Garden Update #7- June 2014

I’ve finally made my way back into the garden – permanently this time.

I lost interest in it after Alf died – it made me too sad.

I watered it occasionally, and cut the grass infrequently, but that was about it.

Alf was very proud of what I’d achieved, and was always showing it off to our visitors, or watching what I was doing from our balcony. I miss him, and gardening reminded me too much of him.

Anyway, I’ve decided that it’s about time that I get off the couch, get stuck into it, and continue to make Alf proud.

Plus I can hear him say “Don’t you dare let that garden die – do you know how much we’ve spent on it!!!”

Luckily I planted a low-maintenance garden, otherwise I’d be in big trouble after ignoring it for six months! Good news is, nothing died, and everything kept right on growing. In some cases, a bit too much!

Square Foot Garden Bed

I dug up the bed as the soil had compacted and was rock hard.

I then added a mix of composted horse/chicken manure, perlite and coco peat, and dug that into each square.

The only things still there from last year were a straggly thyme plant, spring onions, half-dead oregano, and strawberries.

The original strawberry plants had died, but I transplanted about 20 new small plants that had grown from runners.

I’ve planted parsley, chilli, mint, thyme and sage seedlings, and I’ve sown the following seeds:

Capsicum (peppers)
Beef steak tomatoes
Roma tomatoes
Celery
Sugar snap and snow peas
Bush beans
Silverbeet (Swiss chard)
English spinach
Lettuces (including Cos for Caesar salads!)

Again, I’ve only planted things that are expensive or not available here.

I have six empty squares which I’ll use to plant more salad vegetables in a few weeks’ time, so that I get a staggered supply rather than have everything maturing at once.

And I’ve moved my cement statue into the middle of the bed – she adds height, colour and interest to the empty bed.

SFG BedAerial ViewUsing Compost as Mulch

One of the reasons the SFG bed was so dry (ignoring my bad watering practices for the moment!), was because last year I mulched it with the horse/chicken compost we bought.

The compost was either hydrophobic and repelled water, or it absorbed the water, and just held on to it.

I’m not sure which, but either way, it prevented water from reaching the soil.

I’m glad I’ve discovered that now, as I plan on mulching the entire garden with it at some stage.

As an experiment, I’ve soaked it in water, along with perlite and coco peat, and mulched the planter on the garage roof with it. This planter is in full sun for most of the day and dries out quickly, so I’ll soon be able to tell whether it’s effective or not.

Raw ingredients

Dry mix

Mulch

Soaked in water

Passionfruit

After almost 2 years, I have fruit! Only a couple, but it’s a start:

Lack of fruit on the vine can be due to insufficient water, so I’ve given it a good soaking, and used the mulch mix around the base of the vine to stop evaporation.

Passionfruit

What a beauty!

It’s been so long since I bought it, I can’t remember whether it was a yellow or purple variety – hope it’s purple – yellow clashes with the wall colour!

Vegetable Seedlings – July 2013

Raised Bed Dimensions

Having actually worked on the Square Foot Gardening bed now, I understand why the recommended width is 4 feet – it really is difficult reaching into the centre of our 5 foot bed – it’s just out of comfortable reach.

Seedlings

It’s been three weeks since the first seeds went in.

My only successes so far are the snow and sugar snap peas, bush beans, and the tomato.

Peas and bush beans

Peas at the rear, and bush beans just starting to come up.

And this morning, I found the first tiny signs of the red chilli and capsicum. Woo hoo!

As each seedling gets big enough, I mulch around it with seaweed.

Nothing else has germinated. This is despite my running out each morning to check, seeing no growth, and yelling “Hurry up!!!”.

They do say you should talk to your plants.

There could be a few reasons for this dismal failure:

  • I planted the seeds too deeply
  • The seeds are too old
  • They’ve been dug up by cats
  • Vegetables are seasonal in the tropics
  • I’ve over/under-watered
  • I’m too impatient, and they will eventually germinate

As the germination period stated on the seed packets passes, I’m planting a second round of seeds, being careful this time to follow the “how deep to plant” instructions. If these seeds also fail to germinate, I’ll throw them out and buy new ones, as they’re probably too old.

I’ve replanted in the squares where the cats dug, and have taken steps to deter any future digging – more details to follow.

Other than that, I need to curb my impatience.

I’m hoping the reason isn’t that I’m a terrible sower of seeds. That would be a major problem!

Seedling Identification

Having never grown vegetables before, I don’t know what each seedling should look like. Consequently, as little green shoots started to appear, I wasn’t sure whether they were seedlings, or weeds that I needed to pull out. Sadly, they kept turning out to be weeds.

When the seeds do germinate (ever the optimist!), I’ll keep a photographic record of the seedlings, which I can refer to next season.

Seed Varieties

I’ve recently discovered a French brand called Tropica, which is specifically for the tropics.

For example, their iceberg lettuce is bred to be resistant to heat and bolting, and can be grown all year, whereas the normal iceberg will bolt to seed as soon as the weather starts to heat up. Sounds promising.

The lettuce seeds are dyed blue, which is a great idea, as they’re very small and normally hard to see once they’re on the soil. Why don’t all seed suppliers do that?

I’ve also bought seeds from Pick ‘n Pay – a South African brand called Starke Ayres. They have vegetables that I haven’t seen here before, like bush beans (dwarf beans).

Herbs

I think I made a mistake by mulching around the coriander and the thyme cuttings. After checking online, I found they don’t like to be kept too wet – they tend to rot. I should check these things earlier in the process.

So I’ve removed the mulch, and planted a second square of thyme cuttings.

The coriander is struggling but hanging in there, so I’ll wait and see what happens.

The spring onions are growing, but some are beginning to flower. As I need them, I’ll harvest the green parts, and leave the bulbs in the ground and let them re-grow. I’ll also sow the seeds from the flower heads when they mature.

I had no luck with the basil – I tried to root some in water, and planted others directly into the bed – they all died. I won’t bother trying that again.

Instead I bought basil and dill plants from Espace Maison, who have a good range of herbs at the moment.

I also bought some Chinese celery from there. It has very skinny stalks and a very strong (and slightly unpleasant when eaten raw) taste – but it’ll do for cooking until the celery starts growing.

Celery

Celery in front of more peas

Parsley is the herb I use most of, but the seeds are doing zilch.

Hurry up!!!!

Strawberries

I bought 12 strawberry plants from Grand Baie nursery, and planted 4 per square. I had to remove most of the soil from around the roots in order to fit them into the squares.

StrawberriesGrowing strawberries in the SFG bed requires you to cut off any runners that grow, allowing the plant to put all its energy into fruit production rather than into the runners.

I grew them in hanging baskets last year, and while we got some lovely berries initially, the plants got stressed and then died because the soil in the baskets dried out too quickly and too often, due to the wind and heat.

Once they start fruiting, I’ll need to protect them, as the mynah birds also found them delicious.

Maintenance of the SFG Bed

Finally, there’s a low-maintenance part of the garden – there’s not much to do other than daily watering, a little bit of weeding, and yelling.

Anyway, three weeks in, and it’s a case of so far, so good, if a bit slow.

Barring an insect attack or a freak cyclone, we could be harvesting our first home-grown veggies in a matter of weeks.

Well, maybe a pea or two.

How to Get Rid of Rubbish

In Mauritius, the only rubbish (trash, garbage etc) that gets collected, is your household waste, including bottles and small amounts of green waste.

Fortunately, one company has started to recycle part of this waste into compost, which they then sell off.

Finally! Good job! Mauritius is a tiny island – we can’t afford to have massive landfills.

Any chance of turning the huge number of trees that get chopped down or burnt, into woodchip mulch for my garden?

No? Thought not – maybe in another twenty years or so. Never mind, we’ll be using the compost as mulch once I kill the grass. Though I would prefer woodchips. Allows more water and air through.

Anyway – lovely black compost – hope everyone’s buying it for their gardens, and that the small planters are using it as mulch. Otherwise, the company might go bust as do so many good businesses which are under-utilised.

Ironically, the very same people that didn’t patronise them in the first place, complain once they’ve closed down.

Anyway again (getting sidetracked is my forté!)…rubbish:

After construction, you can pay someone to take all your rubble away, but what about everything else?

Local councils don’t collect it, and we don’t know of any rubbish tips (dumps) that you can take things to yourself. Are there any? They’re certainly not in the Yellow Pages!

The Government does nothing to improve the situation, other than imposing fines for illegal dumping.

They’d be better off providing facilities – even if they charged for them.

They encourage foreigners to move here and bring their money with them. Those same foreigners (including us) add to the amount of waste that’s generated. And we use the limited amount of water that’s available, and we add to the congestion on the roads.

Etc.

Lack of foresight on the Government’s part, and consequently, improvement to the infrastructure, is a big problem.

In many, many ways. But that’s a story for another time.

Sidetracked again…getting rid of rubbish:

What we do is:

• When they took away our rubble, they left behind a section of old kerbing, so we used it as a step to the outdoor shower. It’s a very unstable step, but at least it’s out of the way
• Two pedestal fans, a stereo, and various other electrical appliances that no longer worked, soon disappeared from the verge after Alf stuck signs saying “FREE” on them
• We store it in the garage for future disposal
• We hide it at the side of the house
• Alf bribes the bin men with six-packs of beer (doesn’t always work)

This is what some locals do:

• Pile in up in their front yard
• Make a big bonfire and burn it all
• Dump it on vacant blocks

Refer back to the lack of disposal facilities.

My favourite solution, however, was one told to me by our ex-landlord, Robert, when I asked him how he got rid of things.

You call the repair shop and say you want a quote on your broken item.

You drop it off, and when they call with the cost, you tell them it’s too expensive and that they can keep it.

He did it with a fridge and a car.

I loved that guy!

RIP, my friend – I still think of you and laugh at your stories.

Garden Update #3 – Mar 2013

Pots and Pot Stands

I found el cheapo plastic pots for the top of the stands, which I sanded, applied two coats of terracotta paint to, tiled and grouted, then applied a third coat to cover the grout, as it was much darker than the paint. They’re the right shape, but a bit smaller than I wanted. In Mauritius though, beggars can’t be choosers – you might end up waiting forever if you hold out for something specific.

Red potFinished potsUnlike when I bought the small pots, this time, I actually measured the pot stand so I’d know what size pots to buy.

Pot Stand

Perfect!

However, I made the fatal mistake of only measuring one of them:

Stupid pot stand

!!!!!

I’m starting to develop a serious dislike for those pot stands!

I’ll be planting the pots with ivy geranium, (after drilling holes in the bases – why don’t pots have drainage holes anymore? We have a drill, but I’m sure lots of people don’t). Hopefully, the geraniums will trail down and disguise the size problem!

Anyway, on a more positive note, I love paint – instead of ugly red plastic pots, I now have two lovely “terracotta” pots.

Even if one of them doesn’t fit! Grrrrr!

Moving on…with the pot stands, I’ve still got to apply rust converter and primer, and then spray them with either white gloss or matte black – I’ve yet to decide, though I’m leaning towards black. But I’d better do it pronto – with all the rain we’ve been having, they’re getting rustier by the minute – bits will probably start falling off soon!

Weeding the Beds

I’ve weeded the final two beds, and the only problems hiding under the grass were:

Easter Lilies

I have two plants – they both died back, but one is showing signs of new growth. My friend, Robin, said that you’re supposed to dig up the bulbs each year, store them, and replant them the following season.

Afraid not – I planned a low maintenance garden, and am not prepared to do anything like that – I’ve got enough to do! I’ll see how they go, and perhaps replace them.

Day Lilies

They haven’t grown at all (nor have the agapanthus). Maybe if you live in a tropical zone, you should stick to tropical plants! Having said that, the red ginger plants haven’t grown much either, so who knows?

Ruellia Hedges

I cut all the bushes back hard. However, I think it’s too little too late – most of them are growing sideways, and I can’t see them ever turning into the gorgeous hedge that at the moment exists solely in my imagination.

So I’ve stuck about 20 cuttings into a jar of water, and will start from scratch when they root – it will only take a couple of weeks.

This time, I’ll plant more of them, and reduce the spacing between them, so that as they grow, they can support each other.

Also, I’ll prune them regularly so that they become bushy, and turn into a low hedge instead of a tall, straggly mess.

The weeded garden:

Driveway bed

Driveway bed

Lemon bed

Lemon tree bed

Mulberry tree and front beds

Mulberry tree and front beds

House bed

Bed running the length of the house

House bed

Ditto

Side Bed

Side bed and passionfruit in the raised bed

Grass

The paths have been weeded and poisoned, and the grass in the new paths has been cut and poisoned, and the paths covered in sawdust.

The type of sawdust we get varies, depending on what wood the cabinetmakers are working with. So you end up with a patchwork effect when you first spread it as you can see from the above photos.

After a while, it fades in the sun and all looks pretty much the same colour.

The paths I’d already poisoned and covered were relatively easy to weed – it was mainly grass that had spread from the adjoining beds, so the roots were shallow and pulled out easily.

Half-weeded path

Half-weeded path

So to that extent, the sawdust mulch is working. Any grass that grows from now on will be promptly Roundup-ed or pulled out.

However, the grass in the beds is going to be a huge ongoing problem – the roots are very deep (even where I’ve previously poisoned), and it grows back very thick. It also grows back very fast.

Newly-weeded bed

Newly-weeded bed

Weeded two weeks ago

Two weeks’ growth

Half weeded bed

What I can expect in two months

There’s no point in just covering it all with mulch, as the grass will grow through it.

I don’t want to poison the beds as I killed some plants last time I did that – plus it takes forever as it’s too windy to spray, so I have to use a paintbrush. And it’s obviously not very effective.

I googled “weed mat” – the general consensus was that the soil underneath gets very dry, and because it’s loosely-woven, weeds/grass still grow through it. And it frays, so you get little bits of black plastic floating about the place.

Instead, I’ve decided to look for hessian (jute or burlap) fabric, and lay that on the beds before mulching.

It’ll let moisture through, and the grass and weeds will have to try pretty hard to get through both the hessian and the mulch. Any that do make it will be easily seen as the mulch is black, and I can poison them immediately. By the time the hessian rots down, the grass should all be dead.

Theoretically!

It will probably take a while to do, as I’ll have to cut the hessian to fit around the plants. But if it works, it’ll be time well spent, and I rather do that than face a future of eternal weeding!

So much for low-maintenance!

(If you live in Mauritius and know where I can bulk-buy cheap hessian, please let me know.)

Step

I downloaded an English gardening program called “Lovely Garden” by my all-time favourite gardener, Alan Titchmarsh, and in one episode, the garden owner had planted a tiny square of lawn in an otherwise brick-paved area. It was a bold statement and it made me laugh.

(As an aside, how is it that despite their terrible weather, the Brits are such fabulous gardeners? You can’t beat them!)

Anyway, initially, I thought that I’d buy some turf for the step by the front gates – this would be the only lawn in our garden.

However, after our problems with the grass and weeds, I’ve since changed my mind.

I HATE grass!

Instead, I cut some astroturf to shape and used that:

AstroturfIt doesn’t exactly look natural (or pretty – it’s a weird shade of green and is all sparkly in the sun – like Christmas tinsel!), but at least it’ll stop my shoes from getting muddy and the weeds from growing. Hopefully, down the track, I’ll find something better.

Well, we’re off to Perth for two weeks soon – lots of eating, shopping, and catching up with family and friends, leaving our house and Tipsy-the-cat in the capable hands of our housesitter, Amy.

Thanks, Amy, and enjoy Mauritius!

Mulch

Mauritius, like a lot of the world, suffers from water shortages.

It’s also pretty windy so there’s a lot of soil and dust in the air (and consequently on the patios, and in the house, and in my lungs).

Why not mulch I hear you wonder – because there isn’t any readily available, I reply.

Bagasse

I tried to buy bagasse – after all, sugar cane as far as the eye can see and all that.

No chance – the sugar companies use it all to power their factories. Greedy!

Although a Queenslander friend has since told me it’s pretty stinky, so maybe that was a blessing in disguise.

Woodchips

I found small bags of woodchips but too expensive for the quantities I need (plus they were a funny colour – possibly dyed).

Seaweed

In the past, I’ve collected seaweed from the beach, rinsed it to remove the sand as soon as I get home, and mulched with that.

Apparently it’s a terrific soil conditioner but I’m not sure what that means.

If it means that buried objects like rusty nails and random bits of plastic are drawn to the surface, then yes, it is a terrific soil conditioner.

It smells like the sea (unless you accidently pick up some older bits!!), and looks good with all its different colours and textures when it’s fresh. It all fades to a uniform pale cream after a couple of weeks. Still nice.

seaweed mulch

If I recall correctly, the plants that were mulched with it seemed to grow faster and looked healthier than those without.

On the minus side:

  • it’s heavy to collect and carry, as it’s wet and full of sand
  • you need a lot of it – one very full shopping bag will mulch 1-2 plants
  • it shrinks enormously when it dries and so needs constant topping up – refer to the first point
  • when you gather it, people either

a) stare at you

b) ask if you eat it, then tell you the Chinese do

c) engage you in very long conversations about it

d) give you gardening advice

e) help you by putting those older bits I mentioned in your bags, which you discover a few days later when the garden starts to smell like dead fish

If I have the time and energy, I will start collecting it again for mulching around individual plants but not entire beds.

Greenwaste

Up to now I’ve been chopping up and using green-waste from the garden around my plants. Messy-looking, not very efficient, nor is there much of it and it’s probably full of weed seeds, but it’s better than nothing.

Now that it’s breeding season, the neighbourhood birds have discovered ready-made nesting material and it’s disappearing fast!

Compost to the Rescue

A friend of ours has found a company that makes compost, so we’ll be ordering a truckload of that as soon as I’ve killed the grass and finished planting.

I made him a Lemon Meringue Cheesecake as a thank you (he also tried to get the bagasse for us). Thanks, Steve.

The black of the compost should highlight the plants from up here, and be a good contrast against the sawdust paths from both perspectives.

The downside is that everything that falls on it will be very noticeable. Or maybe not. Will wait and see.

Either way, it’s our only choice, and it is, after all, good for the plants.