Sunday, 6 October 2013

Weekend project: Hot Pepper Ristras

Have extra Chili peppers? Make Pepper Ristras!

This year's hot pepper harvest is overwhelming.  I use my peppers fresh and share with friends and family but I always have dozens of extra chilies that can be preserved. Non other preservation method is as creative and fun as making your own pepper ristras! 

 image source: Taos Unlimited
Ristras is a way of drying chili peppers. Red ripe chilies are tied to a string and hanged in the sun to dry. Later you can use them as a whole, make chili flakes or ground them for daily use. I plan to use these for my lentil soups, yogurt dips and chutneys beside other gravies and sauces. 


You can make a mix pepper ristras or make separate ristras for each type of chili that you grow keeping in mind their intensity of flavor and use. Remember, almost all peppers turn red when they ripe.  I started by picking all three of my chili peppers which includes 4 inch long green chilies, 2 inch long purple chilies and a shinny skinned 3 inch long green peppers. All of these turn red when ripe and have very different flavors when used fresh. 

Once you have selected and collected your chilies, start tying the tops on a string by making knots.

You can make ristras as long as you want. When you have tied all of your chilies, bring both ends together and hang them on  a wall or where they will get direct sunlight for few weeks. 

Your chili pepper ristras are ready when all  chilies turn red and have wrinkled skin. I feel rewarded after doing this little DIY project, especially because all my harvest is organic which means, my store bought dry red chilies are no longer needed! 

Go organic! Grow and  preserve your own chilies !

Happy Gardening

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

DIY: Instant Cuban Oregano Plants

There is nothing simpler than starting your own Cuban Oregano plant from a cutting. 

Commonly available Cuban Oregano, formally know as Coleus Aromaticus, is not a true oregano. It is also called Mexican Mint, Spanish Thyme and Indian Borage. There are at least 40 plants listed as Oregano. Most commonly used oregano, Mexican oregano, is also a false oregano and a relative of Lemon Verbena. 'Common Oregano' is wild Majoram and also called Greek Oregano.Feeling confused? Well, don't be. Even if the Cuban Oregano is not a true oregano it still has an intense flavor and an unforgettable fragrance that adds freshness to your meals. 

The large fuzzy and succulent type leaves might not even look like oregano to you but once you rub gently on a leaf, you will smell a hint of thyme and strong fragrance of oregano. The plant grows 2-3 feet tall and has a spreading habit. 

Growing Cuban Oregano at Home

Cuban Oregano loves a sunny spot. It will survive in partial shade as well but will be prone to pest and diseases. Too much fertilizer will make the plant grow excessively but will lose its flavor. Keep soil well drained and let is dry out a little between watering. The easiest way to start your own Cuban Oregano plant is but cuttings. This should be done during early spring, early fall or during a monsoon season.

I started my oregano plant from a packet of fresh herbs I got from Sungold Organic farms last week. You can pick a few stems from a nursery or a friend or simply use your store bought fresh herbs.

Select new 3-4 inch long stems with leaves on it. Pick all the leaves from the bottom leaving only a set or two of tiny new leaves on the top. Make an angled cut at the bottom and quickly put it in a cup of water until to prepare your pot.
Pick a pot that you want your herbs to grow in and fill it with 70% sand and 30% manure or home made compost to make a simple and basic soil mix. I like to water my pot before planting cuttings. 

Gently, push the stems 2 inch deep into the soil. Plant cutting at 3 inch distance. Keep your new plants in partial sun for a week or two then bring them into the full sun. Make sure to keep it moist at this stage.

There you have it! Your own pot of fresh Cuban Oregano! Grow it organically to get maximum benefit of this wonderful herb.

Happy Gardening!

*Come back soon for a post on drying oregano quickly.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Grow your own stress reliever

Drop the Drugs! This herb with delicate feathery leaves and daisy-like flowers can do wonders when it comes to de-stressing your life.- Writes Zahra Ali

Chamomile not only looks pretty in the garden but also delights your soul and heals your body. ‘Chamomile’ can mean one of the three different varieties: Roman chamomile (Anthemis Nobilis), German chamomile (Matricaria Recutia) or Moroccan chamomile (Ormenis Mixta). Although all of the three chamomile varieties belong to the same family, they have their own distinct qualities and must not be confused.
Roman chamomile is a perennial herb with a fragrance that has hints of fruity apple with a sense of bitterness. It is so gentle that it can be given to infants and children. Roman chamomile promotes relaxation, helps relieve stress, calms your nerves and has a restorative effect. On the other hand, German chamomile is an annual herb that has an intense odour that gets better when diluted. The fragrance is almost fruity with a slightly bitter undertone. It blends well with lemon or lime. German chamomile has a soothing, calming and balancing effect when the inky blue essential oil is used for massage or brewed as tea. Moroccan chamomile is not considered as true chamomile and should never be replaced with German or Roman chamomile.
Stress buster plant No matter which variety of Chamomile you choose to grow in your garden, the cultivation methods are the same. Select pots or the spot in the garden where you want to plant your herb, keeping in mind that German chamomile grows up to 12 inches tall and will need a 12-inch pot while the Roman chamomile spreads to two feet with a height of eight inches and looks better as a companion plant in pots.
Sow seeds in a sandy well-drained soil as soon as the temperature in your area goes below 26°C. Keep the soil moist but never soggy. Seeds will germinate in a week or two on a sunny window sill and plants will survive in full or partial sun, though during summers, it is better to move it to a shaded spot. Occasional organic feed will keep the plants growing. For saving seeds, let few blooms dry on the stems.
Beat anxiety with chamomile tea Pick flowers the day they bloom, separate the petals and sun dry these delicate flowers and store in an airtight container to bring out the best flavour. Use one teaspoon of dried petals for a cup of chamomile tea or little more than that if using fresh petals. Avoid taking this in pregnancy.
Aromatherapy for insomnia and depression Add a few drops of chamomile essential oil to your bath for a soothing soak and a deep relaxing sleep later. Spread the mood-balancing aroma to deal with depression by adding a few fresh chamomile flowers to your bath water; alternatively, you can use a few drops of chamomile oil.
Recover from ‘Baby Blues’ Chamomile makes it easy for you to recover after childbirth. Make an aromatic massage oil by mixing with four drops of Roman chamomile, rose and ginger to four tablespoons of any basic oil. Use this to massage the body twice a day. Avoid if breastfeeding.
If after-pains are a problem, adding a few drops of chamomile essential oil to your bath may do the trick.
Give your eyes a break! Place a cool used chamomile tea bag on your eyes for 10 minutes, listen to some relaxing music and let chamomile do its magic on your strained eyes.
Plant this delightfully cheerful herb in your garden and make your life stress free naturally!

' Grow your own stress reliever' was pubished in Dawn Newspaper on Sunday 14 September 2013

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Recipe: Thai Tom Yum Soup

Home made Thai Tom Yum Soup made from home grown vegetables 
The joy of picking fresh herbs and vegetables from your garden right before you make a meal is unmatchable. The feeling gets doubled when you are making the soothing Tom Yum Soup.

Tom Yum Soup works perfectly as our lunch. Like other Thai food, Tom Yum tastes best when made from freshly picked herbs. Since we love Thai food, we planted Lemon Grass, red chillies, Thai Basil and Lemon in our organic kitchen garden. But I replace some of the ingredients that are difficult to find with locally available ones. For example, I use ginger instead of Gangal and Lemon Leaves instead of Kaffir Lime Leaves.

Here is my recipe on everyone request.

Serves 2-4
Chicken strips 100gms / Prawns  1 Cup
Coconut Milk 1 Can
Tom Yum Paste 2 Tbsp
Thai fish sauce 2 Tbsp
Chicken Stock 3 cups
Flat noodles 1/4 of a packet
Mushrooms fresh or canned diced 1/2 cup 
Tomatoes 2 quartered
Long Red Chillies 4
Lemon Leaves 4
Lemon Grass stock or leaves 3 
Ginger thin 1 inch wide slices 6

Lemon Basil 10 leaves
Red chillies chopped 4

1. In a deep pan, pour the stock and mix Tom Yum paste and turn on the heat.
2. Add noodles and all of the herbs and vegetables. Let it cook for 3-5 minutes
3. Add coconut milk and Thai fish sauce. Simmer for 3 more minutes.
4. Add Basil and red chillies. Serve .

I hope this will inspire you to grow your own herbs and to enjoy them in meals that are made for your soul!

Happy Gardening


Thursday, 18 July 2013

Planning a seasonal kitchen garden

 Planning my garden for the next season is always exciting. This year I had a chance of getting all heirloom seeds from Baker and Creek Heirloom Seed Company thanks to my niece who is in Houston these days.

Here is my mouth-watering list of vegetables that I ordered.
1. California Wonder pepper
2. Tam Jalapeno pepper
3. Golden Marconi Pepper
4. Tom Thumb Lettuce
5. Rossa di Treviso
6. Mizuna red streak
7.Strawberry popcorn
8. Pencil Cob dent Corn
9.Chinese Red Noddle Beans
10.Dragon Tongue Bush Bean
11.Emerald Okra
15. Chinese long eggplant
16. White scallop squash
17. Purple Cosmic Carrot
18. Tamarillo or Tree-Tomato

A few vegetables are must in my kitchen garden because of the diversity in their flavors, colors and appearance and also because they are perfect for a container garden. Here is what I selected and why.

1. California Wonder pepper
2. Tam Jalapeno pepper
3. Golden Marconi Pepper

1. Bell Peppers:

 I love heirloom Bell Peppers!  Sweet Peppers are high in Vit C and provide good amounts of Vit B-6 and Vit A. They make my dishes cheerful and fun to make and eat. I wanted to have yellow and red bell pepper. California Wonder is the most famous red bell pepper that I love to grow. Golden Marconi Pepper makes me drool.
Besides sweet peppers I have also included Tam Jalapeno chilli pepper which is even more nutritious than the other two. This means, better pastas, pizzas , pickles and salads!

4. Tom Thumb Lettuce
5. Rossa di Treviso
6. Mizuna red streak

2. Salad Greens and Reds

Me and my husband love crunchy salad leaves in our sandwiches, salads and wraps. Some greens even make the stock more flavorsome.
I try to have several types of greens that mature in different times and have a diversity of colors and textures. We avoid strong flavors and try to include mild to sweet flavored lettuce.
This year I have included, super fast and super rich in Vit A, Tom Thumb Lettuce that can be harvested in 45 days, Chicory, Radicchio that is a perennial which means I can harvest 2 or more heads from the same planting and Mizuna which is packed with Vit C and A besides Calcium, Vit B-6, Iron and Magnesium. 

7.Strawberry popcorn
8. Pencil Cob dent Corn
3. Corns
Although, Corn is sown in Spring and Summer but I will still try to grow these in Fall when its still hot in Karachi.

Corn has always been a fun snack and perfect ingredient for nutritious meals. They can grow easily in containers and look spectacular in your kitchen garden.  To make this display even more fascinating, I picked 2- 3'' big Strawberry popcorn which will become a perfect evening snack for us!  Pencil cob dent Corn is said to be best corn for containers. This will also store well and taste best when used fresh.

9.Chinese Red Noddle Beans
10.Dragon Tongue Bush Bean

4. Beans 
Growing beans is always rewarding. There are so many varieties and flavors to explore that you can never gt bored of growing these. I am growing two very unusual yet stunning beans this season. Chinese Red noddle beans is a vine that will have plenty of wall and trellis to grow on. These deep red beans are 18 inches long that create absolutely stunning display. People who grow this say that the vines wont stop producing fruit!  

Dragon Tongue Bush bean is relatively compact plant with good yields that will tolerate our summer temperatures too.

11.Emerald Okra
15. Chinese long eggplant

4. Okra and Eggplants
Two of my favorite vegetables which hardly makes me happy as a vegetable grower but I am determined to learn to produce best crop possible.

Emerald Okra is know for its high continuous yields of smooth, long , deep green tasty pods even in droughts. Ma-Zu Chinese long eggplant is something I always wanted to grow. This plant produces long 8-12 inch long fruit for a long season and is especially productive in summers. I might also use it for tomato transplants.

16. White scallop squash
17. Purple Cosmic Carrot

6. Squash and Carrots
My love for Squashes made me select White Scallop Squash  for my summer garden but I will try to grow these in winter as well. I am hoping that they will do great in big containers. I have also included Purple Cosmic Carrot because its thin, almost core-less and have a very distinctive color that is closer to our red carrot. This seems like a perfect alternate to the famous Nantes Carrots that is usually grown in containers.

18. Tamarillo or Tree-Tomato

7. Tamarillo or Tree-Tomato

I am too excited for growing these! I have not ordered any tomatoes this time because I was too excited for this similar fruit. Even though I do not have enough space to grow these but I would love to try!! 

Here is my plan for coming season. Share yours on our page Crops in Pots .For any questions and suggestions please write to us.

Happy Gardening

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

From My Garden: Summer Warmth

We might hate summer heat but my plants love it! They have grown remarkably in last month. Here is just a quick update.

Purple pepper in May 2013
Purple pepper in June 2013

Red Papaya in Nov 2013
Red Papaya in June 2013

Melon in May 2013
Melon in June 2013

From My Garden: New Flowers

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

DIY: Graft a Tomato

Bigger and Better Cherry Tomatoes

Who doesn't want high yielding, bigger and tastier tomatoes that grow for a longer season. Here is my secret of growing tomatoes that will not stop fruiting !

During past few years, seed companies introduced " grafted tomatoes" that produce high yields and bigger sets of tomatoes.  I came to know about grafted tomatoes from one of such seed catalogs from UK. I had to experiment so I watched several tutorials to learn how to graft my own tomatoes. Here is what I learned.

Stronger Roots, Better Harvest

Tomatoes are usually grafted on a plant with stronger root system this absorbs more nutrients from the soil and help tomatoes produce better fruits. Many heirloom seed savers also use this method for saving best seeds but commercially, seed companies and garden stores offer grafts on a hybrid rootstock that is grown for pest and disease resistance. I used OP Eggplant as a root stock for grafting Sungold Tomatoes.

Make a  Top Graft

Grafts made on 12 September 2012
Making a  top graft is generally very simple. You just need a little practice and a couple of extra seedlings!
It is important that the stems of your root stock and scion (tomato) stems have same diameters. Ideally, you should sow both plants at the same time. I started my tomato plants from seeds in late August 2012 and bought eggplant seedlings from Mom's Garden, which were slightly bigger than my tomatoes. Make grafts when your plants have 2 sets of true leaves.

Use a sterilized razor to make a clean V cut on the scion stem just above the seed cover leaves. Quickly, insert this stem into a vertical cut made on the rootstock. Use a graft clip or a smooth string to keep it in place. Water your pots and cover it with a plastic bag to keep it humid. I placed my plants in shade for a week until the grafts were made. Use bamboo to support long stems.

If some of your plants wilt immediately, they dint make it. Be prepared for this. Always graft several seedlings at one time to cover for any losses.

Once your grafts are made, take your time to bring the plants back into the full sun.  There is no need to remove the clip or the string at this stage.

Grafted vs Regular Tomato Plants

(R) non-grafted Sungold Tomato plant; (L) Grafted Sungold Tomato Plant
I wanted to learn if grafted tomatoes are really that impressive for this reason , I planted a plant of the same variety without grafting along with the grafted plant. It was very clear in just few days that the grafted tomato was growing faster and healthier. The leaves were bigger, greener and disease free while the non-grafted tomato had signs of an attack by leaf miner and the leaves were too small as compared to the grafted tomato. Grafted tomato also had thicker stem.

Grafted tomato produced  first set of flowers sooner than the regular plant and produced fuller sets of fruits too.

However, at one point, the grafted plant stopped growing taller, instead it became denser while the regular one, kept growing taller. After a week or two, it started growing again.

Right: Grafted tomato; Left: regular tomato[ April 2013]

Grafted tomato was almost double the size of the regular tomato and the plant kept fruiting till April 2012 that is 8 months!

I think, with better fruiting varieties I can get better yields. But so far, grafted tomatoes have impressed me by their super healthy leaves and bigger  tomatoes.

Do grow some grafted tomatoes the next season and share your progress with us on our page Crops In Pots or email us at
Happy Gardening !


Tuesday, 18 June 2013


Muneer Arquion Hinay, PM at  WWF, Philippines & administrator of  Home Farmers Club, shares with us his Pansit Miki Guisado recipe!


1/2 kg. fresh miki noodles
1/4 kg. chicken, sliced
1/8 kg. shrimps, (head and scales removed)
1/4 kg. chicken balls / fish balls, sliced in two
2 cups cabbage, chopped
1 cup shredded carrots
1 medium bulb onion, sliced
1 small garlic, minced
1 small spring onion, sliced
6 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablepoon oyster sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 cup water

Cooking procedure
Heat oil in a wok.
Saute garlic & bulb onion.
Put-in chicken & chicken balls. Cook for 3 minutes.
Add shrimp. Stir and cook for 2 minutes.
Add pepper, soy sauce, and oyster sauce. Stir and cook for 5 minutes. Note: Add water and bring to boil.
Put-in the cabbage and carrots. Cook until vegetables are tender.
Put-in the miki noodles, and then stir. Cook for another 3 minutes.
Turn-off heat and transfer to a serving plate.
Serve. Share and enjoy!

Miki noddles are thick egg noddles.
Chicken balls are simply minced chicken with some floor.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Sunflower guerrilla gardening day

Its sunflower guerrilla gardening day is tomorrow!!
Get some plants or seeds and look for a perfect secure spot outside your house to plant them.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Earth Day 2013: New Beginnings

' Dharti Maa say piyar ' courtesy Umme Aimen Kazmi
It is a day to sow new gardens, to fill your soul with aroma of life and to become one with mother nature. Its Earth Day!

One can truly connect with the mother nature when he sows a seed, love and nurtures it. That is how the cycle of love and life has continued on this Earth. Its heart warming to meet people who feel the same.

Two of my close friends started their Kitchen gardens this month. Both are from Lahore, Pakistan. I wanted to share their photos and experience so that some of my readers might feel inspired to grow their own gardens.

Umme Aimen Kazmi writes on her Facebook:

Baby M with his plants. courtesy Umme Aimen Kazmi
"Inspired by my friend Zahra Ali Husain (Crops in Pots) I decided to try my hand at gardening. The ideal place to start was the tiny balcony next to my kitchen. Since my only previous attempt at growing something was wayyy back in primary school where they had us grow bean sprouts for a science experiment, I was a little nervous. Rightly so, because the first few plants i got from the nursery started wilting on day 3! *I wasn't watering them adequately* Anyway, after building my courage with a few flowers bought from the nursery I got seeds to grow some plants from scratch! The joy i felt when I saw the first tiny leaf sprout from the soil was indescribable! It was like giving birth to a baby without all the blood and gore! :D :D It's been 2 1/2 weeks since i started gardening and the experience has been wonderful. I love watching the plants grow little by little each day :') Thank you Zahra ! "

' Curious little gardener'  Courtesy Umme Aimen Kazmi

Aimen, I love the way you planted your garden with your baby. I am feeling as excited as I felt when I planted my first seed. Proud of you!

First day of kitchen gardening . Courtesy: Syed Fawad Haider Rizvi
My other friend, Fawad, finally managed to get all the seeds and equipments to start his kitchen garden. All these wonderful images fill my heart with unexplainable joy! Thanks for sharing your photos and love of nature!
Seeds and the seed tray. Courtesy: Syed Fawad Haider Rizvi

Happy Gardening!

Friday, 12 April 2013

Multicolored Adenium

Few years back I made grafts on this pink Adenium plant. Red and white colored flowers were added to the pink one. Result was pink, red and white flowers on a single plant. It took it 2 years to produce all flowers at the same time. This is how it looks now.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Homemade Banana and Almond-Butter Ice cream

 Banana & almond ice cream recipe and image credit : Umme Aimen Kazmi

Nothing beats homemade food especially when its a simple mouth-watering healthy and scrumptious recipe like this one! 

Homemade Banana and Almond Butter ice cream is for you if you know the value of freshly made food that is preservative free and has no artificial flavors in it.  

This recipe reached me through Umme Aimen Kazmi and she learnt it from her sister Ummul Banned Kazmi. I had to post it here! Thanks for the photos that made me drool Aimen and for writing down the recipe for the readers :)

I bought dozens of Bananas to try this today. You should also give it a try. I am sure you will love it !

Ice cream1. Freeze a few sliced bananas and process them in the chopper until the consistency is that of soft ice cream.
2. Add any flavor you want. Honey, cinnamon, cocoa, coffee, coconut, condensed milk, strawberries, Oreos you name it! Process it and freeze overnight. 

Nut butterTake a handful of nuts and process them in the chopper until they become 'buttery'. You can add some oil and salt for a peanut butter like taste or make yummy combos like walnut+honey+cinnamon or almonds and raisins! 
Great tasting, preservative free substitute for regular butter, jams and fattening store bought peanut butter!

A day that begins with homemade Banana-Mocha ice cream and dark chocolate coated almonds sprinkled with dark brown sugar just can NOT go wrong! - Umme Aimen Kazmi

Tip: don't make a whole lot of nut butter in one go since it won't keep in the fridge for longer then a week.

further reading

crops in pots