Author Archive for Gururaj Rao

08
Mar
19

Vegetable garden close to home

I have restarted my blog after a long hiatus. Lots of new developments – I am leasing a site just about 50 meters from my house. It is rather large for one person to work on. I have 11 square-foot (SF) plots within the site. I have also re-designed my home garden. Here’s an overall view of my vegetable garden  as of today with some winter vegetables.

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Overall view of my vegetable garden

Broccoli, mizuna, autumn onions will be harvested soon, opening up the respective plots for planting spring vegetables.

Likely to harvest broad beans, winter turnip, and winter onions around April/May.

 

Now growing in my home garden

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Daphne Odora, sweet scented flowers at two locations

I planted these at various locations in my garden and I’m glad I did so. The flowers bloom around February end/March beginning and give off a sweet scent.

 

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Turnips and strawberries

Planted these before the onset of winter. Strawberries on the right side and turnips on the left side in my home garden plot. Small white flowers of the strawberry plants are visible. These flowers will turn into fruit hopefully.

 

Germinating seeds indoors

First, let’s get started with how to sow and germinate seeds indoors. While the weather outside is too cold to sow seeds directly into the ground, I decided to start the gardening season early this year and try to germinate seeds indoors. Early March (minimum about 5 degrees C, maximum about 12 degrees C) is still not the right time to plant seeds directly in the ground here in my area of Japan. So I have decided to grow seeds I already have at home under lights. The results are encouraging.

 

SeedsPlantingKit

Simple indoor seed-planting kit

 

This is what I started out with: Paper towel (called “kitchen paper in Japan)  roll, a zip-lock clear bag, seeds, a ball pen and a water sprayer. See the photo above.

Method:

  • Spread a paper towel on a table and write the name of the seed and the date on one corner such that when you fold and roll the paper after placing the seeds the writing appears at the top.
  • Spray clean water uniformly on the sheet so that it becomes moist but not dripping wet.
  • Place ten seeds on the upper half of the paper at uniform spacing.
  • Fold the other half and roll the paper so that the name you write appears on the top.
  • After making rolls for all the seeds that you wish to germinate, insert the rolls in a zip-lock bag but leave it open for air to enter.
  • If the seeds are light-sensitive and will germinate only in the presence of light, place the entire bag below an indoor light (I use a study lamp with fluoroscent tube).
  • Open the bag every day and spray water on the rolls if they have dried out.
  • Check after 3-4 days to see  if any  seeds have germinated. You’ll usually find roots going through the paper from the seed.
  • Carefully open the roll and use pincers to gently pull the seed with root and transfer it to tray with potting soil.

The photo below shows rolls labeled and moistened ready to be transferred to the zip-lock bag.

(Of course, you need to know what seeds germinate better with light and what seeds you could keep in the dark and wait for them to germinate. Lettuce, carrot, kale, komatsuna, are light sensitive, so I place them under an indoor light).

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Photo-sensitive seeds in labelled, moistened paper towel rolls

I also planted another set of seeds that germinate in the dark. Similar to the above, I made moistened rolls with the following seeds: tomato (ruby and beefsteak), cucumber, bell pepper, spinach, corn, and phlox seeds.

After about four days, several varieties of vegetables germinated. These included cucumer, radish, corn and lettuce (one variety). Lettuce roots were very thin and delicate (see extreme right). I used pincers to gently place them in soil without pressing the germinated plants into the soil. I presumed that if the roots go deep into the soil seeking nutrients, the upper part of the plant with leaves will automatically stand erect and look for light. Let us see what happens tomorrow! The photo below shows the germinated seeds transferred to tray containing soil.

 

GerminatedCucumberSeeds GerminatedCornSeeds

Left: Germinated cucumber                  Right: Germinated corn

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Germinated lettuce seeds. See the thin, fine roots

I placed the tray under an indoor light at night. I move them to the window during day time if there is sunshine. I guess natural light is always good for plants to grow healthy.

 

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Transfer of germinated seeds to seed tray with soil

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Same view of germinated seeds – the next day

As I presumed, the small plants perked up the next day, thanks to the frequent spraying of water, the light on them and the warm environment indoors. Even the delicate lettuce stalks (two extreme right rows) are standing upright on their own.

I am keeping my fingers crossed for other varieties.  I don’t expect all the seeds to germinate because some of the seeds are two to three years old. If the indoor germination works, I can directly sow the seeds into the ground when it gets warmer outside.

 

Sprouts

The next part of this blog is how to grow sprouts. I have grown broccoli sprouts successfully and consume them almost daily.

The items required to grow sprouts and the process are very simple.

See photo below showing all that you need .

SproutKit

Items for growing sprouts

All you need are a paper towel, a container (either one for sprouts or a plastic box with lid on which you can make some holes for air), a water sprayer and seeds. I have shown three varieties of seeds in the photo above – broccoli, alfalfa and radish, which are specially meant for growing sprouts.

 

Method:

  • Fold the paper towel to sit snugly on the base of the container without bumps

PaperInContainer

  • Spray a thin layer of water on the paper towel uniformly
  • Sprinkle the seeds uniformly so as to cover the paper (I found it preferable to not pack them too densely)
  • Cover the container with the lid.
  • Place the container in a bag with jip or a cardboard box with cover to provide a dark environment.
  • Every morning, open the container and spray some water.
  • On the second or third day you should see the seeds germinating.
  • Keep sprinkling water every day until they grow to almost eatable size.
  • Expose them to sunlight for a while (window sill or the like) and consume the sprouts immediately.

 

Sprouts&SeedsUnderLight

Photo-sensitve seeds in moist paper rolls and sprouts under light

 

BroccoliSproutsReadytoEat

Broccoli sprouts ready to eat

I encourage readers to try growing sprouts and germinating seeds by the method given above. If you have a better method, do post here. I would love to hear from you.

Sprouts in general, are nutiritionally very rich.

“Broccoli sprouts have been shown to contain up to 50 times more cancer-fighting benefits (from sulforaphane) than broccoli alone. Fiber, vitamin C, and calcium are just a few of its nutritional stars. These sprouts are great in helping to prevent stomach bugs and respiratory issues such as asthma.” (The above excerpt is from the website:  https://www.nutriliving.com/foods/broccoli-sprouts)

 

Nothing like growing your own organic food! Until the next time, happy gardening!

13
Sep
15

now growing in my garden

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White and pink Morning glory (Asagao in Japanese)

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Purple and white Morning Glogy (Asagao in Japanese)

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Butterfly Pea (or Shanka Pushpa in India)

I got the seeds from India and planted them here in Japan. I have seen photos of purple variety of this flower too.

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Japanese anemone (or Shumeigiku in Japanese)

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Ginger Lily – now at its peak (September in Japan)

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Bulbous Red Begonia

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Pink Geranium

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Hibiscus

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Maple Bonsai

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Lemon Bonsai

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Assorted Bonsai & Ardesia Canata

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Roots of air-layered peach

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Independent peach tree

Air-layered peach branch cut off from

parent tree and planted separately

as an independent plant after roots

developed. It took about one month (July to

August) for roots to develop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Figs

Have a great day!

27
Aug
15

Collecting seeds

In this post, I will touch upon how to collect seeds from flowers, some successes of projects initiated last month, and results of harvests.

First, any time you get hold of a marigold, dahlia or zinnia, just allow it to dry completely. Then follow the sequence of photos below to collect seeds for sowing next spring.

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Zinnia

Clockwise top to bottom: 1) Dry flower 2) Gently pull out petal one by one 3) At the end of the petal is the arrowhead seed. Cut off unwanted part of petals and collect seeds in a paper bag.

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Dahlia

This is similar to the Zinnia. Let the flowers dry out fully. Pull out the petals one by one gently. The arrow head at the bottom of the petal is the seed. Save the seeds in a paper bag and store in the refrigerator.

Morning glory too gives out a large number of seeds when the flowers dry out. You need to collect the seed pod from the plant. Each pod may contain 3-6 seeds.

Next time you see any of these flowers in the dry state, don’t throw them away. Take them home and collect the seeds. Store in the fridge, and when spring comes, sow them.

 

Some results of my experimental projects

Here are some successes:

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Small oranges

Out of about seven cuttings from an orange tree (thanks, Utiyama-san), four of the cuttings rooted. Some of them bore white flowers – it was amazing to see plants with no new leaves but with flowers.

I am hoping that at least two of the four will survive the forthcoming winter and grow to give oranges in the future.

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Sapota

I had brought with me Sapota seeds from India last May and planted them in small pots. About seven of them have successfully germinated and are growing well. I’m not sure whether they will survive the winter – I’ll place them in a home-made hot house. It took nearly two months for the seeds to germinate. The growth also seems to be slow – after more than three months, new leaves have started appearing.

I have no idea whether these will grow to yield my favorite ‘chikoos’ but I’ll do my best to keep them alive and kicking!

 

 

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Pineapple

Another experimental project (see previous blog post). I had cut out the top of a pineapple and planted it about a month earlier. New leaves have started appearing from the center.

 

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Mexican mango

The Mexican mango seed I had planted last month (see previous blog post) delighted me by throwing out new leaves.  I do not expect mangoes, but it will be fun watching it grow!

 

Harvests until now

Although season is not yet over, let’s see how I have fared since I planted the veggies after reaching Japan in May. Here is a table that gives the score:

Vegetable/Fruit Home Garden Office Garden Total
Tomato (large+small) 115 78 193
Cucumber 60 13 73
Eggplant 60 20 80
Green pepper 55 55
Beans 224 224
Okra 13 13
Corn 3 3
Small radish 31 31
Green chilli 65 65
Coriander Harvested 4 times 4
Malkheiya Harvested 6 times 6
Figs 35 35
Water melon 1 1

As the numbers speak for themselves, I tasted some degree of success with tomato, beans, eggplant, cucumber, green pepper, and green chilli. Okhra, corn and water melon harvest was lackluster. I failed miserably with Eda mame. Peanuts are still growing; so are eggplant and okhra. I hope to harvest peanuts in autumn.

Finally, here are some flowers and fruits growing presently in my garden.

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Wisteria

The growing season is already over, but because of my incessant pruning, the tree has produced flowers quite late. The flowers above bloomed beginning of August.

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Ginger lily

Undeniably, my favorite flower. Pleasant, strong aroma – I cut them and place them in flower vases all over my house. I plan to propagate more of these and dot them all around the periphery of my house.

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Formosan Lily or Mountain Lily

This flower grows all over my garden come summer. I do nothing – the plant grows wild, flowers bloom in summer and the plant disappears to appear somewhere else next summer. A gift from God.

 

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Hibiscus

This blood-red Hibiscus flower has just started blooming after overwintering. The plant was gifted to my by my friend Toyama-san last year. It spent the winter within my house. I brought it out in May, and flowers have finally bloomed in August, the middle of summer.

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Hosta

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Fig tree

The fig tree is the gem in my garden. It has given a lot of figs this year; since August, I pick about 2 figs a day on an average. Delicious –see photo below.

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Figs from my home garden

All for now – until the next post, Happy Gardening!

26
Jul
15

Experimental projects

Over the past month, I have started several experimental projects including growing of plants in plastic bottles containing nutrient solution (aquaponics), seed propagation, cutting propagation, air layering and grafting. Some of these have been practiced over hundreds of years; however, I am trying out some new probably untried experiments such as grafting persimmon (fruit) on to a flowering plant stock, growing tropical plants such as sapota and white pumpking (seeds from India), cuttings placed in plastic bottles containing some water until signs of roots appear and then placing them in soil, and so on.

In brief, here they are:

1. Aquaponics

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Simple aquaponics tools

The most important component is obviously the nutrient solution in which the plant has to grow. I selected a two part Hyponica pack (A, B) that I mixed in a 500-ml distilled water solution (1 ml of A and 1 ml of B), which I used to immerse the cleaned roots of plants such as tomato, mint and  perilla plants. The growth after a few weeks seem to be OK, but not as fast as in soil. I will probably increase the frequency of replenishing the solution to about 3 times a week.

For the container, I cut transversely a 2-liter green-tea plastic container and inverted the top half on to the bottom half. If the cut is at the right location, there is no need to tape or hold the upper half in place – it fits snugly on to the bottom half.

I have placed the containers in a shaded but brightly lit balcony.

I also plant to support the plants from the top (by tying them to hooks on the ceiling). Presently, the roots are dipping in the solution supported by branches that rest on the edges of the plastic bottles.

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Two tomato plants in nutrient solution

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Two mint plants flanked by tomato and perilla

 

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2. Air layering 

Rose of Sharon

I decided to propagate Rose of Sharon by air layering. I cut off the bark gently and on the exposed portion, wound around moist sphagnum moss, wrapped it over with plastic and tied it with plastic wire. I have no idea whether this will work; but its fun trying it out. Will report results next month.

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Air layering – Peach

The peach tree has not been giving flowers so I decided to propagate it by air layering and then pay more attention to raising the new plant (hopefully!) Again, will post results next month.

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3. Grafting

Persimmon on flowering tree – far-fetched?

I have taken a step into the unknown world – I had a Japanese flowering tree giving small white flowers with more leaves than flowers; I cut off the upper part, cut a notch into the center of the stem and inserted a wedged persimmon cutting and wound it up with some moist sphagnum moss to retain moisture. Let’s see what happens after a month.

 

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4. Propagation by cutting – 2 kinds of oranges

My friend Utiyama-san gave me some cuttings for two kinds of oranges which I promptly inserted into seed mix and covered up with a transparent plastic bag. Look forward to root germination in at least some of these.

 

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5.  Pineapple top

Carefully cut off the top of a ripe pineapple, removed the basal leaves to expose roots, and planted the top into potting mix. I am hoping that the outer leaves will fall off new leaves will emanate from the center and bring up a new pineapple plant.

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6. Propagation by cuttings after soaking them in water

Fig cuttings – some with buds

Took some fig cuttings from the tree in my garden and placed them in a 2-liter transparent plastic bottle for about 3 days when white dots appeared around the nodes – see the photo below.

 

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Fig cutting after three days with bottom end immersed in water

I put these cuttings into potting mix and will keep them for about a month or so. Will post results next month.

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Persimmon and pawpaw cuttings

Similar to fig cuttings, I also have pear, persimmon and pawpaw cuttings in bottle since mid July in plastic bottles. Not sure about persimmon but I hope to root pawpaw and pear cuttings.

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7. Growing from seeds

Mexican mango seed extracted

I couldn’t resist getting the seed out of a Mexican mango that I ate. Split the har shell and got out the inner seed; removed the black thin covering and disconnected the umbilical. Planted the entire seed in compost+ light soil and  covered it with transparent plastic to retain moisture. See photo below.

 

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Mango seed in compost + light soil

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Labeled, covered and stored in shaded location

 

 

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Avocado seed in water

This time I’m patiently going to wait until the avacado seed splits and throws out a root and leaves! I change the water every day after sticking toothpicks as above. After about 20 days, there seem to be results!

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 Avacado seed after twenty days

The root seems to be developing within and soon it should come out of the bottom. I wonder how the leaves will open out.

 

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California lemon

After consuming a large yellow California lemon, I planted the seeds and the lemon saplings seem to be growing. I have no idea whether it will grow to be a good lemon tree and give lemons – but I plan to use it as bonsai and as rootstock for grafting from lemon/orange trees.

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Sapota saplings from seeds

The Sapota seeds I brought over from India have finally germinated – planted them around second week of May but the seeds germinated only around July first week. Shows that every seed takes its own time!

I have about 5 to 6 Sapota saplings and will be happy even if two survive and grow well.

 

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Cutting propagation box

Since July/August is the right season for propagating cuttings, I bought a transparent plastic box and filled with with a mix of vermiculite/akadama soil/peat moss and planted a bunch of cuttings in the moist mixture. The box has a nice air-tight lid and I remove the lid and spray some water on the soil to keep it moist and air the cuttings.

 

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Collecting Zinnia seeds

When the Zinnia flower dries out, you can remove the petals and find arrow-head shaped seeds at the core. Every marigold flower gives nearly a hundred seeds. I’m planning to have lots of marigolds and zinnia in my garden next year!

 

In parallel with the experiments, I have been collecting seeds especially of Zinnia, marigold, water melon, beans for the next year. I have placed this seeds in paper packets and labelled them; I put these packets  in a plastic box and placed them in the refrigerator.

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Daily harvest

Meanwhile, my small harvest everyday continues; a typical harvest is like the above. Sometimes, there are more tomatoes and green pepper than cucumber and eggplants. I have also harvested beans, malkheiya, small radish, okra and corn from my office garden. The edamame however, were a failure. I think the plants or the soil properties were unfavorable. The edamame plants never grew to a bush – maybe I should have used more organic fertilizer.

July has been a fairly busy month with growing/propagating/experimenting. August promises to be better, as the results of the experiments should be out.

Have a great day!

12
Jul
15

from my home garden

May to August are probably the busiest months while I’m in Japan. I have three simultaneous activities going on – office garden, home garden, bonsai and experimental projects. I’ll show you what has bloomed and grown in my home garden in this period.

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Lily or yuri in Japanese

The roots are bulbs that can be removed after the flowering and stored in a cool place in the house to be brought back and planted in spring next year. I love flowers that grow from bulbs!

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Rose (bara in Japanese) in a planter

The only rose that bloomed in the planter this year! I need to take better care with this plant and prune regularly for more flowers.

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Hydrangea (or ajisai in Japanese)

I love these blooms; they look wonderful, require little maintenance and come up year after year faithfully. All I do is cut off well beneath the dead flowers every August and trim the bush.

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Hydrangea close-up

Isn’t she beautiful? This variety of Hydrangea is called Gakugei Ajisai in Japanese. The white flowers develop spots of red as days elapse. I propagated this plant through cutting and have another bush elsewhere in my home garden.

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Zinnia

This is the first time I have planted Zinnia. I must say the flowers are durable – more than a month has passed and they flowers are still intact on their stalks! I planted the yellow and white Zinnia together with marigold of a different variety (supposedly large blooms) but have yet to see a Marigold bloom. The slender leaved plant is in front of the Zinnias in the photo above.

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Fig (or ichijiku in Japanese)

The fig tree in my home garden has been giving me delicious figs – luckily the fig leaves are hiding the fruits from the birds, so the fruits are still intact. The harvest has just started; I think around August I should have about 30-40 figs.

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Cucumber (or kyuri in Japanese) flower

Constant rains and cloudy weather has kept the sun away and caused abnormal growth; my cucumber plants at home after yielding plenty of cucumbers suddenly had huge yellow flowers and no cucumbers. This is the first time I saw a flower so big.

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Flowers from my home garden

They freshen up the dining table!

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Morning glory – pink

The first of these flowers have come up on the net.  Have also planted a purple morning glory plant nearby. Within a month, I expect the entire net in front of the large windows will be a curtain in pink and purple.

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Morning glory – purple

The first purple morning glory has bloomed! The best part of these flowers is that around September/October when the plants are dead, you’ll find lots of seeds. Collect them, place them in a cool place and grow them next season.

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Morning glory – monotone

I planted a couple of these along my fence. When in full bloom, the entire fence will be covered with these flowers. You need to take care to lead them in the right direction every day.

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Rose of Sharon

Finally, the first of these flowers has bloomed belatedly. At the beginning of spring, I went into a frenzy of pruning and wielded my shears wildly. The poor Rose of Sharon plant became a small shade of itself – yet it has forgiven me and has started giving out beautiful flowers.

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Mixed collection from Karuizawa

On a recent road trip to Karuizawa with friends, I picked up several flowering plants including pink geranium, mini rose, margaret (?) and bulbous begonias that resemble the rose. The weather is much cooler in Karuizawa, so I prefer to place these in the shade.

Next post – experimental projects coming soon!

Have a great day!

 

11
Jun
15

restarting my office garden

Since returning to Japan beginning of May, I have re-started my office garden after a lapse of more than two years. The plot was in rather good shape, thanks to the landlord who had maintained it free of weeds. I dug up the ground, mixed compost, levelled the soil, fixed a gate to the fence and generally strengthened the fencing. After some work, one of the four square-foot plots looked like this:

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Square foot plot ready for planting

After about 10 days, I planted an assortment of vegetables:

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First square-foot plot with assorted veggies

These included corn (8), tomato (2), cucumber (4), eggplant (4), chilli (4) and Okhra (8). I reduced the number of tomato plants, as I plan to reproduce more tomato plants from the two plants that I bought and planted.

This is what it looked like two weeks later:

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Two weeks later

First row facing: Okhra and marigold

Second row: Eggplant and chilli

Third row: Cucumber and tomato

Fourth row: Corn

 

Here is a snapshot of the second square-foot plot:

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Second square-foot plot

I planted two rows of French beans (16), one row of Eda mame (8), and one row of peanuts (8).

Here is how it looks two weeks later (today):

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Two weeks later

Beans are looking good, and so are the eda mame plants. Peanuts (last row) haven’t grown as well as I expected.

 

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Third square-foot plot

On the third square foot plot, I planted three red/white Indian pumpkin that I cultivated from seeds, four water melon saplings and two Mulukhiya saplings (these are full of nutrition and make great soups). I plan to use the remaining two rows for saplings grown separately from seeds at home.

Here is how the plot above looks two weeks later:

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Two weeks later

I planted seeds of small radish in two lines in the third row and they have started coming up well. The radishes will be harvested within a month after planting the seeds.

In the last row, I planted carrot seeds. Nothing has come up yet.

 

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Fourth square-foot plot

While the plot above looks as if a typhoon has run through it, in reality, this is how the first two rows of sweet potato that you plant initially looks like. After watering them plentifully for a few days, the leaves perk up and stand erect. See next photo taken after a week.

The first two rows in the foreground are sweet-potato saplings (16) (they are sold in this condition; look rather pitiful!). In the next row, I planted Indian eggplant cultivated from seeds (8). In the last row, I planted two tomato (large) plants and two wax gourd saplings. The remaining space is for tomato plants that I will reproduce.

Here is what it looks like two weeks later (today)

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Two weeks later

A dramatic change in the sweet potato plants – they are all standing erect and are healthy. Compare the photo above with this one to see the difference.

Finally, here is an overall view of the entire plot:

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Overall view

I’m generally pleased with the growth (except for peanuts and okhra). I’ll probably change the fertilizer for these two kinds of plants from bat guano to some other.

That’s all for this post, folks. I’ll take up my home garden and the flowers blooming there in my next post.

Have a great day!

18
May
15

Back to my home garden in Japan

After four months in India, I am back furiously at work to spruce up my home garden.

Here are some flowers in bloom:

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Dianthus or Nadeshiko in Japanese

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Two colors of German Iris

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Azalea or tsutsuji in Japanese                                           Spiraea or Kodemari in Japanese

A few of my bonsai creations:

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Maple or momiji in Japanese – hoping it will turn red in autumn

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Lemon – hoping that some lemons will turn up some day!

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Assorted – Pine, yesterday, today and tomorrow (white and purple flowers) and another flowering plant

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Another German Iris – couldn’t resist clicking and sharing this photo with you

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Geraniums in full bloom

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Scented geranium

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Yesterday, today and tomorrow in full bloom at the fence – excellent aroma

More on vegetables and my office garden in the next post!

Have a great day!




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