Adorable Bulb Makes Welcome Houseplant

It's within the range of February's Garden Bloggers Bloom Day--a bit late because I had to include the nearly-opened flower of this little cutie (and as a third person non-fiction just to change things up):

Chubby, compact and upright were the qualities that had fascinated her over the past year or so-- the qualities that led her to plant seven varieties of torch lily, four different pineapple lilies, and now, Lachenalia, an African plant with no common name that she could find.

This latest was something she stumbled on as she poked around the web researching some topic or another for a magazine feature.  Detours were common in the life of a writer, especially a modern writer who no longer traveled to a library but learned all she needed from a Google search.

 Any color besides salt-melt grey was an apparition in a Midwest winter. But a flower of iridescent violet streaked with chartreuse was especially welcome. Easy to Grow Bulbs, a company in California, was just what she was really looking for, after all.

Lachenalia 'Rupert' is just beginning to open.
Grown from a bulb, Lachenalia is a member of the Hyacinth family. And like the Dutch hyacinth, Lachenalia blooms in spring. And since it's not hardy, the desperate Midwestern gardener potted up six bulbs indoors in a mix created with a generous helping of orchid bark and gave them as much light as possible as they prepared to make their entrance.

From the top, Lachenalia shows off its closed-up flowers that look like purple tootsies.

While success has revolved around this one bulb, two others have formed flowers, albeit in a much slower fashion. This, she figured, is a result of planting depth. And now, as the one that's tallest grows larger, those left to lag fall behind even further from the overshadowing provided by the expanding flower spike.

The bulbs were planted in a quick-draining mix containing orchid bark. The oak-looking seedlings are a mystery.
Author's note (Because I've always wanted to write one.): I couldn't help writing in third person after listening to the audio book Dead Tomorrow by British author Peter James. Can you tell I wrote this with an English accent?

Garden-pedia is a must have reference

Garden-pedia by Pamela Bennett and Maria Zampini is a reference to nearly every term you'll encounter along your personal gardening path, no matter how far you've gotten.

Sometimes, all you have time for is a snippet of information--just enough to get you to that reference point where you can get on with your life.

Did you know that lead could be found in soil? (A good reason to get your soil tested.)

Some gardening terms--like budding, chipping and standard--can have more than one meaning?

And, what the heck is a macronutrient, anyway?

Answers to all of these questions, from the obscure to the obvious, can be found in Garden-pedia, published by St. Lynn's Press. I loved perusing this book at the dinner table. (Yes, we do that.) It's not a meaty book, but one that might lead to further examination of a term, a method, or a type of plant you're considering for your garden.

Just because it makes a small footprint and makes a fun read doesn't mean Garden-pedia is a book for dummies. Whether you consider yourself a beginner or a seasoned horticultural veteran, the book offers nuggets of information that will make you a better gardener. At the very least, it will make you more fun at parties. Can anyone name the three sides of the disease triangle?

Kitchen Gardening?

Perhaps not the kitchen, but somewhere in your abode lives memories or even remnants of a new gardener's attempts at growing plants indoors. It could be a thread of macrame cord from a spider plant, or a spray bottle used for misting that finicky fern. I'd hazard to guess most of us started planting things indoors before the gardening obsession took us over completely. Where we went from there is as varied as the species we plant.

But if you suffer a winter with freezing temps, you also spend several months suffering the loss of fresh-tasting vegetables. According to Elizabeth Millard in her new book, Indoor Kitchen Gardening: Turn Your Home Into a Year-Round Vegetable Garden, it doesn't have to be that way.

I like that she addresses a plan. I'm a firm believer that failures are the result (partially, at least) of poor planning. Whether you're new at the whole gardening thing or would like to give the indoor venue another shot, having a plan keeps expectations real.

For example, the author asks:
  1. What do you hope to gain?
  2. How ambitious do you want to be?
  3. What's your vacation schedule like?
  4. Are you looking for indoor-only growing, or transfers between the kitchen and outdoor garden?
I've started plants indoors for eventual planting outdoors, but usually don't start up until March. As for ambitions, I'd simply like to have fresh greens, not potatoes and mushrooms. Although Millard offers great details on starting and growing these long-term commitment vegetables, I opted to achieve the easiest victory.

Microgreens is a term that wasn't around when I was a kid. I first encountered them at a restaurant where they were sprinkled atop a minute salad. My first thought was, "What cute little seedlings. But what are they doing on my food?"

I knew what a seedling looked like, after all, and that's what these were. I assumed they were edible, yet I wasn't sure what to expect, so I just doused them with dressing and dug in. I think the restaurant owner/chef should have included a little notice with the salad that said something like, "These are sprouts of radish/cabbage/carrot (or whatever) and are higher in nutrients than the actual plant. And they taste delicious."

Even the USDA sings the praises of this tiny but mighty produce. I pictured Popeye opening a tiny vial filled with spinach microgreens to give him the same walloping energy as a whole can.

I sampled a product called Microgreenz, a simple little method of growing your own microgreens. From the instructions, it seemed it couldn't be easier. I filled the ceramic tray with soilless mix, planted the seed and put it in the window. I got sprouts, but learned that just spraying the seedlings didn't provide them with enough moisture. And because the tray had no drainage, it would be easy to drown the little guys.

The chapter on microgreens in Indoor Kitchen Gardening: Turn Your Home Into a Year-Round Vegetable Garden alone makes the book a winner. Millard explains what they are--initial leaves of a seedling called cotyledons. She recommends beets, mustard, radish or carrot, which all sound good to me. She also suggests containers for growing them and how to make sure they're getting the right amount of moisture.

The author calls growing microgreens the ideal initial project. I really like how she shows photos of what they look like at harvest stage, and offers specific and detailed troubleshooting sections about growing microgreens, and how to use them in recipes.

And if a foray into microgreens isn't enough, there is a chapter on growing shoots, which Millard defines as just microgreens of the seeds you've chosen. She recommends peas, sunflowers, popcorn and nasturtium as making some tasty shoots for harvesting, storing and using in recipes.

I'll follow the author's advice to know the limit of your ambitions, and will stick with microgreens. But if I change my mind, I'll delve into the other chapters of her book, which include more long-term goals like fully-grown radishes, hot peppers, tomatoes and lettuces.