Thursday, January 17, 2013

Plants 101

When people learn one I'm a botanist (i.e. super plant person) the next line out of their mouth is I can't grow plants or I kill plants. There's a reason that people think they have a perpetual black thumb, no one ever set you up for success. If in life no one ever taught you the correct way, would you expect to succeed? Of course not. Yet the majority of people seem to think growing any plant requires a mystical green thumb that you can only be born with, otherwise you are doomed to be the grim reaper of plants. I promise there is hope for anybody!

a variety of succulents

Of the plant killer group, people follow two thought processes on what it actually takes to grow plants. Route 1 is it only takes any random dirt and some water, then they're dumbfounded when their plant dies.  Route 2 believes that plants are impossibly complex and don't even attempt to grow them. Both groups are going about this the wrong way. To start I suggest everyone who has never grown a plant practice on something very hard to kill, succulents! The beauty of most succulents is they take very little maintenance and can tolerate lots of abuse. You can literally forget to water your succulent for weeks and it will be just fine, promise.
Succulents on my deck
 To start from the basics, make your own soil. Almost all of the commercial potting mixes are laced with hormones and additives which will initially make your plant grow quickly. The downside is after awhile your plant will be sitting in mush and have a poorly developed root system. I mix my very own soil and it tends to be slightly cheaper if you buy in bulk. First get a bag of peat moss and a bag of perlite. For succulents mix them 60% perlite, 40% peat moss. Take your succulent out of the original pot it came in and put in a new pot double what your plant came in. Make sure you pack it in firmly and fill soil to the top. There you have it! By having a custom soil mix you ensure your plant will hold the ideal amount of water. Succulents are drought tolerant and do best with minimal watering. So if you don't water it for a week, no problem, if you accidentally water it too much, your custom soil mix ensures the water will drain out the bottom. Keep your succulent outside in a nice sunny spot. They can handle extreme heat and minimally freezing temperatures.

Mixing your own soil for each plant is your safety net. Perlite adds drainage to a plant, peat holds moisture in. If you venture outside the world of succulents you just figure out where your plant originally came from and how much water it prefers, then adjust your peat moss to perlite ratio accordingly. If I'm unsure what amount of water a plant would like I tend to start it in a 50/50 ratio of peat moss to perlite. It the plant looks bogged down or soggy I will replant with more perlite, if it constantly looks thirsty, add more peat moss.

Some general plant tips:
  • Watch out for plants getting root bound. This is when the roots start coming out of the bottom of your pot, this means your plant is ready for a larger pot and new soil.
  • Keep an eye out for sun burnt leaves, your plant will tell you if it is getting too much sun.
  • If your plant turns pale and albino, that's a sign it needs more sun.
  • Use a basic fertilizer once a month for indoor plants, they use up the nutrients in their soil quicker than outdoor plants. Be careful not to apply fertilizer on the stems of plants.
  • Plants like fresh soil, if your soil looks crusty means the nutrition has been depleted. I accidentally dwarfed several plants by denying them fresh soil for over a year. After changing out their soil, poof! They doubled in size.
  • Plants enjoy a hair cut, if they start looking tired trim them up, it will stimulate roots to grow, and get rid of any dead limbs.
  • Google! Look up your plant and see where it likes to live, how much water it desires, how others grow them. If your plant looks sickly, google its symptoms. There is a huge very supportive plant community out there.
  • Plants will die, its a part of life just like everything else. I will guarantee every plant expert has had plants die on them.

Remember plants are resilient organisms and want to thrive. I have faith in you all. You can ask me any plant questions if you get stuck.
Good luck,

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Why I Ride

The Early Years

I had a post all ready to go about first time plant growers, but last night while riding my horses I had another post fighting in me to be written. I was walking around the ranch on my red horse Finally and just had a truly appreciative moment. Here I was alone in utter peace. There was a haze that had settled around the ranch, barely lite with sporadic lamp posts, and yet when looking straight up the sky was clear with sparkling stars that you just don't see the same in the city. It got me thinking about why I have horses. (please note at any time in this post feel free to add dog or cat or any other animal that gives you these feelings) People are shocked when they learn my horses cost me more than my rent, car, food, all other extra bills combined. Yet, each month I write their feed and board check without a second thought. I have eaten Top Ramen and Mac N Cheese for a month straight, while my horse ate every vet recommended supplement. My shoes have holes in them, yet my horse has a brand new shiny pair on right now. One horse even killed me. A horse I didn't know, had a break with reality and pinned me between a truck and kicked my face in. But that same day, my own horse stood between that horse and took kicks meant for me, then refused to leave my body. If I had to choose between reliving that day again or a life without horses, I'd happily die all over. My horses are priceless.

My two grey ponies, Phoenix and Max

Animals and especially horses are a persons mirror. They can sense whatever is on your mind and spit it right back at you good or bad. To me that's a gift. So many of us walk around this world with a facade on, thinking we have the world fooled. But that horse will sense it in a second. By being my mirror, my horses call attention emotions that I've been stuffing (I'm a girl we're fabulous at stuffing emotions), by becoming aware I've been neurotic I can begin to process and resolve it. My horse is the worlds best and most affordable therapist. I remember being a 10 year old girl and going up to my grey pony Phoenix and pouring my heart out. She walked up to me and just put her nose on my tear streaked cheek and sat there. I threw my arms around her and sobbed. That pony saved me from so much strife. Even now days when times get tough I go to my horse. My friend committed suicide recently and I had no idea how to process it, so I hopped on Finally bareback with just a halter and bared my soul again. He just cruised me around the ranch while I cried over a life too short. After I got off a hour later, nothing had changed in reality but I felt like I could at least deal.


My horses have taught me pride and humility all in one. I took Manny my thoroughbred from abused and nothing but skin and bones to the picture of health and fitness. We were a team that would jump anything. During one jumper show the organizers set up a jump that was meant to be terrify and almost un-jumpable. A standard picnic table complete with benches, decorated to the max. The table itself was narrow yet impossibly wide, and the table cloth was loosely attached so it flapped. No horse would go within 10 feet of the thing, but I took my beast of a thoroughbred, galloped up to it and soared right over. People stood there shaking their heads in disbelief. How could one pair have so little fear and trust in each other? On the other hand, I can remember riding a tiny pony named Squirt for one of my students who had just gotten bucked off for the second time. I was going to show this pony who was boss... I cantered a few laps around when the little guy stuck his nose to the ground and bucked, I flipped head over heels landing in a giant heap still holding the reins. I wouldn't let go and the little brat tried to take off and drag my fat ass, didn't work out so well for him. I go back on and managed to get him going decent. The little kid and her parents asked if I was hurt, I replied, "only my pride is broken". It's that instance where you realize the smallest pony can humble any rider.

Manhattan (the once starved horse)

My horses teach me how to be a better human being. I have had to re cooperate horses starved and beaten an inch from life. This horse has no reason to trust me. All its life humans have only hurt it, yet its spirit still wants love. It will allow me to show it not all humans are bad. It makes me think somewhere out there is that person for my heart, yes it has been trampled, beaten, starved, but somewhere out there is someone who will gently nurse it back to health, but I have to trust them to do it. Horses have taught me how to love without fear, because they love me unconditionally. They have never let me down.

Hug your animal extra today and tell them how much you appreciate them,