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Rooftop vegetable garden

September 13, 2014


Curly kale is a great winter green
Curly kale is a great winter green

Q. I recently moved into the upper portion of a house in Defence, Karachi and need guidance, right from the basics, on how to start a kitchen garden on the rooftop. I also need to know which vegetables can be grown and when to plant them.

A. That’s a wonderful project and it is hoped that more and more people follow your example. In order to get off to a good start you need to ensure the following things: a convenient water supply; rooftop drainage; suitable and secure protection from direct sun during the height of summer and, especially if you are close to the sea, protection from what can be devastating wind. In addition to this, please check that the rooftop is constructed in such a manner as to support the weight of pots/containers/crates as these can be surprisingly heavy when full and even heavier when wet. A certain degree of shade can, if the roof is load-bearing, be created by the erection of loggias and other similar supporting frames over which to grow a selection of fruiting climbers such as grapes, passion fruit, seasonal torai, etc.

Place more emphasis on growing your vegetables — try herbs as well — in newspaper lined, relatively light-weight, wooden crates rather than sticking to very heavy clay pots. Arrange these crates or other containers in easily accessible rows, remembering to leave plenty of space between rows so that regular chores like watering, weeding and other general maintenance are unhindered. You will also, obviously, require a good and reliable source of sweet earth, old, well rotted, organic manure and, if at all possible, homemade organic compost too.

For information on what to sow and when, please refer to this column on the first Sunday of each month where such advice appears.

Just imagine picking up tomatoes, peas and other vegetables from your own garden as and when needed

Q. I grow vegetables, in pots and in wooden crates, on my terrace in Islamabad and am getting good results. I have used soil and animal manure from a nursery and have also used compost made from kitchen waste. The problem is that I took out the soil from last season’s pots and crates, mixed it with fresh soil, manure and compost but now have far more of the soil mix than I can currently use. Should I simply cover the heap up or should I store it in sacks until it is needed?

Oak-leaved lettuce for year-round freshness
Oak-leaved lettuce for year-round freshness

A. Good to hear this and wish you good crops in the future too. As for your excess soil mix, you can store in either of the ways you mentioned; although, to be frank, it may be best to store in sacks so that the nutrient content is not adversely affected during rain, plus, it will be easier to keep the area clean.

Q. Please tell me how to go about making compost; I reside in an apartment and need to make organic compost for my pot and balcony plants.

A. Place a reasonably-sized bin — taking into account the amount of organic waste generated in the household on a daily basis — with a close fitting lid; this is a basic necessity for indoor compost-making or when making compost outside on a balcony or rooftop. A bin with a tap towards the base is ideal as any excess liquid can then be drained off and used, say once a week, to feed your plants — this liquid is a wonderful plant food when diluted at a rate of nine parts water to one part compost liquid. Composting materials should be cut up small to help speed up the rotting down process. Only add organic matter such as fruit and vegetable waste, tea leaves removed from tea bags, coffee grounds, shredded paper, etc. Do not put in any oil/fat, meat/chicken/fish as, while these can, in some forms, be added to an outdoor, garden, compost heap/bin, the odour would become unbearable in any small, enclosed, space. Compost making is not odour free at the best of times but any smell, indoors, can be vastly reduced, if not completely negated, by making the compost inside a sealable plastic bin liner inside the closed bin. Compost takes time to make and this time varies depending on ‘ingredients’ and average temperature so please be prepared for a wait.

Q. I read about milk and water plant food in a previous column and would like to know how often it can be used on both ornamental and vegetable plants being grown in pots and other containers.

Peas thrive when grown in crates or pots
Peas thrive when grown in crates or pots

A. This mix can be used on all plants. Once a month is adequate if perennial plants/trees are resting, twice a month for growing ornamentals and, especially when about to crop, once a week on vegetable beds/pots.

Q. Can you suggest a book on container gardening in Karachi? I also would like to know where to find a seasonal planting calendar which gives information about which plants like full sun or partial shade and how much water they require.

A. Sorry but I am not aware of a Karachi-specific book on gardening in containers. Monthly information on what to plant appears here on the first Sunday of the month. For other information, please keep your eyes on this column!

Q. I live near Hyderabad and plan on inter-cropping coriander and cotton. I am concerned about how to protect the coriander from any chemical I spray on the cotton and also about how to protect the coriander during hot weather.

A. The cotton should shade the coriander from the heat of the sun but, as for the chemical spray mentioned, the best advice is to replace it with a 100 per cent safe organic one please.

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, September 14th, 2014