Signs of Spring and Leca Balls

My houseplants are always the first to tell me when spring is near. Nature is so miraculous that way. I can’t understand how indoor plants know it is time to kick the grow cycle into a higher gear, but they do.

They coast their way along through the winter, with me doing my best not to overwater. Weeks go by with scarcely a change. Then suddenly they start sucking back the drinks like crazed pirates who have been at sea for three months with no rum. I can’t seem to water them often enough. New shoots burst out, they are constantly dry and the growth spurt is on.

How does that work? I have most of them under a grow light which still goes on before first light and stays on until well past dark, so it isn’t the lengthening days. I haven’t even increased the amount of nutrients they get. Most are tropical plants who wouldn’t even experience winter and spring in their natural environment, and yet, they still know growing season has arrived in The Peace.

I thanked my houseplants for the heads up, and proceeded to start my onions. I never have a lot of luck growing big storage onions, but it doesn’t stop me from trying. This year I sowed three varieties I haven’t tried before; Hybrid Genesis, Alisa Craig and Exhibition Hybrid. Fingers crossed.

I also directly sow onion bulbs in the spring, which can always be counted on for small onions and greens, but what I want are tennis ball-sized storage ones that last most of the winter. Maybe this will be the year!

Last fall I changed over all my houseplants from potting soil to leca clay balls. You can buy them by the 50 kg sack, though they also come in smaller bags. They remind of moose turds, Fortunately just by look, not feel. Not that I have ever touched a moose turd…but I am seriously digressing.

Here’s what they look like…

The balls are about an inch around or so and very porous. They absorb water, but also allow roots to breathe. You arrange them under and around a plant’s roots just as you would potting soil, then you just put a pot that drains inside of a decorative catch pot and keep the bottom couple inches filled with water, fortified with nutrients. It has made a huge difference as far as aphids and other little critters go. My houseplants have spent a pest free winter, which I am sure they appreciate. They seem happy and healthy enough.

I also love that the balls can be reused indefinitely, so unlike potting soil, they will never need replacing. It makes me feel much better than repeatedly buying bags of potting soil and then having all the plastic to contend with, not to mention shipping emissions, peat, etc. This way it is once and done. If a plant dies you can simply take out the plant and reuse the balls for another.

The only big drawback is the cost. I think I paid about thirty-five dollars for a large bag, but two were enough to change over all my houseplants with a generous amount left over. They have some at Dunvegan here in Fort St John, but it is likely available in lots of other places as well.

This year I am even trying to start my garden seeds using leca. The obvious problem is the balls are large and the seeds are tiny and they will just tumble around and slide to the bottom. This winter I managed to successfully start a couple Holy Basils from seed, by pulverizing some leca balls and using the dust to create a solid layer above the clay balls, and sowing the seed into that. However, smashing the balls up wasn’t easy. I eventually put the balls in a bag, placed the bag on the garage floor and took a hammer to it, but those little suckers are determined to stay in one piece.

For my spring seeding, I decided to compromise by buying a bag of vermiculite and spreading an inch or so on top of the leca balls and sowing my onion seeds into that. I am not sure how it will go come transplanting time, but we will see.

Nothing is up yet, but then again, it has only been about three hours. Ha.

I am holding off on starting my tomatoes for a couple more weeks, as I always seem to do it too soon and then they are way too desperate for the outdoors long before its time to go out, sort of like me. It would be different if you were seeding heirlooms with long maturity dates or had a greenhouse, but since I have to plant mine outdoors I need varieties that mature quickly in northern climates. All that said, I will likely cave and seed them soon. And by soon, probably by the end of the day!