O precious water!

Water is so crucial to life. In survival situations, we can live without food for more than three weeks but only for about three days without water. Plants, too, need plenty of water, and in learning about permaculture and how to establish a homestead, a source of water is the first thing one needs to attend to – for people, plants and any animals you may have.

Harvesting rainwater in a watering can makes it easy to transfer the water to other containers!

Harvesting rainwater in a watering can makes it easy to transfer the water to other containers!

Okay, so we don’t have a rural situation here in Singapore, and we’ve got an easy supply of water and utilities available. However, it comes at a literal cost. A rising cost, too, where water is concerned. I know that I cringe a little when I have to water our plants on hot days – when the watering can fills with water from the tap, I almost hear the tinkling of coins… It’s also been quite a while since I stopped watering plants out in the garden unless they’re young and need the help. If they can’t survive in our climate, I choose not to grow them. It’s only our nursery and potted plants that get the TLC.

So why don’t we collect rainwater? It’s free, isn’t it? Well, I recall some time ago that it was not legal to do so here. OMG, some people will exclaim, everything is so controlled in this country! Well, yes, but there’s a reason why this was so. It’s a small country with limited water resources, and an increasing population. The drainage system was designed to collect rainwater and channel it to the reservoirs. At some point more than ten years ago – I think it was 2004 – the rule about rainwater collection was finally changed. I think that was when the goal of using two-thirds of the country’s landmass as water catchment was reached. So, yes, we can now collect rainwater to water our plants with! It is only for non-potable use, though, meaning it shouldn’t be used for drinking, cooking and bathing.

Before you start getting any grand ideas for irrigating your garden, though, you’d better check what’s allowed. Yes, of course there are rules and regulations! Some people complain that too many things are micromanaged, but I believe there are good reasons for these. Not everybody has the good sense to know how to manage what we may think are basic issues. What’s so difficult about harvesting water? Well, the biggest concern to me is the pesky mosquito. If you’re not careful, mozzies will start breeding in your stored water. This happened in our neighbourhood more than fifteen years ago and there was an outbreak of dengue fever, which I was unfortunate to get. So, I’m all for people getting educated about the correct way to do things.

If you intend to plumb collected rainwater into your house, it’s best you employ professionals to do the work as they will know what’s required by law. This would include doing both the piping as well as knowing the best ways to prevent mosquito breeding. Besides watering your plants, this water could be used for general washing and flushing toilets, too.

So let’s think about how you’re going to harvest the rainwater. I tried simply placing a container below the edge of the roof where water drips down when it rains, and that worked very well. I guess if you’re more ambitious and want to collect more water, you’ll need to look into doing some piping that leads into a storage tank. That, of course, needs to be mosquito-proofed, meaning that there should be no gaps anywhere, it should be covered with rust-proof fine mesh, and sealed shut when not in use. NEA recommends that the water should not be stored, unused, for more than seven days as this is enough time for mosquito larvae to reach adulthood. To play it safe, you can also use larvicides that are not toxic to people and animals in your stored harvested rainwater.

Almost 14 liters of free, harvested rainwater for our plants!

Almost 14 liters of free, harvested rainwater for our plants!

For my current simple needs, I used a 5-litre watering can to collect rainwater from roof edge drip, then transferred the water into recycled plastic bottles with screw tops for storage. It took less than ten minutes during steady rainfall to fill the watering can, which I repeated until I ran out of bottles. Now I need to store the bottles away from direct sunlight so that algae doesn’t grow in them. They hold over a week’s worth of water for our potted plants. This may be the start of something bigger, because I wish I’d saved more bottles, or had more of the large bottles!

If you want to find out more, visit the Public Utilities Board and National Environment Agency websites.

© 2017 curiousgardener.com All rights reserved.


Share

Another slap-and-dash trellis

So it happened again.

The bittergourd plant that sprouted in the undergrowth beneath a peacock flower tree, now protected by a pair of poles.

The bittergourd plant that sprouted in the undergrowth beneath a peacock flower tree, now protected by a pair of poles and a heap of mulch.

One of our plants – this time the small bittergourd – reached the end of its productive life, and we hadn’t started the next plant yet… and then I noticed a volunteer plant that had started growing where I wouldn’t have planted one – in the undergrowth beneath one of the peacock flower trees. It had managed to climb over two metres up the tree, which is why I noticed it – I’ve always found the leaves quite ornamental, and they caught my attention.

I don’t like wasting such opportunities, so I first considered pruning the tree to a shorter height and allowing the vine to grow on it. However, after pruning part of the tree, which is just in front of the house, we realised that it was actually shading the house from the sun, and that it was noticeably hotter, so a change in plan was needed.

Since I’m not averse to putting up trellises as and when necessary, it was time to do a little quick DIY work. The first thing to do was protect the spot where the plant had started growing. This was especially important as it’s an area that we’d likely go over with the strimmer when it’s time to cut the grass and weeds. I stuck the minimum two poles in – one for height, and the other to support it – with the vine between them.

You can't see it that clearly, but the bittergoud plant starts just behind the rooster - up the poles, the across to the right to the taller white pole. The second white pole is out of frame.

You can’t see it that clearly, but the bittergoud plant starts just behind the rooster – up the poles, then across to the right to the taller white pole. The vine is only about halfway across the horizontal pole at the moment. The second white pole is out of frame.

Next, I needed to provide some horizontal growing space for the vines, so I connected the top of the taller pole to another pole that happened to be about two metres away. That pole had a companion next to it, so I added another connection, creating a triangular area.

With the construction done, it was time to gently detach the vine from the tree and wind it around the trellis and give it time to settle in to its new home. The vine only reaches about halfway across at the moment, and I’ll be interested to see if it wants to keep growing towards the sunny side or back towards the tree. I’ve pruned the tree so it’s not easily accessible, but when a plant wants to go somewhere, it will find a way. At the worst, I think I’ll have to keep training it until it reaches the other end, then let it grow backwards… Anyway, we will be looking forward to enjoying the little bittergourds soon.

© 2017 curiousgardener.com All rights reserved.


Share

Year of the rooster

Our almost-resident rooster on one of his favourite perches.

Our almost-resident rooster on one of his favourite perches.

If you’re familiar with the Chinese Zodiac, you’ll know that 2017 is the Year of the Rooster. For whatever reason, we’ve been quite blessed this year with the presence of our neighbourhood’s wandering rooster. He’s been around for several years, starting off with very brief sightings. Then those became occasional day visits, prompting us to speculate that he belonged to someone somewhere down the lane. Then one morning we were delighted to see that he had stayed overnight in the curry leaf tree.

His visits used to be few and far between. We’d see him once every few months, then the timing closed to every few weeks. This year, he started visiting for longer periods of time – a couple of days, then he’d disappear, only to be heard crowing in the distance. I’m not convinced he belongs to anyone from the way he seems to travel so far and wide. However, he’s begun to stay for longer stretches of time. A few days became a week. A week became a couple of weeks. Now we’ve finally hit the “month” stage – he’s been here for almost two months!

The rooster perched up in the belimbing tree late in the evening as he settles in for the night. Yup, he sleeps up in trees!

The rooster perched up in the belimbing tree late in the evening as he settles in for the night. Yup, he sleeps up in trees!

We’ve all become very accustomed to each other, meaning the humans, dogs and Mr Rooster. He is comfortable around family members that he recognises and just minds his own business even if we pass within a metre of him – and by “we”, I mean both humans and dogs. He has also made himself comfortable in different parts of the garden, going to specific spots at around the same time every day. And he greets the neighbourhood every day (not necessarily only in the mornings) with his strident, repeated crowing.

It looks like we may have been adopted. Or, perhaps in typical wandering rooster fashion, he will traipse off to another corner of the kampong and entertain another family for a while. However, I feel that he has earned his place as part of the totem of this blog.

© 2017 curiousgardener.com All rights reserved.


Share

The exasperating coleus

Green Coleus "canina"

Green Coleus “canina”

How often do you encounter plants that just keep popping up all over your garden? They may show up in flowering beds, across the lawn, with your potted plants, in cracks in cement… You get the picture? When plants do that, we call them weeds – but honestly, they’re just plants that we didn’t plan for and are prejudiced against because they grow better than the plants we actually want.

Well here’s the tale of one such plant that has been spreading happily all around our garden. I know it has been growing “here and there” for several years, but this plant finally got a firm foothold and is now growing in clumps all over the place. Why? Because it has such a quick life cycle and it produces loads of seeds with each plant. They must be tiny and light because, somehow, they are able to find they way onto roofs as well! The consolation about this is that I don’t think they have roots that can damage property, but I’m still peeved about how pervasive it is.

It took me a while to figure out what it was, and let me give you the shortcut I learned. It’s called a Google image search. Instead of typing in your search request, you can actually go to Google images and use an image to submit your query! It’s pretty cool, and allowed me to finally identify my new plant foe as a coleus.

Check out the length of those flower spikes ...then imagine the number of seeds being produced!

Check out the length of those flower spikes …then imagine the number of seeds being produced!

Coleus to me are normally ornamental plants with colourful, patterned leaves that grow in shady conditions. This insidious plant is plain green all over and has a flower spike of pale blue or purplish flowers, and grows not only in shade, but also full sunlight. What I don’t like about it is the weird scent it gives off when it gets bruised when I’m yanking it out.

This belongs to the Plectranthus family of plants which has a multitude of varieties. The closest I’ve come to identifying this one is Coleus “canina”, which describes it right down to the smell. It is apparently also called the “Scaredy Cat” plant as it supposedly repels pest animals (like cats). What interested me was that it supposedly also drives off mosquitoes! Maybe it does, but I’m still not happy at the way it has spread so much.

© 2017 curiousgardener.com All rights reserved.


Share