Always hedge bets when planting

Distinctive seed and true leaves of the bittergourd plant.

Distinctive seed and true leaves of the bittergourd plant.

I started sowing seeds a few weeks ago with the intention of growing more veggies. Only one plant grew from that day’s endeavour – a single bittergourd plant out of five varieties of plant seeds sown. Maybe my seeds are a bit old, or maybe I should have waited for the right phase of the moon… Whatever it was, I need to start all over again.

That one plant, though, started growing nicely in the container where I had started my seeds, and I knowing how I tend to procrastinate planting things, I decided to get it planted out in the garden where it could thrive as soon as possible. My policy about veggie vines is to let them take root in the ground since growing them in containers limits their size and lifespan. So, this baby was planted at the location of last year’s bittergourd vine since the trellis was still handy. The trellis needed a little beefing up, but that didn’t take much time.

Bittergourd plants starting to thrive at the base of the trellis

Bittergourd plants starting to thrive at the base of the trellis.

The weather was a little hot, though, and I was concerned about whether the little plant with its three sets of true leaves would be able to withstand the transplant shock. So I got a little overprotective. I prepared the spot the day before, first digging about 10cm down then filling the hole with water to soak the soil. Then, I filled the hole with good earth and watered that thoroughly, too. I had recently thinned out our lemongrass and had old leaves handy, which I cut to shorter lengths and used as a thick layer of mulch. The next day, I watered the bittergourd plant with seaweed solution about half hour beforehand. Seaweed solution is said to help plants cope with transplant shock. In due time, I removed the mulch, transplanted the bittergourd plant, and watered it thoroughly with more seaweed solution. As a afterthought, I decided to stick in another bittergourd seed next to it in case the plant didn’t make it. The weather was pretty hot at that time and I wasn’t entirely optimistic, but I replaced the mulch and placed a few potted plants around the spot to give shade. The plant looked very sad and wilted for the first couple of days, but began to perk up after almost a week and is starting to grow nicely again. I also just saw that the seed had germinated, so it looks very promising that we will be eating those little bittergourds in several weeks’ time. Yay!

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Nature moves in when you leave a garden alone

A wheelbarrow-load of pruned branches (yes, there's a wheelbarrow under all that!)

A wheelbarrow-load of pruned branches (yes, there’s a wheelbarrow under all that!)

I know I’ve been really quiet on the blog for the past several weeks, and I have the usual Singaporean excuse of working long hours and not having much time and energy left for working in the garden on weekends. There have been some pockets of opportunity, though, which I’ve made use of – those perfect couple of hours when the mood strikes and the weather is agreeable – and some progress has been made in returning the place from a mini forest back to a conventional garden.

The green pile represents the entire wheelbarrow load from the previous picture. Amazing how compact it all becomes when reduced in size, isn't it? The brown pile is from previous shredding sessions.

The green pile represents the entire wheelbarrow load from the previous picture. Amazing how compact it all becomes when reduced in size, isn’t it? The brown pile is from previous shredding sessions.

It’s at times like this that I’m so thrilled to have the garden shredder at my (pun intended) disposal. It turned one piled-high wheelbarrow load of Peacock tree branches into a small heap of wood chips and leaves. And, I know that in two to three months, that small pile will have already decomposed into nice, dark compost. I love my garden shredder! It’s been getting a good workout from the new branches as well as old ones that we never got round to chipping up from last year because I wasn’t able to work outside that much.

The best made bird nest that I discovered  in the middle of a tall patch of heliconia plants!

The best made bird nest that I discovered in the middle of a tall patch of heliconia plants!

The downside of starting to clear the overgrown parts of the garden is realising that we are reducing animal habitat. I’ve joked about the place being a nature reserve, but there’s truth in that. My assumption of the increased number of birds here was that they were feeding here; but in clearing the overgrown areas, I’ve already discovered a few bird nests. Thankfully, none were occupied.

Just look at how thick the nest is!

Just look at how thick the nest is!

We’ve been clearing up slowly – a bit each weekend when possible – and working inwards from the edges, a little at a time. It was my hope that whatever creatures may be inside would get the message that their habitat was being reduced and know that they needed to move out soon, before we reached them. So far that seems to have worked.

View from below - see how well shaded the nest is from sun and rain?

View from below – see how well shaded the nest is from sun and rain?

We are trying to work out the best balance between nature and us. Under permaculture principles, the garden is divided into different zones, with zone 0 being the home in the centre, then moving out in concentric areas from one, which is the most “domesticated” and managed, then moving outwards in progressively less managed zones to five, which is where nature runs rampant. It’s good for each garden or neighbourhood to have that little area for birds and other fauna to claim, and we intend to do that here. We love seeing and hearing the different critters, and daily hearing the calls of bulbuls, mynahs, doves and sunbirds, and also dollarbirds and the Oriental magpie robins, to name those we can identify. I’m glad that there are other pockets of nature in the neighbourhood, whether private gardens or public areas, that form habitat for birds especially. The only birds I don’t wish to nest here are crows, because of their territorial behaviour during breeding season.

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Ratoon versus pineapple

The ratoon pineapple is much smaller than a regular pineapple!

The ratoon pineapple is much smaller than a regular pineapple!

In my quest to make a comparison between ratoon and regular pineapple, I think the photo shows it clearly that the ratoon fruit is only about half the size of a normal pineapple. However, it also takes half the time to produce a fruit – about a year, versus two or more years for a regular pineapple. I’ve said it before and I’ll probably repeat it many times – I don’t know how the commercial growers do it! You’ve got to be supremely patient to grow these fruits!

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A Kalanchoe tale

Mother of Thousands - an apt name! Just look at all those baby plants waiting to drop and start growing...

Mother of Thousands – an apt name! Just look at all those baby plants waiting to drop and start growing…

I’m familiar with the kalanchoe plant – it has roundish, succulent leaves and has the most interesting habit of reproducing by growing new baby plants along the edges of the leaves, which drop off and quickly take root. This has given rise to its colloquial name, Mother of Thousands – which I honestly believe it can live up to.

Well, a friend recently asked if I could harvest some kalanchoe that she had heard about, growing wild somewhere in my regular stomping grounds. It was a different type of kalanchoe, she said, with skinny leaves but with the same habit of reproducing. Armed with an address and a photo of the plant, I went on the hunt.

I missed the plants on my first pass because they were pretty small – only about 7cm high (less than 3 inches) for the biggest of them. They were young plants, and the few that were growing were doing so in cracks in the cement, for the most part.

My preparation for this hunt was simple – I had a ziplock bag, a bottle of water, and tissue paper. Before harvesting anything, I first dampened the tissue paper and laid it along the bottom of the ziplock bag. Only then did I gently harvest some baby plants growing at the tips of each leaf. Since the plants were small, there were only about three babies per leaf. I scattered them onto the damp tissue then considered whether or not to harvest any plants.

Gently holding the base of one of the smaller plants, I lifted it to see how much, if any, of the root system would come along. About a centimetre of main root came up, with a tiny bit of secondary root. It didn’t look like much, but I enclosed the tiny roots in the damp tissue before lifting a second small plant, just to be kiasu. I chose young plants because I reckoned small plants would recover faster from any transplant shock.

The wild kalanchoe tubiflora plants looked hot and malnourished growing in the concrete cracks.

The wild kalanchoe tubiflora plants looked hot and malnourished growing in the concrete cracks.

Since I was transferring the plants from blazing heat into a damp, humid environment, I tried to make sure the leaves of the plants touched the wet tissue as little as possible. With that done, I sealed up the ziplock bag, trying to keep a lot of air inside so that the plants would be cushioned as I was went about. In a way, it was a sort of makeshift terrarium – that thankfully worked.

On my return home, I placed the two adult plants in some potting mix, and left the babies enclosed in the ziplock bag. Would you believe it – by the next day, the babies were all putting out roots! Yup, this is indeed a hardy plant. Just consider – they were growing in hard, compacted soil and in cracks in cement. I wonder if the plants will become a nuisance given a little more time? Knowing the characteristics of the kalanchoe plant, probably yes…

To get more familiar with this new(ish) plant, I went online to try to find out more about it. I think it’s the kalanchoe tubiflora, but I was shocked to learn that kalanchoe are poisonous plants. If consumed, they can affect the electrolyte balance in the heart muscle of both humans and animals (not that I have any inclination to eat them). One case that was mentioned a few times comes from Australia where a herd of cows died after grazing on these plants. You can read a bit more about the possible dangers from this plant at this website. I wonder if this means that snails don’t have hearts, because we had one regular kalanchoe plant that had been under constant attack by snails, and we didn’t see any dead snails around..

The kalanchoe tubiflora leaves looks uncannily like reptilian paws to me, reaching upwards. Each leaf tip bears about 3 babies.

The kalanchoe tubiflora leaves looks uncannily like reptilian paws to me, reaching upwards. Each leaf tip bears about 3 babies.

There’s no doubt that many plants that we grow are partly poisonous, and while it’s highly unlikely that we’ll suddenly decide to eat them for no apparent reason, it’s good to know which ones to be cautious about.

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