The Not So Flowering Cactus

I’ve never purchased a cactus before.  I once had a traumatic experience with one.  As a teenager, I worked for a cleaning company.  I was cleaning a house full of houseplants, including little cacti, when one was knocked from the table.  I saw something falling and, reacting quickly and without thinking, I reached out to grab it.

Yea, bad idea.

I have had no desire to own a cactus since.  But I was recently browsing the plant offerings at my local Home Depot when I came across a nifty little cactus with pretty blue flowers.  “What a fantastic contradiction,” I thought and bought it.

The label on the plant provided no name, so I diligently researched the plant online, trying desperately to find what this cactus could be.  Guess what I found out?  It’s a Fairy Castle Cactus and it doesn’t bloom blue flowers.  It turns out those pretty little blue flowers aren’t flowers at all, they are made of straw and glued onto the cactus.  So, next time you’re shopping for a cactus, just remember to check for glue blobs under the flowers.


Feeding the Hungry

I keep hearing about the problems of poor children who suffer through the summer when school lunch programs aren’t available.  The Richmond soup kitchen serves food every weekday in the summer to city children whose families are too poor to feed them when they can’t get free meals at school.

Hydroponics and hydroculture could put a dent in this problem.  Community programs striving to feed hungry children should consider operating rooftop and vacant lot community greenhouses that supply large amounts of fruits and vegetables in a relatively small location year round via hydro systems that use no soil and less water than soil-based systems.  Even a corner of a storage area could be turned into a hydrogarden serving several families.  Hydroponics and hydroculture systems are already in place in several other countries to feed poor populations.  Why isn’t it catching on here in the USA?

Compost Drove Me to It

Several things led me to hydroculture, but perhaps none so much more than failure to compost.  How hard can it be to turn natural waste into nutrient rich compost?  Well, I thought it would be easy.  I spent a poo-load of money on a tumbling composter a couple of years ago and was careful to ensure proper ratios of browns and greens.  My first batch included browns of dry crunchy leaves and dry crunchy grass, greens of household food wastes and horse manure, and deer dung for an accelerator.  But nothing excelled about it.  I tumbled it and tumbled it, but a year and a half later I had a lumpy mess.  I could have sworn the tumbler is supposed to compost in mere weeks or months.  I had chopped most everything up to small bits.  I couldn’t figure out what went wrong and why I had giant lumps in my compost rather than rich brown plant food that smelled like soil and ran through my fingers.

I started my second batch two months ago, something simple I figured would compost quickly: dry grass and bunny poop.  Bunny poop is supposed to be an accelerator and we have lots of bunny poop.  Two months later I still have dry grass and lots of little round bunny balls.  I’ve even kept dampening it despite the near-drought conditions.

I sat pondering this one evening.  For years, I have been a failure at gardening and I was convinced it was largely to do with my inability to perfect my soil levels, which was the purpose for composting.  Then it dawned on me that there must be a better way, so I went in search of a better way.

During my search, I lamely bought one of those cheapo “grow grape tomatoes on your deck” kits and found something interesting in it.  The growing medium wasn’t soil at all.  It was coir, a substance made of coconut fiber.  It comes as a hard little brick and expands in a bowl of water.  The kids and I were mesmerized watching that brick poof up into a whole bowl of growing medium!

I began researching coir and stumbled upon hydroponics.  I’d heard of hydroponics but hadn’t really given it much thought.  Further research on the matter turned out to be frustrating.  It sounded great, but the mechanical systems required to keep the water moving were restrictive.  I thought of setting up a hydroponic garden in a closet or in a corner of the living room, but I lamented over not being able to have plants in every room without each one including expensive machinery.

I had almost given up the search when something caught my eye.  I saw mentioned “static hydroponics”.  Further research on this term turned up hydroculture and I heard angels singing!  I could do this in any container and put the pots anywhere in the house.  I wondered if it could be as simple as it sounds and the mere thought of it sent me head over heels in search of a local hydroponics shop selling Hydroton.

So, here I am with a useless expensive composter and a collection of mostly happy plants living soilless (except for Nanners who took it as a bit of a shock and the cucumbers – perhaps they weren’t big enough to transplant yet).  I’m going to keep trying and I am convinced that I am finally getting it right.  Soil doesn’t like me.  I’ll leave the soil to the weeds!

I don’t hate soil.  After all, I wouldn’t have a yard full of edible wild plants and nifty fruit trees without it.  But it can just stay outside and grow whatever it likes while I play with my happy hydroballs.