This is vegetable season in Mumbai ! With 3 months of rain, the land is transformed into a picture of fertility and abundance. Irrigation is taken care of by the monsoon showers so what work does the vegetable-grower really have? A bit of weeding once in a while thrown in with a bit of fertilising. That's it! These are glory days. Sit back and wait for the veggies to show up.
Once the monsoons show signs of approaching in May, people start getting busy. Land is cleared, weeds are burnt, soil is dug up and mixed with ash and well-composted cowdung ... and then they wait for the first shower to sow the precious seeds.
For some, the seeds are almost like a treasured legacy. Hoarded from last year's crop, which was sown with the seeds from the crop from the previous year, and so on. They've been saved from the first flush of vegetables, well-dried and rolled in ash to preserve them from pests.
But others, like me, haven't mastered the knack of saving seeds that'll last a whole year without getting all moldy or riddled with bugs. For us, the seed stores are like a lifeline.
The seeds available in Mumbai (and in many parts of India) are a bit of an adventure ... most of the packets have got no more information other than the bare basics : name of the vegetable (just "beans" or "tomato"), the name of the company selling the seeds and if we are lucky, a use-before date.
So you can imagine that each year's crop has me waiting in suspense to see exactly what I'm going to get. But I go through this routine every year. I love the idea of eating vegetables that grew on my land and which I know aren't loaded with chemicals!
This year I took advantage of my trip to Kerala to go to the store attached to a well-known agricultural college there. I was sure that here at least things would be more organised and I would get the name of the cultivar, etc.
No such luck! The man at the counter pushed some tiny packets of seeds at me with "beans", "okra", "bottle gourd", etc. stamped on them!
Oh well! It has to be good stuff, I told myself as I went through the ritual of preparing the land and waited .... and waited ... and waited for the monsoon. And then the monsoons breezed in, stomped around, smashed a lot of seedlings into oblivion and then, just disappeared!
I could've cried! My beans were drying on their poles, the okra (which we call 'ladies' fingers') leaves were shrivelling, my snake gourd plants withered away .... not good!
But with the help of a couple of sprinklers we pulled through. Normally the vegetables grown in the monsoon season are wholly rain-fed so it didn't even occur to me at first to set up the sprinkler. Trust my ever-practical husband to think of that!
Incidentally, the caladiums in the photo above, just appeared when the sprinkler got into action.
Oh ... this photo also shows why one should always supervise work being done for you! I had instructed the man who comes to help me in the garden, to put up some structures for the beans and gourds to climb up on. He made such short ones that I have to crouch every time I want to check on my plants and invariably bump my head on some pointy part of the branches he's used to make the mandap with.
Then the rains came back and helped things along. Not the usual sky-fuls of rain but a little every night. But, hey! I'd rather get that than nothing at all !
And now ... ta-dah!
The okra have got going too. Tender okra are very photogenic but somehow I don't like their smell. And their stickiness. My husband loves eating okra, though, so its always present in our veggie patch.
Have you ever eaten bitter-gourd? As the name suggests, it is very bitter but its supposed to be great for health. Diabetics, especially, benefit from eating it, according to Ayurveda and the tenets of natural healing. I don't know why I grow it... nobody eats it in my house but still it's there every year.
Its flowers are pretty though and that is a very cheery yellow, don't you think?
Like most gourds, it is a climber and will clamber all over a fence, wall or house if given half a chance.
Cucumbers are not grown on a trellis here in Mumbai. They ramble all over the ground.
See the cucumber jungle? Now do you know why I go armed with a long stick while harvesting? I dont want to stick my hand in there and pull out a cobra instead!
The tomatos are making slow progress, partly because of a lot of freeloaders. And partly because of the heavy rains we had initially which washed off all the soil around the plants and also plants along with it.
Using neem oil as our pest control has one disadvantage. One doesn't see the effect immediately. It takes a few chomped leaves before the azadirachtin (I hope I spelled that right) in the neem starts working on the bugs and kills their appetite and finally any interest in procreation. At the risk of sounding sadistic I have to say ... that's fantastic!
The harvest is in now, finally . Slowly but surely. The first harvest yielded just enough for one day, but now... ! I'm getting beans by the bucket-load! And bottle-gourds which would make great caveman's clubs ...
Don't tell my husband,but ... anyone want some okra?