Monday, December 9, 2013

A butterfly garden

When my son converted my patio into a butterfly garden, I was rather skeptical. He wanted a wild garden, somewhat unkempt where vines creep up the trees and create an unruly tangly mess. I wasn't sure I could live with that.

He started putting in lots of host and food plants. Our lilies and vegetables gave way to biden, snake weed, aristolochia, rattle box pea, crown flower, milkweed, lime, curry, ixora, lantana, ylang ylang, chempaka and so forth. These are the ones I am familiar with. There are also loads of unusual ones that I can't identify. 

The butterflies came and went with the seasons. At one point, we had so many tiger butterflies fluttering about every morning, it was indeed a beautiful sight. But the tigers do not practise birth control and the hungry caterpillars can strip an entire plant of their leaves in one day. Soon, their food plants stopped growing and the tigers disappeared.

However, the other plants continue to thrive, so much so that it looks like a jungle out there. With the ombination of rain and sunshine we're getting these days, the plants are florishing and flowering like crazy.

With such a abundant supply of nectar and pollen, the garden is alive with butterflies, bees and bugs. These busy pollinators keep the garden healthy and productive. I'm pleased with my messy garden.

Saturday, December 7, 2013


I learned about marcotting (air layering) when I was in primary school and it has been ages since I've seen anyone propogate plants this way. Marcotting is one of the oldest forms of plant propagation and it is mostly practised in South East Asia.

Someone in my neighbourhood has tied several parcels of compost on his guava plant. After a couple of weeks, it's quite exciting to see some development. The root system is now visible through the transparent bag. Soon he will be able to transfer the marcot into the ground.

Friday, December 6, 2013

We've got tomatoes (again)

For a while, I thought my tomato plants were dying. The leaves were drying up and the fruits were getting smaller and smaller. Some were the size of peas!

When my son told me we've got tomatoes, I almost didn't believe him. Imagine my surprise when I saw one plant filled with fruits. I must admit that I've been neglecting them lately. All I did was to pour some 'fishy water' (saved from washing fresh fish from the market) into the pot every Sunday.

This was how our grannies fertilise their plants in the past and it must have been quite effective.

The pack of seeds from Royal Seeds has proven to be the right one for our climate. This is the indeterminate type ('vining type') which is supposed to keep growing until it gets killed by frost. But since it is hot here all year round, I wonder how long they will keep growing.

I've had mine for almost 6 months now and they're still going strong. I'm so happy with my tomatoes!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

My own figs

I've always wanted a fig plant. When my friend gave me his, I was happy even though it didn't look very healthy. Thankfully I managed to nurse it back to health.
And lately, it is fruiting too! The whole reason why I wanted a fig plant is because I love eating fig but the imported ones here taste so bland. Those I had eaten overseas tasted so sweet and delicious because they were harvested at their prime. I'm going to let my figs ripen before I pick them.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Radish flowers

Sometimes I get too attached to the vegetables in my patio that I can't bear to eat them, just like my beloved radish. The leaves look so lush and attractive that I hesitate to harvest until they're probably too old for eating now. They are beginning to bolt and produce flowers. So for those who wonder where radish seeds come from, I've got the answer for you.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Grow-again Parsley

Parsley is a great herb that can liven up a seafood dish. When I visited my friend in Italy, I noticed he used lots of parsley in his pasta and salads. At home, my family loves it when I toss some in soups.

Naturally it makes sense for me to grow some of my own. I didn't want to wait forever for seeds to grow into adult plants, so I bought a plant from the nursery. I let it sit in the patio for a month to purge out all the chemicals before cutting the leaves for cooking.

After the first cutting, new leaves started to form quickly. Granted they aren't as large as before, I'm happy that they are free from any fertilisers or chemicals. Now I can use as much as I want in my dishes.

Monday, October 21, 2013

A new lease of life

A friend gave me his fig plant several months ago. It arrived in my patio with only 2 old leaves. According to him, it had been that way for the longest time. Maybe I could revive it?

I transfered it into a larger pot but the situation did not improve. In fact, both leaves dried up and fell off eventually. I sought the advice of someone who is an expert in growing figs. He suspected the roots were not developing well and that I should pull out the entire plant and give the roots a good wash.

True enough, a wad of sponge was wrapped around the roots, constricting the root development. I discarded the sponge and repotted the plant and almost immediately, it started producing new leaves. Within a few months, the plant is a picture of health. Thanks to the expert, my fig plant has been given a new lease of life.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Cheery cherry tomatoes

The pack of seeds from Italy is by far the best thing I have bought from my travels. To date I have harvested hundreds of tomatoes from two plants. I let them ripen on the vine so I can enjoy the sweetest, ripest fruits. They are so delicious that we usually just eat them as a snack. Otherwise I make a salsa or toss them in a salad. The vines are getting old and are no longer very productive. It's time to grow new plants to ensure I have a continuous supply of tomatoes.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Pea shoots

One of my favourite baby greens to grow at home is pea shoots. If you get the right seeds, you will find it very satisfying to grow your own.

There are different varieties to choose from. Some seeds are harder and can withstand soaking. These I grow in a special hydroponic tray after soaking the seeds overnight. All I have to do is change water daily and harvest the shoots in about 10 days.

Another method of growing is to sow in a tray filled with compost. Generally, these peas expand by about 40% when moist, so do not sow too tightly to allow room for expansion. I mist the seeds and sprouts daily to keep them moist.

Pea shoots can be eaten raw in a salad or stir fried with garlic or noodles. The fat seed provides all the nutrients, so the shoots are packed with nutrients, carotene and valuable phytochemicals.

After you have cut the shoots for eating, new sprouts will appear after a few days. You can harvest up to 3 or even 4 times. Really good value for money.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

I see radish

The radish I'm growing in the patio are doing well. In fact, I'm beginning to see one peeking out under the beautiful leaves. If you have a deep pot at home, try growing radish. They're just about the easiest thing to grow and it's so rewarding to see them flourish with hardly any care.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Baby greens

L-R - wheatgrass, peashoot and kangkong.
If you do not have the space and patience to grow vegetables in your garden, I highly recommend you start with growing baby greens. They are basically vegetables harvested at the juvenile stage. Typically, you can harvest your greens for eating in less than 10 days. As the nutrients come from the seeds, there is no need to add fertiliser or other additives.

I usually sow the seeds on a thin layer of organic compost and mist them daily. They germinate quickly and can be grown indoors. Harvesting is as easy as using a pair of kitchen scissors to snip off what you need. Some larger seeds like wheatgrass, peashoot and barley grass can produce new shoots after cutting.

The vegetables taste great stir-fried or added to salads, soup, noodles or omelette. Wheatgrass and barley grass can be juiced or added to smoothies to make a highly nutritious beverage.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Growing herbs

Many new gardeners ask me about growing herbs from seeds and I tell them I usually get mine from the stores. They are a good investment. A small pot of nicely grown herb costs a few dollars but with proper care, it can last for years.

That said, it's not that you can't grow them from seeds. It's just that some can be quite challenging to grow especially in our climate. They're also prone to disease (they're delicious, thay's why!) and come under attack by pests during the early stages of growth.

I like to buy the tiny pots of oregano, thyme and sage from the chiller section of the supermarket and grow them in a larger pot at home. I like that they are organic but you have to be careful to let them acclimatise slowly in your home. They'll die quickly if you place them under the sun. Remember they used to live in a chiller!

Lately I don't see them anymore in the supermarkets, so I got the larger pots from the nursery instead. They're usually lush and attractive, but also doused with fertiliser and chemicals. I won't use the leaves for cooking for the next few weeks until I'm very sure they're safe.

Here is an oregano that I bought recently. Within a month, it has grown so much that it's trailing all over. The great thing about herbs is that, the more you cut, the faster new leaves will grow.

I like to pound oregano with garlic, salt and rosemary together as a rub for provencal roast chicken. Trust me, it's good.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Good tomato harvest

This is my most rewarding gardening experience so far. For years, I have been trying to grow tomatoes in my garden. For some reason, they always die before I can even smell of any harvest. I have blamed it on the humidity, pests and pure bad luck.

When I was on vacation in Italy, I bought a pack of tomato seeds. I left it in the cupboard for a year before deciding to sow the seeds in planters. The seeds germinated very quickly and grew into strong healthy plants. I've had robust tomato plants die on me overnight, so I wasn't expecting them to live very long.

To my surprise, they grew into big plants, climbing over the railing and twining over each other. Then flowers developed and turned into bunches of cute cherry tomatoes. When they started turning red one by one, I knew I could finally relax and enjoy the fruits of my labour.

The three plants have been giving me ripe fruits everyday. It has become a habit to walk into the garden, pick sweet vine-ripened cherry tomatoes and pop them straight into our mouths. I also use them in my salads, salsa, pizza and stir fries. My wish has finally come true.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Keeping plants hydrated

 The tomatoes are beginning to ripen and I resist harvesting until they are very ripe. I want to savour the taste of organic tomatoes ripened on the vine instead of in the stores. I hope the birds don't beat me to it!

We'll be away on family vacation for a week and I don't want to return home to find my tomato plants dead. It's been exceptionally hot lately with no rain, so I've set up a simple irrigation system using the wick method to keep the plants hydrated when I'm on holiday. I use strips of microfibre cloth as it absorbs more water than other fabrics. I can't possibly do this to all my plants, so for now only the tomatoes will receive the special treatment.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Radish greens

I tossed some radish seeds, the ones I normally use for sprouting, into my compost bin and I've got a bunch of good looking greens now. Apparently radish leaves are quite a delicacy. When eaten raw in salads, they are spicy and full of flavour. Some people use them to make pesto or stir fries. I'd rather wait a bit more just to see if I can find any radish beneath the soil.

Monday, August 12, 2013


Every morning, I stand before my tomato plants to see if I can spot any new fruits developing. To date, I have 8 and counting. As they grow bigger, the shape changes from oval to hour-glass, I'm pretty curious how they will eventually turn out.

The calamansi plant is also filled with fruits. This plant is so productive, I've a constant supply of calamansi which is perfect for making a piquant Asian salad dressing or a refreshing iced drink. Even though the fruit is available cheaply at the market, nothing beats eating your own organic ones. Every house should grow one.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Flowers in the patio

It's a joy to see flowers blooming in the garden, and even better if they have the potential to turn into edible fruits.

The tomato plants have been flowering for weeks but I've been removing them because I want the plants to grow bigger first. Now that they're about a metre tall,  I think it's time. I feel so lucky that 3 plants have done well. This is by far my most successful attempt. Touch wood.

The chives are also flowering profusely. I used to wonder why they don't flower but now I do. I haven't harvested the leaves for eating all year, so they have an opportunity to mature and produce flowers. Look at how gorgeous they are!
 My faithful calamansi plant is about to begin another season of fruiting. The plant is filled with white fragrant flowers. I love how they brighten up the patio with their aroma and pristine petals.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Growing vegetables

Many people think growing vegetables is difficult. I would like to assure you that you don't need green fingers, what you need is the right growing condition. Our balcony in the office enjoys direct sunlight daily which vegetables love. Every now and then, I simply toss some seeds in the pots filled with compost and they germinate in no time.
 All we do is water daily. We pretty much leave them alone the whole time. They grow up nicely without any meddling. The only trouble is, they get parched over the weekend when nobody is around to do the watering. Luckily, we've been getting enough rain lately, so our cai xin and xiao bai cai are thriving.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Here we go again

I have tried growing tomato many times but have never tasted any success. The plants normally succumb to disease at some point and die without bearing fruits. But that doesn't mean I have given up trying.

Inspired by the gorgeous tomatoes I had seen and eaten in Amalfi Coast, I couldn't resist buying a pack of seeds home.
Italian tomatoes are impressive!
Italian tomato seeds.
 I have seedlings growing nicely in my patio now. Let's hope they don't die on me this time!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Growing edamame

The best appetiser to order in a Japanese restaurant is lightly boiled edamame - basically immature soybeans in a pod. They can be so addictive, it's hard to believe that something so tasty can be so good for you.

Growing them at home is easier than you can imagine. I've grown many batches of edamame in my garden using the humble dried soybean that's easily available at the stores. It's the same kind of soybean that is used for making soup, soy milk or beancurd.

Last week, I soaked 100 beans overnight before putting them in a planter the next day. Soaking the beans will expedite the germination process.

You might think that 100 beans is way too many. I think the figure is just right. Out of my 100 beans, only 30 germinated after 3 days. Some might still germinate later but one should always expect some beans or seedlings to die or get chewed up by grasshoppers, snails or birds.

Even if 10 plants manage to grow into adults, don't expect the harvest to be too impressive.

Grow them in a large pot with access to direct sunlight. They don't take up much space, so anyone with a small garden should be able to grow this successfully. They're fast growers, so you can expect to eat the pods in about a month and a half.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Beans in a bin

 I bought some fresh mottled beans from the market to make a stew. I saved some and dropped them in my compost bin. Now there is a bunch of them sprouting in the bin. If you're a beginner, you should try growing beans because they'll normally germinate given the right conditions. Well, unless they are too old.
The only problem I've encountered so far was having them gobbled up by snails. To overcome this problem, I soak the beans overnight, until they're just about to sprout, before putting them into the soil. They will germinate very quickly after that. I guess planting them in a tall compost bin helps too because it's a long climb for the snails. As you know, snails come out to play at night. By the time they get to the top of the bin, it's almost daybreak and they have to make their way back to hide in the shade again.

Sunday, May 5, 2013


We have been getting more rain than ever this year. The hot spell that was expected after Chinese New Year didn't happen. And it's been unusually wet lately. In fact, we're seeing extremes -scorching heat followed by heavy rain.It's a blessing really. May used to be really hot and dry.

My garden's in a mess. Plants are overgrowing, spilling all over the boardwalk. There is no space for walking, let alone growing more vegetables!

Amidst the clutter, I have a small cluster of herbs (chives, oregano, thai and sweet basil) and tropical vegetables (spinach, cai xin, sweet potato vine and mustard green) growing in small planters.

I've also sowed more rocket salad and soy beans in pots scattered in every nook and cranny. If everything goes according to plan, I will be harvesting rocket and edamame for my salad bowl before July!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Growing vegetables is easy

Growing vegetables isn't so difficult as long as the conditions are right. I've been growing tropical vegetables like spinach and kang kong in these small planters measuring about 17x17cm. Vegetables thrive as long as they receive enough sunlight and water. It is important to choose a growing medium that provides good drainage.
The best thing about growing kang kong is they continue to grow after each harvest. I leave about 2 cm of stump and new leaves will grow very quickly within days.