Benign Neglect

My favorite kind of houseplant is one that can withstand my inability to pay much attention to it.  As a result, my houseplant collection, such as it is, is one composed of jades, aloes, a snake plant (or mother-in-law’s tongue–har har) and a cactus or two.

I wouldn’t even have as many houseplants as I do except that H brings his to my place, assuming they’ll get the care they need, and occasionally friends moving out of state will think that because I’m a farmer, I must be good with all kinds of plants.

As a result, there have been quite a few plants passing through my house and into my compost pile.  This is also true of a couple of pet fish that have soujourned with me, but I digress.

Every year, once the weather warms up above freezing at night, I unceremoniously kick all my houseplants out for the season, and in the fall, I grudgingly bring them back in when it gets too chilly for their survival.  Otherwise, they’re pretty much on their own.

Almost every year, I sacrifice a rosemary plant that has looked quite lovely until I brought it in for the winter.  Now I have one hardy to my Zone 5 climate that will stay outdoors where it’ll probably fare much better. The downside to my benign neglect, I guess, is a certain heartlessness about plants too tender to survive my misfeasance.

But the one plant that I do pay a bit more attention to is one I bought ten years ago for my now ex-husband.  It’s a tropical hibiscus, and from its origins in a 4-inch pot, it has grown into a monster.  Every other year I give it a good wacking on top or a slicing off of its roots to try to keep its size in check.

My project today was spurred by this monster of a plant starting to form a good amount of flower buds.  It doesn’t get fertilizer very often, but if it’s going to be forming those gorgeous orange flowers with pink throats, it’s time to give it some love that doesn’t involve knives, pruners, and other implements of cutting-down-to-size.

So the other denizens of my household that can withstand my benign neglect–my basement worms–are getting a new, fresh, melon and tomato scrap-filled level on their bin today, and I’ll be removing the bottom bin’s casting-filled contents to use as a top-dressing for that plant and maybe a few others if they’re lucky.

That casting removal project calls for a table covered with newspaper and a patient scraping away of the bedding until all the worms, diving ever-closer to the bottom of the pile, become a squirming mound in the middle–ready to be deposited back into their dark, moist, food-filled home.

The idea with the vertical stacking worm bins is that when you add a new level with more food scraps, the worms will naturally migrate up through the mesh bottom of their current food-depleted bin and go looking for the new supply.

But it doesn’t really work that easily.  There’s always plenty of worms who hang out on the lowest level for whatever wormy reasoning they work out for themselves.

So, while benign neglect is a useful tool for working with these critters, they too need a little direction from their caretaker once in awhile.

I figure that as little as I pay attention to both the worms and the plants, the plants do brighten the winter months, and the worms give me castings to help both the houseplants and the early seedlings grow stronger.

Seems like a pretty good deal for so little work….


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