31 May 2015

new growth

I wasn't really expecting the ginger to grow back, but it did!
Avocado has new baby leaves springing up where I cut it back several weeks ago. Nice rosy hue to them.

30 May 2015


the ambient light through aponogeton leaves this morning; took a few pictures
then realized it looked even more striking viewed from the opposite end of the tank- with Buster here for scale and a punch of color. Starting to really enjoy my fish tank again.
I miss Pinkie still, but it is easier to feed the fishes now- I can drop in one shrimp pellet that will feed the whole gang, without worrying about anyone trying to choke on it or hog it all- their mouths simply aren't big enough.

29 May 2015

new in the tenner

I found the new substrate I want to put in my aquariums. To make them proper low-tech planted, with the substrate holding nutrients for the plants. Anxious not to screw it up, so I started out by just adding some into the smaller tank, to see how it goes.

I bought this fired montmorillonite clay called safe-t-sorb. It's just over $5 for a forty-pound bag. (In comparison, a ten or eight pound bag of something made for aquariums can cost up to $16! and those don't always have nutrients in them either). The pro for STS is that it has a high capacity to suck up nutrients and hold them, plus its a clay which has some macros already- if I understand all this right. The downside is that: it's dusty. Needs to be cleaned a lot. It's lightweight, floats up easy if disturbed. It sucks carbonates out of the water and until reached capacity will lower pH. That might be good, except then the pH will be unstable every time I replace water.

So I'm just trying it out, will see how all of that goes for me. (I've read of methods to replace gradually part of the old substrate with this stuff, just handfuls at a time over the weeks until it is all STS, so that the changes are not too drastic and you don't have to pull out all the fishes. Might do that if I convert the main tank too.)

Here's how it went. First I sifted the entire 40lb bag through a window screen, removed about a fifth of the volume in dust and fine particles. Then screened just a few pounds through an old plastic collander, removing half again of smaller particles so its more even size, larger bits.
Then I tried "charging" it. It soaks up a lot of stuff immediately- that's why sold for traction, spill cleanup and the like- so you soak it in a bucket of water that's full of fertilizers, and then the clay holds them for your plants. The science on this is not precise, I read how some people did it- the important part is to keep the fert ratios the same as when you normally dose the tank. I dissolved four EI doses of dry ferts and liquid micros into a gallon of water, then soaked the STS in that. For just over an hour while I did regular tank maintenance. I think now this wasn't long enough. Most people soak it for an entire day, or a week. I'll do it longer next time. Yeah, it's really dirty.
After doing regular water change on the tank, I used the old tank water to rinse out the STS (because it's already got chlorine removed, and I usually pour ten gallons down the drain anyway- have way more than my houseplants can use each week) and then filled a five-gallon bucket with clean water, dechlorinated it, rinsed with that again. In a small plastic container. Even after the two siftings I'd done, it still took about twenty rinses before the water was relatively clear. And then when I sprinkled it into the tank, it was still cloudy for about half an hour.
I don't know if this will benefit the plants in here any. They're all epiphytes. They do have little runners that go down into the substrate, some folks say those grab nutrients, other say no, they only feed from the water column... But it can't hurt and I like the look of it and this tank didn't have enough substrate anyway.
What I didn't expect, was that it brings out Oliver's colors! The red-brown in his fins look real nice against the browns of the clay substrate. He doesn't seem bothered by the change. I tested the pH after adding a few handfuls of the stuff and it's now at 7.5 which is significant but not a huge jump? (I've read of it going down instantly from 8 to 6) so I'll keep a close eye on it...

twenty's plants

I had to do a quick emergency filter rinse on tuesday. Walked past the aquarium, noticed there was no trickling noise, took a look and the filter wheel wasn't turning. Gave it a jiggle- no response. Pulled half the filter media out and rinsed- it was very dirty, more than during the usual once-a-month rinsing. I figure it happened because last friday I rinsed the prefilter sponge, which now unclogged allowed more fine debris to pass through and reach the filter media. Just need to remember that each week I rinse out one part of the entire filter system- prefilter sponge, half the filter media, small sponge filter, other half filter media, repeat...

Also today cleaned inside the front glass, which I don't always do. After cleaning off the cover glass and trimming out dying watersprite bits (most of it is floating now, the rooted plants in corners aren't doing as well- I think they don't get as much light there but I don't care so much, it's no longer my favorite plant) I stand back and am surprised how much brighter, cleaner the tank looks overall.
I rubbed some algae off the crypt and apono leaves, this is kind of tricky to do. When the water is lowest during change, put one finger below the leaf and rub across the top with folded paper towel, from stem to tip. Even dipping the paper towel under the water for part of this it still pulls most of the algae off without releasing back into water column. The brown stuff is slowly slowing down, so whatever made it appear again I hope is resolved.

Apono leaves spread out after cleaning:
I get annoyed at myself when I accidentally break off a leaf that is otherwise quite nice.
Very happy the apono is still doing well -it just put out a new baby leaf-
not growing terribly fast and overall bulk remains constant because as fast as new leaves grow I'm taking out older ones that get thin, anemic looking or algae coated. So far this is okay as I don't want it to overtake the tank either
The smaller ones are springing back too, in their center spot. I cut off more of their leaves that were getting peaky looking or collecting algae, this seems to prompt the plant to put out more new growth that is clean.
The crypts are all doing great, as usual. Even the few I have moved around never melted like I see other aquarists report. Mine have doubled in size since their planting- they now reach up half the height of the tank!
The vallisneria is sending out more runners and getting taller too, slowly but surely. I've decided I probably will keep this plant, but not sure where it will go in the final design.
Rotala is making a nice background. I've just trimmed a few this week to even out the tops- thinking to cut it back hard again soon so it will fill in more...
There are even some bright little java fern leaves growing new on the log. I don't know if I should hope these will mature nicely instead of turning mottled and dying off like the older ones have been doing...


I'm doing regular aquarium maintenance, putting equipment away when suddenly I realize I'm in a different house and I walk into another room, and there's four more fish tanks I forgot I had. The fish all look distressed, thin, ragged. Chagrined and desperate, I work feverishly to change all their water and improve the upkeep. Not sure they will all make it, but hopeful again I finish up the work and turn to the double glass doors that lead out to a broad backyard- again, new and different from what I'd expected to see. Lots of interesting plants but most impressive are several stout ponytail palms growing near the door, their greenery spreading several feet above my head. I have a few young ones in pots inside the house, but these are planted straight outdoors and I wonder that they survive the winters here. I puzzled over it- they must, or they wouldn't be here, but how is that possible? I pat their thick trunks and look up at foliage, wondering, when a sometimes-friend walks over to chat and she laughs thinking me silly for troubling my head over a plant that's obviously doing fine by itself. To her plants are a thing usually ignored- background stuff, you water it sometimes, if it dies you throw it away and get a new one. No big deal. But I still wonder at them, and concern myself greatly.

picking worms

I just realized I've already applied the latest batch of vermicompost to come out of the bin, and forgot to mention how that harvest went. Because I finally found there's actually a gardening task that's a tiresome chore for me- and its harvesting the worm castings. I've tried several different methods, and I always end up crouched over the bin or a pile of worm dirt for long periods of time, picking worms out until my back aches. It did go a little better this time around, but I still spent several hours picking worms out. I don't mind weeding, or turning compost, or even mowing and edging the lawn- but I do get so tired of sorting worms. And I can't leave too many in there, or I end up with worms in my houseplant pots! which I don't like.

So. This most recent effort, I left the worms four weeks without food. To make sure they were good and hungry. Meantime prepared the new bin with shredded cardboard as usual, soaked it the day before and drained so it was nice and damp. Set the new bin over the old, with two usual "helpings" of worm food buried in there. Left it alone for two weeks, then dug around to check. Only a moderate amount of worms had moved into the new bin. I lifted it off and turned over stuff in the old bin- not much cardboard bits in there, lots and lots of worms still. The vermicompost was very moist and getting compact. I loosened it all up and turned with hands, meantime picked worms out of about half the bin before got tired of that. Put more food in the new bin on top, left it alone another few weeks. Checked again. More worms had moved over, but when I turned stuff in the lower bin, there's still plenty there! I picked worms out again, this time working through the entire bin. It took an hour or so. Repeat it all a week later. This third time I went through the lower bin, it was getting very compacted and damp, even starting to drip a bit into the tray below. But it was easier to separate the worms from the compost stuff- it didn't really stick to their skins, they'd kind of slide off as they wiggled, so that part got easier. At this point I started going through the lower bin in handfuls, picking out the biggest worms for the new bin and tossing the compost into a bucket. It was destined for the new garden, so I didn't care if a few worms went with it. Plus just getting tired of it all. When my back started aching, there were still a few thick inches of compost in the lower bin, I left it for later.

Next time I dug into the top bin to deposit worm food, I was surprised at the absence of worms. Hardly any moving around in there. Turned stuff up from the bottom- still not many worms. Lifted the bin off and surprised to find they had moved en masse back into the lower bin! Why? it was damp and soggy and thick down there, no food- hardly even any cardboard bits left. Maybe the new bin bedding was too dry? But I'd tossed in plenty of lumps of soggy compost from the old one as I worked through the worms. This was really annoying. I sat down there on the floor and steadily picked through handful after handful of compost until the lower bin was all empty, and tons of worms dumped back into the new one. Fed them well, sprinkled with old fish water, covered with a layer of dry cardboard chips to hold the moisture in. This time they had nowhere to go and stayed put- seem happy enough so far. None are trying to climb up the lid or out the base. I still can't figure why they moved out of the new bin- maybe something in the pH balance was off, or moisture level...?

Anyway, I still want to find another way to harvest the stuff. I love having it to feed my plants, and having a way to turn food scraps into something rich and useful, but it sure is a pain to get the worms to move into new quarters, and to get them all out of the vermicompost. The only thing that seemed to work better this time around was I left the worms without food a much longer stretch of time, which I think made them more motivated to move into the new bin where fresh food was... but I still ended up picking through it all. It's just so tedious. Ok, there. I'm done complaining for now!

27 May 2015

mock strawberry

Several times in the past I've tried to make a houseplant out of mock strawberry dug from the yard, and they never lasted. There's a lot of it growing in back areas of B Yard where I don't want it- most got composted but some I stuck in pots again, just for the heck of it. To my surprise, they seem to have taken well. Two different kinds of shapes of the leaves,
in fact I'm not even sure if this second one is a mock strawberry. Maybe its something else.
But I find them attractive, so will keep in pots for now and see how they do. I might at some point put these in planters off the railing, so the trailing runners can hang down, and if they last through the season, will try to bring inside and overwinter (that was the original intent, way back when).

trying to do better

by a few plants I have that have never seemed to do well here. The tall dracanea I have moved to my fiancé's house where it has a spot by tall window in bright, indirect light. It is spreading out already- I think the lighting is better for it and also I'm not there to constantly overwater it!
My big aloe appreciates the extra space caused by its absence at the apartment, too.
It still grows lopsided but the crown seems healthy enough. I'm moving it outside- but keeping in shaded part of balcony at first to give it adjustment time, so it doesn't get sunburn.
I am trying to rescue my poor ponytail palm. This plant came to me in the decorative planter, and I never thought to inspect it closely- but I realized today it has no drainage holes. I upended it all. Even though the bottom of the planter held an inch of large-sized gravel, and I had been watering it sparingly every two weeks or so, it was still sitting in mud. I am actually surprised and impressed that its still alive! Very tough plant, to withstand such poor conditions. No wonder its been looking peaky. I put it in a new (smaller) pot with good holes, nested back into the planter, in new soil- a cactus mix. Further reading, I've learned ponytail palms are not a palm at all, but a succulent- they like to stay dry. Also, I'd had it planted too deep- the thick base/stalk is supposed to be above the soil line- you can see the darkness here, where I have raised it up again.
Unfortunately, the top also got damaged when I was repotting it, so it's rather flattened now.
Not nearly as pretty, but I hope it revives. These things can grow to tree size and I've read comments online of people keeping a ponytail palm for fifty, sixty years and counting!
My creeping charlie is not doing well either. Its cuttings died, the rest of it looks unwell. I've given it newer, drier potting soil as well and moved to a different location in the home where it gets brighter indirect light. Not sure why this one is faltering now. Something is not quite right for it and I still haven't figured that out.

25 May 2015


And the ferns are so beautiful, I have to give them their own post. I am really happy how well they have taken to the areas under the trees. Lovely, lovely. I don't know the names of the varieties, but I plan to get more offsets from that other yard in the fall, will ask then.

yard plants

Yesterday also took photos of how the newer plants are doing around B Yard, that I set in about a month ago. Finally remember to take my camera along over there! Well, the largest columbine bloomed- pretty delicate purple thing- and is done with that already.
The japanese sage is looking great, I'm impressed how well it's taken off.
Little lenten rose seedlings (hellebores) are growing steadily as well
Patch of forsythia I put in the back corner also nice and green
Other plants of note- I put in a full dozen nicotiana seedlings just a week ago but then didn't get back to water them daily, and most have failed. This one was the largest- it was completely wilted but I gave a good drink anyways, and one leaf has perked up. Maybe it will survive.
My row of sunflowers along one fence. Something has taken out quite a few of them- chopped at the base- at first I thought an animal was stepping on the seedlings at night, but now I suspect cutworms. Now that the plants are bigger, I haven't lost any in a while.
And I have five tithonia planted- a few near the lower deck
several more in the back planting area.