Lifestyle

Grow grapes, strawberries and wolfberries on your HDB balcony

Yes, it's possible. And they taste great, too
 

Photo: Zaphs Zhang

Even if they’re tinier than their supermarket counterparts, home-grown fruits and vegetables will still impress your neighbours. The best part? You don’t need green fingers to make it happen.

 

The Grape Grower

Home-grown grapes are smaller and softer than store-bought ones, but a nice balance of tart and sweet, says Alex Ng of SG Grapegrowers. You just need space to build a trellis (a frame to support creepers), as grapevines need to climb. Here’s how to get started:

1. Buy grape stem cuttings from any nursery (Alex gets his from a wholesaler called World Farm). Pick harder brown stems that are not too green or tender – you’ll have more success.

2. Trim the stems and poke them into damp garden soil. Keep them out of direct sunlight. Water daily, but don’t overwater – pour just enough so that the soil does not look or feel dry. 

3. When new shoots and leaves are visible, you’ll know the plant has grown roots. Transplant each stem into its own pot, and place them where they’ll get a few hours of direct sunlight every day. 

 


Photo: Zaphs Zhang

4. As the plant grows, build a thin wooden frame that the vine can climb. Alex pokes a few vertical bamboo sticks in each of his pots and ties them to horizontal bamboo sticks to form a grid. You can also hang netting from ceiling hooks. 

5. Grapevines take at least six months to flower, and another three months until the fruit is ready for harvesting. Harvest only when the grape skin darkens from bright green to a purplish maroon.

ALSO READ: 12 red and white wines for your next house party
 

The Strawberry Whisperers

Victoria Ho and her daughter Summer Fong, founders of the SG Strawberries blog, say that home-grown strawberries get as large as the tip of your finger, and taste sweet. Make it happen:

Photo: Victoria Ho

1. Do it in August, when the weather gets cooler. 

2. Put several seeds (you can get them from any nursery) into a sealed container filled with water and freeze for at least 12 hours. The cold temperature tricks the seeds into germinating despite our hot weather. Thaw them only when you want to plant them. 

3. Poke holes in the bottoms of several small plastic or styrofoam containers and fill them with damp soil. Place the seeds on the surface of the soil, but don’t bury them. 

4. Put the containers on a windowsill or table in an area with bright morning sun. The seeds do not need air-conditioning, but the roots must be kept cool. A nifty trick: Tilt the containers towards the sun so the top of the soil gets the heat, but the bottom stays cool. 

5. Don’t water the seeds in the conventional way, because you could drown them. Instead, place the container of seeds into a shallow tray filled with water for several minutes, so that the soil absorbs only the amount it needs. After that, remove the tray and put the seed container back in its original position. 

Photo: Victoria Ho

6. The seeds should germinate in about five to six days – you’ll know this is happening when you see a hint of a stem and some leaves. 

7. Transfer each plant to an individual container and place them along your windowsill, or hang them on the window grilles in a sunny spot. 

8. In about five to six months, the stems will turn a vibrant red. That means they’re ready to flower. 

9. The fruiting process will take another month before the strawberries are ready to be harvested.

ALSO READ: How to grow your own herb garden at home

 

Wolfberry plants: for fruitgrowing noobs

Photo: Victoria Ho

They’re low-maintenance and droughthardy – which means that even if you occasionally forget to water them, they’ll live to tell the tale.

1. You can grow goji berries or wolfberries from wolfberry vegetable stalks (ask for kau kee at the market). Trim the tip of each stem and strip away the leaves. 

2. Place the stem in water. Wait about 11 to 14 days for roots to emerge and new leaves to appear. 

3. Transplant each stem into a large and deep pot to accommodate the plant’s long roots.

4. Water daily and cut the tips of the stems as they start to grow taller. This will cause the stem to branch. Prune the stems regularly to encourage more branches to grow. 

5. After about 10 months, stop pruning and let the stems mature and turn woody. 

6. Once the plant flowers, it takes another five months or so to fruit, and for the green berries to turn red.

 

This article was originally published in the November 2017 issue of Her World magazine.

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