Winter lasted a very long time by Hong Kong standards, but now really seems to have finished, with the warm weather coming fairly suddenly and having a very noticeable effect upon plant growth. For a long time many seeds either failed to germinate or were stopped in their tracks by the relatively cold weather. Our sweetcorn took six months to ripen instead of three, and I’m wondering if that’s why they are rather dry and chewy instead of juicy, although they still taste pretty good. We’ve not had a good year for tomatoes, either. We’ve had plenty of growth but very slow fruiting, and the fruit that we’ve got is mostly very small – mini-cherry tomatoes. Our celery was stationary for weeks, but is now growing really well, but again I wonder what the taste and texture is going to be like. However, our herbs are doing really well, with Italian parsley growing voluminously, and seemingly untouched by pests. Cuttings of rosemary are going like a train, and our basil, which is usually shrivelled up by flea mites (I think), is doing really well at the moment, as are oregano and chives. Dill and coriander were great, but now past their best.
Lettuce has been doing well, and our beans of various kinds are now putting on a sprint after a long slow struggle against the cold, but what is especially encouraging is the excellent condition and growth of our parsnips. You don’t see much of these in Hong Kong, and the only ones I’ve seen recently were between $25 and $50 each! So I’m hoping we will find a willing market for a vegetable that I know some people yearn for. We’re also growing turnips, which are not usually available here, and they are being stripped by flea mites, but they are surviving. I don’t know if anyone eats turnips these days, but I’ve never grown them, so I decided to give them a go. Same goes for the parsnips.
What we’re hoping will help everything along are our two colonies of bees, which have been extremely industrious now that the weather has warmed up. I’m sure they’ll help to pollinate our crops and give us a better harvest, and give us honey as a bonus. I spent time going through both hives today to try to identify different types of bees. It wasn’t until we got to the very last two frames that we found a queen, and then we immediately found another, so we’re expecting them to swarm very soon. We’ve hung up straw hats nearby with wax and lemongrass in them to try to attract the swarms so that we can catch them and put them in our two spare hives, but our mentor Mr Mok is not very optimistic about the bees falling for that one. I’m hoping to be able to get him to come and help us if we can keep track of the swarm, but if we lose them, then at least we’re contributing a good colony of bees to the wild, which can do no harm at a time when colony collapse disorder is wiping out so many bees. I have been told that the problem is not so serious in Asia, but considering how the Chinese abuse agricultural chemicals, I’m sure the problem will spread to these parts soon. In fact, I read in Damian Carrington’s blog in The Guardian that pear orchards in China are now being pollinated by hand because of the drop in the number of bees. That doesn’t augur well, although the problem there is habitat destruction due to modern farming methods.
However, I don’t actually want to lose half of my colony – or more, god forbid – as I’ve only just received them, and I’m an absolute beginner at bee keeping, which I’m finding to be quite a compelling pastime. With any luck I should be harvesting my first honey within a couple of weeks.