Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Frugal Propagation in the Home Garden

When I took early retirement a decade ago I knew that I was giving up income for the freedom of time.  That being so, I determined that the garden needed to pay for its self.  Freedom of time meant that I could now put time and energy into my garden that I was too tired to do when working.  I now enjoy growing herbs and greens in a container garden near the kitchen as well as having a small nursery area between the side of the house and the fence.  The soil is very sandy around my home so container gardening works for me.

Container gardening can be very costly but I have been able to do it on the cheap for many years with very little expense beyond fertilizer, water and a few packets of seeds.   I expect some would say fertilizer could be done away with too but the reality is that plants in containers do so much better with fertilizer and I will go with it.

Another reality about container gardens is that the containers need to be big.  Small pots do not work.  They dry out way too fast and the plant gets stressed out.  I have bought a few big containers at garage sales over the years but mostly I am always on the look out for big plastic drums that are being thrown out that can be cut down .  A 55 gallon drum can be cut in half and drainage holes made.  Curbside household rubbish waiting for pickup has also given me some treasures over the years too such as old galvanized wash tubs.

In the nursery area I use lots of small 4",6" and one gallon size pots.  There are many gardeners out there that have stacks of these sized plastic pots in their shed that they never use use but were unwilling to throw away because they are useful.  I let everybody know that I am happy to take those pots off their hands whenever they are next cleaning out the shed and every few months I seem to have a box of pots showing up on my doorstep.  Thank you.  I am thrilled to be able to reuse them.  If your community has a local Free Stuff Facebook site this is a good place to find used pots.  I am also on the look out for large plastic containers that were once used for yogurt and cottage cheese etc. and there are family members and friends who save theirs for me too.  Another source of especially 6" plastic pots is the the trash bins at our local small town graveyard.  Lots of dead plants getting thrown out there!  If I am lucky the potting mix will still be in the pot and I can use that too.  Much better than it all going off to a landfill.  A great substitute for 4" pots is those red cups that are popular for parties.  I am always happy to re-purpose those after the party.


More pots

Did you notice this guy in the photo above?
Little Red Cups!

Potting mix is just too expensive for my budget.  I have a few compost heaps in the garden that I use to boost the vegetables and herbs. The main basis for my media mix in the containers and nursery is composted tree trimming chips.  I have free access to some well rotted wood chip piles and this I mix with a bit of used  potting mix from the graveyard trash can finds and maybe a bit of soil.  To label my seedlings and plants I cut up plastic gallon milk bottles for the markers.

In the actual nursery/propagation area I just started with a few old laundry soap buckets for the potting mix and just sat the potted plants on the ground.  Now I like to have old carpet under the pots on the ground to stop the weed growth and many of the pots are now up on large plastic trays perched on upturned plastic crates.  Those plastic fish trays and crates come as gifts from the ocean as they float into our beach during storms.  I am happy to find and use them but it is sad to see how much plastic trash there is out there in the Pacific Ocean from the fishing industry.  An old abandoned wood work bench has become my potting table.

As for the actual plant material: much of what I grow is from cuttings of plants in my garden and some gathered seeds.  My tools are simple and old.  My most used tool in the garden is an old kitchen knife that fits my hand comfortably.  As I said earlier, I do buy fertilizer and another bought item is a bottle of rooting hormone.

So I guess the point of all this is to say that most of what I use in propagating and growing container plants is Free Stuff!  I am always amazed at what some people will pay for all the tools, equipment and plants in their garden.  My advice to those seeking to be frugal gardeners is to not be drawn in by all those fabulous pictures in Home and Garden magazines.  (And if you are frugal you will be looking at them at the library.)  We do not need to be so consumer driven.  Make your garden heroes the old eccentric and frugal gardener down the road..... you know the one.....or the new immigrant family next door who is growing all those exotic vegetables in their back yard.

By being frugal in the garden I keep the cost down of having a garden.  That way, when I sell a few plants, or some of the extra fruit from the garden, it covers the cost of fertilizer and water plus a few extras like new garden chairs or a new grafted fruit tree.  I know some backyard propagators who hold plant sales a few times a year to cover their garden costs.  I have heard of one old guy who planted extra lemon trees in his yard and had a steady extra income from selling lemons during his retirement.  Another guy dug up his front lawn to grow rows of green onions to supply a restaurant for extra income.  It is rather fun thinking of ways to be frugal and make the garden pay for its self.  Especially if you can have fun in the garden at the same time.


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Moluccan Spinach (Gynura nepalensis)

Just looking at some of the names of this plant you can tell it comes from  Asia and that its territory stretches from Nepal to beyond Indonesia.  A more common name for it here in Hawaii is Low Cholesterol Plant as it has a reputation for helping lower your cholesterol levels if you eat several leaves every day.  Others say it can help lower your blood sugar.  I can find no proof of either on the internet but there are folks who say it worked for them..Obviously, sellers of the plant are less likely to make unproven claims so Moluccan Spinach is what I see it named at the plant stores.  It has a cousin plant out there called Okinawan Spinach that some people give similar properties.  ( See my blog post June, 2011)   Moluccan Spinach certainly has it fans in some Asian countries where it is used as a medicinal vegetable.  We do know that plant sterols help block the absorption of cholesterol in the bowel so eating any plants is all for the bodies good.

I guess I first became interested in Moluccan Spinach because of its low cholesterol claims.  Having grown it now for over ten years; I love it for its hardiness.  There are several alternative "spinaches" that I am a fan of but Moluccan Spinach and Ong Choy ( blog post April 2015) get my highest praise for ease of growing.  Just get a cutting growing and you have a perennial plant that just keeps on living and producing leafy green food for free.   My current Moluccan Spinach plant is at least 9 years old and grows in a large tub.  Every so often I have to trim it way back to keep it under control but it always comes back.  I will give it a bit of fertilizer then.  The most important thing to know about this plant is that slugs LOVE this plant.  It is one reason why I like to grow it in a container and off the ground.  I used to do slug patrols at night with the scissors of death in my hand but these days I have given in to having to pay some money for slug bait.   Sometimes I get thrips hanging out in the budding leaf tips which is signaled by the buds turning a lighter color.   A bit of soapy water and shooting the plant with strong water pressure from the hose is all I do for it.

The taste of Moluccan Spinach is not strong or unpleasant.  Because the leaves are thickish I will chop them into small pieces to add to a green salad.  I love it in stir fry and use it often.  I know a few people who add the leaves to their green smoothies.

I have never seen my plant produce flowers or seed but it is super easy to grow from cuttings.  I usually put the cuttings in water for a day or two and then plant them up before roots have started to form.  One mature plant will supply you all the leaves you need.


Saturday, February 20, 2016

Agave Americana var. medio-picta alba

The white striped Agave Americana is so large and dramatic that you will not find it in my garden. You find them in public gardens of our town and I have had some experience in the past growing them. The wild native Agave Americana is bluish in color and from Mexico.  It is famous for the tequila that is made from the cooked plant hearts.  This large white striped form of the Agave is of horticulture origin and it is the Agave you see most in Hawaii landscapes.  It gives a large strong contrast against the tropical greens.  The white striped Agave grows 3-4 feet tall with large stiff leaves that grow out in a rosette formation.  Those leaves have a very sharp tip that really hurt if you get poked with them so you need to keep the plant away from pathways. The plant is tough and is able to take hot sun, dry conditions, poor soil and also our salty trade winds.

One of the names that this plant gets called is Century Plant.  It seemed like a century before this plant flowered and then died.  In actuality it does not take that long to get around to flowering but it might take 20-30 years before the flower stalk appears and at least 10 years.You are going to need some room for the flower as it shoots up as tall as a flagpole and then will be covered with thousands of flowers in clumps.

After the Agave Americana flowers the plant dies off.  It does not look so impressive now so the gardener needs to come and remove the old plant and put another in to replace it.  However, if you take your time in removing the plant you may get several baby plants growing out of the old plant base which you can detach with a knife and pot up for future use.

 Other times you might find baby plants growing up nearby from stolons....rather like the Sansaveria produces.  Another way you can get lots of baby plants going is just pick up those stiff little flowers that drop down from the "flag pole" and pot them up in 4" pots to get started.  This is an easy way to get some baby plants if you are a "stealth gleaner" of seeds or cuttings.  Nobody is going to miss a few of those flowers dropped on the ground at the public park.  Of course as they grow bigger you will need to transplant them into bigger pots but the plant does better if grown in smaller size pots so that the soil dries out between watering.

 I would not bother to fertilize an Agave Americana out in the landscape and only water it to get it established. The one job in taking care of this plant is to trim away the old dying leaves at the base of the plant to keep it looking its best.  This is easier said than done with all those sharp spikes ready to get you.  Good strong gloves and a sharp curved knife with a very long reach is needed.  Some eye protection might be a good idea too.

The photos above were taken a few weeks ago.  Lucky that I snapped them then as the grounds crew decided it was time to remove the old Agaves that had already flowered and they are now gone.


Sunday, December 27, 2015

Garden Views from Turkey

The last few months I have been traveling around the west half of Turkey.  I did it all by bus and I have to say that the bus system in Turkey is just fabulous.  So many buses going everywhere and frequently.  It was fall in Turkey so autumn leaves were just starting to drop when I arrived there and the first snow fell in the north just before I left.  On the Aegean coast it was still sunny enough to enjoy the blue Mediterranean views with olive trees covering the rocky hills.  Inland the shepherds were leading their flocks of sheep to eat the remaining crop stubble before the farmers plowed  up the fields. Fruit trees were being harvested, grape vines were being trimmed and firewood being stacked for winter fires.

Miles and miles of plastic tunnels covered a few coastal towns where they grew  the vine ripened tomatoes that showed up at every meal.  In towns, large olive oil cans were recycled to be plant containers by the door for chili peppers or herbs.  In the country, many houses had walled gardens with fruit trees, vegetable gardens and a chicken coup.  I wandered around peeping over garden walls as usual.  I loved having fresh squeezed pomegranate juice, having the super cheap mandarins in my bag to snack on and eating the sweetest fresh figs ever.

Here are a few garden related photos from the trip.


Notice the grape vine growing up the wall to shade the rooftop patio.

These lovely ladies are filling big jars with homemade pickled vegetables.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Topkapi Palace Grounds, Istanbul, Turkey

 Here are some photos taken around the Tokapi Palace courtyards and in the Gulhane Park which is now a public garden but was once part of the palace.  Topaki is not a palace in the huge building of Western sense but more a series of beautifully tiled pavilions in courtyards that hark back to the nomadic beginnings of the Turks.

Planting spring bulbs.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Kupukupu Fern (Nephrolepsis cordifolia)

Kupukupu Fern is a common fern throughout the tropical areas of the world.  We have a native species here in Hawaii, hence the Hawaiian name.  However, there are other commercial varieties that have been brought into the islands with a lot of interbreeding going on so not all so called Kupukupu is actually a native type.  These plants can look very attractive as a single small plant in a pot or in a group in a large pot or as groundcover.  The leaves grow up to two feet long in a mature plant. Wherever they are they will expand their territory and can get a bit wild and wooly looking when old.  In the landscape I will pull out the old rough looking plants and let the younger ones take over.  As they get crowded together the leaves will gets smaller.  You also need to keep some sort of  physical boundary for them if you do not want then to spread.  Plants grown in the shade will be a darker green in color and the fronds droop over more while those that grow in the sun are more upright in growth.  They like moist but well drained soils.  I tidy up potted Kupukupu with scissors occasionally......  cutting off those old frond stems or errant stolens.  Occasional fertilizer will give them a boost.

Kupukupu Ferns propagate in  nature from spores or by sending out stolens with little tubers on them which grow into baby plants.  I have some baby plants that pop up in the lawn if the lawn is not being mowed often.  They have escaped from a small garden that has Kupukupu as a groundcover.   I just pull these up, give them a day in water to perk them up, and then plant them in 4" pots.  This is a slow way if you want lots of Kupukupu Ferns for a landscaping job.  One day a plant nursery worker shared his secret with me and so I will pass it on to you.  You just partially plant the little grape size tubers in potting mix and soon you will have lots of little baby ferns to pot up into 4" pots.  Now you can grub around in the garden for a few of these tubers but the best way is to keep a big old root bound potted Kupukupu  tucked away in the back yard to provide the offspring.  When you pull the root ball out of the pot you will find dozens of these tubers that you just pull off.  You can break open the root ball to find many more.  Unfortunately I threw out my old Kupukupu mother plant  and so I need to get a new one going so I can show you a picture of the tubers on the root ball. It will take a few years before it is really ready to do that.  However, you can see some of the tubers that look like mini potatoes in the second photo above.  Each of those will grow a plant.  Something the little kids might enjoy being part of.


PS  Dec, 2015     I am adding a Kupukupu picture that I recently snapped on the Greek island of Rhodes.  The container plant added some green to a house courtyard.  Note how the local stones are used to cobble the floor.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Amaranth (Amaranthus)

This year we have had a sweltering hot summer in Hawaii.  Weekly storms pass by the islands and leave us sweating without our usual cooling trade winds.  It feels more like Samoa.  The only good thing about it all is the resulting rain that saves me from watering the garden and makes the countryside lush and green.  I noticed another thing on my frequent walks down the through the empty lot to the nearby beach.  The wild Amaranth weeds are coming up all over the place.  Usually I have to wait for winter rains to gather Amaranth for cooking but this year it is in full abundance in the middle of the summer heat.

There are several wild greens that I pick to eat and I have written about New Zealand Spinach ( August, 2013 ) and Purslane ( Feb, 2013 ) if you want to look back at earlier posts.  Amaranth is definitely another one of my favorite wild greens.  Locally it is often called Chinese Spinach and I have seen Amaranth sold at produce markets in Hong Kong and Malaysia.  These days you will find new varieties of Amaranth being sold at Hawaii farmers markets.  However, I am a cheap forager who likes to find free food so I will stick with the wild plants growing out in the empty lot.  There are hundreds of varieties of Amaranth which are native to Central America and it was a prized crop of the Aztecs.  Some of these varieties can now be found growing wild throughout the world.

Spiny Amaranth

The two common varieties I find growing in our area are the Spiny Amaranth  and the Slender Amaranth.  The Spiny Amaranth (Amaranthus spinosus L.), also called Pakai Kuku in Hawaiian, is the one that I eat the most.  It grows very erect to about four feet in height and is easy to pluck the leaves off despite the sharp spike thorns that grow on it.

Slender Amaranth

The Slender Amaranth (Amaranthus vindis L.) does not have the sharp thorns but it tends to spread out close to the ground and so I pick from these only when they are really lush and fresh.  I usually throw the Amaranth leaves into a soup or stir fry although the young leaves are fine in a salad.  Some people gather the seeds by shaking the seed heads into a bag and then adding the soaked seeds to oatmeal or breads.  The seeds are high in protein while the green leaves have good vitamin content.

If you are interested in foraging for natures free food I recommend the web site