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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Growing mung beans

Freshly harvested mung beans.

Freshly harvested mung beans.

Possibly for the first time, I’m growing an edible plant for the sake of growing it, rather than with the intention of consuming its edible parts. Why? It’s a leguminous plant that introduces nitrogen to the soil, and when you intend to grow edibles intensively, it’s good practice to grow a crop of legumes before you start planting other plants.

I’ve attempted to do this in the past with bush beans like French beans. The problem was that those beans didn’t seem to like our climate or perhaps our garden, and didn’t grow well enough to start fruiting. Then when I visited my permaculture friend’s garden, I saw that he grew mung beans as his nitrogen fixers – and that they grew very well indeed!

I got a couple of pods from him to start growing plants, but when you want to prepare garden beds, you need much more than that. So, the next time I went to the supermarket, I saw and bought a nice packet of organic mung beans and sowed a handful once I got home. They germinated within days, and I was happy. I planted them in an experimental bed just to see how they grew, because that’s what I like to do the first time I grow anything. I call it the “getting to know you” period.

Mung bean flowers and pods.

Mung bean flowers and pods.

The plants grew about a foot tall before pale yellow flowers began to bloom. To my delight, pods soon followed, albeit short ones, and I left them on the plants until they began to dry up. When the pods had turned dark brown in colour, I plucked them and eagerly split open the dry pods to reveal the bright green mung beans inside. It was a proud moment. Then, I sowed the new seeds back in the bed and watched as the new generation grew.

The interesting thing about this is that the second generation plants, having grown here, grew stronger and had longer pods. The original seeds hailed from India. I’d imagine the climate where the mung beans had grown is similar but not the same as ours here in Singapore, which is why the original beans didn’t grow that well. It just shows that once you successfully grow something, it’s good to save seeds as the plants have acclimatised to your garden or plot, and will likely continue to do so with each new generation.

It’s also a great investment. If, for example, I had stuck with the original two pods that had sixteen seeds, and if each plant bore three pods of eight seeds, I’d have harvested 384 seeds from the original sixteen. If you replant all those seeds, and the ones after that, you’d get a mung bean farm in no time!

A little forest of germinating mung beans.

A little forest of germinating mung beans.

Let me give you a little tip, though. It’s a good idea to germinate your seeds indoors first because there are birds that will simply devour the seeds, even though you’ve pushed them into the soil and covered them with mulch. I had one experience where I had thickly sowed a bed and covered it with some of my woodchip mulch only to see several spotted doves descend on the bed the next day and flick away the mulch to get to the seeds! They had a great feast and I had a mini tantrum…

I’m glad that I’ve finally found a good nitrogen fixer for our garden. Once I get through the initial bed preparation phase, I’ll continue growing mung beans, this time with consumption in mind. I will probably interplant them with other plants. And of course, we’ll continue to grow other beans that we love but need trellises.

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Natural snail control

Abandoned or discarded snail shells.

Abandoned or discarded snail shells.

Something occurred to me recently. It used to be that whenever I ventured into the garden after it had rained that I would see what looked like an army of snails everywhere on the ground. Okay, maybe that’s a little exaggerated, but there would be many visible snails of all sizes happily travelling across the wet grass or venturing up plants and trellises where I would usually remove them from.

Lately, though, there don’t seem to be that many of them. As a matter of fact, I’ve been finding lots of empty snail shells scattered especially along the edges of the garden.

At first, I thought that the toads had devoured them. Then when I considered that, it didn’t seem logical as some of those snail shells were what I’d call “grandfather” size. It didn’t seem logical that the few toads I’ve seen would be able to eat them.

Then I got a little concerned whether there was some kind of disease that had wiped them out, because our immediate neighbour also noted the lack of snails in their garden, too. However, we had not encountered a situation where there were dead, rotting snail remains like after you scatter snail bait around, so I ruled that out, too.

So the mystery remained… What had happened to the snail population in the neighbourhood?

Well, one night I suddenly realised that there was quite a bit of high-pitched squeaking going on in the garden. Whenever we hear squeaks, we usually presume it’s rats making the noise. However, there’s something else that squeaks at night, and that’s the garden shrew.

We discussed the shrew last year and if you recall, snails were on the list of things they eat. It looks like they have found a nice food source in our neighbourhood, because another neighbour a few lanes away has also noticed a decrease in snails.

One good thing about animals in nature is that whenever they find a source of food, they increase their population (like ladybugs breeding on plants infested with aphids), and when the food source dries up, they move on to greener pastures or breed less. The one thing I’m not thrilled about is the prospect of predators of shrews coming in, because this includes snakes… Owls would be more interesting, though.

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