I recently got an email from Tammy.
For our Grade 8 project we have been given for the summer at school we have to grow a plant or something to “Prove that ‘Black Thumb Gardening’ does or does not exist.” What is black-thumb gardening? My mum would not tell me and she just laughed. Please help me.
I have been to the library but there is so much information about gardening I do not know where to start. I am scared to start. I am scared I will kill the plants and waste money. Please help me to get an A for my project. My mum says she will help me but I have to do the work. I do not mind doing the work after school as long as my flowers grow. I do not want my friends to laugh at me again. I cried the first time I tried though they did not know this. I think I want to grow two things, something to eat, something like an herb with a vegetable and also pretty flower. If I grow two things and one of them fails, then I will have something to show for my project. It will count 25 marks and the report about the method I used will count for 25 marks. I am allowed to choose what I like as long as our reports explain our methods and thinking.
Okay Tammy, let’s go! You already know that all plants need three main things in order to grow successfully; sunlight, soil and water … and you can add to this your time, effort and care and you will be a green thumb gardener for sure.
So then what is Black or Brown thumb gardening? Well this is not gardening at all see, because a green-thumb-gardener nurtures, cares for, feeds, waters, checks on, harvests and grows plants and flowers and veges and herbs and all. While a black belt karate person may be a master of sorts, a black thumb in the garden just means that none of the above is done. Many people make jokes about having black or brown thumbs, but that is generally because they do not have the time to garden, and let alone nurturing, they may not even find the time to water their plants!
Take stock of what you have got and what you need to beg borrow not steal or buy.
Tubs or containers, tools, soil, seedlings, water, a moss stick, 8 x pot feet, 2 x drip trays AND your plan, your time, some consistent patience and a good dollop of anticipation.
I am going to give two simple plant container-recipes for your project but while you can use my ideas, you could also grow your own preferences. In one tub we will grow greenery and a flowering scented GERANIUM; and in the other we will grow three EDIBLES – curly moss parsley, some spinach (bright lights) and nasturtiums. This way you will have two containers, easy to transport to show off and you could choose to show both or just one as you wish.
CONTAINERS - Get or Buy two 15 x 15 inch round plastic tubs with handles on either side. These are easy for two people to move around. Get someone to drill around 6 holes in the bottoms of each so that if you were to try to fill them with water, when you held them up they would spray like a fat showerhead and empty almost immediately. If you are buying them choose two different colours or go for one colour like green, but do make a choice.
SOIL – buy enough ready packed potting soil to nearly fill your containers. It should be new soil, not taken from the garden. Also buy some compost (one bag of this will be fine to share between the tubs). Speak to your neighbour who has a garden or to the nursery and see if you can get a ‘phat’ handful of bone meal per container. You do know what I mean by ‘phat’ hey? Then you find some old used coffee filters, place them over the holes inside the tubs, put some little stones (about 6 to 10) on top then fill the soil and compost mix into the pots about three quarters of the way up. What I suggest you do for one pot you do for both. About halfway, scatter your bonemeal then carry on with your soil mix to the three-quarter or so mark. If your neighbour is friendly, maybe you can get a small spadeful of garden soil that contains an earthworm. That would be a real treat for your container and the earthworm will not mind moving home in a hurry! Just keep him covered with soil and do not expose him to the sun.
SUNSHINE and LIGHT – position your tubs in a place where they will get full especially morning to early afternoon sun – or go for full sun though you will also easily get away with some filtered sunshine during the day.
FLOWER CONTAINER: Buy some English Ivy (Hedera), several spider plants (the variegated stripes are prettier I think) and a miniature creeping Geranium in the colour you like. For your project I suggest you start with seedlings or cuttings that have rooted already and not seeds.
METHOD: Place the moss stick in the centre of the bucket and plant it deep enough to be able to support your climbing plant. Then, around the edge of the container, place and plant the seedlings or rooted ivy. Cover the roots with soil and press down nicely and cover and top up the soil, also in a circle. You should have a dip in the centre where the moss stick is. Next in a circle, plant the spider plants making sure their fat white tuberous roots are well covered with soil, press the down and top up with soil mix. Next and closest to the moss stick in the centre of the bucket, plant the flowering geranium, also in a circle. Use three small plantlets for this and start to tie the tendrils onto the moss stick to show it that you want it to grow up. It will do this then fall down over your spider plant like an exploding firecracker. You will keep it trimmed like this later once the roots are home and happy and established.
Press all down gently, press down again then stand back and walk around the bucket. Are the pants equally placed? Have you got three distinct circles? One made out of Ivy which will grow and fall over the edge (as it has already begun to do), the middle circle made up of the grass-like Chlorphytum (spider plant) with the geranium in the centre ready to grow up the moss stick? Yes? Good. No? Just adjust as you need to. Now, water it well with tepid (room temperature cold) water till the water runs out. Place it on a plastic tray or lift it onto pot feet (available from the nursery).
EDIBLE CONTAINER: well no not really, it’s not the container you will eat but its contents! Buy a nicely established spinach plant or mature seedling, some nasturtium seeds and some curly moss parsley seedlings (or choose Italian parsley). Whereas in our flowering tub we worked from the outside towards the centre, in this tub we will work from the centre to the outer rim. Into your prepared tub, place your spinach seedling in the centre with the roots level with the top of the tub so soil it up accordingly. Press this down gently but firmly then about three inches away from this central plant, place and plant your parsley seedlings in a circle and then plant your nasturtium seeds around but say two inches from the tub edge.
Top up with soil, press down. This tub will not look as pretty to start as it will have brown soil spaces. What you can do is make a pattern with some bark mulch or some peanut shells or even some small stones you find in the garden. It will look nicer for a bit while your spinach parsley and seeds are growing and later will enrich the soil nicely or just disappear and help aerate the soil. Stand back. Check your balance of plants, adjust if you need to then water as before.
Oh dear Tammy, there is more to say, much more, but if you do what I suggest above and check on your plants everyday (giving a thorough watering about twice a week so that you keep the soil moist only not wet) you will see something quite miraculous happening – your creation will respond to your care and grow and will look oh so pretty. And if you write up your report telling about your method and what and how you did it, I am sure you will get the grade you need to pass your school project with flying colours as they say. And the best part of all? You get to eat some of the results!
P S Tammy, Just for fun, go to your local supermarket and ask them for a dead plant. Something that has been thrown away, is dry and very dead. Be careful NOT to pick something that died because of a disease like aphids or mealy bug or any insect infestation. Choose something that is dried out and got crumbling leaves. You often get Chrysanthemums in pots that have just past their sell by dates and have not been watered that look like this.
Take this to school with you but hide it until it is your turn to present your project. Next to your two healthy container pots, place this pot (which should be dusty and maybe even cracked) with a sign in front of it that says something like.
THIS POT PLANT IS DEAD. IT WAS NOT FED OR WATERED. THIS IS PROOF THAT BLACK THUMB GARDENING DOES EXIST.
I bet you will get an extra mark or two for making everyone smile!
What do you want your container garden to do?