Monday, September 7, 2009

The Jungle a.k.a. my vegetable patch

I sometimes wonder whether I grow beans for their flowers . Or, maybe because it has to be one of the easiest vegetables to grow.

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?


  1. It seems that gardeners everywhere have the same concerns: water (or lack of) and pests. Your veggies look very good...I wish you a bountiful harvest.

  2. That curving tendril is so beautiful. Inspired by you I planted some tomatoes in the backyard.

  3. Hallo Sunita
    Du schreibst so schön über Deinen Garten!
    Ich liebe Okra, leider bekomme ich sie hier sehr selten.
    Schade, ich hatte feuerrote Bohnenblüten und nicht ein Foto davon gemacht. In diesem Jahr haben die Schnecken viel gefressen. Wohl, weil ich nur natürlich dünge und kein Gift in meinen Garten lasse.
    In Indien wird doch sehr viel mit EM-effektive Mikroorganismen in der Landwirtschaft gearbeitet, kennst Du das?

    liebe Grüße Dörte

  4. Sunita I love okras so send me some. My daughter and husband hates them because of the slime. It is very good for you, rich in iron I am told. Your veggie patch looks pretty good. I have been meaning to restart mine after a few years break. The bitter gourd is known as Karili but not many people use it here in Barbados. We get Yates seeds from Australia and some Japanese seeds. I used to love to try the new vegetables and the different coloured lettuce. I love melons and I have several packets as well of other veggies in my refrigerator (hope they are still viable). I know the feeling when you tell your helpers what you want and they give you something else. That is why I have to keep an eye on them from time to time. This gets me tired and if I could do it myself I would but I can't with my frozen shoulder. It is getting better but it is taking its time...... hhhmmmp. BTW am blatantly canvassing on my blog for the Blog awards LOL. I though that the categories were very limited and felt a bit strange selecting the categories I wished to be judged on. This was supposed to be a short post.

  5. Thanks Stephanie, I know I can really use those good wishes :)
    Water and pests... the good guy and the bad guy of gardening, eh? So true about what matters to gardeners everywhere!

    Mridula, I thought so too which is why I just had to add that photo here :)
    Glad to hear that my post has enabled someone. I hope that caterpillar doesnt find its way to your backyard!

  6. That is so sweet of you to say that, Dorte! Thank you :)
    Fire-red blossoms? I wish I had seen that.
    Snails are a problem here too during the monsoons. Like you, I dont like using chemicals on my vegetables so dealing with snails is a problem. One solution is to make sure there are no dead leaves, etc. lying around which would invite them for a quick meal.
    I've heard that copper repels them so a thin copper wire around pots may be a good idea.
    I'm seriously thinking of getting some ducks or guinea-fowl birds which hunt and feed on snails! I think its a great idea to get the natural predators to get rid of pests.
    I'm not sure what EM is I'll have to check about that. I must do a quick Google search about it.Thanks for telling me, Dorte.

  7. Hi Helen, your situation seems to be the opposite of mine! Here its my husband who loves okra.
    I'm surprised that lettuce grows for you. I thought it needed cooler climates?
    Frozen shoulder and you still manage so much work in the garden! I think you must be Superwoman in disguise ;)
    Aah! The Blog Awards! I wish you luck, Helen. You deserve it.

  8. Ja, Enten sind sehr hilfreich bei Schnecken, leider würde mein kleiner Hund dann die Enten fressen, lach.

  9. That does complicate things, Dorte. Maybe you could still get a duck and put it to work when you take your dog for a walk or something? Just an idea :)

  10. wow, what a nice collection of vegetables. I'm sure it will give a good yield for months!
    The bitter gourd in Malaysia is considered a rare vegetable. (they came up with that stamp last year)

    I had planted bitter gourd when I was a young boy, enjoyed the yellow flowers - do you know that there is a male flower & a female flower in the same plant?

  11. To be enjoying home grown vegetables is a luxury, turned necessity, not many can afford. The pesticide laden market vegetables are an anathema most of us have to put up with.
    The cobra scared the hell out of me. I am not sure if I'll ever dare to venture in a veggie patch, even when armed with an extra long stick, after spotting a Cobra!

  12. James, I'm finding it a bit too much right now. All the plants are yielding so well at the moment that I'm busy giving away vegetables to anyone and everyone. I know I should be planting the next round of seeds before this crop gives out but I haven't got around to it yet.
    About the gourd flowers, I had noticed that in bottle gourds but just never thought of it in connection with bitter gourd. I'm surprised that it is a rare vegetable in Malaysia, especially considering the number of people of Indian origin living there. But if it is rare, a lot of Malaysian children don't know how lucky they are!

  13. I really wonder why more people dont grow vegetables at home, GT. One really doesn't need acres of land to do so. I'm growing beans in my apartment and it's climbing all over my window grilles.
    The long stick that I had mentioned, is used to part the plants so I can make sure of where I'm putting my foot down or what I'm reaching for. If I see a snake I would rather beat a hasty retreat rather than turn aggressive.
    Actually I'd rather have a cobra there rather than a Russell's Viper! Both frequent my garden and both are deadly. The cobra makes sure that he raises his hood and everyone knows his intentions. Unlike the russell's Viper which just lies there so well camouflaged that one would never dream one was a cm away from death. He's so confident in his deadliness that he doesn't bother to announce himself until one has literally stepped on him!
    I think we've got used to living with the wilder side of Nature. Its a wary co-existence but I cant really avoid them. Plus, having them around means I dont have to worry about rats robbing my harvest.

  14. Wow, I'd call that a bumper harvest! Your veggie patch looks lush and beautiful! I love karela and bhindi too! We also have the dwarf variety here (karela)...very cute. Loved the tendril photo and the tender bhindi. You're so right about the lack of details on the seed packets. That's the reason I can't name the cultivars in any of my posts! And before I forget, I'm fascinated by bean blooms too. The bees...oh, they love these blooms!

  15. That is a pretty good harvest Sunita. Such pretty pictures too!

  16. I think it's amazing what you are growing in such a difficult climate and with the thought of snakes crawling about amongst your harvest...

  17. I see that you are having a good harvest with the vegetable patch looking full and heavy. I love bittergourds and we use it to make omelletes, boiled soup noodles and also yong-tofu (bittergourd stuffed with fish paste). There are also people selling bitter gourd tea through direct-selling. What is more uncommon to me is the bottle gourd which I have hardly cooked before. But I hessitate to grow bitter gourds because I was told that the soil will be affected such that the next crop e.g. cucumbers or other veges will be bitter too! Is this true?

  18. Hi Kanak! Tell me, are the dwarf bitter gourd any less bitter than their bigger counterparts? That would be so wonderful .
    And you're so right about the bean flowers and the bees ... love at first whiff!

    Thanks, Tina . I hope it continues for some more weeks :)

    Hi Wildlife Gardener! The snakes do send shivers down my spine especially when I think of my children running around near them. But they are so much a part of our garden that I've got used to having them around .What I do to cope with them is to design my garden and plant keeping them in mind. So, no ground cover or low-growing bushes, no dry walls, etc.

    Autumn Belle, I think I should mail you and ask for recipes. I would love to try out something new with bitter-gourd. We usually have it fried and I would love a change of flavour.
    Bitter-gourd tea? What is that?
    I've never found growing bitter-gourd will change the flavour of the next crop planted there. So maybe you can forget your fear and plant a crop for yourself.
    But do try bottle-gourds. They're quite nice combined with other vegetables. They dont have any strong flavour of their own so they easily absorb the flavours of other accompanying ingredients. (Much like potatoes, but much easier to cook). What you do have to keep in mind is to harvest them early while thay are still tender.

  19. Great harvest Sunita. You have real reasons to be proud of. I have not grown vegetables in mine. It is fully left for jungle critters.

  20. Maybe you could share, Amila. Some for you and some for them. For all you know it might even tempt some new birds and butterflies to visit you. Think of the yummy photos you'll get!

  21. Oh, what a lovely post and what mouth-wateringly yummy vegetables! And all in the city, too! Once, years ago when I lived in a house with a garden, I grew beans, which lasted all of two days - they were all eaten up by the birds and beetles!

  22. That must have been very disheartening, Kamini. I think the trick is to grow just a bit more than enough so even if you lose a few you wont mind so much ;)
    Actually, you could still grow them even if you're not ina 'house with a garden'. I'm growing beans in my apartment too. I've trained them to climb all over the window grilles. Luckily box-grilles are a standard feature in most Mumbai apartments .

  23. Wow, lovely garden, I see a lot of familiar flowers and fruits, and the bird's nest.

  24. Thanks, Plants Lover. I'm sure you must be seeing a lot of sunbirds in Singapore too.

  25. Hi Congratulations on this beautiful garden. I am from Mumbai originally and I am so amazed that even in cicrowded city, few adventurous souls grow their own food. This is amazing. I am visiting in Feb, may I come check out your garden?

  26. Hi Sonali! An ex-Bombayite? Wow! So where are you now?
    Ummm.... its not like I get this bountiful harvest all the time. Usually its just a few plants grudgingly giving us a few veggies that can make us say "Mine! From my own garden!" And in summer its so baking hot that I might as well try growing them in an oven! Monsoon-time is when the vegetable patch comes into its own and shows us what it can really do.
    Mail me when you get to Mumbai, okay?

  27. that's a beautiful crop...i think i read most of the posts in one go... just stopped at this one to leave a comment.... am inspired... growing veggies in an apt! but i saw banana and cashew too... surely that's not in a pot? am confused now... so many birds and bees in an apt in bombay? or am i missing something? i have over 100 pots of various plants in my 2 balconies... i grow some herbs,, thai basil and oregano, lemon grass, mint and now mustard greens for salad since hyd has awful salad greens... i must plant some more stuff... like i said... i am awash with green inspiration

  28. Hi Arundati! Thanks, and I'm so glad if my posts have inspired you. That's the beauty of blog-dom, isn't it? Learning a bit here, adding on something there.
    I have to clarify, not all my posts are about my apartment garden. In fact, most of them are about my other regular garden (mainly because with all the butterflies, birds and other creatures visiting it there's much more happening there). Not that the birds and butterflies are missing in my apartment garden but there are many more in the other garden , which makes it easier to photograph them.
    100 pots in 2 balconies? That's great! You must have one of the greenest balconies in Hyderabad! Where do you buy your seeds from?


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