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Plan and plant

July 06, 2014


Seedlings awaiting transplantation
Seedlings awaiting transplantation

Gardening has never been as essential, or as challenging, as it is today and this month is as good a time as any to examine the why’s and wherefore’s which enable a garden to thrive and flourish come what may, as well as to plan and plant accordingly.

What is deemed a humble pastime to some, is an integral part of sustainable human, animal, bird and insect life in these days of rabid environmental destruction leading to climate change and escalating word hunger. However, adhering to traditional planting patterns and traditional crops is no longer enough: far from it, if our world is to survive in any recognisable form.

A brief look at global gardening practices reveals that, in some countries at least, home food production has become of major importance. For example, an estimated 75 per cent in Russia and 95pc in Cuba of fruit, vegetables, meat and general dairy products come from family tended plots, many of them urban. In these countries, as a direct result of embargos, organic urban farming/gardening has become an absolute necessity rather than the option it currently is here in Pakistan.

Indulge in organic gardening and enjoy fresh fruit and vegetables while keeping your food cost low

Urban gardening, as in food production rather than the growing of purely ornamental plants, has become more popular in Pakistan during recent years and the current trend indicates that the number of urban gardeners in our cities and towns is increasing year by year. At the same time, village and other rural dwellers are, as a result of dire financial straits, also returning to producing their own food as purchasing it from the bazaar becomes increasingly difficult.

There are those who view this trend as a retrograde step but they quite forget that food must be produced by someone and does not — as a high percentage of city dwellers appear to think — miraculously appear in bazaars and on supermarket shelves out of ‘fresh’ air!

Everyone needs to eat and this includes animals, birds, insects, etc., too. Urban and rural gardening, especially if practiced on a purely organic basis, go a long way towards counterbalancing the horrendous depredations of chemical based mono-cropping as practiced by large farmers who, sadly, appear to have no concern whatsoever about the long-term viability of the poison-based methods they use. These are the methods which poison not just the earth and water but animals, birds, insects and humans too. It is perfectly obvious, to any thinking person, that ‘toxic farming’ cannot go on unchecked and that the only way to ensure an affordable source of chemical free food is to produce your own to whatever degree your home space, be this a garden, a rooftop, a balcony, driveway or even indoors, allows.

Having — one hopes — given you something to think about and motivate you to get out there and get growing, let’s now move on to just some of the things you can do on the growing front this month.

Pot grown yellow tomatoes & Chives
Pot grown yellow tomatoes & Chives

First and foremost is, naturally, the vegetable and herb garden in which, surprising as it may sound to the uninitiated, it is time to get to work on starting off some of the autumn through to winter edibles. These will, given time and care, eventually take over from those that have helped you through the long, hot, humid heat of summer which, this month, may possibly be right off the temperature scale.

Sowing seeds at this time of the year is not a difficult task but — unless growing conditions are absolutely right —getting them to germinate and the resultant seedlings to thrive requires dedication and understanding of the needs of each particular species.

Generally speaking, seeds have a much higher germination rate if sown in well prepared soil which has had a high percentage of top quality, organic compost/organic manure, mixed in with, if drainage is an issue, a measure of river sand too. Seeds of some varieties are best sown in seed trays/pots which can be placed in a partially shaded location, protected from heavy monsoon showers until they are strong enough to be transplanted out into the garden proper or into carefully selected pots and containers. Others, especially of root vegetables like radish and onions which dislike being transplanted, should be sown, at recommended spacing, directly in appropriately prepared garden ground in what will be their permanent growing position. This position — full sun, partial sun, shade — depends on specific species requirements. It is not possible to list the individual requirements of each plant species here but the vast majority of seed packets will have some essential growing information printed on them.

Young spinach plants
Young spinach plants

Vegetable and herb seeds to be sown this month include tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, spring onions, radish, Swiss chard/leaf beet, spinach, celery and coriander, dill, borage, chives and garlic chives. Of these tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, celery and both varieties of chives, are perfectly happy to be started off in seed trays/pots and transplanted out when large enough to handle. The radish, spring onions, Swiss hard/leaf beet, coriander, dill and borage will all benefit from being directly sown in the garden proper but can, with care, be cultivated in good-sized pots/containers as long as they have plenty of space to grow without, that is, having to compete with their neighbours for essential nutrients, water and light.

In the flower department you can, preferably towards the end of the month and in a place that is well protected from rain, plus, out of direct sunlight, make a start on sowing seeds for an autumn, winter through to spring display of the slower, relatively speaking, growing annuals and perennial such as begonias, scabosia, gaillardia, rudbeckia, salvias of many kinds, geraniums, cineraria, carnations and hollyhocks, both single and double flowered varieties, in heights ranging from dwarf through to a towering five to six feet tall.

Other tasks this month — and very enjoyable ones they can be — include planting trees, with emphasis on fruiting or otherwise useful species — climbers and creepers, again edible if possible and, as always, keeping on top of mulching, weeding, composting and general garden maintenance. 

Please continue sending your gardening queries to: Remember to include your location. The writer will not respond directly by email. Emails with attachments will not be opened.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, July 6th, 2014