Can Caffeine Really Lead To Brilliant Blooms?

My good friend, George asked me about the benefits of caffeine in gardening and I couldn’t resist answering it in a post as it’s such an interesting question. We all know caffeine as a great stimulant, but does that carry over to the plant world too?

Where Does Caffeine Come From?

Although it’s ubiquitously found in homes all across the country, caffeine is actually a toxic chemical produced by plants to help ward off predators. It’s shocking to find out that the very chemical we use to wake us up was made to put us to sleep. As insects suck away at the sap of the plants, they ingest fatal levels of caffeine which can lead to infertility, paralysis and death.

As you can see from the image above, spiders exposed to caffeine have the most disjointed mental processes, and consequently, the web seems to follow no real set pattern. This is perfect from the plant’s point of view and an example of caffeine’s paralysing effects along with reducing co-ordination.

However, one of the biggest problems with a plant producing caffeine, is that it’s harmful to the plant itself and, if left unprotected, it would have more problems than a few flies. To counter this, the caffeine is stored in a vacuole (a sealed off compartment cell) so that it is only released when the cell walls are punctured. Nature really does feel like an endless war between magicians at times.

Most of the caffeine we consume comes from:

The kola nut


Coffee beans from the Coffea genus


Leaves from the Camellia sinensis (tea) plant

Using Caffeine As A Growth Aid

Humans get that lovable caffeine buzz (followed by a head pounding caffeine crash, of course) at around 30-40mg. Now, as with many drugs, this is subject to factors like tolerance, setting, method of administration and such, but for now we’ll go with 35mg to make things easier. Since the average plant weighs far less than you or I, this seems like a bit much to give your tomatoes. But, because they don’t metabolise caffeine in the same way we do, the exact figure needed is really up for discussion.

Before we start giving our plants anything though, we need to figure out a way to give it to them.

Brewed tea/coffee

Using Keurig coffee maker is a great idea and will definitely give your best coffee, but this could be down to the potassium and not just the caffeine, so it’s very hard to get an idea of how effective it really is. The effects will be most prominent in popular crops such as: tomatoes, celery and potatoes, so even if they don’t respond to the caffeine content, you’ll definitely work on any potassium deficiencies.

Caffeine pills

While caffeine pills are a great source for caffeine in humans, the pills contain a number of harmful chemicals that can damage your plants. The ones on my desk right now contain: caffeine anhydrous, dicalcium phosphate (used as a filler to bulk out the tablet), cellulose (to help bind the tablet), magnesium stearate (another filler) and silica (stops tablets from sticking together).

The solution (no pun intended) here is to use a mixture of pure caffeine powder and water to eliminate the effects of any excipients (binders/fillers) and give a more accurate view of the effects on your average houseplants. If it’s going to work, this will be the chance, right? Well, maybe. Unfortunately, most tests I’ve found haven’t been too promising. In fact, quite the opposite as the researchers found at Dawson College.

Coffee grounds

This is another contentious one because again, it can’t really be proven that it’s not the nitrogen that helps plants grow. I’d still recommend that you add them to your compost as they’re a fantastic organic fertiliser. Starbucks are generous enough to give away free 5 pound bags at their stores as part of their recycling program and there is no limit on how much you can take.

If nothing else, they will definitely work for growing mushrooms and I’d recommend them above all soil types for that reason.

Conclusion

My theory is that plants just don’t metabolise caffeine in a similar way to humans and they store it in sealed containers for a reason. It’s very likely that caffeine will damage and possibly even kill your plants, so please be careful when using it around your prized plants. I’d recommend using a solution of 50% pure caffeine, 50% water on a patch of weeds first.

On the plus side however, we can put it to use as an insecticidal spray, which will help your plants to grow (though mainly through not letting them get eaten to death). Dilute about 1/2 of a cup of coffee with 500ml of water and spray it around (not on) your garden to keep those pesky pests at bay.…

Peace Lily Care

I, like my mother and a surprising chunk of my friends, have a potted peace lily perched on my windowsill and for good reason. The peace lily is very easy to care for (even if you forget to water it) and produces some of the most fantastic flowers I’ve ever seen. Even though it’s setting off my hayfever right now, I still can’t bring myself to put it outside.

The story behind the discovery

However, there are a few things you’ll need to know to avoid the dreaded brown tips (which, much like a baby crying, don’t really tell you what’s wrong) and keep your lily thriving all year round. I’ll add a little backstory to let you know how hard these things are and how unlikely you are to kill yours:

In 2007, noticing how lifeless my room was, my mum gave me a peace lily plant (spathiphyllum tango to be specific) which thrived in my indirectly lit room. I had a thermometer in my room which would record nighttime temperatures of 30°c and upwards which kept drying out the soil and to top it off, it got some quality under-soil heating from sitting on top of my TV. Over the summer I got a whole bundle of flowers from it and overall, I was pretty happy with my plant.

Near the end of the summer, I went on holiday for two weeks and when I came back, my poor lily was in a sorry state. The dark green foliage was accentuated with yellow and brown tips and the flowers littered the soil underneath. In a fit of panic, I gushed a lake’s worth of water in to the pot hoping that would save it. How wrong I was! My lily was heading in to complete-stress mode and the brown tips eventually became brown leaves, with everything starting to die out in front of my very eyes.

All of the drama was terrible timing on the plant’s behalf because I was moving out of my mum’s place at the same time and left it behind. Although I love her, my mum doesn’t have the greenest fingers around and leaving it with her was a definite death-sentence. When I finally managed to pick it up, I managed to drop it a few times (just to add a little more punishment) when I got home because the laws of physics don’t like me trying to balanced heavy pots on a small base. In my eyes, it was dead and anything I did would just bury it deeper in its watery grave. Over the next few months I watered it diligently and gave it the type of trim that has your whole class laughing at your smooth head.

This brings us up to today. Around the time I started this website, I repotted it in fresh soil and started watering with compost tea. It only had four leaves but they were enough to soak up the sun, but that was enough to grow in to the juggernaut it is today (check out the picture attached to the post for a pic of it taken today). I’m as amazed as you are that it has gone from pretty much dead, to the most beautiful lily I have ever seen up close. Unless it took inspiration from reading about The Ugly Duckling, we can only assume that all lilies are capable of amazing comeback feats.

Keep the satellite dishes clear

With leaves to compete with your average tree in size, your lily is well-equipped to soak up a lot of sun in the warmer months. Keeping it in a well-lit windowsill out of direct sunlight is ideal and will prevent sun-scorching. Under the bathroom window is a great place for it if you enjoy eye-candy while taking a long bath, it will grow faster there than anywhere else in the house and purify the air to keep the room feeling fresh.

To keep your leaves smiling in most other rooms, a wipe-down with a soft, damp cloth every few days will keep the dust off and allow them to absorb more water. Lilies absolutely adore misty leaves (which is why a warm, steamy bathroom is great for them) so if you can spray them with warm water when you give them a drink, that would be fantastic. Failing that, pouring water over their leaves will do just fine.

Quenching their thirst

Although peace lilies are heavy drinkers, they prefer their watering sessions to be spread out, rather than frequent and continuous drinks. As a rule of thumb, once the plant looks a little droopy and you can touch the soil without having to dry your finger afterwards, it’s ready to be watered again.Give it enough water to sufficiently soak the soil without saturating it. If the water is gliding through to the tray underneath without being pulled through the roots, there’s a chance that you’re over-fertilising (or not watering enough). The salts will build up on the roots and prevent them from absorbing water, which incidentally is most easily fixed by watering.

Allow the water to seep through slowly, don’t flood it all in at once or you may be running a higher risk of root rot.

Those pesky brown tips

This brings me nicely on to the most frustrating part of peace lily care. Have you ever been in the position where your plant is growing beautifully well and one morning you wake up to a sea of brown-tipped leaves? The good news is, you can easily fix them. The bad news is that the cause can be a mystery unless something is staring you in the face (direct sunlight).

Peace lily brown tip

As far as I can think of, the possible reasons for brown tips on your peace lily are:

  • Water – are you giving it too much/too little?
  • The environment – have you been moving your plant around recently?
  • Sunlight – although lilies enjoy bright light, being in direct sun will burn the foliage and stress them
  • The roots – peace lilies prefer a more compact rootball, so if you’re repotting, don’t get a pot too much bigger than your last unless it has outgrown it
  • Heat – your peace lily will die quickly in frost and is most comfortable at room temperature

To fix this, it’ll take the type of cover-up job only seen by bridesmaids 10 minutes before a wedding. Snip off the offending brown tips and throw them away to prettify your leaves. Next, give it a good wipe down and ensure you’ve removed a good majority of the dust and grime from the solar panels, spray the leaves with water as you’re doing it, to give them refreshment equivalent to a fan on a hot day. You’re already halfway to a happier lily!

After you’ve given it the spa treatment, find a well-lit window out of excessive sunshine and heat. As I said earlier, the bathroom is great for this, but mine does just fine in the windowsill of my bedroom (which faces north-east). Remove some of the soil on top and check out the roots, do they look healthy or rotten and slimy? If it’s the latter, be sure to let them dry out a little before you water again. If they’re spread out and don’t resemble a football, reporting in a smaller pot may be a good idea.

Once you’ve gone through all of the checks, if it’s not over-saturated already, give it a sip of compost tea and get ready to enjoy your healthy foliage for years to come. If you don’t have any compost tea brewing right now, dilute some indoor plant fertilizer and use that instead.

Not cat/ child-friendly!

One last thing. Your peace lily may be great to look at, but eating the leaves will leave you in hospital. The spathiphyllum family is pretty toxic to humans and animals alike, so it’s a good idea to keep them where tiny fingers can’t wander. If ingested, head straight for your nearest poisons center and tell them what has been eaten. While you’re unlikely to die, the burning will make you wonder if you’re in Hell!

Peace lily flower…

Natural Remedies That’ll Put You To Sleep

I’m sure that I’m not the only one who gets that familiar sinking feeling after looking at the clock to find you’re still awake at 3am. Whether it’s stress, anxiety or just an over-active mind, sometimes it can seem impossible to get a full night’s sleep without spending a few hours entrenched in a staring battle with your ceiling. Don’t worry though, a solution is at hand!

Common Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

Not only is lavender a beautiful, fragrant flower, it’s also a ubiquitous sedative, found in a variety of cosmetics from: massage oils and lotions to deodorants and shower gels. Indigenous to the Mediterranean region, you’ll find that the common more common varieties are actually very simple to grow throughout the world, and if grown in ideal conditions, will bloom pretty aggressively.

The perfect conditions vary pretty heavily between species, but you’ll generally want to water your lavender pretty infrequently. Try to pick a relatively sandy, well-draining soil to stop water from pooling and eventually rotting the roots and let the soil a finger-joints length below the get dry to the touch between each watering to avoid the risk of fungal infections or root rot. As you may have guessed from where it is natively found, lavender also likes a lot of sun; if you can get your plant at least 5-6 hours of bright, direct sunlight, you should see some great results.

When harvesting, don’t be afraid to take big chunks off; your plant will love you for pruning it, and actually grow back larger than before. Try to cut around 3-4 inches above the soil level, ensuring that you don’t trim off this year’s growth.

To dry your lavender out, hang it upside down in reasonably small sections (it dries faster this way). A great tip I found, was to wrap it in elastic bands rather than tying it, as the rubber will contract when the stems get narrower – preventing the flowers from slipping out halfway through your drying process.

If you have an airing cupboard, then you’ve got the perfect storage environment already, but any warm, dry area will be fine. Once dry, remove the stems and keep the flowers.

Now that you have all of this gorgeous-smelling lavender, the only thing left to do is use it. A great way to get the beneficial qualities without the acquired taste, is to throw a few sprigs in your bath while the hot water is running. To avoid it clogging up your plug-hole and getting all up your nose when you’re having a relaxing bath, try investing in a tea strainer; they’re very inexpensive can be found pretty easily in stores like Holland & Barrett or Boots.

Hops (Humulus lupulus)

At first glance, this one might sound a little off, but hops really do work, as several pickers have learned the hard way. The phenomenon, known as hops-pickers’ fatigue, would leave workers in a state of sedation, which left employers confused at why people were found asleep in the fields or stumbling around in a delirious stupor.

Hops are one of the main ingredients in beer, and largely responsible for the relaxing effects of a few pints after a long week at work. The active tranquillising agent is a volatile compound known as amylene hydrate, which is released in to the air when the clusters of flowers (strobiles) are agitated.

I can’t really recommend going out and picking hops whenever you can’t sleep, but making your own pillow is the next best thing. You’ll want to find the best quality flowers, and your best bet is checking out local home-brewery suppliers; shopping off-line will give you the chance to inspect them yourself, so it might be worth the few extra pounds.

To make the pillow, dry them out by hanging them by the stem in a warm, dry environment out of bright, direct sunlight for around 10 days. While this is happening, you’ll need some sort of material to store them in; I’d suggest using a washing machine mesh bag, which allows secure fastening to prevent you waking up with a mouth full of hops. Put it inside of your actual pillow and replace every month.

Also, it’s worth noting that although the hops plant is botanically related to cannabis through the cannabaceae family, it doesn’t contain any THC (Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and you won’t be getting high from doing this any time soon.…

Getting Protein On A Vegetarian/Vegan Diet

Whether you’re looking to bulk up for a competition or to lose weight while maintaining muscle mass, protein is an important part of pretty much everyone’s diet, so one of the biggest worries about dropping meat is keeping the protein intake up.

Despite their negative reputation, it’s quite possible to get significant amounts of protein from certain vegetables and legumes without having to serve portions that a panda would be proud of.

However, when it comes to protein, the quality is more important than the quantity. So, although not all of the foods listed contain huge amounts of protein, they’re all very healthy and a staple of any balanced diet.

UPDATE: All figures have been pulled from Nutrition Data thanks to Tammi.

Sunflower Seeds

One of the best advantages to eating sunflower seeds as a source of protein is that they’re like a smaller version of a protein bar, with all of the amino acids and none of that great cardboardy taste.

Unlike a few of the other sources I’ll be telling you about further down the page, finding sunflower seeds is as easy as shaking the flowers a few times with a bowl underneath to collect them. But, even if they’re not growable in the season you’re reading this post in, they should be available in any health store and most supermarkets where you live.

There aren’t too many recipes that I can think of that call for sunflower seeds, so if you have any that you use, please feel free to let me know. However, what I do have is a recipe for crunchy toasted seeds, similar to how they’d taste out of the packet from the shop.…

Plants To Fill Your Home With Clean Air

I was clicking around on TED.com when I came across a fascinating video by Kamal Meattle about 3 plants that produce so much oxygen, you could sit in a sealed container and live off of the air they supply. The quality of the air we breathe has such a massive effect on our health and wellness that I really couldn’t ignore the points he raised.

More often than not, living in the city will have you breathing in all kinds of terrible chemicals like formaldehyde and benzene, so it’s not surprising that rural folk have less instances of asthma, respiratory tract infections and allergenic issues. These 3 plants will give you a taste of country life, even in the busiest cities in the world.

Butterfly Palm Dypsis lutescens

Also known as areca palm, the butterfly palm tree is a great plant to line your bathrooms and gardens with.

They respond really well to heavy, consistent (every 10 or so days) watering but are quite sensitive to additives in water. If you live in a hard-water area or aren’t sure about the quality, it may be an idea to invest in a water filter/purifier to avoid sabotaging your palm. It’s best not to allow the soil to dry out (which will make the fronds droop) but if you do, slowly re-watering it will perk them back up in no time.

They respond best to bright and indirect light, so they’ll do great in sunny bathrooms or on a shielded patio, but anywhere in your house roughly 6 feet away from a window which gets a lot of sun will be fine. Too much light will quickly burn them, so it’s best to err on the side of caution with this.

One last thing to be aware of is browning of the leaf tips. This isn’t anything to be worried about and is quite natural, but when it happens, prune the branch from the base to stop your plant from wasting energy on trying to save it.…

Herbal Cures For Various Ailments

It’s that time of year again, everyone is seeking cures for the common cold and other ailments which affect the body during the fall and winter. Many people don’t realize they have cures and supplements for these conditions growing right outside in their gardens!

Do you have catnip in your garden? Perhaps thyme, peppermint, yarrow, hyssop, or even bee balm? All of these can be used to create tinctures and infusions which are great for the common cold and other conditions which cause you to become stuffy and generally ill. I’ve found that a great infusion of peppermint in warm tea is the perfect thing I need as a pick me up on cold winter days.

Catnip is a great addition to any garden as well, as the flowers it produces are beautiful and its very aromatic, not just for cats! Herb gardeners will love it because its easy to take care of and has multiple uses. In addition to being very flavorful in salads and marinades, catnip tea made from the leaves and flowers of the plant can be a great remedy for the coughs and sniffles, or just as a great bedtime relaxative. It grows year round, too, so it’s relatively easy to always have this on hand, especially if you love gardening.

Yarrow is another great herb to have year round in your garden, as it has many functions as a herbal remedy and has been used since ancient times. Since I can remember, my grandmother used to keep a yarrow plant around though she always called it ‘nosebleed’. Any time one of us would get a nosebleed or a cut or scrape, she’d pick off a leaf of this plant and tell us to press it against the wound or our nose. It always worked to stop the bleeding, and since then, I’ve always kept a yarrow plant around for minor scrapes and bruises, and of course, nosebleeds. The interesting thing about yarrow, though, is not only is it good for these types of minor injuries, it is also good for helping fight colds when combined in tea with peppermint. In addition to that, yarrow can be proven to help lower blood pressure too, so it’s a great all around herb to have in your garden.

Hyssop is another great all around herb for a coughing remedy, as when its prepared as an infusion, it can help coughing, cold, flu, and sore throats.

If you don’t have any of these herbs growing in your garden, the one you might have and can rely on is thyme. Thyme has been grown for centuries as a cure for congestion and colds, with monks in Southern France and Spain popularizing the use throughout the rest of Europe. The best way to use thyme if you find yourself under the weather is to prepare yourself a tea which is two teaspoons of thyme per each cup of boiling water. If you have a persistently nagging cough, you can also add in some sage which will help reduce the cough.

Thyme works best as the main ingredient which is found in its oil, thymol, is also used in products like Listerine mouth wash and Vick’s Vaporub. These products have long been used to provide soothing comfort for the mouth and nose, so if you want to go direct to the source and avoid having to rub Vick’s on your chest, you can prepare a pot of boiling water and throw in a few thyme sprigs. Using this as an inhalant in this manner will help loosen any congestion and you’ll definitely feel tons better.

These are only a few remedies which are available straight from your herb garden. Basil, oregano, sage, and rosemary also have great medicinal uses for curing all manner of ailments, does just about every herb you’d plant in your home garden. With a little research, I’ve found many uses for herbs which I wouldn’t normally consider for the purpose.

Plant Spotlight: Sweet Potato

Here’s the first of a new series I’m starting on the different varieties of plants you may find. Today we’ll be taking a look at the absolutely delicious vegetable known as sweet potato (ipomoea batatas). Also known as yam*, this wonderful plant hails from the tropical regions of Southern America and is usually grown for the tuber, although the roots and leaves are also perfectly edible.

Despite the name, sweet potatoes go great in many savoury dishes such as: sweet potato pie, chips (fries) and, in my opinion, especially well with a hearty Sunday dinner in place of mashed/roast potatoes. As a vegetable it’s really flexible and its uses are only really limited by your imagination. On the other hand, it can also be used as a sweet dish when candied. Although I’m yet to try this, I hear it’s all the rage in the USA around Thanksgiving time, so it’s definitely worth a try.

To grow, you will need a warm, moist environment – preferably with well aerated soil to prevent fungus growth. It’s a bit (very) sensitive to frost though, so be sure to only get them in the ground after you’re sure the last of the frost has passed otherwise you’ll lose them really quickly. Also, against what I usually say, err on the side of caution when fertilising them. If the soil gets a bit too rich you’ll end up with long, beautiful vines, but not much in the way of actual potatoes. Should the unfortunate happen, just slow right down on the fertilisation and don’t try to water it down or we’ll end up with dead friends. Your best bet is to find some sandy soil though, always works well and will have them thriving for a good part of the warmer months.

With that said, they’re really easy to grow and if planted around April-time you’ll probably have them growing all the way through to September when they’ll start to die down, so you can probably get 150 good days out of the sweet potato plant. Not bad at all and definitely worth the space. Be careful of insects though, they’ve evolved to understand how tasty the heart-shaped leaves are so you’ll end up with a plant resembling Swiss cheese if they were left to their own devices. My best advice would be to keep spraying diluted hot sauce all over them (they can’t take the heat – hohoho) and checking the undersides every now and then for eggs just in case.

Overall, it’s a joy to have around the garden, the beautiful chartreuse leaves will attract all sorts of flying friendlies and keep your tummy happy for a long time. I could rave for days about how much I enjoy the taste, but I think I should probably tuck in. Bon appétit!…

How To Grow Plants From Seeds

With some things you’ll grow, it’ll be easy enough to grow from cuttings or planting the bulb in the ground (onions, garlic, etc) but at other times that will be a bit more difficult. That’s when growing from seeds is the best option. It’s often far cheaper and much more portable than a pre-existing plant from a nursery. You won’t need anything special to grow from scratch, just a container, water and some form of compost.

Before we get started, there’s a few things I should probably mention. You’ll be limited by the germination rate of the seed, which is the percentage of seeds planted in identical conditions that will actually grow. Of course, you can tip the odds in your favour, but it’s best to keep in mind that it’s not always something you’ve done wrong when it doesn’t germinate.

For the seeds that come in packets

To make things easier for yourself, a good start is to soak them in warm (not boiling) water to weaken the seed wall. 24 hours is a good length of time but you can soak them longer if you’d wish. I’d say say anywhere up to 3 nights is fine for the tougher seed varieties. If you can get hold of it, add 1/2 of a teaspoon of saltpeter per 500ml (1 pint), this will really help the process along so don’t overdo it, but at the right amount, your seeds will do fantastic.

As soon as you’re finished with the soaking process, take them out of the water and rinse them off if you used saltpeter, then put them straight into the soil you’ll be growing them in. You won’t want them to dry out so it’s best not to use a towel or anything to remove the dampness.

For dead seeds

I call the seeds that come in fruit/flowers dead because they’re not prepared to come to life just yet. The process we’ll use is called stratification and is, simply put, waking the seeds up. As an analogy, when you first wake up you’re not really ready to start work, but after your morning routine you’re good to go. Stratification is the morning routine of the plant world and will get them ready to start growing.

To wake them up, soak the seeds in cool water for about half of a day, then keep them in the fridge for a few days. As soon as they’re done, take them out of the fridge and plant them somewhere warm. It’s important that you do this at a time they they won’t be exposed to frost or prolonged drafts so keeping the pot by a closed window is a good option.…