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Crunchy pepper | Photos by the writer
Crunchy pepper | Photos by the writer

Q. I live in an apartment in Karachi. It has a balcony measuring 10ft x 3ft. I want to grow some kitchen plants in pots on it. I am a beginner and need guidance on all aspects of doing this.

A. There are many herbs and vegetables that flourish on balconies. However, much depends on how many hours of direct sunlight the balcony receives (does it face north, south, east or west?) and, depending on which floor you are on, the wind factor — because if winds are strong (especially if coming off the sea) plants will need total protection from it. Providing conditions are suitable, the easiest plants for a beginner to start off with are coriander, mint, chillies, lettuce and other salad greens, moving on to tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and aubergines when a little experience is gained.

You will need to purchase some clay pots or obtain some wooden fruit/vegetable crates from the bazaar — line the crates with newspaper before putting in a mixture of good quality sweet earth, organic compost/manure. Use a basic mix of 50 percent soil and 50 percent compost/fully rotted manure with any lumps broken down into tiny pieces. Mint can be grown from cuttings but all others mentioned above are best grown from seed, sown very thinly to prevent overcrowding, just under the surface of the soil/compost/manure mix. Water lightly each evening and germination, of any of the above, should begin within seven to 10 days. Thin seedlings out when large enough to handle, ensuring that each plant has lots of space in which to grow and sufficient depth for its roots to develop.

All your gardening queries answered here

Please keep your eyes on this weekly column for further advice and tips. A seed sowing guide is provided on the first Sunday of each month. Good luck with your gardening.

Seed-grown lavender
Seed-grown lavender

Q. My chiku tree is getting some white disease and ants are attacking the fruit and leaves too. What can I spray it with?

A. It sounds like your tree is infested with woolly aphids: the ants are ‘farming’ the aphids, not attacking the tree — although they will eat the burst or otherwise damaged fruit. Simply mix up some warm soapy water (washing up liquid or baby shampoo is fine) and thoroughly spray this, in an evening, repeating each evening until the white stuff has gone. You can speed up the process by wiping off the aphids using a soapy sponge and disposing of the residue sensibly.

Q. What is the best time for sowing seeds of custard apple, moringa, papaya, guava and other seeds?

A. You have not provided your location, but if you live in Karachi then April is a good month to sow seeds of the trees you have named. It is not possible to suggest sowing times for unnamed seeds as different species have different temperature requirements. A monthly seed-sowing guide is provided, in this column, on the first Sunday of each month. You may find this helpful but, if not, then please supply the names of the seeds you have and answers will be given accordingly.

Q. There used to be lots of pomegranate orchards in Alipur, in Muzaffargarh area of South Punjab. Some virus or disease attacked the trees which deteriorated and are now rare. Where can new pomegranate trees of top quality be found?

Pomegranate in blossom
Pomegranate in blossom

A. Young pomegranate saplings, often of excellent quality, can be found in nurseries around Multan with Afghan varieties being preferable for the Muzaffargarh locality.

Q. Can lavender and rosemary be grown in Soon Sakesar, Talagang area? If so, please provide cultivation guidance.

A. With correct soil preparation and meticulous care and maintenance, both lavender and rosemary should perform reasonably well in the Soon Sakesar locality. Both the plants thrive in full sun, in moderately fertile, well-drained soil having a pH of seven or thereabouts. They can be started off from seed sown in mid to late autumn. Young plants are best transplanted into their growing position during very early spring, planting distances depending on exact varieties being grown. Young plants will need regular watering for the first six to eight weeks; watering is then tapered off. Fairly drought-tolerant once established, mature plants benefit from a thorough soaking no more than once in four to six weeks.

Q. Is it possible to grow blueberries in Othal, District Lasbela, Balochistan? I am already growing lemons, chiku, falsa, dates, jujube and bananas and would like to grow some blueberries as well.

A. According to extensive research by soil scientists, the soil in your area is not suitable for blueberry cultivation. Blueberries require acidic soil which contains a very high percentage of natural, moisture-retentive, organic matter. Whilst soil amendments can be made, blueberries are still unlikely to succeed.

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. Commercial enquiries will be ignored.

Published in Dawn, EOS, February 10th, 2019