Little dragonfruit plants

4 month old dragonfruit plants grown from seed.

4 month old dragonfruit plants grown from seed.

Remember the dragonfruit seedlings I started in March this year? Well, I started a new set of plants at the end of May when a colleague gave me a nice, ripe dragonfruit that came directly from Vietnam. She swore that the fruits over there are sweeter than those sold here, and gave me the fruit to taste for myself. She was right. So, I naturally tried growing another set of plants.

I repeated my germination method of placing some seeds on damp cotton wool and sealing them in a small ziplock bag. This time, I put the germinated seeds into bigger containers than the first time. It took a few months, but they finally hit their stride and are growing vigorously, looking like long green hairy caterpillars to me. A few of them have already begun to branch out, too! It won’t be long before I have to transplant the plants to bigger pots and start propping them against a vertical support.

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Bee in my bonnet

Looks scary, doesn't it? Beehive under construction on our mango tree.

Looks scary, doesn’t it? Beehive under construction on our mango tree.

We’ve had bees nesting around our garden for years. They usually migrate from one location to another after a period of time, and we have had no issues with them – even when they started building their bee “condo” in our bathroom. They nested at the ceiling and we could still (ahem) use the bathroom.

Well, a few weeks ago, one of our neighbours noticed a beehive being built on our mango tree. These folks are simply unused to nature. They freak out over things like beetles and bats, so it was no surprise that they didn’t understand what to do about the bees that they could see. Like I’ve said, we have lived in close proximity with the bees (in our bathroom, right!) and had no clashes with them. Yes, they occasionally flew through the house at night, attracted by the lights, but left to their own devices, they would just keep trying to get to the light until they either gave up or literally dropped dead. We didn’t get hurt, our dogs didn’t get hurt, everyone lived in harmony.

Could our unsed-to-nature neighbours do the same? No. There were a couple of bee sting incidents, no doubt caused by a person trying to wave away a bee. Let me tell you that if one or two bees fly near you, just stay calm and be still. When you don’t aggravate them, they will leave you alone. Wave something at them to chase them away and that will be interpreted as an act of aggression, which will make them want to sting you. Of course, if there are several bees buzzing around you, I’d recommend making a quick exit as calmly as you can. As in, walk away briskly and do not wave your hands to chase them off!

When we realised that the neighbours were having issues – and there would probably be more since they didn’t know or want to learn what to do – we decided to try to have the beehive relocated. Bee populations around the world are at risk, and we wanted to avoid killing more.

I found that there are a couple of bee relocation options here in Singapore:

However, before we could get that underway, “somehow”, the authorities got called in and we were ordered to take immediate action because the bees were “a danger to the public”. Forget that it’s on private property and only one ignorant person had been affected. However, we are responsible citizens and did our civic duty – even though went against our personal principles. The hive had to be eradicated, and we were very upset about that. The fear of one family triggered the unthinking action of the authorities who do things their way and their way only. And since the hive was on our property, it was also at our literal expense to see to it.

We are not pleased. Speaking for myself, I’d say that too many people have lost touch with nature and need to “de-urbanise” themselves. Fauna and flora were here before people built their homes, and I know I’ve ranted about this before, but I recall the transition from those more rural days when we had snakes and fire ant nests and now-extinct green tree lizards and both toads and frogs and big jungle spiders, and more. I’m not saying I want all of them back, but that we should learn to live in harmony with the creatures of nature because they deserve a space here too. It’s all too normal to want to eradicate things that are odd to us, but I’ve found that when I take time to learn what those strange things are, they’re not always bad. I just wish more people would be aware, too.

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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.

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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…

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