The Tomatoes Move Into Their Home and Meet the Neighbors

Third time’s a charm

-Said by a lot of people

As many of you know, I discussed the topic of transplanting tomatoes TWICE and it was contrary to many gardening belief systems. I defied that idea using  Emilee and Jere Gettle’s wisdom and Winston Churchill’s words to back my theories. Some things just need to be repeated.

After having had my tomato seeds growing in eggshells, I thinned the seeds so that one hardy stem would grow from out of each shell. Next, I gently cracked the egg shells to make room for the roots to grow while the eggshell was breaking down, and buried the tomato plant root balls plus part of their stems into a larger container so that the plants would grow more roots. After the tomato plant grew larger, I buried a little more stem one last time as I transplanted the tomato plants into larger containers. The weather here just shifted from warm to HOT and it was no gradual shift. That can be quite a shock to new tomato transplants who have lived in a 75 degree air conditioned home for the last several weeks. This is why gardeners “harden off” their plants. So to harden off the tomatoes, I draped a thin scrap piece of fabric around their stakes. What this did was allow a little bit of sunlight in but it was softened by the thin breathable fabric (I did not completely cover them either so there was good airflow). This allowed the plants to acclimate to the hot weather a little more gradually. Often people leave them in a bit of shade 2-3 days for this same reason and that works as well. I have now removed their cover and will reveal to you their progress over the last week and how they are now looking.

DSC02988 DSC02989 Dragon Wing Begonia  DSC02990 Garlic   DSC02992 DSC02993Compost as Fertilizer   DSC02994 Clothespin Labels May 26  DSC02995 Stakes from the 100 yen store  DSC02996 Nasturtium in front corners  DSC02997 DSC02998 Marigold in back  DSC02999 Carrot/Mosquito Deterrent?  DSC03000 DSC03002 Side by side Comparison of Yellow Pear Tomato May 26th and May 31st.   DSC03003 New Flower blooming   DSC03006  Speckled Roman May 31st  DSC03005 Better Boy May 31st

DSC03007 Tomatillo May 31st

You’ll notice that the Tomatillo has a stem that is a little thicker and bigger looking than the other tomato plants, but I buried it’s stem once instead of twice. So in actuality, the other tomatoes probably have larger root systems already even though they aren’t as tall from the soil level. They all grow fast though.

The Yellow Pear Tomato plant is going to share it’s space with the following companions: an unidentifiable carrot which I thought was a mosquito repelling herb (if only I knew Kanji), garlic, and a vining flower which I have seen paired with small tomatoes in other books. These plants are a  combination of pest deterrence and beauty making them great neighbors. From what I’ve read, all are compatible with one another. The topsy-turvy will need frequent water, but it’s nearly impossible to overwater it since drainage is designed so optimally.

The Speckled Roman Tomato and The Better Boy Tomato are paired up with a Dragon Wing Begonia and Garlic. Once again, it is a combination of beauty and pest deterrence. My hope is that I will also be able to sprout a few more flowers in this large grow box. I have sprinkled Marigold and Nasturium Seeds in the corners of the planter because both flowers deter pests that I want off of my tomato plants. No one wants pests in their home right?

For now, Tomatillo is only sharing it’s space with garlic, but I hope to add something to it’s container as well. I have read that Basil is a great companion but I am nervous about such a hardy plant sharing it’s space with my Tomatillo. I already have a Boxwood Basil so my intention will be to start seeds with a red basil for variety and looks. I will also keep it trim to avoid the over-running of one to the other. Of course, my trusted resource “Carrots Love Tomatoes” hasn’t steered me wrong yet, it’s been in print since the 70s, and the author specialized in knowing which plants “get along”. I think I will be safe trying that combo.

Different tomato varieties set their fruit in different conditions. Some will set their fruit for one season than quit and wither away. Others will set fruit every time the weather hits a temperature they like which may be a bit cool or may be very hot. Some will go on living and producing as long as there is no hard freeze. In time we will know how these fair on this porch in Okinawa.

Grow on,


when in Okinawa

When In Okinawa, Get a Pedicure

There are moments to indulge and enjoy, but I always know when it’s time to go home and wash my knickers.

-Kate Winslet

I was going to quote another actress who once said, “it is good to indulge now and again,” but I thought Kate’s words were far better!

Here is a confession: I have never gotten a Pedicure, until today. Sure, I have painted my own toes, used nail buffers, foot scrubs, and peppermint lotion like many homemade pedicures can include; but I never indulged in a professional Pedi. I could do it myself and had no reason to justify spoiling myself.

Then I moved to Okinawa and witnessed first hand the beauty of toe art. All over the island women sported toe nails as Devine accessories the way gals sport handbags and shoes in the states. I never thought I would ever be a fan of busy toe paint until I saw the “Monets” that graced pretty little American and Japanese toes alike all around me. It didn’t take long for me to decide to indulge in this little luxury (which would cost much more in the states I might add).

What did I have to lose? Now that I’m not at a teaching job stateside, or in college, I hardly ever eat out, have not been feeding a Starbucks addiction, don’t have to pay PTO to wear jeans, don’t have to “donate” money to our team party fund, have not been to the movies, or feel obligated to buy donuts for Friday. I feel no guilt indulging in a Pedicure at long last. So Kaity and I (remember my partner in crime who took me to Yoho?) got our toes done.

“What on earth does this have to do with gardening?” you might ask… Take a look:

Each toe nail is painted with white flowers that are tinged with hints of orange and deep green leaves swirling around over a bright green background. Yes, I have garden toes.

Now that I have had this fun, I’m going to do some laundry; or as Kate says, “wash my knickers!” Perhaps I will put on a Kate Winslet movie while I’m at it. More garden news to come later.

Keep on blooming,


Behold our first pepper

The expectations of life depend upon diligence; the mechanic that would perfect his work must first sharpen his tools.

One of the first things I did as soon as we moved to Okinawa was buy two tiny little pepper transplants from the Monkey Store. The picture on the labels looked like Jalepenos, but since I couldn’t read Kanji I wasn’t entirely sure of what I was getting. I still had plans to sprout some seeds after getting into our home, but I wanted a head start for our favorite vegetable plant. Now, about six weeks later, I have just harvested our first pepper.


We have been waiting for this moment to find out if it really is a Jalepeno or an impressive look-a-like. I cut it open, smelled it, and put a little piece in my mouth without shedding a tear or breaking a sweat. It tasted more like a bell pepper than a Jalepeno. Maybe the pepper is just young. Maybe if I let it get cracks it will be “mas picante!” I don’t have the answer today but I did learn something.

Even though it would be very hard for me to make an English translation from the Kanji, I can use my prior knowledge of plants to point myself in the right direction. What I mean is that I can look up the English Word for the plant I want or think I’m looking at, then find the Kanji symbols that correlate more easily than looking up Kanji without knowledge of the language pattern. Then I would have known I could look for ハラペニョ
(Harapenyo) rather than relying on the pictures alone. I might then have known what I was getting. Then again, I can’t be certain that they are labeling the way I think they. Fortunately I found the original label:

And it doesn’t look the same as the Kanji I looked up. Nevertheless, carrying translations of what I am aiming to get is still a useful tool that may prove helpful at some point. I am still hopeful that I will grow Jalepenos here. I am still hopeful that I will be able to sprout Jalepeno seeds and that even these plants will produce better peppers. I know I need to combine what I already know with new strategies for success. My books, the Internet, other gardeners, and some language research prior to purchasing plants are all tools that I can and should use to improve my small garden. I must be diligent if I want results.

If you are a successful hot pepper gardener and you are reading this blog, please leave a comment and share your wisdom.

Until next time, Garden Gal Marissa is signing off.

gardening, gardening and inspiration

Twice Transplanting Tomatoes

To  improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often. –Winston Churchill

A little over a week ago I judged my tomato seedlings to be on their way for outgrowing their eggshell containers. Many gardeners think you should only move a transplant once or the plant will be shocked and not survive. I don’t believe that is true. Not having enough soil to place them in their final destination and being concerned about extreme weather as of late, I held off on placing the tiny seedlings into the huge outside container and moved them to a location where they will be able to develop a little more.DSC02886

I have read in my garden books about how some transplants die when you bury some of their stem due to root rot. I have read in other resources that it is good to bury some of the stem because new roots will emerge out of the buried stem and create a stronger root system. This was a good opportunity to consult one of my favorite books on the subject for advice specifically with my tomato transplants.


According to the Heirloom Seed Experts, burying tomato stems is the way to go. So I decided to carefully crack the eggshells (speed up decomposition) and drop the little ones into the holes. I am particularly excited about my first Tomatillo.


My POA was to plant the tomatillo in a self-watering container and the other three tomatoes in temporary containers that are a little bigger than the egg shells so that they can establish their root systems and harden off before I put two of them in a large grow box and one in a topsy-turvy tomato planter. In addition to planning their new container homes, I will be trying to decide who the container companions will be that will help them grow happier.

Here’s how it went:

DSC02894I prepared the new home for Tomatillo.

DSC02895 Then I dug the hole.

DSC02896Burying a banana peel? Why? Tomatoes love and need potassium and a banana peel organically contains and releases potassium. My hypothesis is that if I bury it into the soil it will slow release it’s nutrients as it breaks down and decomposes (remember, too much of a good thing is a bad thing, so be careful with any fertilizer quantities).

DSC02902DSC02904 I CAREFULLY tapped the eggshell on the ground and GENTLY rubbed my fingers along the bottom so that bits of the eggshell would flake off. I wanted to speed the decomposition process of the eggshell up and leave room for the roots to stretch their legs. I left the eggshell bits around the top layer of soil for three reasons: 1. It is a natural mulch 2. It naturally composts into the soil 3. And it acts as a deterrent for slugs and snails because they don’t like to cut themselves trying to crawl over the broken shells. I would hate for a snail to devour a newly planted seedling.

DSC02903 I did this carefully as well because I didn’t want to disturb the root system but I wanted you to see that the inner layer of the eggshell was still intact. It is super thin so there is no doubt in my mind that it will break down quickly into the soil. You can see that even though I flaked off bits of the eggshell, the roots are still together and unharmed.

DSC02906 Now into the hole.

DSC02908 Securing in place.

Then I repeated the process with the next three tomato transplants.







Since the eggshell labels would now be covered, I wrote on their names on clothes pins. The colorful containers are flimsy plastic ones I attained from the Monkey Store when I bought flowers. If the root ball doesn’t look like it’s going to come out easily and in one piece when I do the final transplant, I will be able to cut the container with scissors and slide the root ball into it’s final destination.


DSC02925DSC02926DSC02927 Yes, I used a Starbucks cup as one of the containers. I poked holes in the bottom for drainage and I was all set.

DSC02939 I added a little more soil as needed from a bag of soil that had pictures of vegetables on the cover (remember, I can’t read Kanji). It looked like a potting mix. I normally try to buy potting mix instead of potting soil so that the roots are less likely to be waterlogged. Remember potting mix=aeration and drainage for plants, and potting soil=a blend that retains water longer. As much as it rains here, I’m making sure plants have good drainage.

DSC02960 I took a little break.

DSC02962Here they are in a sunny windowsill on May 12, 2013. They will be here just a little bit longer to grow stronger roots and soon I will move them to the big grow box and the topsy-turvy. Who says multiple changes are a bad thing? Not Winston Churchill, and not I.

My closing thoughts? Don’t be afraid of change.



A special acknowledgement goes out to my husband Brian–my photojournalist for this blog post and my biggest support. I love you.

Coming soon: Pepper Transplants!



Enjoying Some Harvest, Already!

You learn to cook so that you don’t have to be a slave to recipes. You get what’s in season and you know what to do with it. ~Julia Child

What do you think about a renowned Chef who sold cookbooks and gave demonstrations on television and yet says, “you don’t have to be a slave to recipes?” I think she was a genius. Learn what you can do with what’s in season and what’s available where you are.

Many of you already know that I started my balcony garden here on the island of Okinawa only a few weeks ago. A few weeks is hardly enough time for some barely started plants to produce anything right? Not necessarily. With the right mix of store bought transplants, seed plants, farmer’s markets, and some knowledge of the climate zone and how to work with it, you can enjoy a fresh harvest all the time.

Allow me to demonstrate. Do you remember when I showed you a picture of a Lemon Balm plant I got at the Monkey Store?


It was pretty cute and fragrant then. Well here it is now:


Well the way it’s growing, I don’t feel bad harvesting leaves off of it already. I chose this Lemon Balm because I assumed that the lemony fragrance was unattractive to mosquitos (which turns out to be true). I also liked the smell and look of it myself so I decided that it was a winner. Well Lemon Balm is a great herb for tea and essentially can be used any way you would use mint. I have a great recipe for refreshing and cute summertime garnishes. Watch:


Freeze for a few hours then transfer to a freezer safe bag. Anytime you want to liven up a glass of water or sweet ice tea, you’re set!

Soon I intend to dry some Chamomile Flowers to save for Chamomile Tea. Don’t they look lovely?


It grew fast didn’t it? I have learned from my gardening research that many edible plants such as this will produce more if you prune them often. When you have a vegetable or flower on the plant, the plant will use extra energy for that item especially if you allow it to turn into seed. By clipping it cleanly away, you encourage that plant to use it’s energy to produce more.

Finally, we will soon be able to enjoy much desired vegetables of the pepper variety:


Hopefully they are Jalapeño Plants. Remember, I couldn’t read the Kanji label and my Jalapeño seeds still haven’t sprouted (this is the first time this has ever happened)? We will know when we taste them.

Until next time this is Marissa, The Garden Gal, signing off.


Special Acknowledgements:

Makeman DIY Hardware Store

“The Cook’s Herb Garden” by Jeff Cox and Marie-Pierre Moine

Julia Child



An answer at last in reference to the unidentified plant

I posed a question about a plant a while back. Remember “Eesa Fuji?”


Well I downloaded an app called garden compass and it allowed me to send the picture to an expert. Here was their response:

“Difficult to tell without the flowers, but appears to belong to the Wisteria genus, a twining woody vine that can be a “bonsai” in a container with beautiful trusses of blue, white or pink spring-time blossoms followed by fuzzy pea like up to 6 in. long pods. Foliage turns yellow in fall before losing its leaves until late winter or early spring. Needs full sun – suggest you take it outdoors for it to survive properly. Feed with a slow release fertilizer and water regularly but do not allow plant to sit in water.”

Benefits of the Information Age…

Happy Gardening,

gardening and inspiration

The Difference Between Surviving and Flourishing

Hibiscus flowers do not require water, the blooms will stay viable until their time has passed, with or without watering.

When we moved into this house, my friend told me that the small bushes that were planted in front of the house were Hibiscus bushes. I was very excited about having Hibiscus bushes in front of my house in our new subtropical home and while at the time they looked like short sticks with a few leaves, I looked each day to see if any of their majestic blooms had appeared. Alas, about ten days ago I saw our first bloom.


It was beautiful, but as you can see there was damage. One petal appeared to be chewed on. Also I noticed holes in nearly every leaf of every bush. This was the work of a pest for sure. The question is, who was the culprit? I consulted my favorite resource on the topic:


I searched for bugs that chew holes and found that among those are slugs, sawfly larvae, and Japanese Beatles. The Sawfly Larvae seemed to be the most likely of the three as I am pretty sure I have seen these pests crawling around near by. In fact, the book even has a picture of one on a Hibiscus plant. The suggestions for controlling this pest include squashing them, knocking them into soapy water, clipping off leaves that are infested with colonies, and attracting birds to your garden to eat them. 20130502-153833.jpg

Another thing to consider with pest control is that plants are less susceptible to pest damage when they are healthy. When I look around the island, I see Hibiscus bushes everywhere. I did the research on the Hibiscus plant and it’s ideal growing conditions. Hibiscus grows well throughout Asia, Hawaii, Mexico, and Florida plus certain varieties have even been cultivated for Europe. The truth is, the Base landscapers chose these plants for a reason–they are easy to grow here. They are in the perfect climate range and can survive Typhoon Alley. But what if I don’t just want them to survive? What if I want more blooms and have a way to encourage the plant to produce them? It would also be nice if the plants had a few less holes.

So this was my POA: I was going to set out to comb through the mulch and apply organic fertilizer (from my kitchen) into the soil each morning until I had made it to each one of my ma’o hau hele (“Hibiscus” in Hawaiian Language). In the meantime, as I sifted through I would keep my eyes open for pests that I could eradicate either with my shovel, the large cup of soapy water I could throw them into, or my favorite weapon of choice:20130502-153842.jpg

a spray bottle filled with warm water, soap, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper! This spray is especially meant for pests that tend to hide under leaves. Some pests detest the smell of garlic and cayenne and so it deters them from coming around.

For fertilizer, I learned that the Hibiscus needs 1 part phosphorous, 3 parts nitrogen, and 5 parts potash (or potassium). My logic tells me that the rain here brings a good bit of nitrogen so I didn’t need to supplement it with too much and it needs so little phosphorous that I am reluctant to add any for fear of burning the plants (This nutrient also has a reputation for creating showy blooms temporarily only to weaken the soil quality in the long run). So I applied my used coffee grounds from each morning’s coffee with chopped up banana peels directly into the soil near each plant. With this I was able to fertilize about 3 bushes per day.

Today, (10 days later) I walked outside to find this lovely sight:


A beautiful, healthy Ma’o hau, hele! Not just one, but two:

DSC02852Notice how there is one on each end?

Here is the lesson I have learned from the Hibiscus: Anyone can survive a new environment. These days, if you are a military wife, you have benefits. Living overseas has it’s benefits. We live in a home on a Base where we pay no rent or utilities. All of our essential needs are at the commissary and BX and it is in fact such a large base we have a convenience shop and restaurants around the corner of our neighborhood. The gas station and car care shop are down the street. As you can probably figure out, I don’t have to leave a one mile radius to survive here. But where’s the fun in that?

Just like the Hibiscus, I can survive with or without the comforts I was used to in the States. I can make it out here whether I complain or find joy. I can choose to just get by, or I can make conscious choices each day to enrich my life so that I may flourish. If I hadn’t put in the effort to fertilize the soil around my bushes, they would have survived; but just look at that flower! I have resolved that in order to flourish in Japan, I should leave the neighborhood, explore the island, eat THEIR food rather than just pray the commissary will stock what I want, learn their language, do things that I know bring me joy while being open to trying new projects and adventures, meet new people, and affect my environment with the rich things I have been blessed with before.

What will you do today? Survive? Or flourish?

I urge to you to do all that you can to flourish!