Gardening is good for the soul!

Happy portulaca flowers!

Happy portulaca flowers!

In normal times, I really look forward to weekends because I crave that break from the office environment of being stuck indoors and around office equipment from Monday to Friday. The best weekend to me is one spent out in the garden after digesting a hearty breakfast in the morning. I don’t care how hot it may get. Just being in the garden is the best antidote for my work week, and I can spend hours out there mowing the lawn, planting, weeding, pruning, chipping and more – with regular breaks for shade and hydration, of course! I even consciously stay offline and away from technology. By the time Sunday evening rolls around, I’m usually tired, a little more tanned, and happy that the garden looks tended. Gardening grounds me in a very special way.

There have been many studies that show how gardening, or just being out in nature, can be beneficial for us. It can help fight depression, lower the risk of dementia and address a whole slew of diseases ranging from high blood pressure to heart disease to osteoporosis and more, thanks to less than three hours of moderate intensity level activity in the garden per week. Add to that the benefit of growing your own food, and you won’t find it surprising that more and more people are turning to horticulture.

Here in Singapore, even where space is limited in HDB and apartment buildings, creative gardeners are growing a remarkable range of plants. I’m often impressed by members of online groups who excitedly share their progress in growing ornamentals, herbs, leafy veggies and even fruiting plants in their apartments. And, part of being in such communities means you make new friends. I’ve been lucky to get a few of those. Some only cross paths for brief periods, but others can become dear friends. Gardening buddies are especially good for the soul!

My blog is of course one of my connections to you on the Web. It used to be more interactive when I allowed comments to be made, but to be honest, I got so much spam that took time to handle, and the site was hacked a few times, so I decided to close off that feature to have more peace of mind. I’m glad that many of you have stayed on because it means you’re here for what I share.

So I know that this year I haven’t written as much as I usually do, and I apologise for that and thank you if you’ve stuck it out with me anyway. You see, at the beginning of the year I found out I had breast cancer, and have since passed through the gauntlet of all the treatment and surgery. During this time, I had to cut back on all the gardening that I dearly love, which was frankly harder for me to bear than all the medical stuff I’ve been through. Thank goodness there were plants that were already growing that gave us some bright moments; and I went on a seed shopping spree to make myself happy. You have to find things to keep your spirits up during extended trials like this, otherwise it can be tedious – and you should already know how much I love getting new seeds! They are standing by and will be planted very soon.

New seeds that will hopefully thrive in our climate.

New seeds that will hopefully thrive in our climate.

The worst part is now over and I’m chomping at the bit to delve back into developing our edible garden (after we clear the jungly parts!) and get back to those happy, sweaty weekends. Don’t forget, I have some permaculture adaptations to make, too. Just thinking about it fills me with joy! I feel like as the residue from chemotherapy clears from my body, my gardening spirit is awakening from slumber and I am becoming whole again. Like I’ve said, gardening grounds me in a special way, and I can’t wait to jump back into action. It is truly good for our wellbeing!

© 2017 curiousgardener.com All rights reserved.


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The ratoon pineapple

The ratoon pineapple and new sucker.

The ratoon pineapple and new sucker.

Last May, we harvested our first pineapple, and I decided to leave one sucker on the parent plant to continue growing. This would give what is known as a ratoon crop. It grows faster than starting a new plant, but the fruits are reportedly smaller. Me being me, I had to test this out for myself.

It took almost eleven months before the ratoon plant started flowering, and as we watched the fruit develop, it definitely looked smaller than the first fruit. There seemed to be fewer flowers, which made the overall size of the fruit smaller. I was disappointed, but this was an experiment, after all. Compared to the original plant that had taken about three years to bear a fruit, this was definitely much faster.

As with the last time, we waited for the pineapple to ripen on the plant. What I didn’t count on, though, were mealybugs and industrious ants looking for a shady place to hide during the hot weather. They set up home along the base of the fruit, and while they didn’t penetrate the skin, they managed to damage it a little, resulting in dark spots on the skin.

I fancy the pineapple wasn’t as tasty as the first one, but that could just be me. Flavour-wise, it was sweet, and definitely more delicious than store-bought pineapples that are still greenish in colour when we buy them.

As with the last time, the plant produced a new sucker. This time, though, I won’t leave it on the parent plant. The sucker, along with the new crown, will be removed and planted separately. Now my next question is whether they will follow the original or ratoon parent when they grow up…

© 2017 curiousgardener.com All rights reserved.


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Propagating sugarcane

Sugarcane stems being prepared for planting

Sugarcane stems being prepared for planting

One of our neighbours harvested some sugarcane last week and shared it around. When we got our armful of it, we dilly-dallied a bit too long and it started drying up to the point where we decided it was too hard to try to consume. It would have been a different story if we had one of those nice roller-squeeze machines that they have at the hawker centres to extract the juice, though.

Naturally, I decided not to let the sugarcane go to waste. I had noticed several buds along the stems, so I cut them so there was just one bud per piece of stem. From experience, I know that roots will grow from below the bud, along the circumference of the growth ring, so where I was able to, I cut the stem as close to the bottom of the bud as I could. It wasn’t easy, because the exterior of the stems was already rather hard and woody, like bamboo. For those that I could, I cut close to the growth ring. I’ll be able to just push the stem straight into soil, and they will be able to start growing. For those stems that were too hard to cut, I’ll lay them sideways to grow. Plants are very adaptable and will do what they need to to grow!

 

A bud above a growth ring. Roots will grow out from below the brown ring.

A bud above a growth ring. Roots will grow out from below the brown ring.

The last time I tried growing sugarcane, I had mixed success. The plants need a good supply of water, and some of them died off in the drier months. I particularly liked the one growing in a pot because with the dark red stems, it looked very pretty, like an ornamental bamboo plant. However, it has a tendency to topple over as the plants get bigger. This shows me that sugarcane needs to be planted out in the garden rather than in a container.

© 2017 curiousgardener.com All rights reserved.


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Choosing and storing seeds

Packets and packets of seeds with so much potential in them!

Packets and packets of seeds with so much potential in them!

I love growing plants from seed. Just opening a packet of new seeds and pouring them out to take a look at them is like Christmas or a birthday to me! I’m just amazed to see them in all their different shapes, colours, textures and sizes, with each seed containing the potential to grow into a plant that can delight with flowers and provide sustenance through their fruits, stems, leaves and more.

Yes, I tend to go a little overboard whenever I’m in the vicinity of seeds, but over the years, I’ve managed to learn a little restraint. Instead of choosing things that catch my fancy, I’ve learned to consider the plant’s growing conditions to see if it has a chance of growing in our hot, humid climate in Singapore. There have been many disappointments in the past when I had no luck growing plants from cool, temperate climates – but that was just me being optimistic. I guess I’ve become a little more realistic now. If I’m making an order from, let’s say the US, I’ll now choose those that grow in the southern states where it’s hotter and more humid, and closer to the equator. Or I just choose seeds from countries closer to home, like Malaysia, Indonesia or Thailand. That leaves plenty of choices.

Having lots to choose from means I have quite the collection of seeds right now. Since we live in a hot climate, the best way to store your seeds is to keep them in the fridge. This prolongs their lifespan for much longer than is stated on the seed packs. I have some that have been in the fridge for more than four years that can still germinate. For those, I try to remember to save seeds from the newly grown fruits or flowers to store for the future. Saved seeds will be even better because they will be acclimatised to our garden, so I sometimes consider the first planting a sacrificial one because the plants need to get used to the new environment. As long as they produce fruits that I can save seeds from, I’m happy.

Do note that if you order seeds online to be responsible in what you get. Anything sent in will be checked by Customs, and you don’t want to get flagged or have to go and pay to collect your shipment, do you?

© 2017 curiousgardener.com All rights reserved.


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