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Nepenthes Ampullaria pitcher plants

Unboxing nepenthes ampullaria

My Nepenthes Ampullaria pitcher plants arrived today. These are seed grown plants. And there were surprises. Some good, some… not.

The two plants I purchased arrived somewhat haphazardly packed. But there were lots of pitchers. Someone had put in a lot of effort and time growing them from seed.

Unboxing nepenthes ampullaria
The plants were sent in plastic bags with an inexplicable piece of wood added – for support? Can’t say. Didn’t appear to be supporting anything.

There were loads of extra plantlets. All apparently seed grown. And completely mixed up in the sphagnum moss they shipped with. It almost seemed like someone simply got rid of all the nepenthes ampullaria they had. Packed the two plants sold, then just collected the seedling pot and bundled it up as an extra – grown seedlings and newly germinating seedlings all mixed up in the sphagnum potting mix. Summarily evicted. Broke my heart to see it. The seller wasn’t selling anything else at all after I purchased these. I wonder if this was an end of hobby clearance sale. Plants grown from seed take ages to get as robust as the two I had purchased. And yet the manner in which they were packed almost reminded one of a trash bag.

Nepenthes ampullaria plants mixed up in sphagnum moss
Nepenthes ampullaria plants mixed up in sphagnum moss. You can’t see it in the photo, but the sphagnum moss contains lots of seeds, plantlets, germinating seedlings and such – nepenthes ampullaria in various stages of growth from seed.

Heartbreaking doesn’t begin to describe this. The plants were completely bruised and in some cases, just…. overwhelmed and wilting, broken, or rotting. What a contrast it was to the Nepenthes Ventrata and Mirabilis that had just arrived on the previous day, lovingly shipped in their pots in live sphagnum. Seedlings such as this one were all through the moss. Most of them broken, unlikely to survive. A joyous unpacking of new plants had rapidly turned into a search and rescue mission. I carefully pulled out as many as I could, but I could see that it was hopeless. They were too fragile for this kind of treatment.

Nepenthes ampullaria seedling rescued from sphagnum moss packing
Nepenthes ampullaria seedling rescued from sphagnum moss packing

And there were a couple of sundews as well! Completely smothered in the sphagnum and a sticky mess.

I potted them up as best as I could, knowing fully that the seedlings would most likely not make it. One larger plant perhaps may. Remains to be seen. I’ve given it a nice pot and will pamper it a bit. This is what the growing area looks like now.

rescued nepenthes plants
The rescued nepenthes plants settled in a well lit but shady area of balcony, to rest and recover from their trauma.


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Starting to grow carnivorous plants again

Nepenthes Ventrata and Nepenthes Mirabilis pitcher plants hanging in shady spot to rest after travel

So 2016 had been a pain. With my father ill for the first three months, then dying, Nisarga going through three surgeries and spending five months out of it in a cast in total, personal stress…. my carnivorous plants got neglected and died at some point. For that matter, my balcony too was mostly barren and pests on the few plants that remained. I decided to begin 2017 on a fresh note for my balcony farming as well as carnivorous plant growing. And the start is looking promising. I will be posting updates, but for now, here are some images of my first nepenthes plants to kick things off.

I confess, sick of my barren balconies, I went on something of a spree. These Nepenthes are the first to arrive.

Nepenthes are commonly called pitcher plants and grow in humid, tropical climates. They are broadly divided into highland and lowland nepenthes, depending on the altitude at which they grow. I’m mostly buying lowland nepenthes, given that Nalasopara (near Mumbai) is hardly any elevation from the sea.

All in all

Nepenthes mirabilis and Nepenthes Ventrata
Nepenthes Mirabilis and Nepenthes Ventrata soon after unboxing.

All in all, they were pretty well packed and traveled well. The Nepenthes Mirabilis is the one on the left. Its leaves look a bit worrisome with the dark spots and overall unhealthy look. The Nepenthes Ventrata is the one on the right. It seems just fine – at least to my inexperienced eye.


unhealthy nepenthes mirabilis
Unhealthy Nepenthes Mirabilis pitcher plant showing damage from travel.

I sent the pictures of the Nepenthes Mirabilis to the seller, and he assures me that it is just dampness and travel stress and that he will replace the plant for me at no cost if it does not recover. I am supposed to keep the plants in a shady location for a while and give them some humidity to keep them happy. I have just misted them before taking these photos.

The Nepenthes Ventrata seems to be doing fine. The water in the pitcher had spilled during travel, so I put very little distilled water inside it. All my reading indicates that this may or may not be useful and there is nothing conclusive about it, but I figured that if the plant likes humidity, having a dry pitcher may not exactly be fun after travel stress. Don’t we head for a glass of water on returning home tired? So I gave it some :p

nepenthes ventrata pitcher
Pitcher on Nepenthes Ventrata pitcher plant had lost water in shipping. I put very little distilled water into it to help it settle. I have no idea if it helps.

The pitcher itself looks fine, though many have said that it is common for a nepenthes to lose all the pitchers that it shipped with as it acclimatizes to a new location. I do hope it doesn’t lose this one. On the other hand, it is a good measure of how well the plant is doing, I guess. If this pitcher doesn’t die and the other one just forming forms normally and opens, I suppose I can say all is well.

So, fingers crossed. Hope the rest of the plants arrive safely and thrive here as well.

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Some notes on cold process soap making and some effects

I have learned a lot from videos, articles, tools and tutorials online, when it comes to soap making. Thought I’d pay it forward with some of my own learnings. Please note, this has nothing to do with “how to make soap” type introductory tutorials. This will be useful to you only if you already know how to make soap. And well enough to break rules without going into a panic. If you haven’t made soap before, this post is no use to you beyond curiosity. :p

Neem oil speeds up trace. Adding vanilla is almost instant sieze. How to swirl this?

Found this one out through sheer stubborn. You swirl it with a whisk. Turn the whisk into the soap like a chopstick swirl, but turning whisk as well. You put whisk in, you’ll figure it out instinctively. Pretty much the only way it will work without getting into puree zone. It breaks up rather than flows. Turn it anyway. Then bang down hard to remove as much air as you can. If need be, press down with a spatula. I don’t have a photo of this at the moment (since I found other ways to make a prettier neem soap), but it provides something of a chequered effect in an embed-like circular area in the soap, which looks quite nice (this shape/effect will vary). If the soap is softer, it can provide small rounded circles in that area instead of sharper corners. Either way, it isn’t as much of a disaster as I had imagined.

Curing cold process soaps fast

My soaps don’t zap within the first day or two of making, but for them to harden properly, etc is another story. This is why I have so much coconut oil in my recipes. Coconut oil, palm stearin, palm oil and neem oil. Get ready quite rapidly. Particularly recipes high in coconut oil. I usually don’t see much difference in them beyond a week or so after making. Dry weather helps. Warm weather helps (also encourages a good gel phase). Another thing I recommend with some caution is a water discount. Using less water reduces curing time, in my experience. However, using less water will also make your lye solution stronger, more likely to cause burns faster. It will also result in a faster trace – particularly if you use oils in which are in a hurry (which of course, you do, if you’re in a hurry :p ). Trick then is to ditch the blender and use a whisk or spatula and a great deal of diligence. Please note, it is better to have a sieze and hot process the whole mess than to fail to achieve trace (or at the very least a stable emulsion that won’t separate). This takes more effort without a blender, but frankly, a water discount and fast tracing oils are in a hurry to trace anyway, so it isn’t very terrible, like say… olive oil. I am able to ship such soaps without risking damage (to soap or skin) about a week or so after making when weather is dry. Do note, an additional time goes in shipping before the soap gets put to use.

Creating a frosted effect

rose frost effect soap
Rose frost (The colors are far more subtle in the soap than this photo – my camera insists on adding saturation)

Using 10% or so palm stearin in a recipe superfatted at least 8% and having the lye slightly cooler than the oil. It creates a slight graininess that we usually associate with a false trace and the soap traces super fast (feel free to use a touch more water). But be certain to bring it to trace proper. By then, the graininess goes down a bit (or becomes less visible in a thick trace), but you can bring it back to varying degrees of visibility with some experiments with coloring. It appears as white dots in a colored soap – plain ugly in strong colors, but a faintly ethereal/frosted kind of look in pale colors. The white dots are where the palm stearin solidifies/saponifies in a hurry because the lye is slightly cooler. The soap is skin safe. Done over and over. Every time, as long as the superfat is above 8% in practice, but I’d say aim for 10% till you are comfortable with this. Better safe than sorry. Areas to pay attention – mix, mix, mix very fast when you are adding lye slowly – you want tiny grains not huge blobs – or you won’t get them small before thick trace (don’t ask how I know)

A grunge type look

Grunge look lemon soap
Grunge look lemon soap

This is actually very easy. Slow tracing oils in a high superfat recipe – 5-8% or more brought to light trace and colored heavily with herbal colorants (this here is a lot of red sandalwood powder). Swirl thick colored emulsion as usual into a pretty liquid mix (more liquid than you’d usually use for swirling). And then jostle it a bit. Not shaking. More like slight sloshing from picking it and putting it elsewhere – a few times. If in doubt, better pick it and put it in another place a few times than shake too much – you’ll lose the swirls – everything is too liquid. Then let it set. The mistake I did with this was unmolding it too early. Should have waited another day. The slight smudged lines are from the cutting. They will vanish in use though the blurred/faded look will remain. Sodium lactate may improve the setting and unmolding situation a bit, but really, waiting was what it had needed and I didn’t give in my impatience. It could probably be done with more coconut and ditching the blender to get to the faintest hint of trace and a little more jostling before it sets – will probably lead to a happier unmolding experience. Will try and update.

Please note, this will not work with any colorant that will form a paste that holds together – clays will fail. Turmeric will work only barely and saturated. Micas will probably fail too. Don’t think liquid colors will work either. You want the grains of the colorant to get jostled out of place a bit. Sort of like bleeding, but with particles of the colorant. Herbal powders only, I think.

How to use hydrosols for fragrance in cold process soap

Dissolving lye in hydrosols reduces the scent to the point that by the time the cold process soap is ready, it is almost unscented. I have learned to do the obvious. A water discount (as little as 1.5 times the lye), bringing to trace pretty fast, and then adding hydrosol to make up the remaining water quantity after trace. Mix, mix, mix. Can be tricky with oils that trace fast, but for the most part, I have got good results. Sometimes you have to hurry. But the scent remains in place well enough for the soap to be properly scented without needing oil. I have found that I can add hydrosol upto the weight of the lye with some honest mixing properly back to a thick trace. More than that, and sometimes I have glycerin seeping. Clays help – both in preventing glycerin seepage as well as holding the hydrosol fragrance better. So I often mix clays in hydrosol and use for coloring the soap made with a water discount. Protects the hydrosol better than otherwise.

Shades of turmeric

Turmeric is yellow in color, but it becomes red in the presence of an alkali. I found that I can use this to advantage. Adding turmeric to lye will give a brick red, adding it to traced soap gives a bright orange-red, adding it to oil before adding it to traced soap (or adding it into oil phase) gives a more yellowy orange (oil probably forms a slight barrier from contact with the lye). Amount of turmeric can further play this into the range of reds, peaches, browns, etc. Oils used for the recipe can be used to enhance this. A peach type color can be created with turmeric in a pure coconut oil base, a more yellowy one with infusion of calendula or with sesame oil in the mix. But I am not yet expert at this, so results can be a bit hit or miss. Still experimenting.

Using indigo

Powdered indigo leaf can give muddy green speckles. This can be fixed by adding it to the lye phase if you’re making a blue soap, but if you aren’t and indigo has to be just one of the colors? I do this a bit ad-hoc, but hasn’t failed yet. Make a solution of indigo in water I eyeball it approximately to 3-5 spoons of water per spoon of powder (mostly because a more liquid colorant allows me to increase color more gradually than concentrated). Add sodium hydroxide in a tiny quantity – probably the weight of the powder (not volume) or slightly less. You don’t need a lot. The sodium hydroxide dissolves the leaf powder, leaving the dye behind (this may need to be done a couple of hours in advance). Using this solution to color gives an even blue. I have not found it to be particularly caustic (and I have a Ph meter), but if you think you used any significant amount of caustic soda, feel free to add a spoonful of oil for every spoonful of the colorant. It will ensure that the color doesn’t make the soap caustic. Though frankly, if you’ve used so much sodium hydroxide for this to be a concern, you’re probably better off mixing a small batch of soap separately for the blue.

Swirling two (or more) soaps instead of using colorants

I don’t do this too often, but sometimes I have these whims. Pure coconut oil is white, sesame seed oil is yellowish beige, olive oil is greenish, neem is all kinds of beige-brown depending on concentration, etc. And then the infused oils (which I don’t bother with – can use them as colorants directly :p ). Not all colors, but some can be done like this. Also handy if you want to really use indigo to the hilt – it thrives in the lye best. Keep everything ready, respective lye solutions near their intended base oils, etc. probably add fragrance oil to the base oils and then mix, pour, mix, pour, mix, pour, done. It takes a bit of preparation, but the doing itself is not actually difficult. You just have two or more soaps in your soap 😉 Most of the times this really comes in handy is to get a good white – nothing beats coconut on this, in my humble opinion, not even titanium dioxide if your oils don’t want to be white like coconut does. So sometimes, it is just easier to mix a small batch of coconut or coconut, rice bran, castor oil and palm and titanium dioxide or whatever whites for accents on the side and not worry about the rest of your recipe wrecking that with whatever oils and infusions you have planned. Takes planning. Not something you can do after reaching trace on main batch and getting a whim for a proper white. Would probably come in handy if you wanted to add a special oil that soaps soft and you don’t want your whole bar soft. Swirl it into what will be a firm bar 😉


Clearly, I am a bit on the crazy side, and color a lot outside dotted lines. Sometimes I warp a process out of recognition (what do you call a cold process thin traced soap thinned back with hydrosol or a hot process soap that gets colored like a cold process in the applesauce stage instead of proceeding to cook?). I experiment a lot, fail some too. As long as it ends with good usable soap, all is good, or there is the hot process batch or a Jumla soap. Thankfully, things haven’t reached those stages too often. Do let me know if you find this useful. Add your ideas too. And I will update if I have anything new to add. As in, new discoveries of my own. General soap making instructions and such, better people than me have done in better ways, many times over.


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Introducing the Jumla soap

trick soap

What started off as a joke seems to have taken on a life of its own, due to… circumstances. Introducing Jumla soaps. A “jumla” is colloquial slang for “tactic”. The term, popularized by the President of the prominent political party in India has come to mean an attractive offer that lacks substance. Well, it is time for me to sell some jumlas.

These will be soaps that fall short of standards for selling for my normal soaps for various reasons. The current reason, for the first batch of jumla soaps being the presence of liquid paraffin oil when I accidentally received and used a shipment of “coconut hair oil” instead of my normal coconut oil. What the euphemism hides is that it isn’t pure coconut oil at all, but a blend of coconut and liquid paraffin – which does not saponify and is among the ingredients I don’t use for my soaps – or preferably anything.

What resulted was 15 kilos of harsh, lye heavy soap with liquid paraffin in them. That is too much to throw away, but it is not suitable to sell, because I don’t do liquid paraffin products normally and have no wish to start. When this humorous opportunity presented itself – the idea of rebatching soaps I can’t sell as attractive, inexpensive jumlas…. it was quirky enough to challenge the artist in me. These soaps will be rebatched with an appropriate quantity of oil so that they are skin safe and sold as the first batch of jumla soaps on the site. These soaps will definitely be skin safe (The “hair oil” was obviously skin safe), they will be inexpensive, and they will fall short of my normal standards (like no petroleum products in my soaps!). This will be upfront and transparent and the soap is my tribute to a petroleum friendly government that repackages a lot of schemes. Hopefully, it will also exemplify other qualities of a jumla and be good to look at and etc.

If it does not turn into usable soap, they will be turned into a useless gift momento that anyone who makes a purchase can opt to receive.

It won’t be a terrible soap, it won’t be anything dangerous for your skin (beyond the hair oil in it). That is the only guarantee I will make. You can use it and it will not trigger the third world war. It will be inexpensive and attractive and probably help the Swacch Bharat initiative by being cheap and affordable. It is real soap, just…. and provided all goes well, it will be…

Soapy satire.

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Oxyopes salticus spider on okra leaf

I saw this little oxyopes salticus spider on an okra leaf last week. It seems to have made the plant its home, living on the top leaves.

It does not seem to have a web and lives on the leaves ambushing any insect coming too close, I presume. It has a small orange body with black stripes and long spindly legs with bristles on them. From some angle the legs really look more like a miniature thorny walking bush than creature.

It is quite timid and does not appreciate me getting close with a macro lens. It flees almost instantly and seems to run or jump quite far, very, very fast, though normally it is content to laze on the leafs.

Oxyopes salticus spider on okra leaf. Photo by Vidyut

I will add more photos here when it sees fit to return from wherever it fled.

These photos are from a xiaomi redimi 2 plus using a small macro lens.

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Update after a long time

For all my good intentions, this blog got ignored. Much has happened since. My father had an accident and my parents have moved  in with me as they no longer can manage independently.

My one room and kitchen was not enough space and we moved into a two bedroom apartment  in same complex. Similar feel, similar view, only more space, more people, more balconies.

Will update more regularly, but for now, here are photos of us.

Karela or bitter gourd growing in balcony
First tomato of this season
Nisarga having lunch on his own.
Blue moon flirting with clouds behind cucumber plant
Some of my pinguicula collection
First flower on the okra aka ladyfinger aka bhindi



Parents enjoying their grandson soon after moving here
I look like this these days
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Drosera seeds germinating

Adding to my carnivorous plants collection are the germinating drosera seeds. They are too tiny to see with the naked eye, but magnified, you can see the tiny green sprouts.

I have these growing on wet dry sphagnum (as in dry sphagnum with water added :p) in small plastic cups, so the light gets reflected and the digital camera makes for rather poor pictures. I’m experimenting with ways to get a better image, but this is it for now.

Drosera Spatulata seed germinating - Day 2. You can't see much other than some white with spiky stuff sticking out, but under a small microscope, this is green and the white is tiny fragile hair.
Drosera Spatulata seed germinating – Day 2. You can’t see much other than some white with spiky stuff sticking out, but under a small microscope, this is green and the white is tiny fragile hair.
Drosera Spatulata seed germinating - Day 4. You can't see much other than some white with spiky stuff sticking out, but under a small microscope, there are two green leaf-blobs and the white is tiny fragile hair.
Drosera Spatulata seed germinating – Day 4. You can’t see much other than some white with spiky stuff sticking out, but under a small microscope, there are two green leaf-blobs and the white is tiny fragile hair.
drosera madagascarensis seed germinating
Drosera Madagascarensis germination – Day 7 When watching through an optical microscope, you can see tiny, tiny leaves.

Substrate: Sphagnum moss.

Method: Rinse sphagnum moss really, really well, put in small plastic cups, sprinkle seeds on top. RO water initially, but any water that needs to be added further is distilled (to avoid salt build up). The cups are small, sit on window sill or shelf with lots of bright light without being in direct sunlight. I am not using a plastic cover, for these and they seem to be doing fine, but the others I’m growing on tissue paper had to be covered.

At the moment the cups neither have drainage nor sit in a tray of water, but once the plants grow a bit and water requirements go higher, I’ll be transplanting them to their real pots, or punching holes in the bottom to sit in tray. To add water without displacing seeds, I drizzle it down the side of the cup instead of pouring on substrate.

None of these sprouts is larger than 1mm yet.

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First flowers in my balcony

Small potted lemon tree flowering

The rewards of my labour of love. The lemon tree and rajma are flowering.

Small potted lemon tree flowering
Small potted lemon tree flowering

If you go really close, there buds have a wonderful citrus fragrance. Can’t wait for them to flower so that the scent can waft through the home with the breeze.

The lemon plant had been doing rather poorly on arrival. It arrived in good shape, but lost the lemon it had growing in travel. Then it started losing leaves. Then there was trouble with root rot. All through this time and till I had all that sorted, the leaves were dropping steadily till only a dozen or two remained. Frankly, I’d given up on the plant surviving, when it suddenly shed almost all its remaining leaves over a day or two and rapidly started putting out new foliage and buds. The new leaves are almost the size of the old ones now, and there are ten or so buds showing. Amazing.

The rajma is flowering as well. It has been growing so well, that it is on my “grow again” list as soon as I’m done with the plants I have started now.

Container grown rajma flowering
Container grown rajma flowering

Given the trouble I had with inadequate drainage and fungal gnats, I’m quite astonished that these two plants are doing so well. I’d thought I’d got an evil black thumb.

The brahmi plant has one small purple flower as well, but it is sort of underneath the leaves, and I’m trying to figure out how to get a good photo. I’m not particularly interested in the Brahmi flowering for now, as I was hoping to eat the leaves and I’m not sure how good the taste is when it flowers…

Maybe they are very forgiving..