February 28, 2014

Shots from the Greenhouse

It was something like -20F outside this morning (with the windchill), but it's a right around 70F in the greenhouse...a lovely place to work in the cold of winter!

These plants have been potted up by the MSU Horticulture Club, which will be having fundraiser plant sale on April 12 and 13 in the Plant and Soil Sciences Building on MSU's campus. 

Coleus, lots and lots of coleus!


Hypoestes (polka dot plant)

Oxalis and coleus


February 21, 2014

Potting Up Succulents

We have quite an inventory of succulents at work right now. I spent a little time potting some of them up into clay pots, since they seem to sell better in clay pots than in plastic pots.

February 19, 2014

Temporary Tree Frog

We found a tree frog at the bottom of a pallet of potting mix bags. I relocated him to our indoor butterfly house. There currently are no butterflies in the house since we only have them for a couple months each year.

Unfortunately, I found out that these guys can eat 2 or 3 butterflies a day during the exhibit. We think there are up to 6 tree frogs in the butterfly house, so that means 12 to 18 dead butterflies a day. The butterflies cost somewhere around $5 each (we buy the chrysalis), so that's a lot of money! I think we're going to have to try to hunt down all the tree frogs in the next couple weeks and relocate them.

February 17, 2014

Grow Your Own Pea Shoots

I'm getting ready to teach a class on growing sprouts, shoots, and microgreens in mid-March, so I've been experimenting with a lot of different types of seeds and methods for growing them.  Most recently, I'm experimenting with growing pea shoots. I've never eaten them, so I'm excited to try some once they're ready.

I bought a 2 pound back of dried green peas from an ethnic food store (they whole bag was only $2.50). I soaked the peas overnight, then rinsed them every 12 hours for the next two days. At that point, they looked like this:

Then I spread them thickly over some potting mix.

And covered them very lightly with some more potting mix.

I left the pot in the mist-house at work over the weekend, so I'll update once I take more photos of the progress.

February 12, 2014

Massive Quantities of Succulents!

Last fall, the Horticulture Gardens acquired a bunch of leftover succulents from one of the undergraduate classes. I've been nursing them along in the greenhouse all winter. I started taking cuttings a few weeks ago, since I was to propagate enough to use some of them out in the garden displays.

We currently have almost an entire greenhouse bench of succulents, with about a dozen varieties. There are more trays in the propagation house rooting out.

I learned that these Aloe vera are carrying a common virus that caused black spots on some of the leaves. It's mostly an aesthetic issue, not harmful to any other plants, so we will keep them as long as they look good. I'm planning on using some of these in outdoor containers in some of our hotter areas of the garden.

These hens and chicks are doing really well, they've grown a ton since we first planted them. This is a mixture of varieties so some of them have cool purple coloration.

This variety was growing very spindly, so I cut them back hard (and used the cuttings for propagation). They are already starting to branch out from being pinched.

 This Crassula 'Campfire' is one of the faster growing varieties, so I'm going to use it in the display gardens. It goes through a rainbow of colors during the growing season.

This Senicio is also one of the faster growing varieties, so I'm hoping to include it in some outdoor containers this summer.

February 10, 2014

High-Back Chair Reupholstery (Part 1): Preparation

My high-back chair project is finally done, so I want to share the process with you, as well as some of the discoveries/mistakes I made.

Before you do anything, the first step to reupholstering a piece of furniture is to take a ton of photos. I'm only going to show you a few, but to give you an idea, I took over a hundred photos before and during the deconstruction phase! You want to document every part of the piece of furniture: how and where the cording is attached, where the fabric seams are, what it looks like underneath the chair and underneath the cushion. And you want to continue taking photos as you are deconstructing the chair, so you can remember how and where certain pieces of fabric were attached once it comes time to put the new fabric on.

So here's the chair I started with. I purchases it at a thrift store for $12. It was very sturdy and I liked the shape, but the velvet was worn and stained. Noticed the diamond-shaped pattern of buttons on the back panel (half of which were missing). I decided to forego these when I reconstructed the chair. Unless the back of the chair is concave, there really no need for the buttons and I thought it made the chair look dated.

Make sure to take photos of the detailing, such as this piping along the back cushion. Notice also how the back cushion is boxed (there's a strip of fabric on the side). I actually decided to change this aspect of the chair and replaced the back cushion with a single piece of fabric. That reduced the amount of work and I think it looked better in the end.

One of the worst parts of this chair was the sticky/greasy spots on the arm rests. Notice how the piping on the outside of the armrest is one continuous piece.

That piping on the outside arm continues down to the underside of the chair where it was attached with a nail. Also note how the front corner of the chair is a separate piece of fabric from the outside arm. These are the kinds of things you want to document, so you don't get confused later trying to recreate it in the new fabric.

Another bad aspect of this chair was the cushion and front panel under the cushion. They were both sagging and I suspected the foam inside was crumby and disintegrating. Also take photos of the cushion (how the zipper is attached, etc) if you are planning on ripping it apart to use as a template.

The panel under the cushion also had some unnecessary seams (see those little darts on the side) that I decided to forego when I redid the chair). I also switched the piece of fabric directly under the cushion with thick inexpensive muslin to reduce the amount of upholstery fabric I had to order (no one will see under the cushion anyhow).

Once you are done documenting how the chair is constructed, you can start deconstructing it (again, taking more photos as you open seams and remove panels of fabric. To get started, turn the chair upside down so you are looking at the dust cover (called cambric). And let the staple-removing fun begin!

Check out my next post for the "Deconstruction" steps...

February 8, 2014

Homemade Pillows

I churned out about 7 pillows the other weekend. I don't think I quite figured out how to do the zipper until the second or third one. Once I figured it out (which only happened once I stopped following the directions), they actually turned out looking pretty professional. I may re-do the first pillow I attempted, since I have extra fabric, but it still turned out okay.

Unfortunately, the charcoal gray fabric I ordered to reupholster my couch is still on backorder, so we are currently living with the couch covered in a chartreuse green bed sheet. At least the new pillows still kind of match!

My first upholstery project, this high-back chair is finished and has it's own throw pillow.

This chair will also be recovered in the charcoal gray fabric. I made a throw pillow for it using the leftover fabric from the high-back chair

February 6, 2014

My First Greenhouse

We are getting fairly close to ramping up production for the spring planting season. I picked up a few trays of plants during my visit to Rakers Greenhouse last week. They have been potted up and are currently residing in one of the greenhouses that I have been assigned.

I can't believe I get to fill this entire greenhouse (and then some)!

View to the right

View to the left
My first seed grown crop in the greenhouse: Alcea rosea

Hypoestes from plugs

Oxalis from plugs

February 4, 2014

Greenhouse Visit: C Raker and Sons

I had the opportunity (i.e. they needed an extra driver) to go on a greenhouse tour with one of our undergraduate horticulture classes last week. I have been to Rakers Greenhouse many times before and I've gone on at least three other tours there, but somehow I still learned lots of new things. Our tour guides were excellent and were able to answer all of the questions the students had.

This particular greenhouse specializes in "young plants", meaning that they sell plugs (tiny rooted plants) that are only a handful of weeks old. They are then shipped to other greenhouses where they are transplanted and grown to full size.

It's always nice to be inside a nice warm and humid greenhouse on a cold winter day.

We also got to pick out some material for the class to bring back to campus and pot up. This greenhouse dumps all their excess (overgrown/unmarketable) stock each Thursday and they generously offer it to nonprofit groups and for educational purposes. I've been hearing about these mythic 'Raker's Dump Days' for years now and I finally got to go. The students got some cool plants and I was able to grab a few trays of perennials for our perennial manager and some trays for the annual gardens too.

They had a pretty neat section devoted just to succulents. Unfortunately, they are slow-growing and therefore unlikely to end up in the dump pile.

 Most everything they sell is shipped before it's even in bloom, so it was odd to see this bench of flowering plants. However, they explained that due to the frigid temperatures, they have not been able to ship anything for almost three weeks! That means they have been holding much of their inventory longer than they would normally. Hopefully this cold snap breaks soon enough that they can ship...or else they're going to be dumping a ton of plant material!

February 3, 2014

Eating From the Garden in February!

Amazingly, it'sFebruary, and we're are still eating meals occasionally that include some form of garden produce from last summer. For example, last night we had beef and barley stew made with homegrown potatoes, onions, garlic, and thyme. With starting up my new job mid-summer, I really didn't have time to do as much canning and preserving as I would normally do. However, I actually got to teach a class called 'Preserving The Harvest' in August last year. I did a little canning, drying, and freezing so I would have demos and food to taste for the class.

I still have a crate of these banana fingerling potatoes in the basement. As well as a crate of the largest 'Yukon Gold' potatoes I've ever seen. My potato harvest was huge (a.k.a. scary huge) last year!

I dehydrated tons of Principe Borghese tomatoes last summer so I could make a sun-dried tomato dip for my preserving class. I've barely made a dent in them!

I grew lots and lots of soybeans last year and froze several gallon size bags of edamame. These are so good boiled and salted!

Some of my onions have gotten mushy in storage (I should really put them down in the basement instead of in the kitchen), but many are still nice and firm. I grew heading onions for the first time last year. I've only ever planted onions sets and harvested them as green onions. Last year I grew 'Ailsa Craig' and was pleased to get nice large bulbs that seem to hold up fairly well in storage. This year I'm going to grow 'Copra' because they are known for their storage.

I still have about a dozen heads of garlic left, probably not enough to last me until next harvest. I braided them and they're hanging in my kitchen. The braids look so pretty that it's hard to start cutting heads off of them. I probably also didn't plant enough garlic last year, so I'll run out again next winter. I seem to do that every year. This fall I should just plant what seems like a ridiculous amount and then it will end up being just enough!

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