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THEY’RE BACK!

Good To Grow, Liza's photos, return of the Chayote squash

Not because I successfully grew them last year, but because I went and bought new ones recently, haha!

If you thought – or hoped – I’d given up the quest to grow Chayote squash, I have not. I will not be deterred by pesky failures in the past. Nope, not me. I won’t stop until I’ve grown ugly little fruits of my own.  Victory will be mine! (Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, I keep saying that!)

First, they need to sprout though. The waiting game has begun!

I’ll be back tomorrow. The Experts are still on break for a little bit longer, but we’ll have some plant puzzler action for you.

You still have time to guess the current puzzler, in which I asked if this Wisteria was real or fake:

Good To Grow, real or fake plant puzzler

Leave your best guess in the comments section. The deadline is tonight at midnight MST (that’s 2am EST). I’ll reveal the answer and the winner(s) tomorrow. Hope to see you back here.

THEY’RE SPROUTING!!!!

Good To Grow, Liza's photos, Chayote Growing Experiment

Aaaaand, they’re sorta rotting, too.

Good To Grow, Liza's photos, Chayote Growing Experiment

Those are not good-looking fruits.

For those of you who may be newcomers, Chayote is a squash-like fruit that is loaded with Vitamin C. They’re native to Mexico, where they grow much like squash or cucumbers do – on vines. Their taste is a little bland (unless you saute them with butter – then they taste like butter), but they are sturdy, which makes them great for calabacitas or stew.

You can’t buy Chayote seeds because they must be inside the fruit in order to germinate. Putting the fruit on a sunny windowsill is a good way to get them to sprout. Once the sprout is about six inches long or so, they can be planted outside. (Some people say you should put the fruit in a dark location to force the sprouting, but I like the sunny windowsill.)

Last year was my first attempt to grow Chayote, and my experiment failed. That was mainly because I designated them to the backyard wasteland. I associate Mexico with drought conditions, and that’s my bad. I forgot about humidity. The Chayotes may eventually be drought tolerant, but at least initially, they need more water than I gave them last summer.

This spring, I plan on planting at least some of the Chayotes in containers by my back door. I’ll trellis them so they grow up instead of out. The container growing may constrict some fruit production, but I’m ok with that because I don’t need 80+ fruits that a typical plant can produce.

Of the four Chayotes that I had on my windowsill, one rotted completely and was discarded. The remaining three have bad skin and some rotten spots. Two of those three have sprouted despite the appearance of the main fruit. The third has done nothing.

Whether or not a Chayote sprouts is based on the age and size of the fruit. Typically, I try to find the biggest ones I can, because hopefully those are the oldest. I can find Chayote fruit here in Albuquerque at Pro’s Ranch Market, and sometimes at Smith’s Groceries. (I’m pretty sure I’ll never see them at Whole Foods because they are probably loaded with pesticides.)

The plan moving forward is to go buy some more fruit, in case the current ones give way to rotting. Since it’s still so early in the year, I’d like to get several sprouting so I have time to make up for any losses I suffer with them. Chayote growing seasons are long – about 150 days – hence my early start this season.

If you or someone you know has successfully grown Chayote, I’d love to hear the secrets of success. Or if you decide to grow Chayote for the first time this year, maybe we can create a support group. Let me know what you think about these ugly fruits!

Thanks so much for everyone’s input and kind words yesterday. I decided not to quit the blog, but it’ll be undergoing some changes. Not sure what those are gonna be, yet, but I’m confident in my ability to figure it out. Especially with your support, ya’ll are awesome!

If you have anything in particular you’d like to see, lemme know. (Thanks, Charlie, for your suggestions!)

Rather than fretting over the blog yesterday afternoon, I decided to spend a little time reconnecting with the plants in the foyer. It helped.

They say hi, and Happy New Year! (They would, that is, if they could speak English.)

Good To Grow, Liza's photos, hello from the foyer houseplants

Do you remember the Desert Fairy Cactus Garden I made back in August of 2011? You can read about it here.

Here’s what it looked like when I first made it:

(Desert Fairies are like regular fairies, except they accept cacti for who they are, thorns and all.)

I made the garden to appease the seven-year-old girl in me.

Back then, I really wanted a Barbie, but a brand new one was unthinkable – we were a family on a budget, I got hand-me-downs. Instead of a doll, Dad decided we were going to make a cactus garden together.

I was excited – as the fourth of five kids, I relished any time I got alone with Dad. I had a crafts book that showed how to make a cactus garden, using a beautiful ceramic pot and colored stones and glass.

Right away, Dad started taking short cuts. The beautiful ceramic pot was replaced with a yellow tub. The colored stones became gravel from the driveway.

My little girl heart turned off after that. Take away the sparkly and I am not interested anymore.

I know we finished the garden, and I’m sure I enjoyed the time with Dad. But I never connected with the garden in the way I’m sure (as an adult looking back) he hoped I would. I remember feeling disappointed when I would look at the garden, so I avoided looking at it.

Planting this modern cactus garden was my way of saying, “Sorry, kiddo,” to my younger self. I figured anything with rhinestones would be curative.

And I think it was!

Now it’s time for all of us to move on.

Here’s what the garden looked like yesterday:

Good To Grow, Liza's photos, desert fairy cactus garden

It served its purpose, and I really enjoyed it all this time.

Good To Grow, Liza's photos, desert fairy cactus garden

Except watering it. Watering was messy. And it was heavy. And some of the plants died.

So that the remaining ones may grow, I dismantled the garden and started anew.

Good To Grow, Liza's photos, desert fairy cactus garden

Moving on does feel pretty good.

Hola peppermint stickones, Merry Christmas! Happy Monday!

You probably have all your Christmas shopping done already, as it’s Christmas Eve today. But in case you’re still looking for a special way to say “I love you” to friends or family members, may I suggest (as I do every year) that you consider a flowering bulb?

Good To Grow, Liza's plants, holiday gift idea

Bulbs make great gifts because everyone loves fresh flowers indoors during the winter.

Hyacinths are my bulb of choice, because they have such a lovely scent. Paperwhites bloom easily but their scent is so strong – people either love it or hate it. Hyacinths seem to have universal appeal.

You should be able to get Hyacinth bulbs at one of your local nurseries. They should be on sale, too.

As for what to do with the bulbs once you get them, I like to start by collecting containers from a thrift store. They need to be waterproof. Here are some containers I picked up at Savers:

Good To Grow, Liza's plants, holiday gift idea

Next, fill the containers with decorative glass pebbles or rocks. Then place the bulb on top and fill the container with water.

Poof – just like that, you have thoughtful gifts for people you care about.

Good To Grow, Liza's plants, holiday gift idea

Easy peasy to make.

Now, these are not maintenance-free gifts. I only give them to people who I know will care for them. Every couple of days they’re going to have to add water to the container, and they’re going to have to do that for weeks to come. I recommend keeping the bulb on the kitchen windowsill, if possible.

But to people who understand the rewards of bulbs, those people will be tickled that you made this little creation for them.

Anyway, that’s my idea of a nice gift.

I made one for myself, too.

Good To Grow, Liza's plants, holiday gift idea

Because I’m probably the biggest fan of them all!

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I’m going to be taking a break from the blog starting after today’s post. I’ll be back on Friday for the puzzler, but then I won’t be back again until the following Friday, January 4th, when I’ll return with all my Experts for our first panel of the new year.

I’ve been blogging more or less consistently for the last three years, so a break will be good. Sometime in January, I’ll hit my 1000 posts benchmark.

I’m looking forward to 2013. We live in interesting times.

Before I go, I wanted to ask you dear readers about something. You see, I’ve been trying my hand at making caramel candies for the first time, and was hoping to get opinions from those of you out there who have caramel making experience.

I think that homemade caramels also make a great gift, so I’ve had visions in my head of delivering flowering bulbs and bags of candies to my friends and family members.

It was going to be so awesome.

I started reading up on recipes and watching videos. Right away, I noticed that everyone had a different temperature recommendation, they all used different ingredients, they had different cooking methods.

Awesome turned into intimidating.

But then after watching enough videos, I decided that if there was so much leeway in how to make them, it must not be that hard.

Rookie confidence.

I could see that the common denominators of the recipes were sugar, cream, and butter, and you were doing some version of boiling them, either together or separately. A candy thermometer was necessary. A well-greased pan to pour the caramel into was necessary.

I found a cute recipe from Apartment Therapy. It was sensible, because it separated the cream/butter melting from the sugar/corn syrup/water boiling – which reduced risk. It was also sweet because they addressed newbies like myself and cheerleaded us on.

So I measured everything out and followed each step exactly as they said. What happened on my stove looked exactly like the photos they posted on their site.

I was euphoric. If I could master caramel so easily, what else could I conquer, I wondered.

I poured the caramel from the saucepan to the waiting greased dish. I carefully cleaned the thermometer, and the saucepan (by boiling water in it so the sugar dissolves).

Everything looked beautiful and the kitchen was clean.

Let me tell you how bursting with confidence I was at this point. I was patting myself on the back, I was high fiving myself.

I was so cocky that I decided to try a second batch. Right there and then.

The second recipe was much different. It seemed ridiculously easy.

1/2 cup of cream. 1/4 tsp of vanilla extract. 6 tbsp of butter cut into small pieces. 1 1/3 cup of brown sugar.

Combine the cream, butter, sugar and 1 tbsp of water into a medium sized saucepan. Stir over medium heat until the sugar dissolves and the butter is melted.

Bring to boil and cover for three minutes.

Then uncover and do not stir. Continue boiling to 250 degrees.

Remove from heat. Add vanilla and stir.

Pour caramel into well-greased pan. After it sets, preferably overnight, cut into pieces and wrap with wax paper.

I did exactly that and the caramel looked perfect.

The first batch had taken about 40 minutes, the second about 25 minutes.

So now I had two successful batches of caramel, and an ego that knew no bounds.

I made lists of who would be the beneficiaries of my newfound love affair with candy making. I pondered entering candy making contests – was there a candy-making circuit where I could lord my natural talents over those who have slaved in their kitchens for years?

Surely there must be some sort of prize for candy making rookie of the year.

I went to sleep that night knowing that everything was right with the world.

And it was.

Until I woke up.

I got out of bed and crept straight to the kitchen. Coffee could wait, I wanted the sweet taste of success to be my first sensation of the day.

I took a knife from the drawer, and approached the two pans of caramel with the swagger of a seasoned pro.

I reached down to the pan with the knife and bam!

Rock hard candy.

I checked the second batch. It was rock hard, too.

What went wrong?

Where was my squishy soft caramel?

Surely it wasn’t me. I had too much natural talent for it to be my mistake.

Undaunted, I forged ahead.

I researched SOFT caramels candies, and found a recipe for Aunt Emily’s soft caramels. They sure looked soft.

The next evening, I decided to try the recipe. I figured with so much milk, cream, butter and corn syrup in the recipe, they would be the softest, bestest caramels ever.

So I did what Aunt Emily said, and the caramel looked perfect. A nice light brown.

The whole house smelled like caramel. And like success.

Once again, I cleaned all the dishes and equipment and went to bed that night feeling on top of the world.

Which, of course, lasted until the next morning when I woke up to another batch of rock hard candy. It’s not quite as hard as batch one and two, and the flavor is delicious. But I can’t cut it with the sharpest knife I have, so it’s nowhere near the melt-in-your-mouth caramels I’ve dreamt about.

So, what the heck?

What’s the secret to making the squishy caramel?

I’d appreciate your thoughts and opinions!

Thanks so much, and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!

(If you want a reminder on when I’ll post again, then subscribe to my blog – you’ll get an email every time I post something new.)

Dimorphotheca is formerly known as Osteospermum. Or perhaps they exist side by side these days. There’s some confusion over whether one is an annual and one is a perennial, if they’re both the same now, or if everyone just prefers the name Dimorphotheca over Osteospermum. No one seems to like the latter name.

Since I’m trying to turn my annual flowers into perennials by bringing them into the house over the winter, it’s possible we need a new name, like Osteotheca, or Dimorphspermum.

In doing some research on the various types of hybrid flowers out there, I found this description of the Osteospermum hybrid ‘Lemon Symphony’ on the Proven Winners own site:

“Osteeospurm-m-mum. Sheesh. I wonder who came up with that one. Osteo or African Daisy is much more me. In case you didnt know, Symphony Osteos are among the most popular Proven Winners in the world. Its easy to spot a Symphony. Were the ones with the amazing sapphire blue eyes (centers). Just like that actress whats-her-name. Lets see. I bloom nonstop from early spring through fall, and my new flowers quickly cover old ones so you never have to deadhead. Im Annual except in zones 9 11, and do best in full to part sun (heat doesnt bother me a bit). Since I grow between 8 and 12 inches tall, theres room for me even in small spaces.

Besides me, there are four other colors: Melon, Orange, Peach and Vanilla. But Lemon is best. My petals are a clear, soft yellow without the slightest bit of brassiness. Im a spiller, too. I spill over the sides of hanging baskets, window boxes, etc. It drove my mother plant crazy.”

Um.

I had to read that more than once.

Lack of apostrophes aside, I find the excerpt curious. It’s like they wrote it to appeal to children. Which, of course, makes me wonder who they think their target audience is.

As far as I could tell, that was the only description written from the point of view of the flower. The rest were more straightforward, listing the features and characteristics of each plant.

Anyway.

I just thought it was weird.

But it’s unrelated to how to collect the seeds of the flowers.

How To Collect Dimorphotheca Seeds

Here’s what my flowers looked like:

Good To Grow, Liza's photos, How To Collect Osteospermum Seeds

Obviously not Lemon Symphony, but some sort of Osteospermum hybrid. Purple symphony doesn’t seem to be likely.

Whatever the name, they sure are cheerful flowers.

The method of seed collecting is the same as practically all other flowers.

Step one, wait for the flowers to be spent.

Good To Grow, Liza's photos, How To Collect Osteospermum Seeds

Step two, remove the seeds from the spent bloom. You can do this by holding a paper bag underneath the bloom and snipping it off with scissors. Or you can gently crush the bloom with your fingers so the seeds fall into your container below.

I removed one of the blooms so you could see where the seeds are hiding:

Good To Grow, Liza's photos, How To Collect Osteospermum Seeds

Right in the center:

Good To Grow, Liza's photos, How To Collect Osteospermum Seeds

I generally keep seeds in an envelope, in a container in my refrigerator. But I think everyone has their own methods of seed saving – some people repurpose old Altoid tins, some people use Ziploc bags or paper bags.

It doesn’t really matter (unless there is moisture or pests associated with the seeds) as long as the seeds themselves get sown back outside for more color splashes in the landscape.

Please let me know if you have questions about these flowers, or how to collect flower seeds. You can leave a comment for me, or shoot me an email.

——————————–

I’ll be back with an all-new Ask the Experts panel tomorrow, and a new puzzler. You still have time to guess the current puzzler, in which I asked if this Poinsettia was real or fake:

Good To Grow, Liza's photos, real or fake plant puzzler

The deadline is tonight at midnight MST (that’s 2am EST). Leave your best guess in the comment section or on my facebook wall. The prizes may be imaginary but the link back to your site and the glory of winning are oh-so-real.

Hope to see you back here.

There’s not a lot of variance when it comes to collecting flower seeds. The seeds may look wildly different, but the method of collecting them is essentially the same.

Which is, look for the flower that is now brown and faded, then figure out the best way to get the seeds out of it.

So I’m not really writing posts like this one as “how to’s” but to show you what different flower seeds look like.

Because once you know what to look for, I’m confident you can find seeds on your own.

As I’ve said many times before, collecting seeds is easy. It’s not rocket science.

Especially when you know what to look for.

Today, the spotlight is on beautiful Portulaca flowers.

My own Portulaca flowers are past their prime, after giving me a summer’s worth of outstanding blooms. Here’s what the container looked like a few weeks ago:

They are prolific bloomers. I don’t bother to deadhead them, because they bloom like crazy without any interference from me.

Portulacas not only come in an array of dazzling colors, but they also can get by on minimal water and attention.

Those are big plusses in my book.

So how do you collect the seeds?

I picked off one of the brown flowers from my own container to show you:

Doesn’t look like much is there, but if you use your fingers to “crush” the brown casing, you’ll see the seeds inside, like these:

The seeds are so, so tiny!

And there are so many of them!

It’s easiest to store them in an envelope or paper bag.

In the center of the photo below, you can see the seeds naturally coming out of an opened pod:

Again, they are tiny seeds, and lots of ’em.

It looks like not only will I have a basil forest in the back yard, but a Portulaca forest, too.

Unless anyone out there would like to take some seeds off my hands. Anyone? Anyone?

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You still have time to guess last week’s puzzler, in which I asked if these flowers were real or fake:

You can leave your best guess in the comments section or on my facebook wall. The deadline is tonight at midnight MST (that’s 2am EST).

I’ll reveal the answer and the winner(s) after an all-new Ask the Experts post tomorrow. Hope to see you back here.

Oh sweet wonderful basil, how I love you so!  I love you in salads with tomatoes and mozzarella, and I love you with pasta and on pizza.

At the beginning of summer, I decided I wanted to perfect making basil oil. Not just shoving some basil leaves in with olive oil, but infusing basil leaves into the olive oil.

I asked a good chef friend of mine for a recipe. She told me to boil two quarts of water with two tablespoons of salt (that’s a lot, I’m not sure that’s necessary but she’s the expert), add a bunch of basil leaves, then after a few minutes, remove the basil with tongs, put them into a blender with two cups of olive oil. Blend until it’s a rich brilliant green.

The hard part came next. She wanted me to strain the concoction into a container, then pour that into a container that I could then squeeze over pasta or a salad or whatever. She liked to use plastic condiment containers so she could squeeze the oil over plates for a dramatic effect.

At first, I tried pouring the mix into a jar, then I covered the jar with a coffee filter and wrapped a rubber band around the jar. That worked great until the rubber band broke. Dang.

Further experiments had me using coffee filters and tape, and sieves, anything to keep the oil in a container to filter the basil oil into another container that I could then transfer to a plastic bottle from which I could spray or squeeze it onto food. Cheese cloth was way too porous – coffee filters worked way better.

Every method I tried was time-consuming. Straining takes time.

Everytime I hacked the plant, it responded by growing bigger and bigger. I eventually figured out how to effectively strain the basil bits (lots of coffee filters and tape), and had some delicious pasta meals.

That’s how the basil plant by my back door became so enormous. The more I hacked away at it, the more it doubled and tripled in size.

Then in mid-August, it started flowering and then going to seed.

After seeing it flower so fluently, I decided to collect the inevitable seeds.

I wanted to share with you how I collected those seeds.

Collecting basil seeds is easy, especially when you know what to look for.

My enormous Genovese basil plant is the perfect instructor for how to collect seeds.

See how it’s flowering like crazy?

Each individual flower should produce seeds.

If you look closely, you can see that seed production on my plant is well underway:

See the brown seed “pods”? These can be called carpels, or casings, or pods. I’ll use the word pods, for simplicity’s sake (this is a Plants 101 post).

Here’s another look:

Each of the brown seed pods will contain the magical seeds.

You can see the seeds by breaking one of the pods open, like I did here:

The easiest way to collect the seeds is to run your finger down the spike, into a container like a paper bag or a sieve (so you can separate the seeds from the chaff).

Note, it’s not necessary to break the seeds out of their casings, because that will happen naturally anyway. But it’s nice to do so if you plan on giving the seeds away.

I got four seeds from each individual pod. Um, there are a lot of pods per spike:

There are six pods in each cluster, and 19 clusters on the above spike.

That gives us a total of 456 basil seeds from just one spike.

Whaaaaat?

Yes, nearly 500 seeds from one spike.

And I’ve got, I dunno, a couple hundred spikes?

If there are only 100 spikes, that’s over 45,000 seeds from one plant.

But I have way more than 100 spikes.

Which begs the question, anyone want some basil seeds?

Seriously, help me out here before a basil forest grows in the back yard.

Hopefully this helps you learn how to collect basil seeds on your own. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Happy Harvesting!

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You still have time to guess in last week’s puzzler, in which I asked if these flowers were real or fake:

You can leave your best guess in the comments section, or on my facebook wall. The deadline is tonight at midnight MST (that’s 2am EST).

I’ll reveal the answer and the winner(s) tomorrow after an all-new Ask the Experts panel.

The Experts return manana, and I’ve asked them to talk about Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, and to share their memories of the deceased who matter to them. I hope to see you back here.

Again, happy harvesting, and happy Halloween!

Step One: Hope for a storm to knock them all down at once.

Step Two: Trust in gravity.

Step Three: Say thank you to the nice storm.

Coming soon, to a driveway near me.

About a year ago, in August, I decided to create a desert fairy cactus garden. I wanted a modern looking garden that was easy to maintain.

(Desert fairies are similar to other fairies but they accept cacti for who they are, thorns and all.)

I wrote about what inspired me to build it – mostly trying to heal some childhood disappointments – you can read that by clicking here.

Here’s what the garden looked like when it was first planted:

I thought we’d check in and see how the cactuses are doing today:

Holy moly, that’s a lot of growth!

The Dyckia died a few months ago, from thirst.

Everyone else is jamming!

They have reasons to be happy. For one, they have a coveted west-facing spot in the foyer that provides abundant sunshine. Also, I take them to the kitchen sink every couple of weeks and run water through their container.

They’re surrounded by good company. And the music’s always on.

Life’s good for them.

I’ll be back manana, hope to see you here.

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About Me

Hi! My name is Liza. Welcome to my blog and thanks for visiting! I'm a Midwestern gal now living in Arizona, after many years of living in and owning a plant care business in New Mexico.

Plants are living, breathing creatures, and if they're indoor plants, they are 100% dependent on human care. They cannot water themselves.

I can beautify your home, office, or patio with plants and flowers. I have 13 years of experience growing plants, and friendships.

Please let me know if you have questions or if you would like help with your plants or garden. You can reach me at lizatheplantlady (at) gmail (dot) com or follow me on Twitter, Lizawheeler7.

All photos are mine unless otherwise noted. All content is also entirely my hard work. If you'd like to use any content or photos, all you have to do is ask. If you take without asking, you are a thief. And thieves suck. So don't suck. We have a deal? Good.

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