Sunday, 26 September 2010

The Gardener's World

Imagine waking up each morning and walking into your garden with chirping birds, fluttering butterflies, buzzing bees, dancing leaves, a soothing breeze and a refreshing aroma of moist grass!

While planning your garden keep in mind that a perfect garden is not only pleasing for you but it’s also a haven for wildlife. Try to include vibrant and fragrant flowers that attract butterflies, bees and the blue birds. Bird houses and bird feeders can also be a unique addition to your garden.

One of the most important things is the time you can devote to gardening and the space you have.

However, some things will have to be left out but with time you will learn to make the most of even small spaces. For small spaces such as a terrace, balcony and window sill, container gardening is an ideal choice since most of us don’t have large areas to grow plants. Most plants will do well in containers and almost all crops love to be grown in pots.

Terracotta pots are better than cemented and glazed ones. However, you might have to change the size of containers as your plants grow. Where you place your plants is the key to success. Most plants will need full sun, which means eight hours of direct sunlight.

There must be a pleasant blend of all kinds of plants in one garden. One can include tropical plants which require indirect light. If you do not have any open spaces at all, you can still include indoor plants, which can survive on the light coming in from the window.

Plants that need full sun under a tree or near hedges is not a good idea as it will compete for food and water with your plants and will also block its sunlight. Well-rotted manure, compost and leaf mould is what mainly provides food to your plants. Each plant has its own food requirement and need altered ratios of soil and compost. You can buy this in bulk as you will need it after every few weeks to fertilise your plants.

For strong and healthy plants constant water supply is necessary. Water is the medium through which the nutrients from the soil are released that the roots use to provide food to the plant. Irregular watering cycle will disturb the growth of plant and eventually it will die. Over watering is as dangerous. The aim should be to keep the soil moist. If you remember these basics, you will soon be walking into a beautiful garden. Feeling confident? Get few plants and sow some seeds to start your own garden.

Happy Gardening!

Published in The Express Tribune, September 19th, 2010.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

My First Love: Potatoes

Seed potato sprouts
It usually takes two to three weeks for the potatoes to sprout. Once you see the green shoots prepare your plot, container or a bag for planting potatoes. 

Potatoes ready to be covered with sand
I have selected a large blue tub. It has enough space for planting 5-7 potatoes. Here are three simple steps how you can plant your potatoes.

  1. Fill your container 2/4 with a good mixture of sand and manure. (60:40 works for me).
  2. Place potatoes at 6-7 inch  distance from each other.
  3. Cover with sand. Make sure the leafs are visible.

Simply water it softly and put it in shade. Now your work doesn't end here.

Each week you will have to add an inch of sand or as needed. The idea is to keep adding sand as the plant grows.

potatoes can be grown in bags and empty sacks
If you are using strong plastic bags or sacks, you will need to roll them down to 2/4 of the size. Make drainage holes and follow the same steps. As the plant will grow you will roll up the bag as much as needed and add more sand.

You will need to do this for next few weeks until the plant turns yellow and then dies. No need to worry , you dint do anything wrong. Its time for harvest!

Trust me, you will fall in love with the potato again when you will unearth this incredible vegetable that you have planted your self.   

Saturday, 18 September 2010

A vegetable paradise in the middle of winter

Map out your winter vegetable garden

Wouldn’t you just love to have a garden that produces fresh, scrumptious vegetables all year long? It is that time of the year when gardeners from colder countries are preparing for the icy winters that will bring a long pause to their gardening activities. But for us it is just the beginning of a very fruitful and colorful winter.

I have been waiting for September to spread the spell of fertility into my garden. As it is finally here I better get my plan for a rooftop vegetable farm ready.

It is essential to have a good plan for a successful vegetable garden. Each vegetable will have different requirements. Here are some basics that I kept in mind before I made my plan. You can do the same.

Find your zone

Each city has a different growing zone that is calculated by the lowest winter temperatures it get. For example in zone three, the lowest winter temperature ranges between minus 30 to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit and in zone 10 it ranges between 30 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. It is a good idea to calculate what the range in you area is before you begin to select seeds.

Crop timings

There are mainly two seasons to grow crops; summer and winter. You will have a wide range of vegetables to chose from in both cool-season and warm season crops. Most of the time imported seed packs will say that that the plant needs to be grown in summers but you need to be wise here. Notice the minimum temperature it says is needed for the seed to germinate. You will learn that this is your winter temperature!

Know your seed
Once you know which vegetables you want to grow, you need understand the difference between the seeds:

Heirlooms: These vegetables have been been grown for at least 50 years. They are known for their color, taste and for being organic. These seeds have been passed down by generations. When you replant the seeds from the same vegetable you will get reap a harvest.

Hybrids: These are the result of the cross breeding that is mainly done to produce a pest resistant harvest which is goodin terms of color and increased flavor. You will need to buy new seed packs each season.

Personally, although I love the way seeds have been engineered to create interesting looking crops but deep inside I don’t feel a connection with hybrids. Somehow I always feel they are not a part of nature as it is. Still, I always end up having some hybrids in my garden as well.

Selecting vegetables

Keep in mind the space you have and the amount of sunlight it gets. Most crops need a minimum of 6 hour in direct sun light. Some will need partial sunlight as well. If you are short of space, you can always take your garden to your rooftop like I have done and grow your favorite seasonal vegetables at home!

Map out your garden

You garden must be well designed . Map your garden by placing the taller plants at the back and the shortest in front. It would be even better if you play with the contrasting crops.

 Continous harvest

Wouldn’t you just love to keep your garden producing scrumptious food for you? Keep some space vacant for future plants. In order to guarantee continuous harvest plant seeds every 2 to 3 weeks.

Keep these points in mind when you are ordering your seed packs. Go for a reputable seed store even if you have to pay little extra.

I received my seed packs last month. Since I am expanding my rooftop garden, I have a lot more space so I need more seeds. The seeds I have ordered include three different types of tomatoes (for paste, canning and for salads) baby corn, eggplant, brussels sprouts, courgettes, melon, pumpkin, salad leaf, colored bell peppers, celery, cucumber, bitter gourd, garlic chives, purple ruffled basil, mint, parsley etc

This season I am aiming for a perfect and productive vegetable rooftop garden. Why don’t you grow some crops with me and make your own rooftop garden?

Friday, 10 September 2010

Be nice to bees…or else

This morning I was lucky enough to encounter some bumble bees buzzing around a stunning wild plant.
I love the bumblebee's cuddly appearance. These fuzzy bees are usually 3/4 to 1 1/2 inch long and have yellow and black bands on them (although this property changes in some species.)
If you ever catch sight of a bumble bee hovering over a flower, feeding on its nectar and collecting pollen as it hovers from one flower to the other take some time to pause and notice the little creature that is quietly keeping this world green.
Unlike honey bees, bumble bees are not honey producers but they are social servers upon whom cross-pollination is greatly dependent. Although nature has created more than 200 species of bumble bees, but sadly they are facing a threat of extinction.  Einstein believed that without bumblebees human race can extinct in four years. According to a research conducted in 2007 by the Food and Farming department of UK, the honey bee will be extinct in UK in the next 8 years. Sadly, bumblebees are also facing a similar threat.
Farmers around the world have  good reason to be alarmed as do we all. We are interlinked with bumblebees through the complex ecological system . If the bumblebees die, there will be no pollination. If there will be no pollination, there will not be any flower. If there will be no flower, there will be no crops. If there are no flowers and crops, there will be no insects and birds. Without insects dead plants and dead animals will not decay and thus fertile soil will also disappear. Where will we be?
We might end up eating grass and hunting fish. Food scarcity will result in even greater challenges. In short, I don't think that floods, aliens or meteors will ring an end to the life on Earth. But I think this tiny creature, the bumble bee can become a reason for human extinction.
The only thing we can do is to take care of this wonderful insect created by God so that in return it takes care of us.

How can we  thank our humble friend?
1. Plant flowers with rich nectar.
2. If you do not have flowers – make your own nectar! Make a water (70%) and sugar(30%) mixture and fill a little container such as bottle cap with it and put it between plants. Bees will appreciate it!
3.  Bees can't resist apple, cherry, plum and pear flowers. They love hollyhocks, geraniums, poppies, roses, laburnum, corn flower, delphinium and sunflowers. Some herbs will also tempt them to visit your garden. Plant sage, rosemary, thyme, chives and lavender.
4. Avoid chemical pesticides.
5. Bumble bees would love to have a home inside a little hole in the a quite corner of the garden.
6. Make your garden bumblebee-friendly by simply planting some flowers!
Published on  Express Tribune Blogs

Friday, 3 September 2010

Counting raindrops in Thar

Rainwater slowly trickles down a window at a home in Karachi
When I was penning my thoughts to share with you all, water was pouring down from the clouds in Karachi. Rain drops were splashing on my window and with each drop that dripped I pictured water traveling down the Himalayas, through the streams and rivers, making its way to the ocean, changing into vapours, reaching the skies and then pouring outside my window. The beauty of the water cycle system is bewildering!

When this precious water floods our streets and finds its way to the drains, I feel we could do so much with this it only if we knew how to utilise it. The idea of rainwater harvesting has occupied my mind for some time and prompted me to learn more about it.

One day when I was talking to a friend, who works at a highly respected fertiliser company, he told me that his company has been harvesting rain water in the Thar Desert for slightly more than a year. This made me jump with excitement! I wanted to know all about the project.

Imagine that you live in a desert where it only rains just once in a year, your house does not have any water pipelines or link to canals, your only water source is a well that is three to four kilometres away. Both male and female members of your family need to travel for hours to fetch water. Your children will not go to schools and your principle bread winner will not be able to work because they spend half the day fetching water. The same cycle is repeated everyday through out the year.

It’s hard for me to imagine myself in such a situation. Sadly, the people living in the Thar Desert face this life every day. Wells are their only source of water and the water table is declining by 11 per cent each year. Health problems are increasing since most of the water available was saline.

Fortunately a concerned group with close links to the people of the Thar community contacted Engro Polymer and Chemical Limited (EPCL) – who produce geomembranes that are used to avoid water seepage in ponds and other water bodies.

Water conservation models were built for various villages, houses and schools. It fills my heart with joy to share with all of you that the water collected last year in June from the regular rains, lasted till it rained again this year. People are using rain water through out the year which is accessible within 15 minutes.

A local checking for available water

They are healthier and wealthier as the principle bread winners now have more time to devote to their jobs and have worked to improve their living standards. Children can go to schools. Moreover, local livestock looks well nourished as well. Now that they have water in the desert, they are even trying to grow their own crops.

Isn't it heart warming to know that some people quietly did their work and changed the lives of thousands and are still 
working to help all the estimated 1.2 million people of the Thar desert.

The concept of rainwater harvesting has captivated me. I dream of a Pakistan where rainwater harvesting becomes a common practice. Our agricultural lands, deserts and even the urban centres could learn to use rainwater wisely.

Children transporting water which they need to survive instead of being in school

further reading

crops in pots