Winds of change

When doves cry meets singing in the rain.... That's one bedraggled bird in the rain!

Well of course the weather had to change the very day after I griped about how dry it’s been. Singaporeans woke up to the welcome sound of falling rain that next morning, which lasted several hours until early afternoon. I can only imagine the number of Tweets and other online postings about how happy everyone was about the welcome rain. Goodness knows I was one of them!

So, the weather has broken and the northeast monsoons are finally done. It’s funny how we tend to forget that “monsoon” refers to the winds, and not rainy weather. I think the earliest mention of the monsoons, for me, was in History and Geography classes in secondary school. What struck me strongest was the historical reference, because of how traders of yore had to depend on the flow of the winds to propel their ships. Way more exciting than wrapping my brain around land and sea temperatures and pressure patterns…

My most matured ginger plants to date enjoying the downpour. The ground may have looked flooded in this picture, but it quickly drained away when the rain tapered off. This must be testament to the dryness of the soil after weeks of dry winds.

Just for jollies, let’s just recap how the temperature of the land, when hot, attracts air from the sea, bringing moisture-laden air — and rain — with it. This would be summer in the northern hemisphere. The amount of rain decreases as the winds flow inward, because the clouds can only carry so much moisture for so long — that’s why Bangladesh gets hit by floods during the summer (it’s right on the coast), and why the weather at the tail end of the northeast monsoons is so dry.

Then, when the land cools towards the end of summer, the air changes direction to flow seaward, because the sea retains heat longer than land — and remember, heat rises and cold sinks, so the cool air rushes seaward to fill the space created by the rising warm air. These “winter” winds are dry because, hey, there isn’t as much water on land as at sea.

Rainwater drips off the edge of an awning during a torrential downpour

And the Eurasian (Europe & Asia) landmass, being such a huge chunk of land, is instrumental in creating the monsoons that blow in the region. It heats up in summer of the northern hemisphere and attracts the winds; it cools down in the latter half of the year and the winds begin to flow southward, to the sea and southern hemisphere. It’s almost like breathing, isn’t it? Inhale (NE monsoons), exhale (SW monsoons), inhale (NE ‘soons), exhale (SW ‘soons) — one unending cycle…

Of course, nature being nature, doesn’t always flow in straight lines, so neither do the NE and SW monsoons blow directly as they are named. Thanks to the geography of the region that splits and redirects the winds, we don’t experience 6 months of one monsoon and 6 months of the other. What we have are:

  • N/NE monsoons from December to early March
  • Inter-monsoon period from late March to May
  • S/SE monsoons from June to September
  • Inter-monsoon period from October to November

(If you want to learn more about Singapore’s weather and climate, visit the National Environment Agency (NEA)’s site and download this very nifty and informative booklet.)

Singapore, in the middle of the route of the monsoon winds, pretty much has warm weather interspersed with rain throughout the year — excepting of course, the inter-monsoon periods. That’s when the winds have pretty much run out of moisture in the air, and do nothing more than, well, blow.

Mostly clear skies in early March

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March of the Clouds

Naughty grasshopper that decided to snack on my bean leaves. It's not welcome any more, but it was interesting seeing it after not seeing any for many years. Or perhaps we just didn't grow anything it fancied until now...

Here we are in early March, and the weather is still horribly dry and hot. The grass crackles as you walk over it, and many of my poor plants are pleading for more hydration with drooping, wrinkly leaves. Worse, my snap beans keep flowering but aborting, so I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing any of those pretty pink flowers bloom as yet.

But, there is a lining to the cloud. Better yet, there are more clouds in the skies — but they have yet to do more than drift tantalizingly by. I’ve noticed the temperature dropping a little, so I hope this means rain will follow soon.

The dry weather is a further torture as I have in my hands various packets of vegetable seeds, but am cautious of sowing until I’m sure they have a decent chance of growing.

Brown shrike on the lookout for prey from its perch on my bean trellis. It's a fairly regular visitor.

One reason I don’t mind the delay is because I’m using the time to learn more about the concept of permaculture (permanent + agriculture). It’s about planning your garden to be a series of systems that are based on nature. In this way, it’s more self-sufficient (since in nature, everything happens naturally with no interference from us) and more environmentally friendly.

Go green, I say.

There are many online resources available, but the most friendly one I’ve found so far is at Tropical Permaculture, an Aussie-based site. It’s informative and not too technical (a plus for this blur sotong), and I’ve found it encouraging enough to decide to take the plunge to order a book, The Permaculture Home Garden, to learn even more. It’s a worthwhile investment, I think, and if it helps the environment more, good.

Sprouting sweet potato leaves. What a gorgeous colour combination!

On a happy note, my sweet potato has sprouted. My friend’s loss of an old sweet potato was my garden’s gain, and I’ll be anxiously awaiting the shoots to grow so I can use them to grow more plants. One problem with sprouting from a tuber is that pests are attracted to the sweet potato. My first attempt 3 months ago was thwarted by my dogs (or maybe a rodent?), because it was dug up and eaten in a matter of days. This time around, I’ve put barriers around, but ants have discovered the potato below ground. Growing edible plants is certainly a challenge!

So it’s with fingers crossed that I prepare the future sweet potato bed and hope the shoots can grow undisturbed to be replanted later. And, I hope those passing clouds do more than just pass by, because the plants sure could do with some “showers of blessings”!

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‘Tis flowering season!

Flowers of the Dracaena Surculosa

We’ve had pots of Japanese bamboo (aka Dracaena Surculosa) around home for the longest time. As far as I knew, they’re foliage plants. So it was with great surprise that we spotted a bunch of flowers last week on our Dracaena Surculosa Punctulata, that bloomed for just one day. Aptly enough, it was my father’s birthday – and he got the plant, so many years ago. What a lovely gift to him!

Beans in bloom

My snap beans have reached maturity after 6 weeks. The first flowers have begun to emerge, and here are the pictures of their first days…

The flowers begin to form

The flower begins to take shape

The flowers develop some more...

...and more ...

The petals begin to emerge

Here’s hoping that the unusually hot weather we’re experiencing now doesn’t affect the plants adversely!

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The gorgeous Peacock Flower

Orange variety of the Peacock tree

My interest in growing plants began about 8 years ago when I first set eyes on the Peacock tree. The amazing colours of the flowers caught my attention, and I knew I had to have them growing in our garden.

Peacock trees were the rage at the time, so they were everywhere. I managed to snare pods from a friend’s neighbour and from a roadside tree, and proceeded to attempt to sprout them. It was fairly easy and I found myself with too many seedlings. So, I planted a couple where I wanted them to be, and I planted the rest in different locations to see how they would fare.

Peacock tree seeds

They fared well. So well that I had one that I called my “experimental” tree. It survived being moved to two different locations when it was fairly mature, and proved it’s survival status when I beheaded it so there was only one foot of the stem left, with no leaves. My intention was to get a bushier plant out of it.

To my great delight, it did exactly that, and eventually grew into a big, bushy tree.

Problems with the trees

I suppose Peacock trees are naturally scraggly-looking for a reason. They don’t have deep roots, and two of my trees fell over after heavy rain made them top-heavy. We pruned them down and righted them, and they continued growing happily. However, they need constant trimming to keep down their upper weight.

My experimental tree went through another unplanned experiment. It toppled over three times, and after the last time, I thought perhaps it was time to say goodbye to it. I mulled over that for over a week because I was quite fond of it — and I guess I was trying to delay having to get near it with shears.

The "experimental" tree

Peacock trees have notoriously thorny branches. The thorns on the green branches are as sharp as needles, and when the branches become woody, they become only slightly less sharp. Pruning Peacock trees is not one of my favourite tasks! In fact the only possible nice thing about pruning them is the pleasant scent of the cut branches.

Since that tree was more than a storey high when it fell over, we did the pruning over several days, a bit at a time. In the duration, the tree was busily adapting to its new circumstances. It was lying on it’s side, and began to take root where the trunk touched the ground. It also sprouted new branches from the now horizontal trunk. I noticed all this and decided to see how this would turn out. Unexpectedly, we found ourselves with nice, thick foliage from a single tree, that since it was more securely rooted, was more stable than before.

Visitors to the Peacock tree

A green parakeet has a snack

Many birds like the Peacock tree. It provides a shaded perch to sparrows and sunbirds, and a source of food to other takers. Green parakeets visit often to snack on the beans produced by the tree. They are adept at plucking the pods and prying them open to eat the beans inside. Their colour camouflages them well, and they are quiet and rather shy creatures. You know when they’ve visited when you see a lot of eaten pods scattered beneath the trees!

Another creature that came for food was a plantain squirrel. It liked the dried bean pods, and visited for about a fortnight until it became roadkill. We don’t know where it originated from because it was the first and last squirrel we’d seen.

Peacock tree flowers

Pretty pink flowers

I mentioned that I had been initially attracted to the Peacock tree because of the flowers. The main varieties are yellow, orange and pink. Since I found yellow common, I chose to get the orange and pink varieties. The gorgeous thing about the flowers is the beautiful colour pallette.

Orange flowers have yellow edges to the petals and deep red stamens topped with bright yellow anthers. Pink flowers have the same stamens and anthers, and the petals have a pale pink edging, with one yellow petal in the middle. When the trees flower, they are absolutely beautiful, and they bloom all year round! I definitely have no regrets adding these beauties to our garden.

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