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Saturday, August 28, 2010

The veggie garden 2010-Part 3 (Trellises)

Our trellises and support systems in 2009 were pretty basic compared to the ones we put up this year. (Read about the 2009 trellis system here)

Our support structure for the Bush Beans was made from a #8 or #10 gauge steel ladder that is use as a stucco/concrete wall form. We spray painted it with rust proof paint, put two together and strung them around to form our very own Quick-Tee-Pee!

.....they are held together with some degradable twine.

Our other trellises for the climbers were built out of 7 ft tall 2x4 's bolted to the sides of the planter bed with 1/2"x5" Galvainzed lag screws

To give it added structural support, we put in a 2x4 across at the top using hanger boxes which make it a lot more convenient.

We then tried a number of variations on putting up the actual trellis. Our first attempt was pulled together using "C hooks" with the degradable twine going through the hooks. These aren't quite sturdy and tend to sag quite a bit. Moreover galvanized "c hooks" were tough to find.

So the next trellis that we put up was using #16 gauge aluminium wires threaded through eye hooks with a tension control mechanism (Hook and an eye) on the end.

Fortuitously this structure was in the bed the Opo Squash was in and it turned out to be good. But getting it set up was a herculean task. And I am assuming that at the end of the season it will be a bigger pain to clean things up. If it was just our degradable twine, I could cut it at a number of places and yank the whole thing and put it in our composter.

So we threaded the twine through the eyelets to create our other trellises

The Tomatoes have the Cadillac of the support systems, the Texas Tomato cages. Now that I see them growing, I doubt if anything else would have stood a chance. Though our home-made cages from last year are good, they are probably not a match for our massive Tomato plants from this year.

The smaller varieties of Tomatoes are housed in the cages from last year and the Tomatillos are housed in the store bought Tomato cages we bought in 2008 when we knew nothing about growing vegetables. You can see that the Tomatillo's have completely overgrown the cage and are also falling down.

One of our Tomato varieties (and I am guessing they are the Cherry Tomatoes) have been growing like crazy. They have outgrown the Texas Tomato cage. The Texas Tomato Cage is 6 ft tall, so this Tomato plant is about 8 ft tall at least.

There are 3 cages in this bed, but the plant on the farthest left has taken over most of the air space of the one in the middle.

Also there supposedly is a 2 ft walkway between these 2 beds that currently does not exist.

For the Eggplants we cut the same concrete form work structure used for the bush beans into 2 feet lengths and supported each plant to it using our twine

And of all...the Cucumbers got the short end of the stick. They are in our beds from last year with a wimpy trellis that was put together using some 2x2 lumber and tomato cage wire mesh.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The grass update

It has been a while since I posted anything about our eco-lawn project. We have had a lot going on with the veggie garden that has distracted us for the last few months. Not that anyone is reading or asking about it, but as our diary, one such update is long overdue. Our earlier posts are here (under the label "Grass")

First, the front lawn

This was seeded in mid June before Guru left for NJ and looked just OK when we returned. There were sections (like the one below) that were completely bald. What you see below are the small bunches that we attempted to re-plant in that bald section. We are happy to report that these plantings are doing very well and seem to be taking root. The bald spots were in areas where our "self designed and installed" sprinklers didn't cover and thereby prevented germination. We have also seen fresh growth in this area once we started hand watering these spots.

The back lawn is a totally different story

There were a lot of big bald patches in the back lawn (read here) that we reseeded in early June (read here). Thanks to the unseasonal cold weather we have been experiencing in the bay area this year a majority of the bald spots that we re-seeded showed signs of growth.

The big picture

...and a close up of the part that showed some promise

...and the one that didn't

The parts that were seeded first were also getting really long and we hadn't mowed this thing even once. Heck...we didn't own a mower to begin with.(More on our mowing story in the next post)

The shocking thing has been the brown spots that began emerging in the grass. We initially thought that  the browning was due to the reduced watering cycle we had put in place at around the same time. What struck me as weird were the innumerable small creatures that would hop when you walked on the grass. 

Thanks to Google and the power of the Internet, we soon figured we had a Leaf Hopper problem. However, the surprising thing is that almost all the on-line resources claim that Leaf Hoppers do not cause significant damage. Either we are outliers or my diagnosis is totally wrong. In my book this does seem like a significant amount of damage.

We have also seen a pretty significant number of Yellow Jackets buzzing over the lawn. Are they after the Leaf Hoppers or are they causing any damage to the lawn? Would love to hear any suggestions you may have.

So far, our method of dealing with any problem in the garden is to give things a good shower of Neem, which we did for 3 consecutive weeks. The number of Leaf Hoppers seems to have reduced visibly when we walk on the grass. We are hoping the grass recovers from this onslaught.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The veggie garden 2010-Part 3 (Exotic Vegetables)

Exotic vegetables in my world are ones that you don't typically see on the shelves of your grocery store. One of the many benefits of a vegetable patch at home is the ability to grow such exotic vegetables.

These are the ones I am growing this year

Cluster Beans (Kothavarangaai in Tamil)

Bottle Gourd (Sorakkai in Tamil, Also called Opo Squash and Lauki/ Doodhi)

Broad Beans (Patta Avaraikkai in Tamil)

and Ladies Finger (Known in the US as Okras)- two varieties- red and the regular green

Chioggia Beets

Purple beans

Yellow Wax Beans

Luffa Gourds

And Romanesco Broccoli's that you sometimes spot in the supermarket

The unknown flower

Spotted this blooming in the backyard a few weeks back. 

Early in spring we noticed some shaggy green leaves that grew in clumps in the same place. You can see the dried remnants at the base of the flowers. The leaves were quite shaggy looking and we have been thinking of digging out that area to make room for a herb garden.

These flowers looks very pretty and am hoping I can save them when we clean out the place.

And...thanks to the power of the internet and Google's search algorithms we were able to figure out that this is an Amaryllis Belladonna.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


The Romanesco's were the healthiest of the Brassicas when they were young. They were the least affected by the Aphids (read about that here)

and they have been the worst affected as they started to develop.

The heat caused them to turn purple and many bolted. That is the price one has to pay for planting a winter crop in summer.

The Cauliflowers which were doing pretty badly as seedlings have grown to be much healthier that the Romanesco's or the Brocolli's.

And we have harvested a few nice ones. 
See how massive they are

I did soak them in warm salt water bath for a few minutes, and out came a few worms. Something I have NEVER seen happen in my supermarket bought produce. I am assuming it is because we did not use anything (other than some Neem) on these.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Lady's Finger

I am growing two different varieties of Lady's Finger (Okra as it is called in this part of the world).

These are the "Red Okra" seeds i bought from Peaceful Valley Farms. The pods are really long and seem to be doing well.

I planted them in the corners of the beds where I am growing my Tomatoes and they seem to be fighting for space. I did not have good germination rates in some spots and really good germination percentages in other spots on the planter bed.

Last week, I spotted a some ants crawling on the plant and saw this on the flowers. Scales maybe?
In any case, I sprayed them with a liberal dose of my cure all remedy- NEEM, but it does not seem to have much impact. Has anyone had similar issues with Lady's Finger (Okra) and used any

The Green ones were purchased from "Seeds of India" and seem to be of an interesting kind.

The ones above are some of the larger pods that I was able to harvest.

The interesting thing is that the pods are growing out of a plant that is really TINY !

Is it because my soil is too rich or is this a dwarf variety (the seed packet did not offer much insight), and until I find out otherwise I will claim that it is because my veggie garden is on steroids (compost steroids).

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Comes with great taste and value is great trouble. (ME)

It can't be more apt than for the Drumstick tree. (Moringa oleifera)

The pods of the tree are a sought after delicacy in south India. The leaves find their way into all kinds of dishes, the most common being in Dals and in Crepes. I wasn't too fond of the greens (in large quantities) because it often led to an upset tummy day ! My favourite way of eating these was to fry the young leaves when making Ghee from Butter.

Talking about trouble, one of the biggest challenges growing these trees at home used to be hassle as most often the "Kambuli Poochi" would find their way there. I have had friends who got bit by these and yet people were not ready to get rid of the tree....I say get rid of the tree because the only fool proof way was supposedly to burn the trunk of the tree. From Googling the web, I think the "Kambuli Poochi's" as we called them are probably the Niger Caterpillars or the hairy Eupterote Molifera. 

When I found that Seeds of India carried Drumstick seeds, I was excited to get it and try growing it in my garden. 5 out of the 7 seeds germinated and then I lost 2 more during the first transplant. The remaining three are doing well for now, and hopefully grow strong enough before winter arrives so they can live through.


Sometimes the things that make me really excited aren't really fancy. They are things that bring back fond memories of childhood and growing up in India. One such time was when i spotted this in one of the Indian grocery stores. Yes, you saw it is the Jackfruit. One of our friends called it the vegetarian's chicken, because it resembles chicken in texture and looks.

In the township, they were usually sold by these push cart vendors during the time the fruit is in season. You could sample a piece and see how it tastes before buying a big chunk of it. Because, more often than not, the fruit might not be sweet enough, in which case you just dip it in some honey ! In rare cases, we used to have homegrown ones from Vijaya Aunty's, and their fruit was exceptionally sweet.

Guru used to have a Jackfruit tree at home, and anyone who had one would agree that you have to put in some effort to get to the fruit. Soaking the hands and fingers in oil and working through the sticky mess is an arduous task..

The seeds are one of my other favourite delicacy. They are dried and then cooked and added to "Kootu's". I still haven't cooked these seeds I saved (It has been close to 8 months) and hopefully in the next few weeks  I can get one of these recipes posted.

We also attempted to recreate my mother-in-law's Chakka Pradaman (which is a sweet dish like Kheer made with Jackfruits) and failed miserably.

Around the same time I spotted that Park Seeds carried Jackfruit seeds and so I went and ordered them right away. I also saved 2 seeds from my fresh fruit stash, soaked it for a few days in Kelp and planted all 3 in separate pots. Both the seeds I planted from my home stash germinated. The one from Park Seed did not. Of the 2 seedlings, I lost one to some Squirrel/ Skunk digging.

The biggest highlight of the story is that one of those seeds is now doing well and happy.


2009 was the year I discovered the Coleus and how easy it was to go about propagating it. I looked for broken leaves, stems when we went to the nurseries. You just put them in a small cup of water and then they start forming roots in a few days. We typically put them into nice potting soil and watered them with a dose of B1 and in a day or two they would be doing well.

I got a bunch of the rainbow blends of Coleus...a few different brands

They seemed to start off pretty well, until the squirrels started to mess with them by digging into the planters when we were in New Jersey.                  

There was extensive damage in two of the pots and some minimal digging in the others.

They are now doing really well. The disappointing thing is that they all look fairly similar (to me)