Category Archives: Plants

What I grow & what I get

My Tropical Asian Treasure Trove – Part 2

Apart from those hidden Asian treasures in the micro shady boondocks of my backyard, summer warmth has spurred the growth of aromatic foliage which I need, for home style cooking, dishes which I grew up with, taught by my mother and grandmother, food that makes a house smell like home.

Walking around in the morning, at times with coffee mug in hand, pinching or breaking a leaf or two, inhaling the aroma, makes me appreciate what a little bit of each plant can do to enhance our chemical sensing system of smell and taste.

The very easy-to-propagate Lemongrass, nothing to do with lemons, has a citrus flavor which can make a not-so-appetizing dish smell heavenly. In Asia, it is used in soups, spicy stews, sweet tea, curries, as a basting brush for barbecues, as an air freshener in cars, fragrance for soaps and hair oil, heck! it’s supposed to even attract Honey Bees (which is why Lemongrass essence is placed in swarm boxes).

Lemongrass does not like lemons

It looks like scrawny weeds but has very sharp-edged blades and hibernates to a brown clump in winter. It’s also supposed to repel mosquitoes but that aspect is one I can’t vouch for.

The Curry Leaf Plant (Murraya koenigii) to me is what makes a Curry taste and smell like real Curry!  It is a plant native to India and Sri Lanka … the land of Curries, of course! I grew up with this in my backyard ~ yes, déjà vu.

Curry Leaves do smell like Curry.

Can this be found in all Asia grocery stores? No, only Indian run stores, unfortunately, which is why I need to grow my own. I harvest and dry some when it produces its leaves abundantly, just in case there is a bout of winter frost, that’s when it gets bald.

But … there is so much more that can be concocted with this herb, not just curry,

Just a versatile herb.

and in case you are curious (and brave) enough, you might even like to try making Indian Shepherd’s Pie. 😀

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My Tropical Asian Treasure Trove – Part 1

It looks like some overgrown wasteland, neglected, in disarray … well, Ma Nature never created forest growth in straight rows. If they can grow in harmony as companions, and they have for over 3 years, why should I try to ‘straighten things out’ and spoil their habitat?

My shade loving Asian bed

It’s summer. Both plants and human beings in this household can feel the heat, which results in the planting and monitoring frenzy of spices, herbs and rhizomes I use in the kitchen. I try to grow as much as I can, to harvest and preserve (dry or freeze) as I know when the weather gets cooler, they die off or hibernate. They make way for their cool weather comrades.

You may ask “why not just get Asian stuff from an Asian grocery store?” Well, it’s over 35 miles to the closest well-stocked Asian produce store so it would be crazy frequently heading there just to get herbs & spices I need. More important, many of the items that I use, are not sold there … oh yes, not all Asian culinary spices are created equal.
(Click on the sub-titled links for more info & photos.)

Turmeric ~ a much-needed spice in my kitchen. It has grown in my backyard for over 3 years so it simply feels at home and will start re-growing in Spring but will show its leaves in Summer. I use these leaves in tea, curries and as wraps when roasting; and the roots in curries, pickles, sambal, etc.

Fresh green Turmeric leaves.

Galangal (Alpinia officinarum) 南姜 ~ which I simply call Lengkuas is another crucial item needed when preparing S.E. Asian dishes like those Mum taught me.

Galangal – just “normal” looking rhizome growth.

Can you get these in Chinese, Vietnamese or Filipino owned stores? No, but you might find it in Thai & Indian stores … frozen ones, yes but fresh ones, maybe.

Sand Ginger (Kaempferia galanga) or Cekur/沙姜 ~ the mysterious ornamental ginger which I began growing when a ginger-growing enthusiast sent me a rhizome.

Cekur, it makes a beautiful groundcover

Leaves and rhizomes are edible. Lovely as ground cover, even lovelier as an organic backyard grown food aroma enhancer. Can one find this in Asian stores in Florida? Unfortunately I have to say 99.9% it’s “No”. So I simply grow it!

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Grapes’ Gripe

What does one do when the squirrels are once again toying around and simply destroying your grapes, not giving them a chance to ripen? Is there a reason why Ma Nature created these destructive beings?

My daily morning find *ggrrr*

Bagging my tomatoes to prevent critter damage has been successful so far, so in desperation, I have decided to bag some of the grapes which I have spotted and are within my reach. Will the bags act as camouflage to their visual perception?

Bagged grapes

Bags galore

In case any reader knows of better ways to outsmart those darn squirrels, please offer advice/share information with this bag lady.

My Summer Indicator

Yes, it’s Summer … just passed Summer Solstice … but how do I know it’s just as warm as the Tropics? With Mother Nature’s help.

Admittedly I live with my little vegetable-turf and try to grow all kinds edibles which I can harvest during different seasons. I love Asian Spinach (Bayam/苋菜) which is a perennial but grows better in Fall, nevertheless I simply leave some to bolt and produce new plants whenever they feel conditions are right.

Asian Spinach (Bayam/苋菜)

BUT … amongst this greenery which provides some shade, some sprouts have emerged to indicate that it’s Summer!

See the Sprout?

That is the Cekur or Sand Ginger (Kaempferia galanga) which is a beautiful groundcover… but I grow them more for use in the kitchen.

The warmth loving ginger.

Young leaves capturing water.

Soon, some Sand Ginger leaves will garnish & add flavor to sautéed Asian Spinach and later, both leaves and roots will be used when preparing Kerabu or Malay style salad which is rice based.

Kerabu

Is this Recycling or Upcycling?

I, with my simple vocabulary range, will just call it re-using. How about that?
Yes, I have found some of those discarded plastic containers of great use and they can be used multiple times too. Be it the Paris Agreement or Global Warming concerns, it is just my nano contribution to slowing down the flow to the recycling plant.

Watering bottle

Apart from the general hose-watering, I use this method to water slow and deep in areas which do not get rained on – keeps my Daikon & Carrots happy.  🙂

Feeding liquid seaweed fertilizer this way gets it right where it’s needed. No spraying around causing soil-splatter on leaves.

These bottles have been in my possession and used for over 2 years yet they are still in very good condition.

To start seeds in winter, even the not-so-chilly Florida winter, I would still need a greenhouse-of-sort. I don’t have seeding lights, warm mats and other expensive stuff avid gardeners use. I use supermarkets’ salad containers which I call green-boxes.

My seeding “boxes” – (R) is box with lid 4″ high & (L) is box over box 8″ high.

You can start with boxes in their original form – box & lid, but as the seedlings get taller, the lid can be peeled off (for next use, again as lids ) and another box can be used as cover giving the plants growing space. These boxes are 4″ high so with 2 boxes together (see pic above; left item) seedlings can happily stay there longer.

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Pandan Growth Gusto

The Pandanus Amaryllifolius (not any other Screwpine) ~ Pandan for short breaks into a growth gusto when Spring is about to turn to Summer. It must feel like the Tropics to them so ‘babies’ and aerial roots appear at a crazy rate.

This is the time to carefully check between leaves because unless you separate the leaves and inspect, chances are, small young plants will not be seen until too late ~ dehydrated and stunted. Cut the long leaves hiding them if required, be merciless, as the ‘babies’ need light and growth space.

Pandan “babies” just springing up from parent plant and leaves cut off giving them breathing space.

A thick healthy root is about to spring forth.

When that healthy root grows up to 2″, it will be ideal to remove the baby plant from the parent to have more subaerial roots develop in water.

With so many leaves cut off today, what do I do with them? Continue reading

Asparagus from Seeds

I have read ample articles of growing Asparagus up north (Washington, New Jersey & Massachusetts) with most gardeners attempting to grow them in Central Florida stating that they simply won’t tolerate our warm weather. Those growing them also claim that it would be best to start with ‘crowns’. My 1st attempt had my ‘crowns’ disappearing in the ground.

Well, in February last year, when I found packets of Asparagus seeds in Orlando’s mini-Vietnam, I decided to try planting this perennial green again, in my backyard. Having never seen an Asparagus ‘plant’ before, I wasn’t even sure if what grew in that allocated area were actual Asparagus seedlings or simply ferny-looking weeds.

Edible shoots will take about 3 years to appear ~ so growers say ~ but I took the gamble as they may provide me with seasonal greens for over a decade!

Asparagus “weed” of sort.

But they did produce some very pretty flowers, which unless one grows them, no one actually gets to see them.

Tiny Asparagus blooms.

Tiny but eye-catching.

15 months after my 2nd attempt, the “weed” patch is finally showing me that what I am growing, is actually Asparagus Officinalis.

The Proof.

They may presently be small and skinny, should be allowed to grow and preferably not harvested till year 3, but actually seeing real Asparagus shoots is such joy.

1st year’s growth ~ from seeds! ~ not too bad …

So now, these weedy looking greens will be pampered and carefully coddled in hope for many years of fresh Asparagus from the garden, to the kitchen, to the table.

Garlic Chive Use for Dummies (like me)

With all the digging, splitting, re-potting ….
how can I not have some in hand for a hurried, no planning, throw any(every)thing in, to prepare a 1-plate dish for lunch.

*Main ingredient can be leftover rice, cooked al-dente pasta, blanched wheat noodles, whatever you fancy.

Ingredients – Lot 1

GARLIC CHIVES cut in 2″ length, Eggs, Bean Sprouts, oops! some diced onions not in pic ~ already in the pan…

Ingredient – Lot 2
Sliced beef, pork, chicken, leftover favorite meat, vegetarian soy, anything … I found some shrimps in my freezer.

Peeled shrimps I found in the freezer.

Then with further fridge browsing, I found and used some homemade Sambal but you can use any of your favorite sauce, seasoning, paste, etc.

Heat some oil in the pan, add Lot 1 + diced onions in (er… crack the eggs please, do not include shells in this dish) and pan-stir till sizzling. Then add Lot 2. When semi-cooked (shrimps begin to turn a little pink & opaque), add your favorite sauce or seasoning.

Pan stir till well mixed.

Finally, add your *Main Ingredient … I used pre-soaked Rice Vermicelli or Bee Hoon which is a staple in my pantry. Thoroughly mix; sprinkle some water if necessary and Voilà!!

Fried Bee Hoon

Lunch is served.