By Zahra Nasir

Having just, with tremendous difficulty I might add, extricated myself from in between the pages of a seed catalogue, I thought that, this month being a ‘good’ one for gardeners, we could take a look at some of the exciting edibles that can be sown right now — whether or not you have an actual garden or are a little more restricted by depending solely on cultivation in pots.

This month is perfect, especially after the 15th or thereabouts when temperatures should, all depending on the vagaries of climate change of course, begin to warm up the soil to the perfect temperature for some of the more ‘delicate’ species. Aubergines, lady’s finger and melons of all descriptions, can be started off with, of course, plenty of tender loving care to encourage them on their way.

Aubergines are far easier to cultivate than many people seem to think and are perfectly at home grown in clay pots, one plant per 10-inch pot, or other suitable containers, plus, as they are sun lovers, they can be cultivated on the roof too. Aubergines enjoy medium to rich growing conditions which are easily achieved by mixing a very generous helping of either homemade organic compost or old, well rotted, organic manure — a mix of both if you like — into some sweet earth with a wee bit of river sand, not salty sea sand, added to aid drainage. If growing aubergines, or anything else for that matter, in pots/containers, please ensure that the drainage hole/holes in the base are free of obstruction at all times.

Sow the seed, two to three inches apart, just under the surface of the soil, keep the seed pots/trays in a sunny spot, water each evening and transplant out when the seedlings have developed four to six leaves. Handle with care as the seedlings, like all seedlings, are delicate.

Tall growing varieties of versatile aubergines benefit from having their central growing shoot nipped out when the plants are approximately one foot tall. This encourages them to bush outwards instead of shooting for the sky and, as they ‘bush’, more fruit bearing shoots are formed than would otherwise be the case. Bush varieties do not require this treatment as they will bush out anyway. By the way: not all aubergines are purple. There are white, green, pink, orange and striped ones too. They can also be found in a wide range of sizes from huge, round ones right down to minute, almost pea-sized ones that can be simply stir fried and cooked whole.

Lady’s finger can also be grown either directly in the ground or in pots/containers with the wooden crates used to transport fruit/vegetables to the market being the ideal, after lining with a few sheets of newspaper, for sowing at the rate of six seeds per crate. Use the same soil/compost/manure mix as for aubergines. A word of warning here: you can, if you like, sow lady’s finger seed direct from the packet but, unless you use copious amounts of water each and every single day until they germinate, germination rate is liable to be poor.

It is much better, certainly water saving, to soak the very hard seeds in warm water — do this inside a small flask — for 24 hours prior to planting. This long, warm, soak, softens the outer seed shell and makes it far easier for the seedling to break through and live. The seeds should be sown about one inch deep and six to eight inches apart. After they have germinated, lady’s finger needs regular watering if it is to produce well. In drought conditions the plants hardly produce at all and, if they manage to do so, crops are very small indeed.

Melons are hungry plants and are best grown in very rich soil — say 70 per cent organic compost/organic manure and just 30 per cent sweet earth. They can be grown, in full sun, directly in prepared ground or one plant per wooden crate or other large container. Planting distance varies from one type of melon to another with species producing large melons requiring more growing space than those producing medium or small ones.

All melons need copious amounts of water, especially during the flowering and fruiting stage. Some varieties, the tall growing/rambling ones, can be trained up and over trellises, the fruit suspended in nets or other open- weave contrivances, to prevent their weight from bringing the entire plant crashing down. Bush varieties may require a little assistance in keeping their fruit from coming into direct contact with the soil as, if it does and lies on wet earth for any length of time, it may rot and we don’t want that to happen!

Other edibles to sow this month include the following: Pumpkins and all kinds of squash — put in lots and lots of courgettes/zucchini, lettuce, radish, green onions, lots and lots of tomatoes, quick growing varieties of cabbage, climbing beans/peas, cucumbers, leaf beet/Swiss chard, spinach, leeks, baby beetroot, baby carrots, potatoes and a wide variety of culinary and medicinal herbs.

A garden, any garden, can be extended vertically by good use of trellises, wig-whams, hanging baskets and through the use of multi-shelving firmly fixed to walls, etc. Even quite a tiny garden can be surprisingly productive if you let your imagination and inventiveness run riot by utilising anything that can conceivably have something grown in it: Cut off legs of jeans, old boots, jacket sleeves, strong cardboard boxes, old tires, computer cases, etc. can be fastened to walls, have shelves slotted in and trailing plants grown there, buckets with holes and the inner drums of broken washing machines make great potato barrels, etc. Clay pots can be lined up on ledges, wired into place if need be, used to border footpaths and driveways and then, of course, there is that fantastic open area known as a roof and about which I shall write more very soon.

February is also the perfect time to take some more cuttings of carnations, geraniums and both ornamental shrubs and creepers.

Also, make time, I’m sure that you can, to spend a few hours exploring what your local nurseries have on offer right now as you just might discover something edible, flowering or simply just ornamental, that you absolutely must take home and find space for.

Please send your gardening queries to Remember to include your location. The writer will not respond directly by e-mail.


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Source: Dawn news

Published on: 02/03/2013

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