Related Posts with Thumbnails

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Blur Ting's Farm

We are going to visit Blur Ting's farm tomorrow, and I am as excited as before a first date. I have seen her on her blog, but she has never seen me because I never put my photos on mine. What if the sight of me isn't what she expects? Because truly, I don't look like my personality at all. What if she gets an unpleasant surprise?

Oh well... never mind. I really want to see her farm.

I don't know anyone else in Singapore that owns a farm. It seems such a luxury to have a wide expanse of land upon which you can grow anything that takes your fancy. Mulberries, okra, eggplant... It's so cool to stomp out onto your farm in ugly rubber boots so that the squishy mud doesn't get on your feet. It's wonderful to let the children loose onto your farm and have them catch ladybugs, and raise caterpillars. It sounds so hip to swagger about and discourse intelligently about the various ways to administer chicken shit to your plants. In a moment of folly, I ordered two 25kg bags of chicken shit and now am wondering whether it'll last me forever in my tiny patch of rooftop garden. Now... if I had a farm, it would be a different story.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Small Is Powerful

In my garden, small is powerful. The most redoubtable pests that I have to deal with are each the size of a full stop. As a new gardener, I looked at the full stops and said to myself "Oh... so cute!" and I left them alone. A few full stops became a moving mass of spots on my poor plant, and in a matter of weeks, my garden had turned from green to yellow. Spider mites are the size of a full stop. Soil mealies are a little bigger but not much. Whiteflies are about a full stop in size too! The only thing that's rather big in comparison are the slow-moving sheeplike mealybugs. They're white and they're woolly. What harm can they do?

A lot!

I relentlessly pursue these little things and given half a chance, they regain territory. I use oil and soap spray and my plants get oily and burnt. I slap them with my hands and scrape them with my nails and crush them with my fingers. The next day, there are more. Insecticides in an edible garden is a no-no, so I've resorted to the old fashioned way. Prune all leaves off. In an edible garden, that's a yes-yes. Whatever you prune, you also eat. I reckon that I also munch up quite a few insect eggs because if the insects are fullstops, then their eggs cannot be seen with the naked eye. At least, I don't see eggs, but the insects always come back!

Yup! Small is powerful. I'm big and a loser. But man! Even if I'm losing, I'm still gonna get them good.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Soil Mealies

I have so much work to do but my garden needed some attention so I spent the whole morning fussing around it. It was good that I did because I found 3 pots infested with soil mealies and 1 pot with an ants' nest. The ants were running a thriving mealybug plantation spread over 4 pots of garden real estate!

Soil mealies are little white bugs that crawl around in the soil, attach themselves to roots and suck plant sap. They excrete a sweet substance that ants feed on. Therefore ants will protect them, cultivate them. Ants will also move soil mealies from one pot to another in order to open up new mealybug pasture land, and create more food for themselves. Soil mealies are extraordinarily tenacious pests. They are covered with a protective woolly layer that makes them completely impermeable to pesticides. You think you've got rid of them, but sooner or later, if you aren't vigilant, the re-colonise your garden.

If the plant is easily propagated, I throw plant and soil all away and start anew.

If the plant is not so easily propagated, here is what I do. I mix up 15 litres of water with 40ml of rotenone concentrate and 40ml of dishwash. I make sure the mixture is 40 deg Celsius i.e., the temperature of a nice hot bath. I then immerse the whole pot of soil into the hot water solution for 15 minutes. The dishwash dissolves the protective covering on the mealybugs' bodies, and allows the rotenone to penetrate and kill the insect. The hot water makes them squirm about and this movement damages even more of the protective layer.

The results were good. No more live mealybugs in my pots. More spectacular were the ants' reactions. As the water seeped into the soil from the holes at the bottom of the pot, the ants milled out of the soil depths and ran around the surface of the soil. As the hot water solution caught up with them, they all perished.

I now feel very satisfied. I shall have to repeat this 4 days later to catch the newly hatched eggs.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Scary Gardeners

The GCS Forum has grown to become a wonderfully joyful part of my day. The best thing is that I don't even have to go out to enjoy it. Given the old woman that I am, I had never felt the urge to go on any forum until I found pests on my edibles and did not know what else to do except to ask people on a forum. The experience has so far been lovely. There are such experts there... some who deserve honorary PhDs in the science of fertilizing alone. Others are familiar with the exact steps to deal with beehives... right down to the time of night to set out, and the shape of the crescent moon. One cannot beat that kind of savoir-faire. One can only learn and give silent respect.

But our forum went through a tough patch lately. First there was a whodunnit thriller replete with nudity and stolen valuables... and then the advent of forum spammers. Everyone of us have been placed on some degree of mental and emotional alert. For the first time, I meet the evils of the internet face to face. I couldn't have met them before because I didn't blog and I didn't forum. Now I do both and I am experiencing first hand the dangers I warn my children about.

These dangers are all the more real in that gardeners love to visit each others' gardens, and meet to exchange plants, and send seeds by mail to each other. Imagine if you had interacted with a wolf in sheep's clothing!

Thank goodness though, we live in a place with 24 hour security and lifts equipped with access cards and codes. Thank goodness too that from some instinct of self-preservation, I have never (and will never) place photos of myself and my family on the internet. Thank goodness too, one has a doting and ever vigilant husband who has thus far insisted to tag along like a bouncer to any meeting with people I met on the forum. Thank goodness too, the extended family comes over all the time and the home is never empty. And God must love me because all those I've interacted with so far are generous and kind ladies, and very knowledgeable gentlemen.

Thank goodness! Oh thank goodness indeed! Phew!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Our Kapok Tree Sapling

This handsome tree is our Kapok Tree. I read that this tree can reach 40m in height. Ours is about 2 metres tall. This tree dates from the time when Little Boy engaged in guerilla gardening i.e., plant seeds discreetly and then run away. It dates from a time when my gardening fever silenced my maternal instincts and I tussled with my son over garden space in the most un-motherly manner possible.

My son knows that once a seed has sprouted, I would find it difficult to crush the seedling. This time, it was even more difficult because the leaves were so very pretty. I let it grow, and I let it grow, and I let it grow. Today, it is a very handsome sapling. I feel sad that all I can offer it is my pot.

Does anyone know if the kapok tree bonsais well... or will it die if I don't find it a new home?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Shamrock's Variegated Thyme

Here is dear Shamrock's variegated thyme. It isn't yet hers because I only planted the cuttings from my mother plant yesterday. It'll be some months before it grows into what Shamrock thinks will be a "thicket". Thyme normally comes as a single coloured (green of course) plant. So, when I saw this two-coloured thyme at a local nursery, I just had to buy it. You see, it's both edible and very pretty.

Shamrock is my friend from Malaysia. Again, I have never met her and we have never spoken. Nonetheless, I have benefited greatly from her bountiful generosity. Plants from her garden have made circuitious routes via friends and relatives, to reach me in time for potting and rooting. I've had beans and flowers of all sorts come across the Causeway to me.

You can't help but admire Shamrock. Her garden looks like paradise on earth. There are charming statuettes, cascades of leaves and carpets of flowers of every colour, that bloom in turn... and her mulberry trees... oh, I stand in awe of her mulberry cultivation. Kilos of red berries come off her mulberry trees. She has so much that she needs to freeze them because one can only eat so much mulberry muffins at one go. Everytime Shamrock takes pictures of her mulberry trees, I will waddle out forlornly to look sadly at my 3 skinny trees, which have never flowered and never fruited despite all my best efforts. I have talked to them, and sung to them, and carefully composed fertilizer mixes worthy of a five-star chef for plant food. But no berry. And I won't even tell you about her flowering sage... I've had sage for so long and it has never flowered.

Next to Shamrock's garden, my own is a poor relative... and the only thing I have that her garden does not, is the variegated thyme. I am looking forward to Shamrock's visit so that I can hear her squeal over the nice thicket I will be giving her... provided of course, that she does do such an undignified thing as to squeal. I do, because I am rather undignified... but not many ladies do.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Malabar Spinach Salad

I have been staring at the blooms of Ms Malabar Spinach every day for the past 4 days. Daily, I battle the urge to cut and munch. I told myself that I wouldn't. I told myself that I mustn't. I told myself that I shouldn't... for once eaten, I would never get to see the flowers open.

But today, the thought occurred to me that the flower buds look quite delicious. And alas... once that thought came, I was lost! All self-restraint flew out the window and my innate sense of good food took over from my innate sense of good taste. With much hungry determination, I climbed on my garden chair and completely undressed Mr Bamboo of his spinach companion.

We sat down to lunch: a refreshing salad composed of frisée salad leaves, malabar spinach leaves, feta cheese, pinapple chunks, shallot slices, topped with pink flower buds, and dressed in a lavender honey vinaigrette. We ate it with huge chunks of hearty walnut bread dipped in black pepper olive oil.

I am so satiated with flavours that I cannot even feel guilty about chopping off pretty flowers before they open up.

Postscript: A kind lady with a thriving patch of Malabar Spinach and a name that resonates of southern charm (think cotton plantations, Scarlett O'Hara, Charleston and Savannah), informs me that what I thought were flower buds, are actually flowers. They're so shy, they NEVER open. Good thing I ate them then or they would have turned into purple seeds. Thanks very much Wisteria.

Moral of the story: Always listen when your stomach growls.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Blur Ting's Chamomile

I am not a terribly good gardener. At least, I don't think so. Therefore, I am rather surprised that those who have received seeds from me, have not been able to germinate them. I don't know what went wrong. My germination rate is about 85%, but others seem to have 0%, and yet others have little seedlings that die quite away.

Anyway, I offered to raise some seedlings for a lady that I know, and don't really know. I've never met her. We have never spoken, but I feel like I know her, and that she is like me in many ways. I read her blog daily and it gives me joy.

So, here they are... Blur Ting's seeds sown in little egg cases. I will tend them and make them grow until they're old enough to be transplanted into her pots. And then, Blur Ting will come by to get them and I will get to meet her that I know and don't know. Whilst I am at it, I think I will raise a whole crate of these seedlings so that I can maybe sell them to GCS members who would like to buy them and grow them at home.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Handphone Upgrades

Oh dear... this post is going to stick out like a sore thumb in my gardening blog but well... I most often feel the urge to write about my garden, and once in a while (like now) I feel the urge to write about something else. It isn't worth maintaining another blog just for these occasional moments. So here goes!

Our family does a major handphone upgrade once every 2 years. This is something The Husband enjoys doing for us. Like the prehistoric hunter, The Husband stalks his prey assiduously over a few weeks over large plains of newspaper advertisements. He then identifies for each individual of his little tribe, the handphone most suitable for each of our lifestyles and needs. Then he strategizes his approach to get the cheapest and the best deal. That done, he launches himself to the attack and brings home still wriggling pieces of communication machinery that every tribe member squeals over. Then, satisfied, his hard work over, The Husband settles back in his chair and enjoys our pleased smiles and happy hugs. Every now and then, he leans forward "Do you like what I bought?" and smiles broadly when we respond with a chorus of yes-es.

When I was in full time consulting, The Husband would insist on carrying his own crappy "thing" for another 2 years in order to apportion to me the nicest, coolest and most feature-packed pet. The Daughter would excitedly inherit my old pets because even after 2 years, they were cool enough for her. Later, when I resigned from fulltime consulting, I insisted that I wanted nothing less than a free pet, no matter what it looked like, and what it did not have. This time around, the tribal apportioning has again changed.

We celebrated The Daughter's progress. and Little Boy's coming-of-age. Little Boy took on someone else's old pet. He was overjoyed! His very first pet.

The Daughter was given a lovely pet with a QWERTY keyboard, and preloaded with a document processing capabilities. She has changed from the kid who needs to call her mother, to a young lady who needs to co-ordinate meetings, send off urgent emails, manage clashes in schedule and make full use of every waking moment to be productive. So, we gave a her a business phone so that she can be productive on the go. With her new pet, she can write essays in the bus, and upload Geography notes to study in my car. Hopefully, this will save her enough time that she can spend with us when we go on picnics and walks.

I must add too, that the Daughter is no mean Hunter herself. Together with her father, she stalked the plains and found her target according to the age old rules of family tradition: cheap and practical. Not for us to pay extra just for the fashion factor. And then with her father, she launched her attack, and brought home her beast wriggling and warm in its box.

And me, I am happy with my new free pet, because the old one ate up my sms-es and wouldn't crow properly in the mornings to wake me up in time to make breakfast for my family. The Husband? He insisted on keeping his crappy "thing".

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Malabar Spinach

Here are the delicate flower buds of the Malabar Spinach. Her latin name is the basella alba. I'm such a greedy gardener, so keen to eat from my garden, that I have never seen the flower buds of my Malabar Spinach. I usually harvest the leaves for my ham and feta cheese quiches. The leaves of the Malabar Spinach impart a very pleasant nutty taste to the quiche. Unlike most spinaches, this one has robust leaves that don't soften over much in the cooking and provide a pleasant crunch for the teeth.

The Malabar Spinach is a beautiful plant. So lovely that she doesn't look at all edible. She has red stems which fade into green leaves, each with a glossy shine. She needs to jostle for space and sunlight with tufts of bamboo leaves. As she grows through the thick green tufts, little splashes of red and shiny green smile through at me like a little monkey through the trees.

This is the first time she is giving me buds. I am so a greedy gardener that I've until now, always pruned it back and munched it up before it actually gets a chance to flower. But aren't the buds so beautiful? A delicate pink tip fading into white. Such apparent fragility presents a misleading face to the world. Mr Bamboo has now become resigned to the presence of this gently intrusive beauty. Ms Malabar Spinach has placed her arms around Mr Bamboo and charmed him into doting submission with her pretty flower buds. Mr Bamboo used to compete fiercely with her for sunlight and space. No longer... Now, they look great together and have become good friends. One needs the other to be complete. Indeed, Mr Bamboo looks reproachfully at me when I prune back Ms Malabar Spinach and cook her in my quiches.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Lady's Fingers

The Husband and I are nuts about lady's fingers. I've always liked them even as a child in Malaysia where our family would traipse over to Ampang for yong tau foo. If asked what I wanted, it was always an extra serving of lady's fingers. In my childhood, that was one of two vegetables that I liked. The other was cauliflower. Unlike spinach and kai lan and such like, lady's fingers didn't have long unchewable fibres that wouldn't go down my tiny throat properly. You crunch onto a lady's finger and it obligingly breaks apart into smaller chunks. There is a nice smooth slippery coating on it and a subtle sweetness. Quite unlike the stir fried bitter greens of all sorts that our maids were prone to frying up and serving up and making me eat. Bleah!

I knew I liked them but I only just discovered that The Husband likes them... and very much too! Since we're exactly opposite of each other in almost every way, this is a pleasant realisation indeed. Anyway, to satisfy both our appetites for this delicious vegetable, I now have 7 lady's finger plants. This gives us about 1 large plate of lady's finger stir fry every week.

With such regular servings, I've discovered something else. The rest of the family, including our helper, HATES the stuff. Little Boy describes it as the vegetable with the wet and slimy coating. The Daughter says "Revolting!" And the helper gave us a gentle smile and graciously declined her share of the vegetable. Altogether, they give my seven plants the evil eye.

Heh! Heh! Heh! What they don't know and will soon find out, is that the attractive creeper with pink flower buds is also another slimy vegetable called the Malabar Spinach. And it's about ready for harvesting.

Now... how does one write *diabolical smile* into a blog?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Chamomile Flower

The long wait is over. The tender loving care invested in my pots of chamomile has paid off in more ways than I had imagined. For one thing, because of my chamomile, I made a new friend - Abby. A smiling and happily rotund matriarch full of bonhomie and warm advice. "The daughter of a farmer I am", says she, "and those are not the sweet potato strains meant for stir fry." For another, I have a new pot of rosemary from Felicia. And of course, the gentle artist Alan also came by, smiling shyly at me as he carefully held his chamomile seedlings in a jam jar to bring home and plant.

Best of all though, is that the chamomile has done what all chamomiles like to do. It has flowered and there are so very many blooms. I sniffed carefully at a flower and decided that it smelt funny - not at all like chamomile. No... it didn't smell good. Nonetheless, I snipped off two flowers and made an infusion.

And oh... oh... oh... once you have taken chamomile tea made with fresh chamomile flowers, you will forever look condescendingly upon chamomile teas made with commercial teabags. The smell is divine. A gentle fragrance that envelopes your head and whispers secrets of little joys and many small cheerfulnesses that make life beautiful. We don't realise it but life's worth is as much in the daily little happinesses that make life sweet, as it is in the big intense moments that make life exciting. Chamomile tea won't grab your attention if you're sipping it absent mindedly. However, if you sip it attentively, it will pull you into its warm embrace into a cocoon of warm peacefulness... and all you want to do, is stay where you are. In an eye of calm within a world that cannot stop moving.