“Escape Life!” with the joys of a Capillary Mat

Yes, it’s true. You can’t escape everything, but you can shirk some responsibilities with some light moderation. Sometimes you just have to do it. So today, I’ll tell you about the Capillary Mat, so you can worry a little less!

Let’s first talk about the science behind the mat. I am not a scientist, but I can describe to you the way it works. It is a material that looks a lot like felt material. Once the entire mat is soaked with water, along with the soil of the seedlings in cell packs, or pots, it all connects like a type of surface tension. The roots drink, pulling water from the soil, and the soil then pulls the water through the mat. The mat pulls the water from the water trough.

Since this is such an exact process, there are rules.
The second rule is, START IT UP BEFORE YOU ABANDON IT. That way if there is a problem, you can troubleshoot and verify if it is working before you go away.
The third rule is, Don’t let the water get too low in the trough, or it will not work!

So let’s start with the setup. I will walk you through it.

The first step is to source it out from a retailer. You can probably get it at several different garden centers, but I got mine from Lee Valley. It gives you enough material to do a fairly large table.

Penny demonstrates her disinterest in both the plastic sheet and the trough setup.

So you might remember when I set up my grow op, i started with the plastic sheeting. That came with the kit. It also doubles as a very good water spill protector before i set it up. You need this sheeting. It keeps the mat from drying out from below, and also it will probably destroy anything it sits on as it is absolutely saturated with water, and has to be.

After the plastic has been laid down, I then had the trough set up. This involved installing some brackets to the table legs, and a shelf on the bracket. According to directions, the trough needs to be below the table/mat level. The other thing to remember is, the capillary action will not work below 4”..that’s just too much pull. We measured the depth of the wick in the bottom of the trough, and as long as it stays at a certain water level, it is only about 2”.

20160412_164206.jpgNow, we fill the trough, and wet the mat. The mat will need a LOT of water. You could submerge it and really massage it to push out all the air pockets. What we did was water the mat on the table, since we didn’t want to mess up how it was laid out. You need the mat to be flat on the table so it does not drip. And make sure every edge and tip is completely wet. If you’re in doubt, continue to add more.

You need to cut a small piece leading from the trough to the mat. Make sure this is very wet. This is the feeder piece that will supply your mat with water constantly.

We placed all the cell packs back on the table, and then, the final step, is to water each and every pack. This ensures the seal will be made, and the soil will then be able to draw water from the wick. If it is dry, there would be air pockets breaking the capillary action.

Now, it should work! We wait and watch, to ensure it will continue to pull water from the trough, thus eliminating the need to water the cell packs every day! Hooray!


So, I hope this all made sense. Like I said before, I am not a scientist, but this is my understanding of how the mat works.

As I said, it’s a great thing for us, as we both have full time jobs, and it eliminates the worry while driving to work… Is anything too dry? Nevermind leaving the oven on. Are the seedlings hydrated??

That’s all for today! Next week, another garden agenda and update. I will be back and ready to tackle the spring plantings! This is the part I really can’t wait for!  (And the blackflies, mosquitoes, and ticks, oh my!)

Happy capillary-ing!


Mid-Late April Agenda


We have no grass in this one patch of “lawn” but we do have ONE solitary Chionodoxa.

I’m surprised to find you here this week. It’s hard to find time to do much else in life besides focus on spring clean up. I finally finished the Bird City hackback.  It was tedious, but I had good company, as little chickadees were taking turns at the feeder.

So last weekend we purchased a fancy (haha) tow-behind aerator and really opened up the pores on the green. It will come in time. We seeded as well.  We will hopefully seed several times this year. The dog really tore up the ground over the spring thaw, so it’s going to need lots of mending, plus there are a lot of Queen Anne’s Lace plants poking up all around the ground, making it less favorable for grass to grow.

So now is the time I will start trying to get as much done as I can before I go on a grand tropical adventure of RELAXATION.  I’ve been splitting my focus between moving through all the garden beds here and getting the veggie garden ready for planting. Manimal put up a few posts and some wire fencing so we can maintain the espaliered apple’s shape, and once the grape wakes up, tie it up to the wire too.

I’m going to lay some black plastic over the cucumber bed to warm it up. I want to actually harvest and eat a cucumber out of my garden this year. I’m borrowing this trick from the Year Round Gardener book. When I get back, it should be warmed up nicely. I have have potentially unrealistic expectations that when I come home, everything will be flourishing beautifully (including weeds).

I was going to start several varieties of seed this week, but I’m going to put all of those off till I return except for parsley. The good news here is they will be more likely to germinate a little quicker, due to being a week later and hopefully (being optimistic here), warmer! Most of these are cool season direct-sow to garden vegetables like scallions, carrots, lettuce, beets etc. Too many to name at the moment. I will probably do a list to break down EVERY thing sown once the work is done and everything is planted, along with some pics. I really struggle with garden structure and I am always wondering what peoples veggie gardens look like, and I often sit and wonder if mine are hideous and crude.

Speaking of fruit trees, chances are you are too late now, if you haven’t done your dormant spray. I’ve been wandering the property, and walking in the neighborhood, and I have already discovered some maples are on the bring of blooming, and all buds are definitely open. Oh, and to mark the date, mosquitoes are baaaaaack!

We have next to no room on the capillary mat grow table now. This means a lot of repotting soon. As far as I can see, it’s working very well, and has already saved me a considerable amount of time of watering in the mornings.

This is not a scene out of slenderman. This is a little creek with a little dream. 

As for the other developments on the property.. My Manimal has taken to gardening a little now too. He has been watching the little creek in the woods swell and decline with every rainfall, and built it up with stones, so it cascades down a few tiers as it meanders through the woods. We have discussed the idea of cultivating the wildness of the woods, but also to add subtle color to accentuate certain features, like a beautiful old mossy log along the edge of the water. It needs a lot of cleanup of dead wood, and it fills in very thick in the summer. There will be plenty of cultivation to do, but that’s his thing. I will just provide specimen suggestions whenever he asks.

Weeding is pretty much all I’ve been focusing on, as well as cutting everything back. The goutweed garden looks so beautiful, I’m seeing poppies coming up and some crocuses as well as oregano, chives, and daffodils. It’s a shame really. When this pest hopefully becomes eradicated, I will be replanting with butterfly and hummingbird perennials.

That’s about all for now, it’s a short and sweet post today. Can’t talk! Gotta weed!

Next week I will tell you about the capillary mat and the benefits of having one if you have a table full of seedlings to contend with. Happy spring!

I <3 Bromeliads – Care & Propagation Tips


Bromeliad Care.jpg

I love the underdogs. I have a thing for the hidden gem, precariously tucked away in the heart of the monster. But it isn’t that simple. Bromeliads aren’t your typical tropical, straightforward monsters with little gemmy hearts. But they aren’t difficult, either. Today I will tell you about my journey in Bromeliad husbandry and you will be forever changed, if you don’t already like these. STICK AROUND, I promise you know or might even HAVE a Bromeliad in your home right now! And you will know how to propagate one!

Did you KNOW??? You might have one in your fridge  perhaps, or sitting on your counter. Yes, that Pineapple is a Bromeliad! Good, now you are engaged, and can continue, as you have a previously established relationship with Bromeliads. Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you about how to propagate the top of a pineapple. I’m a little more nitty gritty than that!

You probably snatched up a Bromeliad at some point in your life, for a gift, or as an impulse buy. It had a bright-looking lollipop type flower(Actually, that brilliant tower in the center is a specialized structure that houses the tinier flowers within). It might have been on a clearance rack, despite still being in bloom. They are prized for being long-time bloomers, but I discover they outlive their location on the sales shelf, and will soon be cast off into clearance purgatory, waiting for someone to take it home for its retirement.


Now, my journey in Bromeliad-keeping began with a Billbergia, which I’ve also been told has been called a friendship plant. I thought it was kind of ugly, but if you have just the right conditions, it WILL bloom. And it did. Slowly, it began to exude some neon pink bud, which snaked out of the vase, every day, it topped itself in spectacular display. The pink bud opened, and then there were purple flowers inside. And then they opened. And then, the yellow filaments inside? Well, THEY opened, curled and there it stood. I was won over for good.

The next bromeliads I got were a pineapple, which my mother gave to me, while still in fruit, as she didn’t really know what to do with it next (neither did I, it was a fruit fly magnet). And then later, cryptanthus, and a mighty Aechmea.

I’ve gotten, and lost many Bromeliads. This is an unforgettable truth about them. You can’t take one home, put it in the window and name it George. George will one day, if he hasn’t already, bloom, for a long time mind you, become your verdant sweetheart, and then? George will die. You could simply throw him away, or take notice that George has left behind a tiny memory: A pup. This is the most common way he reproduces, and probably why we give Bromeliads a nickname of the friendship plant. My Billbergia is a clump of pups, but the parent is a withered husk. Don’t be discouraged by this fact. They aren’t 100% temporary, if you are willing to put your own share of effort into it. It’s a great hands-on plant for someone who likes something more interactive and exotic.

The bloom above is a Billbergia. It began as a take-home from school. That plant is long gone, but this is a pup, and probably the current clump is about 4 generations old. You can see the original plant inside, but unless I take it out and separate everyone, it is going to stay there. It will not hurt anything.


The Cryptanthus was a little clearance buddy from a nursery. This guy has been kept in a bright window all its life, and has rewarded us with beautiful coloration. I’ve had other Cryptanthus, one I gave to a friend, the other perished, likely due to insufficient sunlight.










Aechmea.jpgThe Aechmea in this picture is actually two of them, the taller ones with stakes holding them upright (this was a division I did last year) It was most prized Bromeliad, before it perished to its inevitable life cycle. It has won me a plaque in a contest, and a ribbon, all without a single bloom. It was a real show stopper. Many people stopped me that day to ask what it was, and to tell me they had never seen one like that. The bloom is stunning and over-the-top, and is the logo flower of my home business,  but I bought mine as a rescue, because I knew it would give me pups. I have two plants right now, the original was retired and now in the big garden in the sky. But not before leaving me a new pup!


A pineapple in the foreground, looking kind of  like a posse on the cover of a rap CD


The Pineapple was given to me by my mother. It’s a quiet little thing. The original has already died, and what you see is its pup. I never bothered to separate them. I’m hoping this is the year it will bloom.


Don’t ask me about my experiences with Air Plants (Tillandsia sp.) I have very bad luck and always forgot to mist them, resulting in imminent death. I’ll try again one day. Some Tillandsias will rebloom, however, and they take up very little room. I do recommend them, but don’t forget about them.

Now, on with some useful information:

In nature, you find Bromeliads in the trees, clinging to the crotches of branches, their vases collecting rainwater. Sometimes, you may find insects or amphibians residing within the vases. It’s a bit counter-intuitive, but most Bromeliads thrive when their vases are kept topped up, as this serves as a type of reservoir for them in nature, where the moisture isn’t always readily available in their roots.

Location: Most bromeliads prefer a bright to moderately bright home. Mine sit in a window on an old wooden spool with southwestern exposure, on a large table that I rotate every few days.

Temperatures: Mine have lived in a cool (15 degree) house in winter, and showed no stress. They are extremely versatile in terms of temperatures, and I believe some can tolerate cooler. But they are tropicals, so keep them indoors and cozy.

Watering: I mist them about once a day and I will top up their vases (except for the pineapple and Cryptanthus) as needed. The epiphytic types I will water whenever I think of it, which is pretty much once or twice a month, increasing the frequency in the summer. They do fine this way. The Cryptanthus and Pineapple are terrestrial Bromeliads, and I will water these more frequently. They would certainly benefit from a pebble tray as well as higher humidity.

Feeding: Rarely do I feed these. I might give them some water soluble fertilizer once every couple of weeks. They are not heavy feeders.

Placing Outside: You can do that with these plants if you want an exciting looking decor around your patio, but I will caution  you against it, as they can be susceptible to mealybug and scale, which is the bane of my indoor plant collection’s existence. You don’t really want to bring them back in to infect your other plants in the fall.

Miscellaneous care facts I need to share:
– don’t rub the leaves of the variegated or striped varieties. These are similar (in my opinion) to a butterfly’s scales. Once you rub them off, they’re gone.
– Use extreme caution when touching or handling these plants. In case you didn’t discover already, many of them are armed with spines along their leaf margins. I call my Aechmea the ferocious one, as it was very interesting transporting it home with all those spines.  Pineapples, guzmanias and tillandsias though? They’re perfectly safe to touch and you won’t get scratched.
– a helpful hint for anyone keeping these for the long term is that once the plant is finished, I will often write “R” on the tag to signify that it has already bloomed and has been “retired.” I watch these for pups and separate when they’re ready.

Propagation and division: Don’t bother with seeds unless you like a good challenge. I have some Puya seeds, and only got one to germinate so far, and it perished by the cat toppling it over many times. The easiest and most reliable way of propagation is by way of division! I decided to divide two types, side by side,  for you to see how it’s done.

I would like to recommend types that are easiest  for beginners, but honestly I feel they are all of the same difficulty level. If you are unsteady-handed I would suggest Guzmanias or Neoregelias, as their leaves are soft and safe. If you want something really special, look for Aechmeas. If you want something more mindful or interactive and hip to love, try a Tillandsia, just make sure you buy a misting bottle!


20160405_151132.jpgYou will need: 
Pots (I usually use 4” or 6” pots, don’t go too big or the plant may suffer from root rot)
A serrated pruning knife. Don’t criticize my steak knife!
Pruners to clip the old dead pieces
Gloves are reccommended
Bromeliad mix (my suggestion is a home made mix of 25%  of Sunshine mix and 75% Orchid bark)
Stakes (optional) for stabilization.

Step 1: choose your victim. Always choose a plant whose pup is already 1/3 the size of the parent for the best chance of success. Fact: You are always the victim in the end.
20160405_151248Step 2: Unpot and examine roots and crowns for ideal places to cut. In this pic, you can see two pups and a dead parent in the center. You would cut between each plant.
Step 3: Carefully cut the pup(s) from the parent, using your serrated pruning knife.



My show stopper and his pup. You can see where I made the cut. I took most of the parent’s root system so it will sustain the pup. WEAR GLOVES! Aechmeas are incredibly spiny.

Step 4: Repot pups in an appropriately sized pot. Note, I have chosen pots that are smaller than the overall span of the leaves. Their roots are not very big. As a result, I also suggest using stakes to stabilize the plant until it has taken root. Aechmeas are very top heavy.
Step 5: Give to your friends!
Step 6: The parent plant can either be discarded if it’s already dead, or you can keep it and enjoy it until it does die. You could use this one to enjoy outdoors in the summer, and discard at the end of the season. It doesn’t matter, all up to you.











All my ducks in a row. Each Billbergia pot has 2 plants in it. I will likely try to sell these divisions in the summer. 

You can also mount epiphytic Bromeliads on trees or branches, but I haven’t even attempted this successfully yet. I may one day try this, and I will make a post about it when it happens.

As an amateur, I had read somewhere that putting an apple in a bag with the plant will coax it into bloom. Don’t bother if it has already bloomed. They will only ever bloom once in most species, put forth a new pup, and then slowly decline into a dry clump of leaves, which the pup will overshadow in time. I haven’t tested this myself, but if anyone can confirm, please speak up!

Well, that’s all I have for today, I hope you enjoyed your crash course in Bromeliads. I love them, they are my specialty. People always think they are unusual and wonder why they are in my home. I love to talk about them. Give one a try. Now that you know how to divide one, you can grab one from the clearance rack with confidence! And if you kill it, don’t worry. I’ve done it accidentally many times, but I never give up. There is a Bromeliad out there that is ideal for your home.

Want more information? Here are some more places to find info:

http://www.bromeliads.info/ – FAQs, photos, and more.
There is also a great Bromeliads group on Facebook you can request to join that shares incredible photos of blooms. I am jealous of their gardens!
An inexpensive and quick read on Bromeliad care in book form: Bromeliads for Home and Garden by Jack Kramer. Lots of information and it is divided into sections based on genus.

I’m counting down the days till I’m in Cuba (12). Next week I’ll tell you all about the scramblin’ I’m doing in the garden. Today was a joke. Enjoy Otis in the snow.

Always find humor in all of nature’s jokes. Even if snow is old and not funny anymore.


Early-Mid April Agenda

The current progress on our greenhouse – the sarcophagus has been filled, hung up some string lights, heater is rigged up for overnights in the mini crystal. Still have growing on tables to build and some storage for the pots.

Ahhh! We survived March. Take a deep breath.. it’s April, a month away from May. Air smells less like dog poop, more like pig poo. Time to go for a walk in the garden to see what’s going on. I’m sure by next year I will have worn a desire path through my entire property, as I check everything out in the same sort of sequence. I do this just so I don’t by some chance forget the flow I want to establish in my garden.

This is when I address my lawn care in terms of the labour, maybe not dive right in until it warms up more. It’s supposed to get cold for a few days.. poor spring peepers!  I don’t have a lawn really. I have a muddy yard full of pine needle blowaways that will soon have Queen Anne’s Lace sprouting up (save for under the two large trees, they still have some lawn).. I can use the time I spent de-thatching the lawn in the last house for putting some seed down here, and somehow keeping the dog out of there. I’ll probably tackle my lawn a little at a time. As much as I’d like to go lawn-free here, it is our septic field and everyone needs a nice patch of lawn to enjoy, including our dog.  So I’ll be addressing my mud patches, I’ll add some fresh soil, I might cordon it off and spread seed.

I’m also waiting patiently to see if my Canadice grape survived the winter. It had a rough year last year, being a nomadic fella. So far it looks like it may have survived.

I’m going to be planting strawberries as soon as the soil is workable. Some frost blankets came with the house, so I’ll cover them overnight to keep them protected. The strawberries I have I dug up out of the greenhouse, but I’ll be mail ordering more as well, including hopefully some pineberries.

Seeding: At this time, I will do seeding for any last chance tomatoes. I’ll be doing some Peas, spinach, Night-Scented stock, Marigolds, Lavender, Broccoli (in my cold frame), Borage, Asters, Nicotiana, Meadow Rue, Hibiscus and all the rest of my tropical seeds. Some of these seeds noted above are being done indoors, the rest get sown into my cold frame bed, or the actual garden bed if the weather cooperates.


In the garden: Perovskia is beginning to really show life now too. I also cut this perennial back to 1/3 of its size.

I have a raspberry patch. It’s kind of messy and overgrown, so I’ll be pruning half of them to the ground. Next year(or this fall), I’ll prune the other half. I don’t want to sacrifice an entire year’s harvest, since they were so delicious. Raspberries  bloom on 2nd year wood, so you want to maintain a good schedule of pruning to make sure you have a good yield. And do I ever.

I don’t have any mulch in any of these beds, so I might start sourcing some mulch and throw it down for any garden that’s been freshly weeded. I need probably a couple trailer loads. I’ll be weighing my options.  I just don’t stand a chance against the weeds without it this year.

I’ve been continuing to look over my roses for broken and crossing branches as well as thinning them out. I actually finished as much rose pruning as I could bear the abuse from. I tidied up a ferocious one at the end of the driveway. I came out alive.  Bird City has a bit of a thicket of roses too that I’m going to tidy up this year, and if I like it, I’ll keep it. But it is getting rather tangled with the forsythia.  There are a lot of other finished flower stems to cut away and raking to be done all in here. I stood up after a 3 hour session cleaning all of this up, and felt like I only covered about 10 feet of barely anything.

I have an unidentified variety of clematis growing up against my deck. When you are dealing with a clematis you don’t know, the general rule of thumb is to wait until you see it blooming. It can be one of three types. If you have sections that just don’t leaf out or bloom at all, you can prune those to tidy it up. Do no more until you determine if it’s a spring blooming or spring and summer blooming variety.  This is when I will also give it a light feeding of superphosphate too, to ensure I get a good show of blooms. And if you have a fall blooming variety like Clematis paniculata, you prune that around this time too, right back to the ground to about 1’ … don’t worry, that won’t hurt it. I can confirm, it’s a beast, and will recover with an emphatic revenge.

As for the rest of the gardening tasks, I still continue to scrape off the dead gunk and glare hatefully at the Goutweed. I will kill you soon, my nemesis.

I’m also trying to find the PERFECT art piece for my rhodo forest. It really needs detail all the way around it. I’m torn between two things… either something abstract or zen, or a Green man head. I have a little fetish for green man statuary and suns.  Whatever I put out there runs the risk of being pooped on a lot. Sometimes I feel like this is a pheasant sanctuary (not for the faint of heart, if you have ever flushed pheasants unexpectedly out of the bushes, it’s terrifying!) and those phesants love to roost at the tops of the pine forest.

the sketchiest sketch I’ve ever made. Projected contemplation of my turning circle, featuring catalpa, hedges, flagstone, and NO GRASS.

I have walked around in my turning circle area quite a few times, getting dizzy, but I have come to a design decision (I say this vaguely).  Right now, what is there doesn’t make much sense, and I need to provide some order in it. It is, after all, the first thing visitors and passerby will see.  I’ll share a better post about that later.. for now, I’m cleaning it up and observing. It is going to be a long, multi-phase process, like the rhodo forest.

And as you have seen, our sarcophagus has been filled! Our soil order came, and it’s 2 yards of soil movement down the hill into the greenhouse. As soon as it comes in we will install the hydraulic window opener so this bed can breathe on a hot day. The cauliflower and broccoli are ready to go in, as well as a few green onions and some lettuce seed. What’s the current high in the mini crystal? About 42? The greenhouse was wired up for cool-down ventilation yesterday so the fans will come on any time the greenhouse exceeds 30 degrees.

The Hyacinths from the rock garden showing me some hope! I’m glad I planted these last fall.


That’s all for the week this time around, can’t talk, must get as much gardening done before those mosquitoes return and drain me of my blood (you know, that all too familiar, uncomfortably itchy mosquito bite hotspot between the bottom of your shirt and the top of the butt crack).








The inability to find color in the garden right now suggests I seek out some serious late winter/early spring color this year to add to the gardens.

Next week I’m going to do a brief, yet lengthy post on my favorite tropical group (besides orchids apparently) : The misunderstood Bromeliad.