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!


  1. Your enthusiasm shines through the post and the pictures!

  2. photos are so refreshing and cheerful as usual

  3. Ha! Did you sense it diminishing close to the last picture, Mridula? ;D

    Thanks, Gauri! It's so good to see you here again :)

  4. What an invigorating post! Almost inspires me to find a garden to grow things in. And Sunita, I don't know how I missed seeing all those awards for your blog. Congratulations - all well deserved.

  5. You have beautiful soil judging by that first picture where you cleared the bananas. No wonder all your plants are happy. Fresh bananas too? Sounds like an ideal garden. Great shots of the sparrows.

  6. Thank you Raji, they're almost a year old and I just got around to putting it up when I finally did some much-needed spring-cleaning on my blog.
    You don't need a garden to grow vegetables, you know. A few pots and a window-sill or balcony is more than enough. And Chennai's famous sunshine will do the rest for you :)

  7. Thanks, Tina :)
    The soil is quite okay to start with but it is very frustrating when I work so hard at improving it and then it all flows off with the first heavy rains.
    Oh yes, plenty of fresh bananas here. Those are just a few of the 20+ clumps scattered all over my garden. Sometimes when they all start ripening at the same time it's a bit overwhelming!

  8. Oh my.. what a beautiful post.. Is that a garden or a farm *wink*

  9. Wow! you've got thriving plants and loads of enthusiasm .

  10. I love how you can grow bananas in the open air ! I have to keep mine in the kitchen all year as the cold would kill them.

  11. Sunita your garden is like a cornucopia. I miss growing veggies and your enthusiasm has infected me. Seeing you bananas, that reminds me to go and check on mine. I am playing catch up with your posts they are Refreshing and invigorating!

  12. I agree that it's wonderful harvesting food from one's own garden. I'm having a ball with my own this year. It doesn't even bother me that I can't grow bananas since I'm the only person I know who won't eat them!

  13. It's always fun to visit other people's gardens - especially when they're on the other side of the world. It fascinates me that you grow some of the same stuff and then some that is unknown to me. The common factor is that they all do taste much better fresh out of the garden.
    Thanks for including some birds, too.

  14. Thanks, Keats :)

    Itfarmer, you keep the banana plant in the kitchen? Wow! I'm impressed!
    So, do you have an extra-big kitchen? I'm picturing one of my 15 -feet tall banana plants in my kitchen ... I wouldn't be able to move an inch!
    But yes, its great having banana plants in the garden. Our breakfasts menus are designed around when one of them ripens ;D

  15. Helen, after that major kitchen re-modelling of yours I'm surprised you have enthusiasm to take on anything more :D

    Shady C, that's definitely a first! :)
    No, actually come to think of it, even my daughter is not too keen on eating bananas. Except if its in the form of banana milkshake.

  16. Stephanie, I absolutely agree! Everytime I visit blogs from around the world I'm awestruck at seeing plants that will never ever grow for me. And then in the midst of all that I'll spot a plant that is growing in my garden too and I get so excited about it ... it's almost like a thread connecting us across the miles, continents and climate zones !
    Strangely enough there has been a lot of concern in Mumbai because the numbers of sparrows are going down. Larger birds like crows and pigeons also seem to be having a hand (wing?) in it by driving them out. Somehow my garden has always been home to a LOT of sparrows and related birds. Maybe they've all just moved in here?

  17. Bindu, nothing much to envy, my dear. There's just too much effort and sweat and dirt that goes into it :)

    And that's where I grow all the stuff I was telling you about, Shaheen. In a few months I hope I'll be growing tomatoes there... and cabbages, cauliflowers, etc. !

  18. Lovely garden. Your enthusiasm is commendable.
    Like you say, lack of garden space should not be a big setback.Many veggies can be grown even in tubs placed in balcony of apartments.

    Arrival of birds is an added attraction !

  19. Yosee, I'm a bit puzzled why we don't grow more vegetables/fruits in our homes and gardens.True, Mumbai has a severe space crunch and gardens are not available to everyone but most homes have windows with box-grilles in which pots of plants can be easily grown.
    I'm a big fan of using natural predators to keep pests under control. And that includes weeds. These sparrows were busy pecking at weed seedpods and buds, for which I love them! ;D

  20. Sunita, you have made a wise choice. Home grown food is so much more tastier, with all our love and sweat.

  21. Sunita, lovely garden! I wish one day I could grow veggie like you do!

  22. Absolutely, Autumn Belle! :)

    I'm sure you can do that, Sandy. Maybe you could give it a try right now? All you need are a few pots and a sunny balcony / windowsill.

  23. Sunita girl ! Hello there and thank you for stopping by my blog : ) I am happy to give you a smile on a busy day !
    It is so funny to see actual banana plants in some one's garden that I know : ) and I don't blame you for keeping the Lantana .. it is such a pretty flowering plant.
    Working the soil and seeing a lot of it washing away with rains is a hard thing to watch .. and those cute sparrows : ) we have little ones here constantly and they are so good at catching bugs in the garden for me !
    YES ! .. how many different "weeds" and plants that we love, have such a potential for medicine .. it really struck home as I read your information about a"weed" ..
    That was too funny about the "tooth pick" proping up the banana plant description girl : )

  24. Beautiful garden, Sunita! The sparrow with the stolen fibre looks so happy! The bendis look so fresh with a satin coat!

    Long back, when I was in Hosur (near Bangalore) and younger by many years (!), I did some gardening and the taste of the vegetables are still in my tongue!

    You will never like outside vegetables, hereafter!

  25. Sunita,

    What a bounty! And your sparrow looks a lot like ours!!

    So sorry to be tardy getting back to the comment you left on my new site: The golden panicles are Laburnum.
    Thanks for stopping by.

    We awaiting the ripening to many different tomatoes growing in T's allotment. Always have plenty to share.
    aka Bay Area Tendrils

  26. Hi Alice! Great to see you here again.
    I was quite miffed to see the Laburnum blooming its head off in such non-tropical surroundings. I had always thought it was tropical with a capital 't'. Or at least it claims to be so in India. I wonder whether its a cold-hardy variety?
    Tomatoes! Wow! I'm on a tomato-variety hunting spree, checking and cross-checking with everyone who grows them. I'll drop by again to your blog for more information, okay?

  27. What a lovely harvest, and your vegetable patch is just gorgeous. Wonderful post!

  28. Dear Sunita,

    Wow, that's an abundant of harvest! I only harvested 2 okras last week. Ha sis said we can't even cook a meal with merely 2 okras!

    Love your big garden. It's nice that it's attracting the birds and butterflies. Hope to see how your vegies would be growing this year.

  29. Wowie! Love your garden and the garden tales :)

  30. An enviable harvest, Sunita! I love them all...the karela too! Great shots of the veggie garden and the birds.

    Your summer and the monsoon photographs in your last posts are fabulous! Some of them remind me of my hometown where moss and fern grow in abundance. The photo of the frangipani bloom on the moss is beautiful!

    Enjoy your harvest!:)

  31. Thank you, Rebecca! :)
    That was last year's harvest. I only hope that this year's is as good.

    Hi J.C.! At least you got 2 okra, right? Better than having the whole thing eaten by nasty worms (I speak from experience). Maybe you could add them to a mixed vegetable dish?

    Thanks Priya :)

    Hey, good to see you here again, Kanak. Thanks, I only wish you lived somewhere closer. I could've shared my veggie crops (especially the karelas ;D ) with you!

  32. Hello Sunita, catching up on all old blogs. Plantains are one of my favorite plants and I'm glad yours is thriving well. It's amazing that one can use all parts of that plant. Bitter gourds have several medicinal properties - so please do keep them around! Happy summer and have a bountiful harvest this year too!

  33. Hello again, wannabegardener! I know bittergourds are supposed to be great for health. I just wish they were just a little great for the tastebuds too ;D
    Absolutely! I love the "use every part" quality of the banana plant. And believe me, I put that to good use! I even use the fibre from the stem to substitute for twine to tie things up in the garden. Works great!

  34. Thats a good preview.
    And like that common sparrow.

  35. Sunita, great to see your thriving vegetable garden. We have to prop up the Banana too, as they get top heavy. I had to laugh about the toothpick. Peter has made from to planks sort of like a V upside down, which he can use all the time again to prop up the B. Perhaps to stop the erosion you should terrace your garden beds with planks or stones, so your good, rich soil won't be swept away by heavy rains.
    The home grown vegetables are the best, not poisoned and rich in taste. I think it is fantastic that you have enlarged your; it looks so beautiful with the Bananas and Lantana for the butterflies. Certainly the birds are enjoying themselves in your garden.

  36. Since there are no pictures of the erosion, slope and such..I can tell that I used to decrease the speed of the current with a rake.

    I would make lines with organic waste, just like you would built a terrace.

    The water would carry
    soil, pebles and such up to the barrier. It would then build up slowly,
    and sticking as with glue. Every week/day leaves sticks, anything would ve added with some aesthetics involved.

    Eventually, nothing will pass the barrier.

    Until then.

  37. Hey, thanks Haddock! :)

    Trudi, that's a great idea using planks to support the banana plants. I've seen the local banana farmers doing something similar using long bamboo canes cross-tied at the top to form a V to rest the plant on. Most of my banana plants are very tall. I think I should look at getting a shorter variety.
    We did terrace the land a bit but it looks like all that has flowed off too. Maybe next time I'll make small stone walls to hold the soil in.

  38. Antigonum Cajan, you used a rake? How interesting! Just how thick / broad were the lines of organic waste? I wonder whether it will work here though. Our monsoon downpours are pretty heavy and my garden sees a stream of water gushing down the middle during the monsoon! Anyway, I think I'll definitely try it out in one part of my garden.
    Oh! I love this wealth of ideas that we get from all parts of the world via blogging :)

  39. Wow! You really are an Urban Gardner!

    This is very inspiring stuff, Sunita. You don't like Bitter Gourd? Shame on you!

    Try it like this:

    We have a herbal tea made with BG and green tea called Diabetea.

  40. Thanks for the link, Amila! Not for the bittergourd recipe but because I checked out the other recipes and found one for gotu kola. I've been hunting for one for ages now. I've got a whole lot of gotu kola growing in my garden and wanted to try it cooked instead of raw for a change.
    And not so much of the "shame on you" if you please! BG is an acquired taste which I haven't acquired yet.

  41. Love your suggestions for people without a lot of land. I'm trying vegetable gardening for the first time this year but the only space I have is my three sunny windowsills in my first floor London flat. However, the tomatoes, chillies and sweet peppers seem to be loving it!

  42. Hi Amy! With 3 sunny windowsills you have a lot going for you, don't you? I'm impressed that you're growing chillies and tomatoes in London. So what's next on your to-grow list?

  43. Hi,
    Popped over to pay you a visit and thank you for commenting on my blog. Monsoon vegetables! What a grand idea. I'll have to see what goodies I can grow since we're dealing a monsoon of our own over here... :)

  44. Now I'm really curious, Kate. I wonder what you will grow. I hope you'll post about it?

  45. Wow, Sunita,
    Your garden looks so exotic to me! Your veggies look great. I'm sorry you lost your amended soil in the monsoon.

  46. Thanks, Sue. Believe me, all those plants you grow look just as exotic to me :D
    About the soil, we'll just have to work on a better system next year. Life is all about learning, isn't it?

  47. oh, your beautiful blog is making me miss India!! So luscious!
    I now live in the north of germany, and am also trying to grow my own vegetables here in the city! On my balcony and this coming year also in a little garden behind the house. you can check out my blog about urban gardening or at least the pictures) :) here:
    thank you for the lovely pictures!

    1. Thank you, Sara, for those kind words. I'm so glad that you enjoyed this post!
      Germany is one of my favourite places. I haven't been to the north but I loved Bavaria, especially the little towns and villages. I took a quick look at your blog (lovely! I enjoy reading about other urban gardeners)now i must go back for a longer read.

  48. Hi I'm from Mumbai and have a terrace of around 200 sq ft, where i'd like to grow some vegetables. In all the pictures I see on the net, terraces are covered with nets on all sides and some even have nets on the top. Can someone help me understand the purpose of those nets? Would an open terrace without netting cause an issue with growing vegetables ?

    Thanks - Metro farmer

    1. Hi Metro farmer. The nets come in handy to keep birds and other pests away. I've seen a lot of people enthusiastically sowing seeds and within hours pigeons and sparrows have eaten up all the seeds and any sprouts. And even when the vegetables and fruits are forming, they can be attacked by crows. The nets are a good way to keep them away.

  49. Lovely veggie garden. We've only recently become veggie gardeners and have had a lot of luck with most of our plants, though not all. I am amazed at nature's bounty. You are right, our own home grown veggies taste the best.

    1. Thank you, KayEm. Somehow a well-behaved veggie patch ends up making one a more enthusiastic gardener. A little co-operation goes such a long way! :)


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