Q. I have an 18 to 20-year-old coconut tree in my Karachi garden. It used to produce healthy coconuts but now the nuts are oddly shaped, do not develop to full size and have rough brown patches on them. Sometimes a gum like substance leaks from them and such coconuts are inedible as their water is bitter and they are devoid of flesh. An internet search suggests that it could be ‘Eriophyid mite’ but ‘Aceria guerreronis’ causes the exact same thing. What can I do? I purchased triazophos to root-feed the trees and would like to know if this will help resolve the problem.
A. Firstly, ‘Eriophyid mite’ and ‘Aceria guerreronis Keifer’ are two different, scientific names for the destructive coconut mite which, as you so rightly observe, is ruining your coconut crops. Coconut mites wreak havoc once they get established and coconut growers around the world are still struggling to find a reliable solution. The best options for you are to remove and sensibly dispose of, all young nuts showing the slightest sign of coconut mites and to keep on doing this until, in time, the mites have vanished. It is important, however, that you also work hard to keep your coconut tree in good health by keeping it free of damaged fronds and by ensuring that it has a regular supply or purely organic, not chemical based, food in the form of potash/potassium from burnt, dried out coconut fronds (as long as they are disease/pest free) and by regular mulching around, but not touching, the trunk with top grade, organic compost. Time and hard work are necessary to deal with these mites, success is not guaranteed but it is certainly worth a try.
Q. I am a university student involved in a kitchen garden project at Railway City Colony on I.I. Chundrigar road in Karachi. What kinds of fruit and vegetables can we grow there and how best to do it please?
A. How exciting for you to participate in such a wonderful project right in the centre of the city. Hopefully it will materialise in the not too distant future as greening up urban spaces is of high importance for various reasons.
Lots of seasonal vegetables can be cultivated, provided the planting area is correctly prepared and that there is a reliable source of water. For what to plant and when, along with other tips, please read this column on the first Sunday of each month when a seasonal planting/sowing guide is given. All manner of other relevant advice appears in this weekly column on a regular basis. Fruit trees such as mango, chiku, sharifa, papaya, coconuts, dates, bananas and guava should do well. Much depends on the size of the area concerned and it is important to take into consideration the location of both overhead and underground service pipes/wires so that damage can be avoided. Wishing the project the very best.
Answers to your seasonal gardening quetions
Q. I have rosemary, oregano, basil and parsley seeds but not sure when to sow them in Lahore. Can I also grow lupins here?
A. Rosemary and parsley can be sown anytime from now until the end of November. Oregano and basil are best kept until early spring once the weather begins to warm up. Lupins, one of my favourite flowers, can be surprisingly temperamental in Pakistan, even up in the Murree hills where I failed with them time and time again. I have seen a few, fairly poor, lupin plants around Islamabad and perhaps you will have more luck. Try sowing the seed now, nurse the plants over winter and keep your fingers crossed that they flower in spring before the heat burns them up. Grow them in partial shade and watch out for slugs/snails which home in on them from miles around.
Q. Which evergreen plants/shrubs, flowering or purely ornamental, can be grown in pots or containers in Larkana?
A. There are so many that it is difficult to know which to advise. You may, however, like to make a start with Hibiscus of which there are many colours and forms, frangipani (champa), Strelitzia — Bird of Paradise, Lantana and perhaps some Tradescantia too. Additionally, take a look around nurseries in your area and see what they have in stock, plus, don’t forget that Chinese limes do well in large pots/containers and can flower and fruit prolifically.
Q. What is hoeing and what benefits does it have?
A. A hoe — there are quite a few different types — is a garden tool used to break up the soil surface, cutting off emerging weeds in the process. A draw-hoe is used to pull soil up around the base of plants, such as when earthing up potatoes and celery. These long-handled tools are a real gardeners’ friend and because they save on having to bend over to work, are highly recommended to avoid problems with an aching back.
Q. You often mention that watering lightly, thus more often, is better than applying huge volumes of water all at once. But I learnt from well-experienced gardeners that watering heavily, all at once, is better as it lets plant roots satisfy their needs. Will you kindly clear the confusion?
A. Regular, light watering should help retain a carefully balanced soil moisture level at all times, thus ensuring that plants are never stressed by having to deal with not enough or far too much water all at once. Heavy watering can lead to the rise of fungal disease in plant roots and, if the soil remains overly wet for any period of time, also encourages the formation of mildew and other leaf damaging problems. Too much water all at once, can also cause flower buds and forming fruit to fall. n
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Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine September 25th, 2016