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!)  :