Planting the SFG Bed

Call me sad (don’t you dare!), but I’m all excited – our Square Foot Gardening bed is up and running!

You can read about the basics of SFG here if you haven’t already done so.

Preparing the Raised Bed

The trellises are in place – the posts were bolted to the inside of the bed, the top rails screwed on, and the wire mesh attached in the same way as I attached it to the passionfruit frame.

Sam and Alf

Alf with our friend, Sam. Loving your head-dress, Alf!

Bolts

The blue colour is a rubberised paint which may, or may not, stop the wood from rotting

Again, the wood was recycled from building scaffolding, so it’s fairly warped.

Some would call the trellises rickety and lopsided; I say, they’re charmingly rustic! Thanks, guys.Crooked trellisThe soil has been wheelbarrowed in – we paid Joselito’s son, Alan, to do it because it was too hard for us to do. You’ve got to recognise your limitations sometimes! I then tipped compost on top, and raked it in.

Filling the bedI tied together lengths of bamboo (which I bought because they were pink, but never found a use for) with fishing line to make my grid.

Fishing lineOur newly-laid tiles are 1 foot square, so they came in handy as a template – I lined up the bamboo along the grout lines.

GridI know they’ll quickly fade in the sun, but I’ll enjoy their pinkness in the meantime.

If we have trouble with stray cats (or Tipsy) using the bed as a litter tray, I’ll block off the long sides with shadecloth.

I’ve surrounded the outside of the bed with snail pellets because this is the time of year when the giant African snails really come out to play, and to munch their way through your garden.

Selecting the Plants

Using the companion planting guide from the website, My Square Foot Garden, I’ve come up with this plan (the brackets show the number of plants per square) – click on it to see an enlarged (and clearer) version:

Plan

I’ve positioned the more tender plants at the rear of the bed, so that the taller plants in the centre will provide shade from the afternoon sun.

The “blue” squares indicate successive planting – I’ll be sowing a new square of lettuce or English spinach every two weeks so that we have a constant supply – in theory, at least!

As you can see, I’ll be trying to grow parsnips, but I don’t think I’ve got much of a chance, as they like cold weather, which we never get. Worth a shot though, as I love them! I’d also try rhubarb if I could find a rhubarb crown. And asparagus. Yum!

I’ve chosen vegetables that are either expensive to buy, aren’t sold here, or varieties I can’t get here. I can’t see the point of planting things that are cheap and plentiful when they’re in season.

I’m also planting herbs that I use regularly. Even though they’re cheap to buy, it’ll save Alf a trip to the shops whenever I need them. They’re at the front of the bed for quick access.

I’ll plant butternut pumpkin as a groundcover in the flower beds – I’ve already had a practice run, and found that they grew best in the side and driveway beds.

Here’s a photo of my first pumpkin:

Butternut PumpkinAnd here’s a photo with my hand in it:

PumpkinHaha! The next few pumpkins were much more successful!

I also want to plant honeydew melon as a groundcover, but I have to source some seeds first – guess I’m going to have to fork out $6+ for a melon! But if they grow, it’ll be worth it in the long run.

Planting the Bed

According to my research, because we’re in a tropical zone, and therefore don’t get frost, we can plant at any time of the year.

I’m not too sure about that – even here some vegetables seem to be seasonal.

I don’t know, so I’ve stuck the seeds in anyway, and watered the entire bed with Seasol (seaweed extract) which is supposed to aid with germination.

I bought coriander and spring onions with roots still attached and planted those, and stuck some thyme cuttings in as well, along with a parsley plant I already had. This way, there’ll actually be something green in the bed while I cross my fingers and wait for the seeds to germinate.

Some of the seeds are pretty old, so I don’t know if they’re still viable.

HerbsI’ve mulched the “herbed” squares with seaweed, and will mulch the rest, if and when, the seedlings come up. The seaweed improves the soil, feeds the plants, suppresses weeds, and stops water evaporation and soil erosion.

Mulched squaresAs usual with my learning curve, I’m happily prepared to change anything as soon as I realise it’s not working.

Now it’s just a matter of watering and waiting.

And watching out for giant African snails!

African snail

African Snail

It’s thicker than my finger, and so very, very slimy and disgusting! And worst of all, it’s chomping away at my sawdust path! Eat the grass and weeds, you revolting thing!

Snail poop

Plus they poop all over the walls!

Snail poop

Don’t be embarrassed little shark – I know it wasn’t you.

Yuk! Where’s that pressure cleaner?

Garden Update #5 – July 2013

Passionfruit Vine

It’s alive!

It survived the transplant (I love the tropics!) – most of the leaves fell off, and some branches died, so I pruned those off, together with any that were growing away from the wall. I’ve tied the remaining branches onto the mesh for now, but will remove the ties once more tendrils grow.

passI’ve also mulched it with leaves from next door’s Coeur de Boeuf tree (soursop) as I haven’t made it to the beach to collect seaweed yet. I’ve kept the mulch well away from the stem to avoid stem and root rot.

Pawpaw Tree

It started dying back due to the white mould (which apparently is a widespread problem in Mauritius at the moment), so Alf cut the top off (as I couldn’t reach it):

Topped pawpawand covered the cut with a plastic bottle:

Protected trunkThe pawpaw trunk is hollow, and if left uncovered, will fill with rainwater, causing it to rot.

We continued to spray, and look what’s happening:

New growthI don’t know what this new growth is – I’m hoping that it’s leaves and flowers as opposed to major branches. Not sure – will wait and see.

I also don’t know what to do about the top – surely we don’t leave the bottle on forever? Does it close up? Branch out? More waiting and seeing, I guess.

Bamboo, Cordyline, and Daylilies

After tying it up, I’ve decided not to prune the bamboo (sorry Asmi – no cuttings yet!) as I like the way it looks and moves in the wind:

BambooAir can now circulate properly, and the cordyline that was buried underneath can get rain, sun, and space to grow.

BambooUnlike the daylilies, which were getting crowded out by the rhoeo:

DayliliesI’ve since moved them to the mulberry bed, as they need room to spread, multiply, and eventually give me lots of free plants.

Mulberry Tree (Mure)

White mould strikes again!

A lot of the leaves fell off, and the new growth at the top of the branches was distorted.

I pruned off about 5 feet as even Alf couldn’t reach to spray the tops of the branches – it’s a much more manageable height now at about 6 feet, and hopefully, this will also cause the tree to branch out as it was pretty straggly.

Mulberry treeWhen I googled “pruning mulberries”, the information was too general and contradictory: only prune when the tree is dormant (doesn’t happen in the tropics – it’s evergreen here), prune off 1/3, don’t prune, only prune branches growing into the centre. Arrgh! No details of where on the branch to prune or other things I need to know.

Google’s great for a lot of things, but when we lived in Perth, I would always borrow gardening books written by experts from our local library, rather than spend hours online with not much to show for it.

Anyway, I just guessed and made the cuts above buds that were facing away from the centre of the tree. Don’t know what the buds are. Leaves? Branches? Who knows. So again, will wait and see.

Mulberry treeRuellia Hedges

I’m having one final go at these, and if it doesn’t work this time, I’m planting something else.

Many of them have died (I don’t know why), so I have a lot of gaps.

Others are growing horizontally or unevenly.

They still don’t look like a hedge – maybe I should have planted them closer to each other.

Anyway, I’ve pulled out the dead ones, and pruned the rest back hard.

I selected about 20 straight cuttings (about 1 foot long) from the bits I pruned:

Ruellia pruningsstripped off the lower leaves (so the leaves don’t rot and turn the water slimy):

Stripped stem

Yep, that’s dirt under my fingernails!

and stuck them in a jar of water with a few drops of Seasol added (to strengthen the plants and help them root):

Cuttings and dodosThey will have rooted in a couple of weeks at which time I’ll fill the gaps, and also replace any existing plants that are misbehaving.

I hope it works this time as I really like the plant, and I really, really like hedges.

Oh, and did you notice the sad state of our dodos?

We haven’t had workers around for a while, so I forgot to move them from under the tap before Joselito washed out the tile adhesive bucket.

The good news though, is that I had to repaint and varnish them after the painters covered them in housepaint, so I already know how to mix the right shade of green.

Sometimes, you’ve just gotta look on the bright side of life!

Garden Update # 2 – Mar 2013

The weeding is well under way – four beds down, and two to go. Plus the verge.

Driveway Bed

I’ve finished planting the ruellia hedge and moses-in-a-cradle along the driveway, as well as two more golden cane palms. The planting in that bed is now finished:

Driveway Bed

Driveway bed

Driveway bed

Ignore the pile of weeds in the path!

Shower Bed

The small bed next to the shower is also finished, but the bamboo is a bit out of control:

BambooI’m too scared to prune it without advice from someone in the know, as last time I pruned it, it grew even bushier. It has certainly enjoyed the massive amount of rain we’ve received in the last couple of months.

Until I find someone to advise me, I’ll be tying it up a bit so the plants under it can get sun and water.

House Bed

I’ve finally finished edging and planting up the bed that runs along the house:

House Bed

Lime tree

Newly planted section with potted lime tree

At the end of the bed, I’ve “planted” spider lily bulbs which I found lying on the ground when I weeded the lemon tree bed – I initially thought they were some sort of weird mushroom, but realised what they were when I noticed a couple of them had roots. I didn’t know which way up to lay them on the soil, but I’m sure Mother Nature will rectify any mistakes I’ve made! They’re the white dots lying around the place.

I looked on the internet, and according to all the websites I looked at, the only way to propagate spider lilies is to dig up the existing clumps and divide the bulbs. Well, the lilies in Mauritius don’t know this, because the bulbs I found were produced on the flower stalk, fell on the ground, and started to root:

Spider lily bulbFree plants – I love it! Definitely one plant you shouldn’t deadhead over here!

Lemon Tree Bed

One of the cordylines died, as did a couple of ruellia plants – they were all next to each other, so I may have inadvertently poisoned them when I was poisoning the grass. Oops!

Lemon Tree Bed

Aerial view

Other than that, everything’s growing well – especially the pawpaw tree that I planted from seed (it’s about 8 months old) – it’s currently standing at about 7 feet.

I need advice about pruning the top of the tree so that it doesn’t grow too tall – the last pawpaw tree we had grew to about 20 feet in two years. The only way to pick a pawpaw was for one person to shake the tree, and a second person to catch the fruit (or try to – mainly, they just went “splat”!). We cut it back to about 5 feet, but instead of sprouting new growth, the trunk rotted and the tree died, even though we covered the cut to stop rain from getting in.

Things I’ve Learned

Madagascan Frangipani

They fall over if they get to tall, too wet, or if it’s too windy (a bit like bananas!). That’s probably why, when you see them growing in Mauritians’ gardens, they’re usually against a wall so they receive protection from the elements. I never noticed until mine fell over.

Anyway, I gave them a radical pruning (I cut off about a metre), and tied them up.

The rash I got all over my arm from the sap is almost gone. I’ll be wearing long sleeves and gloves next time I prune them!

Ruellia

Buying tall plants is not the bargain that it seems – they’re too leggy, so they lean over, and new growth sprouts along the horizontal stems.

I imagined that my hedges would look like this:

Ruellia hedging

From a street in Quatre Bourne

Instead they look like this:

Ruellia Hedge

Ruellia Hedge

Ruellia HedgeHaha!

I’ve since noticed that Mauritians plant ruellia against walls for support.

I need a Mauritian gardening friend!

So, all the ruellia plants will also get a radical pruning, and I’ll tie them up until they get bushy enough to support each other.

Rhoeo Edging

Some sections are growing very unevenly – I think I may have bought different varieties.

Rhoeo edgingAs it stands, all the time and effort I spent ensuring that I planted in perfectly straight lines, or in sinuous curves, was wasted! I may as well have just plonked them in any old way!

Rhoeo edgingSo I’ll be replacing the uneven parts.

Even when they grow evenly, the 1 metre wide paths I planted have narrowed somewhat:

Rhoeo pathI’ll have to continually thin them out. Free plants, anyone?

That’s it for now – I’ll probably make a few more discoveries as I tackle the remaining beds, and see what’s happening under the weeds.

But I guess that’s what this whole process is about – learning how to garden in a tropical climate with a range of plants that I haven’t used before.

Hopefully I’ll finish the remaining beds in the next few days, in between weeding, poisoning, and re-sawdusting the paths.

Still, for a garden that’s less than a year old, I’m thrilled with the results so far – it’s grown so fast!

Most of it is as I imagined, and the bits that have gone wrong and that I need to fix will just make me a more knowledgeable tropical gardener in the future.

How’s that for positive thinking!