Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Growing my own food

Here's what I hope will be a sneak preview photo of the harvest from my vegetable patch. Somehow food tastes so much better when it's straight out of your garden, doesn't it?
We had a great harvest last year (and this photo is a partial record of that) so this year we decided to try and improve on it.

The first step was to increase the size of the vegetable patch. We somehow managed to cut down on the bananas and ended up almost doubling the space for vegetables. See what I mean?

I couldn't give up my lantana bush, though. It is still slam-bang in the middle of all the activity, attracting butterflies and birds to it.

By the way, did you notice the banana plants to the left? The one on the extreme left is heavy with fruit and is bending so much that it is almost in danger of falling over. My helper tried to prop it up with a small stick while he went hunting for a stronger one. I almost burst out laughing when I saw it... it was like trying to prop up a car with a toothpick!
If any banana farmer sees this he'd probably say I'm growing them all wrong. Officially, you're supposed to make sure there's only one plant growing and remove all the others growing from the same clump. But that's not the way I grow them. I allow most of the others to grow too but remove the ones which are of almost the same size / age. This way I have bananas ripening on my plants every other month instead of having to wait almost a full year to get the next bunch.

Cucumbers, gourds, beans and ladies' fingers (okra) are some of the monsoon vegetables that grow so well in Mumbai at this time.
By the way, you don't need a lot of land to grow most of these vegetables. A large pot in a sunny spot is perfect for okra but you have to provide enough space for cucumber and gourd vines to clamber and ramble. If you can guide them to find their way up or across window box-grilles which are a common feature of most Mumbai apartments, I think they'll be happy enough. Just make sure they're not in the way of salt-laden strong winds. Our monsoon winds can get quite vicious at times and I've had perfectly healthy, happy plants in my apartment garden die out on me in a matter of hours after one of these stormy sessions.

The flip side of the monsoon has to be the soil erosion in my sloping garden. I had worked hard at building up the soil and enriching it with well-composted cow manure and ash. But within a few days of heavy rains I found that most of it has flowed off downhill and left behind a whole lot of pebbles and rocks and other nasties.

Whoever said sparrows are hardly seen in Mumbai nowadays will be happy to know that they're thriving in my garden! In this uncultivated corner of my vegetable plot, I found a whole flock of them chirping and squabbling among the grass and weeds that the monsoon has encouraged.

Incidentally, did you notice the weed growing in the foreground (extreme left of picture), in front of the Caladium ? That, my friends, is Phyllanthus amarus, one of the most effective medicinal herbs traditionally used to treat jaundice and now has been found to treat Hepatitis B too. Just imagine how many other potential medicines in our gardens are pulled out as weeds.
As good an excuse as any if we want one to put off weeding, don't you think?

Anyway, back to the sparrows, I found this one perched on an old stump, keeping watch.

And his wife was busy stealing fibre from the dried banana-stem strips used to tie the trellis canopy together.

I wish she would have just pulled some from the bitter gourd plant. Definitely not my favourite vegetable, though my husband loves it. But I do love how it looks and its bright yellow flowers are quite pretty among all that green. I wish I could grow it just for its flowers and not let it fruit at all!

Monday, July 12, 2010

It's a wet, green world!

Green is my world and as wet as can be!
I feel as if I'm living in a rainforest. Everywhere I turn, Mumbai is a palette of every shade of green imaginable. But nowhere more so than in my own garden.
From the deep, dark primeval greens of trees clasping branches with each other and creating cocoons of mystical calm, to the fresh clean greens of maidenhair ferns waving at me from every nook and corner of my garden.

Raindrops mist the petals and roll down leaves. Silvery balls of cool washing the earth clean and soothing it awake.
Or, thrumming in with lashing wave and frenzied winds, tossing blooms and whipping leaves, shaking my garden alive.

And in one corner of my garden I spot this little vine, planted years ago and half-forgotten. I had sown the seeds with no great expectations and was thrilled to see them grow. And grow, without showing any sign of doing much else.
It had clambered all over a custard-apple tree, ran along an electric wire and draped itself in great big looping garlands.
And then grew some more. Until now.
Now is the time the passionflower has come into its own. Perfect timing, don't you think?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Moss and snails and maidenhair ferns ... that's what monsoons are made of

It's Maidenhair Fern season again!
Every inch of wall space is cloaked in black-ribbed fern green, waving in glee with every cool breeze that hint at a touch of rain. Maidenhair Monsoon is what it should be named in my garden!
It makes no difference whether it is stone or brick or mud, wall or just a happy incline, smooth surfaces or jagged cracks ... the Maidenhair ferns are partying everywhere!

And another Monsoon visitor, the wild Safed Musli, has woken up too. These are true Mumbai natives and don't need to be pampered like the exotics do.
There is a white-and-green carpet of these pretty flowers everywhere I look. It's almost impossible to avoid stepping on them and I wince everytime I see my dogs carelessly trampling them. But there seem to be at least 10 popping up to replace every damaged bloom-spike, so maybe I should just sit back and enjoy the moment.
And don't you just love that mossy rock look?

The rains haven't stopped the bananas from bearing fruit. This one has such a huge inflorescence that it almost looks as if it is on steroids!

And this is definitely one visitor I can do without! But come Monsoon, and sad to say, the snails and slugs are making their presence felt. This one was looking for a way out of one orchid pot to the next, before I sent it packing to The Great Big Garden in the Sky.
Gardening does make one so vicious sometimes!
If you don't believe me, ask these ants. I think they were trying to pull open the bracts on this heliconia and posting danger signs to anyone daring to come close.
Or were they trying to staple it closed?