Aphids and loopers… oh no…

Clusters of okra are normally a joy to see. This time, however, the fruits have been nibbled and aphids are beginning to spread.

Clusters of okra are normally a joy to see. This time, however, the fruits have been nibbled and aphids are beginning to spread.

It’s that time again when the pests make themselves felt in the garden. We have a row of four okra plants that have been particularly productive, and that we have to search every other day for harvest-ready fruits. It’s especially challenging as the plants have branched out, creating a bushy environment – but you won’t hear me complain about that because more branches means more fruits!

Well, I just noticed the beginning of a yellow aphid infestation. The colonies are starting beneath the leaves and on the flower buds with attentive ants running around them. What I was gratified to see was that the ladybugs had already noticed this and were in attendance.

The scymnus ladybug at the base of a new okra leaf. This insect is really tiny!

The scymnus ladybug at the base of a new okra leaf. This insect is really tiny!

In this case, it was the scymnus ladybug, which is one of the tiniest ladybugs I’ve seen. It’s only about 2-3 mm long, dusky brown with a bit of orange along the rear rim. In its larval stage, it looks like a white scrubby brush – so alien looking that my initial reaction way back was to want to squash it. After learning what it was, I wanted them to make a permanent home in our garden. Why? Because they also feed on mealy bugs, which I hate with a vengeance. So seeing them on the okra plants now comforts me a little.

See that weird white spiky looking thing? That's the scymnus ladybug in its larva stage. Don't kill them!

See that weird white spiky looking thing? That’s the scymnus ladybug in its larva stage. Don’t kill them!

I also noticed that some of the young okra fruits looked scarred, and thanks to experience, also know what caused that. A careful scrutiny confirmed that there were green loopers on the plants. These irritating caterpillars get their name from the way they move, like an inchworm. They are also cunningly the same green colour as the plants they feed on, and no thanks to the way they grow, remain slim and streamlined, making them really difficult to spot. I must have checked every leaf on every okra plant three times, but each time, I still managed to find a new caterpillar. Yes, they eat the leaves in addition to nibbling on the fruits, and in extreme cases, they bore a hole to get inside. I dislike them so much that I barely felt guilty despatching them as soon as I found them. (They once wiped out a really nice batch of caixin)

Can you see the green looper stretched across the picture? They're so slim that when they're resting along the plant stems, it's really difficult to spot them.

Can you see the green looper stretched across the picture? They’re so slim that when they’re resting along the plant stems, it’s really difficult to spot them.

This means that we’ll have to be more vigilant to keep their population down. I’ll also give the plants a good dose of fertiliser to try to help them to recover from the leaf loss and strengthen them up. And while we already have a couple of other okra plants coming into maturity, this is a good reminder for me to start sowing new seeds to keep our supply of fruits continuous.

© 2016 curiousgardener.com All rights reserved.


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The search for tropical salad leaves

Mesclun salad mix - already being attacked by leaf miners.

Mesclun salad mix – already being attacked by leaf miners.

When we think about salads, the first things that come to mind are those leafy greens like rocket, lettuces and mesclun mixes. I think most of us want to grow what we like to eat – but some of those things just don’t grow well in our tropical climate.

I’ve tried growing these salad leaves. They start out fairly well, but when they get bigger, our hot, humid weather seems to sap the strength out of them. In my experience, when this happens, pests are attracted to the struggling plants, and then it goes downhill from there. I came to the conclusion that these plants are probably best grown as microgreens.

In the meantime, though, I still want to grow leafy plants that we can eat raw like salad leaves.

My friend Mother Weed (not her real name :-D ) gave me some cuttings of cranberry hibiscus or false roselle. I had heard of this plant, but not seen it before. The pretty red leaves made me think that it would be more of an ornamental plant, but tasting them changed my mind. They were tart and a bit sourish – not unpleasant, and something I wouldn’t mind mixed in a salad. I think it also serves well as a palate cleanser. Best of all, I can “graze” on it as I go around the garden, which is what I ideally want of plants growing in our garden.

Cranberry hibiscus or false roselle - I love those burgundy leaves!

Cranberry hibiscus or false roselle – I love those burgundy leaves!

I’ve also heard good things about the moringa plant, known locally as the drumstick tree or keloh. We usually eat the seed pods, cut in short lengths and added to curries. However, I didn’t realise that the leaves are nutritious too. They are so packed with nutrients that it is hailed as a superfood and is used to combat malnutrition in third world countries. I recently obtained a cutting and am awaiting its growth.

Yet another local salad consideration is the sweet leaf bush, also known here as chukur manis. I recently learned that it’s also called katuk, and that has put to rest one curiosity for me after watching a few videos on Youtube about this intriguingly named plant. Our neighbours kindly provided a few stem cuttings that didn’t take long to take root. More people prefer to eat it cooked than raw.

I’m sure there are many other similar salad plants that grow locally, and hope to find more. The search continues…

© 2016 curiousgardener.com All rights reserved.


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How to propagate pineapples

 

The pineapple plant with the two suckers growing out after the fruit had been harvested.

The pineapple plant with the two suckers growing out after the fruit had been harvested.

We started growing pineapples four years ago. Those first plants were started from the tops of some over-ripe pineapples, of which only one survived and managed to bear a fruit after over three years. It seemed excessively long to us, but when the fruit had been harvested and devoured, we decided it had been worth the wait. So the pineapple top was planted again (not that I would have thrown it away).

The great thing was that the original plant had grown a sucker while the fruit was forming. A sucker is simply a new branch growing off the main plant that can grow and bear a fruit. It can be detached and planted as a new plant. Pineapple plants can grow several suckers. If you leave them on the plant, they will go through the full life cycle and produce fruits, but they will be smaller because they have to compete with each other for food and light. This is known as a ratoon crop. To get nice, full-sized fruits, it’s advisable to pick off the suckers and plant them individually.

The pineapple sucker that was detached from the parent plant. It was over a foot long.

The pineapple sucker that was detached from the parent plant. It was over a foot long.

When we harvested that first pineapple, we decided to leave the sucker on the parent plant to see if it would bear fruit faster. In no way were we willing to wait another three years for the next fruit! (The usual timeframe is about 24 months for growing from a top.) I was also nervous about plucking the sucker and possibly damaging it so that it wouldn’t grow. Well, it’s been about four months, and the sucker looks like a half-grown plant. Who knows, maybe it will bear a new fruit by the end of the year!

A closer look at the base of the sucker. See the roots growing out?

A closer look at the base of the sucker. See the roots growing out?

Last week, I realised that there was a second sucker growing on the parent plant, and since the first one is growing well, I decided it would be alright to try detaching it and planting it elsewhere. The way to do this is to grab the sucker as low as you can, and twist and pull simultaneously while holding down the parent plant (pineapple plants have shallow roots – you don’t want to uproot the main plant!). When I did this, the sucker broke off very nicely.

When I say “nicely”, it means I got the whole sucker without breaking it along the stem. It also already had some small roots growing out at the base. Nice!

The pineapple top that was replanted in late April.

The pineapple top that was replanted in late April.

Since I wasn’t sure where I wanted to plant it, I put the sucker in a pot. The pineapple top we planted in April is also growing in a pot. I may or may not leave them in pots because I can’t decide yet where I want to put them – the leaves are somewhat dangerous with those sharp edges and pointed tips. Pineapple plants don’t have massive root systems, so it’s acceptable to grow them in containers. I haven’t tried that before yet, though. Anyway, you know me – I like testing different ways of doing things just to see what happens. I’m also curious to see if the parent plant will grow more suckers, and how many!

© 2016 curiousgardener.com All rights reserved.


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A bountiful harvest!

One mighty marrow, lots of short snake gourds and a sweet pepper!

One mighty marrow, lots of short snake gourds and a sweet pepper!

The garden has been very productive – just look at the harvest we had this week!

Marrow #3 has been the best of the lot, coming in at 65cm long and 7.5 kg. It is perfectly formed and looks like a pale green bolster – albeit a rather prickly one! That will be divided and distributed in a few days.

The snake gourds really surprised me. The vine has spread out so much that many of the fruits had been hidden. In fact, several had already become over-ripe and burst open on the vine. My count of this crop is a bit higher than what you see in the picture because I found a few more later on, but it was close to 40 fruits! Naturally, we shared them out as quickly as possible as the fruits don’t have a long shelf life.

The sweet pepper was a surprise. My colleague had given me a couple of young plants, and this one grew on a fairly short, and what I considered immature, plant. On one hand, I thought of removing the fruit to allow the plant to mature more, but on the other hand, I wanted to see the fruit grow!

Hope your gardens are as bountiful!

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