Saturday, May 30, 2009

Lime butterfly

When I opened the cupboard in the patio to get my spade, I found a beautiful lime butterfly lying inside. The poor butterfly must have hatched and found itself trapped inside. Lime caterpillars have a habit of crawling away from the food plant to find a safe place to transform into a larvae. Somehow, this particular one found its way into the cupboard.

Romping about

While I was romping about with Cookie (below) at my parent's farm yesterday afternoon, I was so shocked to discover that my favourite bauhinia kockiana is gone. Yes, vanished from the face of this earth! Just last week, I blogged about how beautifully unkempt it was, and then it was gone!

As it turns out, Mum had instructed the farm workers to 'trim' the plants and they could have misunderstood her intentions. They terminated it! Afterall, they're foreigners who speak very little English or they simply don't care. Whatever it is, the plant that took years to grow to such a spectacular sight is no longer around. See for yourself!

Where have all the flowers gone?

The bauhinia before it was chopped down.

They left the dracena untouched but they killed my bauhinia, alamanda and this gorgeous hibiscus plant. I don't know what to say!!

Let's leave the unfortunate incident aside and look at other more inspiring things. This is a tiny shoot that had sprouted from discarded watercress stems (below). I have discovered that watercress is a very difficult plant to grow in our hot and humid climate. The ones that have sprouted from seeds remain stagnant for a long time while the survival rate of those from stem cuttings is low.

My father's lady's finger plants are doing so well, they produce long, curly fingers! Here, a pretty flower is about to bloom.

He also grows several huge wild brinjal (eggplant) plants that are as tall as I am. These plants produce pretty white flowers and tiny fruits that are edible. I guess that's why you don't see these plants very often, they're simply not commercially viable since they take up so much space and produce so little!

He grows this strange looking bitter gourd too. We've cooked it several times, it's both crunchy and bitter, but I like it.

Here are a couple of capsicum plants given by our neighbour. Cute isn't it?

One of our tenants grows basil commercially, an entire field of this!
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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Manual pollination

When I started growing fruit vegetables in my patio, I didn't really warm up to the concept of manual pollination. To be honest, in all my years of gardening (at the farm that is), we never had to do any form of manual pollination ever! We had more than enough bees, butterflies, beetles and bugs to do the job. We literally left everything to nature without any human intervention.

So I had assumed that I could continue with my old ways at the new abode's high rise patio garden. Afterall, I often see ants, butterflies and an ocassional bee in our midst.

When my cucumber plants started producing tiny cucumbers attached to the flower, I was overjoyed. I thought they would simply mature into big succulent cucumbers until Petunia urged me to pollinate them manually.

I did it on two female flowers. One shrivelled up and died while the other one grew into a bulbous fruit.

The bulbous one.

The one that didn't quite make it.

Now I see the importance of manual pollination. In fact, doing it properly is the key. I keep my peeled on the plants these days. If I see a female flower, I'll grab a male one and do the deed right away. One cannot rely on the birds and bees anymore, I have to do the job (using the right technique) in order to enjoy the fruits of my labour.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Reinventing the iceberg

I was reading about the iceberg lettuce. Yes, that bland and unexciting iconic American vegetable that many like us grew up with. Before worldlier lettuces like endive, arugula, romaine and butterhead became available, the ubiquitous iceberg was found in every kitchen in America, at the ready for shredding into salads and stuffing into sandwiches.

When the other fancy lettuces appeared, the iceberg got sidelined in it's own native land. Fortunately, it found new fans in the Far East. The Chinese stir fry and braise the iceberg, turning the boring vegetable into something exciting to tease the tastebuds. Creative cooks turn them into edible cups for minced meat or wrap savoury fillings in the delicate leaves, transforming them into delicious food parcels.

As they gained popularity worldwide, better varieties were developed. Now, they have become a profitable crop in many countries and we can enjoy the crisp iceberg all year round. It has found its way into salads, stir fries and sandwiches here in Singapore.

This goes to show that when ying meets yang, new ideas will be born.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Red dragon fruit

I must say the dragon fruit plants are by far the most productive fruit trees in our farm. They're of the red-fleshed variety which keep producing sweet and succulent fruits all year round. Here's one ripening on the branch.

Meanwhile, we have more to come.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Wish list

I've grown leafy vegetables in my patio, now I'm growing fruiting vegetables. While waiting to harvest juicy limes, Japanese cucumber, edamame (soy beans), lady's fingers and brinjal (eggplant), I'm feeling rather restless.

I would like to grow some real fruit trees. Top on my list is something known as the Ribena plant. The proper name is roselle. I'm not sure why I want it badly but the thought of making my own Ribena flavoured drink makes me happy.

I would also like to have a mulberry plant. That's easy as I've already nurtured some young ones at my parent's farm. Once they are strong and bushy, I'll bring one back to my apartment.

How I wish I could grow more variety of fruit trees in my patio garden. With the lack of space and insufficient direct sunlight, that will only be a dream for now.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


Through one of my favourite blogs, I read about one of the finest restaurants in Amsterdam, De Kas , that was converted from an old greenhouse.

According to the Chef and owner Gert Jan Hagememan: “A kitchen surrounded by fertile soil where vegetables and herbs thrive … Where daylight shines in from all sides and where the chefs are free to express their creativity daily using the best the season has to offer. It seems an obvious concept, but I spent twenty years surrounded by white tiles under fluorescent lighting before I came up with it.”

That's like my dream. I hope it won't take me another 20 years to realise it.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Fruits of our labour

Take a peek at what my friend and I are growing at the farm.

Lettuce and lady's fingers!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

New projects

I built a herb terrarium yesterday using a 2ft tank that used to house SK's hermit crabs. Somehow, the 3 hermit crabs have mysteriously disappeared. Seeing a lifeless tank taking up a third of his study table makes me very unhappy.

It's already filled with a layer of fine white sand. I added in some charcoal chips and topped with few inches of light potting soil. I sowed some coriander, watercress and rosemary seeds, sprinkled some water and covered the tank with a transparent lid.

That's all to it. When the seeds sprout, the plants will transpire and let out water vapour. Water will be locked inside to keep the soil moist. Vapour that's collect against the top will fall back as rain. I have placed it in a shady corner of my patio. It should be almost maintenance free from now on.

I'm also starting a recycling project. This idea came about after I find myself running out of flower pots (again). Instead of running out to buy new ones, I'm going to recycle tin cans. We go through a couple of canned straw/button mushrooms a week. Simply punch some holes at the bottom for drainage and they become instant flowerpots. Now, I just have to start collecting cans.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

This lil caterpillar

I saw this green lime caterpillar at the far left corner of my garden yesterday morning. It must have fallen off from a plant. By evening, it had crawled to the middle of my garden. This morning, I spotted it on my lime plant across the patio. It's a long distance crawl for this little guy.

It was busy eating early this morning. Soon, it will become a chrysalis like its friend here before emerging as a beautiful lime butterfly.

I spotted another tiny caterpillar on the same plant. Lime caterpillars start off as little brown blobs that resemble bird droppings. They soon grow into fat green caterpillars after feeding voraciously on the leaves of the lime plant.

Oh, JC asked about lime butterflies. They are attractive fast fliers, mostly black with large yellow markings on the uppersides. The underside is predominantly yellow with black markings.

On a separate note, my alfalfa sprouts have grown taller. They should be ready for eating in a day or two.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Woo hoo!

Doesn't that look like a cucumber? Finally, a fruit without any manual pollination!

When my friend EY visited from Korea last month, she brought me a seed sprouting kit along with some seeds. These are alfalfa seeds that have germinated after I've soaked them in water for several hours and left them in the sprouting tray overnight.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Five years ago, I was very excited when YK's tutor gave me a cutting of a Bauhinia kockiana. I had envisioned clusters of attractive flowers cascading down the trellis. The trouble is, it's such a slow growing plant, I watched it grow so slowly through the years while looking longingly at the magnificent blooms in other people's garden.

Funny thing is, the plant started to flower profusely after we moved out almost a year ago. It has now crept up the tall dracaena plant, smothering it with dazzling flowers. The bright yellow alamanda adds to the riot of colours.

Now that nobody's really tending to the garden, the plants are unkempt and unruly, yet so beautiful in their own way.

Dad's veggie patch

My father started growing vegetables as a hobby this year and now his backyard is like a veritable vegetable farm. He's so good at it, we've had bountiful harvest of spinach, chye sim, sweet potato leaves and bai cai.

Now his lady's finger plants are producing fruits, lots of them!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Cool cucumber

My cucumber plants have been flowering but I've not found any fruits so far. All the flowers I've seen are male, so there is no chance of doing manual pollination. I've spotted some bees and butterflies in the garden and was hoping they could do the job for me.

Friday, May 8, 2009

My soy beans

I had forgotten all about my soy bean plants in the garden. They were sown together with the cucumber seeds but were quickly overtaken by the more prolific grower (cucumber) until they were totally hidden from my view.

While puttering about in the garden today, I found them getting strangled by the cucumber plant's tendrils. Upon closer look, I saw small clusters of hairy soy bean pods! I feel so bad for neglecting them.

I set them free and moved the pot away from the aggressive neighbour. That's the danger of putting the plants too close together.

Seeing the pods makes me wished I had sown more seeds. With only 3 soy bean plants, I can only yield a tiny handful of beans. It's not even enough for me to snack on. That's the trouble with having a small garden, I always end up with a measly harvest. My lady's finger plants only gave me a total of 3 fruits so I let them mature on the plant so I could keep the seeds. Looks like this will be the case with the soy beans too.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

So far so good

It's good to know that the trellis I built recently has been put to good use. The cucumber plants seem to love this.

Some of the lemon grass I've potted are not doing too badly.

I call these 3 herbs (curry leaf, rosemary and basil) the happy trio. They look so good together.

The leaves of the lime plant have been badly chewed up by the caterpillars of the lime butterfly but that's ok, as long as the plant is still healthy and producing fruits. YK used to grow lime plants to feed them so that we could have a garden fullof fluttering lime butterflies.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Where is the sun?

I finally potted my lemon grass yesterday afternoon. They were rooting so beautifully in water, I hope they will continue to progress well in soil. Some of them don't look so good this morning. The green young shoots have turned brownish, I had to curb the urge to pull them out from the soil to check on the roots.

The recent demise of my tomato and brinjal plants must be making me paranoid. Edible plants that used to thrive in the sunny patio no longer grow well now. The patio that used to enjoy many hours of sunshine is now always in the shadow cast by the tall apartment block. I've come to realise that the sun-lit area is constantly shifting with the sun and earth's movements.

As a result, seeds refuse to germinate and my vegetable seedlings remain stunted in the water-logged soil. I threw away the failures and tried to improve on the soil. Still, I know that working with soggy soil isn't going to yield very good results. I'm tempted to throw them away but for now, I just leave them in the corner to sulk.

As if not having enough sun is not bad enough, last night I woke up to strong winds and another heavy downpour. The big fat raindrops caused the soil to splatter out from the pots and made a mess in the patio. Thank goodness I had protected my young watercress seedlings with clingwrap film earlier or the delicate seedlings will face a certain death.

Looking around, I'm not the only one having a miserable time in the garden. Some of my friends are struggling with pests. Well, I am too. It's like wintertime in our garden. While we do not have to deal with frost and the biting cold, we have other problems to tackle.

I hope it's spring time in everyone's garden again. For me, I want my patio to be sunny again!