Sunday, December 20, 2009

Organic mealy bug repellent

In the previous post I identified the Papaya mealy bug - Paracoccus Marginatus on our papaya.

So - I checked out what are the possible organic responses and found some good resources:

PAN Germany: Describes the uses of chili

Golden Harvest Organics: A list of insects and pests, and appropriate organic repellents

Canadian Country Woman: Describes various bug sprays

The Urban Gardener, and A Canadian in King Parakramabahu's Court recommend neem oil, which I haven't tried yet.

So - I decided to use chili, as we have a regularly producing organic chili plant, and garlic (from the market).

This was the harvest
organic chili garlic insect repellent

chopped up with garlic - it smelt nice! :)
organic chili garlic insect repellent

and put in a jar to steep in the sun (because I was too lazy to boil it, which would probably be more effective)
organic chili garlic insect repellent

and then I strained it, and diluted with some water and biodegradable washing up liquid. I used an old surface cleaner spray bottle (WW's idea, instead of buying a new one) to spray it on.
organic chili garlic insect repellent

One papaya was too far gone already,
papaya attacked by mealy bugs malaysia

so we pulled it up and burnt the top :( For the other ones, we first sprayed off the bugs with water, then sprayed on the repellent.

James Missier commented on a previous post that some ants can bring mealy bugs onto plants.
ants with mealy bugs papaya malaysia

I don't know if these ants brought them, but they certainly were found wherever there were mealy bugs
ants with mealy bugs papaya malaysia

I know that ants are perhaps the only other species, apart from humans, that have 'domesticated' other animals for their own purposes. And it's pretty fascinating. But not on my plants! Argh! :/
ants with mealy bugs papaya malaysia

Anyway, I'm happy to say that after spraying every two-three days for about a week, there don't seem to be any more bugs (touching wood).

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Papaya mealy bug - Paracoccus Marginatus

A while ago, WW noticed some white stuff on our papayas, and eventually I got round to looking closer
papaya mealy bug malaysia

clusters of foam, it seemed like to me, and I wasn't sure if it was a real problem or not... but it spread
papaya mealy bug malaysia

and it was clearly affecting the growth...
papaya mealy bug malaysia

a closer look revealed what looked like eggs
papaya mealy bug malaysia

but I still couldn't see the bugs... I thought I spotted it with this brown beetle-like insect, but it was only when I looked at the photos afterwards, that I noticed the white fluffy-like insects.
papaya mealy bug malaysia

Upon investigation, I'm somewhat concerned to find out that it is an invasive Papaya mealy bug - Paracoccus Marginatus. It doesn't restrict itself to papaya, and it's a "polyphagous sucking insect pest and has been recorded on more than sixty host plants in India." (The Hindu); 'polyphagous' means it eats different types of fruit and plants, and A Canadian in King Parakramabahu's Court (in Sri Lanka) reports it attacking lime trees, curry leaf and jasmine! Argh!

There's a detailed paper on this (by Alison Walker, Marjorie Hoy and Dale Meyerdirk), describing how it originated in Central America, has moved into Asia and tropical regions... It can be controlled by the introduction of other insects or "parasitoids", but that ain't much use to me...

Stay tuned for an attempt at organic control of this pest. All advice is welcome.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Identifying a palm tree

Apart from the Ptychosperma macarthurii (Macarthur palms), we have a couple of palms that are apparently somewhat uncommon, and I'm trying to identify them. They've grown to about 6-8 metres, and are in a clump like the Macarthur palm, though they don't bend outwards in the same way.
identify yellow palm malaysia

The closest I can find is Dypsis lutescens, but even there the trunk is not yellow enough.
identify yellow palm malaysia

I also got some photos of the flowers, which attract bees
palm flower bee
palm flower bee

and the fruit which is a deep purple
identify yellow palm fruit malaysia

Does anyone have any idea of what it is? Any help is welcome!

*Update 29/10/09*
Thanks to the commenter anthrome below, and to the helpful people at Palm Talk, our palm tree is confirmed as a Euterpe olearcea aka Acai, apparently the palm hearts and berries are edible too! Gonna have to try that some time.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Philippine lawn grass seeding

Our lawn leaves much to be desired - initially it was laid down with 'Pearl grass', which was a bad idea; it did not survive well in the sun, and grew too slowly to recover from any setbacks. Eventually, the whole lawn became a vast sea of weeds.

So, we've laid down patches of Philippine lawn grass - it grows quite fast, is hardy, and looks quite OK.
zoysia matrella malaysia

It's done all right, spreading slowly. And now it is seeding
zoysia matrella malaysia
zoysia matrella malaysia
At least I hope it is! I've been wringing my brain trying to work out whether these things are weeds or the good stuff. Initially I was pulling up this whenever it was growing to seed, but I recently remembered this diagram a reader had pointed out to me (picture from Aggie Horticulture)
zoysia matrella
and it seems like it I should be letting it grow. This is the full plant with seeds - the leaves look similar, but it seems to grow straight out of the ground without being part of the stolons.
zoysia matrella malaysia

Can anyone confirm for me? Should I be weeding or nurturing? Laying on a little vermicompost or something? :)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Bird's nest - recycling rawks!

Here are some photos that I've been meaning to use for a long time. WW was trimming the bamboo when she came across this
bird's nest in bamboo with plastic
the twigs growing out of the interstice obviously make good support for a nest, and being inside the clump of bamboo is surely also good protection for the bird and her chicks (who were no longer there when WW cut the bamboo, in case you were wondering).
bird's nest in bamboo with plastic
What's interesting, though sad also in a way, is that the bird used bits of plastic as part of the nest. I suppose it's useful - strong, pliable and waterproof.
bird's nest in bamboo with plastic
bird's nest in bamboo with plastic
Plastic is a really useful material, but I only wish it was used more wisely... instead of, for example, chucking it into the ocean:
"The largest of these garbage swills is known as the Pacific Gyre, or The Great Garbage Patch.

It is roughly the size of Texas, containing approximately 3.5 million tons of trash. Shoes, toys, bags, pacifiers, wrappers, toothbrushes, and bottles too numerous to count are only part of what can be found in this accidental dump floating midway between Hawaii and San Francisco." (The Great Garbage Patch)

Here's someone who decided to make a boat out of plastic bottles to bring awareness to this ridiculous waste of resources

Recycle, reuse, reduce! You know it makes sense!
[Edit 20/10/2009: "Message from the Gyre" - a powerful messge, not for the squeamish!]

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Fire ant on yard-long bean

WW planted some yard-long beans, or Vigna unguiculata subsp. sesquipedalis, and they have started to flower and fruit.
fire ant on yard-long bean malaysia

But there is also someone else interested in the flowers and beans...
fire ant on yard-long bean malaysia

I'm not sure what the identification of the ant is. I suspect it's a fire ant (Solenopsis), because if one of them bites me my foot/hand will swell up. But then again I always react dramatically to insect bites.
fire ant on yard-long bean malaysia

But it doesn't have the darker body associated with the fire ant.
fire ant on yard-long bean malaysia

In the GardenWeb forum there is a discussion on this, and the consensus is that the red ants/fire ants are just licking secretions, not damaging the plant. I'm not sure, the flower that I took this photo of is now withered... Does anybody know?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Frangipani in the morning

We have a pink frangipani, aka Plumeria rubra, growing on the patio. There was some hesitation in getting it initially, as the frangipani is associated with cemeteries here in Malaysia; but WW decided that a pink one would be OK, as it's the white ones that are in the cemeteries.

It has grown well and produces flowers regularly - an interesting factoid about frangipanis is:
"Plumeria flowers are most fragrant at night in order to lure sphinx moths to pollinate them. The flowers have no nectar, and simply dupe their pollinators. The moths inadvertently pollinate them by transferring pollen from flower to flower in their fruitless search for nectar." (Wikipedia)

Here are a couple of photos which I quite like, taken in the morning
frangipani Plumeria rubra malaysia

frangipani Plumeria rubra malaysia

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Organic compost harvest

One of the challenges of an organic garden is getting enough nutrients into the soil, given that you can't use chemical fertilisers. A great way to address this problem, and reduce your waste that will otherwise go to clog up a landfill somewhere, is to compost your kitchen waste.

It's very easy: the basic rule is - no animal products (i.e. meat and dairy). This means it doesn't get smelly, and also won't attract rats and such. Basically this means all the vegetable peels, cuttings, rotten vegetables, teabags, tealeaves, coffee grounds, etc. Also use garden waste, and also chuck in some shredded newspaper from time to time. However - unless you're able to grind it up, it's best to leave out woody items because they take ages to decompose.

We use two bins - overturn them, cut out the bottom, and you're ready to rumble. Then you fill one, and leave it for about three months while you fill the other. Empty the first one and start again. The timing will depend I suppose - the high humidity and temperature of the Malaysian sub-tropical climate means that the decomposing is quicker than in Belgium, for example.
organic compost bins malaysia

Here are some photos from a 'harvest' I did in February. One thing I've noticed is that the space taken up by the compost reduces - so if you stuff it up one day with trimmings from the Morning Glory (for example), wait a week and there will be more space.

This is the result of being left alone for a few months
organic compost malaysia

One surprise here was when I lifted off the bin, there were loads of red wiggler worms! I vaguely remembered chucking in some from our vermicompost bin, and they obviously thrived!
red wigglers organic compost malaysia

This contributed to the nice quality of the compost - crumbly and moist
organic compost malaysia

but there were also some compacted parts, probably because I didn't turn it up often enough. This helps to oxygenate the parts below.
organic compost malaysia clay compacted

There were also stuff that decomposes slowly: in particular mango seeds, mangosteen rinds, and various twigs and stuff. I just put them into the other bin (and I also cut mango seeds in half now, before I put them in the compost bin).
organic compost malaysia slow decomposers

In the end, I got one bucket of compost, that was spread around the papaya trees, the jasmine bush, and the frangipani tree.
organic compost malaysia

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Grasshopper in the organic mint

One of the problems with organic gardening is that you can't just give a blast of insecticide or herbicide from time to time to reduce pests. So far, we haven't had any major problem, so touch wood that continues.

Often in the morning I cut some organic mint to make some lovely tea - mint tea is very nice for an unsettled stomach, so it's good when you have a hangover too :)

When I was picking off the wilted leaves and such, it suddenly turned out that this guy had come in with the mint
grasshopper mint malaysia

Grasshoppers are officially of the suborder Caelifera, but apart from that I dunno what it was. It was about 4-5 cm long, and you can see how it blends in with the green of the leaves. Its main defence strategy seemed to be to freeze and hope nobody sees it, which was useful for taking photos of it!
grasshopper mint malaysia

Monday, September 21, 2009

Birds of paradise

Around the front of our organic garden, we have a raised bed (that used to be a long fish pond I think), which has some Calathea lutea planted, and some Heliconia. I'm not sure exactly how to identify them, but I'm pretty sure they are Heliconia psittacorum (usually called 'birds of paradise' here in Malaysia).

The Heliconia are invasive, so it's good they're restrained in the bed. At first I liked the way that they were mixing with the Calathea, but I'm beginning to wonder if they are restricting the growth of the Calathea...
heliconia birds of paradise malaysia
Unfortunately, they also have to compete for space with the dogs, who like to use the bed for barking at dogs, cats and assorted passers-by.

I like the birds of paradise: it grows very easily, it can act as a screen of sorts, it flowers constantly with flowers that have different colours
heliconia birds of paradise malaysia

and some are just orange. I wonder how many other colours there are?
heliconia birds of paradise malaysia

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


When I was a kid, my brother told me that dragonflies would eat their own tails if they could - I found this really gross and since then have been somewhat repulsed by dragonflies.
Dragonfly in Malaysia

Anyway. I should be happier to see them, as apparently they eat mosquitoes - which is good! They are of the Odonata order, and "the suborder Epiprocta or, in the strict sense, the infraorder Anisoptera" (from Wikipedia).

I still don't find them particularly attractive - most insects are kind of alien and creepy to me - but the intricacy of their design is still quite fascinating.
Dragonfly in Malaysia

In terms of identifying the dragonfly, I don't know what kind it is - but it does look similar to the Yellow Winged Darter, or Sympetrum flaveolum.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Ptychosperma macarthurii - identified

Previously (Palm tree flowers with bees), I was wondering what type of palm we had and was unsure whether it was a Ptychosperma macarthurii - it looks like one, but I had never seen the red fruits on it.
Palm tree Ptychosperma macarthurii

Well, now I'm sure that it must be one - see the red fruits!
Palm tree Ptychosperma macarthurii fruits

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Spider eats a mantis

The other day, while harvesting some of our chillies, WW spotted this
spider eating mantis in Malaysia

It seems like some member of the Mantidae family went into the wrong neighbourhood...
spider eating mantis in Malaysia close up

Normally I welcome spiders gobbling up insects, but maybe in this case it's less good, as apparently Mantises can be good for organic farming because they eat other insects, as do spiders I suppose…
spider eating mantis in Malaysia close up

Another interesting thing is, similar to the previous post, that the pattern on the spider’s back looks a bit like a face of some Japanese comic villain, or perhaps a malevolent Lord Shiva.
spider eating mantis in Malaysia

What do you think?