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Chris Higgins

How to Grow African Violets from Leaf Cuttings

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Chris Higgins

Thirteen years ago, I moved to Portland, Oregon. On my first day, after settling in at a motel in the hippie underbelly of the east side, I bought a mutant African Violet from space at a local whole-food grocery, plus some super-gross protein bars (the motel didn't have a fridge), and set about trying to find a job. That space-violet is still alive (pictured above), and in recent years I've made a hobby of growing African Violets. Turns out, it's extremely simple. You just need a good leaf or two from a plant you like, a couple of cheap plastic containers (used yogurt cups work fine), and a little patience. Then, baby, you've got yourself a stew new plant going.

Here's a pair of videos explaining the process, from YouTube African Violet enthusiast m3rma1d (her other videos have tons of interesting tips -- like how to set up watering wicks, separating crowns, etc.). If you need some nice African Violet leaves to start with, just go grab some from a friend, or check eBay for a thriving market. Happy planting! Oh yeah -- and make sure your new plants get plenty of light! A sunny window works fine for me, though the pros use grow lamps.

Trimming and Planting Leaves

I use this method, except I use a sharp kitchen utility knife and scissors. I also often skip the perlite, though it's a great idea if you've got it (keeps the soil loose). Note the shipping box here -- it's likely that m3rma1d got these leaves in the mail and is just potting 'em up fresh out of the box.

Another note: see how small the plastic pot is? That's really all you need. You can sometimes find these at the salsa bar in your local Mexican eatery.

Separating Babies

After the leaves have been sitting around for a few months, pip plants start at the root area. Sometimes a leaf will fail to send out babies, but if you start with two or three leaves in a pot, you'll be fine. Now, the trick is to separate these baby plants, keeping the strongest one. Behold:

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Watch How to Make a Compass
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Let's say the mega-earthquake comes and you're stranded with just some MacGyver-style bits and bobs. If you've got a magnet and a little knowledge, you can make a compass that reliably points north. Below, check out a vintage segment from Curiosity Show explaining how to do it—and a bit on the science of why compasses work.

In the clip below, presenter Deane Hutton shows three methods involving a mirror, cork, a pin, a drinking straw, and a circular magnet (in different combinations). There's something for everyone!

Incidentally, one of the key issues in making a compass is knowing which end of a magnet points north and which points south. One YouTuber asked how to determine this, if it's not already marked—as might be the case in a survival situation. Decades after the clip aired, Hutton chimed in via YouTube comments to answer:

Wait till the Sun is about to set. Stand with your right shoulder toward the setting Sun. You are now facing South. Suspend the magnet and let it swing freely. When the magnet stops swinging, the end pointing South is the South Pole of the magnet. Deane.

Science is cool. Anyway, enjoy:

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Watch How To Make a Self-Starting Siphon Using Bendy Straws
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In this vintage video segment from Curiosity Show, we learn about self-starting siphons. These things start a flow of water without the user having to squeeze a pump or suck on a tube, which is a distinct benefit.

In the segment, we also observe the limitations of self-starting siphons. Because the act of submersion starts the flow, we're limited to siphoning water out of very full vessels. But still, this could be useful for a home aquarium, which is one of a thousand scenarios in which you don't want to use a mouth-primed siphon.

The best part of the segment is when presenter Rob Morrison shows how to make your own self-starting siphon. File this under "Handy stuff you can do with bendy straws." Tune in and enjoy this simple physics demo:

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