The beauty of the rain

I know I’ve been but one among many who were complaining in early March about the hot, dry weather we had in Singapore. Now that the winds have changed and the rain has come, we’re gleefully enjoying it. Before the novelty wears off, I thought I’d share some of the beauty I see around me, courtesy of the rain that slakes the thirst of the land.

What a downpour!

Heavy droplets cause quite a splash!

Splish, splash! I love how the water seems to be dancing!

And when the rain lightened, the drops caused ripples in the puddles that remained for a while

The fern was reviving happily

The aloe vera looked refreshed too

A big drop just waiting to roll downhill. If you stare hard enough at the big droplet, it seems as if it's moving downward almost imperceptibly. Seriously!

Even the windmill needed to dry out

Hope your plants are as happy as mine are now!

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Growing sweet potatoes from a sweet potato

I have an insatiable urge to try growing new plants all the time. When I visited a friend and saw an old (and sprouting!) sweet potato in her kitchen, I casually observed that it was sprouting. She agreed and said they were probably going to throw it away. Of course I didn’t waste any time and asked if I could have it. Knowing my penchant for growing things, she indulgently handed it over.

Prior to this, I had read on the Net about how easy it is to grow sweet potatoes, and was eager to try growing them. There are different methods to do this, and I intended to use two: firstly, to plant the sweet potato in earth and allow it to start growing, and secondly, to use the leaves it sprouted to grow more plants. We’re going to discuss the first method in this post.

Actually, we’re not going to discuss it, but I want to share the experience in pictures. I just have to apologise in advance for not taking a photo of the sweet potato before I planted it, because I was just too eager to get it into the ground and see what happened. Heh heh. :)

So since I have no photo, let me just describe that the sweet potato (orange variety) was around 20cm long with a diameter of 6-7cm. The sprouting was pretty advanced, with the biggest growth almost 4cm long. The stems were whitish, with the tip looking somewhat like a hand, palm up, with pink Barney-the-dinosaur-like fingers reaching upwards.

This was planted in a hole in a semi-shaded spot. I laid it horizontally because I wanted to allow the stems to keep growing in the direction they were already growing in. When I covered it with soil, it was about 10cm underground. I placed a couple of bricks around the spot, as well as a flowerpot stand over it to stop the dogs from trampling the site. If there’s ever a spot I don’t want them to run all over, you can bet they’ll step right on it! And I mean with unerring accuracy. So I took no chances.

A week later, I noticed a shiny, pink leaf that had just broken through the earth. Again, I was reminded of Barney, because that leaf looked uncannily like a pink, webbed creature’s foot to me!

The first leaf emerges

By the next day, more leaves were fighting their way out. The older leaves turned a light shade of greenish-yellow, retaining a rim of pink along the edges and on the veins.

More leaves sprout...

When the leaves unfurled completely, they were heart-shaped.

Aerial view of the leaves

Close-up of the 1-2 day old leaves. Notice how vigorously they’ve pushed their way out of the earth – the soil has simply erupted to make way for the leaves!

We want out! The leaves reaching hungrily from the ground.

Day 5, and more leaves are sprouting up from the rest of the underground tuber! The older leaves darkened to a solid green, losing the pink tinges.

Oh, they're popping up everywhere!

Growth on Day 6. I was amazed at how prolifically it’s growing. Should I be afraid? :D

About a foot high now.

It won’t be long before I can harvest some of those stems for propagation, and hopefully get a good sweet potato patch going. Look for that in a future post!

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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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