Green Patches - Mediterranean Gardening

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Harvesting Sunflower Seeds

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Some time ago I decided to try to grow sunflowers from seed.  This was my second attempt at growing from seed, as my first was a disaster.  I took some extra care, and after a few weeks the seedlings appeared.  They grew quickly and soon out grew the pot that they were in.  It was time for a nasty decision.  The instructions said to grow two, but to only keep one!  So which one was I going to keep?

Since one of the seedlings did not look as promising as the other one, and don't ask me how I made that judgement, I thinned and separated the two flowers, and replanted the lucky seedling in a bigger pot.

My Sunflower after a few weeks

Waiting for the flower to bloom was a daily display of layers of leaves peeling.  Row after row until one day a speck of color appeared.

Just about ready to bloom
Finally after about a month I was blessed with a cheerful, sunny, sunflower.  I know that they are called sunflowers because they follow the sun, but for me are such cheerful flowers they are like a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day.  

One word of advice when planning sunflowers, take care where the sun rises and sets on your location, because the flower head will point towards the sun, and you may end up with a set of flowers looking away from you rather than at you :)

My sunflower in full bloom
All good things come to an end and my sunflower withered and died after just a month.  I decided to keep the flower head to see if I can harvest the seeds.  I have hundreds of seeds left in the original packet, but seed harvesting is such a rewarding activity I try to do it with every plant that I grow.

I had never harvested sunflower seeds before but I know they were in the head so I grabbed it with both hands and gently pulled it backwards to 'break' the surface layer and reveal the seeds inside. It was the easiest thing to do since sunflower seeds are quite big and you can just pick them out of the head and place them in a jar.

harvesting sunflower seeds
How sunflower seeds are harvested.
There you are, from two seeds, to one flower, to lots of seeds, the life of a sunflower.  Nature is just amazing.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Spring Comes To Qrendi

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They say in life you have to stop and smell the roses.  Well in my case I stopped and took pictures of the flowers.  Looks like Spring is finally setting in.  Here are some of the flowers that I see now on my afternoon walk around Qrendi.











Thursday, February 19, 2015

Green Patches Fundraiser - Planting Trees in The Park

Over the Christmas period I have started my very first fundraiser.  It was on a November afternoon as I was catching up with group posts on our Green Patches Facebook group that someone mentioned sponsoring trees with the 34U Campaign. We had just had some violent storms and many trees were uprooted or destroyed.  The idea was to donate EUR 1 each to sponsor some trees as a replacement.

Maybe it was because Christmas was coming, and I was feeling particularly generous, but I decided to take on the challenge, and organize a fundraiser.  After some searching online I found a good website, and after a few clicks it was online and official.

green patches campaign

I was prepared for the waiting game, thinking that it will take forever for people to make the first payment, luckily that was short lived.  Money started coming in almost immediately, and I was so relieved.  The fundraiser lasted till the end of January and we collected enough money to sponsor 23 trees.

We decided to plant the trees in two children's parks around the island. Aleppo Pine Trees and Juda's Trees were chosen for us, both indigenous to Malta.  Unfortunately the 34U Campaign only operate during the week, and almost none of the people who donated money could make it on the day of the planting.  We met the gardeners, planted the trees, posed for some pictures, and in a couple of hours it was over.

Green Patches Tree Planting
That's me planting a Juda's tree

Green Patches Tree Planting
The Group at MScala Family Park

Green Patches Plaque
Green Patches Plaque

The people from the 34U Campaign were very efficient, and it was also thanks to their brilliant staff that everything went like clockwork.  

I was very pleased that we did this, not only did we leave a legacy behind for our children, but the parks are now a little bit nicer thanks to the people of Green Patches!


Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Umbrella Plant Who Gets Homesick

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I have a love hate relationship with my Umbrella plant.  I have had this plant for over four years now and it has been growing happily ever since.  Growing so much in fact that it is completely taking over my small yard.

Schefflera Plant
Umbrella Plant - 2010

Schefflera Plant
Umbrella Plant - 2012

I have tried various methods to keep this plant under control.  The first attempt was to prune off almost one third of the plant, and brought it back to its original size.  This was an easy job, and I was quite happy with the result.  I did, however, do one mistake.  I placed the plant indoors thinking it will make a fine indoor plant.

In general Umbrella plants make good indoor plants, they are also beneficial as they absorb a lot of toxins from the air, and release clean oxygen.  I placed my plant next to a big window in the living room, where it got lots of natural light but no direct sunlight.  

Schefflera Plant indoor
Umbrella Plant Indoors after Pruning

After a couple of weeks I started seeing signs of decline.  The leaves were going yellow and dropping off.  Then I realized that the remaining leaves had a sticky substance on them, it almost looked as if the plant was sweating.  I feared bugs, but there were none to be seen.  Eventually, after about four months I gave up and placed the plant outside in its original spot.

Almost immediately I saw an improvement.  The plant started growing new healthy leaves, the old leaves were no longer sticky and I can honestly say it actually looked happy!  Needless to say in about a year the plant was back to its enormous size, so I decided to try a new tactic.

Instead of trying to control the plant's growth I was going to set it free and place it on my roof.  The plant was so big it hardly passed through the doorways of my house, but finally I set it in place, in a sheltered spot.  I changed the pot to a bigger one so that the roots had space to grow, thinking that this plant was going to become a monster, and I left it alone.

Schefflera New Leaves
Umbrella Plant New Leaves

A few weeks went by and once again the plant went in decline.  I saw the same series of events occurring, the leaves started yellowing and dropping, and the plant looked miserable.  I persisted and after a few more weeks, one of the branches was almost without any leaves.  There was sign of new growth, however, so I decided to leave it, and wait a bit more.  The plant started growing new leaves but there were nothing like the original large and dark foliage.  They were small and shriveled leaves. I thought maybe this plant needs a bit of time to adapt to its new climate so I left the plant out on the roof for over six months.

Schefflera on rooftop
Umbrella Plant on Rooftop after 6 months
This afternoon I couldn't bear to see it anymore.  I brought the plant back down to my small yard where it belongs.  I will give it a few weeks to recover, I am sure that it will jump back in no time at all.  I plan to propagate this plant with layering.  I will try to get the leaning branch to root, and make a new plant out of it.  Then I will trim the remaining plant into shape, and keep it in my yard, in its proper place forever.


Life Lessons From A Humble Gardening Blog

I started writing this blog in 2009.  It was then when I decided I wanted to try my hands at gardening. We had just bought our first set of plants, and I needed a way to record progress.

My requirements consisted of a log where I could write my observations, collect information about my plants from other sources, and keep pictures of the plants for comparison.  It was 2009, so I thought, why not create a blog?  And so it began:

The mission: Keep a log of my plants and make sure they don't die.

My plants and my blog were doing well, I was faithfully writing blog posts about every growth spurge, every color change, and every fatality that occurred in my small back yard.

Growing Pains

Two years went by and some of my plants were happily growing, others were dead, and not replaced.  I found myself at a loss for things to write.  Season after season I was writing the same things about the same plants, with the only difference being that they were a few inches taller or wider.  The blog was drying out, and I was ready to call it quits.

52 Page Views and Digital Marketing.

The day had finally come, I logged into Blogger with the intention of deleting my blog, and call it a day.  As I was searching for the delete button I came across the Stats button.  I clicked and saw that I had 52 page views.  Huh? 52 people had read my blog, and they came from USA and Canada.

I don't remember why that was such a big deal for me at the time, maybe because I always thought of the blog as a private journal, not really something that people would come across.  Those 52 page views that I collected in two years were reason enough for me to keep the blog.  I thought if other people were reading, then I will not be the one to stop them.

Something changed however. I found myself checking the stats page a few hundred times a day, willing for those 52 page views to increase.  I started reading about digital publishing, blogs, content, analytics, marketing, SEO, everything I could get my hands on to increase those page views.

The blogging platform was changed, from Blogger to WordPress, back to Blogger.  The template also changed about five times before I settled with this one.  My free time now consisted of following other blogs, reading their posts, commenting, and linking back to my blog.  The numbers started to rise, slowly but surely.

I soon realized, however, that there was one fundamental problem that I was faced with.  I had a great design, I knew a lot about the marketing, but I had no knowledge about the subject - gardening.

Content is King - and the plants?

So apparently content is king in this business.  Well, my content consisted of very detailed accounts of my dear plants, and, therefore, not very exciting.  The topic was gardening so I started reading and researching topics for my blog.

Container gardening was my niche, so I focused on writing interesting, evergreen, keyword rich, search engine friendly articles about container gardening.  I also knew I had to do this three to four times a week to beef up my blog.

In the meantime I had to keep up with the marketing, so I published my articles on gardening sites, registered my blog in directories, read my fellow bloggers' posts and commented, checked out google analytics and webmaster tools, ...... who has time for gardening?

After about a year I had over 90 posts, over 3,000 page views a month, a trickle of adsense income, and no garden.

I eventually abandoned my fellow bloggers's posts, in part because they made it look so easy. One post a week, and they got so many comments, so many page views, so many awards.  I failed to see the mark, and I crashed. I was exhausted, frustrated, brain dead, and hated gardening at that point. So I quit.

Social Green Patches

Part of my social media strategy for my blog was to create accounts with every possible channel, I had a twitter account, Google Plus page, I posted on Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit, and also created a group on Facebook.

One evening I receive a message on Facebook from a fellow gardener who found the group, and asked me if it was still active.  He encouraged me to start posting on the group, and told that that there was a real need for it in Malta.  I agreed to try, and in a matter of two days I had over a hundred members.  Like an addict, my first thought went back to the blog, maybe this was the audience I was waiting for.  I soon realized however, that Facebook is a different medium.

Facebook is a medium of instant gratification.  You need help with a plant? Post a picture, and you get all the help you need within a few minutes.  It was no place for me to post lengthy blogs about the difference between clay and sandy soil.

Today my Facebook group has over 2,000 members, and we have started getting more active doing some fundraising for trees in parks, and caring for public gardens around the island.

... and the blog?

My last entry in my blog was in May 2014, when I was trying to write about my visit to Butchart Gardens, and never quite got to finish the series.  I still get over 1,000 page views a month from the articles, and a few cents from adsense.

I do believe that the biggest lesson I have learnt is not to force something to be what it is not.  Who knows, had I continued to write about my plants I would have become a better gardener, and content would have increased naturally.  Now that I am more active with other gardeners out there I have more stories to tell, more adventures that I want to share with people.

This is what those blogs that I abandoned were trying to tell me back then. Those blogs didn't share recycled content derived from summarized online articles, they shared the writer's unique experience, which is something truly worth reading about. Maybe it is time to start gardening.