Thursday, January 30, 2020

Preparing To Plant? First, Pick The Right Soil.

Green sprouts popping out of dark soil. Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash.
As we move through winter and eye the upcoming spring, gardeners everywhere are preparing to plant. But before decisions are made as to where and what to plant, it is important to pick the right soil to plant in. Dirt is not just dirt. Potting soil, topsoil, native soil and garden soil are all different and each has unique and specific properties that make them suitable for different types of growing. Additionally, what you are planning to grow in the soil can color what type of soil you should use.

A colorful array of different types of soil.
Types of soil
All soils contain three components: clay, sand and silt. The percentages of each of these can vary widely according to geographical regions and mixes in bags. The first step to knowing what type of soil is optimal for you,  is to determine where and how you are growing. This will help determine whether you need soil that is more of one component than another.

Multi-colored pots filled with a variety of plants and flowers.
Are you planting in pots? Resist the temptation to use just any soil mix. Soil formulated for container growing provides enough drainage and aeration to allow healthy root growth, whereas denser soils may lead to compaction and water retention. Our recommendations for potting soil are A little girl squatting by a a raised garden bed. Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.Tank’s Pro Coco-Soil Potting Mix, Tank's Pro-Lite Seeding & Potting Mix and Soil Mender 109 Potting Mix.

Considering a raised bed?
You’ll want something a little “heavier” than a potting mix, with a bit more organic matter. Blending potting mix with another pre-mixed soil blend at around a 50/50 ratio should yield close to what you need. Depending on what you’re planning to grow, you may want to tinker with that ratio to meet your plants’ needs. Take a look at our Prococo Coconut Coir Products; you may find just what you want in one of the three formulations.

A pile of black dirt with a gardening trowel in it and white gloves beside it.Should you use topsoil or garden soil? Topsoil is more of a general landscaping tool and can be used for filling out and leveling or conditioning native soil. It should not be used for new plantings. Here is what we have for topsoil. Garden soils are pre-mixed blends that contain added nutrients and other organic matter. Garden soil can be used when planting, but is only intended for in-ground use. For more on the differences and how to choose between them, check out this article.

A person kneeling down in brown dirt, holding some in both hands.Do you want to cultivate a garden plot? You’ve already got the native soil in place. But chances are your native soil will need some help to properly support what you’d like to grow. Your first step to figuring this out is to determine  what your native soil consists of, In this article, Home Depot suggests doing a “feel test” as follows:
Moisten a tablespoon of soil and roll it into a small ball.
If the soil pack together and is moldable, your soil contains clay.
If you can form a 2-3” ribbon with your ball of soil, you have a very high clay content.
If the ribbon falls apart or feels gritty, you have a mix of clay and sand.
If the soil ball will not hold together regardless of how much water you add, and it feels a little gritty, it’s sandy soil.
Once you know what you have, you'll have a better idea of how to get to where you need to be soil-wise.

A woman and a brown bear cub digging side by side in a garden plot. 
Yep, that's a bear cub.
A pink ceramic pot with a handle with a green cactus in it. Photo by Stephanie Harvey on Unsplash.Plants can grow in many different  soils, but the trick is to know which ones grow best in what. You can plan your garden by what the soil will support, or build the soil that can handle what you prefer to grow. Succulents, for instance, need good drainage, while flowers prefer lighter soils. How you approach what you cultivate is not important as long as you get to the right soil choice.

In the coming weeks, we will go through the steps to getting the soil ready to plant as we test for pH and add soil amendments.

Submitted by Pam (with Sterling)

Friday, January 24, 2020

Some Good News Out Of Australia

Trees silhouetted by a fast approaching brush fire in Australia
Since they began back in the fall, the news of the fires in Australia has been ceaselessly appalling.The sheer volume of the devastation is nearly impossible to comprehend – a billion animals have been killed! The human death toll rose again today with the news that three American firefighters were killed when their air tanker went down. The emotional and societal effects have been enormous as well. On the ground, in people’s homes and in their communities, there has been much controversy over who or what’s to blame, as well as the level of governmental help that’s been laid out. Here’s a video that explains one side of the “how did this happen” question. The worry and stress is annihilating. One of my closest friends is from the Melbourne area and she has not been able to rest with the constantly changing fire situation on and around her family’s properties. Thankfully, while the fires are not over, weather and firefighters (or “firies” as the Aussie’s call them) may have turned the corner on some of the larger blazes.

Three Australia-shaped white cutouts hanging on a line with a small Australian flag. They spell out "Happy Australia Day"
With all the disastrous news swirling about, it may be hard for some people to think there is anything good happening Down Under. This Sunday, January 26, is Australia Day – a day that they celebrate all things Australian. In honor of their special day, I’ve decided to spread some good Aussie news in this blog.

A vibrant green Wollemi Pine tree against a bright blue sky.
Wollemi Pine

Dinosaur trees: In an undisclosed location in New South Wales, there is a grove of ancient Wollemi Pine trees. Known as Dinosaur trees since they flourished alongside those giants, these trees lived as far back as 200 million years ago and exist nowhere else on Earth. Scientists were aware of the fossil record, but thought they were extinct until a forest worker stumbled across a grove of them in 1994. The decision was made to keep the trees’ location secret to keep them safe from the diseases and damage that visitors could bring. As the recent fires approached the grove, the government surreptitiously sent out a specialized team of firefighters to implement safety measures. It was a Zero Dark Thirty moment in the conservation world and was a tremendous success. The fire retardant they’d sprayed and the irrigation system they’d installed did the job and the grove was saved. For all involved in this special-ops mission, it meant much more than saving a couple hundred trees. It was all about preserving something uniquely ancient Australian and a source of great national pride.
An adorable white, brown and grey Koala-detecting dog named Smudge.
Let’s talk dogs: Unsurprising (Man’s best friend and all) but still wonderful are the stories of heroic dogs that have come out of these fires. There is Patsy (#patsythecorryongwonderdog), a terrier-shepherd mix, who brought her entire herd of sheep to safety (through the darkness of night) ahead of the fire. She is one good dog and just adorable; check her story out here. Then there are the Koala Dogs. Australia has been using dogs to find koalas (and other native species) for some time and are rightfully proud of what they can do. Up to now, though, their training was mostly for research and conservation purposes. But their particular skills have proven excellent for finding injured koalas in burn areas. Humans simply cannot do what these working dogs can. Watch Koala Dog Smudge in action here. For an update on how some rescued koalas are doing, see this article.

A close-up of a greyish-brown wombat
Wombats: For a minute there, there were stories that went viral about the Australian native wombats herding other animals into their burrows for safety from the fires. But this is only partially true. Wombats dig massive underground warrens with interconnecting burrows that go on and on and have multiple entrances. They move around this underground world, sleeping and doing their wombat thing in various parts of the structure. They don’t seem to mind if some animals come and use the burrows while they are somewhere else (but, they don’t like to share with other wombats, foxes or dogs). So when the fires came, there were many small creatures that knew where to find shelter. Of course, no one knows exactly how it all went down down there. Perhaps they were like humans at a hurricane party – locked down and partying until the worst happened or it was all over. Here is an excellent article on all this, including a video of burrow visitors. All in all, wombat burrows have been good news for many critters.

The Sydney Opera House with its wings lit up with images of Australian firefighters (AKA "Firies")
Sidney Opera House Honoring The Firies
People have truly stepped up: All across Australia – and the world – people have been donating their time and money to help wildlife, firefighters and recovery efforts. Many A-list celebrities have been
digging into their deep pockets and giving substantial amounts. But, it is the everyday people that I find impressive. Australian comedian Celeste Barber began an online fundraiser that garnered $30 million in just one week (an amazing $10,000 a minute). Others are out there feeding firefighters or establishing food and watering stations for displaced animals. When the call went out for mittens for burnt paws the response was overwhelming and worldwide. In fact, they received so many that they had to put a hold on the handmade donations. And crafters sent money instead. In case you haven’t seen it already, check out this guy’s car; he apparently just picked up whatever koalas he could find and put them in his car. One does what one can. For more on some of the millions of people who have helped, read this heartwarming article.

A close-up of a tree sprouting new growth
A cartoon of a a koala before and after receiving mittens for its burnt pawsWhile there are already encouraging signs of regrowth in parts of Australia, this whole thing is far from over. It will never be over for those humans and animals who’ve lost their homes. People may be able to rebuild but help is always needed. Animals can’t rebuild on their own – they will need help to carry on. If you want to help, but don’t know which way is best, here is an article that can help you decide which charity to support. G’day.

Submitted by Pam

Friday, January 17, 2020

Beating The Winter Gardening Blues

A lit candle next to a glass jar of candle stubs on a windowsill looking out onto a wintry yard.
This time of year can be a bit discouraging for plant lovers. Winter is deeply entrenched and spring seems so far away. Outside activities can be severely limited and, for many, gardening in the elements is challenging at best. Even here in Southern Arizona where the days are not frigid or snow-bound, many plants are in dormancy and nighttime temperatures can dip low enough to freeze even hardy desert natives. For those people who love getting their hands in dirt, doing without can be problematic. Gardening has many health benefits, including reducing the risks of cancer and dementia and strengthening bones while reducing stress. The loss of any of these benefits can be felt physically in a relatively short period of time by some people, while the loss of the psychological benefits (sense of well-being, community and accomplishment) will be felt more quickly and by most people. So, what’s a poor garden-lover to do in January?

Turn your attention to your indoor plants: If you love your plants, chances are you have a houseful as well as a full garden. If not, why not? Not only are they beautiful and add soul to the home, there are inherent health benefits in having them in an indoor space (more on that here). But, in the darkest days of winter, they can also use a little cheering up. Here are a few things you may want to try to keep yourself and your plants happy:

Check your watering:
A variety of plants in colorful pots on a windowsill looking out a snowy scene
Plants need and use less water in winter as their growth slows. When you do water, use water that is the same temp as the air in the room – stay away from those frosty taps. Plants, like people, don’t like that sudden shock of cold water.
Evaluate your humidity:
Humidity levels can drop as much as 10-20% in winter and most plants prefer about 50%. There are many ways to increase humidity, including (of course) using humidifiers.  While humidifiers are highly effective for that purpose, using them can lower the amount of watering needed; which gives you another reason to consider your watering practices.
A green houseplant under a window on a counter next to a sink with drying utensils in it. Watch the temperature:
Cranking up the heat during those frigid nights may not feel as good to your plants as it does to you. While you’re at it, check for drafts and heat sources. Fluctuations in temperature can kill plants as easily as temps that are too high or too low.
Clean those leaves:
This is a great time to get in there and clean each plant. Put 'em in a bathtub or a sink, if need be. Dust and other detritus can absolutely affect a plant’s ability to photosynthesis. This is especially true in the winter, when plants have less light to work with. Clean ‘em up and let them breathe.
Check for pests and pathogens and look into the light:
A row of bulbs in pots on a windowsill. Some have pink or yellow blooms.While you're cleaning your plants, make sure there's nothing hiding in there. Indoor conditions in winter can be a breeding ground for pests and disease, so don’t let them sneak up on you. And, while you’ve got your hands on your plants, assess your light situation. With the reduced light in winter, a move to a brighter area may benefit your plants immensely. Here in very hot Arizona, many people do the same in reverse; in the summer they move plants away from spaces with strong direct sunlight.

For more on houseplants in winter, check out this helpful article.  For more information on how to keep your houseplants happy and healthy in general, here is our page on that.

Why not bring some color into your home during these dark months?  There are a number of blooming plants that can see you through the winter and who doesn’t love a great Christmas Cactus or Peace Lily?  Here are several additional cheery options. You can also get some bulbs going; but, if you haven’t started by now, you probably won’t get any blooms until winter is sputtering out. Here is an excellent article that will give you a better idea if bulbs are a good option for you.
Plants growing in green metal pots hanging on a white wall. There are also little white bags hanging in a row.
There are people who grow vegetables outside in winter, using season extenders and other creative coverings, but if that is too hard-core for you, there are other options. Growing vegetables indoors is very doable and can provide you with some plant joy and a snap of fresh flavor before spring. Here are some ways to grow veggies that you might not have thought could be grown indoors (like potatoes!).

A hand holding a paintbrush painting pink and white flowers. There are also tubes of paint on the lower right.If the winter doldrums encourage more esoteric or stationary pursuits in you, there are ways you can still scratch your gardening itch from the warmth of your cozy abode. This article suggests you become an artist. Botanical art, be it classic or modern, is always fun for a plant lover. This may be a great way to express your creativity and love of nature from the safety of your home (you know, just in case you aren’t comfortable showing your work).

A snowy scene by a lake with an arched bridge. Japanese Garden, Ft. Worth, TX
Japanese Garden, Ft. Worth, TX
The same article encourages winter wonderland walks. Undoubtedly there is always something to see and appreciate in every season. But, if schlepping in the snow is not your bag, go online and check out some beautiful winter gardens. There are many places that plant and maintain their grounds to be as spectacular in winter as they are in other times of the year. Here is a taste of some of those. Or, just ignore winter altogether and head online to Hawaii – they have some breathtaking gardens there.

A gif of snow falling on a vase of pink flowers by a white fence.
Having said all that, it may pay to remember that there are only two months of winter left.

Submitted by Pam

Friday, January 10, 2020

2020: Both A Number And A Word.

Colorful 3D numbers for 2020Every year at this time we begin a new year and usually it’s just the next number and that’s that. But, as we approached this particular New Year, it occurred to me that 2020 has connotations beyond the numerical sequence and it seems to be unique in this matter. Think of any other year, let’s say 1972 or 2010, and you may place it into a timeline in your head, but it does not mean anything beyond being a number. This is not the case with 2020; it has numerous other uses that have nothing to do with the passage of time. Even if most of the time these other uses are written as 20/20 instead of 2020. 2020 is even in the dictionary, a place for words, not numbers.

A Snellen eye chart against a grey paneled wallThe most common usage of 2020 is related to vision. In an effort to measure normal and diagnose abnormal eyesight, the Dutch ophthalmologist Herman Snellen developed a chart back in 1862. We are all familiar with the Snellen chart – it is the one with rows of letters that change from large at the top to small at the bottom. Using his metrics and chart, 20/20 is the measurement for normal visual acuity (the sharpness or clarity of vision). Using a baseline of 20 feet, the designation of 20/20 means that a person with normal visual acuity can see clearly at 20 feet what should be seen clearly at that distance.

A cartoon of 2 dogs looking at a chart on the wall.
The second most common usage of 2020 is again about sight, but only semantically. “Hindsight is 20/20” is a pretty common phrase that refers to the clarity a person has about a past decision. It’s rather like Monday morning quarterbacking. But, where this phrase came from is a mystery. It seems like it must have somehow grown out of the Snellen chart due to the sight connection, but there really is nothing to verify this. How it became so widely used is also puzzling, especially when you consider that is was first noted in just 1962 as “the newest expression in the US air transport business”.

A black and white photo of Jazz Saxophonist Dexter Gordon. He is smoking and holding his saxophone.
Dexter Gordon, Jazz Saxophonist
The hindsight phrase has held its standing over the decades but there have been other 2020 usages over the years that have emerged and then faded away. For instance, by the mid-1940s, 2020 was used as an adjective for something or someone that was excellent or good-looking. But, this term was contained within the relatively small community of jazz musicians in Harlem, New York. They were known for their colorful jive talk and this was part of it, but as that insular community broke up over the years, their singular language faded away as well.

A view of a blue sky and clouds with beams of light and wings shining down. Angel portal.
The Urban Dictionary and the Urban Thesaurus both claim to have modern slang uses for 2020, but I am suspicious of their validity. You can check out their pages and decide for yourself.

There is something about the symmetry of 2020 that makes it appealing for use in many different ways. Apparently even angels are
attracted to it. According to the dogma of Numerology and Tarot, numbers have vibrational qualities that transcend our physical realm. These vibrations work in a higher plain, in a place where angels dwell. Our higher consciousness can also reach this realm, so when angels want to communicate with us they often send messages in numbers. These are aptly called Angel Numbers. So, when a particular number repeatedly reappears in a person’s life, angels are attempting to make contact. The Angel Number 2020 appears to be a have a positive message – a celestial “way to go, you got this, keep up the good work” kind of thing. It remains unclear to me how a person can tell that an angel is calling 2020 when that number is the current year and it appears on virtually everything.

A drawing of a green-skinned being wearing a cone-shaped hat and robes and holding a large weapon.
In the fantasy world of the online roleplaying game Guild Wars, 20/20 refers to a type of weapon.These 20/20 weapons have specific (and apparently awesome) capabilities that I’m not even going to try to understand enough to describe here. If you want to know more, here is a page to get you going.
The cover for Justin Timberlake's album called The 20/20 Experience. It is black and white with gold lettering and he is standing behind eye testing equipment.

There is a nationwide coalition of African-American community leaders called the 2020 Club (or the Bipartisan Justice Center). This organization began with 20 Republican and 20 Democrats (hence the name) and is dedicated to finding and implementing positive change in the criminal justice system.

Then there is Justin Timberlake: He put out an album in 2013 titled “The 20/20 Experience”. According to this article, he had said the title refers to “20 songs in 20 days”, but then debunks himself and says it means “music you can see”. And then he has ophthalmological equipment as the cover image. Whatever….

A bare-chested young man in a black hat saying, "Hindsight is always 20/20".

Here’s to an exceptional year in 2020 – better and happier in all the ways that matter most.

Submitted by Pam

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