GTTP). The plant grows as a shrub, where it can get about as big as you want it to. Because you harvest tea by cutting the flushes of new growth, it can stay pretty small. It is a slow-growing plant, but can still put out two good sets of flushes per year – allowing you to harvest twice (GTTP). I feel that the plant can grow quicker in optimal conditions, but it has always been a slow grower for me. You can expect nice flowers from this plant, and while they are not as showy as other Camellias, I think they are beautiful in their own way. I have only had white flowers on my, which are not very highly fragranced, but GTTP tells me that there are pink-flowered varieties.

Perhaps one of the most fascinating parts of tea cultivation is the actual production of tea!  Tea plants grown are generally of two varieties: Camellia sinensis var. sinensis, or Camellia sinensis var. Assamica.  Although both are of the same species, they are profoundly different from each other, having been altered by cultivation.  var. sinensis is your “green tea” plant.  Grown in China, for the most part, it boasts smaller leaves and is used mainly in green tea production.  var. Assamica, my favorite, is grown in India and is used in the making of some of your favorite black teas, including Chai.  It boasts larger leaves.  These initial differences are just the first steps in producing tea.  From these plants, black, white, oolong, and green teas can be produced.

Both varieties of the plant can make all three types of tea, but their “proper” varieties are preferred on major plantations.  To make green tea (Here’s my source for the production info and a good link to check out: http://www.teatulia.com/tea-101/what-is-green-tea.htm), the new flushes of growth are harvested, and then rapidly pan-seared to prevent oxidation.  From there, the leaves are dried, packaged and shipped.  This is one major reason why green tea is marginally “healthier”: It is closer to the natural plant product.  Black tea starts the same way, but the leaves are bruised and allowed to oxidize before being dried, giving the leaves their color and flavor.  White tea is also possible to make, but I see no real need to cover it at this time, seeing that the rules for production are very specific and it is not really “mainstream” yet.  The processes for making tea from the plant are very simple, and you can easily do it in your own home!  Check out this video:

Tea care plant is generally pretty simple and, as my previous post on the subject illustrates, rather hardy.  So long as you don’t put too much thought into the care, the results can be amazing – and you may even get a fresh cup in your own home!

If more adequate CULTIVATION info is what you are after, check out this blog post: http://theherbgardener.blogspot.com/2009/06/growing-tea-plant.html.  This author’s style is concise and to the point (unlike yours truly).

Keren, I hope this has been helpful to you in some way!  If anybody wants to suggest a topic or ask a question, please feel free to do so!  The best part of this blog is that we can all grow together – I’d like to think that my job is not mindless rambling!

Good growing everyone, and best of luck Keren to you and your tea plant!