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Homey Gardening


How to Choose, Keep, and Grow the Perfect Christmas Tree

Ricardo ElisiárioJingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way. All the way to the most awaited time of the year, which is here at last! And one of the most essential parts of it, our beloved Christmas trees, have always been the showstoppers down memory lane — especially when they’re kept in fabulous shape and brimming with ribbons and lights.

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How to Take Proper Care of Your Christmas Tree

  • These supermodel trees are great attention seekers. You should choose one that suits your environment type and climate. Also, if you’re a busy elf, go for a tree that requires the amount of care and attention you can dedicate to it.
  • Strive the hardest for a vigorous-looking sapling (or a freshly cut tree if that’s more your thing) because the ones available at the nurseries are often ill cared or chopped way before we can imagine.
  • If you want to replant your tree but can’t right now, you may sit it in water for 3-4 days and then put it in its owed spot.
  • Trees are fond of the warmth of the sun, so they don’t appreciate being indoors for too long — where the air is artificially heated and drier — especially in Winters when it’s so gloomy throughout the short length of each day.
  • The ground doesn’t need much prepping up. What you want is a good spot with good soil that isn’t too clayey. A well-drained terrain or potting mix will be perfect for your tree.
  • Do take care of the way you plant the tree. It should sit at the same depth at which it was in the nursery pot, to avoid leaving roots exposed or spoiling the young trunk by choking it with damp soil.
  • Allow the seedling to be started in a pot, especially if you aim to have your tree stay indoors. Transplanting will be easy to perform during Spring.

Now that you know the basics of Christmas tree planting and maintenance, let’s see which kinds of trees you’d rather be choosing according to your requirements, the climate you live in and your house’s ambient conditions.

Pine

These are the most common, whether you live in the Meditteranean or deeper within the continent. Pines can withstand a wide array of weathers. It’s as if the harsher it gets, the more they like it, or at least because they survive where many other species do not, that really makes them stand out.

Their foliage is coarse, thin and straight like you’re used to seeing and their bark quite smooth until they age. But by the time they do, you cannot have them inside your living room anymore.

Be sure to water them as necessary if their pot is tiny for their roots and the air too warm and dry. Now, if you choose to get a pine tree that’s cut and slowly dying, then these cares aren’t necessary, of course, but that alternative isn’t the one we’re discussing now — we want the trees to live!

Fir

Being firs the most Christmas-y of all the 5 kinds on this list, they’re a very good choice for all of you who want the most perfect replica of that almighty and big Christmas tree you imagine owning in your dreams.

With branches covered in needly leaves that can reproduce a lot of different hues of green, they present a conical shape that dampens from bottom to top, so that you have that perfect stand high above, against which to put the golden star.

Another upside to firs is that the configuration you see when they’re baby trees is pretty much what you’ll continue to have, whereas some other species show very different formats depending on if they’re saplings, juveniles, adults or elders already.

Cypress

Cypresses’ foliage is gentler, more boney and good looking in terms of color and shape, which are almost like that of ferns. The fruits are those round-shaped wooded pods that can sometimes be thrown around once they ripen.

They’re also fragrant enough to be sensed all over your room, sparing you from using aromatic tealights.

Since these trees are more compact and can almost pass as shrubs, they’re a fine addition to any lonely corner, be it in your living room or the wintery outdoor garden. Their height is another good compliment, for they’re capable of soaring as high as 20-30 metres outside, if only you do their transplanting timely and to the right spot.

Spruce

If you wish to have trees that look like they came right out of a Bob Ross painting, then spruces are quite the choice to be made. Some are even whitish, silvery or glaucous, which makes them look stunning under any Christmas light.

Their branches and leaves have a slightly droopy, thicker aspect that has them appear to be sturdier and not so home-friendly, but everything can be adapted to fit indoor conditions for a couple of months.

Really, the challenge of many Christmas tree owners is that many times, for these plants to even survive the holiday, it can be a struggle to make that dream come true.

Sad fates come to anyone but if you try to position your spruce tree right next to a big window that catches the most brightness — or keep the lights on to give it the glow it needs — you’ll be good raising this tiny one up to becoming huge as those on the happy man’s paintings.

Cedar

For last we take a look at the cedars, as they’re another variant of holiday tree that you can very well cover with foils, tinsel, lights, tiny pendants and also your undivided attention because it’ll undoubtedly look stunning.

They’re pretty ornamental tiny trees to be kept in the smallest of vases, for a start, but soon and if given the root space, nutrients and enough sun, they’re supposed to overgrow their containers without even justifying themselves.

Be gentle on their bristly twigs that are thin and will bend and break easily if you put much weight on them, though you can always find a way around it and manage to group several branches together to come up with a stronger base for your shiny tree accessories.

So get ready and make the preparations because this season always seems to call for us to make an early entrance into the cozy familiar mood.

12 Mysterious Indoor Plants for Halloween

Ricardo ElisiárioI really like Halloween. There’s a certain gloomy coziness to this time of year that carries much liveliness besides also building up the mood for the upcoming festive season, our awaited Christmas and all the food, light and love that comes with it.

Since every special date cannot pass without proper celebration, what could be better than hunting down some peculiar indoor plants for this Halloween and treating ourselves and our friends to them?

Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum)

Starting with the simplest choice for a houseplant, it’s the spider plant. With such a name, I guess we all agree that it deserves an invitation to come in and crash any Halloween party.

Its foliage is sleek and usually variegated, but the characteristic that makes it stand out is the crawly, extended inflorescences filled with tiny clones of the mother plant. If you hang it from the ceiling or against the wall, you’ll be able to see these branches dive down, cluttered with tiny plantlets like antsy spiders hanging on a thread.

Staghorn Fern (Platycerium bifurcatum)

This horned specimen is very peculiar. It’s native of Australia and grows naturally on tree trunks without any concern. At home, you might want to expose it to guests by implanting it on a simple living wall, commonly used for ferns. It’ll hang neatly, like a symbiote eager to find its way into you.

Urn Plant (Aechmea fasciata)

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Could you ask for one with a more ghoulish name? However, this bromeliad is anything but dead looking. Just admire how that big inflorescence head erupts from the centre of such huge silvery leaves. I bet one could even use it as a weapon to extinguish the cold life within the most unfriendly vampire — if only you’re brave and stick the neon pink spikes right in the heart.

Despite how dangerous I just made this plant sound, its looks are impressive. The colour contrast forbids anyone from overlooking it. In short, your indoor garden can never be complete without a couple of vase plants like this epic one.

Tiger’s Jaw (Faucaria tigrina)

The pointy sets of teeth lining the meaty jaws of this succulent are bound to set your own teeth on edge, shivering with fright.

A crocodile plant such as this wouldn’t be expected to ever display any hints of cuteness, yet it does! In the core of its thick foliage will eventually rise a bright yellow bloom that should show up right in time for Halloween.

Fight no more the urge to get one, for once it finds comfort in your pleasant flowerpot, it’ll start clumping like freaks. So much that next year, you’ll be the new plant dealer in town, stocking everyone’s spooky collection with this special baby.

Cobweb Houseleek (Sempervivum arachnoideum)

Another succulent owning a fair share of spookiness is this webby houseleek. Because these plants, like cacti, are so easy to maintain with little to no effort, there are few plant species that’ll grow on you so instantly.

With an all natural mass of fine threads covering the center, this one won’t need you to spray it with those canned webs for Halloween. As long as you give it some sun, the webby blanket will last a whole season at least, until its pink flower ruptures it, rising high in a bloom for all to see.

Swiss Cheese Plant (Monstera deliciosa)

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Did you know this plant can be called Adam’s Rib, too?

Whether your first thought is of ribs of a green and floating trilobite, this plant needs only a firm pole to grow against and promptly the leaves will grow larger and more monstrous.

Having a slender body almost disproportionate to its magnificent leaf size, this climbing monster is very easy to grow. The only luxury it will demand is that you sprinkle it every once in a while and keep the leaves clean and lustrous… or else it might bite back!

Carrion Flower (Orbea variegata)

Disclaimer: this plant’s flower does have a hideous smell, so you might have to keep it outdoors when it blossoms.

Ignoring this detail that’s far from enough to turn a gardener blind to its obvious beauty, the flower itself also looks like rotten meat while the succulent stems are so green and simple, as if not to draw too much attention to themselves.

So, may anyone call this nice plant “sickening”, “obnoxious” or “repugnant” and it’s your job to show them to the door, complimenting this little creature for having just won first place for Creepiest Flower on Halloween.

Lady’s Purse (Calceolaria x herbeohybrida)

First of all, this group of plants starts off being a hybrid created from the amalgamation of three different species of Calceolaria. That’s already cool enough. Secondly, look at the shape of the flowers. They look like a chickenpoxed bib about to fuse into the neck of anyone who dares try it on.

For a plant whose leaves couldn’t look more vanilla, the blossoms turn up looking beautifully undefinable in their shape, colors and secret intentions.

Sensitive Plant (Mimosa pudica)

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Mimosas are indeed as pudic as their scientific name tags them. The leaves will respond instantaneously, closing as you touch them, which can be a little eerie or lovely. You decide.

Leave a pair of vases with these plants by a most luminous hall and watch the changing faces of those unused to such magical moving plants, when they mindlessly rub their sleeves on the soft leaves. Then pretend you saw nothing and it’s all in their heads, and they might get cold feet or a chill down the spine. These reactions alone will make you an accomplished Halloween host.

Mock Strawberry (Duchesnea indica)

This fake strawberry is the only berry on this list, and this single plant is all you need if you lack a specimen that gives out a wild and poisonous vibe to anyone who comes across it.

Being a crawler, it can hang or sit on a window sill just like the spider plant, easily decorating a lonely corner with its plain lushness. Besides, the fruits are actually edible although tasteless, so you can always instigate a curious visitor to try one and you’ll see who’s really brave and who’s just talks.

Old Man Cactus (Cephalocereus senilis)

This cactus looks old even before it has come of age. The hairs coating its body look fluffy and snowy but don’t touch it too comfortably, because beneath the hazy cover there are the usual spines that really mean it when they sting.

Even though these plants grow to reach a few meters in height, while young they are very manageable and will blend in your cacti garden without a problem.

Chain Cactus (Rhipsalis paradoxa)

One more cactus will seal the deal for this Halloween show of most mysterious plants you can grow indoors.

The segmented limbs of this seemingly convoluted plant are built to root randomly into the bark of trees in tropical forests, as our bromeliads and staghorn do too. Whether you let it drop down from a suspended flowerpot or simply keep it next to the lamp on your desk, that’s your choice.

Truth is it’ll look just as good anywhere you place it — plants are simply that way — so let’s also add this one to the shopping list and set everything up right in time for the night of Halloween.

What's the Best Time of Day to Harvest Your Garden Vegetables?

Ricardo ElisiárioRegarding fruits and vegetables, there is always a more adequate hour of the day to harvest each of these fresh products.

Knowing when and how to pluck them can mean the difference between eating something that tastes a lot fresher and much more flavorful, or something which is warm and showing signs of stress and softness that throw it far from its ideal condition for being cooked.

But so what should be the best time of day (or night) to pick our garden vegetables, fruits and flowers?

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At Sunrise

Right after the sun rises and during the early morning, it’s likely that you’ll see the garden covered in dew — especially throughout the colder seasons — a natural layer of coolness that won’t take long to fade away as the day grows hotter. This means you must seize the opportunity when it presents itself.

What happens is that if you harvest something which was already under stress before the umbilical cord linking it to its source is severed, then the potential that said vegetable has to last long enough in your pantry or fridge will be very compromised.

The only types of garden products whose picking you’d rather postpone might be herbs and any other things that you intend to dry and keep stored for longer than immediate consumption. You may harvest these at midday or sometime during the afternoon, once their skin, roots or leaves are completely dry, lessening the chances of them rotting on your shelf.

At Sunset

Even after the sun has stopped beating down on the garden, the fruits and leafy greens you’re aiming to harvest will still be in possession of some heat, accumulated in their tissues.

During summer, you’ll experience that more time needs to pass before a plant’s temperature decreases to a cooler, edible state — that is if it decreases at all, because some evenings remain so warm until late into the night. So much that only at the earliest hours before sunrise do they reach their coldest state.

You can always force them to cool down by means of watering — something which is often done during the late afternoon — and that way you’re actively reducing the vegetables’ mushiness once you handle them in the kitchen, for you allowed the plant to drink up for a while and rehydrate its leaves, fruits or inflorescences, depending on which organ of the plant you intend to have for dinner.

Also keep in mind that putting freshly picked greens under the quick cold of the fridge or even freezer when you wish to invert their core condition and make them crunchier and fresher, faster than otherwise possible, might cause some adulteration of the flavor and texture of those products. This is something to be aware of, as it’ll help you decide on the best way to treat garden produce in order to preserve as much of their nutritious value and organoleptic characteristics as you possibly can.

General Rules for Better Conservation

Regardless of you harvesting your vegetables early in the morning, late in the evening or right in between these two moments in time, there are a few rules that are best followed if you wish to conserve these pickings longer than just a couple of days, at best.

Among those rules, I can readily mention that you should be careful handling these green products to assure they remain intact and also that they are free from plaguing insects, soil or weeds when it’s time to get them stored, or when their leafy necks are to go meet the chopping board.

About the rest, let’s see what other factors most impact the longevity of garden products, starting from the moment they’re plucked and brought inside our homes.

Low Temperature

The first thing to know is that many of the vegetables we know and use do not die the very second they’re picked from the mother plant, i.e., their internal metabolism continues to react and convert reagents into products, which is why they spoil when left on the counter for too long.

In the cold, this cellular respiration of harvested greens will reduce, thus slowing down the natural process of maturation, or decay, if the fruit or vegetable is non-climacteric and doesn’t continue to ripen and get tastier after being harvested (these are the ones that “die” quicker by starting senescence almost immediately after they’re picked).

Keeping in mind that just like certain highs of temperature in your kitchen will catalyse the rotting of any fresh products left out of the fridge, so can excessive cold alter their color and flavor. Examples of these are bananas and mangoes — in general, most tropical fruits — that will suffer from dark spots as well as textural and chemical alterations of the pulp, if subjected to lower temperatures. However, the majority of our common veggies can be kept cold and, that way, see their shelf life extended in many days or weeks.

Ventilated Atmosphere

One thing about maturation and the respiration of vegetables is that it is quite contagious. What I mean — and you probably already know the trick with bananas, that can be used to foster a quicker ripening of surrounding fruits on the same bowl — is that the ethylene released from each and every climacteric fruit and vegetable is highly inducive of an accelerated maturation of any other living green which is also climacteric and so has receptors for this gas.

With ventilation, the passage of air will not only blow the ethylene away and slow down the process of maturation but also allow for the veggies to dry out, preventing unnecessary rots or mere softening of the edible tissues out of built-up moisture over at your pantry or fridge drawers.

Produce Isolation

Now, if we sum the two factors just explained — heat and ethylene concentration — it comes as an immediate thought that whatever we keep, both inside the fridge or out on the fruit bowl (though especially the latter), should be separated and isolated well enough so that the gases produced are not exchanged between the different fruits and vegetables. This way, neither will any bugs, bacteria or already present molds spread out to the rest of your produce.

In being methodical about the organisation of these groceries, you can better control how they’re responding to the passage of time and the environment you’re storing them in.

Being conscious and capable of managing this post-harvest phase can be as important as knowing how to boost up that yield rate when you’re out back growing them. At each stage, you can gain and also lose, so it’s important to take charge of the right techniques for picking, processing and storing everything that your yard gifts you.

It’s okay that whatever the earth gives, you may reverently take away, but at least strive to do it the right way at the right time.

Vintage Liquor Bottle Lights

Tasting some good liquor is one way to unwind on the couch after a long, tiresome day. But what to do with the empty bottles lying on the counter?

Don’t throw them! Instead, “wine-not” turn them into a versatile homey lantern that’ll brighten up anyone’s boring living room? Suits every season and almost every decor style, so let’s learn how to create these amazing bottles of light.

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Supplies

• Empty glass bottles
• Thick twine
• Glue gun and glue sticks (or any adhesive except gum)
• Fairy Lights
• Decorative items

Directions

  1. Take off by making sure that your bottle has been well washed and is completely dry before you begin. Remove every sticky label using hot water and dish soap. Check for any metal or plastic shards and remove these too.
  2. Apply glue on the bottle rim and when the glue starts to hold but isn’t yet dry, start wrapping. Add a dot of glue for every few wraps. Remember to keep it tight, and push it up as you go down.

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  1. Continue wrapping and wrapping! When you reach the other end of your bottle’s neck, apply a thin line of glue all the way around, as this will ensure that the string doesn’t slide.

Now, to decorate the rest of its body:

  1. You can do several permutations and combinations. We have made little roses by coiling the rope which will be stuck on the bottle. Decorate with random embellishments, if available.
  2. Once the bottle is dry and the rope is completely attached to it, add the lights in.

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  1. Find the perfect place for your little bottle and let it glow.

These little things are easy both on the hands and your pockets. They also make for great little housewarming gifts, especially for upcycle enthusiasts. Give them a try!

Farmhouse Vegetarian Pizza Recipe

Farmhouse Pizza

 Yields 2 to 4 servings

Ingredients

Pizza Dough:

• 1 envelope (.25 ounces) of active dry yeast
• 1 cup of lukewarm water
• 3 cups of all-purpose flour
• 1/4 teaspoon of salt
• 2 tablespoons of sodium bicarbonate

Topping:

• Pizza sauce
• Processed cheese and mozzarella cheese
• Bell pepper
• Onion
• Mushrooms
• Sweet Corn
• Tomato
• Oregano
• Olive Oil

Directions

To make the pizza dough:

  1. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in warm water. Let stand for about 10 minutes, until it gets creamy.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flour, salt and sodium bicarbonate. Stir in the yeast mixture. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead until smooth and elastic.
  3. Lightly oil another large bowl, place the dough inside it and turn to coat with oil all around. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until it doubles in volume.

Wait for about 45 minutes while the dough levitates. Then you can start creating your pizza, as described below.

To make the topping and bake:

  1. Take a rolled base and spread pizza sauce all over it.
  2. Add the desired veggies. Try to put the veggies before anything else, otherwise they’ll crowd the pizza top and defy the heat inside the oven.
  3. Add a layer of processed cheese.
  4. Follow up by adding mozzarella.
  5. Top with a few slices of veggies for a fresher look.
  6. Drizzle a few drops of olive oil, as adding it helps to brown of cheese.
  7. Put the pizza in the oven at 250 C or 480 F for about 12 minutes (or till the cheese is cooked).
  8. Garnish with herbs.

Serve immediately! It’s too tasty to wait any longer.

7 Houseplants Built to Thrive in Near Darkness

Ricardo ElisiárioAt times we are reluctant to bring home new plants because the ones we already have seem to be doing just fine and we’re afraid that the only free spots there are indoors aren’t bright enough to foster the healthy growth of most species.

However, there are some exceptions that show how not all plants are needy of shiny locations. Here’s a list of the seven best indoor plants you could find if your need is to fill in the darkest corners of your room.

Silver Vine (Scindapsus pictus)

The first thing you need to know about silver vines in regard to full shade is that they’ll mostly lose their variegation, being left with leaves that look a bit less peculiar. Just be sure to keep this plant moist during summertime by regularly spraying its creeping body that can grow as tall as you allow it, may there only be a moss pole for it to grip the roots on.

People will be right in saying this one is a little harder to tend to than the next plants on this list, but still, its place here is rightly earned because the beauty and vigor of this vine are notorious. Choose to put it on a well-illuminated area, free from direct sun, but again, even if you have to leave it to itself on the shadiest of corners, that will make the spotting fade away but its gracious looks are granted to still prevail.

Nerve Plant (Fittonia spp.)

The leaves of this plant are quite exquisite too, mostly because of their color, texture and also shape, with unusual bends and rounded out aspect. It demands to be placed in half-shade, remembering that you must always avoid exposing it to direct sunlight or its foliage will not wait to droop.

Other than that, it’s one of the easiest good-looking plants you can grow in any room. Give it the usual warmth that most indoor plants require and be positive that the pot is sitting somewhere humid enough, although the soil needs not to be soggy at all between waterings.

Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema spp.)

The speary foliage of these specimens tends to be dark-green as if they’re telling us that their hunger for light is also quite shallow. Shade feeds them perfectly and to grow these evergreens can be challenging but nothing that isn’t manageable so long as you follow the rules. Almost like the tropical plants, it requires warmth and moisture that has to be inputted by us because homes usually lack on either one or the two factors.

There are many species of this kind and their differences come down to the size of the plant and its leaves, with the variegation also being of many different sorts and hues of green, glaucous and silver.

Mind-Your-Own-Business (Soleirolia soleirolii)

Being this one a groundcover sort of species, growing it should be equally non-demanding. It’s an ornamental often seen coming in tiny vases with a very turfy soil also filled with vermiculite, exactly because it cannot stand lack of water around its webby root system.

Being low maintenance, the only other aspect you need to keep in check is the temperature, never allowing it to rise much above 77 degrees F/25 C, or there will be some slowing to the growth and urgency of its minuscule leaves.

In terms of light requirements, this plant is rather flexible though it prefers a lot of indirect sunlight and shuns the direct exposure to any rays.

Heartleaf Philodendron (Philodendron scandens)

This plant is not only famous for its heart-shaped leaves but also the roots that like to fly off and feel around as if they’re looking forward to rooting on the walls of your dwelling. What the plants of this family ask for is a regular dose of heat and moisture accompanied by full shade — an environment similar to that of the tropical forest, from where they’re native.

Overall, it’s a tough breed that bears some negligence without showing major signs of illness, but try to at least maintain the minimum temperatures above 50 F/10 C for better luck. Regarding the lighting, always remember to shelter them from direct sun, for it will embrace the inkier spots and thrive there.

Snake Plant (Sansevieria spp.)

Sansevierias are the strongest plants you’ll come across, literally and metaphorically. With such thick blades, it endures drought and dampness during the warmest periods, as well as sunbaths or full shade. Because it resists so well to the latter, that’s why this list counts it in, meaning that yes, you can afford to put this little friend in places where you probably wouldn’t dare lay most species.

This houseplant was simply born to live on. If it doesn’t, then it’s because you really suck at gardening and should read a few more books on the subject.

Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra spp.)

Belonging to the elite panel that includes some of those plants widely appreciated by the royalty during Victorian times, it’s very innocent looking with long and elegant, rich green leaves.

Since it’s slow-growing in nature, it’ll accept its age without a problem and the foliage will maintain a good appearance throughout the seasons. However, there should be some care about the chance of waterlogging and hard exposition to direct sunlight which can ruin the plant’s waxy glow, turning it yellowish.

Also, when transplanting is done too often without allowing the plant to rest, root, feed and grow strong as it should (a tip that applies to pretty much every plant there is, indoors or out), there might be trouble. So, keep these clues in mind and your eyes wide open, because if once there were but monsters hiding in the dingiest rooms of your house, now who knows what you’ll find out has sunk its roots in there...

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