Chia Pets bring gardens indoors

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My friend Matt at the radio station asked me about Chia Pets® a while back. Chia Pets. I hadn't thought of those in years.

A San Francisco company trademarked the name Chia Pet in 1977, but the idea or invention is not patented. The product is a kind of topiary using clay figurines in the shapes of animals as the base rather than pruning branches of a woody plant to achieve the desired shape.

According to ceramic art history books, figurines in the shapes of animals have been created by artisans for centuries. Clay art becomes garden art when the vessel has a hollow clay body with small grooves where moistened seeds are placed to grow. The clay may be in the shape of animals, a human head, or an abstract figure. The idea is that as the seeds grow, the clay vessel is covered with foliage that resembles hair or fur in a very flattering shade of green.

Because clay is quite porous and holds moisture well, the tiny roots of the foliage can adhere to the vessel and obtain a continuous water supply.

Moistened seeds are positioned in the grooves of the vessel. Moistening the seeds creates a goo that helps the seeds stick to the clay surface. To create the "seed paste" for your clay planter, add a quarter cup of water to two teaspoons of seeds. Stir and let sit for 24 hours. Soak your planter in water, then smear the pasty mixture onto it. Fill your planter and check water daily. Because the clay is porous, use a drip tray. Seeds should sprout within a few days.

Chia is a common name for salvia columbariae seeds, a member of the watercress family. But °° any fast-growing seeds that form a gelatinous paste when soaked in water, such as basil, tend to work well because they will adhere to the clay planter. Some grass seeds, such as timothy and alfalfa work well, too. Thyme, marjoram and oregano may take a little extra work because those seeds need a longer germination time.

A nice side benefit of these planters is the ability to harvest a crop of sprouts or greens for salads, soups and sauces. Give your "pet" a haircut, and use the tasty trimmings in your cooking.

So, if the grasshoppers, caterpillars and other wildlife have you yearning for something lush and green in your garden, consider an indoor planting of grasses, herbs or other greenery. Perhaps you'll try something in a whimsical clay vessel that will cause a smile as the greenery sprouts a new coat of fur.

Deb Babcock is a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. Questions? Call

879-0825 or e-mail gardeners@co.routt.co.us

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