Monday, 30 May 2016

Winter has Arrived: Batten Down the Hatches

This morning marked our first light frost of winter. Clearly, it is time to make preparations to protect tender plants, both young and old. Below are some of our solutions to sustaining sub-tropical plants through the cold nights and early mornings of a temperate-climate winter.

  • Portable Mini Greenhouse. These come in varying sizes from walk-in models to smaller two-shelf ‘tents’. We find them excellent value, not only for the cold-protection they can afford to seedling plants, but also because of the tidiness of having our horde of potted plants in one location, and the convenience, come time to water.

Curry Leaf seedlings protected by a mini greenhouse
  • Frost Cloth. In our experience, frost cloth is excellent for covering and protecting sensitive potted seedlings, such as jackfruit and starfruit seedlings. In addition, during the first cold season of our ‘Malaysian’ garden, all of our baby in-ground fruit trees were wrapped in frost cloth. Not a single plant was lost to cold… Frost Cloth can be purchased from leading hardware stores. It is an inexpensive, lightweight, white material, designed to protect plants and shrubs from frost damage. Cared for, the cloth can be re-used in succeeding years. For best protection from the cold, try to ensure that the blanketing material is not touching the leaves of your plant.
Use frost cloth to protect your sensitive, young plantlings. Here, it is protecting a ripening jackfruit...
  • Fruit Covers. In an earlier May entry, ‘Jackfruit. As Winter Nears’, I posted about precautions taken to protect the developing fruit with banana bunch covers, recycled rice bags and frost cloth. It is far too early to claim success with this experiment. However, the early signs are encouraging. Some fruits, such as papayas, will overwinter very well without protection.
A variety of covers for jackfruit
  • Trunk Wraps. Last winter (2015) provided a number of frosty mornings. Two of our trees, in particular, a jackfruit and the magnificently-fragrant chempaka (Michelia x alba) were heavily defoliated on their southern, cold-wind-facing side. In our previous three years, we had not experienced such heavy leaf fall from any of our sub-tropical plants. Because of this event, both trees have taken a long time to recover. In fact, in the case of the chempaka, its wonderful blooming during the warmer months was inhibited and its canopy is still very sparse on the southern flank. In an attempt to combat any possible repetition of this problem, we have wrapped the lower trunks of our highly-prized trees with newspaper. Accordingly, we have wrapped the chempaka, our jackfruit trees, two young frangipanis and one of our mangoes.

  • Warm Micro-climate. If all other solutions are unavailable, seek out a warm micro-climate for your sub-tropical plants…. A sunny, protected corner of a garden or a warm window for a potted plant. Do you have a cat? Where your companion suns herself on cold winter days is probably an ideal day-time location for a prized, but tender, sub-tropical plant.
A Pisang awak banana sucker in a warm, sunny location

  • Liquid Fertilisers. While the cold weather prevails, it is not necessary to fertilise heavily. However, plants will benefit from regular applications of a liquid fertiliser such as fish or seaweed emulsion. These fertilisers will promote root growth through the hard times ahead of the spring growth flush.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Magnificent May Fruit and Vegetables

The weather may be changing. However, without a doubt, this month is a fabulous month for harvest… the last of the autumn fruit and vegetables are to be had, just days before the official onset of winter.

This May, May 2016, has been characterised by a succession of very warm days. In fact, in our locale, the warmth and the lack of rainfall has meant that, uncharacteristically, we have needed to water young vegetables and needy fruit trees.

So, what have been the highlights?

Despite their small size, our Smooth Pineapple patch has provide us with three juicy fruits this month.

They have size this year but the quantity is low.
Lacking the productivity of its first crop last autumn, the starfruit tree has produced a small, second crop of six delicious fruits... these will be processed into a quenching juice.

This superb bunch of baby bananas (Pisang awak / Kluai nam wa) has been developing and extending throughout the month. It will be many months before harvest, perhaps January or February.

Chinese, Mohican and Lebanese Eggplants

We have enjoyed the final harvest of the season of our hard vegetables... eggplants, okra
and Asian Winged Beans. Aside from hard vegetables we have been able to have regular picks of choy sum and red amaranth. As unsightly as it has become, the red amaranth has been allowed to form and drop its seed in readiness for next year's adventitious crop.

Finally, I should not forget to mention the flowers. May is the traditional month for the mass display of beautiful Brazilian zygo cactus plants.

A beautiful example of a Zygo Cactus flower... 'Sunburst Fantasy'

And what about June?

This will be the month of the soft vegetables… wo sun (celtuce), yao mak, choy sum, coriander. Our seeds have been planted... we await the return...

Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…

Friday, 20 May 2016

Sprouting Mango Seeds in a Cool Climate

One must learn from one’s mistakes…

For the past two years, our young mango tree, a seedling of the Maha Chanok mango, has borne large, delicious late-season fruit. Despite the fact that the seeds are mono-embryonic and will not produce subsequent fruit true to the original tree type, it remains a fascinating exercise to sprout these seeds. What type of fruit will descendant trees produce?

A delicious fruit from a Maha Chanok seedling mango

Last year, I attempted to sprout the seed of a 1.1-kilogram behemoth by traditional methods… that is, by carefully removing the seed from its husk and planting it in a pot in a sunny location in the garden. Unfortunately, with our Sydney winter approaching, there were not enough warm days for the cherished seed to push out its tiny shoot, the seed eventually rotting away…

Clearly, a different approach was required this year. Having spent a great deal of time on research, I was lucky enough to come across this video, which provided me with a starting point for a renewed attempt to achieve germination.

My first step was to de-shuck the mango seeds as usual, wrapping each of them loosely in a moistened paper towel. Each of the moistened parcels was then slipped inside a zip-lock bag, and these were placed before the warmest window in our home.

Remove the mango seed from its husk...

Wrap the seed in moistened paper towel... Place it inside a zip-lock bag... This was our last and largest mango of the season

Within a few days, the seeds had produced a tap-root. At this stage, the rooted seeds were potted up. However, in order to provide continued warmth during the cooling weather, the pots were placed inside larger sealable zip-lock bags. They remained in their station near our warmest window. However, during the cold nights, they were brought back behind the heavy curtains, away from the glass, for added warmth.

The bagged pots were placed before our warmest window...

Five weeks on from the initial planting (April 12), the first of the mango shoots appeared (May 19). This is a little longer than the norm during the heat of summer. However, the method has proved itself to be a viable one.

The first seedling appears... May 19

Here’s hoping that the coming fortnight confirms the success of this experiment with the appearance of two more delicate mango seedlings.

Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…
Not Your Usual Sweet and Sour Beef…

This is a family favourite recipe which is easy to prepare. Better known in the Indonesian language as Daging Asam Manis or Daging Masak Bali (Balinese-Style Beef), it is far removed from the traditional Chinese versions of sweet and sour dishes. The name derives from the use of Tamarind (Asam or Sour) and Palm Sugar (Manis or Sweet), the two ingredients imparting tangy and sweet flavours respectively to the heat of the chillies.

In this version of the recipe, the onions are sliced. However, for a thicker sauce, blend the onions together with the other herbs and spices. And, if you want it tangier, use more tamarind paste.

What you will need…
  • 500 grams of beef, cut into thin strips
  • 1 medium onion, sliced lengthwise
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of ginger, pounded
  • 2 or more chillies (to taste), chopped
  • 1 or 2 teaspoons of tamarind paste (Asam)
  • 1 tablespoon of dark soya sauce
  • 1 – 2 teaspoons of palm sugar (Manis)
  • A little Water
  • Salt to taste
  • Oil for stir-frying

What you need to do…
  • Heat the wok or pan with the oil.
  • Stir-fry the onions, garlic, ginger and chillies until the onions are a little glassy.
  • Add the beef strips. Stir-fry these until they change colour.
  • Add your tamarind paste, dark soya sauce and water, simmering until the beef is tender.
  • Stir in the palm sugar.
  • Add salt to taste.
  • When the sauce has thickened, the dish is ready for serving.

To accompany this tasty dish, serve white rice and your choice of vegetables.

Not authentic... However, you can add some long beans for crunch and extra vegetables...

 Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

A Blazing Sunset

The warmer than average weather continues in Sydney and beyond. Without doubt, this false summer is good for the growth of sub-tropical trees: our ten-day-old banana bunch is developing quickly, the juvenile jackfruits continue to enlarge underneath their covers and our small crop of starfruits is ripening. The warm spell is even assisting the early growth of winter vegetables such as snow peas, sugar snap peas and yao mak.

Some young celtuce (wo sun) plants ready for planting out

Unfortunately, however, this presents dangers. The continuing plant growth, accompanied by consistent falls of rain, has seen a hazardous growth of grasses and understory shrubs, and a build-up of leaf litter, in our city’s surrounding bushland areas. With favourable, windless weather conditions over the weekend, the Rural Fire Service took advantage of this in preparation for bushfires later in the year. Controlled burning by our bushfire fighters will help to prevent disasters in the hotter days of spring from September onwards.

The hazard-reduction burning took place in twenty locations, mainly in the Blue Mountains region, west of Sydney, from Friday onwards.

As a consequence of the burnings, for three days, from Saturday to Monday, our city has been blanketed by a grey pall of smoke, some suburban areas, especially those in the west, being more affected than others. This was partly improved yesterday (Monday) when the heavens granted us some relieving, drizzling rain, removing some of the smoke particles from the atmosphere.

Nevertheless, coupled with the remaining rain clouds, there was ample smoke in the atmosphere last night to facilitate a spectacular display of celestial colour on sunset... The smoke particles enhanced the red end of the light spectrum.

Two images of the stunning sunset taken from our front door...

Friday, 6 May 2016

Sungai Ketiar Elephant Sanctuary

Our boat trip to Lasir Falls in Lake Kenyir had been an absorbing tour. On the return journey to the jetty, our boatman advised us that there was an elephant sanctuary, just one hour’s drive from the Tasik Kenyir Visitor Centre. After a little discussion, we decided to take up the challenge…

As we drove along with the lake on our left, the water views were glorious and, when we could not see the lake, we were enveloped by verdant and spectacular rainforest: the journey was so satisfying. However, we were not prepared for what was to follow on our arrival at Taman Pemuliharaan Kehidupan Liar Negeri Terengganu (Terengganu State Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre), better known as Sungai Ketiar Elephant Sanctuary.

The entrance to the Sungai Ketiar Elephant Sanctuary

We arrived just prior to the closing time of the Centre… luckily, just in time for the washing and feeding of the elephants. The elephants had been taken by their handlers for one of their daily walks in the ‘back paddock’ and were being led to their bathing area. On arrival, the elephants were leg-chained before the bathing began. As much as we disliked seeing these majestic animals shackled, we understood that this was for safety reasons. Clearly, the handlers loved their charges, which were treated with kindness, total respect and lots of nutritious goodies.

"Do I get a back-scratch too?"

In a stroke of very good fortune for us, after the bathing, all other visitors to the sanctuary left…

Finding ourselves alone and being an inquisitive couple, we spoke with the handlers in Malay. They were very pleased to accommodate two Aussie travellers, thoroughly answering our enquiries about the local environment and the animals which lived wild in the vicinity… wild elephants and tigers among others. We were stunned to learn that these animals could still be found in a wild state in the adjoining rainforests.

While we talked about issues related to the sanctuary, one of the men took us over to hand-feed a baby elephant: Ebi had been separated from his herd in the vicinity of the town of Karak (which was his alternative name). Alone, there was no choice but to put the youngster in care. What an experience! Feeding him papaya, banana and watermelon was joyous for me… though one wonders when or even whether the little elephant can ever be liberated to the wild environment. Regardless, he was in good hands…

Ebi, feasting on fruits

When we had finished feeding Ebi, we were taken over to meet Mas, a beautiful 38-year-old lady. She posed imperiously for me, trunk raised and curled in salute, as we were photographed together.

Then, excitement reigned. The men, encouraging us to hurry, rushed to the back gate which separated the display area from the wilds. A sun bear appeared from the jungle, seeking out a free feed…

A hungry sunbear appears from the forest...

We did not want to leave, but leave we had to. The drive home was barely eventful… a macaque sitting on a road-side crash railing… a pretty waterfall where people were bathing with their kids… and finally a mother babirusa shepherding her three little ones across the road into the adjoining rainforest.

The year was 2012. I am sure that the Sungai Ketiar Elephant Sanctuary has changed. I have read that currently there is a 100 Ringgit entry charge (about $35 Australian dollars). Back then, we were asked for a simple donation, which we were happy to provide. We were happy to provide it because we had experienced an unforgettable travel moment… An experience of a lifetime…  One which we would like to repeat in coming years…

"Do you think they will come back to see us again?"

We have visited other elephant sanctuaries in Thailand and Malaysia. However, this was the centre with which we have been most impressed. Our visit to the sanctuary had been a personal and intimate experience, made memorable by the individualised attention we received from staff members, who clearly cared for their needy charges.

Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Jackfruit… As Winter Nears

Winter is encroaching. The days are cooling: our warm, ‘Indian-summer’ appears to have left for the moment. Following overnight storms, the winds have picked up, giving the impression of cold. Just as people dress to combat the cold, what precautions need to be taken with a valued and valuable plant? Does it need to be dressed too?

Over the past few weeks, I have done a lot of research and reading in an attempt to uncover successful methods for over-wintering developing fruits of the jackfruit tree in the Sydney climate… there is precious little information on the internet about growing jackfruits in a cooler climate.

Members of our family in Malaysia had indicated to us that the developing fruits should be covered. Obviously, however, this had nothing to do with cold weather! Rather naively, we failed to inquire about the purpose for covering the fruit. Luckily, I came across a blog from Indonesia – yes, I can speak the language – which indicated that this was necessary to combat fruit fly infestation.  In our case, when the jackfruits began to develop in January, we took the precautions of removing our declining tomatoes and hanging fruit-fly attractant pots throughout our yard. The issue appeared to have been resolved as evidenced by the number of floating fruit fly corpses in the liquid of the traps.

So, should we cover the jackfruits to protect them from winter cold? We still had no answer.

Last week, I stumbled upon a brief blog comment from a Sydney jackfruit grower about his/her experience. Each year, his/her jackfruits, presumably left uncovered, would form nicely over the end of summer and through the autumn. However, when the winter arrived, the fruits would begin to rot from the stem. Was the damage as a result of cold?
This brief web entry prompted me to think about methods of protecting the developing fruit during the cooler months. With a large number of fruit on the four-year-old tree, I have decided to experiment… So, what to use as covers?

Residing in the back of our garage cupboard was a banana bunch cover. Bunch covers are two-coloured: the grey side is intended to reflect the strong rays of the sun, the coloured side being on the shady side of the bunch. Bunch covers have a reputation for being highly successful in improving the size and condition of bananas. Cutting the long bunch cover in half became my first solution for the covering of two larger jackfruits.

Banana bunch cover over maturing jackfruit

Reflecting upon the images I saw in the Indonesian blog, I cut open the bottoms of some old 10-kilogram rice bags, sliding these over two more developing fruit. Like the banana bunch covers, these would be impervious to rain, and perhaps, would provide sufficient protection from the occasional frosty morning.

Rice bag cover

Some years ago, when we first planted our jackfruit, mango and starfruit seeds, we wrapped the little plants with fabric frost covers. Recycling these covers to wrap more of the jackfruits became the next priority. The frost cover will do its job: it is not impervious to winter rains but it will keep the frost from the fruits. In fact, I took the precaution to wrap some leaves within the frost fabric. The leaves would keep the fabric at a distance from the fruit, providing a degree of insulation.

Fabric frost cover

My final decision was to leave some of the smaller jackfruits to their own devices. Would the canopy of the tree itself provide enough protection over the colder months leading to the harvest of succulent jackfruits in the warmer months?

Smaller jackfruits left uncovered

At this point in time, I have not sealed any of the covers, the bases remaining open to the elements. While we continue to have relatively warm days in the low to mid-20s (Celsius), I will leave the covers open. However, in the next few weeks, I will seal the covers with clothes pegs, giving the jackfruits total protection on the coldest mornings.

I have more than my fingers crossed!

Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…