Winter is almost at our door – the early morning cold, the fallen shefalis on the ground, the diamond drops on the grass and fields whispering 'I am here – get ready!' The other day, from my balcony, I saw the gardener of my next door neighbour start revamping the roof. He cleaned the site, pulled out the dry and dead plants from the pots, emptied the containers for a week long sun bath, piled fresh soil rich with fertilizers on one corner, changed the soil of the mango and some fruit bearing trees and washed them to bring back the green of the leaves. What a perfect preparation for the winter!
Winter is a season loved by all of us - it allows us to have the most delicious vegetables on our plates and shine our yards with multi-coloured flower beds. Winter is also welcomed by the city dwellers, encouraging us to come out from the daily boredom of clothes – wrap ourselves with shawls, jackets and scarves! On the contrary, our farmers are busy feeding us and earn some quick cash, especially with the early harvest.
Now, about our own garden and preparation - those who are lucky to have a space with sunshine need to prepare for the seasonal gardening as it is done by the dutiful gardener next door. While preparing the soil and pots, one should also decide on the best placement – accommodation of the plants and where to go for the best seeds and saplings. For winter vegetable gardening, tomatoes, eggplants, okra (dherosh), hot peppers are in the list of our favourites. For a beginner, please remember you need to think the entire issue in a comprehensive manner – the time, cost and energy you need to nurture this passion. For regular and seasonal gardening of vegetables or flowers, the medium, large and extra-large sized containers are required. These could be purchased from nurseries or from Karwan Bazar where plastic and used oil drums are available. You can engage a worker from the nearby construction site who can make brick cement bases for each category of the plants. For mangos, guava, litchi, drumstick (shajna), deep and wide containers are needed. For the upright climbing plants like cucumber, bottle gourd-bitter, sweet and regular- half drums will do, but a full drum is better. In my earlier episodes, I told my readers that for a planned, long lasting roof top garden, we need to be strategic and be ready for the total investment in terms of time, money and energy. For any gardening, the general rule is to go with the shape and size, nature and period of life. The big plants need the bigger space, and the three months duration seasonal plants need medium sized spaces. So make a comprehensive plan by organising the space like an architect thinking first where to fit the long lasting ones and where to put the seasonal. Remember to keep space for the climbing plants to expand their bodies with a steady support – a macha, which can be made of bamboo, dry branches or a permanent iron structure. Permanent set ups will relieve you from yearly maintenance and investment. A semi- permanent base could be made of bamboo, a wooden frame, used fruit boxes or timber logs. The standing ones like eggplants, okra, capsicum or so, need deeper bases to allow their roots to grow and get enough food. Now fill the containers with fluffy soil mixed with cow-dung or composed fertilizer. Allow them to rest awhile under the sun. During this period collect the baby plants. Plant them in their new homes in your yard, roof or balcony. Spaces which get the most sunshine and are airy should be chosen to get the best result; otherwise all our effort will go in vain. If the space is limited to the balcony, we need to be careful about our selection and preferences - flowers or vegetables? Don't get disappointed by a smaller space. We can also have a full garden making use of every inch by creating a garden with layers (3 maximum). The first layer at the bottom will be with wider space for planting long duration plants like lemon or guava. If you want to have a flower base at the bottom layer, you may go for bougainvillea, or roses of different colours and sizes. The second layer is good for the marigolds, ziniyas etc. You may also like planting chillies of several types and have a regular source of green chillies round the year. In the upper layer, go for the essential herbs and salad items like – dhone and pudina pata, thankuni and lettuce. This way you will be able to bring colours to your layered garden.
For a plant lover, it is always good to take a break and go to a nursery. The view will automatically refresh your mind and body. Talk to the people - share your ideas and needs. They will be happy to help you – make a long lasting relationship with one or two nurseries by visiting them regularly. From there you may even get weekly part-time staff that will come once a week to take the essential care of your garden. But for a larger garden a full time or at least a daily part-timer is needed for the watering, fertilizer feeding, weeding and pruning.
One particular tip for the container gardener: it is not practical to cultivate cauliflowers or cabbage as these are one harvest items! With our limitations of space in an urban set up, we need to think of optimum results. So it is better to go for plants with multiple harvests. Again, planting banana or papaya is also not that fruitful as they need comparatively deeper and larger space to grow and produce the fruits. I tried it once and later I felt that the plants grew and came out with very sickly babies. I felt guilty. So do justice to your plants. If you have a land space try these two essentials – take good care and get the return of your labour… true for every investment in our lives!
Please feel free to send me an email to share your thoughts, feedback, and photos of your garden, or to tell your story; or ask a question on the garden issue. Write to the editor: [email protected]
Photo: Laila Karim