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Sow and sow some more

September 07, 2014

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Variegated nasturtium
Variegated nasturtium

This is — or should be — one of the most exciting months of the gardening calendar for the ever expanding segment of the population which is determined to ‘get back’ to the land. Growing your own, be this in the form of fruit, vegetables, herbs or edible flowers, has never been as popular as it is right now and — thanks to seed sellers finally starting to catch up with the nation’s pulse — new and wonderfully enticing challenges are coming our way like never before.

Now, before getting totally carried away by enthusiasm — and who can resist loading up with seed packets galore when the opportunity presents itself — a few words of warning and of advice.

With the increasingly wide range of all kinds of seeds on offer now, the majority of them imported, please keep the following points in mind:


Gardening enthusiasts, roll up your sleeves, get down on your knees and sow the seeds of a beautiful garden


• The sowing time given on imported packets of seeds is the recommended sowing time for the intended area/country of sale which, in 99 per cent of cases, is not Pakistan. Our sowing times are often very different than, for example, those of Europe and America. Sowing instructions in regard to soil conditions, etc. are fine but do check on the correct time to sow the seed here.

Double petunia
Double petunia

• Check that the seeds have not passed the expiration date. If they have, then no matter what the seller says, do not buy them.

• Many of the seeds sold here are locally packed and so have a ‘local’ label but are actually re-packed from large tins which have been imported from various countries. Please ask to see the original tin/packet and read all of the small print so that you know exactly what you are sowing and can — this is important — avoid sowing any legal/illegally imported genetically modified organisms (GMOs). GMOs are banned in a number of countries now.

• GMO seeds have been genetically engineered to, it is claimed, produce better quality, more productive plants which are, as a direct result of ‘in-built’ chemicals, supposedly resistant to pests. The seeds and resultant plants are said to contain pesticides/herbicides so could prove harmful to human health. There have, with Canada being an example, been cases of GMO crops cross-pollinating with adjacent, non-GMO crops and indigenous wild plants to the detriment of the environment as a whole. As a natural survival mechanism, in order to survive GMO crops, some pests have mutated into ‘super bugs’ for which, currently, there is no method of control and some ‘weeds’ have done exactly the same. According to concerned scientists, this unnatural engineering of plants is a danger to the global environment as well as to humans, animals, birds, fish and beneficial insects too. It is wise to know what you are sowing/growing and then to make an informed choice.

• Hybrid seeds, be these F1, F2, etc. generations, have been through a natural ‘mother plant’ breeding process aimed at producing top quality plants and, while this is often true, if you have your own seed from hybrids, the next season’s crops, edible or ornamental, will be of a far inferior quality to the parent plant. Hybrid seeds need to be freshly purchased each sowing season.

• Heritage seeds have been harvested from ‘natural’ plants; these are mostly of open-pollinated species, which have been under cultivation for generations without the slightest reduction in crop quality. It is a simple matter to save your own seeds from what are often indigenous plants, but do ensure that seed is saved from only the very strongest, most prolific ones and not from poor quality specimens.

Old fashioned hollyhock
Old fashioned hollyhock

September, especially the last two weeks, is the ideal time for sowing a wide variety of herbs and vegetables for late autumn, early winter, winter and on into spring, production. All of the following — plus many more — can be cultivated directly in prepared garden beds or in pots/containers on rooftops, verandahs, balconies and anywhere else you can find, or make, space: borage, either the blue or white flowered varieties, lovage, aniseed, dill, parsley, thyme, oregano, an interesting selection of mints — try apple mint and peppermint if you can obtain seeds — sage, rosemary, calendula, lavender, nasturtium, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, beetroot, Swiss chard/leaf beet, giant red mustard, mustard mizuna, lettuce of all colours and shapes, radish, spring onions, leeks, broccoli, calabresse, onions, potatoes, turnips and lots and lots of those very essential tomatoes.

Root vegetables, i.e. those which, like potatoes and radish, produce their crops underneath the ground, should be sown — pay attention to correct spacing please — directly where they are to grow. Others, cabbage and tomatoes being good examples, can be started off in well prepared seedbeds or pots/trays of top quality compost and then transplanted out, into the ground or into suitably sized pots/containers in which they have plenty of room to grow on to maturity.

Seedlings, depending on species, may require some protection from direct sun — especially during October when the plains tend to sizzle — and their compost should be kept slightly moist, not wet, at all times. Overly wet growing conditions results in ‘damping’ off and rotting away of seedlings. Watering is best carried out in the cooler hours of the evening and should never be undertaken when the sun is high.

On the seasonal flower front you can make a start, preferably towards the end of the month, on sowing a huge variety of brightness and ‘cheer’ including: petunias, sweet Williams, sweet Sultan, larkspur, antirrhinums, carnations, annual pinks, salvias, dahlias, cineraria, phlox, geranium, biden, hollyhocks, nemophila, violas and pansies.

It is also time to make a start on planting just a few of the many bulbous species that are traditionally put in over this and the next few months. Get off to a flying start by planting some ranunculus, calla lilies, rain lilies, Asiatic lilies and early flowering iris species in the last week of the month with your main displays of imported, primarily from Holland, flowering bulbs to go in from mid-October through until the tail end of December.

Other jobs around the garden this month are, amongst countless ‘regular’ maintenance tasks, to feed up those chrysanthemums to encourage a good show of large blooms, take cuttings of your favourite coleus, bizzy-lizzies, established geraniums, fuchsias and so on, plus, if you haven’t already done this, start preparations for adding a bed of strawberry plants — these can be grown in pots/containers/hanging baskets — by starting plants off from seed, potting up runners from existing plants or by placing an advance order for runners/plants from a reliable, disease free, source.

As always, it is ‘up and at it’ this month in the garden and — don’t forget — keep the emphasis on ‘organic’!

Please continue sending your gardening queries to zahrahnasir@hotmail.com. 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, September 7th, 2014