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Carrots
Carrots

Manure — of the old, well-rotted kind — is a garden staple that is increasingly difficult to source: especially if you prefer pure organic gardening, which is the only type that favours human as well as plant health.

City dwellers may have a next to impossible task on their hands in sourcing organic manure. This is because buffalos in commercial farms — on which most people depend for fresh milk — are being given daily doses of hormones that increase their natural milk production many times over, along with regular doses of antibiotics for animal health reasons, although the government is currently attempting to change this. Residues of these antibiotics and hormones are present in the manure and using it in your garden is certainly not healthy, let alone organic.

Poultry too is also given antibiotics on a regular basis which renders poultry manure un-organic and unsafe as well: a high percentage of locally sourced and packed ‘organic’ soil additives are, irrespective of labelling, nothing of the sort which leaves organic gardeners with a huge problem.

A successful organic garden is dependent upon the quality of the soil

There are, though, a couple of ways around it:

— It won’t be easy, but you can search for someone who keeps a small number of cows/buffaloes, goats/sheep, poultry on a ‘home’ basis as, aside from annual vaccinations and worming, their manure should be about as organic as you can get. Their owner will probably be delighted to sell you enough manure to keep your garden fertile all year round. The best and oldest manure is always at the bottom of the heap as it has been there the longest and, depending on how often the heap is depleted of course, it may already have rotted down into what resembles finely-crumbled chocolate cake ready for immediate garden use. If not, or if in doubt, then you will need to heap it up and watering regularly, turning it upside down and inside out every two to three weeks until it is fully rotted down. It’s a good idea to do this in the corner of the garden furthest from the house.

— If you have or have access to a suitably large area of land with a reliable water source, and if local by-laws permit, you can keep a milk animal or a few chickens of your own and ensure their food and health care is organic. They will supply you with enough organic manure to keep your garden growing.

For those with small gardens/rooftop gardens, there is another option too and this we shall examine in a couple of weeks’ time.

FEBRUARY PLANTING SUGGESTIONS

In the flower garden: Sow seeds of sunflowers of varying heights, single and double forms and in brilliant yellows, creamy whites, dusky oranges and other earth tones, velvety reds to scrumptious chocolate browns. These can be sown directly where they are to bloom and will certainly dazzle in weeks to come. Medium tall-growing cosmos and Mexican sunflowers can also be sown directly where they are to bloom. Tithonia; Verbena; blue- flowered, white-eyed nicandra; scabosia in pastel pinks, powder blues, lavender and white; and masses of sweetly-perfumed, fast-growing ‘Virginia stocks’, to flood the atmosphere with olfactory delight from dusk until dawn, can all be sown this month. The following are best started off in pots/trays of good quality seed-compost and transplanted into beds, borders, containers or hanging baskets when large enough to handle: a wide selection of zinnias, portulaca (rock roses), bush and trailing petunias, alyssum, lobelia, tagetes, matricaria, gaillardia, rudbekia, nemesia, godetia and a varied selection of dahlias for good measure.

Chive flower
Chive flower

In the vegetable patch: Mixed salad leaves, lettuce, spinach, leaf beet/Swiss chard, endive, chicory, tomatoes, aubergines, cucumbers, green onions, potatoes, radish, seasonal cabbage and cauliflower, ladies finger, sugar snap-peas/mange tout, bush and climbing French beans, asparagus peas, chickpeas, baby carrots and baby beetroot for pulling when tender and young. In the last week of the month you can start off a few sweet potatoes and just a few courgette/zucchini, tori, marrows, lauki, spaghetti squash, tindas and pumpkins for early season crops.

In the herb garden: An assortment of basil, oregano, marjoram, borage, agastache, pennyroyal, lemon balm, coriander, dill, arugula/rocket, chives, garlic chives, various varieties and flavours of mint, aniseed, fenugreek, plecanthrus — Cuban thyme, thyme, lemon grass, tarragon, calendulas, chervil and nasturtiums of every conceivable colour and growth habit you can find.

General planting: There is still time — providing you have the space of course — to add more trees, shrubs, climbers and ramblers to your collection, so head out for a nursery tour to see what you can find. Remember though to check that what you choose will be suitable for your immediate location.

Flower of the month: Magnolias are large shrubs or medium to tall trees which may be evergreen or deciduous. They are known for their deliciously fragrant white, pink, red, purple or yellow blossom in early spring. Prefers slightly acidic soil but does tolerate other soil conditions as long as drainage is good, and grows best in full sun or light shade though some species dislike the intense heat of the early afternoon sun. Protection from wind — especially from sea winds — is recommended. It needs regular watering in hot weather. Placing a thick layer of mulch around, but not touching, the base of the tree helps keep roots relatively cool. Champaca magnolia and Northern magnolia recommended for Karachi, Northern magnolia and Savier magnolia and Star magnolia for Lahore northwards. Plants should be available in specialist nurseries now.

Please continue sending your gardening queries to zahrahnasir@hotmail.com. Remember to include your location. The writer does not respond directly by email.

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Published in Dawn, EOS, February 4th, 2018