Saturday, June 5, 2010

On the brink of the monsoons

The Gulmohurs are blazing in my garden! I've been waiting for them all season long and I love driving down the Mumbai roads and seeing huge swathes of scarlet everywhere. These dramatic trees are grabbing as much attention as they can get now but it looks like their days in the sun are almost done.
The Monsoons are on their way!
This is my favourite season. I love the rains ... even when it blows all those lovely blooms off the trees. And even when it rains non-stop for days on end and everything is a big squelchy mess. Actually 'rain' is such a bland word for the sheer drama that our monsoons bring... I just can't wait for the show to start.

Oh, it's still as hot as ever in Mumbai but the sea got a whole lot rougher and huge puffs of thunderous-looking dark clouds have been teasing our skies. The countdown has started, though. The day the monsoons reach the Malabar coast of Kerala, the people of Mumbai start counting off the 10 days they have before the Great Monsoon Spectacle lavishes Mumbai with some much-needed rainy affection

But that also means that I have just that many days to get my garden monsoon-ready.
The preparations have been going on for almost a month now. The vegetable plot gets a lot of pampering, naturally. The monsoon season is the best time to grow vegetables here and the area where I grow my vegetables has been left fallow for the last 3 months. Building up, conserving all that earthy goodness for the season of abundance.
Then, about 3 weeks ago, the land was cleared of weeds, ploughed up and dressed with a healthy mix of sun-dried manure and wood-ash.

Did you know that wood-ash is an important part of traditional Indian farming practices? It is a deterrent for soft-bodied pests and is also fantastic for conditioning the soil. Oh yeah... the things you learn! I never knew this when I started gardening but I saw the local farmers regularly heap up tiny mounds of dry leaves and grass on their fields and burn them in May. Which makes a lot of sense; kills the weeds, kills the pests and conditions the soil. Of course, you have to be alert to prevent the fire getting out of hand but these are really small heaps, less than a foot high

Now the vegetable plot is done .... terraced on the slopes and heaped in small little mounds in other places. All I'm waiting for is the first drops of monsoon showers to soak in and I'll be out planting seeds.

But my garden isn't done with just that! The coconut trees are being fertilised too. Truckloads of manure and sacks of dried fish have been bought and put out in the sun to dry some more before being used. The sacks were a bit 'alive' much to the delight of this Magpie-Robin who hopped on to snack on the beetles crawling on them.

Wide troughs have been dug around each coconut tree and filled up with layers of dried manure, dried fish and wood-ash. On top of all this, a layer of green leaves is added ... the cherry on the cake!
I would've loved to add some pressed and powdered neem seedcakes too before the pit is covered up again but I didn't get any this time. I think I'll add some later on but I wish it could've been done now. It would've driven away a lot of pests and diseases.
By the way, did I mention that I only used natural fertilisers? I love making my earth happy. A happy earth means happy plants, naturally.

Of course, I have to admit that all this needs a lot of labour and very strong muscles and I had to hire some locals to help me out. Isn't it fantastic that India is an agricultural country so I don't really need to explain to them just what needs to be done . Nor do I need to even supervise the work... what a great excuse to get busy with my camera !

Adding a touch of beauty to all the hectic activity is a restless cloud of butterflies attracted by the strong smells of cow manure and dried fish. What a perfect counterbalance to make up for all that smelly stuff!

And, just as I'm typing this, the sky darkens and a cool breeze gusts through the city with a welcome swoosh of lovely, cool rain. It's a precursor to the real thing and will be called 'just a pre-monsoon shower' by the papers tomorrow, but oh what a wonderful gift for a city that has been seething and simmering in Summer's cauldron for so long now!

(I'm a bit handicapped now because my trusty desktop computer has conked out and I'm just not comfortable working on my laptop. So please keep that in mind when looking at the photos because I just can't make out how good or bad the quality is.)


  1. Sunita,

    I can see in my mind all the Gulmohurs in bloom as you tour about. never heard of it before and will hopefully someday get to see it in person.

  2. The gulmohur is really fantastically beautiful tree. I like your description of the pre-monsoon activity in your garden. Two other posts on the mayflower -

  3. Sunita you fertilize coconut trees? This is the first I have heard of. We are still dry here as well waiting on the rainy season to start. The Flamboyant is ablaze over the island except for mine. The buds are half open. My computer is also doing a number and like you I can't get used to laptops. Take care my friend and have a great weekend!

  4. P.S you are the third person posying about Gul Mohurs this month. Great minds think alike!

  5. It rained here a little today but still quite humid. And I too see a lot of robins around, will try and click a picture.

  6. Sunita,
    This was so fun to read. What an interesting way you get ready for the monsoons. Those poinciana's are just breathtaking when in bloom. India must be all awash with brilliant color pre-monsoon. It's a good thing you like this season and know how to get ready for it. I would think sowing seeds in all that rain would just wash them away. I love learning how your garden thrives on the organics you feed it.
    Happy favorite season!

  7. Love to see Gulmohurs in bloom .... they are just so gorgeous!

  8. Randy, the gulmohur in bloom is a sight that can make a poet of anyone. They're truly spectacular!I have 2 in my garden; an orangey-red variety as well as this bright red one in the photo. I much prefer the latter.
    Maybe you know of the gulmohur by another name? It's the Delonix regia which I've read is quite popular in the Carribean islands and Florida too.

    I absolutely agree, Raji! It can look a bit forlorn at the start of Summer when it gets bare but once it blooms,all is forgiven :)
    Thanks for the links. I had seen Helen's gorgeous (as always) post earlier but I hadn't seen Andrea's.... thanks :)

    Absolutely, Aaron! Incidentally, that is a Blue Tiger butterfly. There were so many of them fying around that I couldn't miss clicking them.

    Oh yes we do, Helen. We sell coconuts locally so we try to make sure our trees are happy and bountiful :)
    Actually most coconut farmers here in coastal India do fertilise the trees at least once a year for maximum yield. The difference lies in the type of fertilizer used. We stick to the organic stuff.
    I cant get over the similarities ... all over Mumbai the gulmohurs have been in full bloom for the last 2-3 weeks. It's only in my garden that it is just beginning and as you said, most of the buds are still half open.
    And the laptop... I want my ol' faithful trusty, clunky desktop back!
    Oh yes, this is definitely Gulmohur season, isn't it? No wonder we garden bloggers can't stop talking about them :D

  9. BTW, Sunita, did you know this story?It goes that when a whole lot of these trees were in bloom, the evening sun shone on them in such a way that the king thought the forest was on fire. Hence its name 'Flame of the Forest'.

  10. Mridula, I thought Gurgaon was one of those places like Chandigarh that're really dry-hot (if you know what I mean). Still, the rain is such a welcome relief isn't it?
    Love the magpie-robins and they're usually quite co-operative models/

    Meems, you said it! Everywhere you turn it's a mass of scarlet blooms.
    We're dependent on the monsoon season for our water so, yes, everyone's eagerly awaiting this season. For me, there's something about this season that zings me up :D
    I think I didnt explain myself too well. I usually sow the seeds in the tiny lull after the first rains. So the ground is nice and moist, the weather is cooler and everything is just raring to grow!
    Oh yes, organic is the way to grow !

    I totally agree, Patricia :)

  11. I enjoyed this post a great deal ... well done on the use of natural fertilisers!!!

    We would get a similar 'wet' season here ... but I have to admit I do get rather tired of the constant heavy downpours of rain. My garden is on a hillside and the heavy rains leech out all goodness from the garden beds. I spend the rest of the year putting the good stuff back in!

    Loved your photo of the Poinciana ... here the sight of Poincianas means Summer has begun!

  12. Raji, thanks for the interesting story. No, I had never heard it before. I can just imagine what must've gone through that king's mind when he saw the gulmohur in bloom! :D

    Thanks, Bernie :)
    Yes, we prefer to grow organic but would rather not go through all the trouble of getting an organic certification.
    What a coincidence! My garden is on sloping land too and I face the same problem of all the good soil being washed off during the rains. Now we have terraced some of our vegetable growing area so it's not so bad. Still, with every heavy downpour when it seems to rain non-stop for days on end, even the rocks that form the retaining walls of the terraces get washed downhill! :P

  13. Sunita I am taking a page out of your book/blog. I am going to fertilize some of my coconut trees that are not producing nice coconuts. Wouldn't digging a trench around them weaken the tree and damage the roots? I am afraid in the event there is a hurricane or strong winds. I may have to put the fertilizer on the surface and allow it to make its way down. I have some young trees that are producing some small and horrible looking coconuts so I will be able to see the changes.

  14. Helen, isn't the fun part of blogging? We pick up so many ideas from all over the world :)
    I'm sure you'll notice a marked improvement after fertilizing the trees.
    I don't think you'll face a problem after digging around the tree because its a very shallow trench... about 1' deep and you're digging quite a bit away from the trunk and then after adding the fertilizer, you're covering it up again. But if this worries you, maybe you could use liquid fertilizer by soaking the whole thing in a barrel of water for about a week and then pouring it.

  15. Oh..a lot of pre monsoon activity!Glad you are going the organic way :)
    Lovely pics Sunita!I'm loving the gulmohurs too...the last ones of the summer blooms...
    The rains are here in Bangalore :)and most other flowers have turned to fruits :)

  16. Priya, I grow all my vegetables and fruits organically. I don't want my family eating a whole lot of poisonous chemicals! And that goes for all the fruits I sell too.
    Yes, these gulmohurs are the last of the lot for most of Mumbai but my gulmohur tree has been tardier than usual this year and most of the buds haven't opened yet. Hopefully, my gulmohur tree will still have blooms on it inspite of the rains and strong winds that usually spell the monsoons.

  17. Sunita,
    Mr. Meems and I drove south Sunday about 45 miles to the beaches on the Gulf coast. We saw the poincianas were blooming like flames of fire. I thought I remembered they didn't bloom until July but I was glad to see I wrong. They are just magnificent trees and right now in all their glory. Our area is just above the county where they flourish. Here they just never do flower like everywhere south of us. Amazing how a few miles can make such a difference.

    Just wanted to let you know I thought of you and your Mumbai when we saw the flamboyants being just that! Enjoy your day.

  18. Meems, I'm just picturing all those poincianas bursting into your line of vision ... ! :)
    I had no idea that you're not in poinciana country. All the plants you grow in your garden grow here too so I just assumed that we must share the same climatic zone. I'm surprised that they don't bloom so well in your area. Here in India they're pretty adaptable and I've seen them bloom like crazy all over the place, even in much colder areas. Maybe you could try growing a poinciana and see. Who knows, with your magic touch it may just out-flamboyance everything else! :D
    Thanks for sharing this, Meems. You're right, I really enjoyed reading about it.

  19. Thanks Sunita I will try the tea method. Garden Blogging is really a wonderful way of meeting friends and collecting information. Thanks again.

  20. I learn so many interesting gardening practices from the blogging world. Hope you got your garden ready before the Monsoons hit. :)

  21. Helen, please let me know how it works, okay? Maybe sometime when you're not too close to hurricane season you could try the dig-and-fill method. Do you mean to say that none of the coconut growers in your part of the world fertilize their trees?

    Absolutely, Racquel! That's probably what I love the most about the blogging world.
    And yes, for the first time in many years we're ready for the monsoons. Now we have to just sit back and wait for them to turn my garden back into a green patch again after Summer took its toll.

  22. What a delightful post!!! Using natural manure is great, I love Gulmohar too, and I love the monsoons in Bombay.

  23. Thank you so much for this post. Loved the way the ash is treated. I use it for pest control in my California garden too.

    All garden joys and hope your computer heals itself.

    Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green Island

  24. Ditto, ditto, ditto, IHM. Are we perhaps long-lost sisters separated at the village fair? ;D

    Sharon, isn't it just great? I love the way ash transforms the soil and yes, I do feel a bit gleeful that all that ash is probably stopping some slugs or equally nasty pests in their tracks.
    Thanks for stopping by :)

  25. Sunita I don't recall anyone fertilizing coconut trees here. The coconut is mainly used for drinking and baking. Barbadians rarely use it in cooking, some use it for moisturizing the skin or scalp. Coconut oil is rarely used in cooking even though it is now known to be the healthiest.

    Most of the coconut trees grow in wild and there are no plantations growing them here. Unlike Trinidad and Tobago where there are huge copra plantations many of them government owned and managed by the diaspora. Since they are commercially grown, they probably fertilize them. I remember as a child visiting my uncle who managed and lived on one in Cedros in the south of Trinidad. I spent many wonderful holidays there running wild with my cousins.

    Many of the beaches there are populated with coconut trees unlike Barbados. I normally give my coconut to vendors who in turn would trim the trees for me when harvesting them. If they don't trim them I charge them a nominal amount They normally wholesale around .50 to .75 cents (US) each. I have a total of sixteen on my property but I am only going to fertilize about six of them. I will let you know.

  26. Interesting pre monsoon preperations, I like that butterfly too...Thomas

  27. "...Actually 'rain' is such a bland word for the sheer drama that our monsoons bring"

    I couldn't agree with you more!

    Lovely post!

  28. Helen, the use of coconut in your place and mine is so similar yet so different! In coastal India, coconut is such a commonly used thing for culinary as well as other purposes. (I even use it for gardening ... the coconut tree is perfect to tie orchids on to)
    I'm really curious to know about any difference in your trees after fertilising them. Please let me know, okay?
    Here I have these people who come to buy the coconuts from my place. They have their own crew who climb the trees, clean the tree-tops, etc. so it works out quite well.

    Thanks, Thomas. The rains have sent the butterflies into hiding but the dragonflies are out now.

    Seriously! Our monsoons are much bigger and more powerful than anything that a puny, wimpy word like 'rain' can conjure up, isn't it Amila? It roars in your ears and soaks you to the bone till you think that water constitutes 100% of your body. How can you call that 'rain'?

  29. To us the Gulmohur are Royal Poincianas, this year was incredible, the blooms were like never before, they are done for the year and all the blooms are on the ground. Your garden looks lovely.

  30. Thank you, Rusty.
    That must've been quite a stunning sight!I wish I could've seen it. The Gulmohur is done blooming here too but all the petals are lying scattered on the ground. Almost like a red carpet!

  31. These are beautiful pictures. I've only heard of Gulmohars- would love to see them in person sometime.

  32. Thank you, Meghan :)
    Oh yes, the gulmohurs in full bloom are absolutely mind-blowing! Just make a trip to India in May if you want to see them.


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