Friday, June 9, 2017


Over the years I have made occasional attempts at growing tomatoes but with no great success.  New gardeners in town, who were tomato kings back in California or Utah, have given up in frustration and passed their tomato cages to me so I do not feel so bad.  However, after retirement, it seemed that it was time to get more serious about growing tomatoes and see if I could be a bit more self sustaining.  After all, I do eat a lot of tomatoes.  So, in April of last year (2016), I once again squished the biggest and best of the tomatoes I had bought that week and, after a day or two of drying it out, planted the seeds in a small pot.  The local tomato farmers grow only cherry and grape tomatoes so I decided to go with grape tomatoes this time.  Fruit flies are such a problem in Hawaii that growing large tomatoes is just a waste of time unless you are going to bag every protect it.  I have found the golf ball size cherry tomatoes to be a bit difficult in the past too.

After getting a few small grape tomato plants growing I transferred a few into large container pots on in the kitchen garden area where they would get full sun.  Only one of these actually was alive a month later and eventually starting flowering and then producing tomatoes.  Not huge amounts.  Maybe a dozen or two a week.  But here is why I am writing about it.  Over a year later the same tomato plant is still chugging along and still giving me fruit.

It is a skinny vine plant that has small leaves.  Its old leaves turn yellow and die off.   At first I thought it was diseased but after a while I realized it was just its habit of growth.  On doing a google search I find out that tomato plants are of two types.  Determinant and Indeterminant.    The description of the Indeterminant fits my plant to a T.  A long lasting vine which CTAHR says is the best for Hawaii growing conditions.  The Determinant plants tend to have lots of lush and fast growth of leaves and fruit but do not last long.  I have seen that happen with some plants that I bought.

So now I have figured out a tomato that I can grow I am going to up my game and try and grow more plants and also some of those gourmet different color types.  I am sticking with grape tomatoes though.  I do like these little tomatoes and they freeze very well too.  I cut them in half first.  Easy to throw fresh tomatoes in a salad.  The frozen ones get thrown into a frying pan for stir fries or into a stew.   Tomatoes along with an egg, Portuguese sausage and slices of cooked breadfruit all fried up in a pan is my favorite breakfast for dinner meal!

Tomatoes of course are known for their Vitamin C and Lycopene.  Tomatoes plants like rich soil and lots of sun.  I see them grown in cages or tied up on string.  Mine  is grown on dead branch props..  They like fertilizer, especially Phosphorus, at planting and flowering time.  Because my plant is in a container and long living, I fertilize my plant every month.  They need to be watered deeply but allowed to dry out between waterings.  Not getting the leaves wet while watering helps prevent disease.  I have to  pick the tomatoes after they start turning yellow or the birds and wild chickens will beat me to them.  It means getting the enjoyment of looking at a row of ripening tomatoes on the kitchen window sill.


Saturday, May 27, 2017


I have just recently had three weeks in New Zealand, visiting family and doing some exploring as well.   Bell Block is a historic community in north Taranaki and now mostly is a suburb of New Plymouth.  Here are just a few garden related shots as I was walking around that may be of interest to you.

Not a garden shot but all this produce is from a Bell Block garden.  

While in New Zealand I found a fun gardeners book while looking around a thrift shop.  It is written by a Kiwi landscape architect about her small Wellington garden.  "Life (and death) in a Small City Garden"  by Philippa Swan.  I am writing out a few paragraphs from her book.....see if you recognize yourself.  ☺

 Real Gardeners are a breed of their own.  I'm sure they have a bent chromosome or something which accounts for their eccentric behavior.  A Real Gardener always sleeps badly on a windy night--even when they are in Bali, and their holiday snaps are of the bushes flowering around the swimming pool.  Their first question on ringing home is always about the weather................... A group of gardening ladies is a nightmare at the pictures, especially when it's a Merchant Ivory period drama with lots of roses and wisteria.  A chorus of plant names erupts every time a bloom appears, followed by a messy dispute at to what sort it was and who's got one at home.

Gardeners have a unique navigational system.  When being directed to their house, you will be issued with instructions like, "Turn left at the red-flowering gum tree and we're three doors down from the dogwood."   ..................When a gardener comes for dinner they do things like check whether your magnolia-patterned curtains are anatomically correct and stuff the garnish from the French rack of lamb into their handbag because they've never grown pizza thyme before.  When they go collecting for charity they arrive back with a collection bag full of cuttings, and their consumer choices at the supermarket are made on the basis of what comes in a container most suitable for potting up the hosta seedlings.  Gardeners are never happier than when a friend arrives with a bag of smelly old panty hose.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

SURINAM CHERRY (Eugenia uniflora)

In the front windy and dry corner of the garden, where the soil is mostly coral sand, I have a small waist high Surinam Cherry shrub that I planted a few years ago.  I must admit that I did not have big expectations for it there.  It was mainly a shrub to help fill in the corner and, if I was lucky, I would get a few fruit.  A week ago, one of my grand-daughters took me over to the corner to look at something.  Guess what!  The whole small tree was covered with small, pale green jewels.

A month or so back we had a big rain storm and it must have sent the Surinam Cherry into full reproduction mode.  I may have thrown a bit of fertilizer around too at about the same time.  The Cherry tree would have become covered in lots of small white flowers and now here is the fruit just starting to ripen up.

Every morning I go pick the newly ripening fruit before the birds and wild chickens get them and leave the fruit on the kitchen counter to ripen for the rest of the day.  I will have a few to eat fresh but mostly I am collecting them in the fridge until I have a pot full to cook up.  It is just a matter of bringing the fruit and some sugar to the boil and then leaving it to simmer for a few minutes....just like making apple sauce.  You also need to remove the cherry pits after the cooking.  The resulting sweet/sour sauce is fabulous over vanilla ice cream. I imagine some inventive person could also make a relish or chutney out of it that would go well with meat. Some of the fresh fruit I will freeze for future smoothies.... after removing the seeds.  The beautiful jewel like fruit look beautiful as a decorative topping on desserts.  I have also seen the ruby red fruit used in breathtakingly beautiful flower arrangements.

As you can guess from its name, Surinam Cherry is native to the NE coast of South America.  It is a tough evergreen shrub that can grow up to 10 feet tall.  The small leaves have a spicy scent and coppery colored new growth.  Its growth habits make it good for hedges.  The Surinam Cherry tends to flush into flower after heavy spring and fall rains.  The 1" round and ribbed fruit are usually dark red when ripe but there is a black variety. The fruit is on the sour side but kids always love to pick and eat the cherries out in the garden. The fruit fly can bother the fruit but so far I have not had any problem with them.  Maybe picking the fruit before fully ripe has helped prevent this.  Surinam Cherry is easy to grow from seed although the resulting little tree is a slow grower.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

SANSEVIERIA (Sansevieria trifasciata)

I have mixed feelings about the plant that is my topic this month.  I can always be grateful for a tough plant that will grow in dry, sandy areas.  On the other hand, Sansevieria can get a little out of hand in the garden and start spreading too far or get rather messy looking.  Good strong borders such as a cement path can help keep it in check.  The good attribute that won me over is that Sansevieria is a fabulous indoor plant.  In fact it is usually rated as the easiest indoor plant to care for.  Besides that, it is a very good oxygen provider for enclosed spaces.  It can become a win-win solution if you keep the outside plants trimmed back and pot up the trimmings for inside the house.

Sansevieria is native to tropical West Africa.  It has thick succulent leaves and sometimes it will give out small greenish white flowers on stalks in summer.  There are lots of varieties although most people will recognize the tall lance like leaves of the "Mother-in-law's tongue.  I have a green and a yellow leaf form of this.  I also have a green dwarf rosette type or "Bird nest"  Be aware that the leaves are poisonous to animals.  Sansevieria needs good drainage so go easy on watering your indoor plant.

To get Sansevieria cuttings for potting is is easy to see new baby plants growing out from the mother plant on fat finger size stolons.  Cut off a few of these, making sure that you have some root attached.  Usually I will let the cutting scar dry off for a day before I pot them up.  Three arranged together in a pot looks nicely balanced.  After growing for several months, a potted plant can get very root bound or the strong roots will even break the pot.  You may need to just throw away the plant if it gets too rambunctious and start a new one or severely chop back the roots and repot.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

PORTUGUESE CABBAGE (Brassica oleracea var. costata)

This is just going to be a quick post today but I am excited to introduce a new plant in my garden.  For the first time ever, I saw Portuguese Cabbage starts at Koolau Farmer's nursery about a month ago.  I only heard about this cabbage for the first time a few years ago.  It was an important vegetable in gardens of Portuguese workers on the sugar plantations here in Hawaii. They called it Couves.  I am thrilled to actually see what it looks like and to have a go at growing it.  After only a month of growing this single plant I am already a fan so this is why I wanted to write about it today.   Have a look at the picture.  It is a very sturdy plant and a no fuss one.  There has been a bit of leaf miner in the old leaves but I just remove them.  The plant is very similar to collard greens and apparently grows the same way......the stem just getting taller and will keep going all year long.  I have already had a few leaves in a stir fry and I look forward to just picking leaves off as needed and having a constant supply.  This is a picture of a young plant and hopefully I will be able to put up some pictures of the mature plant later on.  You can check back for later reports.

In Portugal it is an important vegetable used in national dishes.  It will work good in your Portuguese bean soup or in a stir fry or coleslaw.  It can be grown from seed but apparently you can cut the head of the stalk off , remove most of the leaves and plant that up too.  I expect the stalk then grows a few more heads....just like collard greens.  Anyways, I did want to share my excitement about this plant and maybe it is something new for you to try as well.


A month and a half latter and the plant is still surviving.  The leaf miner has not been bothering lately but those tiny round snails have to be watched for.  I also get a few white fly hanging around under the leaves so I have a habit of tapping the leaves underneath as I walk by to make things too uncomfortable for them.  One leaf is a serving for one person.  I love it in a coleslaw with grated carrot and green onion.