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Indoor Plants

Oh, there can be nothing better on a cool, clear day than to open the windows of your house and let the fresh air waft through.

My childhood memories include sleeping by the open window with a soft, and sometimes great, breeze floating past me. After a summer rain, we’d open the windows and let the smell of freshness reach to all the corners of the house. We kept all the windows open and let the air flow through.

Not everyone can do that these days. Dual income households keep the house closed up while everyone is at work, school and afternoon programs. Weekends usually mean running errands, attending little league games or family time out of the house. Architecture, these days (I’ve noticed) isn’t window-open friendly in design, either. While I’ve owned my share of houses with screens in the windows, I’ve also rented my share, too, and these generally don’t come with the standard builder window screens. Sure you can purchase the little expandable screens at the big-box stores but you can only open the window so wide.  And without the screen you’ll get wasps, stink bugs and mosquitos flying through your home.

There’s also a security issue involved with open windows.  People want to feel safe in their homes, so they stay locked.  True but unfortunate.

I’ve noticed in many houses that I’ve occupied, that the architects just missed out on a great opportunity to allow a breeze in the house.  They are putting small windows above the usual window. Why not make that small window one that can open, with a screen.  And since cold air falls and heat rises, it would help to balance the temperature.  How I wish I could sleep with my windows open; that would be one way to do it.

Another reason windows stay closed more than open is the humidity.  We, our furniture and other stuff, are so accustomed to the conditioned air in our homes, that any bit of humidity is evil and the windows get shut.

So, with closed up homes, we need to make them healthy.  Our homes need to be fresh as a summer breeze and non-toxic; no indoor air pollution.  We may be able to find a day or two between the seasons to air out the house but lets talk about the rest of the year.

What kind of air pollution are we talking about? Chemical emissions from carpeting, floor finishes, upholstery, wall coverings, cosmetics, gas stoves, electronic devices.  These can cause problems like allergies, fatigue, sinus congestion, to name a few.

I found a publication by the Mississippi State University Extension Office titled “4-H Clean Air Project” which talks about these pollutants and how plants can help clean the air and alleviate the health problems.  This is not new news.  I learned about this back in elementary school and kept a garden of potted plants in my bedroom just I wouldn’t get sick from any crazy chemicals in my home.  But, remember I also had my windows open, so I was pretty healthy.

Plants are great to have indoors and we usually don’t think of the benefits they provide. I just want to pass this along to you, the reader, in case you have put this knowledge on the back burner.

Indoor plants recommended on the MSU Extension booklet, because they are proven to reduce indoor air pollution, include Dwarf Banana, English Ivy, Peace Lily, Rubber Plants, Spider Plants.  There are apparently 50 plants studied that were found to reduce chemicals that are harmful to people, from indoor air.  These listed are just some of them and I chose to list these particular ones because they happen to be plants I’ve had in my house during the past years.  Spider Plants are difficult to find; they used to be plentiful as everyone had one hanging in their macrame hanging plant pots. Remember that?  Anyway, talk to your local nursery specialist or Extension Officer about other plants for clean air.

When you are out this season gathering your planting material and seeds for your garden, remember to by some plants for indoors, too.  It will help you with your spring cleaning.

Source:

Mississippi State University Extension Service Publication 2527, “4-H Clean Air Project, copyright 2010

Once the trees shed their leaves you can see bundles of green scattered about the bare branches. This, most likely, is mistletoe, a parasitic plant that grows on most trees.  It never grows out of the soil.

Before the harsh cold, this winter, shriveled the leaves of the mistletoe in my neighborhood, I was able to get photos of some that were growing low on the trees lining my street.

There are no berries on these plants.  Berries can usually be found in the early fall.  I imagine the bird population in my neighborhood devoured them because I saw no remnants on these branches.

(c) eileensaunders (c) eileensaunders (c) eileensaunders (c) eileensaunders (c) eileensaunders

Growing Sesame

Last summer I grew sesame.

While visiting the Magnolia Springs Public Library’s Seed Library (Magnolia Springs, AL), I checked out a packet of sesame.  I researched how to grow them and took on this project. I knew that I  would not harvest  a great amount of sesame, since my garden would be smal,l but I was determined to experiment.

These seeds were packed by the Monticello historic garden center in Virginia.  Thomas Jefferson was one of the most influential gardeners and horticulturalists in America.  He traveled about Europe and studied the gardening traditions of many of the countries.  Bringing these traditions back to America, he cultivated most of what we grow in America today. The originial gardens are fully restored and tourable at historic Monticello.

Sesame is a broad leaf summer-growing plant.  It grows to 4-6 feet tall. It flowers at about 35 days and produces pods that contain up to 70 seeds.  At about 120-150 days the plant dries and the pods are ready for harvest. (1) On a large scale, combines do the harvest.  On a small scale, like my porch garden, hand harvesting will do.

A few months later, at planting time, we moved just one USDA growing region from 8A to 7B .  I was delighted to find that sesame grows fine in region 7.  The Thomas Jefferson Agricultural Institute (TJAI) grows them in Missouri and I used them as a reference for information on growing them in my garden.  After all, the seeds did come from the Monticello Gardens in Virginia.

According to the TJAI, sesame germinates successfully when temperatures are around 70 degrees.  For region 7 they suggested planting between June 1 and June 15. Mine went in a little later because of the move but they germinated by the end of the June.  The plant needs a constant warm soil temperature and should be harvested before the first frost. Further instructions that I read were for planting in the ground on farmland, so I knew I simply had to keep the plants in the sun, spaced at a recommended 6″ from each other.

Renting a home without a yard forced me to create a porch garden on the east-northeast side of the house.  There is a wrap-around porch but the east side is screened and I wanted the plants accessible to bees for pollination.  The south and west sides of the house are shaded by the neighboring houses. With the summer sun, the front edge of the porch had direct sunlight for the majority of the day.  Sesame needs direct sunlight.

The planter I started the seeds in was a window box that I set upon the porch railing.  This was not the planter they would grow in, just start in. I was not sure how many would germinate but didn’t have much space, so at a recommended 6 inches apart I planted only 5 seeds, however, a little closer together, in organic potting soil.  The pot I would move the survivors to was a 12 inch diameter, 12 inch deep planter filled with the same organic potting soil.

We had a typical summer storm and the window box went over the railing after the plants were about 3 inches tall.  Three plants survived the germination and storm so I took this opportunity to move them to another pot; a smaller window box for just the 3 of them. When they grew over a foot tall, I moved them into the 12 inch pot and sat it on the porch floor in the corner where it would get optimal sunlight.  They were planted in a triangle formation to optimize distance from each other.

No additional fertilizer was used. The plants fed off of what was in the potting soil.  I watered gently all summer but gave a deep watering once a week.

From late-June to late-October I kept watch on the sesame plants. They grew quickly with a sturdy stalk, broad leaves. White, bell-shaped flowers grew from each leaf axel as the plants grew taller and turned into pods or the seed capsules.  My plants produced 2 to 5 pods per axle.  The pods has 4 sections with seeds lying in 2 rows per section. Some pods were large, up to one inch, some were much smaller. The typical size according to Sesame Growers Association is 2 to 8 cm.  In early September I had to stake the plants as they were becoming top heavy.

When the sesame pods are ready to be harvested they turn from a moist, fuzzy, green to a dry, hard, brown. Some tend to split open although the seeds did not fall out. There is quite a small window of opportunity to harvest them or the seeds will become rancid.  Harvesting too early is not beneficial.

A NOTE OF TRIVIA: The term “open sesame” comes from the fact that when the pods dry they can open on their own.  At that point they are ready to harvest.

I harvested my plants on October 20, 2013. Plucking the pods from the stalks was easy but harvesting the seeds was tedious and I spread this chore out over two days so my hands would not cramp.  No…I couldn’t find any volunteers to help so I did all of the work. My kids did make a good point: “you’re the one that wanted to grow the sesame, Mom.”

Once the seeds were removed from the pods I left them on a towel overnight in case any were still moist.  I had a spice jar to put them in but did not want any moisture to cause them to spoil.

This was a great experiment in growing.  Sesame is easy to grow but I think I want to move on to something else next summer.  I recommend, if you have a yard, to look into growing this plant.

So what now?  What do you do with the seeds?  There are many recipes that included sesames seeds: cookies, candies, breads, Sesame Chicken, Tahini and Benne Wafers.  I’ll share with you a recipe from the kitchens of our family business, DixieDining.com, for a traditional Southern Benne Wafer we adapted from an original South Carolina recipe we found years ago.  Since I only got a tablespoon of sesame seeds from my plants and the recipe calls for ½ cup, I planned to combine them with the black sesame we had in the pantry.  There were still some plant parts mixed with the sesame so I labored for about 15 minutes separating seeds from dried plant parts, then I knocked over the container.  Oh well, glad I had the black sesame seeds.  The wafers turned out great.

So, with sesame plants grown, seeds harvested and benne wafers made, I can quote the Little Red Hen: “Sob, sob, sob. I always do the job!”  Yes, I did share the wafers with the kids who refused to help with harvesting.  I did talk one son into creaming the butter without telling him why, so I guess I did get help. In the end, I was the one that wanted to grow sesame seeds. Everyone benne-fits!

Not interested in growing your own sesame and making benne wafers?  Byrd Cookie Company in Savannah, GA makes the best Benne Wafers.  Find them online.

Be sure not to use the hand mixer to blend ingredients because it will put too  much air in your dough and you will end up with benne pancakes. Also, do not bake on parchment paper.  I baked them on an ungreased cookie pan and they turned out fine even though the recipe calls for a well-greased pan; your decision. Also, drop with a teaspoon but not a full teaspoon. They are great thin and crisp.

SOUTHERN BENNE WAFERS

¾ cup butter

1 ½ cups brown sugar (we use light brown sugar)

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 ½ cups flour

¼ teaspoon baking powder

½ cup sesame seeds (white or black)

Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs and vanilla; mix together.  Add remaining ingredients in the order given. Drop with a teaspoon onto a well-greased cookie pan about 2 inches  apart to allow spreading while baking. Bake in a 325º F oven for 7-10  minutes.  Makes 6-7 dozen.

Sources for this article and a guide to my garden:

(1)    Sesame Grower Guide 2008, www.sesamegrowers.org

(2)    Thomas Jefferson Agricultural Institute

Porch Gardens

Not everyone has even a small plot of land to put a raised bed garden upon and community gardens are not always available. Some of us have to do the porch garden.

Container gardening, porch gardening, small space gardening…they are all kind of the same. But I think when you porch garden you need to take more time to address the aesthetics of your garden as well as the functionality of it.

Here’s what I mean

Gardening in containers can get the job done. You have several or many pots with your herbs and vegetables and flowers in them. These containers generally sit in a place that sunlight reaches and are clustered to that spot. If your containers are on a porch, they usually share the space with a chair and table. You plant what you need in the pots and put them outside where you water them. That’s quite functional. Aesthetically, though, it might not lend itself to be a welcomed space. If you have the chair and table there, it is quite possible you want to be able to sit in that space  and collect yourself, find peace in the day, entertain a friend or two or family member, but not if it’s junked up with pots and plants.

Here’s what I suggest

Plan out what you want to grow. Can you grow year-round and if so do you want to?  What herbs are important to have fresh? What vegetables can you grow in containers in your space?  Flowering plants can grow low or tall.  Which do you want to accent your garden? Check with your Extension Office for a list of what grows and when in your area. It’s best to start with the minimum and add if you find you can, but at least get the basics of what you need and want when you begin.

Then, find matching pots or non-matching pots of a variety of sizes that look nice together. The space you want to use could contain a potting table, shelving against the wall or railing, decorative pieces to use to grow a vertical garden, small tables of varying heights. There are garden pots you can get from garden centers that attach to your porch railing and hang vertically 3 pots connected at a time. If you wish to grow vining plants, use a trellis and keep it trimmed to avoid it from getting out of control or (in an apartment situation) growing over to the neighbor’s porch.  Consider a hanging plant if you have something to hang a planter from.

Most importantly, plan how you will water these plants.  Is there a hose accessible?  Do you have a watering can large enough to carry from the house and not too heavy? Where will water overflow to?  If that answer is the porch downstairs, consider a tray under your pots to collect extra water.

When you get it all put together don’t forget to mark your plants so you know what you have.

My plan (an example)

Before replanting

Before replanting

I have a porch with a railing.  I would need to put brackets on the railing to secure my planter boxes (I have two). For now they sit on the porch.  I have several pots of varying sizes from the very large to the small.  These include clay, plastic and a light-weight pottery.

Right now I am growing rosemary, catnip, green onion, marigold, sesame, cilantro, thyme and basil.  My basil grows in a large pot because I like to have a lot of it growing during the summer.  When it dies out, I will move the rosemary, which I bought small, into the large  pot so it can fill out.  We use a lot of these two herbs so I keep them large.  Unfortunately when we recently moved I couldn’t transport my large rosemary plant so I gave it to a friend and started over.  Cilantro is another important herb in my garden so it gets a medium pot because we use so much of it and it doesn’t replenish quickly enough to justify a large container.  The thyme was started from seed in a small pot and will fill out over the winter.  I’ll move it in the spring.

One window box will be empty by fall: the marigold will die and I’ll collect the seeds for next year, the rosemary will be repotted and since Porch Cat couldn’t care less about the catnip, I’ll dry it and make catnip kitty pillows for my etsy store.

The other window box and large pot were adjusted today.  My three remaining sesame plants went to a large pot.  I left the onions and sowed romaine lettuce, bibb lettuce and brussels sprouts into the window box.  I also put a few brussels sprouts seeds among the sesame. By the time they start to grow large enough to need their own space, the sesame will be harvested.  Sure there’s a lot of moving around but no more than if I had a raised bed garden that I planted year-round.

When I sow seeds I have to mark the area or pot so I know what’s growing.  Plastic wine corks are great for this.  Use a permanent marker to write on the cork’s side and place it near the sowed seeds.  You can also use a kitchen skewer to poke through the cork and post it in the dirt.  I’ve also used popsicle sticks.

After replanting

After replanting

Where to find other ideas

One more thing about my pots: I use one as a place to store my solar garden lights.  They light up at night-time adding to the ambiance when I sit on my porch in the evening.  This also provides a quick access to light should we have a night-time power outage. I keep one per family member on hand.

Aside from your local garden center, porch-gardening ideas are plentiful on Pinterest.  Feel free to look at my board and also look around for “small space”, “container”, and “vertical” gardening.

Recap

  • Make a 12-month gardening plan and prioritize.
  • Consider how you will water your garden.
  • Combine herbs, vegetables and flowers for interest.
  • Find containers of varying sizes that look good together.
  • Accessorize with tables and crates which give varying height to your plants.
  • Label your plants with creative tags.
  • Be sure not to over crowd your space.

Happy gardening!

It’s International Pollinators Week and all gardeners need to be celebrating.

Pollinators make our gardens grow. Whether you are a landscape gardener, vegetable gardener, farmer of any size property or just enjoy the wild flowers along the road or the lake, you need to be glad and celebrate the wonderful job these critters are doing.

  • Birds, particularly Hummingbirds, are pollinators.
  • Bats are pollinators.
  • Butterflies are pollinators.
  • Bees and wasps are pollinators.
  • Moths and flies are pollinators, too.

And, if you really stretch it, fish help the pollination process.

Here are some things you can do this week and any other week to celebrate our pollinators:

  • Visit a beekeeper. Learn all you can about bees and their importance.
  • Buy some local honey.
  • Make sure you have some red flowers or flowering bushes in our yard for Hummingbirds.
  • Plant milkweed.  Butterflies lay their eggs on these plants.  The more butterflies, the more pollinators.
  • Find out what plants in your yard are attractive to pollinators.  Vow not to use insecticides or herbicides on or near them.
  • Add a bee house and a butterfly house to your backyard garden.
  • Contact your Representative in Washington DC and tell him/her to protect organic farmers and honey bees in the current Farm Bill.
  • Watch Disney’s latest nature movie, “Wings of Life” with the kiddos.
  • Stop spraying your yard. Let the clover and dandelion grow.

So, raise your cups to the pollinators and do whatever you can to protect them.

What do you do with an old card catalog?

Like all libraries with a history, Magnolia Springs Public Library in southern Baldwin County had an old card catalog they were no longer using since the county-wide library is cataloged on line.  Librarian, Alida Given, put the old, wooden card catalog to use; it now houses a seed lending library for county residents.  Filed by type (vegetable, ornamental) and then alphabetically, the drawers are stocked with heirloom and organic seeds.  Library-card carrying residents can check out up to 6 packets of seeds.  They just need to pledge to return seeds from their harvest so the lending library can continue each growing season.  Baldwin County has 2 growing seasons.

Inspired by a seed lending library in the San Francisco Bay area, Alida started one at hers. She contacted seed companies around the country asking for donations of specifically organic and heirloom seed varieties. They started coming in from places like Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants at Monticello, Seeds of Change, and Peaceful Valley, just to name a few.  She was also given some hybrid seeds which are filed separately and Burpee has donated ornamentals.

Local nurseries have helped out too.  Cecil at Old Thyme Feed and Garden Supply as well as Wilsey Nursery (both in Fairhope) have donated seed packets and starter kits.

The catalog has been utilized since March 1st of this year and the stock is dwindling down, which is a good thing.  Alida wants people to use it; plant their food and ornamentals and then share the new seeds.   The sign out book shows that over 20 pages of borrowers have checked out their garden delights and I’m sure some are plants they wouldn’t have otherwise thought twice to plant.  They’ll give it a chance and return some of their seeds for the next season.  Some borrowers have already returned their promise, then checked out some more.

Some seed packets may be stamped from last year.  Remember this is not a bad thing.  Seeds may sit in warehouses for a while before being shipped to retailers when they get their stamp.  Some old seeds may not germinate but some will.  Read about this here.

I signed out a few, too.  Alida was excited that I will write about this growing adventure and encouraged me to take a few Bird of Paradise seeds.  The seeds themselves are beautiful with half being a fuzzy orange puff ball.  I’ll be looking this one up and  figure out how I can best grow these.   The other seeds I borrowed are Burpee Cosmos Sensation Mix (purple and white flowers), Organic Heirloom Lettuce Leaf Basil and, from the Jefferson Center at Monticello collection, I borrowed Oregano, Sesame, and Love-Lies-Bleeding Amaranths.  seedbank, ft morgan, mantleHopefully I can grow some of these this summer; it may be a little late here to start sowing but since I’m moving up to the next growing zone, there may still be some time with good soil and sunshine.  I plan to give my contributing writers/friends, Ann and Tracy, some seeds to grow here.  Between the 3 of us, something will grow.

Map of Seed Lending Libraries currently in the US. Note the one in Alabama is the Magnolia Springs Library.

Map of Seed Lending Libraries currently in the US. Note the one in Alabama is the Magnolia Springs Library.

I encourage you to go to the Magnolia Springs Public Library. Follow the signs from Highway 98 through town; it’s a block south.  Let Alida know you read about it here.  If you’re not in Baldwin County or Alabama, encourage your local library to do something similar.  They can contact Alida for information on how she got started.

I’ve gardened in Fairhope for 3 years and have kept this journal for two.  It’s been a lot of fun and I’ve met some great folks: you (my readers) and gardeners along the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay.

I’m expanding my horizons and adding to this journal.  My two closest garden buddies, Ann and Tracy, are now contributing writers and I’m so excited.

Ann will be writing about her gardening adventures on the Eastern Shore/Gulf Coast including recipes from her garden and nutritional stuff.  She is a brain when it comes to canning, nutrition, food allergies and growing stuff.   Ann went from vegetable gardening along the Mobile Bay to a few miles inland…ok, she’s in the “country” now and has noticed a huge difference in what can and cannot grow in the two climates.  There are fruit trees on her property, too.

Meanwhile, Tracy will be adding to the whole Gulf of Mexico gardening thing by writing of her adventures gardening in Belize.  Ok, Belize is really on the Caribbean but it’s close enough to the Gulf and it is coastal.  They deal with a lot of coastal gardening issues that seem similar to our area. Ok, maybe not, but  I just know it will be fun to read about.  Tracy also keeps a vegetable garden in Fairhope and is a fantastic nature photographer.  Her garden has thrived in a heavily shaded part of town on a street corner where she offers her neighbors the opportunity to pick what they want since she and her family can’t eat everything there.  Tracy also maintains a raised bed in the Community Garden; a garden we started as Junior Master Gardener teachers.  She and I have collaborated on a coffee-table style book which we plan to publish.

I am moving a little north to garden hardiness zone 7a, Oxford Mississippi to be exact.  This should be interesting.  I won’t be able to garden outside year-round anymore but I’ll try to push it and keep you informed of this adventure.  I might even do some indoor hydroponics to keep my herbs going.

Whether I move far or near, it’s time for this vegetable grower to move on; my back yard gets very little sun these days because the trees have grown up and out, covering what little sunny space I’ve had these past years. But, I know I won’t be gone forever and will return to a garden along the Gulf Coast.

My empty garden...I'll miss it.

My empty garden…I’ll miss it.

Hope you stay a subscriber and enjoy our gardening adventures.  If you are just a casual reader, go ahead and click the “subscribe” button for regular updates.

Happy Gardening.

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