What’s to Come in 2019

Today was D-Day (or should that have been B-Day for Back-to-my-Blog-Day?).

I was going to post a quick 2-years’ worth of garden updates, but I’ve woken up to overcast skies, so photos will have to wait for a sunny day.

Starting soon, I’ll be doing a Plant of the Week (though maybe not every week!), showcasing both my indoor plants, and those in the garden, giving tips on growing and propagation, and where to get them.

Here’s a teaser of my favourite indoor plant ever – the amazing Electric fern:

IMG_2432

Depending on the light, it reflects a blue sheen – delicate and gorgeous! Stay tuned for where I bought it.

Moving right along…

As I planted a low maintenance garden all those years ago, there really isn’t much I need to do on a regular basis, other than occasional watering and some light pruning.

And replacing plants the gardener has killed.

(I say gardener, but he’s more of a garden maid – he likes to sweep (the driveway, the street, my poor paths) and pick up every single fallen leaf in the beds.)

It makes it hard to write a gardening blog when there’s nothing much happening out there!

So, as I’m about to start redecorating my house, I’ve decided to bore you with that instead.

I’ve scoured YouTube and DIY blogs and have found some lovely things to make to decorate my new spaces, as well as some great tutorials to help me with technique.

I’ll be posting my take on these things, together with links to the original tutorials, and where to buy supplies here in Mauritius.

Here’s another little teaser –  one of the many projects I’m still working on…

 

IMG_2493

Don’t say a word! It’s going to be lovely when I’ve finished!

Start collecting your guava branches!

Anyway, that’s it for today – see you again when the sun shines!

Veronique

PS It’s good to be back!

PPS I use so many exclamation marks!!!

Dev’s Cement Garden

I mentioned that I was taking a cement sculpture course – well, we started last week, and it was so much fun, that I’m already thinking about what my next cement project will be!

The instructor, Dev, owns an art gallery in Point aux Piments (at the start of the road that leads to the Maritim Hotel).

Gallery entrance

Gallery entrance

Main gallery

Main gallery

Plaster casts

Plaster casts

Dev taught art at a tertiary level for many years before deciding to become a full-time sculptor, and over time has created a garden full of, sometimes whimsical, sometimes historical, sculptures.

He asked us to bring clay sculptures of our projects to the first class, so I made my first one ever, based on a statue we bought in Bangkok:

side…and on my painting:

big bumsback viewShe’ll be holding a pot filled with succulents:

with potThat’s the plan, anyway!

Dev had tables set up under the banyan tree:

Under the banyanwhere he taught us how to make the armature, which is the internal metal reinforcement for the statue – from calculating proportions, to cutting the metal and shaping it.

It was also where some of my classmates decided to play Tarzan:

Me Tarzan

…or should that be Jane?

Because my sculpture required the simplest armature, he used it as an example, and made the whole thing (another reason I need to make another statue – I want to have a go!):

welding

Note the welding mask sitting ignored on the ground!

WeldingOnce the basic shape had been welded together, he twisted on wire to give shape and bulk to the hands and head:

Wire headAnd finally, he covered the main body and base with chicken wire:

Chicken wire

In addition to providing strength, the wire will give the cement something to grab on to.

Finally, I actually got to do some work – painting the armature with metal primer to prevent rust :

painting

Smile, why don’t you – it’s fun!!!

Drying in the sun

Drying in the sun

Looks quite good as it is – I’m a little nervous about the cement stage – the clay was easy to work with – I hope the cement is too.

We’ll see come Thursday!

Garden Update #6 – Feb 2014

As I mentioned, I haven’t done any gardening to speak of since November – so once again, I’ve found myself with a very overgrown and weed-infested garden.

And because I also haven’t written anything for this blog since then, I only remembered to take “before” photos once I was halfway through the clean-up. How quickly we forget!

Grass, Rhoeo Edging, and Heliconias

The grass has spread from the beds into the paths, and some paths have all but disappeared as the rhoeo edging has flourished with all the rain we’ve had:

Grass-covered path

Weeded rhoeo to the right, and grass-covered rhoeo to the left

Narrow path

When you turn the corner at the end, there is actually no visible path

Unweeded bed

Overgrown bed

Once I finish weeding, I’ll be reshaping the paths by pulling out a lot of the rhoeo. I’ll use some of them to replant areas where the rhoeo has died, or been eaten by snails:

All chewed up

All chewed up

The heliconias are also migrating into the path – I’ll dig those out when I tackle the rhoeo.

HeliconiasMealy Bugs, Pawpaw, and Frangipani

One thing I did do, was to continue weekly spraying for mealy bugs with Amidor, and other than the frangipani and pawpaw which were both way too tall to spray, all plants are now free of it.

Last week, I decided to cut the pawpaw tree down to about 5 feet to make it more manageable.

Mealy bugs

Mealy bugs

Chopped pawpaw

Pawpaw trunk

There are already signs of new growth around the trunk.

I tried “drenching” the frangipani with Amidor, which involves pouring the diluted Amidol on the ground around the tree. It gets absorbed by the roots, gets into the tree’s sap, and kills the mealy bugs when they suck on the leaves.

It didn’t work, as the frangipani is underplanted with bromeliads, and not enough of the Amidor penetrated the soil.

Square Foot Garden

The final thing that fell prey to the mealy bugs were my vegetables – nearly everything got infested with it, and as I didn’t want to spray edible plants with poison, I pulled it all out.

At the moment, I’ve only got oregano, mint, thyme, spring onions, and strawberries left, and have been using the bed to propagate cuttings instead.

After I poison the grass and weeds that are growing in it, I’ll get out my seeds, and start from scratch.

So sad!

So sad!

Dracaena Marginata

I also cut the these down to about 4ft – they had grown too tall and were hidden in the frangipani tree. Also, they were covered in sooty mould, as is everything else under the frangipani. To quote The University of California website:

Sooty molds don’t infect plants but grow on surfaces where honeydew deposits accumulate. Honeydew is a sweet, sticky liquid that plant-sucking insects excrete as they ingest large quantities of sap from a plant. Because the insect can’t completely utilize all the nutrients in this large volume of fluid, it assimilates what it needs and excretes the rest as “honeydew.” Wherever honeydew lands—e.g., leaves, twigs, fruit, yard furniture, concrete, sidewalks, or statuary—sooty molds can become established.

Bloody mealy bugs!

I’ve got the tops of the dracaenas soaking in a bucket of water in the hope that they’ll root, and I can replant them in the driveway bed. I’ll also have to wipe the leaves individually with warm, soapy water to remove the sooty mould.

Again, bloody mealy bugs!

Dracaena trunk

Pruned dracaena – it should sprout a lot of new growth soon

Dracaena

Dracaena “cuttings”

Sooty mould

Sooty mould

I’ve transplanted a third dracaena from a pot to the driveway bed – I took three 4-inch cuttings from a friend’s plant a couple of years ago, rooted them in water, planted two in the ground and the third in a pot.

The ones in the ground were over 8 feet tall before I chopped them back, and the one in the pot might be 2 feet tall if it’s lucky. Huge difference!

Gardenia

I’ll be moving this to a new spot, as it’s growing over the path:

GardeniaI don’t know whether it will survive the transplant, but if it doesn’t, I’ve got a lot of cuttings on the go.

And having it closer to the house means that the perfume might drift up to the patio. Lovely!

Mulberry Tree

I had a lot of mulberries – but as I had to spray the tree with Amidor, I didn’t get to eat a single one!

After a recent visit to the Bagatelle Shopping Centre, and seeing these planted all through the carpark:

Tibouchina

Close-up of the flowers

I’ve decided to replace the mulberry with a tibouchina tree.

They’re gorgeous!

Vaneron Garden Centre in Trianon sell them, but at rs4500 for a 1.5m tree, I think I’ll shop around for a better price! So if you’ve seen them elsewhere, please let me know.

Anyway, that’s it for now – just a bit more weeding to do, and then I can move on to more interesting things.

I couldn’t work out how to start writing this blog again after Alf died, so almost didn’t.

Now, I’m glad I did – it’s brought a sense of normality back into my life, albeit in a small way.

I’m Back!

I won’t bore you too much with how I’ve been for the last few months – suffice to say that it’s been the hardest time of my life.

I’ve had a lot of very dark days, and imagine there’ll be a lot more ahead.

I think of Alf from the moment I wake up, right up to when I fall asleep, and miss him during every one of those moments.

I miss the things we used to do, and cry over those things we will never do.

On the positive side, I’ve made new friends, seen a lot more of old friends than I used to do, and started on a lot of projects that I was too lazy/busy to tackle before.

I’ve also started an art class, and will shortly be starting a concrete sculpture course – hopefully, my Plus-Size Diva will finally get her day in the sun, and I might even manage to make some head planters.

I decided it was better to keep busy doing things I enjoy, than to allow myself to drown in my pain – though it’s very tempting to go down that path sometimes.

Anyway, thanks for your support, and patience – I just need to finish getting the garden into shape after having ignored it for the last four months, and My Mauritian Garden will be up and running again!

Till next week.

Veronique

I Flooded the House

Hello, boys and girls.

The topic for today’s lesson is:

“Don’t go on the internet while you’re filling the kitchen sink”.

Because if you do, instead of spending a leisurely Saturday afternoon at Resto Bar de la Baie eating this:

Fish tartarewhilst looking at this:

Grand Baie and Coin de Mire islandyou’ll end up using this:

Squeegee on a stickto sweep out the 2 inches of floodwater that (a couple of hours down the track) leaves your house vaguely water-free, but rather dishevelled, like this:

LoungeroomDining areaWhere it all startedHundreds of wet towels later...and requires a visit from your cabinetmaker the following week to quote on replacing ALL your drawers because they’re warped and won’t close/open like this:

Warped drawers which no longer closeand based on past experience, the arrival of the new drawers will probably take ages, so for the foreseeable future, your house will continue to look like this:

New kitchen storage areaand if you accidentally drop a drawer on your toe while cleaning up, you’ll end up hobbling around, and over a week later, said toe will still look like this:

Ouch!Well, that’s your lot for today, boys and girls.

In the meantime, don’t forget:

The internet is addictive and EVIL!

And remember to turn off that tap!

Resto Bar de La Baie

Ph: 5798 2765 or 5702 8355

Closed Mondays.

Delicious!

3. Layering, Watering, and Turning the Compost Pile

Layering your Compost Materials

Yet another BH&G quote:

“The ideal way to build your compost pile is to fill your bin all at once, with a 15cm layer of one material, then a sprinkling of activator (blood and bone or poultry manure), a layer of something different, more activator and so on until you reach the top.

Water as you go to keep the material moist, but not soggy, then thatch the whole thing with a layer of straw.

Once it’s done, start a new pile.

You need about a cubic metre of material to achieve a critical mass.”

Well, we don’t have that much waste (and there’s no straw here at all, as far as I know), so I’m just adding to it as I can with whatever we have on the day.

Also, I don’t really want compost bins all over the place – not a good look in a small garden – one’s bad enough!

Unfortunately, I just lost my source of fallen leaves – the neighbours decided to prune their coeur-de-boeuf (corossol) tree, Mauritian-style – meaning they hacked at it with a machete:

Massacred treeAlong with the fallen leaves, the shade for the side bed disappeared, as did our privacy screen – from upstairs, we can see straight into their front yard, and they can see us right back – we now wave to each other a lot!

Oh well – it’ll grow back eventually!

Watering

The compost needs to be kept moist but not wet.

I’m giving it a light spray every couple of days – but may need to adjust this as the weather heats up.

Turning the Compost

Final quote:

“Turning compost mixes the ingredients, aerates the pile and speeds up the process.
For fast compost: Turn the pile every three days for two weeks, then leave the pile undisturbed for another week.

Hey presto! Compost in three weeks.
For lazy compost: Turn the pile every six weeks to three months. You’ll have compost in six months.

Don’t turn it more than suggested here, or the pile won’t rot at all.”

My Experience to Date

Initially, I was going with the lazy compost method, but I’ve decided 6 months is a bit too long to wait.

So I started turning the pile last week – the stuff at the bottom was black but very soggy, so I added more chopped-up dead banana leaves to compensate.

Turning the compostI’ve since added the chicken/horse manure blend, and mixed it through.

At one stage there were weird-looking mushrooms growing in it (not a good sign, I imagine), and it had an unpleasant rotting smell – I figured it was too wet, so added some sawdust and dry leaves, and the smell disappeared.

Another time, I think it was too dry, as a colony of red ants moved in – water got rid of them.

I still haven’t seen any worms – I’m starting to think that maybe there really aren’t any in Mauritius.

Anyway, no huge disasters so far – we’ll see what I end up with in a few weeks time.

Any and all tips are welcome!

Shopping for Manure Mauritian-Style

We needed manure to add to the compost, so this morning we visited the Mont Choisy chicken farm, situated at the horse riding school, in the hope that they had some for sale.

Well, who would have guessed that buying manure would be such a nice experience – we had to wait for the woman in charge to come back to her office, so we took a little stroll through the grounds…

Main house

Entrance to the main house

Worker

She did smile at us afterwards – think she was just camera-shy!

Alf and a horse

You even get to pat a horse or two, and chat to the stablehands

We were sent off down a track to load the bags of manure into the car – we anticipated driving home with all the windows down, and our heads hanging out to escape the smell.

But instead we found ourselves surrounded by mounds of a well-composted horse and chicken manure mix – no smell at all.

Hills of poop!

Hills of poop!

Pre-packed bags

Pre-packed bags

Back at the shop/office, we grabbed a tray of eggs and some free-range chicken breasts, and home we went…

Lime kiln

…past an old lime kiln…

Driveway

…and through the banyan trees (I think) lining the driveway

On the way home, we stopped at our local beach for some seaweed, but there wasn’t any:

Trou aux Biches beach

A very clean Trou aux Biches beach

What a pleasant way to while away an hour – sure beats going to the hardware store!

La Ferme de Mont Choisy Opening Hours:

Mon, Tue, Wed, Fri: 8.30 – 11am and 12 – 3pm

Thu: 8.30 – 11am and 12.30 – 3pm

SFG Update – October 2013

Winter vs Summer

I mentioned in a previous SFG post that, according to my research, if you live in the tropics, you can plant anything, anytime.

Not true.

Well, you can plant it, but it won’t grow.

This is what I think: there are two seasons in the tropics – winter, when most plants are dormant, and summer, when they wake up and take off with a vengeance!

I planted my Square Foot Garden bed in July, and the only things that produced a crop, were the snow and sugar snap peas, and the bush beans – I guess they’re a winter crop.

Most of the other seeds germinated, but the seedlings remained tiny until very recently.

I’ve had 3 failures – despite having tried three different Roma tomato varieties (a number of times), they have yet to germinate. I’m also having trouble with germinating the English spinach and Cos lettuce.

But I refuse to give up – there are hundreds of seeds in those little packets, and if I have to sow every last one of them, I will!

Harvest and Growth

After tasting the peas and beans, we finally understood why people grow their own vegetables – they were unbelievably sweet and tender – we became addicted, and ate them every night.

Sugar snap peas

Sugar snap peas in their prime

First harvest

The very first harvest – not many, but delicious all the same

I initially planted one square of bush beans (9 per square), and seven squares of peas (4 per square) – this yielded enough for the two of us over a couple of months.

I’ve since planted two more squares of bush beans, and have just replanted the square that got infested with mealy bugs.

Bush beans

Diseased bush bean square

Mealy bugs

Revolting!

Most of the pea plants are dead – I’m not sure if it was the heat, the dreaded mealy bugs, or simply that the season is at an end, as we were overseas when they started dying. I’m letting the remaining pods dry on the vines, so I’ll have more seeds for next year.

As an experiment, I recently planted a few sugar snap peas to see if they’ll grow through the summer.

I bought 3 small basil plants to go near the tomatoes, as basil is supposed to aid in their growth.

As I mentioned, the Roma tomatoes have yet to make an appearance, and the Grosse Lisse tomato has only just started to grow – in the meantime, the basil has gone berserk – I’m going to have to make pesto, or give some to our local Italian restaurant – way too much for the two of us!

Soil Composition

I didn’t find either vermiculite or peat moss before I started planting, so the soil is a mix of topsoil and compost.

I’ve since bought a bag of potting mix made from fertilised peat moss, and spread that around the seedlings.

Then I found perlite and coco peat – as I replant each square, I’ll mix some of both into the soil to aid with water retention.

For those of you living here – all of them were from Lolo Supermarket in Morcellement St André.

Fertiliser

Now that the plants are actively growing, I’ve started watering them with a seaweed extract every couple of weeks.

Plants

Herbs: basil, oregano, mint, parsley, thyme, spring onions (scallions), dill (not doing well – I think it’s rotting)

Veggies: carrots (baby), bush beans, snow peas, sugar snap peas, silverbeet (Swiss chard), parsnips, red onion, celery, Chinese celery, Grosse Lisse tomato, Roma tomato (one day), cos lettuce (also one day), English spinach (ditto), iceberg lettuce, capsicum (peppers), hot chilli

Fruit: strawberries

All that in a 5×10 foot space, and there are still plenty of empty squares.

So, as the bulk of it’s growing, I’d call it a successful first foray into the wonderful world of Square Foot Gardening.

I need a life.

Strawberry cage

A cage to keep the mynah birds away from the strawberries

Carrots

One of the carrot squares and silverbeet

Parsley and spring onions

Parsley and spring onions

Parsnips

Parsnips

SFG bed

Lettuces in the forefront

SFG bed

Tomato dwarfed by basil plants

Shaded from the afternoon sun

Shaded from the afternoon sun

SFG bedIf you’re interested in starting a Square Foot Garden, this website is the one I used to gather all the information I needed – it’s a one-stop shop!

Attack of the Mealy Bug!

What I believed to be white mould, turned out to be mealy bug.

And it’s not just in our garden – there’s an island-wide outbreak of it.

It’s affected mango, lychee, and pawpaw orchards, and well as vegetable crops, and ornamental plants.

The worst-affected in our garden were the hibiscus, gardenias, Madagascan frangipanis, pawpaw, and mulberry.

The mango tree next door is covered in it, and unfortunately, as it overhangs our Square Foot Garden bed, the mealy bugs have spread to the basil, peas and beans, by way of falling leaves and baby mangoes.

We sprayed the ornamental plants with Amidor (active ingredient Imidacloprid), and are spraying homemade white oil on the edible plants (2 parts vegetable oil shaken in a jar with 1 part dishwashing liquid, then diluted at the rate of 2 tablespoons to 1 litre of water).

We also had to radically prune some of the plants to remove the worst-affected parts.

Needless to say those prunings did not go into the compost!

Everything will need a close eye kept on it for the foreseeable future, as it’s going to be a recurring problem.

A Lesson Learnt the Hard Way

According to an article in last week’s paper, the Mauritian Government’s solution to the infestation, is to introduce a parasitic insect from India that eats mealy bugs.

Do people never learn?

In the 1930’s in Australia, the sugarcane industry in Queensland fell prey to cane-destroying beetles. The government imported cane toads from Hawaii to eat the beetles.

Unfortunately, the beetles lived at the top of the canes, and as the toads couldn’t jump more than a couple of feet, they looked elsewhere for their food source.

They ate all manner of native insects, small mammals, birds and reptiles (basically whatever they could cram into their mouths), thereby both killing the native fauna, and reducing the amount of food available to other native critters.

On top of that, they’re poisonous, so anything that ate them died.

Since then, they’ve spread from the cane fields of Queensland, down into New South Wales, across the Northern Territory, and into the north of Western Australia, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake, and well-established colonies wherever they’ve been.

Each female lays between 8000 and 35000 (!) eggs during each bi-annual breeding season, and the cane toad’s average life-span is 5 years.

In 2011, it was estimated that there were 2 billion cane toads in Australia.

There is no estimate of the number of creatures they’ve gobbled down or poisoned over the last 80-odd years.

And no-one knows how to stop, yet alone eradicate, them.

Mauritius

Mauritius is like Australia – an island with endemic fauna.

There is no telling what the introduction of this new insect will do in the long run, and the fact that, in India, it’s successful at controlling mealy bugs with no adverse effects doesn’t mean a thing – Mauritius is not environmentally identical to India.

Also, what will they eat once the mealy bugs are gone?

I’m not a greenie by any stretch of the imagination, but surely this type of thinking is short-term, and the potential for disaster, limitless.

All that one can do is to hope that a) it works, and b) the long-term impact on the environment is a positive, or at least, benign one.

I’m reminded of that children’s song about an old lady who swallowed a fly, then swallowed a spider to catch the fly, then swallowed a bird to catch the spider…

I guess if the introduced insects become a problem, the Government can introduce something else that eats them…cane toads, perhaps – Australia’s got plenty to spare.

And then some!

cane toadscane toad

2. Compost Materials and Ratios

 For effective composting, you need a combination of dry and green waste.

Another direct quote from BH&G, Australia:

“There should be 25-30 times more carbon than nitrogen for it to work well.

What’s high in carbon? Woody prunings (chopped small), shredded paper, fallen leaves.

What’s high in nitrogen? Grass clippings, green plants, old flowers, manure, fruit and veggie scraps.”

Our green waste will include:

  • kitchen scraps
  • old bunches of flowers
  • fresh prunings and weeds from the garden
  • grass clippings (or, in our case, swathes of long grass)
  • seaweed to bulk out the green waste, as between the two of us, we don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables to have a lot of kitchen scraps (though with Alf being Irish, we always have a lot of potato peelings!)

And our dry waste:

  • torn newspaper
  • coffee grounds
  • dead banana leaves (but I won’t use the trunks as they’re too slimy)
  • fallen leaves from next door’s mango and Coeur de Boeuf trees
  • sawdust for extra “carbon”, if required
  • crushed eggshells (though if we don’t get worms in the compost, I don’t know whether they’ll break down, so I’m not sure yet if I will add them)

If you have access to it, animal manure (cow, chicken etc) makes an excellent addition, and speeds up the decomposition process, as will chopping everything up as small as possible.

I haven’t looked for chook (chicken) poo yet, but will start asking around – someone told me there’s an organic chicken farm in Mon Choisy, so I’ll make that my first stop (though if it’s fresh, the car might get rather stinky!).

(One thing I regret not doing back in Australia, was buying some Zoo Poo – the idea makes me laugh – spreading (well-rotted, not fresh!) elephant or giraffe poo around the garden! I love it!)

Ashes from wood fires is also good to add, but we don’t have any.

Things that DON’T go into the Compost

  • Diseased plants
  • Dog and cat poo
  • Meat, fish, dairy products
  • Fried foods and salads dressed with oil
  • Glossy magazines
  • excessive amounts of citrus peel or onions (though how much is too much?)

So, more trial and error ahead.

Hopefully, one day, I’ll actually know what I’m doing!