30 July 2014

tiny balcony garden

It's much simpler than last year. It's mostly Nicotiana flowers in pots now. Swiss Chard continued to look diseased, I couldn't picture myself ever eating any of it, so threw those all out. Blah. I've also got a few other edibles- one pot of Mint on each side, this lovely two-year-old Pepper plant which is getting nice bold color to its leaves- and I've actually had a few small (strong!) peppers- diced onto pizza.
one remaining Parsley in the hanging planter
I switched position of the Oregano and Lemon Balm; Oregano needs more sun
and this one does okay in the shade
And in the other corner against the interior wall I've got the Ginger and Boston Fern.
That's it. Oh, and an indoor plant summering out here- Aloe Vera.

24 July 2014

baby crassula

The other day when reworking the top layer of soil for some plants, I took this baby jade out and put in its own tiny pot. I don't need any more crassula- I've got two big ones and two youngesters- but this one grew all by itself from a fallen leaf on the soil, and I didn't want to just throw it away. Let's see how it grows up.

23 July 2014

pink glitter

There are some happy things! A few of my younger Violets have finally begun to produce buds:
Just the other morning I was admiring how when the lights falls at a certain angle on them, the petals sparkle with a fine, velvety texture.

22 July 2014

more ills?

I am not sure what is wrong with these plants. But verified that my decision to put the potted Coleus outside was a poor one. The indoor cuttings are looking lovely:
The outside one looks like this:
The leaves are turning pale, with blackened spots and edges that wither away to nothing.
It's not the only plant doing that. Some of the Nicotiana leaves have blackened, withering patches too.
Ugh, this might be anthracnose. It's very infectious.Which basically means I have to throw out all the affected plants. Surprise! what a familiar summer- one failure after another outside.

There's also a Violet inside with some scarring on the leaves. But I don't know if this is the same thing. Violets are so prone to leaf decay from a mere water drop, I could have easily splashed it by accident.


I am still feeling bad about loosing Flash. I did not do right by that fish. I lagged in getting him a filtered tank, and by the time he moved in it was too late. Realized looking back at pictures of him the other day, that it had been a long time since he'd looked so healthy and active. At some point I should have euthanized him rather than let it drag on, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Freezing is said to be slow suffering for the little fish, and I know I couldn't execute the quickest, painless method: cutting off the head. I don't have clove oil, which is supposed to put them to sleep. I thought of putting the fish in a plastic baggie and striking it hard against a flat stationary object (the wall, or side of my desk) but just couldn't. By the time I made a final effort to save him, it was that very attempt that did it. He might have lingered on a few more days, a week even, if I hadn't tried to move him. I'll never know.

21 July 2014


I redid some pots today. Using my vermicompost as top-dressing didn't really work. Well, most of the plants seem happy enough. Bold color, although I'm not sure if they really are more vivid, or I'm just thinking they are.
Problem is the top-dressing doesn't get mixed into the soil in a pot like it does in a garden, from the action of worms and other critters. Of course it doesn't. It just sits there getting crusty and in many of my pots, a white film of mold (or it could be minerals leeching out- my water's pretty hard). I don't like seeing that. Also a reminder that I'm probably overwatering- the pots feel heavier, I think the compost holds more moisture than the old soil, and I haven't quite adjusted my watering habits yet. So today I took some plants, removed the top-dressing of dark compost, scraped out a top layer of potting soil, mixed it together well, breaking up with rubbing fingers to fine crumbles. In some cases I took a further thin layer out of the pot and put them back in reverse order, so the old soil actually was top layer now. That way if the compost continues to get a bit moldy, at least I won't see it.

Maybe it's just too rich and I should have left it in the bin to break down further. Learn by experience.

little tank

the ten gallon looks empty now, with just two small fish in it. I have not seen the little barbs glance for five or six days now, and I never did see any spots on them- but they are so small it is hard to look close. I did a large water change when Flash was removed and quit dosing the tank. But am keeping the temperature high for at least another week, to be sure the ich is all killed.

When lifted the driftwood to find my ill fish, lots of fine brown sediment rose into the water. Much of it settled onto the broad anubias leaves. I thought I could siphon it off with my smaller hose, but the suction was harder than I expected and it tore a semicircular hole in one leaf!
So they are still dirty. I try to rub some stuff off but it just settles again. The Nerite goes after it, he's cleaned three or four leaves nearly spotless already, but it will take some time for him to get to all of them...

But the plants seem happy enough. Anubias making new shoots:
and new young leaves on the java fern as well:
Right after the large water change I saw spawning behavior. The little male barb following his female closely, twitching his fins at her, seemed to be coaxing her among the plants and in the skull cave as if he were saying, begging: this place? here? this is a good spot, don't you think? what about over here? Then they twist their bodies together with a little spasm. I even once saw an egg fall. I don't expect any baby fish, but it's nice to know they are feeling good.

20 July 2014

an end

I lost a fish today.
Was expecting it. Am still treating the tanks for ich, but Flash did not make it. He has been looking terrible for days now, crashed on the bottom, rarely even rising for a breath, not eating. I finally decided to move him into the QT tank (but that wasn't cycled so it was a big risk) so I could dose him with aquarium salt, and so if he died in the night wouldn't poison the small tank with ammonia, but he did not survive the transfer. The stress of being caught was too much. I had to move the driftwood he hides under- he twitched away, thrashed a bit, was gone. My hand doesn't fit down into the gap behind the wood so I lifted his poor body out with a gravy spoon. Even in death he still had some beautiful colors.
I'd had him for eight months. This is my favorite picture of him:
Some other nice photos:
Goodbye, Flash.

18 July 2014


more green shoots coming up in the Ginger pot!

15 July 2014


The slowest-growing plant ever. I keep moving it around hoping to find the perfect spot that will make it happy and thrive. Bright, indirect light seems best so far.

14 July 2014


The smaller tank might have ich now, too. Little male barb in there has gone pale pink color (stressed) and is glancing off objects, though I see no spots yet. Flash is hiding, but when he comes out to the surface I look closely- he seems ok (but still thin) so far. I've starting turning the temperature up. Thought I saw a few spots on Caleb and one of the danios, one on Pinkie's side today. So I started dosing both tanks with meds- Ich Attack- at double strength. That's 4 tsp in the large tank, 2 tsp in the smaller. My plan is to do a 20-25% water change every morning with gravel vac (needful in this case to physically remove the ich when it drops off the fish and multiplies), then redose w/meds when I add the new water. Carbon is out of the bio-wheel filter for time being as well. If I don't see any more spots by friday should be able to quit the meds and start lowering temperature again. I hope I've caught it soon enough.

I suspect I know how it got in there. Either I accidentally cross-contaminated the tank, or the snails brought it in. Stupid impulse buy. Snails don't get ich, but I forgot they can carry it and transmit to the fish.

leaning flowers

I love the colors of the Nicotiana flowers- ranging from white tinged with pink through violet, darker purple and mauve. But they all reach away from me, out through the balcony railings.
I don't know if they're reaching for sun, or just falling over. Maybe the containers are too small, they couldn't grow big enough root system to support the stems and got top-heavy? or perhaps I don't water them enough- I keep the soil saturated, but just one day without watering and the broad leaves start to shrivel.
I still like them, I just wish they would face me.

13 July 2014

new: mts and gravel

This may look impulsive, but I've been thinking about it for a long time actually. Decided to quit gravel vacuuming and get malaysian trumpet snails. They eat algae, diatoms, leftover fish food, break down fish poop and best of all, dig through the substrate aerating it. If you get too many should be able to control them by simply feeding the fish less- they only overpopulate when there is excess food available. And the pet store is happy to get rid of them- I got five for free.
They are livebearers. If you have just a male, no extra snails. A female can make clones of herself without a mate. I don't think they can change their sex (some snails do). And they are very good water quality indicators. Case in point: I rarely change out the filter media in my HOB. I do rinse it every other week in tank water to remove some debris but although the package recommends changing out the filter out once a month, I think I've done it twice in five months. I just hate to throw away the filter media pad, full of all that beneficial bacteria. In fact, I usually cut the media off the plastic framework, rinse off the carbon particles (with dechlorinated water) and stuff the media back into the HOB behind the new one, so that I don't loose part of my bacteria colony. I've got two old filter pads back there now, not much room for more but next time I'll just toss the oldest one and not feel so bad about it. Plus they are always there ready to seed a new tank! (this seems to have worked with my 10gal- it's been over a week now and the water still tests at safe levels- zero ammonia and nitrites, 10-20 nitrate).

But this was about snails. So I got the trumpet snails. Noticed when I put them in the big tank, they were hanging at the water line, not descending or digging through the gravel like I expected.
Then I noticed water is coming out of the filter overflow- which happens when the media gets clogged. I saw it starting to do this last week and had rinsed out the filter pad. Today I replaced it (cutting out and saving the media like before). As soon as the filter was running with the new part, the fish were dancing all over the place (zebra danios especially) and the snails immediately began descending the wall
and doing this!
So now I guess I'll have more. Maybe this was a mistake. But that's what this blogging journal is about, so I can remember and learn from my mistakes.... I've only got one trumpet snail in the little tank. I don't want to overpopulate the smaller space. And if it dies (their lifespan is usually year) I can just add another one from the big tank, as it looks like they'll be copying themselves soon enough.
Oh, and I added a small layer of gravel to the 10gal as well. Finally found a type I like the looks of- fine grain (could call it coarse sand just as easily as fine-grain gravel) and an overall dark brown hue. It looks just right. I added backdrop that had been taken off the big tank (don't plan to put a backdrop on that one because I hope the plants will fill in and screen it eventually).
Why did I change my mind again? Well, I went back and read advice I'd received when I was thinking of making Hector's tank bare-bottom. Decided the benefits of a gravel bed outweigh other things. Plus the novelty of a glass bottom was palling on me. And- I don't like looking at snail poo all over the bottom. They poop a lot! I do think now that the skull looks awfully artificial in there. Eventually I want to replace that with something natural-looking that has fissidens (phoenix moss) growing on it- but for now I don't want to get rid of Flash's cave yet. He's still hanging in there.

potted up

These are the plants I moved into regular pots. Most of them were moving out of SIPs, the two African violets in the front needed to get divided. I'm done using SIP planters simply for the fact that I want to feed my plants the vermicompost! And top-dressing won't really work if the plants are wicking water from below; the nutrients won't get washed down through the soil (I've already seen this happening with my regularly potted plants; when I water them the extra that flushes out drain holes is a rich golden brown color, not clear- worm tea!). I guess I could remove them from the planters, mix up new soil with the worm compost, and replace. But that seems like too much work and stress on the plants, even if it's only once or twice a year. So into new pots they go.
I didn't have enough medium-sized pots, so cut the tops off a few large ones, removed a strip, cut the rim in half, slotted it back together. This really isn't one of my best ideas, it doesn't hold together and if you forget and pick up the pot by the rim not the bottom, it comes apart again (I did that once, luckily it was with an outside plant so the soil mess not too bad to clean up, and the plant didn't get damaged, but it was hard to fit back together with the plant in there). I guess I could hold it together with staples next time. Or just pony up and go buy more pots. For some reason I have lots of little two- and four-inch ones, and lots of larger gallon size, but nothing in between.
I have some concern that I might kill the plants with kindness- some vermicompost or worm castings can be very strong and you can't give them too much. I don't think my product is as finely processed by the worm to be called castings; it still has bits of roughage in it. So for the most part I mixed things by thirds: one third the old potting soil a plant came out of, one third new commercial mix (on the lower right) and one third my vermicompost (lower left).
I'm still putting broken shards in the bottom of my pots for drainage. Year before last I had quite a few pots on the balcony without shards and found when I upended them that the ones with shards had done far better- the ones without had soggy, rotting bottoms. Garlics, in particular, suffered from this omission.
I have too many African Violets, now. I'd give some away, but none of the children have started flowering yet, so they're not as attractive. I do love their reddish-pink stems and soft leaves though.
This one I had to cut the stem in half. The part that ended up without roots has been a bit sad ever since, but if a leaf petiole alone can root into a new plant, surely the stem can as well?
I removed lower (yellowing anyways) leaves so it doesn't have as much stress on the plant while growing new roots (no roots = can't support a ton of leaves)
This Violet came out of an SIP, the root mass and soil held funny shape of the bottle end when I first took it out.
I am happy how well this Spider Plant has grown. You can see the roots all growing through the plastic sides.
They like to be a bit crowded I've learned, so it did not move into a much bigger container.
Its long leaves trail down so much I set it up on a pedestal (drinking glass) so they don't get damaged.
Lately I've been wondering about my Cyclamen. No spicy pink flowers yet, foliage has been growing but very slowly. I remember in past years it always bloomed in spring. I've noticed the seasonal markers outside- blinking fireflies, buzzing of cicadas, now the stifling summer heat- shouldn't there have been nutmeg- scented flowers by now?
It was only after looking at the above photo I realized some of the leaves have that dreaded curl again. Inspected it for mites, but no sign of them. Not sure why it looks unhappy. Maybe it will do better in a pot again? I hope so.
The one plant I regretting moving out of its SIP was my Pothos. This sturdy uncomplaning plant has done wonderful, even set up on top of a bookshelf on the farthest wall from the window. Nothing else will thrive there so far from the light (except the Sansevieria).
It still surprises me to see how quickly the Coleus cuttings make new roots:
Last to get shuffled was the Arrowhead. This one was a bit droopy after its transplant; I propped up the stems a little.
The only plant not pictured is the miniature Geranium. For some reason I didn't bother to photograph that one. My kid joined me at the table, she gave her plants some top-dressing and repotted a few. She has a small cactus, a geranium and baby spider plant, one african violet and a few jades (crassula)- all offspring of my own plants except the cactus. Here she's showing off the roots her jade cutting grew.