Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Upwardly mobile vegetables

The monsoon vegetables that I had planted are all yielding beautifully now. I had not realised just how many 'upwardly mobile' veggies seem to love this season in Mumbai.

So many gourds and other climbing vines were planted this time that my vegetable patch looked like a mini-construction site with criss-crossed bamboo and coconut-leaf ribs lashed together with banana-stem fibre . Until, that is, the vines started shooting all over the place, climbing up the supports and across the trellis in any way possible. Then it started looking like a jungle!
A very pretty jungle, though, with all those eye-catching flowers. Some of them pretty enough to be grown just for the blooms instead of the vegetables.

This climbing habit does not mean that apartment gardeners have to avoid growing them. The window box-grilles found in most apartments in Mumbai are perfect for them. Pot them up in a sunny window and let them climb all over the grilles. A couple of rods placed across the box-grille make a great trellis for them. And they grow so fast that you'll have a green curtain in no time at all!

A view from over the trellis gives it such a deceptively peaceful air. These bottle gourd flowers hardly give any indication of how big (or heavy) the vegetables can become.

And here's a peek under the trellis. This one is a baby (with fuzz and all) and still growing. They love the monsoons with the constant moisture in the air. But give them too much and you'll see some very disgruntled plants! Luckily my vegetable patch is situated on a slope which means that all the excess water flows off . It carries away quite a bit of the soil too but I'm working to fix that.

Quite a few of my American and European friends who garden were quite surprised that anyone would eat gourds. Most of them grow gourds for crafting and don't know whether to believe me when I tell them that tender gourds are very tasty when cooked. On the other hand, most of my Indian friends are absolutely shocked that I would actually allow perfectly good gourds to dry up just so I could use them for crafting !

The one gourd that I'm not too keen on is the bitter gourd which is a perfect reflection of its name. On the other hand I would definitely grow it for its pretty yellow flowers and interesting foliage. The knobbly vegetable does look quite quirky too, doesn't it?
To make up for its very bitter flavour, Nature seems to have loaded it with medicinal qualities that make sure it'll end up in every kitchen. Did you know that it is a great regulator of blood-sugar levels? Or that it is used to treat cholera in the early stages? Or that there are reports of it being used to treat tumors and certain disorders of the blood?

But here's the rub : if they're loaded with pesticides and other toxic chemicals, all those wonderful medicinal qualities aren't worth a paisa! I personally prefer to grow all my fruits and vegetables as naturally as possible, leaving it to the wonders of neem and natural predators to keep pests under control.

However, one natural predator had me sweating while trying to harvest these bitter gourds. One end of the trellis on which these bitter gourds and bottle gourds were growing, collapsed under all that weight. Which meant that I had to crawl under a 4-foot high trellis for about 7-8 feet before I could reach the vegetables hanging in the middle.

I started off very casually but after I had taken my second step I suddenly remembered that this is cobra territory! Surely I would see one if there were any around?
See them? With all those vines and weeds covering every spare inch of land? Not a chance! And what was worse was that just behind the trellis was where we had piled up all the rocks (vine-smothered now) found while clearing the vegetable patch. Just the kind of place where a whole brood of snakes would love to hang out and raise a whole community of little baby cobras.

Now, I usually get along quite well with snakes. We have a deal. I stick to my space and they stick to theirs and in between when they come to my garden to gulp down some rats, I even cheer for them. But I could just picture myself bumbling and crawling along straight into their nursery and in my nervous mind I had already stepped on at least 3 of them. And, I kept screaming at myself, "just what the **** *** do you think you're doing?!". In my mind, of course, my throat was too dry to let out even one tiny squeak.

But the killer? The absolute irony would be if I was bitten by a cobra (sure death... there are no hospitals or anti-venom for miles around!) while crawling to pluck bitter gourd of all possible things!

This is one snake that I particularly enjoy, though. I love tender snake gourd sautéed ever so lightly. (Can you spot the beans growing in the background? Another of the upwardly mobile vegetables that love the monsoon season). This is a new type of snake gourd that I've grown for the first time. It doesn't grow 2-3 feet long like the usual snake-gourds but remains short and stubby ... more like a slug. Perfect for a dish for small families!
And how do you like its flowers? I think it looks like a particularly frazzled starfish with a very 'upwardly mobile' hair-do!

(Did you know that you can find The Urban Gardener on Facebook now? The link is on the sidebar. )


  1. Such bounty from your garden Sunita! I too will pass on the bitter gourd kerela. Please be careful about the snakes, luckily we do not have (supposedly)any on the island. However we have to look out for the centipedes in and out of the house. I can see that you are enjoying your monsoon garden.

  2. Hi Sunita, I absolutely love your garden. It's just perfect except for the cobras. You sure you stepped on 3 of the babies or have I misunderstood?
    Bitter gourd is delicious to me.

  3. What a green world you have around you! The flowers are pretty too. Have not seen the snake gourd flowers ever -most interesting!

  4. A wonderful collection, I guess they would taste as good as they look.

  5. Helen , centipedes give me the heebie-jeebies!And we have a lot of them here too. Especially during the monsoons.

    One, I'm so sorry if I didnt express myself too well. It was purely in my imagination that I felt that I had stepped on all those cobras! All brought on by being so terrified of the situation I had foolishly placed myself in. Makes you think of that quote from Shakespeare's 'Julius Caesar', doesn't it? "cowards die many times before their death ..." :D

  6. Keats, I think its quite interesting, dont you? I wouldn't mind growing any of those plants just for the flowers alone.

  7. Cobras would scare me silly! Maybe if you wave that fabulous-looking gourd blossom at them they would be mesmerized. I'd grow that gourd just for the blossom.

    All the gourds - and squash - in our garden get eaten, not crafted. I get using them as containers but only after you've eaten the delicious flesh inside.

  8. Wow look at all those interesting gourds. Ilove the flower on the last one, so cool. It does look like a frazzled starfish. ;) Yep I didn't realize that people ate gourds either, see I learned something new. ;) Glad you didn't get bit by a Cobra, be careful!

  9. Oh my ... I will not complain about rabbits for awhile after reading about your cobras! Ouch! Careful indeed! Lovely gourds and all the tendrils growing where they will... I love the image of apartments with vines covering the grills. Lovely post Sunita.

  10. Hi Sunita. My that snake gourd does have the most interesting blooms on it.It does remind you of a fuzzy star fish. The bitter gourd is so knobby. It looks like it would be hard to peel. LOL! On the other hand it is good for so many disorders. That is so interesting. I have no room for vegetables that climb so I have to make them climb too on trellises and fencing like you do. It saves room in the garden and makes for easier picking.
    Have a wonderful week.

  11. They definitely do, Mridula. Except the bitter gourd, that is. I think it is definitely nicer to look at than to eat ... unless one has paralysed taste-buds!

    lol! Stephanie, that is quite a picture that you're conjuring up.
    That's interesting, how do you get the gourds to retain their shape once the gourd flesh is removed to eat? And what kind of containers do you make?
    The hard-shelled gourds are best for crafting but all we get here are the thin-shelled ones because it is obviously better for cooking.

  12. Me too, Raquel! I was really sweating there!
    Do you grow gourds for crafting too?

    Carol, maybe I could send some of the cobras to take care of your rabbits? ;)
    I think growing vines on the window grilles would be a major improvement. Most of them can look downright ugly and desperately cry out for some greenery. Imagine having whole curtains of foliage across one's window!

  13. Hi Lona! The bitter gourd does not need to be peeled, it is sliced across and the spongy insides with seeds are removed. It does look quite interesting visually when sliced.
    I much prefer trellis and fences to allow them to climb too. Very convenient!

  14. Yikes! Cobras are something I am glad I don't have to contend with.
    Your garden looks very lush and healthy. I like the squash blooms. The very last photo reminds me of something in the ocean....jellyfish perhaps?
    Keep safe!

  15. Haha, clever title, Sunita!
    Do they use gourds for crafting? God! :)

    I don't like Bitter gourd cooked. But I love, love, love like this:

  16. Great post Sunita, I really felt like I was there reading it! Mumbai sounds fascinating - love all your blogs!

  17. Wow, that is a very dangerous patch of gourds, but I'm sure they are worth it, they all look great!

    Hello! I just discovered your blog, Love your jungle garden.

  18. Hi Sunita, I got some goosebumps when I read about the cobras. We have some nasties around and I forget myself sometimes too! this white flower of the snake gourd looks so gorgeous with all its curly bits. Yes it could be planted just for its exotic flowers. It is great when the vegetable garden flourishes and yours is bursting its seams and bouncing in all directions. No, there is no merit in poisoning the vegetables one grows; it defies the purpose of harvesting a "healthy" crop.

  19. aloha sunita,

    you mean to say you don't eat some of your flowers on your veggies, they are delicious battered and deep fried, i love that large trellis work and the last photo, i'm guessing is a beautiful passion flower?

  20. Cobras!
    Sunita, it's quite something to even imagine having to consider an encounter with a cobra.
    And very interesting to learn about gourds being prepared as edibles. I don't think any of my Indian cookbooks offer recipes for them;~D
    aka Bay Area Tendrils
    ...gorgeous color, by the way, in your India-a-h! post!!

  21. Sunitha
    love to read yr posts....keep yr great work going and give us such nice description and visual treats

  22. Sunitha I had tagged you in my blog Please have a look

  23. Rosey, I think I've got used to living alongside the cobras. Don't have a choice really, do I ? :)
    Actually I have 2 poisonous species in my garden, cobras and Russell's Vipers and I think the cobras are the nicer of the 2!
    Jellyfish ... of course! I can see the similarity now that you pointed it out :)

    Hi Amila! Thanks for the link, I'm always on the lookout for recipes using my garden produce and this one is new to me.
    And its not just "they" who use gourds for crafting. I do too, but mostly with the round, globe-shaped bottle gourds. Actually, I quite enjoy it!

  24. Hi Fer! So glad to see you here. I'm afraid my garden is jungle-like only during our monsoon season. Otherwise it is a bit of a struggle to keep it green.
    Oh the gourds are definitely worth the trouble but the issue with the snakes is not so bad. They normally zip off when they feel anyone moving around nearby.

  25. Oh yes, you do have your share of the poisonous creatures, don't you Trudi? So you'll know exactly what I'm talking about here. Just how easy it is to keep following up one chore with the other, not noticing how each step can be putting you into more danger (the Lara Crofts of the gardening world!)
    I think we're missing out on the beauty of the flowers when we stick our kitchen gardens in the backyard or where no one can see them. Some of these blooms are so pretty!

    Namaskar, Noel!
    Eat the flowers? No I've never tried those. Wow! I've really missed out haven't I? Can you eat the flowers of all of them? Thanks for telling me , I've going to search for more info right now.
    The flower in the last photo is of the snake-gourd flower though it does have the squiggly look of the passionflower, doesn't it?

  26. Hi Alice! Great to see you here again :)
    Yes, it can make you feel icy cold when you think about it but most of the time I just block it out of my mind and carry on with my gardening, chasing butterflies, etc.
    Gourds are a huge ingredient in our varied cuisines from all over India (each region has its own distinctive cuisine, you know). Maybe you'll have better luck searching online for 'doodhi (or dudhi)recipes for bottle gourd. If not, just send me an e-mail and I'll send you some recipes from my stock.
    And thanks, glad you like my post in India-a-h! (High time I updated it, I know. Will do so soon.)

  27. Thank you, Aswathi, glad you like this blog :)
    Heading over to your blog now.

  28. Gourd vs Snake. I would let the snake have his area. Be careful around those cobra's! I did not even know you could eat a gourd. That is my new thing learned today!

  29. That's the beauty of blogs, isn't it Skeeter? Something new every time :)
    Yes, you can definitely eat gourds when they're tender but the ones we grow here are mostly thin-skinned even when mature and dry. I think they have been bred to be this way. On the other hand, most of the gourds used for crafting are thick-skinned, aren't they? You won't believe the trouble I have when I try to craft with the thin-skinned gourds! :P
    As for the snakes, I have no problem with them occupying part of my garden. I just get very angry with myself when I forget how lethal they are and carelessly put myself in situations which I had no need to get into.

  30. Sunita, This is a timely post for me. A good friend of mine from Okinawa brought me some bitter gourds just yesterday! She said the secret to taking out the bitter is to cut lengthwise, remove seeds, then cross cut and soak in salt. The salt removes the bitter. Sometimes she adds a teaspoon of sugar. Then you saute the gourds. I plan to cook the two she brought for my husband tonight. They are a really pretty fruit but for some reason I kept thinking they were cucumbers but I know they are not. I am growing bushel gourds in my garden. My friend was also telling me you can eat them but before they set seeds. No thanks. Not something I'm used to as I'll just dry them. Very interesting on the cobras. You be careful! Your garden looks really good with all that moisture.

  31. I love gourds, your opening photo, amazing but closed ears/eyes reading about the cobra. I am a a snake wimp, BIG TIME.

  32. Your friend gave you good advice, Tina.
    They look very pretty cut into thin circles (but do scoop out the seeds). All those bumpy projections on its skin make it look very pretty when cut like this. Do let me know how you liked it. Here most people like to deep-fry them with slivers of coconut.
    Bushel gourds... wow! Have you crafted anything with them lately?
    And thanks, I'm going to be really careful from now on!

  33. lol! Most of us are, Joey. But in my case I guess I got used to living alongside the snakes in my garden. They do help keep the rat population down. And weird as this may sound, I do enjoy watching the cobras (provided I'm in my house and they're outside!), they're so very graceful!

  34. Your vegetable patch is beautiful.Do you have dogs? I hope they don't encounter the cobras. I once remember my dog facing a cobra which had wandered into our compound - the entire Shirley village paddy fields were giving way to residential apartments and the poor snake was perhaps lost. Fortunately my dog backed off just in time.
    I am glad you are one person who lets the snakes live in your territoriality. Personally I would have called some snake catcher and dispatched them to a wildlife sanctuary.

  35. Wow Sunita, such abundance. I enjoyed reading and seeing the pix

  36. Hi Lubna! Thanks for dropping by .
    Yeah I do have 3 dogs and, believe it or not, they do help to keep the snakes away from the house.
    That must've been a scary experience for you but I think that all that barking and hissing at each other is just a lot of showmanship (hindi movie-style!) because both parties know when enough is enough and it's time to retreat.
    It is sad, isn't it, when the city-scape changes so drastically? We don't usually think of all the creatures who're affected so much by our decisions to 'develop'.
    The snake-charmer wouldn't make much of a difference in our garden, I think. There're too many snakes around but they're well-mannered enough to not actually make their presence felt often.
    In any case, it does give a certain cachet to my garden, don't you think? How many people in Mumbai can claim they garden with cobras? Lara Croft, move over! ;D

  37. Hi Astrid! Great seeing you here again :)
    Thanks, but all that abundance is thanks to the bountiful monsoon we were blessed with this time. Don't you just love it when the monsoons live up to their promise?
    Your place must be so beautiful now. Please update your blog, Astrid. I miss reading it.

  38. I admire both the garden and your courage. My balcony does not have a grill, wondering how to go it, since I like both the vegetable and the bloom.

  39. Hi Radha!
    The grill is simply a convenient support for the climbing vines. If you don't have it then you can either provide a trellis / support with split bamboos or even a strong string tied to the vine at one end and at the other to any point where you would like the vine to climb to. Maybe you could provide a couple of hooks on the ceiling? Once they reach about 10 ft., you can pinch off the end of the vine so that side-shoots develop and you'll get more fruits that way too.
    Try it, Radha and do let me know how it goes, okay?

  40. This is breathtaking! I love your photos and the information you so painstakingly write.

    Adding you on my favorite reads.

  41. Hi Arshad. Thanks, glad you enjoyed my blog.

    Hi Pree! So glad you came over to visit. And thanks for the fave :)

  42. Whoa! Thats quite an amazing vegetable Jungle u have growing ard you Sunita. Impressive assortment of Veges i must say....n made even more interesting with your write up n beautiful pics.

  43. Your garden looks like a dream edible garden of Eden. I have never seen such a spiky bitter gourd! Bitter gourd is my fave vege. I cook omellete with it. That snake gourd flower is extraordinarily gorgeous. Cobra? They are deadly. We call them spectacled snake.

  44. wow! i have to ask you for tips on my lawn i guess - if u have read about my sad state of affairs in those quarters...

  45. Hello Sunita,
    Am a regular reader of your blog. Invited you over for a game at my blog. Do participate.


  46. Its better name "Electronic vegetables" because all similar like gadgets..Good capture of pix.

  47. hey , nice blog , like it ,
    won’t be nice if i u can clickover to my blog page too ,
    & post some suggestion

  48. Did I really let such a long time pass without replying?!
    Radhika, it really is a jungle when the weeds take over. And the monsoon just encourages them!

    Autumn Belle, Thats the garden of Eden complete with resident snakes alright! ;D
    Totally agree about the snake gourd flower!

    Maddy,get rid of the grass, grow vegetables in the lawn-space instead. At least you can eat it after all the work you put into it!

    Thanks, Natti. I'll take a look but I must warn you that if its a tag, I'm terrible at it!

    C.E.M.S, that's quite imaginative of you. Glad you liked the pics.

    Thanks, Monisha. Yes, I'll take a look :)

  49. I am being so selfish, but I do wish you would share your garden more often.
    oh, and I would love to see photographs of your doggies. Big hugs to them.

  50. I know, Lubna, I've been terrible at posting this month but so much has been happening that I'm literally gasping for breath. I've been getting a lot of requests for advice on growing vegetables and fruits in Mumbai as well as orders for plants. Plus I'm mulling over a new project. So I'm a bit behind in my blogging.
    Lubna, you can see a photo of one of my dogs in my January, 2010 post 'Bringing in a New Year'.
    By the way, look out for my new post today / tomorrow. Hope you like it.

  51. Your tropical climate garden fascinates me, Sunita, with all the weird and wonderful vegetables and flowers you grow.
    I didn't know gourds were edible.
    Ugh, I don't think I'd be courageous enough to crawl under that trellis with the thought of cobras on my mind. That's one garden visitor I'd never want to meet!
    Love that "frazzled starfish" blossom :) And the curvy yellow one too.

  52. Oh yes, they are edible in the tender stages, Kerri. I don't know whether all of them are but the ones we find here are thin shelled and must be bred for eating. I'm sure the wild ones are thick-shelled.
    Cobras are one thing that are rarely "out of sight, out of mind". Once they've been spotted, you never forget them!

  53. Hi Sunita. Thank you for visiting my blog so I can follow you back. I wanted to grow bitter gourd which is similar as yours but a smaller version where I used to grow them in my home country. But unfortunately, I cannot find any seeds for this variety of bitter gourd in OZ here. I think the bitter gourd that I am currently growing now taste less bitter than the one in your picture. You have many nice collection of gourds there.


Hi, hope you enjoyed reading this post? Tell me what you think about this post; I love hearing from you.
But please note ... if there's a link in the comment, it will not be approved for publishing (sorry, but I'm getting way too much spam with links).