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, gardening and inspiration

First a Birder, Now a Bugger

I wanted to know the name of every stone and flower and insect and bird and beast. I wanted to know where it got its color, where it got its life – but there was no one to tell me.
George Washington Carver

I can second Mr. Carver’s sentiments. Like Carver, I have a love for growing various plants–especially those of the edible variety. I can also attest to the complimentary pastime of observing wildlife as it goes hand in hand with gardening.

When in Georgia, I had the joy of backyard birding in my small balcony garden. We were visited by Cardinals, Woodpeckers, Chickadees, Sparrows, Finches, Jays, Wrens, and Eastern Bluebirds. I learned about a few bugs too. I learned the difference between a pest and a beneficial insect. I saw more pests than beneficials, but I knew the difference.

Now in Okinawa, I hardly see a bird. I miss backyard birding, but I am hardly ever at a loss for sightings of a different kind. I now find myself BUGGING. Like Carver, sometimes there isn’t a book or a person who can tell me for certain what I’ve seen. It is also difficult at times to determine what exactly is causing damage to some of my plants. I’ll show you what I mean.

DSC03195 I discovered this curious webbing on my okra recently.

DSC03194 Normally, a regular wide web would just simply mean it’s a spider. Spiders aren’t pleasant to us, but they don’t harm plants. They are considered the “good guys” of the garden because they eat other bugs and leave your plants alone. This web however, is one that is causing damage and that means it’s not really from a spider. I previously learned that thin webbing close to leaves and stems can come from microscopic mites called “spider mites.” The spotting on the leaves could be another indicator of mites but I found another problem. Spider mites usually do their damage UNDER leaves but this damage is on top of the leaves. Spider mites also don’t chew holes; they suck juices from the plant causing discoloration. After much inspection, it appears the damage came from tiny caterpillars. The possible solution may be to remove heavily infected parts of the plant and spritz around the leaves with slightly soapy water. I watered thoroughly as well because stressed plants are more susceptible to problems.

DSC03215 Then I found this little guy. If you look closely at this picture, you should see a lace like spot on the leaf under the bug. At first, it looked like a Ladybug which is an extremely beneficial garden helper. Here’s the problem, there are imposters who look like Ladybugs. Notice the next picture:

DSC03216 Notice the similarities? Now look below at a picture of an actual Ladybug:

DSC03217 If the red beetles have long protruding heads with white spots on the side, please leave them alone. Due to increases of insecticides, Ladybugs are becoming harder to find (except for in Northern States where they try to overwinter in people’s houses and are seen as pests–send some to the rest of us!). A single Ladybug can eat 500 Aphids or 1,000 Spider mites in a single day.

The Mexican Bean Beetle took a soap bath after this photo shoot in case you’re wondering.

20130712-174449.jpg Then I found this guy on my door. I don’t know what he is. He looks cool.

Of course, the most exciting site yet is definitely this next fella:

DSC03191 For the first time ever, I have spotted a Praying Mantis. The thing about these bugs is, they aren’t very picky eaters. They eat beneficial insects as well as insect pests. Like a Great Blue Heron, they find a place to stand very still and they wait for prey to come near them so that at the opportune moment they can snap!

DSC03192 DSC03189 There’s that “Praying” stance; or maybe it’s a “Preying” stance.


Then today I saw this flying crawler:

DSC03221 DSC03220 It’s hard to judge from the picture but believe me, it’s a very large bug. I sort of doubt that it has any interest in my plants since it’s big enough to devour other bugs. It’s also a very loud flyer; but look at the detail in those wings. You might think this bug looks gross, but you have to admit its wings are pretty spectacular.

I still miss the garden birds, but sometimes you just have to embrace what you have. A garden free of bugs is unnatural. Unnatural is inorganic. Inorganic is less healthy. In America, mass farms consist of one to maybe two crops which become overrun with those crops’ most common pests–which leads them to the need for insecticides. In India, mass farms consist of a wide variety of crops inter-planted amongst themselves. This same garden practice is utilized throughout Asia as well. I once heard a Doctor of Agriculture there say, “In India our crops are not pest-free or disease-free; but we utilize such variety that no pest or disease is able to have a threshold. That is how we are able to garden organically.” I now feel that dealing with a few bugs isn’t always so bad after all.

Keep Calm, Garden On,