By Zahra Nasir
Some winter vegetables can now be grown in summer, says Zahrah Nasir
Now, where was I before I ran out of space at the beginning of the month? Oh yes! We are adjusting our gardening habits in what promises to be — apologies if the subject is distressing but we humans are to blame — a never ending battle with climate change which, as it promises to be impossible to win, we have to work with rather than against so, without any further ado, let’s get on with the subject of which edible/medicinal/useful plants can be sown right now.
Vegetables to be started off in seed trays/clay pots and, by the way, a seed sowing medium of 60 per cent sweet earth, 20 per cent river, not sea, sand and 20 per cent organic compost/old, well rotted, organic manure, is a good basic mix.
Cabbages: These are not, as some people think, purely a winter vegetable; here in Pakistan there are ‘cabbages’ and there are ‘cabbages’. Late autumn through winter varieties are those ‘hard headed’, cannonball cabbages we are so familiar with. What we are not familiar with are the very fast growing — as little as four to six weeks from seed sowing to harvest — pointed or ‘loose leaf’ varieties which, given good soil, adequate water and partial shade, produce even in the hottest of summers. Generally speaking, the best of these are ‘greyhound’ and ‘Wheeler’s imperial’ which are non-hybrid, heritage varieties that have been cultivated in other parts of the world for generations.
Cauliflower: Neither is cauliflower a purely winter crop either, as heritage varieties — our ancestors were far wiser than the current crop of modern humans — perform exceptionally well in summer too, given identical growing conditions as cabbage. You should get medium-sized cauliflowers in as little as eight to 10 weeks from sowing in Karachi, with ‘year-round’ production if you’re lucky. ‘Purple cape’, another heritage variety and yes, heads are purple, perform equally well. The writer harvested the latter in both July and August in Karachi, some years ago.
Calabresse: For the uninitiated, a much faster growing species than its close relative, the increasingly popular broccoli. It can be spring sown and is ready for harvesting in just 10 weeks and, in ideal conditions, out-produces broccoli by far.
Other vegetables to sow now, either in seed trays/ clay pots or directly in the ground, include: Cucumbers and lots of them, radish, more tomatoes, aubergines, spinach/leaf beet, lettuce, capsicums, chillies, gourds/pumpkins/squash, ladies’ finger, Chinese amaranth, Chinese cabbage, cop-suey greens, green onions, chicory, fenugreek, endive, orach, sweet corn and mixed salad leaves.
Herbs: Arugula/rocket, coriander, ajwain, aniseed, basil, borage, chamomile, chervil, chives, garlic chives, cilantro, dill, lemon grass, calendula, palmarosa, papalo and sorrel. Most of these, the exceptions being palmarosa and papalo, will prefer partial shade. All of the herbs mentioned here have medicinal as well as culinary uses but, prior to utilising any plant at all for medicinal purposes, you must know exactly what you are doing or you must consult a qualified expert. Please do not point any fingers in my direction if you get it wrong!
The time is absolutely perfect for sowing some sweet melons and watermelons too. Both of these, there are many varieties to chose from, require rich soil conditions and lots of water on a regular basis, especially when plants reach the flowering and then fruiting stage. Both can, with care, be cultivated in large clay pots/containers as well as directly in the ground and both, this is a great space-saver as plants can straggle all over the place, be encouraged to climb up suitable nets/growing frames/trellises. If you do this, do not forget to provide individual support to each fruit, a sling or net is fine, as it develops — otherwise the whole lot could come crashing down!
Other useful additions to your garden proper, rooftop, balcony, terrace or container garden of any description, include:
Aloe vera: This drought resistant perennial has a wide number of uses, both external and internal. Plants are clump forming and perfectly at home in dry, exposed locations.
Jasmine/motia: Flowers can be made into delicately aromatic herbal teas and sherbets, plus, can be added to cakes and biscuits, ice-creams and salads.
Hibiscus: Has the same uses as jasmine/motia.
Day Lilies/hemerocallis: All green parts are perfectly edible when cooked although, it must be said, it is a very acquired taste to put it mildly. The flowers though, when stuffed with mozzarella cheese, tied closed with cotton thread or sealed with a wooden toothpick and lightly fried, are scrumptious!
General garden tasks at the moment are, as always, many and varied but you may enjoy trying your hand at propagating some of your favourite shrubs and climbers by taking cuttings, plus, this is a water-saving essential, applying a decent layer of organic mulch, suggestions for mulching materials were made in the column that appeared on the first Sunday of this month, on all and any bare soil around.