The season is just right to begin planting some useful herbs and vegetables for your home kitchen, says REENA SINGH
As monsoon begins to hit India, most places especially in the north of India have already experienced a couple of showers and humidity levels everywhere are high. Therefore, this is the ideal season to plant vegetables so that you can enjoy fresh produce within a few months in your own kitchen.
This is the right time to plant ghia or bottle gourd, pumpkin of both varieties, green and yellow, and vegetables from the gourd family – whether plain, ridged or snake. You can also plant lima, lobia and cluster beans. All these are actually vines and need some support to grow to their optimum level. For the absolute health conscious, with many considering its bitter taste as something special is the bitter gourd or karela. This is also the ideal season to grow cucumber, an evergreen in salads all over the world.
There are some evergreens like spinach, radish and coriander that in most areas, you can sow at almost any time of the year, including when monsoons are round the corner. While the vegetables mentioned above do better sown in the ground, these last three actually do better in pots on the terrace during the rainy season.
Then there are some vegetables that you can grow directly from your fresh tomatoes and capsicum plants that you buy daily from your subziwala. Seeds that come out fresh from these vegetables can be sown directly into the soil. It is also equally easy to grow mint from cuttings as also herbs like basil. After watching some YouTube videos on planting through cuttings, I have now stopped asking my mali to bring me plants from nurseries to grow in pots or in the land around my house.
I directly take cuttings from neighbours and do my own planting, first in a small glass bottle and when the roots sprout, I have it transplanted into the ground or a pot. And viola, a little sapling of madhu malti has now grown into a mighty hedge in just a few months.
But this bit about the madhu malti bel is a digression, so let us get back to the topic of the right vegetables to grow at the start of the rainy season. Once you have arranged for your soil such as a mixture of compost, garden soil and cocopeat in the ratio of 3:4:3, you are all set to start planting. Soil mixes are usually available in nurseries and also online. A bit of research will also cough up names of hobby gardeners in your area who will sell home-made compost and will supply you cocopeat as well. Personally, I go through such people as I think nurseries are more commercial and have no interest other than their profit motive and could not care less about the soil they sell to you.
The ideal method of sowing seeds is in smaller pots and later transporting the small saplings after they have grown a couple of inches and have a minimum of four to five leaves. You can scatter your seeds three to four inches apart, then cover them with a layer of the same soil mix. Water gently and never drench the seeds in excess water as your seeds may rot in that case. The best is to maintain a reasonably moist combination of soil and water which will give the seeds enough moisture to sprout.
Enthusiastic gardeners will also give you tips like transplanting small saplings into bigger pots in groups of three to four as that will assist pollination. Your plant should not be alone in the pot. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Humans also thrive better in groups or with at least a few good companions.
Here are some tips for chillies and tomatoes, the seeds for which are available always in your kitchen. You can begin with these right away:
Plant the seeds of chilli plants in pots and place them in a sunny spot in your garden or terrace. They need at least six to seven hours of sunlight a day.
Pinch out tops of plants every eight to ten days to encourage more branches to sprout and to ensure fuller growth.
Chillies are of different types, so remove seeds of the different types of chillies you buy and fill some planters with them.
Similarly, slice tomatoes horizontally and plant these sliced tomatoes in your prepared soil in smaller pots. Then remove once grown to five or six inches and plant in three to four-inch deep holes in bigger pots. Remove the bottom leaves to facilitate this.
Water these transplanted tomato plants so that they grow firm roots in the new pot.
You might need some small sticks to support the new plants to grow upright. You can use twine or small threads to tie them loosely to the sticks.
Tomatoes are hungry for food, so you need to throw in two to three fistfuls of compost into your pots per plant. Ditto for the chilli plants described earlier.
Tomatoes grow fast – and within 45 days, healthy tomatoes should appear.
Use big scissors to harvest your tomatoes once they are red and ripe.
Now that the right season has hit us, don’t stay indoors. Get on with your gardening. You will find it immensely satisfying.
Reena Singh has more than 37 years’ experience in senior editorial positions in The Times of India (TOI) and Genpact. She was Deputy Editor with TOI’s spiritual newspaper, The Speaking Tree, where she spent nine years.