page contents The Little Bonsai: March 2017

Growing and Caring for Bonsai Trees

Growing and Caring for Bonsai Trees

Growing Hot Chilli Peppers in a Cold Climate

Chilli is a must have in every kitchen around the world. Its really hard to imagine my life without chillies. If anybody reading this has actually tasted my cooking, you will know how important chillies are to my daily routine. Most of the meals I have cooked without chillies are fairly disgusting, with the possible exception of cheese on toast, although this too is normally served with a generous quantity of chilli powder. It is therefore essential to me personally to have a reliable source of chillies, especially after the impending apocalypse and the only way to ensure the uninterrupted continuity of supply is to learn how to grow them myself. It's now the beginning of April and the chilli planting season has started. Now is the time to act, so I bought myself some seeds and equipment and wrote myself a comprehensive set of instructions.

The main key to growing hot chillies in cold climates is apparently temperature and humidity. Chillies hate the cold! 'The hotter the chilli, the more temperature dependant it is and the longer it will take for the seeds to germinate and the plant to grow to harvest time'. I also want to say thanks to everybody who has contributed to this project in the comments section below. It has been a real collaborative effort!

So, after some very extensive scientific research, here are my complete results:

The seeds can be sown in a good quality compost in multi cell trays and germinated in a warm place. Sometimes, especially with the hotter varieties, germination can take up to 4 weeks and so investing in a temperature controlled propagator unit might be a good idea. The ideal temperature is between 27 and 32 degrees C and it is important that this temperature does not fluctuate too much. The total possible temperature range is from 21 to 38 degrees C although germination may be more erratic.

The plants need good drainage and hate to be stood in water, so make sure your compost is of the free draining type, if possible. Sand can be mixed in if the compost is too hydrophilic.
Propagators - These vary in sophistication from the basic 8 watt system to the fully controlled 50 w delux versions. I myself chose a 20 w unit with no temperature control as it was cheap. I used a programmable timer to regulate the temperature and covered it with some insulation to keep the heat in. The instructions with the unit do say not to do this, but I don't see why not? The timer was programmed to come on for 40 minutes and then go off for 20 minutes as this kept the soil at a constant 28 degrees C quite nicely. Other options include using a digital water bed heater or a heated floor in your bathroom or an airing cupboard.

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Use a digital thermometer to check the temperature stays within the correct range. Put the probe into the soil close to one of the actual seeds to get the best reading.

Seeds can be planted in January through to the end of March and the fruit will take between 80 and 180 days to ripen, depending on the seed variety. Soak the seeds over night in diluted feed solution or for 2 hours in potassium nitrate solution (0.33g per litre) to reduce germination times by up to 50%, and then plant the seeds 5 mm deep. For saved seed, see below.

Water thoroughly with warm water whenever the top of the compost is beginning to look dry, being very careful not to over water. Cold water may 'shock' the seedlings and delay growth.
Check the seed trays every few days or so for dryness and signs of germination. Once the seedlings have emerged they will need to have light so move them onto a window sill or somewhere warm and light. A glasshouse may be too cold at night time to begin with, so in the house may be better.

As the plants grow, they will need potting on so as not to overcrowd the roots. They can also be fed
with liquid food suitable for tomatoes, especially if the leaves start to look a bit pale in colour. The maximum temperature should be 36 degrees C and the plants do enjoy high humidity. The minimum temperature is 16 degrees C so think carefully where the plants should be kept, especially with regards to night time temperatures. In cold climates it's generally going to be a glasshouse, poly tunnel or conservatory and it may even need to be heated/insulated during the night time.
The plants can be planted through aluminium foil so that light is reflected back off the top of the soil back onto the underside of the leaves. This can also reduce pests as they can no longer hide from the sunlight underneath leaves any more.

For the fruit to form, the flowers will need to be pollinated either naturally by insects or by hand using an artist's paint brush and the flowers may fall off prematurely if the plants get too cold. Use the paint brush between noon and 3 pm for best results.

The flowers will eventually fall off naturally and the fruit will then grow and can be harvested when they are filled out and become firm crisp and glossy. Pick one fruit to begin with and test it for heat and flavour. Remember, some of the varieties are EXTREMELY HOT! If you do want to maximise the heat of your chillies, stop watering the plants so much when the fruit has formed and if you want to maximise the flavour, keep on watering as normal.

Chillies are ready for harvesting when the pods come away nice and easily from the stalks. Also, upon inspection inside the pods, the seeds should be well developed ie the same size as they were when the originals were planted.

The harvested fruit can be stored very effectively in the freezer and most of the plants themselves can be treated as perennials, with some pruning needed in the Winter season. Dig the plants up, put them in pots and move them to somewhere warm and sunny and free from frost. Next season they will grow back stronger with an earlier and more abundant harvest.

If you are growing one single variety of chilli, then save some of the seeds from your chillies for growing next year's plants. F1 hybrids can not be saved, but normal open pollinated varieties work well. Gently dry the seeds just enough to stop them going mouldy and put them in a paper bag or envelope and store them in a dark cool place away from mice. If you do have more than one variety in the same location you will get cross pollination, which will produce a new plant with unknown properties. When you come to use the seeds, wash them for 30 seconds in diluted detergent to remove the waxy natural germination inhibitor, then rinse and soak in water for 2 hours before planting. Some commercially bought seed may also need washing.

Chilli plants may not always flower in the first year, especially the hotter varieties, but can be over wintered in a frost free conservatory or glasshouse to get a head start in the next season. The plants should be pruned back hard and watered every now and again dependent on ambient temperatures
If you live where there is a lot of wind staking plants is a must but also helps those plants that have large fruit and/or are heavy producers.

The five principles of natural farming - 自然農法の原則

Here is something interesting for all of you guys, a Tsunami of information to cure or at least to reduce some of our ignorance is often necessary; we don’t need millions of dollars in equipment to run a farm nor thousands of dollars to build our own Eden on earth. Before we start explaining about natural farming, its important to understand and start with Permaculture. You will soon realize there is a connection between the two! Permaculture was created in the 1970's by Bill Mollison, an Australian ecologist and University of Tasmania professor. He had spent many years out in nature as a wildlife biologist observing how natural systems work and became very distressed at the destruction that he saw going on around him. He decided that instead of being angry about what was happening and reacting against the destruction he wanted to work on creating a positive solution And he thought the solution would be living based on the patterns he had observed in nature.

By observing nature, Mollison came up with several important insights. He observed that natural
Natural Chicken Poop Smell Remover
systems, such as forests and wetlands, are sustainable. They provide for their own energy needs and recycle their own wastes. He also observed that all the different parts of a natural ecosystem work together. Each component of the system performs important tasks. For example, bees help to pollinate, birds provide pest control, certain plants pull nitrogen out of the air and fix it into a form that other plants can use. So everything does useful work. He applied these and other insights to design and create sustainable agricultural systems.

In the 1970's he and his student David Holmgren wrote and published some books explaining his ideas. In the 1980s he published his design manual and started teaching permaculture design courses to spread his ideas around the world. By the 1990s permaculture had started spreading throughout the US, although it's more well-known in other countries around the world. To this day, it's continuing to grow as a global grassroots movement and people primarily learn about it through permaculture design courses and workshops that generally happen outside of academia.

Natural Farming recognizes that farmers and gardeners must first attend to nature so that they may then learn how to tend. This gentle practice turns farming from the science it has become in the West into a craft; where this craft is a focused understanding of the primacy of nature.

Temperate Natural Farming proceeds from simplification applying the ‘do-nothing’ approach from deep observation through opening ourselves to nature, which is the work of a lifetime. Curiously, as we progress along the path of Natural Farming there comes the realization this is not agriculture at all because it wants to go nowhere and seek no victory and, ultimately, it is not about the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.

A simple farmer still ahead of his time
Natural Farming is truly inspired by Masanobu Fukuoka’s practices, in 1975 he wrote a book called The One Straw Revolution that described his journey, his philosophy, and farming techniques. The One-Straw Revolution, in short, was Fukuoka’s plea for man to reexamine his relationship with nature in its entirety. In his most utopian vision all people would be farmers. If each family in Japan were allotted 1.25 acres of arable land and practiced natural farming, not only could each farmer support his family, he wrote, but each "would also have plenty of time for leisure and social activities within the village community. I think," he added, "this is the most direct path toward making this country a happy, pleasant land."

I would highly recommend buying and reading it again and again, because it tells so much facts and common sense of agricultural practices. In other words, its idiot proof to learn the basics of Natural Farming makes it really easy.

There are five principles to Natural Farming;

  1. No ploughing – because it destroys the cycles of life in the soil, 
  2. No fertilisers – because they deplete the land from which they are taken and disrupt the balance of the soils on which they are used, 
  3. No pesticides – because there are no ‘pests’, 
  4. No weeding – because there are no ‘weeds’, 
  5. No pruning – because a tree left undisturbed knows far better how to grow.
Natural farming is founded on the laws of nature. It assumes that all that is needed to successfully produce crops can be found in the natural environment. Engaging in natural farming, therefore, is a desirable venture. I don't have the opportunity to make use of these practices in Singapore, but I have to be patient. Good things come to those who wait!

Coffee Grounds as Fertilizer for your Veggies

Fertilizer can be a big expense, but it doesn't have to be. Used coffee grounds and eggshells are free and provide much-needed nutrients to the soil. By using these items in the garden, not only are plants getting the nourishment they need, but these items will not be taking up space in a landfill. Storing coffee grounds and eggshells in a countertop composter, plastic container or plastic bag will prevent them from attracting bugs while you collect enough to use in the garden. It is important while collecting eggshells and coffee grounds that the soil remains dry and not humid to prevent unnecessary molds. Make sure that what you collect does not rot in the bags or container. I like to start collecting coffee grounds in autumn and winter. It's actually not really important when you start to collect coffee grounds, autumn and winter is just my personal preference. The quality of the coffee is not really important as all coffee's have a fertilizing effect. I would go for the cheap coffee grounds if you intend to spend money on fertilizers.

Direct Application of Coffee Grounds

Coffee grounds are an excellent free source of nitrogen, an element all plants need. A common misconception about coffee grounds as a fertilizer is that it may cause problems because of high acidity. But coffee grounds are close to neutral, with a pH between 6.5 and 6.8, making them a good choice for all plants. Each type of plant will prefer a different amount of coffee, so start small by adding 1 tablespoon of coffee grounds around each plant, lightly working it into the soil once a week. Observe how your plants react and add more each week until they stop showing signs of improvement.

Composted Coffee Grounds

Composted coffee grounds are probably the best, as they provide a good source of nitrogen and mildly acidic soil. However, if you don't want to get involved in composting, I think you'll be fine putting coffee grounds directly in the soil and mixing it slightly. It probably might take a little longer to break down on its own, but it'll be ok. Coffee "tea" is also one way of doing it, but I think it's more of a diluted one-time fertilizer drink for the plant.

You don't get the same benefit as having the coffee grounds in the soil, which dissolve a little bit of nutrients each day and encourage growth of microbes. Coffee grounds are great for plants that like slightly acidic soil like tomatoes and blueberries.Coffee grounds can be used in compost like other kitchen scraps. Paper filters can be composted as well, making coffee composting as easy as throwing it in the garbage. Combine equal parts grounds, grass clippings and dry leaves to create simple and effective compost. Combine all ingredients and turn the compost over with a pitchfork once a week. Depending on the outdoor temperature, the compost should be ready to add to the garden in a few weeks.

Eggshell Tea

Eggshells are rich calcium. Without the proper amount of calcium in the soil, plants may produce deformed blooms. You may be buying lime to prevent this problem, but eggshells are just as effective. Store eggshells in a large container of water, adding more shells as you go. Let the mixture steep for at least a few days or up to several weeks. Combine 1 cup eggshell tea to 1 gallon of water and thoroughly water plants. Up to 1 gallon of the mixture can be used per plant. The added calcium will give plants a much-needed boost through production season.

Powdered Eggshells

Powdered eggshells can be added around the base of plants as a slow-release fertilizer. This process will benefit plants all season, and you can add it throughout the growing season. Allow eggshells to dry, then pulse in a blender until they become a fine powder. Sprinkle around the base of each plant.