Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


Food and water

January 10, 2016


Ripening olives
Ripening olives

Q. I recently planted a pomegranate tree in my garden in Lahore and it is now fruiting for the second time. The fruit is light pink in colour and very sweet. The problem is that, as the fruit grows in size, it develops cracks in the skin and this spoils it. What can be done to stop this from happening?

A. The issue here is one of water. It is essential that pomegranates are kept well watered from the blossoming stage right through to harvesting the ripe fruit. Insufficient water, or allowing the soil to completely dry out and then flooding it, causes the fruit to crack as described. Regular watering — plus mulching around the tree to help conserve soil moisture — should prevent this from happening in future.

Q. I want to grow olive trees in Quetta. Is this possible in respect of weather and atmospheric conditions here? If so, please recommend a variety, plus, the method and season to cultivate olives and get a good yield.

Mulching is one of the most beneficial activities that you do for healthy plants and trees

A. Next week’s column will be devoted to olive cultivation in Pakistan. Please hang on until then.

Q. I have recently started kitchen gardening and, as I cannot grow much in winter, I decided to mulch it with paper and leaves but it has made my garden look messy. I cannot take the mulch out as it is mixed with the soil but is not becoming compost. I need it to turn into compost or else I won’t be able to plant any vegetables in the spring. What can I do?

A. Patience please! Mulch does not turn into compost overnight. It takes time, variations in temperature, regular watering, plus, the help of many beneficial creatures such as earthworms and beetles, to transform mulch into compost. I am at a loss to understand why you say that you cannot grow vegetables over the winter when, for the majority, winter season is the main growing period. Even up in the Murree Hills, where freezing temperatures and snow are normal winter weather, vegetables can still be grown providing, of course, suitable varieties are planted.

Healthy pomegranate
Healthy pomegranate

Additionally, mulch is spread on top of the soil surface — it is not mulch when mixed in like this. I am wondering if you shredded the paper prior to using it: This is important as large pieces of paper — newspaper / brown paper / soft paper — take much longer to rot down than small pieces do: glossy magazines and similar are not, as you are no doubt aware, suitable material for mulch.

Q. I have an eight-year-old pecan tree in my Islamabad garden. It has been giving nuts for the last three years but they are very small in size. Could this be due to the variety or do I need to do something?

A. It could very well be the variety. It could, however, also be that the soil needs feeding. Pecan trees are fairly hungry so giving them a six monthly — spring and autumn — treat of old, well-rotted, organic manure, with an added dash of organic seaweed meal, is recommended. Regular watering from blossoming through to harvesting is also important for the development of good quality nuts.

Q. We are having a problem with black ants. They are everywhere — in the lawn, on the walls, underneath plant pots and sometimes inside the plant pots, plus, underneath the cover of the water tank. We have tried many chemical solutions but nothing has worked. Can you advise, please?

Mulch is laid on top of the soil surface
Mulch is laid on top of the soil surface

A. The answer — providing that you are prepared to persevere every time ants attempt to make a comeback — is, quite simply, potassium permanganate, better known as ‘pinky’. Mix up a fairly strong solution and either spray or pour it directly onto the ants when the sun is shining. Direct sun on ants wet with ‘pinky’ almost instantly reacts and causes the ants to crumble into powder! Additionally, feed the ants with a few grains of sugar: they will pick the grains up and rush back to their nest with them and then, having led you to their nest/s, you can pour ‘pinky’ solution down there too — the ants will rush out as the water rushes in and then, as previously explained, they will crumble away to nothing in the sun.

You should keep on repeating this, every day if possible, until all trace of ants has gone. If, as they no doubt will, ants begin to reappear in the weeks to come, then repeat the process.

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

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, January 10th, 2016