My Urban Gardening # 5 thereabouts.

While I procrastinate about how best to write my next post-it is half written-summer is here with a vengeance. Although it rains in the mornings, they say in this part of the world, it is hot as the rest of the day. I had my first swim in the Pacific Ocean some weeks ago but have yet to go in after that. Meanwhile my garden flourishes. This year I have done away with the chilli and eggplant. I have in my little balcony at the back a long pot of strawberry, spinach, cherry tomatoes red and yellow, broad beans, red guava and lime. This year I have vodoo-ed the pots. So the aphids, the fungal gnats, the ants and assorted summer pests are afraid to come anywhere close. So far so good.

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This year I planted seeds I had harvested from my lemon basil and tulsi. Little pots on my kitchen window sill, protected from the fiercely cold Auckland wind but allowing plenty of sun. It is a miracle when seeds, coaxed and chatted to, germinate and grow then become robust plants. This is my family, these plants. I’ve got blood and bones liquid to feed them too. Yeah it seems squeamish-to feed human/animal stuff to plants and then think of them as ‘vegetarian’. But then I wonder how vegetables are grown in bulk without feeding them (or enhancing growth, if that is the agri-market-speak). Better blood and bones than mineral depleting chemical fertilisers. As long as my plants are happy and I can go out the back door to cut some chives/coriander/spinach/basil/pick tomatoes even while I cook. Yeah, this summer is going well so far with my plant family. I just need to loosen the soil and repot some. And I do seem to getting better at gardening. From never having tried back in Bombay to making sure it on my list of things-to-do-always, kind of like meditation. That’s all.

Urban Gardening 2. My Plants Bloom

My tomatoes are ripening. Check this out the photo.

And the calendula too.  Although the coriander has failed to grow and my experiment with pomegranate too.

I wonder now if I need to buy coriander seeds from the plat shop…perhaps mine are genetically modified terminal seeds? The argument for and against GE/GM interests me no end. Of course I am no expert on it but the thought of genetic engineering makes me shudder. This is not paranoia. As a qualified medical professional I know the importance of science in saving lives and decreasing human mortality as well as morbidity. A lot of the world’s population would be long gone without chicken pox, polio, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough) and all the other vaccines we take as part of our immunisation schedule. Small pox was eradicated because of a rigourous schedule implemented by so many countries. Cervical cancers are probably going to reduce in prevalence because of vaccines (and smears that will catch the cancer in situ). So I am not against scientific advances in food or food technology. There has to be a way to reduce world hunger and food prices are going to go up no matter what because there is only so much land to till. That is why I guess for me it is an important part of my life and existence to grow my own food. Some of it anyway. The beauty of Auckland (and New Zealand or even Australia) is that no one looks at you like you are a nutter if you say you are into gardening. My friends in India don’t get that. We never grew up with a culture of growing your own food. Not in Bombay anyway. Old Bombay, Girguam, congested, chaotic, crowded and low on water. We used to and still get our water supply from the great Brihanmumbai Mahanagar Palika (or the good old Bombay Municipal Corporation-before the parochialists screwed it up) at 5am in the morning. I filled up buckets and tanks and pots for years. My mother still does it. So there was no culture of growing any plants except maybe for decorative purposes. I think that should change. I think with modern technologies we can grow some of our food in our apartments and share it with our neighbours. We can create our own compost-if we follow the rules and respect each other-and use the product to fertilise the land. Give back to Mother Earth. I now dump some of my kitchen scraps in the worm farm that my neighbour offered to share. It is full of gorgeous little creepie-crawlies and other microscopic organisms that do what they are supposed to do. Keep this ecosystem going.

I guess it is hard to spot all the little living things in the last photo but they are all amazing! What we as humans have to do is understand the ecosystem and that we need it for our survival. Long after we are gone due to some nuclear holocaust, when cockroaches are the only survivors, they will continue to evolve. My greenie, hippy heart looks for the day when it will dawn on more people than those of us fringe dwellers that ‘green’ does not mean some decorative useless plant and food does not have to come from supermarkets. In Auckland, up at Bastion Point, in the Orakei Marae, replete with so much history, the local iwi Ngati Whatua are growing food and bringing back native flora. In a project called Ko Te Pukaki the entire land is being re-forested and there are vegetable gardens, kumara pits and all kinds of flax being grown. Even Auckland City Mission send their homeless clients (is that the right word?) to tend the gardens and a lot of the food goes back to the Mission kitchens. The oh-so-dynamic Ngarimu Blair is the driving force behind this project. (Watch out for him..he might be PM one day.)

Yeah so one day I hope more people start being pro-active about growing their own food, understanding where our food comes from and how we consume it. The other good thing about Auckland for me is the fruit that grows on streets or in communal backyards. The feijoa in my backyard is already giving fruit

and I wait for the red guava tree on my old street to start fruiting (right word?). I did not know red guava existed until I saw this tree. They taste really good, slightly more acidic than the green guava I used to have in India. Apparently you can make jam from guava. So maybe if I gather enough next month I’ll try that (and write another blog).

Before that one last picture. The brinjal I planted i just beginning to flower. Another month before I get anything edible.

Plants (that feed) In The City.

Just a real quick blog before I go to bed. There are many things to write about and as usual my resolution for 2010 is to be regular. Whatever. However, this one is to begin a new category I’ve categorised as ‘my urban gardening’. Now that I have moved into an apartment it calls for a change in the way I grow my food. In the last blog I lamented about the lack of composting and the heartache I got after throwing my kitchen scraps in the rubbish bin. Two months and still living through a fabulous summer I have got an eggplant, a chilli plant and a tomato plant. I also got herbs. Rosemary, lemon basil, mint and parsley. The right corner of the planter is

empty because my third attempt at growing coriander failed. (Just started a new experiment today, the results of which I shall know and blog about soon.) For the moment I’ve planted calendula which is medicinal, edible and smells nice.

Yeah so there is great pleasure in seeing Mother Earth give you food. I was thrilled when the first chillies sprouted on the plant. I have seen this many times and I never cease to be amazed. So it was with the tomatoes too.

I used the chillies today when I made a savoury from puffed rice. The tomatoes are not ready yet but boy have they grown. Here is how they look now, the tomato and chilli plants. The white arrows indicate the number of chillies that have grown on it. The eggplant has not yet got ‘fruit’. All I do is to water the plants every morning before it gets too hot. There is no plan to add fertiliser-and anyway the potting mix has fertiliser that will last for six months, by which time it will be winter.

Apart from using the herbs for cooking (lemon basil goes really well with Indian food), I made a pot-pourri from them. It is easy. I dried rosemary, mint and lemon basil leaves, lavender leaves plucked from a hedge on my street and used oolong tea leaves.  All I need is one of those fancy little silk bags in which to bundle them up.

The next step is to begin composting. I had a chat with my neighbours downstairs this morning and they offered me use of their worm farm. Nick opened it up for me-it looks fabulous with the creepie-crawlies, the earthworms and the ‘earthworm poop’ (as little Ryan put it) that comes out from the waste. (In my next blog about urban gardening I will insert the photo.)

None of what I am doing is new or ground breaking but the pleasure of growing one’s own food, or some of the ingredients, in an urban environment; reading and researching about gardening and techniques that allow humans to adapt ‘farming’ to new environments; watching a seed germinate and ultimately give fruit are all activities that bond me and the land. Homo Sapiens tamed wild vegetation for aeons to make food from it and now we have to learn how to take that further through changing landscapes and civilisations as if cultivating an apple tree in the  your flat’s balcony is a normal thing. Why should food and farming be a distant, rural concept?