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Your vegetable garden

Your vegetable garden

Q. I plan to grow potatoes in Rawalpindi but do not know in which season to do this or how to care for them. Please explain.

A. Experienced gardeners can cultivate potatoes almost all year round — the exception being during the monsoon when problems with blight can arise — in your locality. But, as you are a beginner, I suggest that you plant them from September through to the end of December as growing them through the cooler months is far easier than in the heat. Potatoes are usually grown from what are called ‘seed potatoes’ which are small tubers, often already sprouting, purchased from garden supply stores but, as long as you select blemish / disease-free, small / medium-sized, mature not freshly dug up, potatoes in the bazaar, you can obtain decent crops by planting these. Best results are obtained by planting potatoes which have already begun to sprout which can be encouraged by keeping them in a dark place for a week or two. Don’t, however, let the shoots get more than an inch or two long before you plant the potatoes. Ground should be prepared at least two to three weeks before you intend planting. The soil should be cleaned of weeds and stones, have lots of organic material — compost / old, well rotted, organic manure for example — mixed in and the location should be sunny and have good drainage as overly wet soil causes potatoes to rot, and encourages the onset of various diseases.

Dig trenches — preferably running north to south so that both sides of the plants receive an equal amount of sunlight — six to nine inches deep and plant each tuber with emerging shoots (these are extremely brittle so handle with care) facing upwards at a distance of 15-18 inches apart in rows 24-30 inches apart. Carefully fill in the trench but do not pack the soil down hard. Water every other evening — don’t drown them — and shoots should emerge within approximately two to three weeks. Once shoots are about six to eight inches tall they should be ‘earthed up’: this is done by gently drawing the surrounding soil up and around the shoots to almost cover them and it both encourages growth and ensures that developing baby potatoes are kept covered. If baby potatoes are exposed to sunlight they turn green and are poisonous to eat. It may be necessary to earth up plants three to four times as they grow. Keep the plants free of weeds. In order to avoid bacterial / fungal disease, water the soil around the plants and not the leaves themselves. Once the plants have flowered — these flowers may be white or pink — then died back naturally, the potatoes will be ready to dig up and eat: this is usually approx three to four months after planting the ‘seed’. Planting a few potatoes every two to three weeks throughout this recommended growing season will give you a continuous supply of fresh, garden potatoes for quite some time.

Q. I often see references to ‘Garden salad’ in magazines / books and the accompanying pictures always look mouthwatering. What can be grown, in Islamabad, to use in such salads? I do not have much gardening experience so want to begin by growing some easy to care for salad ingredients from September onwards as I will be away on holiday in the summer. I need to know well in advance so that I can find seeds.

A. Nothing is easier to grow than assorted salad ingredients and straight from garden to kitchen to table, their taste is impossible to beat. Try lettuce, different varieties and colours, Swiss chard / leaf beet in rainbow hues, tomatoes in traditional reds and eye-catching yellows, mizuna, radish / mooli, aniseed, mint, parsley and for an edible, floral touch, add calendula, nasturtium and borage flowers to your seed list.

Q. How can we grow ‘small’ grass in Karachi?

A. Look around your local nurseries for ‘turf’: this is ready growing grass sold by the square foot / metre. It is far simpler to establish a lawn using this than either transplanting tiny clumps of grass or by sowing what is often very troublesome seed.

Q. I have a five-year-old meetha (Sweet lime) tree in my garden in Lahore. It flowered for the first time last month but to my utter amazement has not set any fruit. What could be the reason?

A. A lack of pollinating insects due to atmospheric pollution / use of chemical sprays in the vicinity when the tree was in blossom or irregular irrigation; or, quite simply, while it blossomed, it is still not mature enough to bear fruit. Be patient please: hopefully it will set some fruit next time.

Q. Is yellow honeysuckle invasive and can it damage buildings and walls?

A. This glorious, heavily perfumed climber / rambler can, if left unpruned, get quite unruly but is unlikely to cause any structural damage. It should be pruned, after flowering which it does two to three times a year, to encourage new growth and an abundance of blossom.

Q. How can we grow Ocimum liquorice or Persian basil in Karachi?

A. Sow seed, very thinly, just under the surface of good quality soil / organic compost during either early spring or early autumn. Basil is a sun-lover and can be grown directly in prepared ground four to six inches apart or in pots / containers, three per 12-inch clay pot. Keep soil / compost damp but not wet. Pinch out main growing tips when seedlings are four inches high to encourage the plant to bush out, thus producing more leaves.

Please continue sending your gardening queries to [email protected]. Remember to include your location. The writer will not respond directly by e-mail. E-mails with attachments will not be opened.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, June 14th, 2015

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