The Conservatory

I found three four five frogs in the house yesterday morning.  I found two or three the day before.  They came in with my plants when I brought them in for the winter.  It’s not the first time this has happened, and it won’t be the last.  It happens every year, and I’ve come to accept the need to relocate my garden friends outdoors as a yearly ritual.  This year, I had a new plan.  I was going to handle the yearly invasion a little differently, and I’m glad I did.  You’ll see why in a moment.

This is an old picture, but it illustrates how I manage my garden. In the spring, most of my plants are placed in kiddie pools with drainage holes that maintain a water level of about 1-2 inches. Most of the year, the plants in the 12 pools on my deck and patio are self watering which allows me to keep my plants watered through summer heat, drought, and vacations.

I love my garden.  It’s not like most gardens.  Due to the overwhelming amount of shade in my yard, I grow most of my plants on my sunny 2nd floor deck.  It’s still not ideal lighting conditions for some long season crops that I like to grow, but I manage to keep a wide variety of tropical and subtropical plants alive.  I do grow some of your everyday grocery produce, but my favorites provide me with things you won’t necessarily find in your average grocery store.

Unfortunately, this means I have a lot of plants that need to be wintered over indoors, and it’s backbreaking work twice a year to get all of them moved in and out.  Usually, I have to tote most of them up and down the stairs to their destination.  I really should invest in an elevator or dumb-waiter.  Then, it becomes extra work once the plants are all inside, and watering becomes a chore once again.  Since most of my plants are self watered during the main growing season, remembering to keep them watered in winter can be an issue.

Last year, I had such severe neck problems that I couldn’t even lift a cup of coffee to my lips.  Lifting a watering jug was out of the question, and I lost the majority of my most sensitive plants.  I was able to rebuild my plant collection a bit this year, thankfully, but I had to start from scratch.  Every single existing plant had to be re-potted and I couldn’t recycle any of my soil due to my pesky cat.  Yuck.  I fixed that with an organic cat repellent.  But, I did manage to get a surprising number of things growing this year.  Harvesting was another issue, but I’ll save that for another post.

I have harvested pineapple, turmeric, other exotic herbs, and many medicinal teas from my plant collection.  I am still missing a few old favorites, but it takes time to recover from last year’s die-off.  Some of my plants don’t tolerate temperatures lower than 60 degrees Fahrenheit, while others just can’t cope with frost.  A few nights ago, temperatures dropped to the low 50’s at night, and I realized the time to bring in the most tender plants is now.

pineapple frog
Green tree frog on a pineapple plant

By the end of the growing season, many of my plants usually need to be re-potted, but I got lucky this year due to the massive soil replacement I had to do this spring.  Most just needed to be weeded and shaken a bit to dislodge any unwanted critters.  Somehow, I never get them all.  For the two weeks following the annual moving of the plants indoors, I’m constantly chasing lizards and frogs back outside.  I can’t bring myself to kill these helpful garden critters since they also like to dine on the many pests that feast on my plants.  This year, I got more than I bargained for, and it wasn’t just frogs or lizards that invaded my home.

This is a portion of this spring’s seed starts. Since I was basically starting from scratch this year, I planted a lot more than I could possibly handle. I tried to give away my extra seedlings, but alas, none of my friends share my passion for gardening and many perished.

I had recently given a “spring” cleaning to my sun room in order to create a new work space for my home-schooled son.  We don’t use it nearly enough, and it had been relegated to being a roomy shelter for my cats in the past.  This past spring, I turned an old storm damaged greenhouse into shelving for seed starts, and arranged the shelves on the sunniest side of the sun room.  That’s when I decided to turn it into a conservatory of sorts for fall.  With so many windows, why not use it to shelter my precious tropicals and protect them from my one remaining feline pet.  The only thing left to do was set up tables and shelving to place my larger potted plants.  Unfortunately, when I started bringing in the pots, I ended up with a few extra guests than usual.

Paper wasp on a banana leaf

After I had brought in a few plants, I started seeing wasps flying around the ceiling.  First, there were just a couple.  Then there were seven.  The next time I counted, there were fourteen.  What on earth?  They had to have come in on one of my plants, but which one?  Well, I didn’t check my peace lily plant well enough.  In fact, I didn’t check it at all.  I should have.  When I decided I didn’t like its current location and moved it across the room to a less sunny spot, about half a dozen wasps fell from under a leaf and hit the floor.  Eek!  Eureka! I found the culprit.  I put my phone in selfie mode and carefully used it to examine the underside of a leaf.

Well, there’s your problem. Looks like I will have a few more guests if I don’t get rid of this paper wasp nest soon.

I gently clipped the leaf and escorted the wasp nursery outside very carefully.  These wasps may not be entirely harmless, but they do appear to be somewhat docile.  Over the last couple of days, my son and I have spent considerable time in the sun room without an incident.  Although, many wasps have perished at the hands of my son using my electric fly swatter.  I’ve given up trying to keep count of how many came in with the nest.  There’s just too many of them.  If I had to guess, I would say we had at least two dozen wasps flying around at one time.

Then, I noticed a leaf on my peace lily was suddenly bent and drooping more than an hour before.  That’s when I found another unwanted guest.

spider nursery
Common garden spider and three egg sacs under a peace lily leaf

Yikes!  I really should have checked this plant for critters.  This leaf got clipped and swept outside with a broom.  I don’t need any more spiders in my house.  I’m not particularly fond of them.  I always expect a few frogs and lizards, but I wasn’t expecting this.  Where are my bug eating frogs and lizards when I need them?  Well, it’s been a little dry around here lately, and the frogs started appearing when I watered the newly relocated pots.  The first one to be spotted was a variety I usually don’t see.  I’m used to the medium-sized green tree frogs that like to hang out on my windows at night.  These little grey guys are going to be difficult to spot and catch.

Grey Tree Frog on a Castor bean leaf

Yesterday the green tree frogs decided to come out in force.  At one point I had to wonder if my son was retrieving the ones I was putting outside as a joke.  He swears it’s a new frog each time I find another one.  How do they continue to appear after having checked most of my plants for passengers?  Well, they hide in watering wells and under the pot rims.  They will also bury themselves in the soil to stay moist during dry spells.  I clean and check each pot pretty well before bringing them in, but I never seem to spot them.

And so, the battle begins before the first frost every year.  It’s the price I pay to enjoy things like pork roasted in banana leaf, chicken wrapped in turmeric leaves (a family favorite), and lemongrass and fresh turmeric root infused stir fries.

So far, I haven’t spotted any lizards, but I’m sure my battle with the critters isn’t done yet.  I still have another round of frost sensitive plants that need to come inside at the end of October.  Even though toting them downstairs to my sun room is literally a pain, I’m glad I made the choice to turn it into a plant conservatory.  Now all invading critters will be confined to one room, and I won’t be chasing the little reptiles and amphibians around the whole house.  The wasps and spiders can stay there, too, until I find and eliminate them.

In the end, it seems like a painful ritual to go through every year, but I promise, it’s all worth it.  Being able to harvest my own herbs, spices, medicinal teas, and produce is very rewarding.  Plus, you really can’t beat harvesting your own home-grown pineapple ripened to perfection right on the plant.  You wouldn’t believe the flavor you’ve been missing compared to those you buy from the grocery store.


Home harvested pineapple


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