Garden-to-Stove: April

This month we grew 9.45 kg of vegetables in our 20m by 6m rooftop garden inching closer to our goal of 16 kg per month. According to a website (https://www.statista.com/statistics/1038183/per-capita-total-vegetable-consumption-singapore/), Singapore’s per capita consumption of vegetables was approximately 8.1 kg per month in 2018. This means that our garden is currently producing just enough to sustain one person completely.

Harvest statistics at a glance:

Serial No. Vegetable KG
1Bottlegourd4.20
2Pumpkin1.00
3Kangkong 0.80
4Bittergourd 0.35
5Pumpkin flowers 0.20
6Beans 0.30
7Basil 0.10
8Aloe Vera 2.00
9Ramie Nettle0.30
10Asian Herbs / Spices 0.20

This month I was invested in trying to grow gourds, a path which my grandma set me on after she mentioned briefly that gourds are very tasty and sweet when stir-fried with dried shrimp. In fact we were at the Far East Flora stretch of nurseries when I bought my first bottle gourd seeds, no doubt surprised (and little skeptical) that “ornamental” gourds could be eaten. The seeds took 2 weeks to sprout (which is a long time), but soon they were seedlings and big enough to be transplanted into the planter box.

Soon the bottle gourds started to flower, and fruits began dripping down from the vines like little pears. I diligently covered them with fruit nets to prevent fruit flies from laying eggs in the soft-skinned gourds and marvelled at how graceful the plant was, twirling higher and higher into the enclosure’s steel grid roof. Having calculated the production rate of the vine, I estimated that we would harvest 30 fruits from the 3 plants. As of today, we are half way into the fruiting cycle.

For a video on how to pollinate bottlegourds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bu3MyyR4o4I&t=4s

After 1 week of harvesting 2 gourds per day, we exhausted all methods of cooking them including stir-fried with dried shrimp, stir-fried with fermented bean paste, boiled with soup and fried with rice. We concluded that our favourite dish to make with these gourds are Chinese dumplings. I came up with the idea to add diced gourds into the filling because they were so firm, sweet and juicy. My mum and I spent Sunday morning harvesting the ingredients (1 cup of chives, 600 g of bottlegourd), seasoning the meats (pork and prawns) and kneading the dough. Then we had a dumpling pleating competition which she won by a significant margin.

But I did come out of it a better dumpling pleater and very full…

Another gourd which I harvested are the bitter gourds. I was never invested in growing my own bitter gourd (even when the fruits formed on the vines), because I didn’t find the taste particularly enjoyable. And all previous attempts at growing bitter gourd were failures as I either harvested too many leaves for our bitter gourd tea or never bothered to give them a trellis to climb on. This time, upon advice of my friend Olivia (The Tender Gardener: https://tendergardener.com) I ignored the plant, waved my pruners at it (threatening to cut it down to its roots if it didn’t fruit) and restricted the amount of leaves harvested. I was shocked to find female flowers appearing within 2 months of seeding the plant. We are still getting 1-2 female flowers each day and pollinating the same.

As mentioned, I was not particularly fond of bitter gourds until my mum cooked an amazing chicken and sliced bitter gourd dish which had us fighting over the plate at lunch. These are young harvested bitter gourds which do not have developed seeds so they are extra bitter. She soaked them in salt water before stir frying them with marinated chicken and alittle bit of fermented chilli bean paste. For the record, this is (and will for a long time be) my best experience with bitter gourd.

Another favourite of mine is kangkong. Its easy to grow from seeds, takes 20-30 days until harvest and you can keep picking from the plot. It also loves wet and damp soil, we’ve been getting lots of that with the recent thunderstorms. The benefit of growing your own kangkong is that they can be picked young when the stems are not fibrous or tough. Truthfully, we have not bought kangkong from the wet markets in ages, but I do see them around (in the stalls) and noticed that they look quite old.

Kangkong is considered an invasive weed to many who may find them growing in rivers and streams. They are known to harbour some types of worm species in their stems (the most infamous being a kind of parasitic worm), which is why some elderly are adverse to eating this vegetable. But if you grow them in soil under sanitary conditions and cook them well, you should have no fears over bugs.

My favourite way to fry this is with garlic, dried shrimp and balachan chilli. Works every time. Fry the stems first then add the leaves. and always use a well-seasoned wok.

The last plant of interest today are the pumpkins! Because I’ve chosen to grow only asian strains, I’ve had no issues with powdery mildew or yellowing / rusting of leaves. I’m very pleased with how the vines are doing (all 6 of them are putting out female flowers which I religiously pollinate at 6am every day). Whilst a majority of the pumpkins are still maturing on the vine, I’ve (accidentally) harvested 2 young pumpkins, and baskets full of male pumpkin flowers over the past month.

The young Thai Kang Kob pumpkins tasted like zucchini so I cooked them with olive oil and mixed in some pumpkin bits from our previous harvest (Ken’s special variety). The pumpkin flowers were dipped in an egg-flour-salt batter and fried to a crisp. I then topped them with Spanish needle and sweet melon flowers. I also used them in omelettes and curries. I was told that pumpkin flowers are a kind of “village food”. Suggesting that only farming/peasant households ate them, the corollary being that it was not a refined food. Of course this is total nonsense, given how these fried pumpkin flowers gift the tongue with mild nutty pumpkin goodness without the commitment of its heavy flesh. I simply cannot think of a better mid-morning snack.

April was a month of experimentation, I sowed many seeds from wonderful friends that have mailed them to me as a sign of solidarity (and empowerment by growing your own food). Much of the watering was done by the rain and every morning was a promise of modest harvest.

For my new followers who have joined my journey, welcome! and please refer to our ‘Menu‘ for the full list of our products. Delivery is $5 and starts after 12 May 2020.

Keep growing,

J.

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