The Nursery (Part 4: Soil for sowing)

Which soil to use is a very large topic, and in this post I will mainly discuss soil in terms of sowing. I will, however, do a post fairly soon going into more detail about various soil components and soil types for growing cacti after the seedling stage.

Cacti seeds in general do not need any particular soil or compost to germinate, but it is wise to plan ahead a bit. After all, most cacti seedlings grow fairly slowly, and depending on how fast you grow them (and also the species) they may stay in the soil you sow them in for several months to several years. Thus it is helpful for the seedlings if the soil is of a good quality.

Soils for sowing and for general growing too, can be either organic based or completely inorganic. When it comes to sowing it is important that the seedlings never dry out completely and it’s perhaps easiest to achieve this with an organic based soil. How much organic matter to use is a matter of preference, though personally I never use more than 50 % organic matter in any soil (unless it’s required by some particular species).

The remaining parts by volume of such an organic based soil should be made up of material that will help drainage and aeration of the soil. These are both very important factors for the successful growing of cacti and succulents. To the organic matter should therefore be added sand/grit/perlite or similar substances. It is not particularly important to choose one thing or another – the main objective is to make the soil well-drained and well-aerated. Personally I like to add material like perlite and/or pumice which are light-weight, helps aeration and drainage, and also retains a lot of water in its pores which are then slowly released into the soil as it dries out helping to keep an even level of moisture for a longer time.

Grain size should be between 1-5 mm, and a mix of this range will do fine. If you add say, 1/3 (medium/coarse) sand, 1/3 (fine) gravel, and 1/3 perlite to the organic matter you should get a good well-drained soil that is light, loose, and not too coarse. It is not critical to use the specific materials above in the specific amounts. You could easily use only perlite or fine gravel, or coarse sand to add to the organic matter. If you have access to good quality sandy loam where you live, then that is a perfectly good material to add to the organic matter. The soil is ready to use when you can grab a handful of the (dry) soil-mix, squeeze it in your hand and have it crumble easily apart as you open your hand. If it does not crumble easily, simply add more drainage material.

Organic based soil with coir. The white particles are perlite (ca. 3-5 mm wide).

If you don’t want to make a soil-mix of your own, it is certainly possible to use the kind of ready made cactus sowing/growing mix you find in flower stores. Depending on where you live these may be of a good quality or a very poor one. In Norway, at least, they mainly contain peat (sphagnum moss) and some sand, as well as sometimes a little bit of perlite. Seeds will germinate just fine in this, and many species will grow fine in it too. However, personally I moved away from using peat a few years ago. I’ve never been a fan of it but in Norway it is difficult to find suitable alternatives. Leaf mold or composts are not usually sold in flower stores (on account of peat being cheaper to produce and hence more profitable). Some nurseries and garden centres do still produce and sell composts, so it’s not impossible to get hold of, but one has to work a bit to find them.

There are many reasons why I dislike peat. It is a magnet for the little black sciara fly which lays eggs in it that develop into larvae that then eat into the roots and flesh of the plants causing rot and subsequent plant death. It takes a long time to dry out completely, and is almost impossible to re-wet once it has done so – the first of which is a problem for a great number of species, while the second is obviously a problem when you want to water the plant again (particularly after the long winter rest). It also breaks down fairly quickly and in doing so it becomes compacted and squeezes air out of the soil, which is a problem for cacti. Peat has a tendency to cling tightly to the roots, so when it comes to repotting it is difficult to remove all the peat without damaging the (often) tender roots. The companies making the peat-based products often add nitrogen-rich fertiliser as well, which is a problem not just because you don’t want your cacti to be given too much fertiliser, but especially because too much nitrogen will quickly lead to abnormal growth and/or root burn in cacti.

Having said that, most cacti will grow acceptably well in a peat based soil so long as you make sure to add plenty of grit, sand, perlite or something similar that will keep the soil from becoming too compacted and allow good drainage and aeration. Be prepared to lose plants unexpectedly though!

For my part I have gone over to using coir instead of peat as the organic component of my potting mix. Coir is the hairs from the husks of coconuts, and a by-product of the coconut industry. It’s inert and contains next to no nutrients, so fertilising is required. It fairly quickly dries out in a pot and is easily re-wetted. This also means it is not a magnet for sciara flies like peat. It does often come already fertilised though, so that is something to be aware of. It does not compact the way peat does or cling to the roots. As an important aside, coir is an environmentally friendly product bringing income to many poor people in developing countries, whereas peat is not. The excavation of peat leads to the destruction of bogs which are an important habitat for a great number of plants, animals and insects, is non-renewable (short-term), and also leads to increased CO2-emissions. I will not advise anyone to use peat if it’s at all possible to use other growing material.

Though I like coir, if I can find a good supplier of high quality compost or leaf mold in the future I will probably switch to that. Being inert, coir does have certain advantages, but for species who enjoy a good bit of organic content in their growing medium I think a good compost or leaf mold is preferable. The fact that using coir requires the use of fertiliser may also be a negative for some. In fact, for a sizeable collection of plants I would perhaps not recommend coir as warmly. The necessary increased use of fertiliser leads to quicker build-up of salts in the soil which in turn means that more frequent repottings are required. In a large collection this is time consuming and depending on the soil of choice, may be expensive too.

I have also sown in 100 % inorganic soil which has many benefits compared with an organic based soil, but also some drawbacks. Perhaps the biggest benefit in the short term is that an inorganic soil is not a very friendly environment for fungi which can quickly and easily decimate a pot or ten of nice and plump little seedlings. Nor does algae thrive (as well) in this environment. The biggest drawback in the short term is that it is more difficult to keep the soil from drying out completely (after you remove the pots from their moist atmospheres under plastic), which is a very important thing for the development of healthy seedlings.

100 % inorganic soil consisting of many different components (see text further down).
The white particles (perlite) is 3-5 mm wide, for scale.

In the longer term another drawback is that the seedlings grow more slowly in an inorganic soil. This may or may not be an issue, but because the soil much more easily dries out the seedlings require more frequent waterings and one has to remember to do this. However, the seedlings are much less at risk from rot in an inorganic soil, so frequent waterings are less of an issue than with organic soils. And because they are less at risk of rot this kind of soil is not a bad option at all for the more difficult species. After the seedlings I sow in inorganic soil come out of their humid enclosed atmosphere I very rarely suffer deaths from rot. Of probably more than 200 seedlings grown this way I can probably count on one hand the number of plants that have died over the previous year (including genera such as Geohintonia, Pelecyphora, Epithelantha, some rot prone Mammilarias and other difficult species).

The only exception is Sclerocactus, Pediocactus and the other particularly difficult species from the USA. But then again, they seem to die at the drop of a hat no matter what you do. Still, I believe those genera are certainly prime candidates for sowing in 100 % inorganic soil.

The inorganic soil I use is a mixture of sand, gravel, perlite, vermiculite, crushed brick, clay, pumice, zeolite, volcanic gravel, expanded clay, expanded shale and diatomaceous earth. I don’t necessarily use all those things together, but I like the soil to be a mix of many different substances and for it to offer the plant all the macro and micro nutrients it needs. As with the organic soil mixture, I am doing a bit of experimenting with all this, so if you want to try an inorganic soil it is not necessary to use all the above components. Indeed, you could perfectly well use only crushed rocks of various kinds as the sowing material (obviously crushed to a fine grade, though).

That’s it for the soil part. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I will make another entry a little later going into more detail about soil components.

Now for discussing germination!

The Nursery (Part 3: The seeds)

That wonderful feeling when you receive a little parcel in the post full of seed packets…is one I enjoy a bit too much. Hence, I may have overdone things a bit when it came to ordering seeds.

I ordered lots and lots of cacti seeds of various genera from Ariocarpus to Gymnocalycium and Puna to Rebutia, to Obregonia and Sclerocactus and so on. I also ordered seeds from various Mesembs, particularly Lithops and Conophytum which I had never done before, and some other succulents and even some non-succulents. It is a lot of fun to peruse seed lists and see all there is on offer. Between the nurseries mentioned here and all the other dozens and dozens out there, I’m sure one can find seeds on offer for just about any species and form ever described.

I have ordered seeds from quite a few suppliers over the years, and in 2013 I ordered seeds from six different nurseries around the world (the pictures of seeds do not necessarily correspond with the nurseries they’re placed beneath):

  • Steven Brack’s nursery Mesa Garden in the USA
    • Mesa Garden is particularly strong on North-American cacti, but have an excellent selection of most genera. They also have a very good selection of Mesembs and other succulents. A large number of the species come with locality information and collection numbers. Mesa Garden is also known to be diligent in ensuring that species with collection numbers are not crossed with specimens with different collection numbers (which not all nurseries are). They do not have an online store, but they have easy to use order forms you can e-mail them, or you can use Excel-sheets. Delivery times to Norway are usually one or two months, but can take up to three months. This is largely because they first of all are very busy but also because when ordering (from outside the U.S.) species on the CITES check-list they have to acquire a CITES certificate from the authorities to enclose with the parcel. This can take some time and is not any fault of theirs. Germination rates are usually very good.

    Seeds of the wonderfully interesting Welwitschia mirabilis of the Namib Desert.
    The wings surrounding the seed are to aid with airborne seed dispersal.
    The plant is a relic from the time of the dinosaurs and it can live for a thousand years or more.
    It is a gymnosperm and with it’s closest relatives (though close is stretching it!) being firs and pines,
    it is certainly no succulent.

    Seeds of Dioscorea hemicrypta X elephantipes.
    As with the above Welwitschia these seeds are also designed to spread by wind,
    as can be seen by the wings on each side of the seed. It is also not a succulent,
    but rather a caudiciform – plants that develop a water storage organ called a caudex
    above ground from which stems sprout.

    • Mats Winberg’s nursery SuccSeed in Sweden
      • SuccSeed is strong on South-American cacti and perhaps in particular Rebutia. A large number of the species come with locality information and collection numbers. They also sell various accessories such as pots and books. Their website is very good and easy to order from. Delivery times to Norway are very good, and usually the parcel arrives in a week. Germination rates are usually very good.

      Seeds of Pediocactus peeblesianus var. fickeisenii (ca. 2-3 mm wide).
      The seeds are large and difficult to germinate without some form of treatment.
      Directly below the label can be seen a “double” seed. I have never seen anything like it before.
      I originally wrote under this picture that only one seedling germinated from the twin seed, but after
      looking at some pictures taken shortly after I sowed the seeds I realised I had got this species mixed
      up with another and, in fact, two plants sprouted from it. See Part 5 of this series for a picture of them.

      Seeds of Sclerocactus mesae-verdae (ca. 3 mm wide).
      Like the above Pediocactus, these two genera from the U.S. are notorious
      for being difficult to germinate and perhaps even more difficult to keep
      alive for any meaningful length of time. Still, with mechanical scarification
      of the seeds germination was surprisingly good!

        • Ludwig Bercht’s nursery Bercht-Cactus in Holland
          • Bercht is particularly strong on South-American cacti and in particular the small globular South-American genera (Gymnocalycium, Frailea, Rebutia etc.). Most of the species come with locality information and collection numbers. They do not have an online store, but like Mesa Garden you can send an Excel-sheet. Delivery times to Norway are very good and usually takes around three weeks. Germination rates are usually very good.

          Seeds of Adenium arabicum.
          In addition to the above, I also sowed seeds of A. obesum and A. multiflorum.
          The latter began flowering one year after sowing.

          Seeds of Pseudolithos cubiformis (ca. 4 mm wide).
          This very unusual succulent comes from Somalia, and in a way it looks perhaps
          more like a living rock than any Ariocarpus or Lithops.

            • Jörg and Brigitte Piltz’s nursery Kakteen-Piltz in Germany
              • Piltz have a wide selection of genera with many interesting species. Not as many species come with locality information and collection numbers as the first three nurseries. They have an online order form you can use, or you can also send an order form on e-mail. Delivery times to Norway are very good and usually takes around three weeks. Germinations rates are usually very good.

              Seeds of Astrophytum asterias (ca. 2-3 mm wide).
              The seeds are large but unusually with large-seeded cacti, Astrophytum species
              germinate readily – often starting to appear just three days after sowing.

              Seeds of Ariocarpus trigonus (ca. 1 mm wide).
              Ariocarpus seeds usually germinate fairly well, but I have found that they
              can often be a bit hit and miss with some pots completely devoid of life
              while in others they may pop up happily.  

                • Bettina Köhres’ nursery Köhres Kakteen in Germany
                  • Köhres also have a large selection of genera, and are quite strong on Astrophytum and Lophophora among others. They also have a large and varied selection of succulents, caudiciforms and various other interesting trees and plants. Not as many species come with locality information and collection numbers as the first three nurseries. They have an online store you can use, though it is not as good as SuccSeed’s. Delivery times to Norway are very good and usually takes around three weeks. Germination rates have been a bit hit and miss for me, but generally lower than the previous four nurseries.

                  Seeds of Puna bonniae (ca. 3-5 mm wide).
                  This is a very attractive Argentinian species with very strange-looking seeds for the cactus family.
                  Sadly none of the seeds germinated. Members of the cactus subfamily Opuntioideae are
                  often difficult to germinate though.

                  Seeds of Tephrocactus geometricus (ca. 5-8 mm wide).
                  This is another member of the cactus subfamily Opuntioideae, also with interesting seeds.
                  It is somewhat similar to Puna bonniae pictured above, both from the same region of Argentina.
                  This species had a 50 % germination rate though, and the plants are growing happily.

                    • Kamil Prochazka’s nursery Kaktusy in the Czech Republic
                      • Kaktusy have a very wide selection of genera with usually more than one (and sometimes dozens) forms of the same species from different localitites. Very strong on the North-American genera such as Ariocarpus, but also on many of the South-American genera. They have an online store you can use, but it is not the most practical, and the site is not the easiest to navigate either. This is the only nursery on this list I had not ordered from before, and I may have been very unlucky, but germination rates were largely very poor. I have recently ordered from them a second time and I will update this once I receive and sow those seeds. As I have only ordered from them once, it’s difficult to comment on delivery times, but it took three and half months for the order to arrive. I don’t know if this is usual, but I believe it is common with many Czech nurseries that delivery can take several months. I think many of them are run as co-ops, so it’s possible that the delivery times are a result both of being busy, but also of having to wait for different suppliers to deliver their seeds. It is not really a problem though, as long as you are aware of it.

                      Seeds of Lophophora diffusa ssp. kubesae (ca. 1 mm wide).
                      I do not know if the subspecies is worthy of scientific recognition. I suspect it
                      is merely a regional form of L. diffusa, but I look forward to seeing how it turns out.
                      In contrast to the much better known Lophophora williamsii (Peyote), this species
                      does not contain any mind-altering alcaloids.

                      Little bags of seeds happily awaiting sowing! Seeds usually come in bags like these.
                      Sometimes labels may come with the bags, but usually there will just be a
                      catalogue number referring to the respective nursery’s seed list.

                      The Nursery (Part 2: Let there be light!)

                      Before going into detail about artificial lighting I should probably first comment on why I went with that solution instead of natural light. Most people sow using natural light, and have perfectly good success with it. I have too, of course, and I probably would have decided on natural light if I had had a greenhouse to keep the plants over winter. When I gave in to the urge to buy seeds I was living in a tiny east-facing apartment, in which there was simply no space and not enough suitable natural light for sowing cacti. And when we moved to our current apartment later that year, it was July already and suddenly a little late in the year to sow. The solution became to use artificial lighting which I had already contemplated using for quite some time.

                      I won’t go into a very detailed analysis of the various artificial lighting options in this post. Maybe I will expand on this at some later date though. There are a lot of things to consider such as the available space or how much space you need, cost of electricity, whether you want to grow the plants beyond the seedling stage, and how much money you’re willing to invest.

                      I pondered for months about what kind of artificial lighting to use. I initially did not foresee having so much space available for seed raising and planned for perhaps 0,5 m2 at most. I researched quite a bit about various options and the choice stood for a long time between fluorescent tubes or LED lights. The former was cheaper and there were several tubes on the market offering a spectrum of light simulating natural daylight. There were also tubes offering specific parts of the spectrum, such as UV, which was interesting considering UV is probably an important factor in cacti for developing the most robust spines or certain attractive grey or blue blooms on the epidermis (the outer skin layer of the plant).

                      LED was also an interesting option, though more expensive than fluorescent tubes and requiring a bit more effort to install. It has the advantage of being able to create a bespoke spectrum as it were, seeing as you can install as many diodes as you like which emit light in a specific part of the spectrum only.

                      In the end it turned out that I did have quite a bit more space available than first thought, so I decided to instead use a 400 W ballast and reflector for HPS (high-pressure sodium) and MH (metal-halide) bulbs I had bought a couple of years before to raise cacti through the winter months in Kristiansand at my father’s house. The ballast is an electrical ballast to limit the current running through the bulb as otherwise it might overload. The reflector is a relatively thin sheet of aluminium polished on the inside to a high sheen and which reflects downwards the light which the bulb emits upwards and sideways and which would obviously otherwise be of no use to the plants.

                      MH bulb with reflector.

                      HPS and MH bulbs are more efficient than fluorescent tubes and LED lights, i.e. their PPFD (photosynthetic photon flux density) output per watt is greater. The downside is that a 400 W HPS/MH bulb produces quite a lot of heat, so unless one installs a fan or two the temperature will quickly become much too high in a small or closed environment. In a spare bedroom with a window it is not much of a problem, though.

                      Generally HPS bulbs emit relatively more light in the red part of the spectrum while MH bulbs emit relatively more light in the blue part of the spectrum. For the purpose of growing plants, very simply put the former is slightly better for producing flowers and germination, while the latter is slightly better for vegetative growth. I had both kinds but I was not particularly interested in the “flowering-aspect” of the HPS bulb, and I suspected the effect of the HPS bulb on germination would be slight. I therefore went with the MH bulb and had good germination rates with it (I have not tested the HPS bulb, so I do not know if it would actually increase germination rates).

                      Not living in Kristiansand it was difficult to create ideal conditions in terms of heat, watering, and day-length, and in the end I disconnected the lamp. This time around I would able to control these parameters, however. The seeds germinated and grew so well that I quickly decided I had to expand. After all, I had bought just a few too many seeds. One bulb and one shelf would never be enough!

                      Two months after I started sowing I therefore promptly went and bought another 400 W ballast and reflector. I also bought two MH bulbs with a so-called daylight spectrum with a temperature of around 5600 K (Kelvin is in this case a measure of colour temperatures of light sources). I had no information about the spectrum on my present MH bulb and I also did not know for how long it had run (bulbs do, after all, have a limited life), so I thought it best to install two new bulbs of the same type.

                      The two reflectors hanging from the top shelf of the racks.
                      At the back on the left you can just make out an Adenium multiflorum in bloom.

                      I keep the light on for between 12-14 hours per day (I’ve landed on 12), which seems like a good amount. This may immediately sound like a lot but, after all, artificial light cannot compare with natural sunlight (unless you have a lot of it), so you have to increase the time the plants receive artificial light to make up for the reduced quality of it. I have installed electrical switches to regulate when the lights turn on and off.

                      Temperatures range between 18 C at night up to 35 C during the day (depending on the outside temperature and whether or not I keep the window wide open). For vegetative growth this range is quite ideal for most cacti, though there are some notable exceptions that prefer lower night temperatures. In terms of germination it can be on the high side considering that pots under plastic or inside plastic bags are exposed to an additional greenhouse effect. It is necessary with some additional shielding from the light as well as not placing them directly beneath the bulbs. I don’t know if the temperature has really adversely affected germination to any particular degree, though. The germination rates seem quite similar to the data I have collected on germination rates in previous years when I have sown in the spring or summer with the help of natural (shaded) sunlight and temperature variations normal in a greenhouse.

                      Now to the next part of this series: Seeds!

                      The Nursery (Part 1: Getting started)

                      In July 2013 I started up the cactus nursery in the spare bedroom. I bought two simple and open standing wood racks from IKEA with four adjustable shelves. And because IKEA are quite good at practical solutions, I could easily connect them to make one big rack.

                      This way I could hang the artificial lighting from the top shelf and have the plants at a suitable distance from the light and a comfortable height for me. It also allowed for shelf space underneath the plants for storage of various items such as labels and soil.

                      The two IKEA racks. It’s a very practical setup with the plants in a good height,
                      and with storage space underneath for various things.

                      I bought plastic trays from the plant store Plantasjen here in Norway, and initially also square plastic pots from there. These are very flimsy though, so I soon began buying square plastic pots from Kakteen-Haage which are far more sturdy and suitable. I now predominantly sow in 5 cm square pots. But for the first batch of sowing in July/August 2013 I used the other pots from Plantasjen.

                      Some of the trays were of a kind that comes with it’s own transparent plastic lid to create a mini greenhouse. I used these for the first batches of sowing, placing individual pots inside them (see image above).

                      In the middle of sowing. On the lower left is the extremely useful label maker.

                      I bought labels from both SuccSeed in Sweden and Kakteen-Haage in Germany. I also bought a Brother label maker which has become a completely essential tool for me. My handwriting is terrible, so to be able to actually print the labels was a revolution. To specify, I don’t print the white hard plastic labels themselves, but rather labels with one adhesive side to stick onto the white labels themselves. I can fit quite a lot of information on one label.

                      Closeup of a white plastic label with the printed label stuck on.
                      The plastic label is almost 80 mm long tip to tip, and 14 mm wide.
                      As you can see there is plenty of space for a printed label to contain lots of information
                       with room to spare. This label was made 04.02.14. 

                      Among the various other equipment I bought were razor blades and sharp knives for grafting, a pH measurement kit to check the water, various fertilisers and additives, different kinds of soil components, various kinds of pots, a thermometer and I’m sure some other stuff as well. Some of the above I’ll get back to in much more detail in future posts.

                      The next post will deal with artificial lighting!

                      My collection

                      I’ve always been a bit of a collector, and in my childhood I went through everything from stamps, coins, bottle tops, bullets, to rocks and shells and everything in between. I was an avid collector of all these things, but it wasn’t until I discovered cacti that I finally landed on one single hobby (though I’m certainly not averse to collecting the odd rock or fossil!). I started collecting cacti when I was around 7 years old, helped along by a plant loving father.

                      I grew up in Kristiansand, Norway, and as it happens the local natural museum and botanical garden keeps one of the largest public succulent plant collections in Norway. We would often go there and look at the cacti and other succulents when I was little, and these trips certainly inspired me to keep collecting. Of particular note they keep a magnificent specimen of Echinocactus grusonii that is at least 350 years old.

                      My collection began as a number of random species without any Latin descriptions, bought partly from local flower shops and partly grown from seed mixes bought at the same stores. A sprinkling of plants from the above mentioned museum were the only ones with proper names. At that time it was all about buying whatever I could get my hands on (which my father would fund). In no time at all our glass veranda was filled up with cacti on the window sills and in wooden beds my father made that took up most of the floor space.

                      But, as so often happens to those who fall to that succulent spell, available space has a tendency to run out. And the immediate answer is, of course, never to adjust the collection to one’s available space, but to increase the available space so that one may increase one’s collection. And so on and so forth. We (I and my plants) were lucky enough to live in a big house with a big yard, so when I was 9 years old in 1992 I got my first greenhouse. At this point my father was very much invested in the hobby himself which was definitely a good thing since he is quite knowledgeable about most sorts of plants (and had infinitely more money than me).

                      We began sowing seeds in earnest which we harvested from our own plants. The flowers were far too tempting not to pollinate, preferably with as many other flowers as possible (never mind about hybridising). It was great fun to sow about a thousand Rebutia sp. or Gymnocalycium baldianum seeds – they all germinated so very willingly! We also bought seed from the local botanical garden and from the Nordic Cactus and Succulent Society. Some of these plants are still alive and well.

                      The greenhouse soon became a size too small at around 4 m2, and only a couple of years later, in 1995, I got my second greenhouse. A size up at close to 6 m2, it was all a twelve year old boy could wish for. At this point the collection grew steadily with plants bought from various nurseries in Europe and from seed bought from Europe and the US.

                      View of greenhouse nr. 2 (1996). 

                      Another view of greenhouse nr. 2 (1997). 

                      Graciously obliging with flowers on a sunny summer day.
                      From left: Gymnocalycium horstii, Echinopsis sp., Pyrrhocactus jussieui,
                      Mammillaria guelzowiana, Gymnocalycium anisitsii

                      On parade in the garden.
                      In the back: Leuchtenbergia principis.
                      The first one on the left in the front I’m not sure about. I think it may be Echinocereus subinermis.
                      Following this one: Astrophytum capricorne, Thelocactus bicolor var. schwarzii,
                      Hamatocactus sinuatus, Astrophytum myriostigma

                      Sometimes we went on holiday to our cabin in the mountains but the cacti didn’t schedule their flowering accordingly.
                      Naturally the only option was to bring some of them along!
                      From the left: Acanthocalycium spiniflorum, an Echinopsis flower completely hiding the plant,
                      Acanthocalycium thionanthum var. glaucum, Acanthocalycium thionanthum var. brevispinum, and probably Hamatocactus hamatacanthus in the back (1996).
                      (Note the insects exploring the new and exotic flowers.)

                      Still on holiday, the Echinopsis flower seen above now with a glorious
                      Norwegian sunset in the background (1996).

                      In my late teens I began finding less and less time for the plants on account of school and parties and all the things teenagers usually like to do. Then I left my home town to go to university and for many years I would only visit my plants a few times a year. When I finished university and got my first real job (in Oslo) I suddenly found I had an acute need to fill up the windowsill with cacti. Apparently my lack of regular close contact with the plants had left me very much dissatisfied with the state of things, and a cactus-filled windowsill simply wasn’t enough. So when my wife and I bought our first apartment a year ago, I immediately saw the potential in our spare bedroom and annexed it.

                      This bedroom has now become more or less the third greenhouse (if you discount the mini greenhouse on the balcony…). Light and heat is provided by two 400 W HID bulbs. All the plants are grown from seed sown over the past 14 months, and already many of them have flowered. I am continually amazed at how quickly it is possible to grow some of these plants when given more or less optimum conditions year round.

                      In fact, they grow so quickly that I’m dangerously close to running out of space…!

                      And on that note I will end this rather long entry. The next one will be about the hundreds of tiny squatters in the spare bedroom (or so I imagine my wife sees them).

                      First entry

                      Welcome to my blog about cacti and other succulents. My wife has finally managed to convince me to start a blog about my passion, and hopefully I’ll manage to update it regularly.

                      Though I certainly find many succulents fascinating and pretty, my main interest is cacti. Cacti are succulents too, of course, though for simplicity’s sake most people just call cacti cacti, and the rest of the world’s succulents are relegated to being called, well, succulents. At least, that’s how you’ll see it written on books and journals: e.g. “Cacti and other Succulents”, “Cacti and Succulent Journal” or, indeed, in the title of this blog. It’s only when one wishes to be a bit more specific that one might refer to groups of succulents as e.g. mesembs or euphorbias. Throughout this blog, then, whenever I mention succulents, I’ll usually be referring to succulents other than cacti.

                      Living rocks, the name of this blog, is the common name for several genera of succulent plants, though two genera in particular often go by that name. Those two genera are Ariocarpus and Lithops. The former is a genus belonging to the cacti family (Cactaceae), while the latter is a succulent belonging to the mesemb family (Aizoaceae). The former is found in Mexico and Texas, while the latter is found in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana. There is also another living creature that goes by this moniker, Pyura chilensis, but as it belongs to the kingdom Animalia it will not feature here. (I encourage everyone to google the creature, though! Who needs sci-fi when you can find creatures like this right here on Earth?).

                      Ariocarpus is my favorite genus of cacti, and Lithops is one of my favorite “other” succulent genera. Thus, the name of the blog seemed very fitting. So while this blog will mainly deal with cacti, I will definitely be writing about succulents too (and maybe one or two non-succulent plants as well).

                      In addition to writing about my cacti and succulents and about my own experiences growing them, I will also write about various topics from soil composition and watering, to additives and fertilisers, to literature on succulents and more. If there is any particular topic you’d like me to write about be sure to let me know.

                      This will be it for my first post. As I have just started out on this project, the blog is naturally a bit barren, but I hope to remedy this over the coming weeks.