Sunday, 30 October 2011

How to grow Tomatoes in a container on your balcony

Most of the time, when I tell people I grow vegetables, they assume I live in a villa with a  huge garden. I actually live in an apartment and although, I do have a large terrace, I believe there's no reason why you can't grow food on your balcony if you set your heart on it. Honestly, when I started last year, I had never so much as SEEN a tomato plant, let alone grow one. Once I started, I expected my plants to die every day. Surprise, surprise, they didn't just NOT die on me, they gave me absolutely gorgeous loads of ripe, fresh fruit from January all the way into April.

So here's how you can go about growing a tomato plant on a balcony/terrace or in a container in your garden...

Shopping List
To start
  • Tomato seeds
  • 4-8" pot or plastic cup with a small hole in the base
  • Potting soil  (50l )
  • Watering can
  • For your growing plant
  • Cosmoplast container or bucket(50l) 
  • Compost bag (50l) or Granular fertiliser (small pack)
  • Water-soluble general-purpose plant food and tomato plant food (optional)
  • Tall bamboo cane or stake
  • Plant ties or nylon socks 

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Tips for transplanting and an invitation to a garden(ing) party

While learning about growing vegetables, you often come across the words 'transplanting' or 'pricking out'. When I first began gardening last year, I didn't trust myself to get anything right- what do you mean I need to pull out a happily growing seedling and trasns-plant it? How on earth....and so on.

But as I had gone on with my beginner's enthusiasm to plant about 25 tomato seeds in my seed tray, you can imagine just how much transplanting was staring me in the face. And when the weather gets right here, it really does get right- things begin to grow at an almost unbelievable rate. If you leave your rapidly growing seedlings in their tiny pots for too long, you are restricting their growth as the roots have nowhere to go. You can usually see them forcing their way through the drainage holes of the little pots. Being constricted, they also come under water stress and hence become more prone to pests and other problems. So yes, you gotta get down to it and somehow work up as much enthusiasm for transplanting as you did for the sowing!

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Making a bed for the Brassicas-Cabbage, Cauliflower, Pak Choi and Radish goes in

My first foray into growing Brassicas was a container of Pak Choi here in Dubai last year. It was unbelievably trouble-free and just kept coming and coming as a cut and come again crop. It was ready to harvest within 60 days of germination, by the first week of December and given some shade didn't bolt until almost the end of April. In the end, I was almost sick of it. So I figure that growing other Brassicas shouldn't be too hard either. However, Pak Choi is an open headed cabbage and free of the intricacies of growing a perfect round, tightly wrapped white cabbage or a creamy white cauliflower head.

Cabbages I picked up in Sharjah plant souk to see how they develop

Thursday, 6 October 2011

The cucumbers beat everyone else to it!

The heat that's still lingering on must be working wonders for the germination of my seeds. In less than three days, the cucumber seedlings have burst their way through the soil and are standing tall and proud. 

I am growing two varieties of cucumbers- Marketmore and Armenian Cucumber or Kakri, as it is known  in the subcontinent. Marketmore is a home growers slicing favourite perfect for sandwiches and salads. I did grow some last year although having left the planting too late into the spring, I had a brief but beautiful harvest before the plants succumbed to the heat. The produce disappeared all too quickly into egg sandwiches and a couple of green juices.

Kakri is a vegetable from my childhood. Botanically, it's classified as a melon but tastes and looks somewhat like a cucumber. It had a very brief season in the Karachi winters. When Ammi used to come back from the market, the long, ribbed kakri would be peeping out from the bags and would be sliced or cut into sticks immediately to be eaten with a bit of salt and pepper. If a rice dish such as kichdi or pea pulao was on menu for lunch, Ammi grated the Kakri into yoghurt for raita. Yumm. During my years in London, I completely forgot about it but am looking forward to introducing my kids to it.

Some tips about growing cucumbers:

Sunday, 2 October 2011

A few tips for growing vegetables with children

As the girls ran out on to the terrace in the cool of the early morning, the first question they asked was 'Are we doing the seeds today?!' They have been asking me this ever since we got the seed packets in our mail box. They love pronouncing all the names of the vegetables even though they refuse to eat most of them. Still, i think, it will pay to spark their interest. I am pretty sure i refused Spinach until the age of twenty. This year, we have also been doing some informal unit studies about seeds, vegetables and gardening in general. Just stuff like making stamps from potatoes, cutting out veg and fruit pictures from magazines, discussing how seeds grow etc. The long summer finally seems to be on the way out and it's a relief to be able to let them out on the terrace and get all hands on. We got some excellent bargain in outdoor toys from Dubizzle- a play house, a plastic slide and lovely handmade doll house. The girls love them.

I have to confess that I feel a bit too precious about my vegetable seedlings and plants. I get nervous when the kids play around with them. While I am learning to relax about it, I gave each of them a little plastic pot to fill up with soil and plant a tomato seed. I felt quite magnanimous but saw that Sara was frowning.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Time to Get Sowing!

You can feel it getting cooler in the UAE although the sun still has that scorching edge in the afternoons.
What I learnt from my gardening adventures last year tells me that the time is just about right to sow seeds for the nightshade family- tomatoes, aubergines and peppers both hot and sweet.

Here's what you need:

Potting Soil- Shalimar or Desert group are the ones I come across the most.

Seed Trays or you can use paper cups, egg cartons, small yoghurt pots with drainage holes punched out or even toilet roll tubes. I use seed trays simply because they are reusable from year to year and also do not get blown away by the wind. When you sow seeds in small pots, the seedlings have a chance to develop good, strong root balls. When you transplant or 'prick out' your seedlings into bigger pots, you give your plant a chance to grow strong and sturdy rather than leggy and weak.

Seeds- This is by far the most fun part- choosing your varieties. Last year, I just picked whatever I could find in the supermarkets. This year I have indulged myself and ordered seeds from online catalogues from the US and UK. I was also quite keen to try some varieties from the subcontinent and have managed to get hold of a few.