28 March 2021 Q&A Webinar

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  • Can you explain soil enhancement capability of beans? Long bean and black bean.

All bean related type of crops have this special chemical called flavonoids. This particular chemical helps to enhance the growth of nitrogen fixing bacteria. Why is nitrogen fixing bacteria important?

In the air, we have nitrogen. If this plant has nitrogen fixing bacteria, it can simply convert the nitrogen in the air and in turn, feed itself. When you apply organic nitrogen (goat/chicken poo), this organic nitrogen will be converted into two ions i.e. NH4+ and NO3, the ultimate forms that the plants can absorb.

Little microbes in the soil help to do the conversion. If you have more microbes organism, the conversion is faster. There is a by-product known as  NO2during this process and after further breaking down, it becomes N2. Again, in order to convert N2 into NH4+, you need nitrogen fixing bacteria. That’s why when you pull the roots of these bean crops out of soil, you see the root nodes.

  • I grow tomatoes from seeds in one pot at HDB corridor. Total 5 stalks. It got tall and bend during strong wind. Look weak. Got flowers budding. Some leaves dried out. I keep watering more. Doesn’t seems to be helpful. What can I do?

Staying in HDB means that a lot of time, we do not have enough sun. Our environment is densely packed and our balcony or corridor could be blocked by other buildings. When the plants don’t get enough sun, they tend to be very long and weak. This is probably the reason.

If you have one pot with five seedlings, how big is your pot? If you are using a 10cm pot, your plants won’t have enough space to grow. If the lower leaves are drying out, don’t worry. When the sun is blocked, the plant is unable to do photosynthesis so the leaves will eventually become yellow and dried off. 

You certainly need to water more because you have five plants in a pot and they are very water hungry.

It would be good if you could submit a picture to us.

  • My tomato seeds did not sprout after putting into soil, now I’m trying on xiaobaicai, how to ensure seeds are not too deep inside soil?

When it comes to seed germination, are your seeds new or already kept in your house for years? Did you buy your seeds from the trusted source? When I said trusted source, I meant the vendors who actually keep the seeds well (not under the sun / rain). 

If your seeds are from trusted source and not expired, for vegetables, don’t put the seeds too deep. Assuming you use small little pot (8 to 10 cm pot), go for media such as pea substrate, compost and well-drained garden soil. Don’t use hard garden soil.

Step 1: Scoope the media and put in your pot, keep them loose and don’t compact them

Step 2: Use toothpick and lightly poke the media about 1mm

Step 3: Put the seeds inside

Step 4: Water and the seeds will sink in

  • I have difficulty in maintaining the health for my rosemary herb which I bought from nursery. I have balcony but no direct sunlight. I use artificial light but it didn’t help. The plant just died after one week. I water it every 2 days. So far, bought 4 pots of rosemary, all cannot survived.

When you buy rosemary from nurseries, squeeze the pot a bit, take out the whole plant intact and you will realise that generally the media is very wet.

Once you bring the rosemary home, if you leave it in the same wet growing media, it will not make it. Rosemary is a drought resistance herb. In other words, if I don’t let my rosemary drink well, it is ok. But if I feed my rosemary with too much water, it is not ok. They prefer dryness.

Tips: After you buy the rosemary, what you can do is snap off some of the cuttings, remove the bottom leaves, expose a few nodes and root them first.

  • Do we always have to re-pot every plant bought from nurseries?

Generally for drought resistance plants such as rosemary, thyme and lavender, oregano, almost always, you need to re-pot them. Reason being is the media used by nursery is normally cocopeat which is wet, light and easy to transport.

When you re-pot, take out the whole pot with roots intact, remove the loose cocopeat at the side (don’t hurt the roots) and put the plant in your well-drained media. 

Tips: What is well-drained? Sand, pebbles, perlite or anything that is hard and looks like stone, it will help you to drain water better. Try 70:30 rule, use 70% of soil or compost then mix with 30% of river sand. You can even go up to 50:50 for drought resistance herbs. 

Tips: For watering, try 5-second rule, when you pour water into your media, all the water drains through your media in 5 seconds. When you poke your finger about 1 inch into your media, feel it, if it’s moist, don’t water anymore. 

  • Artificial light didn’t help. Why?

What is the specs of your light? What is the PPFD spec of your light? For plants, the plants are looking at this figure. Basically, it’s a measurement of how much proton is hitting on your plant per square meter at a distance.

If your seller cannot answer PPFD, he or she might just be a LED seller, not a grow light LED seller. Very likely, your LED is not going to work.

Go for PPFD of at least 300, most likely, your artificial light will work.

  • I have tiny mushrooms growing unexpectedly with my spinach plant. Should this be gotten rid of? Or are these beneficial?

Generally, if you are using compost, you will tend to see mushrooms popping up. Personally, I find them harmless, but if they worry you or if you don’t like them, don’t like the spores, remove them.

  • When to replant after seed sprout? After it grows 3-5 leaves?

Generally yes, 3-5 leaves exclude the cotyledons, so 3-5 true leaves. However, for fruiting vegetables, 3 leaves are a bit weak, you need them to be pretty strong before you transplant. 

So typically what I do for vegetables and fruiting vegetables is I transplant them when I have 4-5 leaves.

Under optimal condition (full sun), my vegetables seedlings are ready for transplanting in about 14 days. In classic home environment (les sun), about 18 to 21 days. 

  • Is it safe to use neem oil on edibles to prevent pests?

Depends on what type of neem oil, if you go to neighbourhood shop and get the $2 neem oil where people use it for praying, I would say not safe. I use very pure neem oil which is for human consumption, about 100% concentration.

Neem oil is banned in certain countries for agriculture use. What I do is I will only harvest my vegetables 7 days after I spray neem oil because the vegetables tend to taste a bit bitter if I harvest within 7 days.Probably because of the residue.

This 7-day witholding period also applies to sulphur soap. I personally tested it.

  • How to grow lemon balm? They get brown quite easily.

Two ways to grow lemon balm, either from seed (will take a long time to sprout)  or cutting (can get the potted plant from NTUC Finest) .

If you plant lemon balm and the edge of leave gets brown, it’s usually because of too hot. Lemon balm doesn’t like afternoon sun, especially scorching sun. It will be good if you can shade the plant a bit. Morning sun is fine. 

Normally if you buy lemon balm from Cold Storage, the leaves might get brown the next day. So you have to consume them quickly. 

  • How to get eggplant plant to flower and fruit? I had one flower which then dropped off. If only one flower, how to (hand) pollinate?

Generally, if your environment is a bit windy, eggplant is quite hardy and you do not need to pollinate them. Same flower has female and male parts. If you are really concerned, take a brush, give it a circular moment then it will be pollinated.

If you only have one flower and it is not pollinated, it means it is not ready. If you want to encourage more flowering, switch to fertiliser with high P (good root system) and K (properly flower).

Don’t water too much. Plants think about reproduction when they feel like they are dying. Plants have this kind of survival instinct.

  • Is it ok to plant fresh seeds directly after using the veggies (capsicum and chillies)? Some say soak in salt water first. How long can seed last? Why some seeds float?

For capsicum and chilli, yes, you can sow the seeds directly. You only dry the seeds when you want to keep them, otherwise they turn moudly. Do not soak the seeds in salt water. Soak dried seeds in normal water overnight. If fresh seeds, you do not need to soak. 

Those floating seeds are the bad seeds, throw. Use those seeds that sink.

Tips: Why buy seeds from store? Normally, store bought seeds are hybrid. Such seeds tend to produce nicer looking fruits and faster (1st generation). However, if you collect the seeds from these hybrid seeds fruits, 2nd generation tends to produce offspring that looks different from their parents, sometimes a bit odd looking.

Besides that, not all capsicums can be grown in Singapore, if they are meant to be grown in cold country, those particular varieties won’t flower well or fruit in Singapore. In contrast, you get certain level of guarantee when you see “heat resistance” or “can grow in summer” on seed pack from reputable seed source.

  • Can I cut my tomatoes plant shorter. Will it survive?

Can. I assume your tomato plant is the indeterminate variety. Indeterminate tomato tends to grow very tall, about 1 – 2 m in our weather. With sun, they grow very fast. When my tomato reaches about 1 – 1.5m, I snap off the tip and I keep some of the suckers and let them grow. Suckers can also flower.  

Tomato is not a forever plant, after 9 months – 1 year, need to regrow.

  • Is HB101 safe for edibles? Need to dilute?

Check with the seller, ask them for ingredient list. Minimumly, it will tell you whether there is chemical. In the market, HB101 comes in two forms. One form is imported directly from Japan, small bottle and very concentrated. This one you need to dilute. 

Another form is is diluted version in a bigger bottle at a cheaper price. If you dilute further, it becomes useless.

To sum up, ask the seller:

  1. Do you have ingredient list?
  2. Is it all natural or is it a chemical composition?
  3. Can I spray in a hot day?
  4. Is there a witholding period that I can’t consume my edibles after I spray?
  • My biggest bugbear with my experience with edible plant gardening is controlling the pests that attack my plants. They range from powdery mildews to mealy bugs, white flies, aphids, caterpillars, and leaf miners. I have tried different kinds of commercial organic pesticides as well as sulphur soap and homemade fruit enzyme mixtures. It’s a constant battle that is very discouraging to me. What is your solution?

Being went through the whole journey, for organic farming, we can only mitigate pests and we cannot eliminate pests. If eliminate until zero pest, it’s not organic farming. For mitigation, it means you are able to control the pest population in such a way that it doesn’t eat all your lunch and you still have something to harvest.

  1. Your area must be sunny, pests like cooling environment
  2. Prune pest infested plants, bag and throw them (do not compost these infected leaves)
  3. If you can, mount a fan because that will help to improve ventilation
  4. When infested, check your plants everyday and use your organic pesticides on a daily basis. If you can’t do this everyday, minimumly, do it three times a week for two weeks. Remember to spray your organic pesticides early in the morning (it doesn’t burn your leaves and gives plants time to dry up – more pests will come if the leaves are wet, especially powdery mildew)
  5. Water in the morning, do root zone watering for herbs, don’t wet the leaves and this will cut down a lot of pests
  • My yellow watermelon plant grew one fruit but since the past one week, the fruit seemed to have stopped growing. It currently has a diameter of 3 cm. Some of the leaves are also turning yellow.  Why?

Look at the fruit. If the fruit turns yellow, it means that the pollination is not successful or the fruit has aborted because environment becomes not favourable to it. I need a photo of the whole plant, a photo of the fruit (close-up) and a photo of your soil (close-up). Then I will be able to tell you in more detailed.

  • Generally if leaves curled down or swivels – under water? Young leaves turn yellow – over watering?

Not necessary, I need to see the picture. Sometimes, young leaves turn yellow because it’s too dry. It really depends on the plant.

  • Youtuber uses eggshells in his soil. Does it really help? 

I crushed eggshells and buried into the soil before. Five years later, the eggshells were still there.

If you want to speed up the breakdown process, 1st way is to grind them, the smaller the faster, 2nd way is to heat them, 3rd way is to soak them in vinegar then give them a light wash and grind them. Thereafter you can apply directly into your soil. But the whole breakdown process from eggshells to calcium, t’s easily one year. If you can wait and don’t need immediate result, it’s ok.

Tips: Some people use eggshells to improve drainage, that works. Wash the eggshells properly so that you don’t attract the ants.

  • I started growing plants in a community garden. The soil in the community garden is always clayey. How can improve the soil so that I can grow starting vegetables like corn, yam and ginger?

If you want immediate resuits, you have to amend the soil. If you don’t amend the soil, you can’t start growing. 

Tilt and break up your soil, at least 20-25 cm, add compost (minimum 20%), put 50g of animal manure (goat/chicken poo) for every square meter, mix it all up, rest the soil a bit. 

Add some commercially available soil enzyme because soil enzyme helps you to break down the soil faster. Soil enzyme introduces microbes and microbes help to convert fertiliser to a form that plants can absorb. Water it and let it rest then you can start farming.

Start composting vegetables waste at the side.

Make sure you tilt enough so that the water drains. Corns need at least 35 cm depth, vegetables are ok with 15 – 20 cm depth. Yam is easy, tilt about 10cm and you can start growing. But don’t expect big yam. Ginger likes loose media such as cocopeat. i I put 50% cocopeat so that my ginger grows roots well. If your soil is clayey and water clogs, ginger will rot.

Tips: Do pipe composting. To learn how to do, watch this video

Tips: If you don’t like trellis, start with beans such as edamame or cowpea because bean crops can help to fix your soil. See 1st question above. If you are ok with trellis, try long bean or black bean.

  • Some of my soil has millipede, centipede and tiny triangle snails. How?

Let’s start with the soil you bought from somewhere. If the soil gets a bit wet, when you open up (air goes in), the eggs of millipede, centipede and cone snail hatch. If you want to kill those eggs, sun your soil.

Some people said pour hot water but I think in the long run, the soil become wet and more problems arise.

If you are referring to soil in your garden, please check if your garden is very damp or stuffy (no wind), if yes, pests will come.

How to get rid of cone snails? Cone snails are attracted by food. At 7 pm, get a slice of pineapple and put it in one corner of your garden (shady/cooling area). Remember skin up and flesh down. Next day before 7am (before sun is up), pick up the pineapple skin and you will see a lot of cone snails, throw. Once the sun is up, they will burow into soil. Do this for a few times.

Alternatively, take a walk at your garden in the early morning, spray a bit of water (cone snails like misty feeling), hand pick them and throw.

Centipede is poisonous. Be careful. Let it go, it won’t hide in your soil for long. It is carnivorous.

For milipede, you can cut it into two and compost it or you can pick it up using a tong and throw.

  • How to re-cycle soil for the edible plants?

You need to go through soil treatment. Tilt it, add in at least 20% of compost and 50g of animal poo (goat/chicken) per square meter. Mix it all up. If you can add soil microbes then better.

  • We were given some baby pandan leaves but they grow very slowly and the leaves are very small and quite yellow, how can they grow bigger? 

Pandan is a very slow starter. In the first month, they are very weak and you will see yellow leaves. Everything seems stagnant. It will take 1.5 – 2 months for them to establish. If you give them enough sun, they grow very fast. If not enough sun, they grow slightly slower.

If you see the yellow pandan leaves, give it a touch, as long as the center part is not rotting away, then it’s ok. Generally,  they are establishing themselves.

  • We have tried growing some parsley but always unsuccessful? What and how we do? 

I have different types of parsley. I find them difficult to sprout but easy to grow. Please send in pictures with the following information. I need to know whether you couldn’t sprout or grow. Where did you sprout them? Under what circumstances? What type of parsley were you trying to sprout? What type of seeds are you using?

  • We would like to grow kale also but how and where do we get or buy from?

Short cut to grow kale: go to Farm85 and get seedlings. It’s not expensive and you can grow the kales for months. Alternatively you can get good kale seeds from Ban Lee Huat or go online to buy. Kale is quite easy to grow in Singapore.

  • The spring onions that we grow are very thin and tiny and where can we get the seedlings or which one to buy?

You can either grow spring onions from seeds or shallots. Growing from shallots is faster (they sprout easily). Generally, the more sun you give, the stronger they look. If thin and tiny, I suspect you don’t have enough sun. They don’t need a lot of sun, shouldn’t be a problem.

Unless you grow from seeds, they take much longer time to grow fat (about 6 months to 9 months) and they need sun.They don’t have bulb to take the food.

Suggest get shallots from supermarket and sprout them first. Poke them into soil and see them grow. It’s very fast. Then you can try seeds growing and compare the difference.

  • Any reason some pandans have stronger fragrance?

Frankly, this puzzles me too. I have different types of pandan and although they are from the same parent plant, the smell varies. 

No 1: always get pandan from a parent plant that smells well. The other thing that I realised and experiened is if my pandan is under more sun, it has stronger smell . Pandan can grow under 2 hours of sun or full sun.

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