My Urban Gardening #6 or so.


The Easter weekend gardening, getting it ready for winter is a New Zealand tradition but I have never actually done any planting during the long weekend before, my usual procrastination gripping me until mid-autumn. Not this weekend, not today. Having a backyard in my new place is a boon and I wanted to take full advantage of that. So I went to the plant shop and bought the garden 😉 Nah.

The Wellington weather is radically different from Auckland’s relative warmth. This city is windy, cold and damp. That means the flora varies too. The winter frost means nothing edible will grow above the ground. Except greens like spinach, silverbeet, salad leaves etc and all sorts of roots. Also, this year’s drought has stopped the good citizens of Wellington from watering their gardens to make up for the dry summer. One has to be innovative in reusing water.

I love gardening. It is like meditation. I talk to my plants. And to grow my own food is such a basic activity, I bond with Mother Earth and this land of which I am made, of which we all are. So there I was, planting and replanting my preciouses.

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I ran out of soil so could not plant the baby carrot seeds but I covered my tulsi with dried leaves so the moisture stays in and she needs less water. Also plan to make mulch from the dried leaves in the yard and pondering whether to get a mini earthworm farm or a compost suitable for urban gardening.

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.

Bugs and pests in the garden.

The chillies are blooming, the tomatoes are just starting to show fruit and I have done some re-potting and re-planting. Moved the lemon grass from my back balcony and pot to the actual communal space, shuffled some succulents from one pot to another but what has troubled me (and I feel I cannot do anything about it) are the bugs and ‘infections. My egg plant seems to be swamped with a little green bug which I think is an aphid. I tried to take a clear photo but they all seem to blur. Here is

one I took off the web. I am at the end of my tether with them. Organic sprays and soap water don’t help at all. This is the second year in a row that my egg plant plans have gone bust. Last year, the first time in this flat, ants took over. The aphids got into one of my Calendula pots too. I dumped that this morning. Pity because I love garnishing my salads with Calendula petals and the flowers are just so pleasant to look at. I also pulled out my broadbeans today because they too had aphids beyond repair. However I did get a good harvest and now am looking for recipes. Some of the pods I will let mature so I can use the seeds to grow a new plant. By March though I will have to plant autumn greens and experiment again with my fenugreek (methi) seeds from the kitchen. Some new herbs too. (Have lemon basil seeds from last year and shall plant coriander indoors this time.)

Summer gardening.

Before I get into my travels and related angst. Pictures from my urban garden. First the beans. Broad beans I planted in autumn.

Don’t they look just beautiful? Although I would not know what to do with just 6-7 pods. I think I will put them in a ziplock bag and freeze them until some more grow. Then maybe I will saute them with garlic in olive oil.

And here is the mint. This is the naughty child in the garden. It was in the herb planter but I uprooted it and put it in this little pot and in a corner. This is the only way to control it. Not like I need a lot of mint in my cooking.

BTW the ants were back but I had my weapon of mass destruction ready. Ant Sand! Now to see if they invade my tomatoes and brinjal.

More Urban Gardening

Winter is not a great time to grow plants but in mid-autumn I planted a bunch of broad-beans on the advice of a mate. Had no idea what to expect. The first thing that happened was that the pot got infested with ants. I have a lot to say about ants @$$$£$^&*&! At my Buddhist/Zen best I want to let them be because they are fellow creatures. At my human depth I want to kill each little bastard individually. These ants ate my egg plant and chilli plant in the summer. I’ve never known ants to eat chillies, Indian chillies too. They got into the pots and fed on the roots. I got one, ONE, brinjal and a mere handful of chillies. I love my plants. I love potting them, watering them every day, talking to them, touching them, feeling them…get the gist? And this was no time to be Buddhist. For my first attack I got ant/insect spray from the supermarket and sprayed it all over my balcony and around the back door. There was respite and I rejoiced. Round one to me. Not for long. I discovered they had snuck into the broad-bean pot and were proliferating. When Arjun was facing his cousins, the Kauravas, at Kurukshetra, wondering how he could kill them, Krishna, his charioteer said that sometimes the call of duty is greater than brotherhood. So the call of seeing my plant actually bear fruit was bigger than love for those little buggers. It was all out war. The enemy had to be killed with the deadliest Weapon of Mass Destruction. Ant Sand, supposedly safe (for humans). I sprinkled it all over the pot on the soil, around the plot and into the gaps in my balcony. There was no escape! I am pleased to announce the enemy has been destroyed 🙂 The war has been won, no insurgency expected. The plants are flourishing, thank you. They’ve flowered and the beans should not be far behind.

Meanwhile the Calendula and the Lemon Grass are doing very well. The LG was plucked out from another garden and by the time I drove home and potted it, it was as good as dead. This was towards the end of the summer. Then a mate of mine, the same one who gave me the broad-beans, said I should keep the faith and keep on watering it, coaxing it.Used in my Thai curry chicken some weeks ago.

My fenugreek (methi) experiment has failed though and I’ve got a mere two shoots. Keep trying, keep trying, that is mantra. I love gardening and having plants around me, some flowers, some food, some decoration, some edible. I think I should feed it some supplements. Next on the agenda is to plant strawberries and flax. Let’s see how that goes. Yeah it is not strawberry season. Yet.

One last thing. That can happen only in Auckland (or New Zealand). Last month I went to my old street and plucked all the red guavas I possibly could from the tree that everyone ignores. Only the rare person in that neighbourhood cares about this free kai (food in Te Reo Maori). Delicious little red guavas that I never knew existed. I was only aware of the green variety back in India. Here’s a look at the beauties.

Urban Gardening (conted) or part 3…

So the eggplant has borne vegetable. Almost into autumn.

The lone coriander shoot that did grow and flower is now bearing seed. I have planted one into a pot but I think I need to wait until the seed is brown or after winter.

The lemon basil has flowered too

and some are cushioning the seeds.

I get an average of 4 seeds per flower so there will be quite a few by the time the entire plant flowers. I ate these seeds and they taste delicious. Which means I will not only have enough seeds to plant for the next summer but also to use in salads, soups and other cooked foods. Perhaps I should try these seeds on grilled chicken? Any other suggestions?

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?