Sweet potato harvest!

Almost 3kg from this sweet potato harvest

Almost 3kg from this sweet potato harvest

Well, the sweet potatoes have been growing in the same spot for about three years, and I figured it was time to move them to another spot. It’s that thing called crop rotation where leaving the same plant in the same spot for too long means it will drain nutrients from the soil and deplete the soil vitality.

Anyway, we’ve started pulling up the vines and of course found more sweet potatoes to harvest. They were of all shapes and sizes, from skinny to oval to turnip shaped. There was one monster-sized one that made me wonder how it had escaped detection for so long! We haven’t pulled out everything yet but got a harvest of almost 3kg of sweet potatoes. That’s not too bad in my books!

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Ulam Raja: a multi-functional plant

Cosmos caudatus flower

Cosmos caudatus flower

The first time I visited Alexius Yeo’s permaculture garden, a pink cosmos flower caught my eye. It had the typical cosmos flower shape but had pastel pink petals that lightened to white at the centre of the flower. It was so pretty that I got some seeds from him and started growing the plants immediately.

This plant is the cosmos caudatus, known in Southeast Asia as ulam raja – in Malay, it translates to “King’s salad”. It was introduced to the region by the Spanish, who brought it from Latin America.

Nasi ulam

Nasi ulam

I should have known from the fact that Alexius was growing it, that this is an edible plant. The young leaves are used in salads in Indonesia and Malaysia, and in fact, we ate it in the mixed herb rice dish known as nasi ulam.

“Ulam” is a Malay word that seems to have several meanings that relate to eating salad with rice. In this instance, “salad” refers to a very wide range of plants, from herbs to leafy veggies to beans to fruits to roots, and they are prepared in various ways. However, this post isn’t about that. However, if you understand Malay, you can visit this page to read more about the ingredients of ulam. Just don’t try to Google Translate it because it’ll give you some really funny (odd yet humorous) meanings. There are pictures, though; those should help.

Ulam raja leaves - typical of the cosmos plants

Ulam raja leaves – typical of the cosmos plants

Besides looking pretty, the ulam raja plant also has some interesting properties. It has reportedly been used in traditional medicine for centuries to treat metabolic disorders. The medicinal claims have been scientifically investigated over the last couple of decades and have been confirmed to reduce blood pressure and bone loss. It also increases good cholesterol and decreases bad cholesterol.

Cosmos caudatus is also said to have antibacterial and anti-fungal effects; it repairs blood flow and purifies blood of toxic substances. It is a strong antioxidant and reduces inflammation, and is being investigated to treat type 2 diabetes. You can read a more in-depth article on the uses of the plant here.

Side view of the ulam raja flower

Side view of the ulam raja flower

From the gardening point of view, this is an easy plant to grow. The seeds germinate readily and the plants seem quite hardy as they get no special care from me. A pretty cool thing about the plant is that the leaves close in at night, like the plant is “sleeping”. I guess it’s a photoreceptive thing, the same way a sunflower plant follows the sun during the day! Budding will start when the plants are over a metre high. The flowers go through the same routine as other cosmos plants – they bloom and produce seeds that can self-sow readily. Some people say that this can make the plant invasive, but it’s too early for me to know. The same can be said of all cosmos plants, but I’ve had instances of the plants dying off. Let’s see if this variety is more hardy than the yellow and orange ones. Stay tuned!

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How I now manage the snake gourd vine

The ever so productive short snake gourd vines...

The ever so productive short snake gourd vines…

When the volunteer short snake gourd vine grew last year, our neighbours and I let it run rampant along the fence between our houses, not realising just how vigorous it would be. Not only did it grow atop the chain link fence, but it also climbed over any and everything next to the fence as vines are wont to do. Eventually, we found that it produced more fruits than both our families and all our friends could consume, and several fruits were left unpicked, and ripened and dropped from the vine.

Fast forward to the present, where I found quite a few new volunteer plants growing near the fence. Since I want to still eat the snake gourds, I decided to let one or two keep growing while I pulled out the rest. This time, however, I didn’t want to let the plants have their way, so I made one of my infamous impromptu trellises.

An impromptu trellis in my case means that I make it up as I go along. So I started by first giving the two plants a vertical space to start climbing up. That gave me a little time to think about what to do. One plant is about a metre away from the fence, with the other about half a metre diagonally away from it, further from the fence. This was good because in no way did I want them to latch onto the fence again. However, that posed a challenge, because the opposite direction has an open, flat cement surface.

It's a bit overgrown in there but that's the new snake gourd trellis...

It’s a bit overgrown in there but that’s the pot end of the new snake gourd trellis… Don’t be deceived by the angle of the poles – it looks like an A-frame but it’s not!

I had a few days to ponder this before both plants reached the top of their respective vertical poles, then I had a brainwave. I have a couple of large pots that used to have vining plants growing in them (before I decided to stop growing edible vines in pots – it constrained the size and shortened the life span of the plants). Both pots have the equivalent of a tomato cage in them – nice, tall 2 metre ones. So my idea was to move one of the pots nearer to the snake gourd plants and to link them horizontally to the big pot sitting on the cement. This allowed me to create a 3 metre long by about half a metre wide growing space just above head height, that I’m training the vines to grow along. Any vine that tries to leave the space is either redirected back to the trellis or snipped off.

So far, the strategy is working nicely. The trellis has filled out, and the vines are controlled but still very productive. I like that.

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Announcing the arrival…

Finally, the sight every pineapple grower years for: the crown!

Finally, the sight every pineapple grower years for: the crown!

It’s taken an entire year for this to happen. Last April, we harvested our first pineapple. As there was a sucker on the plant, I decided to let it keep growing, to see if that sped up the process to the next fruit. Four months later, I noticed a second sucker growing, and detached it because I read that the fruits of suckers growing on the parent plant will be smaller in size. This is known as a ratoon crop. Since then there haven’t been any more suckers, and I put the plants at the back of my mind. Except for trimming the sharp tips, I don’t usually bother with them. However, I do occasionally peep down to the centre to see if there’s anything happening. Well, my patience has finally borne fruit (pun fully intended). The first sucker is finally crowning, so I reckon we’ll get to harvest in July or August. Hurray!

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