Saturday, October 25, 2008

Zephyr lily rapid growth

Well, I thought that it would take a lot longer, but after only four days, one of the Zephyr lilies has bloomed already :)

I measured it approximately, and it grew about 20 cm in four days! I’m impressed.

Maybe our vermicompost helped :)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Transplanting a Zephyr Lily

We got these flowers from our aunt in Pontian, and they have kept alive but not always thrived – with no help from Gambit as a puppy, who liked to dig up everything! They have got better recently and started to bloom more often.

I managed to identify the variety quickly in Plants for Tropical Landscapes, which is one of the books I have. It’s a good one as it has pictures for all the plants, and is organised according to categories – with basic information on each plant – preferred conditions, and growing pattern.

It grows very attractive flowers which last a long time when cut and put in water (by a long time I mean two days, which is maybe not so long when I think of it – but they keep their shape and colour nicely).

It’s a Zephyranthes candida; also known as Zephyr Lily, Fairy Lily or White Rain Lily. Like the Calathea Lutea it is also originally from South America. It’s an annual in the northern climes, but over here it grows all year round – we have it in a wide round pot, but I suspect it is not deep enough as the flowers/green stalks don’t stand up well. The book and others sites recommend light shade, which may explain why ours never grows that well – I think before it had too much shade, and now it may have too little, being in front of the house.

WW decided to transplant some to under the frangipani tree – maybe it will be better there although there is not so much shade there either. As you can see, they grow from bulbs.

Always water in transplanted plants well – as my mother taught me. WW also chops off the stalks to promote growth in the roots while it’s settling in.

It will hopefully add a burst of colour under the tree – further updates in a month or so, I guess :)

There are also different coloured varieties of this flower – Zephyranthes grandiflora (purple), and Zephyranthes citrina (yellow). I can imagine that mixing these up in a flower bed could be very nice.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Goa beans first harvest

Our latest kacang botol (goa beans, winged beans, Psophocarpus tetragonolobus) plant has started to produce (for photos of growth stages see this earlier post).

This was seven days ago

This was today

and this is what we got out of it

It's enough for one dish, and would sell in the local market for RM1-2 (USD 0.25-0.5), so it's not like we're saving loads of money, but... it's organic, it will taste better, it cost us nothing (the seeds are from previous plants) and it hasn't had to be grown elsewhere and transported here using fuel, etc. So overall, it's a net benefit to us and to our wonderful planet :)

Grow your own! :D If you want to buy Goa bean seeds, you can get them on Amazon.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Calathea Lutea - bract and flower

I only knew that this was a kind of Calathea, and after much searching, I finally got the right one (tip – try Google Image instead of all the taxonomic databases!). It’s a Calathea lutea. There are some photos from a Malaysian here, and A Neotropical Savanna has some detailed information – apparently it is native to South/Central America (for example, Costa Rica), and the leafs can be used to cook tortillas in! Over here, banana, bamboo and pandanus leafs are often used to cook things in.

Apparently, this branch of the Marantaceae family are also known as ‘prayer plants’ because the leaves fold up at night. I never really noticed this, but now that it’s mentioned it makes sense, I’ll have to check it out though.

The red part of the ‘flower’ is a ‘bract’, and the little yellow flower is, well, a flower :)

They are useful as shade along the front fence and have no problem with direct sunlight – they are often used in landscaping around buildings and roads. Ours do need a lot of regular pruning to avoid unsightly dying and dead leaves. I reckon it probably needs a well fertilised soil, and will grow to about 1.5-2m – it spreads by rhizomes and has grown new clusters easily enough.

Oh and, by the way, meet Gambit :)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Vermicomposting for organic compost

WW has kindly allowed me to take over one of her worm bins, and I fed them for the first time a couple of days ago. Vermicomposting is an easy way to turn your kitchen scraps into great organic compost. We made our own worm bins but, if you want a more fancy setup, the cheapest 'Worm factory' on Amazonis US$66.95, and they also sell wormsby the pound.

Another option is to check out to see if there's anyone in your area who will share some advice and worms with you.

This is how it looked at first - to the left mostly paper, and to the right the older section where the worms have been at work for some weeks

the worms are all hiding below the surface, as they don't like the light, but if you turn over the soil a bit you can see lots of them

You can feed worms any *vegetable* (no animal products - i.e. meat or dairy) waste, but onions, garlic, citrus and melon skins are to be avoided (the latter because of the high water content; also no oily, salty or cooked foods. We normally store up appropriate stuff in the freezer and add it in every few weeks or something - otherwise, the rest of the vegetable waste goes into the garden compost bin.

Layer it on the newer section, the worms will slowly migrate to that side as they finish up on the other side

On top, a layer of dry leafs (bamboo, in this case), and a little soil to help them digest. Covering it up well also prevents fruit flies and the like from becoming a nuisance.

Then, the bin goes back under the sink and the worms left alone to do their work :)

I'll be posting updates every two weeks or so, to see the changes.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Growing Philippine lawn grass

Here are a few photos taken after we had started our attempt to reclaim the lawn. We cleared an area and laid down some sods of Philippine grass (as it’s called here) – it’s almost impossible to find grass seeds here for some reason.

I’m not sure what the exact name of the grass is, it seems to be some kind of Cynodon I think, because it creeps along the ground, propagating via stolons and rhizomes. But the Cynodon dactylon that is referred to most often also has ‘spikes’ sticking out with seeds, which this one doesn’t. This kind of grass is also called Bermuda grass, and is very common on golf courses from what I gather.

*Edit 09/04/09*: according to anonymous below, it's actually Zoysia matrella. Which makes sense, looking at the description. And I think that what I thought were weeds are in fact the "Inflorescence [which] is a short, terminal spikelike raceme with spikelets on short appressed pedicels."

The first photo is a few days after we laid it down. We split up the mats we had bought in order to save money by letting grow to take up the spaces. You can see a stolon creeping across here.

The disadvantage of this method is that there are lots of opportunities for weeds to grow - especially since you have added some nice new topsoil and fertiliser (don't you hate fertilising weeds!) and are watering diligently (not too much, but don't let it dry out).

Three days later: it's grown a small bit, but you can also see the weeds have popped up a lot faster. At this point, it's necessary to weed by hand regularly (ideally every day), just to stop the weeds taking hold.

Nineteen days later, you can see a distinct difference, with the gap getting smaller. The weeds are still there though. Eventually, the weeds have more and more difficulty competing with the grass, and become only an occasional annoyance.

Bermuda grass actually seen as a problem in many areas, as it is very difficult to get rid of – but quite frankly, that’s an advantage compared to the grass we had been advised to get initially. It was called Pearl Grass, and it died off slowly (another story for another post). I would recommend Philippine grass for tropical gardens - it grows well in the sun, does not suffer with too much water, and is very tough and resistant to encroachment by weeds.

If you’re looking for a book on lawns, The Impatient Gardener's Lawn Book seems to have some good reviews, and is not too pricy.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Goa bean

It's called 'kacang botol' here, which means 'bottle bean' literally - but there may be some other meaning I'm not aware of; it's also known as the 'four angle bean'. Its Latin name is Psophocarpus tetragonolobus, and is also know as the Winged bean, or Goa bean. I

Anyway, I didn't know all that before, and nor did I know that it's a very good nitrogen fixer and you can eat the leaves and everything. What I did know is that it's very tasty - it has a slightly nutty flavour, different to the standard green bean, slightly watery, type of flavour. It also grows pretty easily. We've just got another batch starting to flower and fruit; WW planted them from seeds from previous plants about two months ago, and some just started spontaneously from pods that fell on the ground.

Here are some photos of a previous batch - I think I tried to follow a specific flower all the way through, but it may not have worked...

The first one shows the first buds and flowersEight days later, the flowers are in full bloom - I find them rather attractive, a delicate gradation of colour
Eight days later, you can see the bean starting from inside the withered flower
and on the same day, the same thing but with a larger bean
Two days later, the bean is just about ready to pick - wait too long and it will become hard and unpleasant to eat. Though you can get new seeds out of the larger pods.
Once they start producing, you easily get a surfeit of beans, and from about four plants we were getting beans for about a month I suppose.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Snake in the Garden

A real one too, not metaphorical... ;)
Unfortunately for the snake, it's dead :(

I think it's a Common House Snake, aka Common Wolf Snake (which sounds more exciting). The Latin name is Lycodon capucinus. They eat frogs, so I guess that's what is was after in the garden, as we always have a couple of them. It was about 40-50cm long.

The Singapore Snakes Blog has a much more detailed post.

For Americans seeking to identify a snake, the Ohio Public Library Information Network provides a useful guide.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Insect food

Well, insects eating leafs are not always my favourite sight, but the methodical planning of this one struck my eye

Eating around the edge first

before, 8-9 minutes later, starting to tuck into it properly

I think it's some kind of hemiptera. The plant is a weed