gardening and inspiration

Tomatillo and Okra Do-Overs

“Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist but the ability to start over.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald

After a long absence from blogging, my theme for this entry is totally appropriate for my return. A wonderful series of life events kept me busy and away from my writing desk (ironically one of those events involved teaching others how to write). It may be hard to pick back up after losing momentum, but it’s totally worth it. While I was away from the blog, I continued to garden. In my endeavor, there were two plants I wanted to attempt to grow again, and I can now say that I succeeded.

If you go back to my blog in May of last year, I posted an entry called “Twice Transplanting Tomatoes.” I posted an entry about their progress a couple weeks later I felt very successful planting my tomatillos and I even watched the plant become very large and full of blooms. I was sure it would be a success as blooms are the start of the coming fruit. What I did not anticipate was a vicious attack from microscopic red spider mites. The trouble with these pests is by the time you realize they are there, it may be too late for your plant. Not only were the pests a problem, but I also failed to plant more than one tomatillo plant and you need at least two for pollination. I never saw a single tomatillo.

Also last year, I tried to grow Okra. Again, the spider mites and caterpillars had a feast. I maybe ate three okra pods from that plant. It was sorely disappointing.

This year, I planted okra transplants in my front yard among my flowers and I gave tomatillos another chance late this summer. I used many of the same methods except this time the Okra had more room for its roots and a different amount of sun while the tomatillo transplants were placed in a bigger container with several garlic cloves (to hopefully deter spider mites). Also, even though I may have gotten a late start with the tomatillos, they did have the opportunity to grow in slightly cooler weather. Most spider mites thrive in the hottest weather.

SONY DSC An okra bloom

SONY DSC The arrangement: Okra, basil, chives, and low growing flowers

SONY DSC A sprouting okra pod


SONY DSC Did you know that okra is in the same plant family as the hibiscus? It’s no wonder the flowers are so stunning!

SONY DSC Pollinators help

SONY DSC  Mature okra pods, ready for the picking

As a result, we were able to harvest okra every 2-3 days in July through early October. We probably enjoyed at least ten dinners with fried okra! The plants began to de-leaf as the weather dropped and they were stripped bare in the last typhoon, but we got out of them what we expected. Like any annual, they fruited in season and stopped when their time was up.

Now, my four tomatillo plants are monsters! I’m very pleased with how big and healthy they look and this time, I actually see some tomatillos sprouting rather than just the blooms. This last month, I have not had time or energy to garden; all we did was add water and before I knew it the plants were huge and thriving. I couldn’t be more thrilled!


Last year, I didn’t have very much control of the spider mites and I had no control over the weather. I still had a choice as to whether or not I should continue. I’m glad I decided to give these plants another chance. Now, I have reaped and will reap a harvest from what I have sown.

Now, here is the How To:

For Okra:

  1. I used transplants from a local nursery. One advantage to this is the opportunity to get a variety of the plant that probably does well in this region. Another advantage is a slightly faster harvest.
  2. I dug up the soil in my yard and added some of my own compost mixed with vegetable and flower slow release fertilizer (You can make your own compost over the course of a few months or simply buy it at a garden supply). The soil here is a thick clay, but so is the soil used to start the transplants here so they fit right in; extra nutrients can’t hurt though!
  3. I chose an arrangement for my okra and accompanying plants. I planted chives and basil near the okra since I know they are compatible plants with one another and fragrant plants attract good pollinators and deter some of the pests. I also included some low growing, shallow rooting flowers. There are two things I consider when planning the arrangement—compatibility, and plant height. The tallest plants go in the back and the shortest in the front.
  4. I covered the remaining exposed areas with mulch and added water.
  5. After that, water when the soil looks dry or 1-2 times a week and try not to let okra pods grow longer than about 3-4 inches (more than that and they get tough and are hard to eat). Harvest as frequently as you can as that will encourage the plant to grow more fruit.

For Tomatillo:

  1. I started with seeds for these plants. I like to use egg shells as my starter containers and I keep them well watered in a sunny window. Peat pots are great but in my area they tend to mold quickly. I prefer not to have mold on my windowsill.
  2. Once there were at least three sets of leaves, I was ready to transplant into a pot outside. Egg shells are biodegradable, but they don’t break down as quickly as other materials. I gently crack the egg shells and pull them away from the roots before dropping the root ball in soil.
  3. To prepare the pot, I added some fresh as well as previously used soil. I removed old roots from the pot, added compost, and added slow release fertilizer. I mixed them well and moistened the soil. My choice pot is one with a water reservoir so that the plants can wick up the amount of moisture they need and I don’t have to water them as frequently.
  4. I planted each tomatillo plant along the back evenly spacing each one. I then planted a row of garlic cloves* along the middle and sprinkled pansy flower seeds along the edge.
  5. I added water to the soil and filled the water reservoir. Every couple of days I add more water to the reservoir. The plant has since cared for itself.
  6. Final tip: Check under the leaves periodically for pests. The cheapest and most organic control you can use if you find anything is to get a spray bottle with water or a garden hose and dislodge any pests you find. For larger pests such as caterpillars, slugs, snails, and beetles, you can pick them off with gloves or a tool and drop them in soapy water. If you see a lady bug or a praying mantis, leave it alone! Those bugs will kill bad bugs when you’re not around to catch them and they won’t hurt your plant. Ditto for spiders but I don’t blame you if you don’t want them around either!

For garlic:

  1. Take a garlic head from your kitchen and break off a few cloves.
  2. Stick your thumb in the soil and place a garlic clove in the hole with the pointy side up.
  3. Add water and forget about it. You’ll soon see garlic chive shoots pop up and when they brown and tip over you’ll be able to dig up a new head of garlic. It may be a small head, but it’s edible.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my return entry and can take something valuable away from it. Thank you for reading and feel free to leave me comments or questions!

Garden Pests, gardening

The Very Hungry Caterpillars

“In nature a repulsive caterpillar turns into a lovely butterfly.   But with humans it is the other way around:  a lovely butterfly turns into a repulsive caterpillar.”

It all started with thin webbing appearing my okra, the irrational bolting of my basil, and then thin webbing on my basil. At first glance, it was obvious that the webbing was not a standard spider’s handiwork. I feared the similarity it had to spider mite damage but the webbing was on top of the leaves instead of underneath; plus there were holes in the leaves under many of the webs. If it wasn’t spider mites, what could it be?



Then I found them. An infestation including dozens of tiny hungry caterpillars on a single small basil plant. I was mortified. What kind of negligent gardener had I been to not notice these critters earlier when I had spotted webbing on okra? I really thought that the basil was just bolting from heat and didn’t realize it had the added stress of being chewed on.



I think I was also simply unconcerned about the Basil being susceptible to pests. Basil is often used in companion planting to deter pests from other plants. Many strongly fragranced herbs are not insect targets due to their pungent aroma. Had I thought to carefully inspect this plant from time to time like I do with my other plants, I might have avoided losing as many tasty leaves as I did.

So it was time for organic pest control. I don’t know what type of caterpillar they were but I knew they were causing significant damage. I picked each one I found off of the plant with my shovel and flung them off my balcony. Forgive me if that sounds inhumane, but they were devouring one of my precious culinary delights. Usually, the advice I read for controlling caterpillars, slugs, snails, stink bugs, and the like involves a dish of soapy water they drown in. I rationalized that butterflies are friends but their larvae can do significant damage to a food crop so I pitched them downstairs where they could eat grass and become butterflies. It seemed like a good compromise to me.

Additional measures of natural pest control were in the form of cleaning my balcony. Many pests hide in plant debris and start to congregate in areas that have been stagnant, so I swept and got my bucket of very hot soapy water and washed down the patio. It’s also nice having the area clean.

I would really enjoy creating a blog post about making basil ice cubes for later use and saving basil seeds; but unfortunately the very hungry caterpillars put a damper on that plan. After eradicating the pests and cleaning up, the plant may still put off some goods after all but more on that later. If you want my advice, stay ahead of the bugs with periodic leaf checks.

Still undeterred by pests,



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,