Repotting Kaffir Lime

The only way to grow Kaffir lime in a cold climate is in a pot, either forever staying inside the house or moving it in and out when the weather permits. In a warmer climate, when Kaffir lime is grown in the ground, it’s a mid-size tree that can grow to 25 feet high and 6 feet wide. But it can adapt to live in a pot. One of mine, over 20 years old, has to be pruned twice each year to a manageable size (around 6′ tall) that I can put it back in our basement.

This is what the two older kaffir looked like a year ago in June, after a month outside the basement. The right one is around ten years older than the left.

Annual pruning is an easy task. Getting poked here and there with very sharp thorns is expected. Feeding it well after a good annual haircut will keep it healthy. But, what’s more important than pruning is repotting.

Kaffir lime can be root-bound pretty fast since it’s a small tree being kept in a pot. It will not be happy having its feet bound for years… imagine Chinese foot binding. I repot mine every couple of years. The smaller ones is easy to do but the larger ones give me a back ache for a few days.

How to repot:

First, do not water the Kaffir lime for a couple of days. The potting soil should be on the dry side so it will be much easier to loosen the roots. Grab the main trunk and pull the whole plant out.

Kaffir lime, root bound at the bottom

I just pull my smaller one, picture on top, out of its pot. This is only two years in this pot but the roots are already packed at the bottom. Though the soil is pretty dry, the roots still hold it in a pot shape.

Next, shake the soil off the roots. You can do it with your hands or use a trowel. Make sure not to damage the main root-the larger ones. Use a clean, sharp clipper to trim off the finer roots.

After the fine roots were trimmed, the larger roots closer to the trunk are still intact

If you want it to grow bigger, you can put it in a larger pot with new soil. I keep my smaller ones in the same pot for five years then give them a little more room with a slightly larger pot. The twenty-plus year old, I put back in the same pot since that is the largest size I can manage without hurting myself. Both of the larger ones are still happy in their pots.

My oldest Kaffir lime lost a lot of its leaves last winter from infestation of scales and mites. Cleaned up, it’s fine now and sprouting new leaves on every branches.
New deep purplish colored leaves on every branch. I was forgiven for my negligence

I put a couple of inches of new soil at the bottom, mixed with organic fertilizer, placed the Kaffir lime in, then added soil mixed with fertilizer around and on top. Use a small trowel to probe the area between the plant and the pot to make sure that new soil fills any air pockets. Water deeply. I water it and let it sit on a tray so the soil can absorb excess water back later on.

Use a clean clipper to trim damaged and dry branches. I prune it down to a desirable size and cut branches that rub against one another only after it starts to bud new leaves. I think root pruning is traumatizing enough so I wait for it to settle and get used to a new space first. But that’s just me.

That’s it. The Kaffir lime should be very happy for a few years before the leaves start to get smaller and take longer to sprout new leaves. That’s when it’s telling you that it needs to stretch it feet.

Fish Pepper

Another couple weeks and I can start germinating tomatoes and chili peppers inside the house.  We live in the northeastern part of the US, roughly USDA Zone 6, so we have around 6 months or less of warm weather to grow our vegetables.  If we don’t start the seedlings in the house around the end of March there will not be enough time for them to bare fruit and ripen.  Starting to germinate them earlier than this, the seedlings will be too lanky when it’s time to put them in the ground around May.

Growing up eating spicy food, chili pepper is a staple in our kitchen.  The love of spicy food extends to the love for a variety of peppers. I experiment with one or two new peppers every season.  If I like them, I keep the seeds to grow the next season.  If I don’t like them, it’s ‘one and done.’  As of now I’ve grown at least 13 different types of pepper.  They range from extremely spicy like Bhut Jolokia to sweet pepper like baby bell pepper.

Mature chili peppers from last season. A mix of Bhut Jolokia, Lemon drop, Sikkim, Bhutan, Yellow torch, Long Thai pepper, Black Jalapeño, Purira, Buena Mulata (grew the Buena Mulata for the first time last year)
Tiny Thai chili pepper a.k.a Bird eye, a.k.a. Mouse drop. This chili is our kitchen staple. I can use it in many dishes: stir-fry, salad, condiment, hot sauce, dried and ground to a powder. It’s only .5 to .75 inches long but don’t let its size fool you. It packs a punch.
Wild Brazil is another staple in our kitchen. Another tiny chili with a lot of heat, plus citrusy scent. It never gets bigger than .5 inch. These I use in anything I want to have a spicy and lemony scent. Also great for making hot sauce and chili powder.

One of the peppers I fell in love with is Fish pepper.  I grew it for the first time  two years ago. I first learned about the Fish pepper in a free local magazine, either Edible Manhattan or Edible Queens, not sure exactly which one.  I picked the magazine up at the farmer’s market, read the article about Fish Pepper which prompted my search for the seeds.  I was lucky to find organic seedlings at one of the farmer’s stands.  I was warned not to grow them next to other peppers because the next generation may not look and taste like the parents.

Fish pepper with beautiful variegated leaves
Peppers are also variegated. The young ones are a pale yellow with green stripes
Mature fruit will turn red but will still have faintly faded stripes

I think after seeing these images, most of you can see why I fell in love with them. The beautiful variegated leaves and fruit worth being used as an ornamental plant. But it happens to work great with all types of seafood, hence the name. And, we love seafood. The information I found about this pepper claimed that it originated in the Caribbean and was brought to the US in the 19th century. It has a medium heat so one pepper is enough for a small seafood pot.

I’ll grow it again this year from the seeds I collected last season. The new generation should look like their parents above. I grow them in pots and move them far from the vegetable garden. I did the same with the first generation and it seemed to work. I don’t need a Fish pepper that tastes like Ghost pepper (Bhut Jolokia).

Spring Vegetables

A Good Head Start

We installed a cold frame in our vegetable garden in order to have some fresh vegetables in winter.  We did get some cold loving vegetables like Chinese Broccoli, Swiss chard, kale, carrots and mustard greens.   Several times the vegetables inside wilted from the cold when we couldn’t get access.  In the middle of winter when snow piled two feet up the frame, we couldn’t get the door open without a lot of digging.  But it still gave us a good head start for spring vegetables and we get to have fresh vegetables early in the season despite the seesaw weather.

The seeds I sow in November like spinach, Bok choi and mustard greens, sprouted early and became our first salad crops.

Inside our cold frame, the taller spinach are the one I sow in November last year

Then I sow more cool weather vegetables like Mizuna, Shungiku (Tang Oh), Chinese broccoli, Corn salad, arugula and more of spinach and mustard greens in March when I got access to the inside. These will become our second crop.

I sow this patch of Mizuna in March. It ‘s great for salad and soup

Mustard greens from seed in winter grow among arugula

I usually thin the Bok choi so they will have room to grow bigger. I use the ones I pull out in salad

Shungiku or Tang Oh or Edible Chrysanthemum love the cooler temperatures. I prefer them in soups

Since the cold frame has no ventilation, early spring is when we have to be careful.  We need to leave the door open on hot days otherwise the vegetables in there will be cooked.  I devote this patch under the cold frame for growing leafy vegetables because it provides shade during the summer months.  Once the plastic is cover removed, I grow Bitter melon and beans and let them climb up the frame as they provide shade for the vegetables below.

With a couple days of heavy rain other vegetables in the garden double their size.  Asparagus shot up a few inches a day with rain.  We were supposed to cut them when they reached six inches high but…

We didn’t have time to cut the asparagus when they should have, but they still were delicious

Siberian garlic

After it was fed and with plenty of rain, our garlic, both Siberian and Rocambol garlic, got much bigger very fast.  We had a good garlic crop last year and still have some left in the basement.  So far this year should be good too.

 

 

The Growing Season Begins

Started Seedlings

We’ve been bombarded with snow storms every week for the last three weeks and still have plenty of snow on the ground as a result.  The temperature dropped back to winter levels again after a warm stretch in February.  But it’s time to start germinating seeds for a new season, especially those that need more time to grow, bear fruit and ripen.  I started our tomato, pepper and eggplant seedlings last week.  The tomatoes have already sprouted up.  Chili peppers will need a little bit more time to sprout.

I started these tomato, pepper and eggplant seedlings on March 13 and all the tomatoes sprouted by March 17. I forgot to keep ‘Mortgage Lifter’ and ‘Rose’ tomatoes seeds last year so I used the ones left over from 2015 and they still sprouted at the same time as the new seeds.  Peppers and Eggplants still take their time.

True Black Brandywine- ‘is extra large in size and full of deep, earthy and sweet flavor’; Dark Galaxy- ‘The taste is a perfect balance of tangy-sweetness-so juicy and refreshing! Each fruit is a unique work of art..’

Aside from the usual tomatoes we have been growing, Brandywine, Cherokee purple, Mortgage lifter, Nova, Indigo cherry drop…among them, this year we will try two new varieties.  I ordered True Black Brandywine and Dark Galaxy tomato seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, one of my favorite plant and seed companies.  I have never been dissatisfied with their seeds.

Aside from it is highly ornamental, ‘it’s high-test heat is counterbalanced with complex flavors’

This year we also picked a new variety of pepper to try, also from the same supplier, ‘Buena Mulata’ peppers. The description is impressive and hopefully we like it enough to keep it on our long list of chili peppers we grow.

I also started varieties of kale and Swiss chard this week.  By the time the last frost date comes, hopefully in mid April, they all should be ready to settle in to the garden. We agreed that the ‘Dazzling Blue’ kale we tried last year is worth growing again.  If you like ‘Toscano’ or ‘Nero Di Toscana’, you will probably like this kale.  It has similar leaves but with purplish/pink midribs and I find it’s a little sweeter.

These Dazzling Blue kale are from last season, beautiful to look at and tastes delicious too.

We grow organic and love to try new kinds of vegetables so we’re a little choosy about where we get our seeds.  Below is a short list of reliable companies we use for our vegetable seeds and plants:

I hope you find something you like from these companies to add to your garden.  I derive no benefit or profit from suggesting them, just my experience from patronizing them over the years.

Happy planting!

Marvelous Melon Tunnel

Way To Grow

We are back from a few weeks of vacation on the other side of the planet.  It was nice to be disconnected from the internet.  Please don’t take offense.  I love reading the blogs I follow but sometime we need to disconnect from technology and appreciate what’s around us.

Anyway, we stoped at this temple, Wat Khun-Intha Pramul, to take a look at a reclining Buddha that is the longest, from head to toe, in Thailand.  Aside from the ancient statue, we found an interesting melon garden that is more like a melon tunnel on the temple property.

Melon
Variety of melons, gourds and pumpkins hanging down from the bamboo structure

Melon
More melons and gourds under one of the ‘T’ shaped tunnels

Melon tunnel-outside
The tunnel entrance also covered with vines

I put a short clip of walking through one of the tunnels.  Coming out the other end was a surprise. Hope you enjoy the walk…

Maximizing Space

Growing Vertically

We devote only a small part of our backyard for vegetable gardening and I’m always looking for a way to add more plants and increase productivity in the existing space.  Though we have put a deer fence up around our backyard, we still have to put a low fence around the vegetable garden.  If we don’t, there would be nothing left.  Deer cannot get in our back yard but rabbits, woodchucks, squirrels and chipmunks are still able to sneak in and enjoy what we grow.  So we are limited to growing vegetables within this little fenced in area, therefore I try to make every inch work to its maximum productivity.

Looking back at the last season, I note what worked and integrate it into the coming season along with whatever adaptation increases efficiency.  The method described below can be used for any plants that grow vertically, not just vegetables.

Aside from incorporating different plants in any one plot, I also grow vertically.  While most gardeners grow beans on a cone shaped ‘teepee’ I believe, I put up a trellis for beans that’s over the path, high enough to walk under, and grow beans on each side.  Last season, I put one up by the vegetable garden entrance.  It worked well and when the beans were fully grown and had developed pods, it looked beautiful and provided easy access for picking the beans too.  The trellis can be moved to any part of the garden easily when needed or I can grow different vegetables on it.

The bean trellis early last July. You can see the netted frame structure behind it.

Toward the end of July, beans have grown to cover the trellis with plenty of pods. It’s easy to walk under when picking beans.

I’m not sure what type of beans these are but their ancestry is Italian. My neighbor brought the seeds back years ago and we have been growing them ever since. They are delicious as young pods as well as dried beans later.

Once the weather was warm enough to remove the plastic from the cold frame, I put up a net in its place, see the first photo, to filter and soften the sunlight.  It reduces the light by about 50%.  Leafy vegetables like lettuce, Mitzuna, and Pac Choi prefer a little shade.   In the middle of summer, when the temperature is high and the sunlight is strong, these leafy vegetable will bolt easily and the lettuce will turn bitter.  With shade over them, they can take their time to grow, their leaves are crisp and sweet and the soil will dry more slowly.  I grow Bitter melon on the side of the frame structure and let them entwine themselves up the frame.  I gradually roll back the filtering net as the melon plant grows allowing it to take over shading the vegetables below.

Bittermelon growing up the frame (see first photo) and completely covering the top of the structure, providing shade for the leafy vegetables below.

The melon fruit hangs down making them easy to pick

Early in the season when the structure still cover with a filtering net. Vegetable that do well in semi-shade here are-Left front to back- Wasabi Arugula, Chinese broccoli, two types of lettuce. Right front to back- Mizuna, three types of Mustard greens

Later on when the melon plants cover the structure, I put in more lettuce like ‘Spotted Trout’ and ‘Truchas’

One down side of having the vegetables grow up the frame is that I have to cut them all down when the temperature threatens to drop close to freezing.  I need to put the plastic back on and turn it back into a cold frame again.  Most gardeners leave the plastic on but open the ends of the structure to let the air flow through in summer.  I could have done the same but I would lose growing space on the top of the structure.  I would also have to put a smaller frame over one of the 3’X18′ plots and cover it with a sunlight filtering net to grow these vegetable in the heat of summer.  I prefer to kill two birds with one stone: shade the vegetables and have extra growing space.

Growing Tomatoes

The Trellis Experiment

I know it’s the middle of January but I also know that plant and seed catalogs start pouring in.  Many of us comb through them and get that gardening itch.  Like it or not, winter is a time to think about the next planting season, at least for me anyway.  Looking back to see what worked well and what was a failure.  Looking forward to see what new experiment might fruitfully improve the garden and what new plants to grow.

We love tomatoes and have been growing a variety of both large and small sizes.  The challenge of growing tomatoes for me is keeping them straight up.  I bought a variety of tomato cages early on but they never worked well for me.  Most of the time they’re too short.  My tomato plants grow over six feet tall and some years I have to get on a ladder to tie them in place.  So I have been experimenting with ways to keep them from flopping over in the least amount of time.  Tying tomato plants is a time consuming process.

These are some of the varieties of tomato we grew last season.

When the tomato cages failed, I used long poles to tie the main stalks up, then used some shorter and smaller ones vertically in between for the branches.  This method worked well but risked damaging the roots when I pushed a new pole into the ground to support a branch.  The tomatoes also flopped over when I failed to have enough time to keep tying them regularly as they grew.  I also used a lot of smaller poles, too many of them, in fact.  I had been using this method until last season.

I made this railroad trellis on one side of a three feet plot and planted ‘Baby bell peppers’ and some leafy vegetables in front of the tomatoes

It worked quite well with cherry and grape tomatoes which tend to creep like a vine. The red ones are ‘Sakura’, yellow are ‘Nova’, and the black and orange on the far left are ‘Indigo’

I experimented on a new method last season.  I still use the longest and largest pole, 8 foot long, to tie the main stem to.  But this time I also put these long poles on either side of the plant, making a railroad track with plants in the middle.  Each tomato has 1 foot by 16 inches in space.  Then I tie smaller poles, horizontally, connecting each long pole together.  I keep a foot of space between each horizontal bar.  Once the tomatoes grow and branch out, I just tie their stems to these bars.  Restricted to gardening on the weekend some weeks, the branches still rested on the bars, without flopping down.

The trellis also worked well for large tomatoes. On the far left are ‘Tie-dye’, then ‘Brandywine’, ‘Cherokee Purple’ with ‘Mortgage Lifter’ at the far right.  At the end of this plot is Swiss chard and Kale.

One mistake I made was to use thinner sticks for some of the bars.  I ran out of the the sturdier ones so I used the ones made for hoops in their place.  They bent way too easily  under the weight of large tomatoes.

Toward the end of the season, ‘Tie-dye’ which grew profusely, got too heavy for the thin sticks I used

When I installed the correct size pole, it worked well. The larger tomatoes, some over a pound, can rest on the bar as well. These Brandywine tomatoes, most either over a pound or close to it, are resting on the bar. I tied some of the fruit stems to the bar as well, to support the weight.

At the end of the season, once I cut all tomato plants down, I untie the poles and put them back in the toolshed.  That saves a lot of space.  I can always shrink or expand the trellis according to how many tomatoes I grow.

Growing Garlic

Plant Them Now

I use a lot of garlic in cooking and like to try various types of garlic.  Supermarkets don’t offer any real varieties of garlic and hardly provide any information about the origin of the garlic they sell.  I want to know where the garlic comes from because any roots, bulbs and rhizomes will usually absorb whatever is in the soil and store it, minerals and toxins included.  I used to purchase my garlic from the farmer’s market which guaranteed freshness and origin.  Years ago when my previous neighbor offered me garlic from her garden, I was hooked.  I’ve been growing my own garlic ever since.

There are several varieties of garlic to choose from.  Rocambole is the type I’ve been growing from the beginning.  I’ve also grown Korean, Tibetan and Siberian.  I found that the Rocambole and Siberian varieties produce large heads and grow well in the northeastern U.S. climate.

Autumn is the time to plant garlic, just a few weeks before a hard frost.  I do not use garlic purchased from the supermarket for planting.  The best way is to get them from your local farmer’s market or order from a reputable company.  One of the vendors at our farmer’s market this year posted a sign explaining his garlic was not for planting this year because he had a problem with fungus.  Honesty is always the key to good business.

Once you get your first harvest, use the largest clove for planting.  You’ll have to buy new garlic for planting again if you want to try a new variety.  Put them in now and wait, they will come up next spring when the soil starts to warm up.

I use a few large heads from this year harvest. These are Siberian garlic.

Separate the heads to individual cloves. Use large cloves for planting and use the small ones for cooking. I grew only Rocambole and Siberian this year

Put selected cloves on the ground, with 4-6 inches between them. I do the ‘X’ instead of parallel rows to save space. I use a stick as a divider between the two varieties

Pick each clove up, use a trowel to separate the soil around 2 inches deep. Put a clove in, with the side that was previously attached to the stem (the blunt side) facing downward, cover with soil.

After every clove is under the ground, water a little to eliminate air pockets then cover the area with mulch. I use shredded leaves and grass.

Then sit back and wait until next spring.

 

 

Spring Has Sprung

…With A Cold Shoulder

I took the day off from work yesterday and the weather was on my side.  Still plenty of snow on the ground but the temperature had soared to nearly 60°F.  The honeybees should have been out and about now with a temperature this high, but alas, none to be seen.  So I decided to inspect one hive.  Intrinsically I knew I had to face my fear somehow.  It’s better to know early than not know at all.  I suspected they may have died of starvation since the weather has been inconsistent.  That forces the bees to consume their stored food faster leaving them with nothing inside and nothing for them to forage outside.  But I wasn’t expecting what I saw.  There were no bees in the hive.  None at all.

I ended up opening all the hives.  My worst fear had come true.  There were only a few dead bees in each hive which was otherwise empty.  There were plenty of capped and uncapped honey frames in each hive but no live occupants.

First sadness hit, then depression, then self-doubt….what did I do wrong?  I’ve been taking a mite count throughout the season and it’s been very low.  We provided clean water.  We provided food, with the supporting evidence of plenty left over in each hive. The only thing I did not do was treat them with chemicals.  But I have never treated them from the start.  They were fine and happy for many years, from one generation to the next, living their lives naturally.

I’m still sad and depressed but giving up is not in my nature.  I will clean up the empty hives on my next day off and have them readied for new occupants.  New honeybee packages are coming in next month and I hope we will work well together like their long gone relatives.

But there was a bright part of the day…I finally dug my way to the igloo, my cold frame.  What was left in there were carrots, Mustard greens, a few Pac choi too.  The lettuce I had sown in January had come up, barely reaching half an inch.

The path I had to dig to get to the cold frame

Pulled some fresh carrots from inside the cold frame. Small but tasty.

I pulled weeds out, watered the soil a little and sowed a few more seeds: Mizuna, Mustard greens, Radish, Arugula, Chinese broccoli, and more lettuce.  They should start to sprout in a week and within a couple more weeks I can have my first salad of the season.

Sowed some seeds after pulling carrots and clearing some dead vegetables

Our resident Eastern Bluebirds are also looking for a nest box in our yard and haven’t given up despite harassment from the House sparrow.

A pair of Eastern Bluebirds enjoy their meal and keep their eyes on their prospect home

As the Buddhists say, ‘all is impermanence.’  There will be more honeybees.  The garden is still there and this year’s seedlings are all sprouting high in the house and itching to get their feet in the ground outside.  I really can’t complain.

 

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