A GROUP of keen gardeners, under the Sarawak Agricultural Veterans Association (SAVA), would often explore new crops for trials – the outcome of which could be successful, or could be a failure, owing to the different parameters required for growing them here in the warm, wet and tropical soil.
Recently, I was alerted by two incidents.
First, my son Andy who had grown a capsicum plant from seeds purchased in the wet market. He used a flower pot to grow the seeds in the compost soil that I gave him earlier. It was a surprise success after two months. The plant had been fertilised using NPK droplets, giving it a vigorous growth of flowers to set few fruits.
These so-called green peppers are not only a lovely sight, but they also provide a source of pleasure for my son’s young toddler.
Another incident came from a SAVA ‘Urban Gardening’ friend who posted a feature on growing the capsicum successfully in home garden. It is a normal cool-climate fruit crop that we can see being grown in Cameron Highlands. Another request was the treatment for her sick chilli plant. Growing chillies is no small job when we face the environmental change or turmoil that can spoil the whole market trend. The weather instability still prevails, making it necessary to use rain-shelter; greenhouse is ideal where sunlight is constantly available, but not the rainwater that can spoil the seedlings and young plants easily.
Too much rain can ruin production
Talking of prices of vegetables, we all know that they have shot up during every ‘landas’ (monsoon) season.
Despite the use of rain shelters and net houses for growing, the soil is just too wet in that the seedlings would just rot in the beds.
The growing of papaya is so difficult when the ground is wet because papaya does not have any woody stem or roots – only tissues, which can be spoilt by water-logging and poor drainage.
Chillies also suffer heavily during the wet weather, as less sunshine would result in the plant not growing flowers and bearing fruits. Chillies have multiple pest problems like the leaf-wrinkling virus and attacks from insects.
This is exactly the reason for the price spikes now.
Tackling problems related to weather
Today, we have found a trend for relieving the problem of excessive rain or pests in the agriculture system by building rain-shelters – with plastic rainproof covering, it is able to prevent too much water from ‘drowning’ the vegetables.
Net houses help reduce the impact from rain on the tender vegetables, but the situation is still bad in view of the wet ground for planting.
The best that we can do is growing some plants in portable pots or trays like micro-greens for the short term, and not expose them out too much in the open rainfall areas.
Flowers are less problematic when it comes to pot-planting, but we still need to ensure good drainage and protection against damage due to flooding too.
Today, we must learn to use good medium with compost and soil mix for planting. New farms use fertigation and smart-farming. They are making good progress through good knowledge of scientific and computer-guided understanding on the weather, nutrition and seeds.
By using river sands, cocopeat compost and organic fertilisers like goat droppings for tender vegetables like capsicum and asparagus; otherwise, temperate-climate vegetables are difficult to plant here under the tropical weather.
How to plant capsicum successfully?
This is exactly the case where we can try, for now, the home gardening like my son Andy has done over the last three months – he has been enjoying green capsicum for dinner since.
He used the seeds taken from the fresh fruit (the Cameron variety) bought from the market. After washing and drying, he planted them in a porcelain flower pot, in which the seedlings had risen slowly.
He placed the pot on the veranda and added some fertilisers, but more water every two days until the plant bore flowers and after that, some fruits.
This reminded me the capsicum growing on Cameron Highlands, stalks were used to support the plants, which grew up to four feet tall.
The growing guides from ‘Tui Gardening’ experts comprise five steps of planting capsicum successfully:
1. Choose a warm and sunny site in the garden where it is not shaded for ground planting. Be reminded that the climate is naturally suitable for the cultivation where the summer temperature only gets around 28 degrees. It would be ideal to use 10-inch to 12-inch proclaim pots for pot-planting for fuss-free relocations. Plant it under lots of shade, not exposing it to sunlight for the whole day, except in the morning. It is important for the plant to not be exposed to heavy rain – if it does rain a lot, a rain-sheltered site is needed.
2. Prepare soil with organic matter and compost with chicken pellets. Remember – our soil is acidic; thus, adding dolomite or lime to reduce the pH level to 6 is good for growing capsicum. *Note: The New Zealand soil is very fertile with low pH.
3. Adding a layer of vegetative mix for planting. For this, we can use a layer of cocopeat to preserve the moisture and prevent overheating over the top layer of the medium.
4. ‘Feed’ the plant regularly and add water to keep the soil moist throughout the growing season. We can use organic fertiliser-processed chicken dump pellets, black Japanese ‘amina’ brand pellets as fertiliser.
5. The plant needs support to prevent it from breaking off in wind-prone locations; use bamboo strips or wooden stalks to provide support.
Capsicum is a popular ingredient in a mixed vegetable dish. Now, it has several beautiful colourful varieties – yellow, golden yellow, bright red and green mainly.
Most varieties start off as being green, and then the colour would turn into red, purple, yellow or orange as they ripen – there is even a black variety.
The growth takes about three months – one must take great care to ensure that the plant would not ‘get sick’ due to the mealy bugs or aphids, as the tender foliage is highly conductive to accommodating these pests.
Overseas, the popular varieties are ‘Target’, ‘Sweet Banana’, ‘Sweet Conical’, ‘Midas’, ‘Chocolate Beauty’, ‘Purple Beauty’ and ‘California Wonder’.
Pricing is definitely not cheap for this beautiful fruit – even at RM4 to RM5, it is still too expensive for most housewives.
Thus, it is worth the effort to venture into planting capsicum now.
All keen gardeners can now train your ‘green fingers’ and be happy to see the wonderful result soon.