Tuesday, August 23, 2016

How to Grow Asparagus or Yard Long Beans in Containers

My family loves these beans stir fried in little oil with onions, tomatoes and garlic. I highly recommend trying to grow these beans in your garden as they are very productive and resistant to pests. Asparagus beans are plants which produce slender, very long pods that have a delicious nutty flavor. It is also known as Yard Long Beans, Chinese long beans, Snake beans, Bora and Bodi in some parts of the world.

Asparagus Beans or Chinese Long Beans
Asparagus Beans or Chinese Long Beans

These plants grow very long and need trellis for support and to climb on. We used three rebars staked firmly into the ground with garden thread entwined to provide support for the bean plants. 

The rebars are 6 feet in height and can be bought at your local garden or hardware store. To prevent rusting, you can paint the rebars.  Another option would be to use bamboo sticks instead of rebars for staking and providing support to your bean plants.

Bean trellis
Use a nice trellis
We sowed our seeds directly outdoors in the month of February. We used a 16 inch container large enough to hold 10 gallons of soil and enough for six to seven plants evenly spaced out. Soak the seeds overnight so they absorb lot of water, the germination rate is good if the bean seeds are soaked prior to sowing. We used standard potting mix with a slow release organic fertilizer added in for providing nourishment to our plants.

In the month of March, you will see the seeds have germinated, germination days for yardlong beans is anywhere between 7 to 10 days.  Around May, the bean plant will start producing flowers which will eventually turn into bean pods.   If you notice, the leaves are slightly shriveled as we had a much cooler March in our area. So you may want to wait until April or May to start your seeds. Once the temperatures get warmer the bean plants grow vigorously and sprawl over the entire trellis area.

Asparagus Beans growing
Asparagus Beans growing
By July, our first bean pods were ready for harvest. Pods should be picked before they reach full maturity, if you wait for a longer time, the pods would grow thicker and will taste rubbery.  If you have a few pods that have matured and look thick, you can harvest the bean seeds from the pods and use them in your dish or prepare a delicious bean dip with it. Asparagus beans tastes nutty and flavorful and are loaded with vitamin A, C, thiamin, riboflavin, iron, phosphorus, folate and magnesium. 
Asparagus Beans Harvest
Asparagus Beans Harvest
You can keep harvesting as long as the plants are growing. They are heavy producers and produce pods until frost. It is a good idea to fertilize your plant to provide enough nourishment throughout the growing season, we used lot of liquid fertilizer in the form of compost tea, every 3 weeks, to supplement growth.

Try growing this delicious vegetable in your garden and you will be amazed. Here’s the link to the seeds we used to grow these plants.

You can make vegetarian stew with beans, tofu, eggplant  or you can sauté chopped beans with some turmeric, pepper, ginger garlic, onion and serve with tortillas or rice or even make delicious bean dips.

Follow along on our journey to grow this wonderful vegetable in containers:


Happy Gardening!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

How to grow Okra in Containers – Growing Nombo Giant Okra variety

My love for this green vegetable brings back fine memories, it definitely warrants a trip down the memory lane. There was never a dull moment at the dinner table when okra was served in our family, all of us used to sprint, it was a mad dash to the dinner table when our mom announced she made okra for dinner. 

Nombo Giant Okra
Nombo Giant Okra
Nothing could impair our appetites, discussions between bites and fits of constant giggling at the table was rare as all of us savored the veggie. The okras would quickly disappear from the gravy and the last/lazy ones who made it to the table would be left wondering if the okras decided to stage a walk out.

Okra harvest
Okra harvest
Okra is also known as ladies finger or gumbo in some parts of the world. I know many people who avoid okra due to its sliminess, well the good news is it can be avoided if cooked /prepared properly. It is essential you wash and then pat dry the okra before chopping, you should never wash okras after chopping. Sauté them in oil, try not to overcook it and adding a tsp of lemon juice or yoghurt also helps reduce the slime.  Here we will describe our experiences in growing and harvesting the green vibrant Nombo Giant okra variety straight from our backyard.

We started our okra seeds indoors in the month of January/February in Southern California, Zone 10. Ensure you start seeds 4-6 weeks before the last frost date in your area. If you are planning on directly sowing the seeds outdoors you have to wait till temperatures reach about 65-70 F. Water the seedlings twice a day till they grow few leaves, after which you can water once every 1-2 days depending on the weather.

Okra plant
Okra plant
In the month of March, our plants have grown 4 inches tall. This is a good time to transplant seedlings into a larger container. We are using a whiskey barrel container which is 22 inches in diameter, you can buy them at your local garden store like Lowes, Home Depot or even Costco. The soil mix that we have used is a standard potting mix of 30% peat moss, 30% compost, 30% manure and 10% worm castings.  This should provide enough nutrition for the seedlings to grow for a few weeks but it’s highly recommended that you use a liquid fertilizer like fish/seaweed emulsion mix, an all-purpose fertilizer or Tomato/vegetable fertilizer every 3 weeks to nurture your plants. When watering your plants, mix liquid fertilizer in and spray foliage and soil till it’s moist. You also want your soil to be well draining, when you first set up the container for the first time you may notice it’s not draining very well, that is normal since it’s absorbing all the moisture it needs but eventually it should drain well.

In the month of April, we noticed our plants were not growing rapidly since we had an unusually cold March/April in our area. Okra’s love hot temperatures, daytime temperatures in the 70’s F and nighttime temperatures in the 65-70 F range is ideal for okras to thrive

By June, our plants showed a lot of vigor in its growth and not surprisingly we were able to harvest our first pods. You will notice that once the warm weather kicks in, that is when you have hot days and warm nights the okra grows and produces pods rapidly. Okra pods of the Nombo Giant variety which are native to the Philippines are big in size compared to the other okra varieties we have grown. June and July are typically the harvest season if you start your plants early.

Okra plant
Okra plant
Harvest pods when they are green, vibrant in color and tender. Okras are a prolific plant and they keep producing more pods as you harvest.  This variety in particular is a big producer and we were able to harvest decent amount of pods every time during the harvest season.

If you used fertilizer at the time of planting now is a good time to replenish your soil and reapply fertilizer. Since temperature are hot make sure you are watering your Okra plants well otherwise they will wilt. Since containers drain quickly, depending on the potting mix you used you may need to water the plants regularly.  If you used compost it will retain lot of moisture but if you used a standard potting mix described above you will need to water your containers every day. If it’s not too hot, it is okay to water them once every 2 or 3 days.  Establishing a good watering schedule preferably drip irrigation is essential to your plant’s growth.

Okra plant

Okra plant

This plant/seed variety is non GMO and is native to the Philippines.  The seed are available on amazon.  Here is a link: Okra Seeds 

And for those who are still hesitant to try okras, here are a few health benefits of okra. It is rich in Vitamin A, B, C, E and K as well as calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc. It boosts your immune system, aids in improving digestion, good for your cardiovascular system and protects your eyes against macular degeneration.

Watch our video on growing this wonderful okra variety


Happy Gardening!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Curry leaf plant Propagation, Pruning, Repotting and Harvest

Curry Leaf plant or Curry Leaf tree is an easy to grow herb in your garden. Also known as Murraya Koenigii or Bergera Koenigii, it prefers a hot, sunny location and usually thrives in Southern California weather. The plants produce aromatic pointed leaves which are widely used in Indian, Sri Lankan and other South East Asian cuisines. The leaves are used as spice and they impart a nice flavor to food, just toss a few leaves in hot oil to flavor your soups, curries, stir fry veggies and stew. 

Curry Leaf Plant With Seeds

Propagating Curry Leaf Tree

Curry leaf plants are most commonly propagated from seeds although you can also propagate them by planting the suckers or plants that grow around it. Here you can see a plant that is now producing flowers and buds.

In summer season, the plants start flowering and produce white flowers which soon will turn into seeds.  It usually takes about 2 months from flowering stage to setting seeds.

You should wait for the seeds to mature before harvesting them, when the seeds mature they turn dark, plump and really black in color. Here you can see some seeds that are mature vs the green ones that haven’t matured yet.

Curry Leaf Plant With Seeds

Once you harvest the seeds make sure you remove the black fleshy part around the seed before sowing it. Use a good seed starting mix; do not use any kind of soil especially hard soil as it will prevent good germination of your curry leaf seeds. A good seed starting mix would typically contain 40% coco coir or peat moss, 25% vermiculite to aid in drainage, 25% coarse perlite and 10% worm castings or compost to give that little extra nutrition to the plants while they germinate and grow. Plant one seed per square in this seed starting kit as pictured below.

Starting curry seeds in container

Always keep the soil moist for optimum germination. They usually take around 15 days to germinate, they take a while to germinate but have a decent germination rate of about ninety percent.

Pruning


Pruning Curry Leaf Plant

It is very important that you start pruning your curry leaf plant early in its growth stage. This plant is about 12 inches in height, leave about 3 to 4 inches from the top and prune it right there. Make sure you make a nice sharp cut. Within a few weeks the plant will produce side shoots and fill out into a mini grove of numerous bushy stalks with pointed leaves. That is a sign that your plants are healthy and thriving.

Repotting, fertilizing and pruning after repotting.

Repotting Curry Leaf Tree

Make sure you repot your curry leaf tree every year or every two years depending on the size of the container you use. You don’t want the curry leaf plant growing in containers to be root bound, such plants often fail to thrive and the leaves look dull and pale. Here we are transferring a curry leaf tree from a 5 gallon container to a 15 gallon container so it has enough room to grow. While repotting your plant, ensure you remove little soil from the bottom and loosen the dirt a bit; it helps in stimulating new root growth. At this stage it’s probably a good idea to add either a slow release fertilizer or water soluble fertilizer for optimal growth. You could either chose from an all purpose liquid plant food, an all purpose slow release fertilizer, Blood Meal, Fish/Seaweed emulsion, well composted manure or any high nitrogen fertilizer for added nutrition.

Repotting Curry Leaf Tree

Once repotted, make sure you compact the soil around the plant very well to support your plant. Water your plants very well till the soil settles down. It is also recommended at this stage that you prune your curry leaf plant as described above to encourage more growth.  

Harvesting

Curry Leaf Harvest

When harvesting curry leaves a lot of people do the mistake of just harvesting the leaves and leave the skeletons of the branch on the plant. They just harvest from the bottom part of the plant leaving skeletons of the leaflets all over. These skeletons are not good for the plant. Ideally you can either harvest the tops when pruning the tree or follow the method described below. Harvest at the petiole as you see in the diagram here:

Leaflet and petiole


Start from the bottom part of the stems, grab the whole petiole or leaflet and harvest the entire leaflet, so you are not harvesting just the leaves but the entire leaflet.



Curry leaves are rich in fiber, calcium, phosphorus and iron. It contains Vitamin A, B, C and E and helps in fighting infections and in maintaining a good healthy immune system.

Mainly used for flavoring food, curry leaves are also widely used in skin care to maintain a flawless looking skin and also used in hair care to stimulate the growth of hair, reduce hair fall and prevent premature graying. 

For your hair care routine, you can wash, dry few leaves, add them to coconut oil or prepare a hair mask out of it to apply to the scalp to condition and nourish your hair.

Here is a video describing all these processes and more!


Happy Gardening!

Monday, August 1, 2016

10 Vegetable Gardening Mistakes and How To Avoid Them

You toil in the hot sun for hours together hoping for a big yield but when you don’t see the rewards for the efforts you have put in, it can be quite frustrating. A lot of gardeners lose hope when things go wrong. In fact successfully growing vegetables in your garden can be quite a daunting task not only for the beginners but also for some experienced growers. Listed below are some of the most common problems and solutions you can count on to tackle a few obstacles in the way of having a great yield.

Problem #1. Not preparing the soil well

Garden soil lacking nutrients
Garden soil lacking nutrients
One of the most common problems that gardeners run into are nutritional deficiencies in their plants. Plants take nutrients from the soil and if your soil does not have the adequate nutrients for it to grow, they fail to thrive. All plants need three things to grow – water, sunlight and nutrients. Nutrition is often overlooked and the deficiency of which results in unhealthy plants, discolored leaves, less yield and smaller fruits.

Solution:

Prepare your soil 4-6 months in advance before planting, keep adding organic matter or manure every 2 months. Organic fertilizers take around 2-4 months to break down and become available to the plants while synthetic fertilizers are immediately available to plants. So keep this in mind and prepare your vegetable beds well in advance of your growing season. Also if possible invest in a good soil testing kit to know what nutrients your soil lacks and replenish it by making amendments to your soil.

Problem #2.Letting container plants go root bound

Root bound container plant
Root bound container plant
This is one of the worst things we tend to overlook in our garden especially if we have lots of containers. What this means is that the plant has the vigor to grow and has all the nutrients it needs but it doesn’t have any space, it is severely limited and constrained by the size of the container it’s growing in.

Solution

Check your plants that are growing in containers every 1-2 years. If necessary, repot them into bigger containers. While transplanting, free the roots up, you can even prune the roots a bit and add fresh potting mix and slow release fertilizer to the container it will be transplanted into.

Problem #3.Insufficient calcium for tomatoes and pepper plants.

Blossom End Rot in peppers
Blossom End Rot
Tomatoes and peppers are likely to suffer from one common problem which any gardener would not want to witness, blossom end rot where the bottom part of the plant or the fruits rot due to lack of calcium in the soil.

Solution

Controlling blossom end rot requires maintaining adequate supplies of calcium and moisture when the plants are setting fruits. Add calcium, via fertilizers or use crushed egg shells which must be added months in advance or you can also use calcium supplements to enrich your soil. Make sure you water the plants on a regular basis and keep the soil moist.

Problem #4.High nitrogen, crowding and insect damage

High Nitrogen and Insect Damage in Radish
High Nitrogen and Insect Damage in Radish
This common problems plagues all root plants like radish and carrots where we add a lot of nitrogen in the soil in the form of manure. Too much nitrogen in the garden soil can cause an excess of green leaves with little to no fruits or vegetable production. 

Overcrowding effects plants in many ways hampering the production of fruits and vegetables. The plants compete with each other for nutrients, light and are more susceptible to insects and fungal diseases like mildew. They impede the growth of each other which often results in poor yield.

Insects feeding on your produce is a fact of life for all gardeners. Caterpillars, worms, earwigs, snails and slugs often chew holes through the leaves and make the plant vulnerable to diseases.

Solution

Monitor soil nitrogen levels and avoid high nitrogen fertilizer for root plants. To avoid overcrowding, thin your plants on a regular basis. Inspect your plants regularly for insect damage and take appropriate steps to tackle them like spraying your plants with neem oil. I’d recommend going through this blog post which goes through some steps you can take to keep snails and slugs away from your produce.

Problem #5. Over-watering 

Over-watered onions rot
Over-watered onions rot
It’s easy to worry that your plants are not getting enough water that you tend to overwater them zealously. But that affects root plants and tubers especially when they have started forming bulbs. Onions for example can rot if the plants are over-watered when they are producing bulbs.

Solution

It’s best to water your plants early in the morning or if you are a late riser that you can water them in the late afternoon or evening. For onions and other tubers, stop watering 1 – 2 weeks before harvest or water rarely maybe once a week prior to harvest for healthier bulb production.

Problem #6.Premature harvesting

Premature Harvest of Garlic
Premature Harvest of Garlic
Knowing when to harvest can be a nightmare for some, especially the root plants like garlic and onions. A lot of us including me are guilty of harvesting veggies early only to realize they had some more time into the growing season. Harvesting veggies earlier than its maturity time can result in smaller bulbs or unformed fruit and vegetable production. 

Solution

Wait for the correct time to harvest. Research depending on the plant variety on when is the appropriate time to harvest. Look for harvest readiness in plants, root plants like example onions and garlic can be harvested when their tops die off and the greens look brown, shriveled and droopy.

Problem #7. Cauliflower woes

Cauliflower damage & buttoning
Cauliflower damage & buttoning
Cauliflowers are great to grow in your garden but two problems that commonly affect cauliflowers might discourage you from trying to grow these in your garden. The first one is insect damage due to aphids, infestation can result in shriveled leaves, undeveloped cauliflower heads which are tiny in size.

The second problem with growing cauliflowers is the buttoning of heads i.e. very tiny head formations. It usually happens if the temperatures go high, cauliflower is a cool season crop and does not withstand higher temperatures. The other reason that causes buttoning is high nitrogen content in the soil. 

Solution (for insect damage)

Monitor your plants for insect damage and spray the leaves with soapy water or neem oil to kill and deter aphids.

Solution (for buttoning)

Plant cauliflower when it’s cooler in your zone, make amendments to your soil if it’s rich in nitrogen. Water your plants adequately and regularly.

Problem #8.Growing plants in shade or not enough sunlight

Watermelon plant not getting sunlight
Watermelon plant not getting sunlight
Most plants need about 6-8 hours of sunlight every day to thrive. Plant actively photosynthesize sunlight and water into energy which helps them grow leaves, stem and roots. 

Solution

If you notice the leaves are falling out or look faded and the plants are not healthy, you can try supplementing natural light by using artificial grow lights indoors. Outdoors, make sure you grow them in an area which receives lot of sunlight. 

Problem #9.Not planting in the correct season

Radish grown in summer heat
Radish grown in summer heat
Sometime we get anxious for gardening season and plant something out too early only to realize that the plant is not productive. And then you wait to start the entire process of germination all over. Not planting in the correct season will result in decreased to no yield at all because a vegetable needs either warm or cool weather to grow. 

Solution

Sort plants into two categories cool season crops and warm season crops. Grow them as per season the plant variety is suited for. Check your zone map for the plants you can grow in your area during that season. Seasonal plants not only grow well, they even taste delicious.

Problem #10.Not buying seeds from a trusted source

Purple Radish turned out to be Yellow
Purple Radish turned out to be Yellow
You may be tempted to buy cheap seeds from third party/foreign ebay sellers and end up growing something which wasn’t as advertised. Know the difference between heirloom, hybrid, organic and non GMO when buying seeds and never compromise on quality.

Solution

Always buy seeds from a trusted source.  Here are some links where you can shop for your seeds

1. Amazon
2. Seed Savers
3. Baker's Creek Seeds


To watch all these tips do watch our video from this blog post


A gardener learns more in the mistakes than in the successes – Barbara Dodge Borland.