Pecan coffee cake

Pecan Coffee Cake turned over so the nuts are up

Wadly gets to eat pastry and baked goods all the time and I don’t.  <pout>  Occasionally I manage to come up with a keeper recipe that’s gluten, sugar and soy free.  This one’s a winner.

  • 1½ cups Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Biscuit and Baking Mix
  • 1 cup cold coffee
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup real maple syrup (not that fake corn syrup stuff)
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla


  • ¼ cup real maple syrup (not that fake corn syrup stuff)
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • chopped pecans to cover a 9×9 dish (¾ cup, more if you want it really nutty)

Preheat the oven to 325°.  I use my toaster oven so you’ll have to adjust your time/temp accordingly if you’re using a “real” oven.

Topping – In a small (I use the smallest available) cast iron frying pan melt the butter.  Add the maple syrup, stir it into the butter and turn the heat down.  While you’re mixing the body of the cake shake the pan occasionally.  It doesn’t need stirred, it just needs slopped around in the pan.  You’ll know it’s done when it moves like gelatinous slobber (I can’t think of any other description or I’d use it).  If you undercook it, no biggy.  You’ll have a runny caramel topping.  If you overcook it the topping will be chewy . . . I like it that way.  I use this topping (same ingredients) for mixing into popcorn instead of just using butter.  It’s heavenly.

Cake – Beat the eggs.  Mix in vanilla and maple syrup.  Stir in the coffee.  Add the baking mix and baking soda mixing until smooth.

Spread the topping evenly into the bottom of a 9×9 pan.  Spread the pecans over the top of the caramel mix.  Pour the cake mix over that.

Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick stuck in the center comes out clean.  You can let it cool before you eat it if you’d like.  I don’t.  <grin>

Airlift pumping

I’ve been searching for a site with instructions for building an airlift pump for pumping well water.  I found the site last year when I was looking at windmills running compressors.  In today’s search I ran across a cute little Instructable on airlift pumping for a hydroponic system.  I have to do some testing but I think this might be a good way to supply water to a plant wall.  As spring gets closer I’ll have to test this technique to see how much water it will pump and how high.

Here’s the Instructable.

English ivy

English Ivy running across the top and cactus in lower left corner

I got both my English ivy in the wall far to the left about midway up the wall.  One had roots on it, the stem on the other broke when I was removing the dirt so it’s in the wall as a cutting.  I won’t fasten the stem of the ivy (the oldest of the two is about 12′ long) to the wall until all the other plants are in and established.  At that point I’ll u-pin the stem to the felt around the outer edge until it gets roots to hold the stem in place.

I also got one of the cactus that LouAnn gave me planted as well as three jade plant cuttings (almost to the bottom, just right of center).  You can click the image to enlarge it to see the detail.

The wood fern front looks great.  It doesn’t grow terribly fast but it will be striking as the wall growth matures.

The unwilts

The unwilted waffle plant

I started this post a couple days ago but lost power and apparently lost the partially completed post.  I’m kinda baffled as WP does an auto-backup and there should have been a draft . . . ?

I wanted to share the wilted waffle with you . . . now that it’s recovered.  I think this is a salutary lesson.  If planting bare root or cuttings, as long as it hasn’t dried out which really signifies “dead plant”, give it time.  I’ve got about a dozen cuttings in the wall which were whacked off the parent plant and stuck in the wall.  So far I’ve got some wilting but no death.

The second point I want to make is . . . if you CAN provide warmed water to your wall you’ll get better growth.  During the summer and once I started running a heater in the water, plant growth increased and blooming increased.

New plantings

New plantings. Right is Cape Primrose, centerish is gloxinia. The tiny thing with lots of velvety petals is the African Violet. Bottom left corner is the Hawaiian Begonia.

I worked a bit more on the wall yesterday despite a back that doesn’t like me.  I got the streptocarpus, gloxinia, Hawaiian begonia and African violet planted.  I also got two of the three (or four – I haven’t decided) ivy planted.

The begonia is a rhizomatous that produces plate sized leaves.  It isn’t the biggest leafed begonia (largest leaf is bigger around than a 15 gallon trash can lid) but it is a nice green leaf in an interesting shape.  I’ve already seen growth and it’s only been in the wall a couple days.  I think it’s going to like its new home.

Mary (neighbor of the donated fish tank) brought by a couple more begonia cuttings this morning.  With the one in the original wall that gives me three different begonias for this wall, all different sizes, shapes and colors.

Wadly tested the tank water this morning.  Ammonia, nitrate and nitrate are at the bottom of the scale so everything’s working and we need more fish to feed the wall.  It was fun watching him try to figure out how to use the test kit.

He raided the quarters jar and is off to Kaija’s to get pretty fish.  Wadly’s so eager to get his guppies and comets and whatever else, he’s made a unilateral decision.  He’s having Mary’s take the goldfish home with her.  You say “weren’t those fish going to LouAnn?”  Don’t look at me, I wasn’t asked my opinion.  I’ll make him get the fish for her wall when it’s time.  They’re cheap (under a buck).

Parrots beak and sensitive plant

Sensitive plant

Remember the seeds I started?  I’ve had two parrots beak and three sensitive plant sprout.  One of the parrots beak has a root less than 1/8″ long so I left it in the sprouter.  I planted the three sensitive plant.  Only one has survived so far.

Parrots Beak

The parrots beak puts out long strong sprouts and roots.  The one with the most growth doesn’t have leaves on it yet but it has seriously outgrown the sprouter.


Cape Primrose

This one is really interesting!  I’ve been enjoying the blossoms forever but hadn’t really taken a close look at how it grows!  This sucker is PERFECT for a grow wall!  I bet it will happily climb up on the outside of the felt once it’s established!

Look at the bottom part surrounded by roots.  I have the plant sitting on a couple dead leaves so I could take a picture without having to rinse the roots again, so ignore those.  See the nubs that run up the stem like teeth on a zipper?  Those are where the leaves have wasted away and been removed.  That’s interesting, but not the really interesting bit.

Look at the base of the leaves.  Each leaf produces at least two stalks with the larger leaves producing 4 or 5 stalks.  Each stalk splits in two and produces a flower.  Every new leaf, multiple stalks produce blossoms.  No wonder it’s got blossoms all the time!

The wilts

Right most plant is wilted completely upside down.

I’m washing all the soil off the roots for this plant wall so the aquarium water will be clear, not tea colored.  The waffle plants were the first I put in the wall.  Each container had 4 or 5 plants.  I got them washed and separated and planted in the wall.  While several of the plants didn’t look happy, one of the plants had a very serious case of the wilts to the point it was drooping with the top hanging below the insertion point in the wall.  I thought for sure the plant was done for <rolls eyes at my vernacular> but it’s perked back up today, 3 days after planting.  Let that be a lesson . . . if it’s a cutting or you massacre the roots, just because it wilts doesn’t mean it’s dead.  Be patient and give it a chance to recover.

Wadly has decided he’s going to take care of the aquarium <SCORE!!> so I’m going to off the goldies onto LouAnn to feed her wall and let him do his guppies and comets and whatever in this tank.  I no longer have to feed fish and he no longer has to whine about not having an aquarium in the house!  How cool is that?!  No watering plants, no feeding fish . . . I just need to sneak in a bit of potash monthly and I’m golden.  <grins hugely>


Wadly resetting the wall hanger.

After hanging the wall and getting started with the planting I decided it needed to be at a bit different height . . . <wince> . . . twice.  Wadly’s such a sweetie.  <rolls eyes at self>  He lowered it and then raising it back up partway.  I’m happy.  It’s a good thing we’re still in temporary digs and holes in the wall and ceiling are very much not an issue.

My advice . . . plan on how you’re going to make adjustments to your wall in the construction phase.  Even if you don’t think you will ever move it, plan to.  Patrick Blank moved his wall from one apartment to another and his wall is probably twenty times the size of mine.  That must have been a feat.


I have an eye hook in the center top of my wall and an eye hook in the ceiling about 18″ out from the wall.  Wadly brought in his rope come-along and we suspended the plant wall from the ceiling while he made adjustments to the hanger height.  The hanger system is an old standard, a 2by cut at a slant.  The wall has one half which locks into the plant wall half.  To make this hanger, cut down the length at an angle and you’ve got both parts of a strong and effective hanger.  I like this arrangement because it holds the plant wall vertical and keeps it away from the building wall.

New plant wall

Hot waxed plywood, 45 mil EPDM rubber and felt.
Hot waxed plywood, 45 mil EPDM rubber and felt.

I’ve been planning this new plant wall for a while.  I’m not giving detailed directions because, trust me, the method sucks for general application.  I have to test this dead cheap method to see if it’s viable.  If I can prove it viable I’ll share the method.  For now, suffice it to say I’ve got plywood backing . . . again.  <wince>  Sorry ’bout that.

So here we are, new 5′ wide by 4′ tall  plant wall.  This one actually has a frame!  Woohoo.  The layers are:

  1. Totally whimpy plywood (3/8″) hot ironed with lots of paraffin wax
  2. 45mil EPDM pond liner purchased from
  3. Carpeting pad felt

The frame is recycled old growth 2×4 with a groove to accept the plywood.  The plywood is screwed to the frame.

The gutter is 6″ schedule 40 pvc pipe cut lengthwise from the stash Dan supplied.  The ends are aquarium siliconed scrap plastic.   The drain hole is in the center.  The gutter is screwed onto the back and stabilized with nylon strapping.

So far, so good. I've got one plant (right hand side) that's probably not going to make it.

So far I’ve planted areca palm, wood fern, waffle plant, some sort of flowering succulent (the stand-alone green blob – I have three of these, only one planted so far), the stripey plants I got on my latest run (4 of those) and two dumb cane, one of which has neophyte roots.  I have one more chunk of dumb cane to plant.

I still have a lot to put in the wall but cutting the holes without piercing the rubber backing is a PITA and time consuming.  I think the end result will be worth it.

6" schedule 40 half-pipe with center drain. The oyster shell in the bottom is to moderate our 6.0 PH water to a more comfortable (for both fish and plants) 7.4

Here are the things I’ve learned so far.

  • The drill bit I used for putting holes in the 1″ pvc I’m using for the dribble tube was too big.  I should have picked up a smaller drill today (lost the one I had originally) so I could remake the dribble tube.
  • The proper way to orient the holes is horizontally toward the wall (duh).
  • When stapling the felt to the backing make SURE you put the shiny side out.  I can make it work with the shiny side against the backer but I think the wall would heal in faster if the shiny side faced out.
  • ½” stainless staples aren’t long enough.  I’m making them work but they pop out if you look at them funny which doesn’t make me happy.

Traveling plant wall

Wall at Kaija's.

My tiny test plant wall has done a bit of traveling.  It’s traveled back in time and down the road!  It’s now hanging just a bit crookedly (we didn’t have a level!) on a wall at Kaija’s garden center over a bucket of goldies!  Look at the dumb cane!  Doesn’t it look awesome?!

Most of the wall traveled perfectly.  All of the wall would have traveled perfectly if it hadn’t gotten squashed by something falling on it.  Most of the peperomia in the upper left corner was broken off as a result.  <sigh>  Wadly lost his professional driver scout badge for that oops.

On the plus side, there are two more sprays of blossoms emerging.  Go begonia!


Started 12/24/09, picture taken 1/10/09

One of the lutea seeds has sprouted.  I had three of the sensitive plant sprout.  I potted them up pending wall insertion but I think only one of them will survive . . . maybe.  Time will tell.

The pond liner came yesterday.  The last bit still needed is stainless staples.  They should arrive at the Farm Store any day.  I have to pick Wadly up at Mike’s so will swing in and check.

Pond liner

The trip to town today was a bit of a bust.  I could get pond liner locally if I was interested in using a shorter lived thinner product (PVC instead of EPDM) at a few pennies more.  NOT.  When I got back home I ordered a 5’x5′ 45mil EPDM from for (total) $25.44.   I did get the tubing I need for the new wall.  I can’t use 3/8″ as it requires additional fittings to marry to the bigger pump (Pondmaster 160) that’s needed to feed the new wall.  There’s no way I can use the little statuary pump.  It doesn’t have the head to service more than a 2’6″ rise.  When I moved the old wall out of the way I raised it up on the wall just a couple inches.  That was the tipping point for the Laguna Statuary.  It can’t push water that high.  I cobbled together a connection to the Pondmaster 160 to keep the wall fed until I can recycle the plants into the new wall.


Felt peeled back at the edge near the dumb cane. Click to enlarge

I ordered stainless staples yesterday.  <rolls eyes at self>  Silly me thought I could get them locally!  Not.  Well, at least not in the logical place.  I got them online through DoItBest and they’re being delivered at no charge to my local DoItBest store.  Works for me.

I’m way too eager to get my new wall up.  There’s not a whole lot of patience attached to this endeavor.

Oh! Good news!  Terry has finally shown an interest in the fish tank!  He brought home two fancy guppies and some foliage!  <LOL>  He even laid down on the floor to watch them for a while.  Works for me!

I’ve pulled about 6 staples at the edge of my original plant wall to see what things look like.  I’ll do a lot more of this as I get closer to putting up the new wall.  Click on the image to enlarge it and look how the roots have grown.  They look great!  One has grown to the edge and changed direction and headed back in.

So now the zillion dollar question is . . . how well is the wax and oil sealed plywood backer going to hold up?  The wall is 8 months old and the backer looks good but I started with good quality exterior (waterproof adhesive) plywood.  How will it look in 8 more months?  In 8 years?  I don’t think it’ll hold up that well over the long run, the wood is bound to rot.  Using a preservative might improve things but it could/would seriously kill the fish.

The goal is to have a long lasting plant wall at a bargain basement price.   I’m not talking industrial application here.  I want a long lasting personal plant wall that is affordable enough that virtually anyone could build it.  I want the total structural and equipment cost to be (with scrounged bits a pieces) around $100 for a 25 square foot wall.  Obviously, the bigger the wall is the bigger the cost will be.  More wall means a bigger pump, a bigger aquarium, more fish, more tubing, more felt, more backer . . .  The more bits that can be scrounged the lower the cost.

I haven’t been able to find HPDE sheets at a reasonable price so I’m thinking through other options.  I want to use plywood in the support structure because it’s strong and inexpensive . . . and Wadly picked a pile of it up for nothing but the gas to go get it.  I have to develop a method that will truly waterproof it without killing the fish that feed the wall.

What if I cover the plywood with a self-sealing layer that will prevent water from getting to the plywood.  Maybe rubber pond liner . . . I can get a 5’x5′ Firestone 45mil EPDM pond liner online for $11.  That’s a great price but the shipping is $14.44.  Ouch.  I’ll check locally and see if I can find that size or one that is close that is under that total cost.    If shipping were half the stated cost I could see trying it.  Yeah, that’s me, Ms. Cheap. Paying full price for anything disturbs me . . . I need to balance price plus tax against price plus shipping.  Tax on $11 is under a buck.  So even if the liner is $18 locally, with tax it’s still less expensive.  And if I get it locally I don’t have to wait for it to arrive.

What if I applied the pond liner with a water hardened adhesive?  Hmmm.  Then if water seeped around the shaft of a staple (not likely as EPDM rubber unstretched is moderately self-sealing) the adhesive would kick in and harden, sealing the hole.  It’s a thought.  The water hardened sealer would have to be fish safe.  I might try and get my hands on some TF Sealant.

I bet I could use a layer of torch (asphalt based roofing material).  It’s really self-sealing.  I wonder if it would kill the fish . . .

I just had a thought.  I ordered ½” stainless staples.  If the pond liner is too thick the staples can’t get through the felt and through the rubber with enough length left over to fasten deeply into the plywood.  The staples I pulled from the edge of my current plant wall were very secure (hard to remove).

Where the sun don’t shine

Off sun side

Wadly and I pulled the plant wall today to make room for the new larger plant wall.  We moved it to the other side of the slider where it will not get enough daylight.  I hope to have the new wall going soon enough that it won’t cause issues.

Now that I can actually get to the off-sun side I can show you what’s going on there.

See the dumb cane cutting?  That’s the big green stem on the left starting from halfway up with greenery growing up and curving to the right.  Remember I said I was concerned that the heavier plants would need support.  Well, now I’m not so certain.  I grabbed that stem to see how much it would wiggle . . . it won’t wiggle at all.  The whole wall moved.

See the green and pale green vine about 2/3 of the way from the top?  That’s one of the bathroom vines.  It’s hiking it toward the shade . . . wonder where it thinks it’s going . . .

It will be interesting to pull the staples and see what the backside of the felt looks like.

Wadly and I cut most of the frame for the new wall.  I cut channels in some recycled 2×4 to slot the backer board into.  We’ve got the top corners mitered.  I’ve asked Wadly to take some of the 6″ pipe that Danny brought and cut it in half lengthwise to make the water collection trough.  I’m going to do some fancy cutting in the center front to allow the water to run into the aquarium.  I’m still thinking on that part.  I may aquarium cement on a down spout.  We’ll see.  I still have some teeless connectors.  Maybe I’ll use one of those and connect a short hose to run into the aquarium.  Hmm . . . still processing.

Garden window plants

Garden window, December '09

I have lots of plants.  You wouldn’t think I could manage a lot of plants in 664 sf of living space but I seem to be able to find a spot for whatever I bring home.  If you wondered why Wadly rolls his eyes at me, don’t.  He has reason.

I don’t necessarily see having lots of plants as a good thing. The more plants I have the more plants I have to water.  It wasn’t so bad when I could water them all with one watering can full.  That’s no longer the case.  Hello?  Ms. Lazy here . . .

So the plan is . . . I’m going to see how many of these (and the ones in the plant corner) I can tastefully stuff into the new plant wall.

I’ve got a bunch of different types of ivy.  I love ivy.  I have two very slow growing English ivy I want to incorporate.  They like being evenly damp and shed leaves when they don’t have enough moisture. They should adore the plant wall.  I’ve got some spikey clingly ivy outside on a stump I want to include as well.  I don’t know how it will do as a house plant.  Time will tell.

I have three rubbery leaved things (far right, far left and center right) that were part of gift plants.  They have orange blossoms and respond well to being whacked back regularly.  I’ll put them in a cluster.

I have two types of (I think) orchid cactus.  One (the smallest/newest) has wide flat bright green leaves from a broken leaf rescue at Wally World last fall.  I am fairly confident this is an orchid cactus.  I have no idea what its blossoms look like.  The other cactus (guessing as to type) was a gift from LouAnn.  Its growth cross section is flat, round or triangular and it puts out pinky/red blossoms.  The leaves (they probably aren’t called leaves) can grow up to 18″ in length.  I’ve got Christmas cactus (hanging basket, two or three colors – can’t remember) I want to include.  It likes even moisture with lots of oxygen around the roots.  It should do well in the wall.  I’ve been watering it using a snack sized ziplock bag punctured full of pin holes.  The water oozes out slowly and the plant’s happy.  There’s no liner in the basket so if I water it out of the can I end up with water on my sewing table.  Ack.  It likes the ooze watering so everyone’s happy.

I’ve got a wandering jew (oval pot hanging left of center) I want to include not because I think it’s a great plant for the plant wall (it probably is) but because it’s such a pain in the butt to water.  I love the pot it’s in but I have to set the pot in water as the soil is very poor quality and won’t readily absorb or hold moisture.  Watering from the top means the plant doesn’t get water and I have a puddle in the garden window.  Yuck.   I’ve got a lipstick plant that’s also a pain to water as well (same situation), but it’s a small scale plant and will go into LouAnn’s plant wall, not mine.  Maybe I should do that with the wandering jew as well . . . yeah, that’s what I’ll do.

I’ve got some dumb cane and streptocarpus (Cape Primrose) cuttings in the window that will go in the wall as well . . . assuming the streptocarpus actually puts out roots.  The dumb cane’s good to go.  It’s totally the wrong time of year for it to root but dumb cane is easy.

That should pretty much clean out the garden window except for the hoyas and the desert cactus (I am SO not a desert cactus person).

In the plant corner I have a wood fern I’m going to de-pot and put in the wall.  It should do brilliantly.  It likes even moisture.  I’ve got a Hawaiian begonia (when it’s happy the leaves are the size of a dinner plate and it blooms long spikes of soft pink blossoms), some dieffenbachia, some philodendron, two types of spider plant and all the plants in the existing plant wall plus a streptocarpus (with pups).

The trick is going to be organizing it all so it looks good when it fills in.

Anatomy of a plant wall

I’m close to tearing apart my plant wall.  I’m going to ask Mary to come over and video the deconstruction so we can document root growth, plant development and what was brilliant and what sucked.  I’ll take pictures with my camera as well and post them here.

This is the one that sending out tiny little roots to grip the wall. It loves the understory of the plant wall. Notice the dead philodendron leaf (big and yellowing).

I promised pics of the cuttings from the vining plants in the bathroom.  Both vines are, in my opinion, brilliant in any wall.  I will make sure to include them scattered through LouAnn’s wall as they are low growing and they spread fairly quickly.  One vine (the variegated) loves the understory and attaches firmly to the felt.  The other (the solid leafed one) is happy in or out.  I see it poking leaves out of the face of the wall.  Both of the plants like consistent moisture which is another reason they do so well in the wall.

In the above picture are both of the bathroom vines (variegated in the center of the picture and solid leafed vine in upper right corner – small leaf pointing left), begonia (just below the aforementioned leaf, in the upper right corner and again beneath my little finger), hoya (just below the begonia), nephthytis (right of my forefinger), spider plant (long skinny striped leaf), vining black eyed susan (the vine to the upper left of the begonia) and the dumb cane with the purple leaf backs (bottom of the pic, leaf is pointing right).  The dying philodendron leaf isn’t quite ready to be removed.

Beach Oleander

One more plant I wanted to mention is the Beach Oleander.   The picture is of the bottom right corner of the wall.  There is no backing behind the felt in this corner.  The parent leaf is pinned to the felt closest to the corner.   This plant has been struggling to get started.  If you know anything about Beach Oleander, you know this is probably a good thing.  I’m mentioning this as a point to subtleties in how the wall was set up.

The entire wall is not perfectly level.  Hey!  It’s a test wall! (“Yeah Wad, that’s good, put the screw in right there.”)   The top slants down just slightly to the left (less than ¼” over the 30″ length).  The dribble tube originally fed in from the downhill (left) side which meant the water had to be forced up through the length of the dribble tube.  In watching the Beach Oleander struggle I could see it wasn’t getting enough water delivered from the high end of the dribble tube.  On a hunch I pulled the dribble tube feed and switched it to the high side.  I think this was a smart move as now both sides of the wall are more evenly watered.  I’ll make sure I slant the dribble tube slightly in the new wall and feed from the high side.  I’m currently using 3/8″ tubing.  If I were to extrapolate, I’d say the drop over the width of the wall needs to be at or near the diameter of the dribble tube when using a marginal pump.

Okay, if that last bit didn’t make perfect sense, how about this.  My little statuary pump is tiny.  It doesn’t put out a lot of water.  By the time the water gets to the top of the wall (a real stretch for this little pump) it dribbles so the tube needs to be oriented correctly to make the most of the water that makes it that far.  If the pump has to pump the water to the top of the wall and up more along the dribble tube, less water gets pumped into the wall.  When the pump shuts off the water in the dribble tube runs backward through the pump and doesn’t run through the wall.  If the water is fed in from the high side, gravity is helping run the water into the dribble tube and the wall gets more evenly watered.  When the pump shuts off the water remaining in the dribble tube runs down through the wall.

Switching the side the dribble tube fed from also benefited the aquarium.  Without buying a longer feed tube I was able to move the pump to the back of the tank on the right end.  The returning water (left back corner) cascades over the heater (left end) which gives me more even heat across the width of the aquarium.

One of the reasons the pump stays so clean is the way it’s oriented in the tank.  The pump is fastened to the back of the aquarium via suction cups with the inlet pointing down and off the bottom about 3″.  Keeping the pump clean and away from any debris on the bottom of the tank keeps the dribble tube running freely.  No debris is sucked up to plug up the holes in the dribble tube.