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Bountiful grapes | Photos by the writer
Bountiful grapes | Photos by the writer

Q. Can thyme be grown in Karachi? If so, where can I get seeds or plants?

A. Yes it can. Seeds should be available during September/ October and on through the winter months. Sow seeds from September to March for best results and keep the plants out of direct noon and afternoon sun. Thyme does well in pots, in light shade beneath trees.

Q. You often advise the use of garlic or chilli sprays on plants instead of chemical pesticides. Are these good for all kinds of plants or just for some? I want to make five litres of garlic spray and need to know how much garlic must be used.

All your gardening queries answered

A. These organic sprays can be used on any kind of plant. Use a quarter kilo of unpeeled garlic cloves per one litre of water or one handful of red/ green chillies per one litre water. For garlic spray: roughly chop the garlic cloves, put in a pan with the water, bring to boiling point and simmer for approximately 15 minutes. Switch off the stove and leave to stand for about 12 hours before straining through muslin or other fine cloth and spraying on pest-infected plants in the evening. The garlic cloves may be reused two to three times before losing their strength.

For chilli spray: put the chillies through a blender, chop them up as small as possible before putting them in a clear glass/plastic container with the water. Screw on the container lid/top and stand in direct sun for 24 to 48 hours. Strain through muslin and spray on pest-infected plants in an evening when there is no wind — the latter to safeguard yourself as while the spray does not harm plants, it may burn you. The chillies may be reused just once. Spraying should be repeated each evening for three to seven days depending on how stubborn the pests are. Remember to spray underneath the leaves, too, as pests often hide there. Please wear gloves, a face mask and eye protection when making and spraying chilli spray.

Q. Can fruit and vegetables be organically grown to successfully provide enough food for everyone, maybe 200 million people in the country?

A. It can be but, unfortunately, for a wide range of reasons — including exploitation of commercial growers by the agri industry — is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future.

Pomegranate
Pomegranate

Q. I have three pomegranate trees in my garden in Swabi, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which bear fruit but the skin quickly roughens. I thought it may be due to a lack of water so, this year, I was extra careful but the problem persists. What is the solution?

A. There are many different pomegranate varieties: some naturally have the rough skin as you describe, therefore, as long as the fruit inside is good, don’t worry about it. You are right to take care in watering them: heavy irrigation on soil that has been allowed to dry out causes pomegranate trees to drink more water than the fruit can absorb, so it splits instead. Little and often is a must with pomegranate irrigation although, of course, there is nothing to be done about it if/when it rains at the ‘wrong’ time.

Q. I propagated lucky bamboo in Karachi. I would like your recommendation on how to make the new shoots curl so that it looks good.

A. Lucky bamboo (Dracaena sanderiana) can be trained into many shapes and all it takes is sunlight and patience. Plants naturally grow towards the light so standing the lucky bamboo pot/jar/bottle on a surface at least three feet away from a sunny window will cause the plant to grow towards this window. Once it gets a slight lean on, turn the pot to one side and give the plant time to begin to lean/curl back towards the sunlight. Keep on turning the plant — the process takes weeks — until it develops a distinct curl, or train it into another shape if preferred.

Moringa seedling
Moringa seedling

Q. I have a five-year-old grapevine at my home in Malakand. It was healthy and producing good grapes for two years but then the grapes would wilt, dry and burst when still small. It recovered itself but now the same is happening again and I see mosquito-like insects buzzing around the leaves. What can I do?

A. The problem is caused by incorrect irrigation. Grape vines must have a regular supply of water right from blossoming until harvest is over. If at any point during this period, the soil is allowed to dry out completely before being watered again, these split grapes attract insects and may also become infected with otherwise avoidable fungal diseases. I suspect that the years in which the vine produced good grapes were either the years in which it was watered properly or in which rain was more regular.

Q. Can Moringa oleifera be grown in Malakand? If yes, where can I get cuttings/seeds?

A. It should be easy to cultivate in your climate. I am not familiar with tree nurseries in Malakand so I suggest that you join a Pakistani garden group on Facebook — of which there are many — and ask members if anyone can send you Moringa oleifera seeds, perhaps in exchange for some other kind of seed which you can send to them.

Q. What chemicals should be sprayed to keep the garden healthy?

A. Absolutely none!

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

Published in Dawn, EOS, August 12th, 2018