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Saturday, May 23, 2009

GCS Party 2009

GCS Forummers had a party. It was a nice party. It's quite exciting to see up close and personal the people that one has learnt to like and respect online. There was the very humble but so very capable Ah Kee, who single-handedly enthused more than a hundred complete strangers to bring great food and share plants. There was Green Baron with a whole list of plants to give away, but unfortunately, none of them were for me. Sob! There was the generous and jolly Scatterseed (whose risque sense of humour makes me blush into my coffee when all alone with my laptop!) who shared with me her secrets to good gardening: home-made compost and worm tea. I am so motivated now to get my vermi-composting up and running. Worm tea... oh worm tea... I love thee.

And people look so different from what they sound. I am told that I should be bigger sized and more imposing - not the puny skinny thing that looks about to fly off when the wind blows. I had thought TALOS was a tall, dark and handsome fellow (because he was so brave a warrior on our forum) but well, he turned out a tad shorter but reasonably handsome, and yes... quite dark. Then I discovered that Bren Bren was a guy! I always thought it was short for Brenda. I have a friend called Brenda and I always call her Bren Bren. And I got to talk to KW something something about vermicomposting. Then, I had somehow got the idea that Petunias was a rotund somebody but she's this pretty thing... and while I had thought somehow that CrazyJellie was a small, dark and serious... she turned up with a smile that would light up the dark.

It was also nice to see faces I knew... Maggie (the Queen of nursery hopping + best hawker centre food), Sky, Faeryberry, Cubie, Rocky, Alan, Bluefly, Abby, Felicia, Looxie... and even Wilson, who must've felt guilty about not wanting to come by, so he came by anyway... haha!

There was lotsa laughter and chatter going on. People saying hello. Waving. Smiling. And boy, you shoulda seen the food! Two long tables groaning under the weight of the food, from panna cottas to meringues to curry to dong po pork with mantou, and even chwee kueh that came warm with its topping. Then there was chocolate pudding and an apple pie...... Hmmmmmm... I stuffed myself already but feel hungry just thinking about the two long tables.

Oh yes! I really must mention the special soft-centered Japanese eggs that Hanaabi and Apperceive brought. I had two of 'em!

Pity I had to leave early to put Little Boy to bed!!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

My Worms... Oh! My Worms!

If you had met me in my teens, I wouldn't touch a worm with a 10 foot pole. Ewwwww! Yuck! Bleah! But lately, I have begun to look upon other people's composting worms with envy and I couldn't wait to get my hands on my own!! My new pets!

Blur Ting gave me fat pink composting worms. They were beautiful... I buried them in a styrofoam box with dead leaves and damp newspaper and covered the box with 2 cardboard egg crates to create a dark and well ventilated environment. Every day, twice a day, I poured all our vegetable scraps in there. Since we eat quite a lot of fruits and vegetables, there were a lot of scraps.

2 days ago, I went to inspect. I saw a steaming mass of black rotted vegetables with a furry layer of white fungus on the top, like icing on a monstrous cake. There was a swarm of black flying insects all over the icing, like a sprinking of living chocolate rice. Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww! And my worms were all dead!!

What a catastrophe!

I have since learnt that too many vegetables and too few worms create a composting heap that generates heat... as much as 40 degrees Celsius. And my poor worms got cooked to death. But I shan't give up. I'm going to fashion a new and improved vermi-composting bin from 2 plastic boxes, and I will make a mansion for my worms again. A well ventilated double storey home where the bottom storey will catch worm tea that flows out of the top storey. This time, I will not only feed them what they can eat, I will blend papaya peel mush and tomato peel mush for them to eat. This way, they'll digest faster, make worm tea faster, make more babies and eat more scraps and make more worm tea.

It's the worm tea I'm after, after all.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Aging Gracefully with Herbs

I love herbs. Anyone who knows me will know that. Give me a stunning bouquet of flowers and I will stare at you and smile politely. Worse still, I once ran next door to give my just received bouquet to the old lady who almost fainted over the hugeness and colour of it. I knew it would make her happier than it made me.

But give me herbs and you will capture my heart - all of it.

I started mucking around with herbs from my mid-20s. It started with the humble garlic for diarrhoea and high cholesterol. There was nothing wrong with us then. It was a preventive measure. Later, as I grew in my walk with the Lord, I also grew in my faith in His pharmacopeia. Herbs became an integral part of our diet. Rosemary for digestive candidiasis. Thyme for sinus. Astragalus to increase white blood cell count. Dandelion to cleanse the blood. Gotu kola for cell regeneration and mental alertness. Echinacea and goldenseal for flu. Goldenseal for skin allergies. Milk thistle for a healthy liver. Feverfew for menstrual cramps. Lemon balm, indian borage... the list goes on.

And now we're older, The Husband and I. Age creeps into the eyes and I can't read without stretching the book away from my face. Age creeps into the joints and I feel some odd sensations when I go down the stairs. Age creeps through his hair as white slowly replaces black. We feel it. I still remember what it felt like to be 20. We're twice 20 and more.

Yet, many people get a shock when they see us. One and a half decade of herbs have borne results. The aging process cannot be stopped but it can be slowed. And so it has become that many mistake The Daughter for the sister. Truly I will tell you that there is nothing a human needs that God has not already provided in nature. And that includes everything we need to age gracefully and well.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Fibonacci Series

At bible study last week, we learnt that to worship God using "dressed stones" is to dishonour Him. "Dressed stones" are defined as stones which have been reworked by man. I can understand why. It's because God's work is perfect, and no matter the skill of man, it cannot surpass the work of God.

Think about it. When you think breath-taking beauty, do you think of the Esplanade or the Twin Towers? These structures are imposing, no doubt, but they don't draw from you the gasp of admiration or quicken your heart beat. Think now instead of the sculptured profile of a young 16 year old girl, or the savage beauty of the Kalahari Desert, or the misty ranges surrounding Guilin, or the wild craggy handsomeness of the Scottish Highlands, or even the stunning perfection of a sleeping baby...

Indeed, I saw in a documentary that if you took measurements of beautiful faces, and perfectly formed shells, and the dimensions of a rose.... they would all, in one way or another exhibit measurements aligned to a specific mathematical formula called the Fibonacci series. It seems that the beauty that exists in nature may be consistently and mathematically defined. And then human beings are wired to respond to the physical expression of the Fibonacci series by thinking it beautiful. Check out this video

The Husband and I get into some discussion about how messy our garden is. He believes a gardener should prune and train... that the garden should have straight lines and clean edges. He aspires to the scuptured look of the Elizabethan garden. I believe that gardens, like children, should be kept healthy, fed good food and nice thoughts, and then left to grow in any direction they wish... and that would bring out the best in them.

So, my garden looks like this. Some of you will find it messy and others, my soulmates, will find it beautiful. Because when I woke up this morning to the soft light dawning on my garden, I was awed by the work God did to my little patch of sky property.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

In the Shade of the Frangipani Tree

One pays special attention to those plants The Husband procured. They get a bit more care, and a bit more attention. Firstly, it's because The Husband cares for them enough to wander out into the garden now and again in order to enjoy them. Secondly, it's because The Husband tends to refer to them as HIS grapes and HIS frangipani tree. Thirdly, it's because The Husband speaks the language of praise sparingly, and one feels just that little bit more motivated to give that little bit of extra care in order to hear that little bit of praise. "Hey, my frangipani tree is looking really good these days" he says, and I am embarrassed to even tell you how I feel when I hear that.

I only begin to realize that The Husband has pulled the proverbial fast one on the hapless, naive and gullible me. Because you see, he bought the frangipani tree for me but he seems to still think it's his. And also you see, he bought the grapes for me but well, it does seem that they're also his. Of course, he will say that whatever is his, is also mine and so it doesn't really matter whose it really is... but somewhere in the recesses of my heart so charmed by The Husband's plant "gifts" to me, a little voice exclaims "Duh?"

Anyhow, our frangipani tree is gathering itself a fuller crown by the day and added a new cluster of white flowers to its branches. It has grown in height and in breadth, and now towers above the smaller trees in our garden - the kedongdong tree and the lime tree. Like me who quietly exists in the shade of The Husband's busy life, so too do the other trees grow in the shade of our frangipani tree.

But you see, the other trees are fruit trees. Like me, they bear fruit and give joy of another kind.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Xiang Gua

The xiang gua vine came to me as little 1" tall seedlings from Herb Lover, my GCS Santa Claus. They've now grown taller than I, creeping up the fishing line that I tied to the stainless steel pole I put in to support such creeper plants. None of us know much about the conditions this plant likes so I just put it in a random corner where I had space. This turned out really great for the 3 vines. Many other seedlings in other gardens have died of heat. Yet others have been munched up by snails so resourceful that they stretch their soft bodies from the sides of pots protected by egg shell barriers JUST to eat the soft tender leaves.

Hmmmmm... it makes me feel like giving those leaves a nibble myself!

Mine has had no snail attacks, and it has enjoyed the relatively shady and well ventilated corner so much that it has now grown taller than I and 4 xiang gua melons are already developing. The challenging thing about getting this plant to fruit is the pollination bit. The vine functions like a harem. There are countless female flowers and perhaps 1 or 2 male flowers in 2 days... Not only that, the flowers wilt after one day, so you can't get the male flowers to do double duty with new female flowers the next day. As a result, the greedy gourmet in me looks with sad regret upon the spinster flowers which will wilt, and the baby melons they now carry will shrivel away. That means one less melon for me to eat.


Saturday, May 9, 2009

My Farm House

Little Boy built me a house... with a garden, no less. And a nice set-up for al fresco dining too... no less. There is a pond with pebbles and stepping stones, water lilies and fat koi fish in them. Behind the house, is a yard. It has all my favourite vegetables: lady's finger, sweet potato leaves, salads of all sorts, grapes, rosemary, thyme, sage, tarragon, bay leaf. Right by the gate, in the front of the house, you can see a profusion of morning glories, petunias, wisteria and allamandas.

Inside the house, there are 2 storeys and an attic. The 7 bedrooms sleep 6 grandchildren and 2 happy old folks - me and my husband. There is a HUGE kitchen and we have THREE dogs.

My son built me a house for Mother's Day.

Chamomile Cream Chicken

Here is my chamomile cream chicken made with about 20 chamomile flowers, evaporated milk, chopped pineapple and tomatoes. Originally, the chamomiles looked like this...

The flowers seem to have melted into the milk so you can't see them anymore, but the chamomile flavoured cream sauce is just divine. I replace fresh cream with evaporated milk. It's healthier and doesn't taste worse. This was one of the few culinary crazies that the family actually approved of! They slurped up EVERY drop of sauce.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Orange Tree

Little Boy's orange tree has become an asset. It is one of those plants that Little Boy guerilla gardened into my patch of garden real estate last year, knowing how hard I would find it to destroy a growing plant. I've looked murderously at this orange tree with its sharp thorns and ugly leaves often enough, but I must admit that it has now earned my respect.

Lime butterflies love our orange tree. Batch after batch of eggs are laid on it despite my running all over the place chasing away pretty butterflies with nets and the occasional Baygon spray can. The tree is a sorry sight, with its half chewed leaves and fat slugs basking in the sun. It was a matter of time before Little Boy decided to be THE cool dude who would bring caterpillars to school for his friends to learn the life cycle of butterflies from egg to chrysalis and then the beautiful butterfly. Child after child eeee-ed, oooo-ed and aaaaa-ed at the daily transformations, and the noisy gnawing of the caterpillars, and gosh what a day it was when the butterflies crawled out of their cocoons!

One thing lead to another, and Little Boy is now selling caterpillars for 30 cents each, to his friends. So far, his clientele consists of a series of young males desperate to own their very own caterpillar. And so, the ugly orange tree has given me the perfect excuse to teach my son the basics of financial management, starting with the definition of an "asset". At breakfast today, he defined it for his father thus "An asset is something you own that makes you money without you having to work." I didn't explain it that way, but there you have it - the perfect definition of "asset". Then turning around ,he grinned at me and said "It feels good to know I can have a steady stream of income from my orange tree".

So yes, the orange tree has earned my grudging respect and I will care for it better from this day forth.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Chicken Poo

I am a finicky housekeeper. Everything in my apartment has to be just so. Even when my helper goes on holiday, I hunker down daily to mop the floor. The bathroom floors are sterilized with boiling hot water once a week, and are scrubbed everyday. Cockroaches know that my home is a danger zone for them and I tolerate just enough lizards to ensure that insect unmentionables inhabiting dark corners, are properly eaten up.

Enter chicken poo.

I have been eyeing a 25 kg bag of chicken poo the way my friends eye the latest pairs of Jimmy Choo. You want it really bad but are you ready for the costs?

So what will chicken poo cost me? Not much money evidently since by every account it is still a bag of shit. But the SMELL... oh... the SMELL! My garden is just outside my window, and being on the top floor, one experiences pleasant evening and morning breezes. For the present, these breezes are perfumed with jasmine and frangipani scents. I'm not sure I would enjoy bottom notes of flower scent completed by top notes of dung scent.

But when I look at my garden, it stares back at me with puppy dog eyes begging to be given a shit treat. So... I am torn between my finicky city self with dustbuster in hand, and my alter ego who revels in sweat and mud of gardening. And you know what, I don't think my finicky city self is gonna win this battle.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Life's Lessons from the Garden

The life of a garden has ups and downs. There are moments when everything flowers together and the garden seems to sing. You walk out there and every plant shouts out melodious "good mornings". They have enough to eat, enough to drink, a wonderful relationship with me, and they are not sick.

Then there are moments when disasters strike. Troubles sweep through the garden and all the plants are stressed and unhappy. Plants fall sick. They die. Then seeds sprout and life begins anew. And when they return, they're always ever so smiley and cheerful if they have enough to eat, to drink and see me everyday. Plants always move on and grow towards a better day. No matter what happens.

That is much better than what I am capable of. Today, I realized that an entire section of my garden was infested with soil mealies. 2 pots of milk thistle. 4 pots of lady's finger. 4 troughs of echinacea. 2 troughs of batavia salad. 1 pot of sage. The infestation had taken hold so strongly that I emptied all the pots, threw all the plants and microwaved all the soil.

In the bigger scheme of things, these are small enough losses. I have taken healthy stem cuttings and they will all re-establish themselves when I buy new soil and replant them. Yet, I mourn and feel like crying. I am heartbroken to have to throw the apparently healthy looking plants but I know that the cancerous soil mealies will bring a slow and painful death to all of them. There are too many to treat and the infestation is too far gone to nurse. Worse, the soil mealies will spread to the other sections of my garden. And that must not happen.

So, I kill them myself... and then I cry.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Blur Ting's Farm Part II

I didn't expect to come home with soooooooo many goodies when I went to Blur Ting's farm. Like French farmers or perhaps farmers all over the the world, Blur Ting walks around her estate, plucks this, uproots that and with a nice happy shove puts all into one's arms. So, I have a whole bag of crispy green vegetables, one whole pot of composting worms, a pot of pandan, two dragonfruits, a pot of mulberry, two passion fruits, vegetable seeds of every sort and plenty of inspiration for my hydroponics garden. It feels so odd to experience this in Singapore, and to feel the sense of warm but restrained affection that one experiences when visiting French farms (as a friend, not a tourist), and then going home with a bag of potatoes, or a clutch of newly harvested carrots.

Inspired by her resourcefulness, I've also done up a DIY composting bin with an old styrofoam box that I've partitioned into 2 parts so that I can harvest one part whilst the wormies party it up in the other part. It costs a couple hundred dollars to buy a composting bin... a price I am not willing to pay. I hope my wormies will like their new home.

The house on the estate is an unpretentious spacious house with floor to ceiling windows in every room - even all the bedrooms. Then too, every bedroom has a double bed and still enough space for romping around with kids and dogs. The kitchen is spacious and easy to work in too. It really is funny how farmhouses always have big airy kitchens. Shouldn't all homes have big airy kitchens? What is a home without a properly large hearth? One gets a sense that farmers know the priorities in life.

At present, mine is a hovel, and for the kind of cooking that I do, I need to spill over into the dining room. MOST inconvenient!