Saturday, September 27, 2008

New Thing #260--Recipe for Repotting

In a few weeks it will be time to bring my plants in from the deck. In the cold weather they're on the window seat in the kitchen just surviving, but when I put them out in the spring they go crazy. The one that grew the most this year was my schefflera tree. It got about a foot taller, and the top is now so bushy that the pot (and root system) wasn't big enough to stabilize it; it kept falling over every time a strong wind blew.

I wanted to re-pot it in something bigger, but when I checked the shelf in the garage, I didn't have enough potting soil. However, I realized I had a good amount of ready-to-use compost in the bin in the back yard. I usually add the compost to the garden, or in a hole when I'm planting something outside. There are usually worms wiggling around as I'm digging it in, and probably other creepy-crawlies too. Since my plant would ultimately be coming inside, I knew I didn't want bugs or diseases coming into the house, so today I pasteurized my own compost and used it to repot a houseplant.

I went out to the garage and found a pot that was larger than the current one. I took the pot out to the compost pile and filled it halfway (making sure that all the worms stayed outside-I didn't want any dead ones on my conscience), then came in and dumped the compost into the big roasting pan. I figured that I'd wash the pan in the dishwasher afterward, so I wasn't worried about contaminating it.

The next step was to figure out exactly HOW to do the project. My friend Google had tens of thousands of suggestions for me. At the first site, I learned that I didn't want to sterilize the compost (which kills virtually all the microorganisms), but pasteurize it (which heats it to a temperature that kills harmful organisms, but leaves the good ones alone). I checked several sites; there was a difference of opinion on the temperature and length of time needed for pasteurization. The source I chose recommended heating it in an oven to at least 120C for about an hour. I've never really gotten the hang of Celsius temperatures, so I needed a conversion guide. I Googled this topic, too, and chose this site.

I put the pan into the oven and set the timer. About forty minutes into the baking process, a funky smell started coming from the oven. I took the pan out, stirred the compost, and put it back in. The smell didn't get better; I was glad when the time was up and I could take the pan out of the oven. I put it outside so I didn't have to smell it while it cooled off.

When I came back outside later the compost was cooled off; I was ready to repot. I decided to strain the mixture to remove some uncomposted twigs and a few rocks that had made their way in. Since I knew I was going to be running the dishwasher anyway, the easiest thing to use was the strainer from the kitchen, so it came outside too.

I combined the strained compost with the potting soil, and repotted the tree. It took every bit of the soil mixture I'd made. I put the new pot in its place on the deck and got a bucket of water. Since the soil mixture was completely dry, it took an inordinate amount of watering (almost the complete bucket) to moisten it.

I brought all my kitchen things inside, put them in the dishwasher, and went back to admire my newly-potted plant.

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