Sunday, May 30, 2010

Potato: A quick peek

In the spring time, Japan experiences very strong wind storms as the weather warms up. This year, the wind whipped through the veranda and caused a lot of damage. Our laundry rack was blown over and the leaves were torn off of some of the plants. One potato plant took a huge amount of damage, losing all of its leaves. That plant has died.

But the other potato seems to be going strong. The leaves are broken in places, but the stem is still strong and the remaining leaves haven't wilted yet.

I was curious about the status of the potatoes under the soil. It's all kind of mysterious. How deep are the potatoes? What do they look like? So I scraped away at the soil to find the hidden treasure.

There are three potatoes visible in this picture. The largest and most visible one is about the size of a golf ball. The smallest one is about the size of a marble. There is about one month more to go before harvest time, but these potatoes are coming along very well.

In order to prevent solanine contamination, I quickly covered the potatoes back up and tamped the soil back down.

A brief update about the tomatoes. There has been a lot of growth in the past week. The re-potted tomato has grown significantly, especially compared with the seedlings still in the starter tray. More space for root growth as well as more fertilizer has probably led to this. I've tied the stem to the post, but at the speed it is growing, I'll have to make another tie soon.
I took the remaining seedlings in the starter pots, save two, and added them to the compost bin. The two that are saved may go to a loving family who doesn't mind that the growing season is already well underway.

Watermelons everywhere!

I mentioned previously that I had found a watermelon sprout near the peppers. Well, more have popped up.

Apparently the perfect weather has arrived for these things because everywhere I look I'm finding watermelon sprouts. When I re-used the soil, I didn't expect that the seeds were still viable. At this late stage of spring (because it sure isn't summer here yet) I wonder if it's even worth it to keep these seedlings.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Not everything needs to be edible

So while the garden I'm cultivating is mostly geared towards vegetables, I do have some plants that are just for aesthetics.

This gerbera is one of the oldest plants I have in my garden actually. It was given to us as a gift about 7 years ago and has flowered every year. What's amazing is how hardy this plant is. It dries up and seems to die off every winter, but come spring there is a new set of leaves and by summer there are beautiful blooms.

While it is a great looking plant, I am also severely allergic to its pollen. So I can only admire it from afar.

Growing up on Guam gave me access to Bougainvillea all throughout my childhood. These trees can grow several meters in height if unchecked? They are also thorny and once you lose your soccer ball to one, it's never coming out.
This particular Bougainvillea is a purple miniature. Unfortunately due to insufficient sunlight it has not bloomed since the first year we bought it.

Bougainvillea are interesting because people often mistake the colorful leaves surrounding the flowers for the flowers themselves. Bougainvillea flowers are small and white and hide inside a group of colored leaves. These leaves are white, purple, red, or even orange. If you get a chance to see one, look carefully at the flower and you can see how the misunderstanding can be made.

Jade Plant
In Japanese this plant is called the "kane no naru ki" or "money tree". It is a type of succulent and is incredibly hardy. When the plant dries out, the leaves turn reddish. I've seen a plant return from the red state back to full, vigorous health.
In some ways the vigor of this plant is a little too much. It seems that any part of it can be used as a cutting. When a leaf falls off into the soil, it invariably grows roots and starts a new plant. If you buy one of these at the home center, a jade plant will typically run between 100-200 yen. I can't believe I'm busy throwing these sprouts out at those prices.

Christmas Rose
Two years ago we bought this flower, and for two years it has not bloomed. Although called Christmas Rose, the plant is not particularly durable in the cold weather and it goes through death/regrowth cycles like the gerbera. Last autumn, I transplanted it into the same planter as the composting heap, and it seems to have benefited from the extra nutrients. I expect it to flower this year.

Watermelon: Probably pointless

Way back in March I planted some watermelon seeds. Watermelon is supposed to germinate and grow to transplantable size in about two months. I waited.

But after a couple months, not even a tiny root was found on any of the planted seeds. I called the whole thing off three weeks ago and mixed the used soil into the compost pile.

A strange thing happened. While I was transplanting the tomatoes, I used some of the composted soil and found a watermelon seed that had sprouted. It was really tiny and had obviously sprouted very recently. I dug that little guy out and popped him into another planter.

He's visible here in this picture. The seed shell is still wrapped around the two cotyledons (first leaves), but it has pushed its way out of the soil by about 3cm.

Watermelons require about 2.5 square meters of space to grow, but I'm going to try growing it upright so that it doesn't spread all over the ground. I saw a system that uses a mesh to hold up the plant and hanging nets to cradle the fruits.

Honestly, I don't have high hopes for a productive watermelon plant, but I'm looking forward to trying!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Potato: Wind damage

Living near the ocean, we get strong winds occasionally. Yesterday we had especially strong winds that ended up flinging laundry and futons all over the neighborhood. One futon ended up on the roof of the neighboring apartment. The laundry poles were torn down and many of the plants were toppled.

The potatoes, being in a wide and stable pot, did not tip over, but the wind took its toll. The leaves are a mess and some of the branches seem to have been torn off completely. Part of this is because the plant bumps up against the side of the planter and against other things nearby when the wind blows it. This seems to explain most of the damage.

The smaller plant took the brunt of the damage, and I'll have to keep an eye on it.

Fortunately, the larger plant did not take much damage. This is good because in the middle of the stem is what looks like the beginnings of a set of flowers. After 4 months, the potato is finally going to bloom.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Broccoli: Gone to seed

The broccoli has been prolific in the amount of stalks it produced, but unfortunately the taste has been mediocre at best. Also, the timing required to harvest the stalks is incredibly precise; a day early and it is too "green" tasting and a day late means the florets bloom. I'm calling this little experiment complete and have let the plant go to seed.

Since I've stopped cutting the stalks, new florets have not grown very much. Most of the plant's energy seems to have become focused on putting out flowers. You can see what it looks like now in this photo taken this morning.

Broccoli is a member of the same family as cabbage. There is an apartment around the corner from me that has ornamental cabbages growing in the lobby. You can see the similarity between the flowers of the broccoli above and the cabbage below.

I'll bring the broccoli indoors soon and put some seed-catching paper around it to prepare for next year. I think I need better soil and probably better weather than we've had this year. This winter has been holding on too long.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Tomato: Transplanting day

So what's it been? A couple weeks since I last wrote in earnest here?..

To be honest, a lot of gardening is just sitting around waiting for stuff to happen. There hasn't really been much of note to talk about, so I won't bother you with the minutiae of watering and moving planters around.

Today was actually a big day here. The tomatoes have reached transplanting age, and I spent a few minutes this morning transplanting the healthiest tomato into a large planter. There are actually a few healthy tomatoes, but I honestly don't have room for all of them. There is a nice family that lives down the block who always have such great tomato plants, I may drop one off on their doorstep in the middle of the night.

The transplant actually began a week ago. Before the actual plant is entered into the pot, I prepared the soil. First, I added a bunch of the "compost" from my makeshift compost pile. On top of that, I added some pelletized manure and some strawberry plant fertilizer (it is a balanced 7-7-7 blend). After mixing the soil thoroughly, I watered it and let it stand for a week. Today, the soil was loamy and crumbly, in other words just right.

I picked the tomato with the broadest, healthiest leaves and cut its little plastic pot away from the others. With the pot still intact, I dug a hole in the planter soil and placed the plastic pot directly in. Once the pot was in place, I packed extra soil around it and watered thoroughly.

The reason behind this step is that the hole for the transplant is the exact same size as the soil block going in. Once the soil was watered, I took the plastic pot out and it left a perfectly-sized hole. I tapped the tomato seedling out of the pot and slid it right into the hole.

After the tomato went in, I packed a little more soil around it and tamped it down.

I have also added a guide stick which I will tie the tomato plant to. I'm all out of twine at the moment. Maybe I'll have some time to pick some up tomorrow.

Here's what it looks like in the new planter.

If you have need of a tomato seedling, I've got a handful left! Please let me know.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Earthworms in my mulch

I was preparing the planter which will take my tomato seedlings and as I was digging around in the mulching box I found tens of earthworms. *shiver*

What is strange is that there isn't any way they got here themselves. They must be laying dormant in some other medium. Fertilizer? Bagged soil? Polished rice husks? Other plants on the veranda?

They are here to help, and I appreciate that. But man do they get my heebies jeebing.