Waffle plant

Waffle Plant (2" pot) from above.

I made a town run yesterday and picked up some plants for my new wall . . . like I don’t have enough already.  I got a 2″ potted plant called a “waffle” plant.  Each pot has about 4 starts.  It has lovely dark green leaves with a waffle pattern indent.  The back side of the leaves is a lovely dark purple.

All that is nice, but it is also small and low growing, just exactly what LouAnn needs in her wall.  I also got some Neanthe bella palm (Chamaedorea Elegans) which should also work well in LouAnn’s wall and a dracaena with three shades of green.

Lovely backside purple
Lovely purple backside

I checked the seeds this morning.  The sensitive plant seeds have taken off and MUST be planted.  I was going to do that today but family intervened.  Tomorrow’s another day.  Nothing yet from the other four seed types I’m trying to start.

A bunch of posts back I mentioned the cuttings I planted  from the plant in the bathroom.  I’ll have to get a picture and show you what it’s doing in the wall.  It’s very interesting.  I’m going to plant a mess of that in the next wall.  It’s the ground cover of the vertical garden.

One of the peperomia in the wall broke off.  It was probably my fault.  I pulled out the dribble tube (waters the wall) to do a regular cleaning.  I probably bumped the peperomia and broke it off.  I found a spot and stuck it through a slot in the felt close to where it lived originally.  It should do just fine.  Interestingly enough, the pump was almost totally clean inside . . . no maintenance needed there, and all the dribble tube needed was a quick back flush.

Vala gave me a nice big jade plant start.  I’ve got it chopped up in water.  We’ll see how that goes.  I probably should have it in sand but . . .  I want to stick that in the wall as well.

Are you getting the impression this is going to be nightmare of conflicting plants . . .  I am. <evil laugh>  I have no self-restraint when it comes to plants.  I see a plant that attracts me and I want it.  Wadly knows.  He just rolls his eyes.  He’s still pouting because I have an aquarium and he doesn’t.  I offered but he isn’t interested in managing mine.  He can’t see it from his recliner.  <rolls eyes at Wadly>

Lorr has access to LDPE and can get me what I need.  I told him I need the equivalent of 5’x5′ so that’s what he’s going to order.  I’ve been saving my shekels to buy a router to go with my air card so I can network (laptop in front of TV) but it looks like I’m going to spend it on the plant wall instead.


Wadly made a town run before the holiday and picked up an 8’x6′ piece of carpet padding felt and a spool of cord (structural netting).  Except for the backing I have all the bits I need for the new 5’x5′ plant wall.  Oh, minus the stainless staples . . . I don’t have those yet.  Oh, and minus the tubing . . . I have to pick that up as well.  And minus the stainless screws and fender washers.  <sigh>  Okay, I’m not quite as ready as I thought.  But I’m getting closer!

I promise to give step by step instruction with pictures this time.  I’m going to do it just a bit different . . . oh, you guessed that, did you?  <grin>   I want to see if I can find a piece of plexiglass to use as the gutter.  I need a piece that’s about 10″ wide by 5′ long with a bit of a bend down it’s length.  I’ll have to see what I can find.

Wadly got the felt for $10 total because the business is closing up shop.  I’m going to have to go by and see if I can snag the rest of the roll.  I may not get it at that good of a price but I gotta try.

Wadly got me a gorgeous magenta moth orchid for Christmas.  Isn’t that sweet?!  I’m gonna stick it in the new plant wall.

Lasts at last?

I’m still working on the finding/getting/making-lasts-that-match-my-feet thing.  The three pair of lasts I got through Ebay don’t in any way resemble the feet I have.  I think they could be split and pieced to make a pair my size, though I suspect that would be an awful lot of work for little reward.  I’m really ambivalent about that. Part of my problem with that is I don’t have all the tools I need.

There’s a guy online who cut his own lasts out of blocks of wood.  I remember the photos being on one of the online photo galleries, you know the ones where you can sign up for an account and they host your pictures.  He used all sorts of hand and power tools and ended up with decent looking lasts that pretty much matched his feet.

In talking to our son, it appears he may have the perfect solution.  He has an epoxy that cures to the consistency of spruce, light, strong and workable with hand tools.  How cool is that!?  I just need to make mold of my feet with added room around the toes.

Did you know you can buy plaster impregnated socks?  I ran across them in my search for casting material.  They’re unreasonably pricey but isn’t that an interesting idea?  The plaster socks came with a plastic strip to stick to your leg.  Once the plaster is set they used bandage scissors to cut it off using the plastic strip as the guide.  Because the sock/plaster layer isn’t very thick it didn’t get as hot as sticking your foot in a plaster bucket.  That’s a plus.

There has to be a fairly simple method for making molds using socks and plaster of paris.  I wonder if it’s possible to rub dry plaster of paris into a sock and end up with something that could be used as a mold.  You know I’m gonna have to try it . . . I have a whole sack of cotton socks (white and tan) I don’t wear and a 3 gallon bucket of plaster of paris.  Perfect testing material.

What if I split a pair of socks down the back to the top of the heel and sewed in something that would allow me to . . . hmm . . .  I can see I have something here . . . I’m just not sure what.  I only need them to come up to the bottom of the ankle bone.  Maybe material flanges that I can clamp closed at the back of my foot.  I have plenty of socks to test on.  We’ll see how it goes.

At some point I’ve got to get started on this project.  I have the pattern, I have the material and tools for making shoes but before I can start I have to have lasts that resemble my feet.  I thought I was going to be able to get lasts made.  I contacted Bill at Global Footwear Solutions and had my feet scanned but never heard back from him.  I talked to him, sent emails . . . no joy, no lasts.  <sigh>  It was a bit frustrating but not a total waste of time.  I learned stuff.  That’s always good.

Seed Starting

The plant corner – welcome to my jungle!
Click to enlarge and read the captions

I’ve got four different plants’ seeds started . . . I hope. I used paper towels as the medium as all I have is unbleached coffee filters. I’ve started 3 or 4 seeds each of:

  • Yellow Gloriosa Lutea
  • Heliconia Psittocorum (parrot’s beak)
  • Sensitive Plant
  • Tacca Integrifolia (black bat flower)
Floating in the aquarium

I was going to start some streptocarpus . . . I didn’t get there. Maybe later.

I’ve got the seed starting packs floating in a container in the aquarium which feeds my plant wall.  The current water temp is >70° and the aquarium is covered.  We’ll see how it goes.

Savory Chicken and Rice Soup

Savory chicken and rice soup

I spent last weekend with my brother and his wife doing geeky things.  Dan fixed chicken and rice soup for me that was totally delicious.  With the exception of the celery, carrots and peppers, this is his recipe.  It’s not fast but it is dead easy and the tastiest chicken and rice soup I’ve ever had.

If you’ve been following my recipes you know I can’t do soy.  I don’t like using bouillon cubes because most commercial bouillon cubes have way too much salt and don’t taste that great . . . and usually have soy.  That means making soup is problematic because most commercial meat stocks have soy.  That means if I’m going to make tasty soup I have to order soyless stock online or making stock from scratch.  Hello?  Ms. Lazy here . . .

There’s a new product on the market that doesn’t have soy.  It’s called “Better Than Bouillon”, it’s a paste and our local Safeway carries it.  How cool is that!?  I think Dan and Vala do most of their shopping at their local Fred Meyer and the organic meat market, so the product must be available in lots of other stores as well.  I can tell Dan and Vala have been thinking about me because they found a product with NO soy to add to my repertoire.  Isn’t it wonderful to be loved?

For this recipe you’ll need  1¼ cups of rice.  I used long grain white but you can use whatever floats your boat.  I’ve tried rice mixes and I think the flavor of the long grain white is best.  Brown rice adds a discordant flavor.  Adding some wild rice in with the white would probably work.

You’ll need a family pack of boneless skinless chicken thighs.  Dan used whole thighs and I pulled the skin, bone and fat when I cut them up partway through the cooking process while Dan skimmed off the fat.  I’m lazy.  I don’t want to have to do that much work so I’m advocating the lazy man’s way . . . boneless skinless thighs.  There are about 10 thighs in a family pack and that will make 5 quarts of nice meaty chicken and rice soup, enough to eat now, enough to put in the fridge for tomorrow and enough to freeze a couple meals for when you haven’t got the time to cook.  Freezing fractures the cooked rice, so expect that.

You’re going to need three big stalks of celery, half a big onion (I bet a red onion would add color that would be nice – I’ll have to try it next time), three good sized carrots, red and green pepper and a stock pot.

Fill the stock pot ½ full of water.  Stick it on a big burner and turn the burner on medium.  Add the following in any order:

  • half a bottle of low sodium Better Than Bouillon Chicken Base.  Trust me, this soup is so flavorful it doesn’t need the salt . . . and neither do you.
  • half an onion, diced (see the quick dicing instructions at the bottom of the potato soup page here)
  • diced celery – 3 big stalks
  • half a diced red pepper
  • half a diced green pepper
  • chicken thighs

Give it a quick stir.  Put the lid on.

The goal is to get the chicken fall-apart tender so it needs to simmer for a while.  Once you’ve got the pot simmering good turn the heat down just enough to maintain the simmer.  Stir occasionally until the chicken is tender.

Fish the chicken thighs out and set them aside to cool a bit.  Peel and dice the carrot and chuck it in the pot.  Add the 1¼ cups of rice.  Stir.  Dice the thigh meat and chuck that in the pot.  Stir occasionally.  When the rice is done the soup is done.

No kidding, this is THE most awesomely simple and tasty chicken and rice soup.  Serve it with a fresh green salad or some steamed veggies and you’ve got a great healthy low fat meal.  This soup has my mom’s seal of “good.”  I’ll make her a pot of it when she goes in for surgery.   A bit of microwaving and it’s a meal!  She should be able to manage that with one arm!

Note: This recipe was updated 3/10 to reduce water and rice and add peppers.

Structural fish net

I’ve been looking at fish net . . . I think the answer may be to tie my own.  I can do that.  I’ve added a spool of my favorite woven cord to the shopping list.  I think I’m going to have to tie the netting as I go down the wall installing plants.  That’s the only way I can conceive of getting the net installed exactly where/how it needs done.  I’ve got a shuttle/needle, I think.  I’ll have to dig out mom’s binder of needles and shuttles to see if I have what I need.  She did tatting (whole different thing) so I know there’s a tatting shuttle in there.

I have to laugh at myself.  I am SO anal.  I can see it’s going to take me hours to put together a fairly simple 5’x5′ wall.  I know if I don’t do it in my totally anal fashion I will be tearing it apart to rebuilt it later.  Because I have built a wall already I know what I want to do to have a long lasting wall that looks good . . . and incorporates a lot of my existing house plants so I don’t have to do quite so much watering!

If you have a minute, watch this video.  It’s a very cool self-contained plant wall.

Felt, plant wall dis/assembly and starting seeds

LouAnn and I went to see Avatar yesterday (great movie, awesome in 3D) and on the way to our next errand stop I saw the business where I buy the felt for my plant wall is closing shop.  Ack!  I will have to swing by there today or tomorrow and pick up the felt I need for both my and LouAnn’s walls.  When I do I’ll make sure to get all the particulars (content, manufacturer, et al) and list it here.  At this point (prior to disassembling my test wall) I don’t know if that felt is the best stuff to use, but I’d rather stock up.  I can always use it somewhere as carpet padding . . . <grin>

The projected date for assembling the new plant walls is March.  I have decided to disassemble my current wall just before assembling the new . . . or at the same time so I can use those plants in the new wall.  Waste not, want not.

Disassembling the test wall will allow me to see how the plants grow, whether a single layer of felt is sufficient and how the staples hold up.  The new wall, because it will have small plants that will turn into big plants, will require a little more structural support than a single layer of felt will supply.  On Patrick Blanc uses a layer of woven material between layers of thinner felt as structural support.  I need to use what I can get inexpensively and readily.  We’ll see what the substructure of the wall looks like when I pull this wall apart in prep for constructing the new.  I think I want to screw (stainless screws and fender washers) fish net over the surface.  It depends on what I can find.

The seeds I ordered from Hirt’s Garden have arrived.  The streptocarpus seeds are so small they will require I wear magnifying glasses to get them transferred to my grow medium.  <gulp>  I may be able to use the moistened tip of a toothpick as the transfer tool.

With seed starting in mind I’m researching methods.  I did a bit of research on gel but I don’t think that’s going to suit me.  Rob’s Garden has a great seed starting page.  Using his technique, for those seeds requiring warmth to germinate, I’m considering placing the seed baggies into a floating  container inside my aquarium.  That’s a warm moist environment which is at the right temperature for the seeds I’m starting.  I’ll keep you posted.

LouAnn’s wall

I’ve been working toward building a wall for LouAnn.  She loves my wall and wants one of her own.  I can do that!

LouAnn has a narrow wall just inside her bay window that will accommodate an 18″ wide by 5′ tall vertical garden.  I have the sheet of LDPE ready to rip.  I’m going to use composite lumber for the frame and stand.   I have to keep an eye out for the right aquarium.  I saw one at Goodwill that would have been perfect but failed to grab it.  <sigh>  Hindsight.

I am going to set the LDPE backer in channels in the frame.  I anticipate the whole being stronger than a sum of the parts as the LDPE will add rigidity to the composite once it’s secured into the channels.  I plan to use 1x4s (I found a place that produces composite fence pickets in the right dimension).  I can make the entire frame out of 2-8′ lengths.

I’ll add bits of info and pictures as I get the project pulled together.

Watching that French guy do his thing

Watch the YouTube video and you'll see a whole new thing!

My brother works for a food processing plant and brought me lots of lovely big stuff when they did a strip-down of a section of the plant. I’ve got a 6″ diameter clear plastic pipe that’s about 10′ long. I WILL find an awesome use for that, you can be sure. I saw one of Patrick’s systems with rocks and water plants inside a clear pipe as the water ran through it like a brook. VERY cool. The interview is in French, but watch this one. Toward the end you’ll see clear tubes with rocks and plants.

I’m going to make a small one of those using the clear pipe he gave me. It will be SO cool!  It will require something a bit different as the flow has to be continuous. It will take one pump/timer to feed the wall and a separate pump for the glass enclosed stream.

Planning the next wall

I’ve been reading through different greenwall stuff online. There are some very complicated systems out there . . . way more complicated than they need to be in my estimation. Sometimes simpler is just better! It’s interesting to see the failures are the more complicated systems. Auto watering plants in soil has got to be a tricky thing. Auto watering plants in expanded clay or felt with little or no soil using nutrient rich water has to be much less prone to failure.

Random thoughts regarding future construction:

  • For the type of wall I built, keeping the moisture flowing all the way out to the felt edge can be an issue. I’ve got my tubing extending past the wall at both the connection (elbow) and plug ends so I can deliver water all the way to the felt edge.
  • I have two large aquariums in storage, both of which are larger than my current aquarium. I may or may not use one of the bigger aquariums with this new wall. We’ll see.
  • I do not use a reservoir at the wall bottom that spans the full length of the wall. For my current wall I used a piece of pvc pipe with a nice wide slot cut in the top as a collector to route the outflow into the aquarium. With that said, it’s important to understand these walls rain water off the foliage during the watering cycle. Sure, I route the water into the felt at the top but water finds its own path and flows down stems and drips off leaves. There must be some sort of catch-all at the bottom that extends out far enough to catch the rainfall unless you don’t mind the floor being wet. For my current wall the aquarium catches the rainfall, which is fortunate, but that wasn’t brilliant foresight, that was dumb luck. A centered aquarium just looked better.
  • Having the fish provide the nutrient is very cool but not strictly necessary. I could use a nutrient solution and by pass the fish but where’s the fun in that?
  • Keeping the aquarium covered uses less energy to heat the water and reduces evaporation from the tank. That can be done when the collection of the water from the wall is separate and the result is gravity piped into the aquarium. My cover is white plexiglass and has a few strategic holes to let the rainfall into the tank.

Last fall I started a picture laden how-to on my plant wall but stopped . . . no place to put the wall until the sun porch is closed in. The weather outside it bitter cold (7º) and I’m a total weather weeny so I’ve got the LDPE backer and felt tucked away until spring.

I have all the pumps and timers I need for my next wall. I’ve got a Pondmaster 160 (<$50) and a programmable timer (purchased on EBay for <$15). If I give away my current plant wall and make the new wall the full size of the available wall (~5’x5′) I’ll use this bigger pump and 1/2″ tubing instead of 3/8″.  I’ll still use flexible tubing to allow the tube to be pulled and cleaned.

If I can plan ahead and avoid pricey plant purchases the new wall including all parts and bits should come in at well under $100.  I do try to be frugal in my self-indulgences.

I’m wondering if, when using a single layer of felt, a final layer of something structural should be added. My 4⅓ square feet of vertical garden weighs about 15 lbs.  It will increase in weight as the plant volume increases. Will the bigger plants get too heavy and pull the felt apart or pull the staples out of the backer? I have one big thing in my wall (dumb cane) and lots of things that grow prolifically. I’ll see how it goes as the plants grow. The dumb cane is in the upper left corner and isn’t growing super fast so I have the leisure to watch and see what happens assuming I can find a place to keep the wall instead of giving it away.

If something supportive is added to the face, it would have to be UV resistant and not impact full air flow through the felt. Big scale fish netting randomly screwed to the surface would work. The square knots used to construct the net are the perfect anchor point. Run a stainless screw through a stainless fender washer and through the center of the square knot . . . done deal. That would be pretty ideal and would last for a very long time. It wouldn’t impede air flow and would flex and allow for root growth. Plus it would look cool until the plants filled in and the netting disappeared behind the canopy.

I think I’m going give my little plant wall away and start a new BIGGER one that covers the whole wall. If I make a 5’x5′ wall it would weigh, based on calculations from my current wall, about 81 lbs. 25 square feet doesn’t give me a lot of real estate but it’ll be big enough to give me more room to play . . . for now.

Bloomin’ Begonia

Look at that sucker!
Look at that sucker!

Can you believe it?  It’s 17º out!  Inside it’s so cold the goldie tank has dropped to 70º.  The heater for the tank is set to 85º but it’s just too cold for the heater to sustain that temp.  The pleco is cuddled up to the heater to stay warm . . . and the begonia in my plant wall is blooming!