Sunday, October 27, 2013

Growing food for my table

I'm a happy gardener these days. All the hard work in the vegetable garden has paid off and my table is loaded with the fruits and vegetables we grew. Which is a real relief when I read in the papers about the spiraling prices.

We usually grow a lot of veggies during the monsoon season but this year was a strange one. The Monsoons hit us before time and continued battering the city and elsewhere almost non-stop for close to 2 months. And, I don't think we saw bright sunshine until August. So unusual! I've never seen anything like it in all the years that I've been farming.
Now, I love the monsoon season with a passion. But such a strange season got us a bit worried because all the vegetable seeds we had sown at the start of the monsoons either got washed away or the little seedlings just rotted away. Only the really tough local varieties survived (just about. And that's a great reason to grow local, heirloom varieties if you can find them)

The beans were the first to yield and they did so abundantly. With a whole-hearted largesse that makes you glad for such simple, easy-to-grow vegetables.
I don't know why more people don't grow them in the city. What you see here is the yield on a single day from just 2 plants! And that too, at the start of the harvest before the plants came into their full yielding potential.

And the peppers were full of green berries too. Don't you love the way those pepper berries are packed tight? It looks even prettier when they ripen.

If you have a banana plant in your garden, then you're set for several meals. In fact, almost the entire plant is edible one way or the other. It's not just the ripe fruit which you can enjoy as a fruit or dessert. The unripe fruit , the inflorescence and the pith of the pseudostem, all make great ingredients and feature in several of our regional cuisines.
Oh, and you can use the large leaves as a plate and compost it after your meal. No washing up! How much better can it get?

This is another plant from which we got a surprisingly good harvest this season. I'm not too fond of bitter-gourd as a vegetable but I have to admit that it does look pretty. I love the leaves and the simple but eye-catching bright yellow flowers.
Heck! I think we're doing it an injustice by confining it to the kitchen garden!

And I love how tenacious it is. The bittergourd vines can latch on and climb and smother any surface in a cloud of green almost overnight.

Interesting texture, don't you think? And they're very good for you. There are all kinds of reports of it helping to regulate blood-sugar levels.

Every once in a while, a few escape our eyes (well, it's a green veggie on a green plant, after all) . And this is what we find. A glorious warm sunset-orange rind and blood-red arils that rival the pomegranate in glossy, brilliant red-ness.
Definitely prettier than tastier ... to my eyes, at least!

This one I like, though! The Red Amaranth is grown in my garden round the year.The tender leaves and stem are rich in iron and its grain is increasingly being recommended too for its nutritional value.
This season, however I didn't get around to sowing its seeds. But guess what, some of them volunteered to show up anyway. In the stoniest, weediest part of the vegetable garden!
hmmmm.... I wonder if my garden is sending me a message here? "Don't bother weeding and cleaning"?
But here's my story, all those weeds are left undisturbed on purpose. Some of them are butterfly and pollinator food, you know. That tiny blue flower to the left? The Red Pierrot butterflies love them. So, now you know.

And how could I leave out the Carambola? This tree is just beginning to mature but I love how profusely it is bearing fruit on almost  every inch of bare space! This is definitely my kind of tree! Low on maintenance but high on yield.

Wait, there's more. But I think I'll keep those for another post. Maybe by then I'll have more pics to share. Of the tomatoes and other veggies which are growing and soon to yield any day now. Can you see me smiling?

In the meantime, here's a pic of cherry tomatoes from another harvest. Get growing your own food, everyone. It's not so tough. And it's definitely fulfilling. Also, tastier and healthier than the fruits and veggies you'll buy in the market.

And, if each one grows some, we'll all have a table-ful.
Smile, everyone!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Monsoon Moments : Pillows of green

Pillows of greenest moss soften the landscape now. Snuggling up to hard planes of wet stone, blurring boundaries and inviting touch.
How I wish I had a moss garden year-round!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A reluctant ode to Summer

Day 54 since the monsoons started and it's still pouring ... magical! I can't really remember another year when it has done this. At least, not since I started farming and gardening, anyway.
So, do I miss the sun? Do I, like those in colder northern climes, peer up at the sky, wondering when the sun will show up and the rain give us a break?
No way! I love the monsoon.
But I must confess (almost reluctantly and rather guiltily, since I've been going on and on about disliking our summer) that I do miss some of the distinctly delicious trademarks of Summer.
Hmmm, yeah... I didn't see that coming either.

For one, I miss the colour. The flamboyant, in-your-face overdose of tropical colour on every bloom and fruit. Oh, and there's no stinting or stingy witholding; there's just such a generous extravagance of it everywhere! An exuberant copiousness that few other seasons can match.

And the absolutely delicious fruits? Did I mention that? 
Ummm... did I really need to?
I love it when my craving for colour gets flavour as a bonus. Oh yeah, 2-for-1, who could resist that? And with these Wax Jambus I almost wish I could have them as a permanent display on my table (or in my garden, for that matter).
I love the fresh, crisp flavour of these small bell-shaped fruits. So perfect for a hot, humid summer day. Bite into one and you'll know what I mean.
There are more species in the Syzygium genus that are so incredibly delicious  and some are fragrant too! Try them all, if you get them. I know they're not all easily available in Mumbai, but try begging and pleading with friends who grow them or just drop by for a friendly visit to their home when it is in fruit (I did! I know ... greed makes me so shameless! ).

Have you seen a fruit which far exceeds expectations? Well, here it is! The plump  purple globes with green caps are interesting-looking, I admit. But take off the cap, squish it gently in the middle and it yields (if it doesn't, it's no good ). Splitting open to reveal a bright pink inner. Can you imagine how striking that looks? But, discard it... now! For the real star is within... a ring of tightly packed, perfectly white, crisp, fresh, delicately sweet segments.
Simply incredible!
This has to be the absolutely best fruit I've ever eaten. It tastes of the holidays , and childhood and playing on a swing, and huddling under a blanket at night swapping yarns with visiting cousins, and laughter, and gentle times, and...   It makes me nostalgic when I simply think of it. And it is a Summer fruit.
Oh yes, I do see that we need Summer!

Did I forget the Mango? How could I???
Here it is ... sweet Alfonso mangoes from my garden, delicious as only home-grown, sun-ripened fruit can be. It was such a great yield this year that I went berserk hunting for mango recipes. Yes, we really did get that much. And, eat that much.
( And yes, I said that just to make myself think that I can wait till next Summer for the next sweet mango)

Hmmm... how does a fruit that looks so scary, even weird, be so awesome?
Who in the world ever summoned up the nerve to split open one and take that first bite? For it is scary-looking, with leathery skin and tentacles all over. A bit like Medusa. 
See what I mean?
But what you don't get from this pic is just how much I'd walk for a Rambutan right now! To the next tropical country growing it, maybe (hmmm ...I think it'll be in season soon in the southern hemisphere. maybe, if I start right now ...).
Or, till next Summer? Most definitely!

I think I'll just program myself to ignore the blazing heat and dust and miserable humidity next Summer. Just pass the mangosteen and rambutan and other fruits, will you?  

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Monsoon Moments : Temptation

Carissa carandas ... ever wondered why the very name is like a caress?
Rain-frosted globes; creamy, blush, blood-red, passionate purple. And it's temptation all over again

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Monsoon Moments

A carpet of fire invites the rain to stay and play. A pathway turns into a stream and the Gulmohur sends its children out to roll in the grass.

Since monsoon pictures are thronging my mind (and my camera), I'm starting a new series of single-picture posts : Monsoon Moments. I hope you enjoy it as much as you liked the Summer Snapshot series

Friday, July 19, 2013

Wings and stings : the other side of the garden

The monsoon is still in full force in Mumbai; soaking the city, whipping the trees, thrumming a tattoo on car-tops, driving everyone indoors.
But the minute there is a lull, my garden is a-buzz. The passion-flowers are in full bloom and there are hundreds, possibly thousands, of very busy bees hard at work. I don't blame them. The fragrance of the passion-flowers is so sweet and seductive!
I have never tried to locate the hives of these bees to harvest their honey. That belongs to them; they work so hard for it.

All over the world, reports are pouring in of tragic colony collapses. (Why is it so important to us? Important enough for Einstein to state "If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would have only four years left to live"! He was referring to the fact that one-third of our crops depend on honey bees for pollination Take them out of the picture and that's famine you're staring at!
Take a look at this trailer of 'More than honey'. Very interesting! )

Here, in my garden, though, the bees seem to be thriving. And I love watching them going about their work.

I had never really noticed how a bee slurps up nectar! Did you see its tongue? In some of the other pictures I've clicked, the tongue is stuck out long before the bee has landed on the flower ... greedy! (Or just super-efficient?)
And the passionflower is so ingenious. I had never really noticed before how its oval anthers are curved just-so to perfectly fit the curve of a bee. All the better to dust you with pollen, my dear!
And our greedy bee is liberally smothered with this golden dust, little knowing (or caring, I'm sure) that she's a pampered, very well-compensated courier.

hmmm .... I wonder how passionflower-flavoured honey would taste?

If the passionflower is perfectly designed for visiting bees to sit and sip awhile, other blooms like this Safed musli Chlorophytum breviscapumare not so accommodating. But if the medicinal qualities of this very potent plant are going to be infused in the honey ... maybe I should be expecting an explosive growth in the bee population soon!

But, jokes aside, the bees have to be some of the most beneficial and valued creatures in the garden. Even if we gardeners do grouse about unexpected stings once in a while.
Painful, but such a small price to pay for help in the garden!

Wasps are some of my other favourite beneficials in the garden. Except, they won't hand out anything tasty and edible like honey. But they're skilled hunters and they do take care of pests!

Most wasps tuck in a snack for baby to munch on when it hatches. I've seen them scout around plants, locate a bug or caterpillar (sometimes much bigger than itself) and carry it off to its nest to be packed in.
Talk about an efficient tiffin service!

These Paper Wasps can be very aggressive if anyone goes near their nest. Just look at their body language ... they're ready to attack if I move my camera any closer. The things we do for a photo (foolish, foolish me!)!

Okay, I know this is really, really gruesome (believe me, it's a hundred times worse when you actually see it!) but I had to show you. I was walking home the other day when I saw this wasp land on a plant and scout around. It suddenly darted under a leaf and wrestled out this large, plump caterpillar (I think it's a Common Mormon ). Before I could react, it had subdued the poor caterpillar, stripped a long piece of skin and flesh off it, rolled it into a ball and flew off with it!

So shockingly gruesome! I guess if that had been the caterpillar of a Cabbage moth I wouldn't have mourned so much but I've always been partial to the Common Mormons and its cousins.

If this was a movie, it would've never got past the Censors. But then, that's Nature for you. It can be astoundingly beautiful and gentle, as well as mind-numbingly violent and matter-of-fact.
The wasps and other beneficial creatures are yet another weapon in Nature's arsenal to maintain the balance and keep pests under control (no, you don't really need man-made chemicals to do that!) .

And when I talk of wings, I just can't leave the king of my garden out of this post, can I ? Ever since the Pariah Kite (Black Kite) family moved into my garden, I don't need to really bother about keeping the rat population under control. Especially when there's a hungry chick in the nest demanding to be fed around the clock.

Except, every once in a while, I do find their housekeeping throws up some startling discoveries! I found this skeleton of a snake  near the coconut tree on which they nest.
Pity! I quite like snakes, especially when they're so good at getting rid of rats for me.

In my book, any creature that helps me in my garden and cuts down on my work there, is one to be treasured.
Especially if they're as colourful as this Blue Banded Bee.
Even if they come with stings attached.

More links :
         Bee happy

Thursday, July 11, 2013

When the Monsoon casts a spell

And the rains have come to wash us clean. Refresh us, invigorate us, pour new life into every twig and leaf and parched being.
Oh, Monsoon ... how I do love you!

All the Gulmohurs are soaked and drenched. Fiery Summer meets Cool, Wet Monsoon. Shimmering drops cling to feathery leaves and scorching petals. Such an incredibly beautiful combination!

And every outdoor surface, whether stone or brick or earth or clay, suddenly remembers tales of delicate ferns of yore. And my sterile stone walls and every rock and tiny pebble around forgets the hot, scorching Summer days...

... and suddenly transforms into a shaded moist woodland! Gone is the parched, baked, blistering-hot earth . Now I live in a primeval jungle, complete with an explosion of waving maidenhair ferns and the creek! of hidden creatures.
Who is to say just what wonders lurk under those arching fern fronds?

This is one of the monsoon wonders in my garden which always leaves me gasping at the sheer unexpected beauty of it. 
Native to our land, it wasn't planted here. It just shows up every monsoon. Like a hostess gift brought by the Monsoons.

So alike, yet so different from the Aromatic Turmeric which I have planted here. It blooms in Summer, giving me a foretaste of the beauty awaiting me in the Monsoon when the Wild Curcumas come into their own.

And, the Carambola is still in bloom! I love its clusters of tiny bubblegum-pink flowers.

So do all the bees and other pollinators, I think.

Another native, the wild Ixora is blooming its head off.

And when the flowers fall off, it's still a pretty sight!

As are all the plants in my garden. De-petaled, or mud-coated or wind-torn they may be but they love the Monsoons. As do I (can you tell?) .

Some more Monsoon links for you  ( I know, the monsoon inspires me like no other season!)  : 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Summer was here!

Just a note to say, "Summer was here!"
A blistering, roasting, energy-sapping tropical kind of summer.
Reviled, perhaps. Moaned about, definitely. Yet so infinitely a part of us.

(Harvest time: fields along the  Punjab - Haryana highway)
Summer was here. All too soon the mad exuberance of Spring and the harvest season slows to a sultry crawl.
When it's Summer, the earth swings to a slower rhythm. The clock slows, sounds mute, movements gentle. It's the Summer way of life.

(Baradari palace, Patiala)
White is so beautiful now. Especially the icy-cool white shot through with tropical hues.

(on the Dehradun - Rishikesh highway)
And far away in cooler zones, there is an explosion of jacaranda clouds all along the highways, leaving travellers gaping and over-awed.
I'm sure that I was not the only one who rang up someone to gasp about the jacarandas in bloom.

(Patio of Ananda in the Himalayas) 
And just as I am ready to melt into the ground, the mountains call and I am rejuvenated.

(Patio of Ananda in the Himalayas)
A winter-garden within hours of the heat and dust of the scorching tropics? There's something so surreal about that. But I love it, and the view of misty mountains fading into the horizon spins a web of wander-lust in me.
(Monsoon clouds over the backwaters in Kochi)
Summer was here. And now it's on its way out. A flock of monsoon clouds are busy hustling it out. Shooing it away before settling in.I hope it's going to be a long cool, wet season ... goodbye Summer!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A sense of Spring

Breathe in the fragrance of a new season,
drink in the vibrant colours of a new year (you really don't think January marks a new year, do you? ),
gorge on the flavours of the new fruits weighing down the trees,
smile at the crescendo of joyous bird-calls overhead and faraway and round-about  ... Spring is here and makes sure you know it by a mad, merry, exuberant sensory overload!

When else would you find such a serendipitous juxtaposition of a Blue butterfly sunning itself next to a Rosy Periwinkle?

Or gangs of ants quilting a heliconia bloom? Or could they be the heliconia artists, gently nipping a blush into every bloom? 

Nothing gentle about this exuberant bougainvillea screaming its presence! Rambunctious climber, irrepressible bloom-smith, unfussy tenant .. who doesn't appreciate the bountiful blooms of the bougainvillea when sunny, roasting hot days drag by? 

Sprays of Petrea wrap my garden in a soothing cloud of lavenders and purples fading into silvery grey. Twirling ballerinas of the botanical realm, each bloom matures into a role rarely essayed. How many flowers, after all, can spin and dance on the Spring breeze?  
And sometimes the heavens come down to earth! And high-flying Pariah Kites grant their royal stamp of approval to my humble bird-bath. Spring today, Summer tomorrow; a bird's got to sip and dip. In the meantime, they have an awestruck pair of eyes (and camera lens) following their every regal move!   

High up on the denuded teak trees, the very voluble parakeets screech and gossip about every passerby and every new tree in fruit. They love hanging around my garden now. No one will disturb their babies here and there are plenty of tender cashewnuts on the trees to gnaw on.

Tender cashewnuts, did I say? Oh so young to imagine the trial by fire awaiting it, to prove itself and be crowned king of the palate! Hundreds of bunches of these very quirky fruits are growing now, kissed by the Spring sunshine, dreaming of the day when the cashew-apples will be full-grown and all filled out. No celebrations for a Size Zero here!

Until then these Star Gooseberries are rocking the show in my garden. Clusters and clusters of them crowding the trees until the branches bend down, almost begging to be picked. 
The child in me loves the slight sourness in every pop of these. Have you found the child in you drooling over this too? 

Or, over this? The Carambolas are growing too. These star-shaped fruit are such an attractive sight, on the tree or the table. Or on the hawkers' carts. Did they use to sell the Carambola, dipped in salt and red-hot chilli powder, outside your school too? Does your mouth begin to water when you see this photo, as mine is beginning to?

Spring. And the Winter vegetables are still yielding.
Fresh crisp green cabbages growing among a forest of iron-rich red amaranths. Just as colourful as it looks and a hundred times more flavour-packed.
Did you know that ever since I grew the cabbages among the red amaranths, I've had less trouble with the foliage vandals? All the grasshoppers seem to be drawn to the red amaranths, leaving the cabbage alone.

On the roads, the Rain Trees are dotted with flowers. 

In my home, a few brave (and fool-hardy) centipedes try to barge in and are summarily tossed out on their ear!
But I do sneak an admiring glance at those mango-yellow boots. This gal has style!

And why am I repeating a pic of this Blue? Just because. 
Because it's so pretty and has a cute up-turned nose and big, big eyes.
Because it has a model's poise; look at the bend of that knee.
Because it knows where to hang out ... in my garden.
Because I like this photo.
And because it's Spring!

And because Spring means that all kinds of pretty fragrant flowers like this Vallaris are making the air heady with their scent. 
sigh .... did I mention that I absolutely love Spring?