It’s the time of year where I start receiving a lot of gardening (and garden art-making) questions so I thought I’d share my replies here.
Today’s topics include:
- Growing basil indoors
- Attracting butterflies to the garden
- Which soil to use for container gardening
- How to avoid GMOs in the home garden
- How to be sure silicone sealant really sticks when making garden art
- Getting started with veggie growing
If you would like more beginner gardener information, I’ve got lots here: Gardening —Getting Started.
Before we dig in, let me say that I’m by no means an Encyclopedia of Gardening (and neither do I wish to be) but I’m happy to share what I’ve learned.
When I’m preparing my own garden projects, I like to read as much as I can on the topic and then test things out.
If I’m asked about topics I have no experience with or (most often) pertain to entirely different garden zones, I don’t venture to guess. There’s so much misinformation in gardening—just look at all the misleading gardening pins on Pinterest!—and I don’t wish to contribute to the problem. So I stick to topics I am familiar with.
Here’s some recent gardening questions from my inbox.
1. Can I grow basil indoors? I’ve tried a few times and the plants have died.
Here’s what I’ve found. Basil doesn’t like to be indoors in soil but you can grow it in water.
- Place the plant in a jar of fresh water. The roots should be submerged and the leaves above the surface.
- Place a clear, open plastic bag over everything to create a mini greenhouse (basil seems to like this).
- Change the water every few days.
- Tear off what you need for cooking, never removing more than 1/4 of the leaves.
- The plant will grow on and on and on.
- Here’s a list of more food plants that grow nicely indoors.
2. Why don’t butterflies come to my garden? I’ve got lots of brightly coloured flowers.
This can be very complicated to answer but I shall rise to the challenge.
First of all, are there butterflies in your area or migrations known to pass through? If yes, there’s definitely things you can do to make your garden more appealing to butterflies, but there will also be factors beyond your control that may keep them away.
The basics that butterflies need are:
- Their favourite pollen-rich native plants (varies by growing region). In other words, it’s not just any flowers that will do but ones that they have co-evolved with and provide excellent sources of nectar. You should be able to find specific plant suggestions online for your region.
- Monarch butterflies require specific milkweed plants for laying their eggs. Of the approximately 100 species, there are about 30 types that they can actually use. Find out which ones are native to your area.
- Wind-breaks, so they can access flowers without getting blown away (literally).
- Warm resting spots: butterflies like to sun themselves on stones that have warmed in the sun.
- Water (preferably in shallow puddles).
- Winter habitat including leaf piles and wood stumps for those that stay during the cold months.
- No pesticides, herbicides, or other poisons in the plants or environment.
This last point is the deal-breaker. You can garden organically but if your neighbours or local farmers are using pesticides (etc.) or chemical sprays, there is no way tiny butterflies (bees, or other insects and wildlife) can overcome the effects. Quite simply, it’s deadly to them.
Personally, I do what I can with my own garden, speak up about the issues, and hope more will awaken to the severity of the problem.
If you’re specifically interested in monarch butterflies (which are experiencing very serious threats to their survival right now), see my post How to Attract Butterflies to Your Garden and Help Save the Monarchs on my blog at eBay.
3. What kind of soil do you use in your containers?
This is another question that is amazingly political and also depends on what you’re growing and where you live. I’ll show you how I decide what to use.
Here’s the goals with any container mix
- Healthy plants
- Safe for food crops and the compost pile: no contaminants in the soil or plants
- Support businesses I like (that make environmentally-beneficial choices whenever possible)
- Less plastic waste (this is a huge problem in the gardening world)
Basic garden soil is not suitable for containers. What you choose depends on the plants you are growing (ornamental plants versus food crops) and if you are an organic gardener. We call it container ‘mix’ because it doesn’t actually contain garden soil.
I’m an organic gardener so I avoid mixes with chemical fertilizers and other optimizers. I’m willing to have normal-sized flowers if it means being less harmful to the earth!
You can prepare your own container mix or buy it already mixed, which I find is actually cheaper, and more likely to go on sale.
These mixes contain all sorts of ingredients like vermiculite, perlite, peat, bark, coir. I suggest you do your own homework to decide how you feel about using these ingredients. Often they are mined or harvested from various parts of the world with varying effects on the environment.
Because I grow a lot of vegetables (food crops) and I like to experiment with various plant combinations in pots (flowers and veggies), I only use a container mix that is labelled as suitable for organic food crops. You really have to read the packages and look things up online. Organic container mix for veggies does not (we hope) contain ingredients that could be harmful if ingested (since the plants absorb what’s in the mix) and should be safe to add to the compost pile when done.
Finding a container mix company you like will require your own internet sleuthing. I live in a remote area and have pretty limited choices, but I do the best I can.
As for the plastic waste, until the world starts using reusable containers and bags for purchases, I don’t know how we’re ever going to slow down this problem. But imagine how awesome it would if even a fraction of the companies we buy from started using reusable containers. Single-use plastics are destroying our oceans. You can see for yourself on YouTube by searching The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It’s truly horrifying. And pretty sad that the gardening industry is sucked into the waste cycle like so many others. Oy!
Container Mix Checklist
- Appropriate for the plant type (flowers, succulents and cacti, fruits and veggies…)
- Organic (no chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, etc.)
- Ethical company
- Fill your own bag/bucket/container at the store (I’m dreaming right now: this would be ideal)
4. How do I avoid using GMO seeds in my garden?
The super simple answer is, if you always purchase your seeds from a local, organic seed company, it will never be an issue.
I don’t feel equiped to tackle the whole GMO topic but will give a few brief highlights (as far as I understand them).
There’s a big battle going on right now between those who want to protect the freedom to plant and save seeds versus the business and patents of genetically-modified organisms and seeds (GMOs).
Each side has people presenting misinformation to use as a scare tactics.
It is clear that GMOs are developed to combat certain very serious problems in agriculture for the world food supply but at great expense to the management so they are also patented as a means to recover costs.
To my knowledge, right now GMO seeds are marketed to large-scale farmers who sign contracts to use them. They are not made for home gardeners.
As an organic gardener, I use open-pollinated (OP) seeds, heirloom seeds (most of which are naturally open-pollinating), and hybrid (F1) seeds. None of these are GMOs.
There are a number of concerns with GMOs, and one is the potential for GMO crops to cross-pollinate with local open-pollinating plants, thereby rendering them forever altered (and patent-protected). It’s certainly something to be aware of even if it is highly unlikely (or physically impossible) to occur in your garden.
This post, Seeds 101: Easy Guide to Understand Basic Seed Types, should help you understand basic seed types and what to look for when purchasing seeds for your garden.
5. I used silicone sealant for my garden balls as you recommended but it didn’t stick. What did I do wrong?
I do recommend GE Silicone II sealant (clear, waterproof, made for gutters and flashing) for most outdoor garden art projects where you need to glue things together. But, sometimes the product is not in top condition and will not work.
Here’s how I know I’ve got a problem. If the silicone comes out of the tube and it appears even slightly runny, I know it won’t work. Fresh silicone sealant is thick and uniform: there’s no separation. Older silicone sealant starts to separate and gets runny. Fresh sealant dries rapidly. Old sealant never really cures.
My top tip is to check the date on the product to be sure it was manufactured quite recently.
For more tips and best results see: Losing Your Marbles? 6 Tips To be Sure Things Stick
6. I want to grow my first veggie patch this summer. Can you help me get started?
I don’t do house calls but I can share my best tips. I try to write all of my gardening and DIY posts with the beginner in mind. After all, the secret goal of most gardeners is to grow new gardeners. It’s our way of knowing we’ve left the world a better place.
You can find my beginner garden tips and tutorials here: Gardening—Getting Started. And, there’s a sweet little search box on the sidebar, just waiting for you to type something in it.
I hope these have helped. I know it’s helped me: I’ve just answered about 30 emails with one blog post.
Your comments and emails are always welcome. And happy gardening!
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