Q: I live in Defence, Karachi and don’t know the first thing about gardening. Please advise on how to start off with planting vegetables for domestic consumption.
A: It is extremely encouraging that so many people are finally taking up the pleasurable task of growing their own, hopefully organic, vegetables as this is really the only sure way of knowing what you eat is good for you. The first step you need to take is to lay out vegetable beds and attend to soil preparation. Ideal vegetable beds should be in the sun or receive at least 6–8 hours of direct sunshine each day. It is wise to make beds, the centre of which can be easily reached from either side without having to walk on the soil. The beds can be of any length but the width is important. If adjacent to a wall, make sure that you can reach the back of the bed easily. The soil in the Defence area is generally on the sandy side so add to it a 50/50 mix of sweet earth mixed with old, well rotted, organic manure/organic compost. You can simply spread this new mixture on top of the existing earth to a depth of about 4–6 inches without digging it in. It may look a little high at first but will soon settle down to an acceptable level. Before spreading it, remove all weeds and stones from the bed, pay special attention to removing the roots of perennial weeds as these may be deep. Otherwise they will cause major problems later. What you can now sow depends on the season. I suggest that you go through the previous columns on the internet and look at those published on the first Sunday of each month as these give details of what to plant and when. Good luck and please do not hesitate to request additional information.
Q: How one can go about setting up a kitchen garden and where can one obtain soil testing services in Karachi? A: Please refer to the above reply to find out all you need to know about growing a kitchen garden. Soil testing kits can be found in garden supply stores or you could ask your local Department of Agriculture to help you out.
Q: Where can I find information on agricultural topics and are there any institutions which offer classes on agriculture/agri-business related topic? It is my dream to purchase some land and raise my own unadulterated food.
A: Your local Department of Agriculture should be able to help or you could simply search a topic on the net. You have not mentioned where you reside so it is difficult to advise about courses. I suggest that you contact Faisalabad University of Agriculture.
Q: I live in Malir and after reading one of your columns about growing pineapples I decided to experiment with growing one. After three and a half years it started to form fruit and for two months it grew rapidly to half the size of a ripe fruit. But for the next two months growth stopped. It is reddish in colour and has developed two side shoots. How will it grow more and what should I do with the side shoots? Does it need manure?
A: I am pleased to know that your pineapple is fruiting now but do harvest it before it spoils although, frankly, it may already have done so. The size of a pineapple is not indicative of being ripe. The fruit size depends on soil conditions and the availability of nutrients. Pineapples require very fertile soil in order to grow to a decent size. The soil should be fed and correctly prepared before you plant your pineapple top. Feeding it after the fruit has formed will do nothing at all. Let the side shoots develop fully before carefully separating them from the parent plant and plant them in well prepared soil in a place of their own.
Q: I live in Peshawar and would like to know how to prepare soil for the seasonal planting of flowers.
A: Please refer to the first reply and prepare your flower beds in exactly the same way.
Q: At what age does a magnolia start flowering? A: Depending on species, soil and general climatic conditions, magnolias can start flowering between 2–5 years, irrespective of whether they are just 18 inches or three feet tall.
Please continue sending your gardening queries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember to include your location. Answers to selected questions will appear shortly in a future issue of the magazine. The writer will not respond directly by e-mail. Emails with attachments will not be opened. The writer’s garden is not open to the public.