Daily Archives: May 15, 2011

Glass half-full situation

The Triffid Ranch has been quite the source of entertainment for the crew at Texas Hydroponics & Organics for the better part of a decade. Back when the Dallas branch was located down on Elm Street near downtown, I regularly came to Texas Hydroponics to pick up coarse-grade perlite and indoor lighting systems for the carnivores. The best incident, though, came the day the Czarina and I were next door at Sons of Hermann Hall for a friend’s wedding in 2006.

The first consideration: I wandered next door because the bride was vaguely curious about ways to preserve the roses in her bouquet, and I suggested “Why don’t I try to root a couple of cuttings and see if I can get you a full rose bush out of it?” The second consideration: I was in a bad bicycling accident two days before, and broke at least one rib while flying over a parking median in a high-rise parking lot. I made it to the wedding, arm in a sling to protect the broken rib and loaded on enough painkillers to stun an indricothere. (For those who’ve never broken a rib, it’s not just painful to sleep in any position other than sitting upright, but your worst fear is a good sneeze.) This meant that I was quite the mess when I sashayed inside in a full suit and tie and started asking for recommendations on cloning gels. To their eternal credit, they didn’t even blink.

Because of that, I’ve been a loyal customer since then, and they do their best to return the favor. That’s why it’s time to invoke the power of lateral thinking.

Over the past year or so, I’ve become quite fond of GrowStones, a replacement for perlite made from recycled beer bottles. Perlite is both a great way to lighten the density of heavy soils because of its porosity and a good way to encourage drainage with low weight. The problem with perlite is that it’s a finite resource: perlite is a form of obsidian with a very high water content, and when broken up and dumped into a kiln, it fluffs up like popcorn or Styrofoam peanuts. Problem is, only a few sites with large amounts of perlite exist on the planet, and when they’re used up, we’re done.

The idea behind GrowStones is to simulate the porosity and water drainage abilities of perlite with a reusable and renwable resource, as we aren’t going to run out of beer bottles any time soon. Ground glass is mixed with calcium carbonate, dumped into a kiln, and then broken up from the final fused mass. In the process, you get a product with most of the same advantages as perlite, and with a lot less dust. (Although perlite dust is considered a “nuisance dust”, it’s still a glass dust. Anybody who remembers the joys of inhaling volcanic ash from Mount St. Helens’s eruption in 1980 has reason to wear a particulate mask when working with perlite straight out of the bag.) I don’t know about anybody else, but this appeals to my inherent Scottish frugality.

The only problem? Well, the Texas Hydroponics guys warned me as soon as I picked up a new bag. The old technique left a product with a slightly higher pH than what worked best for hydroponics. To its credit, Earthstone International realized this right away, and asked that the current inventory be held until the company could get out product made with a new process. This, though, left a lot of existing, high-pH Growstones to work with.

And here’s the suggestion. I’ve been using GrowStones for a while for drainage in Capsicum pepper and other non-carnivore propagation containers. It’s already nearly perfect for improving drainage in soil mixes for cactus and other succulents, and most of the pH problems can be treated with a suitable application of vinegar. (I usually cover a 1.25 cubic foot bag of GrowStones with water in a 22-gallon container, and add a gallon of standard white vinegar before letting it sit overnight.) The current batch of GrowStones might not work for standard applications, but why not for reptile enclosures, raised beds, or other uses where the pH doesn’t matter?

If this works for you, and if you don’t mind picking up the phone, give Texas Hydroponics a call, and specifically tell them that I sent you. They’ll appreciate the help.

Writer’s Interlude

Among many other surprises this weekend, I discovered a check from Reptiles nagazine. This was payment for an article on carnivorous plants in herp enclosures in the May 2011 issue. This was just the cherry atop a writer’s sundae: working with Reptiles has to be the best experience I’ve had since I started writing professionally in 1989, with my time at Gothic Beauty being a very, very close second.

For those who didn’t know or didn’t care, I spent nearly 13 years as a writer for various science fiction magazines. Most pleaded poverty as to why they paid in “exposure”, and the others generally paid if and when they felt like it. Somehow, though, bringing up the fact that a publisher was six to eight months late in paying for previous articles, all the while begging for new pieces, was considered the height of bad taste. Worse, getting aggressive about collecting was seen as “being difficult”. This wasn’t the only factor in my leaving writing in 2002, but it was one of the top three. (The one time I relapsed, the status quo returned, and I finally received payment from the SyFy Channel only after threatening to out the personal E-mail addresses and phone numbers of SyFy management if the company continued to ignore requests for payment. Nearly six months of courteous requests got nothing, but one threat to give out Skiffy Channel president Bonnie Hammer’s direct phone number, and I got the check within two days.)

Anyway, based on this, I think I’ll be sticking with horticulture writing for a while. The editors are friendly, the readers are fascinating, and prompt and reasonable payment is gravy. Best of all, compared to science fiction, I can write about things that actually matter.