The Mango Experiment Part 2

We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.
C. S. Lewis

A few weeks ago, July 12 to be exact, I showed you part one of the Mango experiment.

20130803-091017.jpgWell I checked its progress a few days later and found no progress except for the deterioration of the paper bag. I exchanged it for a wet paper towel and returned it to the window.

Today I checked the seed again and found the slightest sign of a sprout. I reasoned that the paper towel was getting old and thought it best to replace it. 20130803-092748.jpgLet’s see how it progresses now. If the sprout grows some more, I will be placing it in soil. The next part of the experiment will include researching soil, potential pests, sun needs, and water requirements.

Stay tuned for more on this Mango seed’s progress. In upcoming entries you will also learn how I have been saving seeds (I gave you the ‘why’ in my article titled “I am an Heirloom Gardener on foreign soil”) from store bought produce, as well as how to sprout a Pineapple (I’ve been doing it wrong for years!).

Keep going, keep growing, and thank you again to my faithful readers who have been keeping up with me and my urban garden. Comments are always welcomed. Thank you!

Marissa

Don’t Blame Your Beige Thumb!

Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement. -C.S. Lewis

When I talk to others about gardening I normally get one of two responses. The first is one of enthusiasm: “Oh I like gardening too. Right now I am growing (insert plant name here).” The other response is, “I just don’t have a green thumb.” I continually meet people who claim that they kill every plant they bring home and they are just too discouraged to make any further attempts.

Well I have news for you. I too have unwillingly killed plants. I didn’t know how to care for them properly and needed to do some research. For some odd reason, I decided a couple years ago to try again with tomato seedlings and a Rosemary Bush. After my first successful harvest, my husband mistakenly assumed that I felt passionate about growing things and that Christmas gave me a handful of photographically captivating books about gardening. The truth was, in the beginning I just wanted to grow tomatoes so that we could avoid a few extra trips to Wal-Mart during the week to feed our tomato addiction. I had the Rosemary bush because I knew that it grew well in poor soil with minimal care and it seemed like a good way to balance out my empty porch. I however was a complete softy for my new husband with his big dewy eyes and warm smile as he welled up with pride at the gift he had given me. Something happened to me too at that moment; I was proud of myself as well. I knew that for the first time I had done a good job caring for a plant and that plant in turn was producing fresh, organic food. I also realized that actually my husband wasn’t wrong about me–he just knew something about me before I saw it in myself.

The following January I filled my small sunny windowsill with seeds to get a jump start on my growing season. My new garden books were ever present by my spot on the couch and my bedside table. At the very onset of spring I perused the local nurseries in town. I filled my balcony with vegetables and herbs to the point that some of my plants couldn’t get enough sunlight due to the lack of space. It was that year that I also had my first encounters with plant diseases and pests. I became aware of the other things I had to learn but I didn’t mind that extra effort because the fruit that effort could bear was worth it. My husband also got me to invest in grow boxes that I use to this day and out of those grow boxes I harvested approximately 350 Habaneros, 100 Jalepenos, 20 bell peppers, and dozens of tomatoes (out of just two growboxes). My success that year was very encouraging in spite of a few plant losses.

The very first gardening books I owned and read from Brian were about container gardening since we lived in a second story apartment. One of the specialties of the books dealt with successfully combining plants in containers for looks and productivity (an example would be growing flowers with vegetables). Becoming increasingly familiar with combos and techniques, I have become bold with some of my experiments. You might remember my blog entry, “Odorous in a Good Way.” I combined three plants for a container to place at my front door.

Here’s how it looked then:

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Here it is now:

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There appeared to be something white and foamy on the plant that went brown. I think it may have been a fungus. I carefully cut away all the brown leaves and looked online for a way to create my own natural fungicide and sprayed that spot after scraping the top layer off carefully. In addition to washing my tools, I threw away the leaves instead of composting to avoid disease passing. The plants that remain have been returned to our front door. At least the citronella is still alive, I need it to repel mosquitoes.

My other failure comes in the form of seeds that haven’t germinated in almost two months.

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Yes, it is sad losing these plants; but that does not diminish the joy I have on this porch:

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Our patio is lined with flowers, tomato plants, tomatillo plants, pepper plants, herbs, and ornamental plants that are thriving. This would not have been achieved if I didn’t keep trying and remain willing to learn from failures. I can categorize all of my failures into a few simple tips that enable my current success:

Water correctly: Too little or too much? Know how to water and when to leave the plants alone. Watering near the roots in the morning prevents diseases and overwatering. Self-watering containers prevent under-watering a very thirsty plant. The rest just need good drainage.

Basic pest knowledge: If you know the most common pest for your area and take steps to prevent it from being a problem then you will ensure safety for most of the plants you have. Sometimes it’s as easy as planting a Marigold and a garlic clove with your tomato. Just do a little research and plan ahead. Most of the time when I do this, I no longer have to fuss over it for the rest of the season.

Fertilize once in a while: This is a lot like watering. Read the recommendation on the label and follow it. Sometimes with container gardening you only need to fertilize once and you’re done. Maybe do it again in 3 to 6 months. That’s it.

Place your plant in the right spot: Most plants like sun. Some like it a little. Others like it a lot. A few don’t like much sun at all. Find out which one your plant is and place it accordingly.

Get some easy plants: These are the plants that thrive naturally in your region. It’s nice to have a few that you don’t have to work at caring for whether you love digging in the garden or garden once a year (at best). Regional plants seldom need to be watered if ever and you don’t have to think about fertilizing. You’ll be able to guess which ones they are by looking around town; they are the ones you find the most of!

Lastly, remember that there is a season for everything: I can guarantee you that if I plant lettuce on my balcony today it will sprout quickly, become bitter, then die quickly. I can do everything else right but the truth is it is not it’s season. If I plant it when the temperatures drop in the fall to winter time however, it will be a super easy crop! If you’ve ever had a plant that was doing great for 6 months and all of the sudden failed, it may just be the season.

With a little practice all this knowledge can become automatic–especially with your favorite plants. If you have a desire to grow things, don’t be discouraged if a few attempts fail. Be willing to grow yourself. Take it from someone whose beige thumb turned green after all.

Grow on,

Marissa

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,

Marissa

An answer at last in reference to the unidentified plant

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

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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,
Marissa

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.

http://www.hibiscus-flower.com/

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.

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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:

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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:

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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!

Love,

Marissa

Another sprout update

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Now my friends, all seeds have sprouted except for our beloved Jalepenos! (My husband laid hands on them and said a heartfelt prayer this morning). If they don’t sprout soon I might need to try again with fresh seeds. The good news is, we have yellow pear tomato, speckled roman tomato, tomatillo, better boy tomato, and poblano peppers! Once they get their second set of leaves they will be transplanted outside where they will join “Okinawa Vegetable.” They will also be placed directly into the soil (still in eggshells) as the eggshells will compost and provide calcium.

Happy gardening!

Marissa

First sprouts of 2013

Great news! We have sprouts!

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The Speckled Roman and Mexican Yellow Pear tomato Seeds are the first to sprout out of the set–they even beat the pepper seeds that were planted nearly three days earlier. These are an heirloom variety of vegetables. I bought the seed packet for the Speckled Romans from Whole foods and the Yellow Pear Tomatoes where imports from Mexico that I ate but I saved the seeds first. I obtained both varieties last year with hopes that I can grow them.

When planting seeds you need to plant 2-3 seeds in each spot to ensure at least one will sprout; but when more than one sprout you have to separate them or else they will all be weak stalks. You have to try and decide which one is the strongest.

For now I will just be grateful for the miracle of new life!

Happy Gardening,
Marissa