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Desktop Greenhouse

Jun 19
Desktop Garden

One of my favorite things about gardening is the creative opportunity to construct something when the need arises. While cleaning out a storage closet at work I came across an aquarium and an aquarium light.

Now, my job involves working with fish so this equipment is useful but this aquarium is missing a side panel: not very useful for holding water anymore. This particular aquarium light is not used in the lab anymore either so these items were destined for the Auspackraum, the recycling / trash room within the University.

But an idea struck me: a mini seedling greenhouse for my office desk! I have the space, so why not? The nice thing about this particular set up is the easy access of the plants from the side, since the panel is off: this way I don’t have to remove the light every time seedlings need to be checked, which is daily.

Disclaimer: I don’t recommend you attempt popping off an aquarium panel as it’s potentially dangerous due to shattering. It was a lucky accident that this panel popped off the seams without breaking or creating any sharp edges.

The first step is to check the bulb to see if it contains the spectrum plants need to grow. It’s a T8 which is good. Although I might replace it anyway: lights tend to lose their strength over time and since I do not know how long the bulb was used, it’s a safe bet it’s old enough not to be at full strength anymore. For now, I’ll watch how the first batch of seedlings grow as an experiment until I acquire a new bulb.

light and tray demo

Next find something to raise your seedlings close to the light. Seedlings need to be close in order to prevent weak leggy plants. I’m currently using one box but hope to replace it with disposable glove boxes to act as blocks, so as the seedlings grow I can lower them away from the light.

seeds and labels

Find a waterproof tray that fits inside the aquarium. Ideally, use something with higher sides like a seed tray but I don’t have any extra and found an old cafeteria tray instead.

Finally, plug the light into a timer and your desktop greenhouse is ready!

When watering I recommend taking the tray out and doing it on the floor. This will prevent water spill accidents from getting on any electronics on the desk or neighboring desks. This also allows you to inspect everyone and make sure everything is evenly watered. Same goes when using a spray bottle.

Keeping your eyes open to opportunities when they present themselves allows you to come up with creative, useful solutions and prevent items from going to landfill. By repurposing the aquarium it was prevented from going to landfill and uses the second step in “reduce, reuse, recycle.” Look around your office garbage room, secondhand shops, yard sales or friends’ decluttering. Is there a plastic bin which could be converted to a grow box? You could leave it intact and attach a grow light to the lid and or make a side cut out for easy access while it sits on your desk. Bonus if it’s a white or light colored box as it allows light to bounce all around for the plants. If it’s dark line the inside with aluminium foil to reflect light.

Aquarium greenhouse all lit up
poking through!

Not only will you find joy growing seedlings on your desk but so will your co-workers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come in and a colleague excitedly points out a new seedling poking through the soil.

They are an interesting and easy addition to the workspace to casually watch throughout the work week.

plants growing well


May 19

Fahrradstraße, or 'bike street'

Bicycling is one of my favorite things about living in Germany. There are clearly-marked lanes specifically for bicyclists and should you accidently wander into one, you will be reminded by angry shouts and ringing bells, or simply run over.

Motorists, the majority of the time, are fairly respectful of bikes, at least in the city I live in. But there is one major downside when you don’t have a car and that is space.

Think about it, when you go to the nursery you’re able to fill up your car with trays of plants, a few bags of soil or mulch, maybe the tools you’ll need and still have some room leftover in your car or pickup.

Me? I have this.

My bike loaded down with plants in the basket

My bike loaded down at Obi

You can barely fit 5 plants in that basket! The one advantage is it prevents impulse purchases. I always have to go in knowing what materials or plants I need and then figure out how to squeeze them on my bike without damaging them. Although this isn’t always the case. In the above photo I went to the store to buy large bag of potting soil and ended up leaving with 70% off houseplants—and no potting soil.

And since I own a men’s bike, which requires swinging a leg around the back, forget about tall plants too. I learned this the hard way with a climbing rose and clematis I purchased in 2017.

public cargo bike

Cargo bike

Picture a woman in the parking lot hesitantly raising her foot 20 times deciding whether she’ll make it over the bike without falling over. I wandered around the parking lot eventually finding a curb to make the swing distance shorter. Only issue was forgetting when I arrived home and proceeded to fall into a bush next to the building. This is the one time where learning the splits would have been useful.

Point is, space is an issue. And in relation, so is weight. I’m not able to buy giant bags of soil. If it can’t fit in my backpack or basket it can’t be transported. Luckily my store has some compressed soil, which barely fits in my pack, but is lighter than everything else. It just requires more water to rejuvenate it during planting. Now that I think about it, it might be compressible if it’s full of peat which is great for plants but not for the environment. I’ll have to read the bag again to see if it is full of peat. I might lose my convenient soil bag.

Thanks to the owner of the garden I do have access to a kid trailer it’s just a matter of coordinating when to pick it up. The city also has special cargo bikes people can rent too.

There is also the matter of inclines. In order to cross the Rhein bicyclists must go up spiral bike ramps to reach the bridges.

Or in the case of some unfortunate plant-loving friends, they must climb a large hill to reach home. It’s definitely a planned effort for them when they starting planting their large balcony garden.

Thankfully I only have to worry about the ramps to reach the garden center. I will admit when carting heavy items around town I do not find biking fun anymore. Just another love/hate relationship while living in Germany.

Cycle spiral near the Rhein in Paradies

Cycle spiral near the Rhein in Paradies

Welcome to Here's the Dill!

May 19

My name is Jayme and I recently discovered my passion for gardening, or rather, in plants and their interactions within the world.

I studied biology with a specialization in marine and aquatic biology thinking I wanted to research coral reef ecosystems—thank you Blue Planet and Discovery Channel. But it wasn’t until I started moving further away from home that I realized what my true interests were: digging in the garden.

On this journey I hope to go from a knowledgeable gardener to full out nerdy expert and share my geeky gardening tendencies with others who have the same passion. This is a space to gain a deeper understanding of the natural processes occurring in your garden. I’ll also explore agricultural and environmental topics surrounding plants in order to understand world wide conversations over climate change and what we as individuals can do to help.

Without further ado, Welcome to Here’s the Dill!

It started around the age of 9, watching my dad turn an overgrown 1.5 acre (0.6 hectare) plot of land into lawn and a series of garden beds. He worked hard digging out forgotten stumps located within a thorny, thistly, poison-ivy-stricken meadow and I got to help. Saturday and Sunday mornings were spent watching gardening programs with my parents on HGTV; you know when the Home and GARDENING Network used to air gardening shows. (Can you tell I was a nerdy kid?) Anyhow, one rainy spring morning, I asked him if I could have a garden bed, and thinking he wouldn’t take me seriously, I went upstairs to play. But within a few minutes he went out into the drizzling rain and dug a small egg shaped bed around a tiny flowering crabapple tree and a patch of peonies. Over the years the bed expanded as I stole one of my mom’s neighboring garden beds and unbeknownst to me, so did my passion for being in the garden.

Expanded garden bed in Ohio

Expanded garden bed in Ohio June 2015

I didn’t realize that every time I visited home from college or from my first job further away I was always drawn back to my garden. During college I even planted spring bulbs in front of the house my roommates and I occupied. It wasn’t until I moved from Ohio to southern Germany that I realized how much I craved being in one. My lifeline was cut; I could no longer visit my parents on a whim and work in the garden. I didn’t realize how much I relied on gardening to reduce stress and no matter how much you prepare, moving halfway across the world is a fairly stressful event.

I’ve been living in Germany for over 2 years and have since created a balcony garden and starting working in an allotment garden thanks to a kind member of the community. On Here’s the Dill I hope to share my successes and failures of organic gardening along with any interesting topics about agriculture or ecological interactions occurring within a garden. Together we’ll become better gardeners and more conscious citizens of the world!

The author on her flower balcony

The author in her Balkongarten