Christmas cactus

A Christmas cactus is seen in full bloom.

Lucky us. We were gifted with a “bonus week” of lovely, warm and dry weather in early November. “We finally had our summer!” I heard someone say. Since then, temperatures have dipped, which ushers us indoors to become reacquainted with our interior spaces. Time to make jam, read a book, review Thanksgiving recipes (my new pumpkin pie recipe follows), and check in with our indoor plants.

Yes, many of us are noticing our houseplants for the first time in months. Perhaps they’re a little dusty? Desiccated? 

Take the Christmas cactus, for example. A popular table icon in Kodiak, Christmas cacti are wonderful plants because they bloom during the off-season. But they’re misunderstood plants.

Why is it that some Christmas cacti bloom each year like clockwork while others form flower buds that drop off before flowers even have a chance? And why do some Christmas cacti leave shrivel and look like skin that’s been exposed too long to the tropical sun?

First off, a Christmas cactus is not a cactus. They are epiphytes (EH-pih-fights), tree-perching plants that live in the notches of branches. This innocent plant that quietly suffers on many a shelf and table dreams of going home to the humid jungles of coastal Brazil. Our dry interior spaces spell misery for these poor plants.

I’m sure you are acquainted with plants around town that bloom profusely, seemingly right on cue, thanks to the right light and humidity. But there are dozens that don’t hold on to their blossoms.

In the fall, flower buds begin to form and the tubular flowers develop as autumn progresses with longer, cooler nights. But as the cool weather kicks in, so do woodstoves and mechanical heating systems. The resulting hot, dry air can destroy buds and cause emerging flowers to simply fall off.

To root Christmas cactus cuttings, simply take a cutting and place the segment in a moist peat and sand soil mix. Insert the segment about 1/4-inch deep. Place the pot in a well-lit area, but out of direct sunlight.

Christmas cacti are wonderful houseplants and deserve tender, loving care. Here are seven tips to give your Christmas cactus a blooming chance: 

– Keep soil moist but not soggy.

– Provide even lighting by rotating your plant every week.

– In the fall leading up to the holidays, set your plant in a cool spot, say 60 degrees by day and 70 degrees by night.

– Mist your Christmas cactus with water several times a week to increase the humidity levels around the plant and keep leaves dust- and grime-free.

– If it’s been 10 years since you re-potted the thing, gift it with a new home and soil once the blooming period is over. Christmas cacti prefer a good quality potting soil that drains quickly.

– During the summer months, keep the soil barely moist

– Do not ignore your Christmas cactus, believing it can fend for itself for months. You wouldn’t ignore your dog or cat for months on end, would you?

 

A different kind

of pumpkin pie

Many people will insist that it’s not possible to have such a yummy pie made with tofu.

 

For the filling:

1 16-oz can pumpkin puree (not pie filling) or 2 cups cooked squash or yams

3/4 cup brown or coconut sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon cloves

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon allspice

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 10-ounce package soft tofu

 

For the crust:

2 cups rolled oats

1/2 cup pitted dates

1/3 cup almond butter

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons non-dairy milk

 

To make the crust: In a food processor, add the oats, dates and salt. Pulse until crumbly. Add the almond butter and puree for about a minute. Add the milk and pulse until the mixture is sticky and can hold together when pressed. 

Transfer to a pie plate and press in evenly into the bottom and sides.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Cream all ingredients in a food processor, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides. Pour mixture into the crust and bake for 10 minutes then reduce heat to 350 and bake for another 40 minutes. Yields: one awesome pie.

 

Marion Owen is co-author of the New York Times bestseller, Chicken Soup for the Gardener’s Soul, which is available through Amazon. To learn how to garden in Kodiak, sign up for Kodiak Growers Facebook group, and chat with folks at local retailers and farmer’s markets. You can find Marion Owen on Facebook, Instagram or visit her blog at https://marionowen.wordpress.com

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