Sunday, October 28, 2012

Missouri Botanical Gardens

The Missouri Botanical Gardens is one of the world's most well known and prestigious botanical gardens featuring plants from all over the world. It is a National Historical Landmark of the United States and there's no wonder as to why! The Missouri Botanical Gardens is an institution that goes far beyond a city garden; It conducts botanical research worldwide, maintains an enormous herbarium (preserving millions of dried plant specimens) and collaborates with universities across the globe.

The gardens are a great experience for anyone with any interest in botany or plants what so ever. There's something to please every kind of plant lover. Some notable gardens include the Victorian Garden, Japanese Garden, Chinese Garden, Bulb Garden, Iris Garden, Gladney Rose Garden, Dwarf Conifer Garden and Rock Garden. Although I found the large variety of gardens to all be very fascinating and beautiful, my favorite exhibits were obviously the greenhouses. There are three main greenhouses, the Linnean House, Climatron and Temperate House.

The Linnean House is full of various cacti and succulents, but its main attraction is the camellias and fragrant plants. Wandering around this house, it is easy to get lost in the smells.There are many citrus trees and camellias which fill the house with fragrance. It is quite pleasant comparing the sweet scents of the numerous camellia varieties.

There was one thing, above all else that I wanted to see at the gardens and that was the Climatron. It has a ground surface area of 24,000 sq ft., and houses over 1,500 plants.  Boasting a low profile this massive domed greenhouse is nearly hiding in the hills and flora of the gardens. Upon entering you are welcomed with barrage of warmth and moisture to the tropical paradise that is the Climatron. After a short amount of time following the trail you are completely submerged in jungle and it is often quite difficult to see the walls of the dome itself. I praise the gardens for such an amazing piece of botanical engineering; the density of flora inside the Climatron is remarkable.

The Climatron houses many epiphyte displays utilizing the thick trunks and branches of trees. Most of these are combinations of orchids, bromeliads, ferns and Spanish moss.

One of the most abundant edible fruits in the Climatron are bananas, they seem to be scattered about throughout the greenhouse and many were fruiting and in flower.

The Climatron has unique exhibits of tropical life including an Amazonian aquarium, epiphyte forest, and agricultural trail. Several species of birds inhabit the greenhouse giving the unique and authentic feeling of a jungle. Of the edible and exotic plants my favorites were the double coconut tree (Lodoicea maldivica), bananas, sugarcane, various gingers, chocolate tree (Theobroma cacao), Brazilian grape (Myrciaria cauliflora), star fruit, star apple,  vanilla orchid. There are also many tropical plants with medicinal value, the Neem tree (Azadirachta indica) and Betel (Piper betle) to name a couple.

I thought the temperate greenhouse was quite amazing as well. There is a large area devoted to pitcher plants, mostly North American pitcher plants from the genus Sarracenia. There are a number of edible temperate plants found in this greenhouse, they include fig, grape, pomegranate. Some other notable plants include tea (Camellia sinensis), absinthe (Artemisia absinthium) and many other herbs such as rosemary and thyme.

The  Botanical museum and library founded in 1859. Henry Shaw founded the gardens in 1859 and his spirit lives on through the gardens' historic architecture.

Another great garden I visited was the Japanese garden. This garden features a large lake with several islands.

All in all, the Missouri Botanical Gardens is a priceless experience for any one! It's a great place to learn more about plants from around the world or to simply have a nice relaxing day outside.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

White Butterfly Ginger

The family Zingiberaceae is known for beautiful, and often bizarre flowers as well as rhizomes. The family is most well known for Zingiber officale (Common Ginger), Cardamom, and Curcuma longa (Tumeric) among many other culinary and medicinal plants. The focus of this article, however will be Hedychium coronarium (White Ginger Lily or White Butterfly Ginger).

If you are looking for an easy to grow perennial flower with a number of other uses, look no farther than the White Butterfly Ginger! This exotic flower is a great way to bring beauty and fragrance to any tropical garden or greenhouse. The rhizomes have some medicinal value but it is the flowers that are the true reward of growing this plant. The flower buds can be eaten or put in hot tea to infuse flavor and fragrance.

Growing White Butterfly Ginger is easy especially if you can get a rhizome. If you live in the U.S. it might be best to look on the internet for the rhizomes. The Butterfly Ginger can survive mild winters as it is a perennial and it prefers warm and moist tropical conditions. In my greenhouse it blooms when summer temperatures decrease in August.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Fruiting Papaya Trees

The process of obtaining fruit from a papaya tree is a relatively long and difficult process if you live in a temperate climate. Due to the papaya's growth patterns and requirements it is almost impossible to grow in temperate climates. This is because papayas typically flower after two years of growth, yet temperate climates get annual freezing temperatures which are lethal for papayas. It is possible to provide cover from light freezes for those in zones 8+ but there is no guarantee of survival. Alternatively you may grow papayas in greenhouses which can provide protection from the winter chill in even lower zones. Heating elements may also be used to grow tropical fruits in just about any freezing climate.

Unless you live in a tropical climate, growing a papaya tree is one major feat, but even more challenging may be harvesting fruit. To set fruit, the papaya must have a sturdy foundation and vigorous growth. I grew my papayas in a raised soil bed allowing for adequate root space. Additionally papayas require a lot of sunshine, water, humidity and nutrients to produce fruit readily. The papayas in my greenhouse went from seed to fruit in about two years, but due to imperfect growth conditions and the size restriction on my greenhouse they yielded small fruits. Papayas typically grow to be over 20 feet tall, but in a backyard greenhouse this is impossible.

A view from inside my greenhouse shows the dominance of my papayas over my other tropical plants. Their rate of growth is truly impressive.
Amazingly, my papaya trees have been fruiting all summer and yet they continue to flower. At first I was hand pollinating the flowers to ensure fertilization, but it seems that they were fertilizing themselves on their own too. Insects and wind can transfer pollen from flower to flower. Just in case hand pollination is required, it is important to distinguish male from female flowers. The easiest way to tell is by the diameter of the flower base, the males are skinny while the female flowers have a larger diameter at their base. This is because inside of the female flowers there is an ovary which makes the flower base bulge. Male flowers have anthers containing pollen required to fertilize the ovary of the female. It is important to note that there are hermaphroditic flowers that contain both an ovary and anthers and thus can self-fertilize but also spread pollen to other females.
These are a few of the papayas on one of my trees right now. I've already harvested some ripe papayas that were about 6 inches long; They were delicious but I found that they didn't ripen evenly.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tropical Fruit Stand in Germany

This is a picture of a tropical fruit stand I ran into when I was in Munich, Germany this year. The vender was importing many types of tropical fruits at a relatively pricey mark-up. Of the many exotic fruits, I can see dragonfruit, jackfruit, lychee, starfruit, tamarind and pepino melons. What's the selection of tropical fruit like in your country?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Harbor Frieght Greenhouse

I changed residences a couple of years ago and built a new greenhouse in doing so. My new greenhouse is a Harbor Freight 10X12 ft. model which is significantly larger than the previous greenhouse I was using which was a Kensington 8X12 ft. The 8X12 allows for 96 square feet of growing space while the 10X12 allows for 120 square feet; Furthermore the Harbor Freight greenhouse is nearly four feet taller than the Kensington. I should stress that size isn't everything, especially because the Harbor Freight greenhouse is of significantly lower quality.

Cons of the Harbor Freight greenhouse:
  • Light and flimsy aluminum construction
  • Easily removable panels (they can blow out in strong winds)
  • The doors are easily jammed by dirt and debris
Pros of the Harbor Freight greenhouse:
  • Simple design and construction (only two kinds of pieces, metal and polycarbonate)
  • Very reasonable price for its size (I got it on sale for $700)
  • More easily modified. It is extremely easy to replace panels or install fans/vents.
Surprisingly I had no problems with the construction of the Harbor Freight greenhouse unlike the Kensington which had a host of problems. I am overall happy with my purchase and would say that it was well worth the money. For those who wish to have a cheap easy to build/maintain greenhouse, this is the greenhouse for you! It is even sold in a range of sizes and prices. Harbor Freight has greenhouses as small as 4X6 ft. for all those urban horticulturalists out there looking for an affordable growspace.

It has been a couple of years since my greenhouse was built, and there are some signs of stress and aging. A couple of storms caused some serious damage, and as a result many of the aluminum pieces are slightly torn and my roof is crooked. I was surprised at how well the polycarbonate has fared, especially with the very hot conditions, none of them are cracked or torn yet. I regret not making improvements to the structural stability of the greenhouse originally, but I do plan on reinforcing the frame eventually. I bought and installed additional clips to more securely hold in the polycarbonate panels, as well as sealed some of the gaps with silicone. These minor improvements greatly reduce the frequency of displaced panels and helps seal the greenhouse.

One must choose a greenhouse suitable for their location and climate. For example, light aluminum framed greenhouses like mine should not be built in areas of high or moderate wind. Large greenhouses with weak frames should never be built in areas expecting a lot of snow; it is a common occurrence for snow to cave in the roofs of such greenhouses. Additionally, keep in mind that larger greenhouses are not only harder to heat in the winter, they are harder to keep cool in the summer.

My budget didn't allow for anything else but this greenhouse did meet my growing needs. I urge all serious gardeners/greenhouse growers to opt for a higher quality greenhouse or perhaps even a custom built greenhouse. Most importantly I advise potential buyers to do research and discover which greenhouse is best for their area and budget.

For help with greenhouse assembly and temperature control refer to my How to: assemble a greenhouse kit article.

This is an old picture of my greenhouse's position in my backyard. Due to space restrictions I was forced to erect it between two trees, and thankfully it has a wall to act as a wind breaker.

The peak of my roof is roughly eleven feet high, allowing for the cultivation of larger tropical plants and trees. In the picture is a papaya at about seven feet tall, with plenty of room to grow.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Greenhouse Irrigation

Many greenhouse owners find it troublesome to maintain the responsibility of watering their plants in a timely manner. A drip irrigation system is the perfect solution for every greenhouse owner, if not at least as a last resort option. From my experience, it is quite common to see greenhouse owners (including myself) bribing friends and family to do daily watering when out on vacation or at work. Drip irrigation systems can easily be set with timers to go off at a specified time every day, this completely eliminates the need for human interaction during watering. Additionally there exists a variety of different dripper types for irrigation ranging from low volume drip heads to micro-sprinklers. This allows for ultimate customization when planning out your irrigation system.

I have my entire greenhouse irrigation system connected directly to a dual channel water timer that screws on to my water spigot. This timer is set up to go off once a day for each channel, on one channel I have my misting system to go off for about ten minutes while the other channel controls a total of ten minutes of drip irrigation. Now that the winter months have come, I simply reduced my misting system to five minutes every three days and my drip system to ten minutes every three days; all by the turning of a dial.

A few problems:
There are just a few problems with drip irrigation systems in specialized greenhouses. This mostly has to do with the nature of water intake of certain kinds of plants. For instance orchids are very keen on absorbing moisture from humidity, and pineapples have roots in between the leaves to catch falling water. In both of these instances, a consistent drip of water will not adequately spread the moisture to the entirety of the plant. For this reason micro sprinklers and misters prove to be vital tools for greenhouses growing plants such as bromeliads, orchids and epiphytes. These sprinklers come in many varieties, some have a directional sprays, others have a 360 degree rotation. They are great to set up in the corners of the greenhouse facing the plants, or in the middle of the greenhouse to ensure everything gets at least a little moist.

Planning your irrigation system:
There are many things to take into account before setting up your irrigation system. The first is, it is a lot of time and work, and even more fine tuning, before your greenhouse can water itself. Perhaps you would be more keen on watering yourself to ensure that each plant gets the amount of water that you know it needs. Second is cost, though the good news is that it's pretty cheap. Look at paying anywhere from $100-$300+ depending on greenhouse size, number of plants, and extra features. For instance, you can get a cheap water timer, cheap tubing and drip heads and totally skip the filter, pressure regulator, and the bells and whistles. It might not be a very effective system in this case, but it certainly gets water where it needs to be. Lastly, you should consider a rough plan as to where to run your irrigation lines. Traditionally the mainline is buried underground or is ran above ground with the drip emitters coming up into each pot. The latter method is a little easier when growing in ground beds, but I find it pretty chaotic in a potted greenhouse. Therefore I chose to zip-tie my mainline to the frame of my greenhouse just a few feet above the ground. This allows easy access to the mainline to add new drippers and check for leaks. So figure out where your spigot, or water source is, plan out approximately the length of mainline needed and how you want it to run through your greenhouse.

Once you have figured out roughly how much drip line is needed, you can move on to planning how many drip heads you need to buy. The first thing to keep in mind is that not all plants require the same amount of water, luckily there are drip-heads for nearly every water requirement. Common flow speeds are usually measured in gph (gallons per hour) and include 1/2 gph, 1 gph and 2 gph. There are some heads that have adjustable flow, allowing you to change the water flow as the plant grows or as conditions change. I highly recommend these adjustable heads for larger plants such as bananas, papayas, etc. so that you can increase the water flow as the plant's demand for water increases.

Here's a short list of irrigation parts and what they are used for:

Dripper/emitter: These are the plastic fittings that you can attach to mainline or emitter line to regulate water flow to plants. They come in different flow speeds, so make sure you get the right ones.

Mainline: A pretty self-explanatory name, this is the black tubing from which the secondary (1/4") drip line will branch off from. There are two sizes of mainline available. A hole puncher tool is typically used to puncture the mainline and insert the plastic fitting connecting it to the drip line.

Fittings: There are a wide range of fittings available for drip irrigation systems, these include elbow joints, end caps, tee joints, hose adapters and more.

Filter: A filter is a plastic piece which fits between the spigot and the beginning of the mainline, inside of this piece is a mesh designed to filter out any small particles that may be present in the water supply. This ensures that the emitters won't get clogged with debris.

Stakes: These come in many sizes and their purpose is simple; to keep the tubing in place. They are very useful for ensuring that emitters stay in pots.

Pressure regulator: Sometimes water pressure can be too great for irrigation systems, this is where pressure regulators come in. A pressure regulator is attached in between the spigot and the mainline to ensure that the pressure from the spigot doesn't surpass a set limit.

There are other irrigation pieces available to make greenhouse gardening even easier! These include fertilizer applicators, mister heads, foggers, sprinklers, and more.