My experiments with vegetable gardening

Growing vegetables and fruits can be an amazing pastime. I have successfully grown fruits and vegetables in containers. The fresh produce from your own organic garden tastes nothing like the veggies and fruits bought from a store. I share here my experience with my vegetable garden and hope you pick up some useful tips.

Gardening was something that always fascinated me. Thanks to my father who had the proverbial green fingers and my maternal grandfather who grew rows upon rows of an assortment of vegetables in his farmhouse. I have pleasant memories of dad pottering around our terrace garden and my cousins and I helping at my grandfather's farm. I grew up in a profusion of plants – flowers, fruits, vegetables and herbs. As time passed on, I stayed in touch with the gardener in me, growing bonsai, and cacti, and flowers and plants for foliage. I'd start a potted garden, in every new place I moved to. There was no internet back then and the DIY gardening projects were always a challenge. I'd scour libraries and second-hand bookstores for books on gardening. I'd speak to local 'malis' (gardeners) and make use of the tips I would gather.

Whenever space permitted (which fortunately was quite often) I would start a garden. And that is how I began growing vegetables. I would grow everything possible from tomatoes to brinjal to ladyfinger to spinach, gourds and chillies and more. I have also grown a variety of fruits such as guava, pomegranate, oranges, lemons, custard apple, strawberries and sapota. If place permitted I'd begin a garden directly on the ground. If the accommodation had a terrace I'd start a container garden. There were times when we'd not get an 'A' Type accommodation on arrival, and we'd have to reside in a 'C' Type accommodation, which would typically be a 1 BHK tenement, with no open space. At such times I'd switch to indoor gardening and cope with its challenges.

Since we moved cities pretty often I didn't spend a lot of money on containers and pots. I came up with a novel idea of using whatever was available – an old kitchen sink or a discarded plastic pot. I recycled and used whatever could be used as planters. My kitchen garden was never aesthetically planned, but it delivered what it was meant to.

I share a few tips of things I learnt to do, and what you can practice if you are into gardening.

Gardening schedule

My daughter and husband would be out of the house by 7:30 hours and I would spend the next hour or so in my garden. I'd water the plants, remove weeds and inspect each plant for pest attack, disease or distress. Handling pest attacks is easy if detected early. Once a plant gets heavily infested then tackling the bugs becomes difficult. I'd look under leaves and at the stems for infestation.

I discovered that growing vegetables in an organic medium attracted bugs more easily. I rarely used pesticides and whenever I did it was always an organic pesticide either homemade or sourced from a nursery. I found a clever way to fight pests. I'd manually examine all the leaves (you need to look for these pesky creatures on the underside) and if I'd find an infestation I'd remove the leaves that had pests latched on to them. If the infestation was more, then I'd snip of entire branches. You'll be surprised at how quickly pests can invade a plant. I have had pest attacks that happened overnight.

Plants that were found drooping or with leaves changing colour needed attention. I'd check the soil, maybe it was waterlogged and killing the roots. Sometimes the plants needed to be moved to a shaded area, some plants needed to be moved to a sunnier area. Sometimes the plants needed a change of soil.

All insects aren't pests

Nature has a wonderful ecosystem going, and I learned how things work with conformity. Every garden I grew soon had a bevvy of insects storming it. There'd be ladybugs, green lacewings, wasps and the praying mantis and a host of other insects that I did not know the names of. They'd help keep my garden healthy by preying on pests.

Ants were, of course, a persistent nuisance they'd bring in harmful bugs because they'd feed on their secretion and larvae. However, what I understood was that barring a few, most insects were beneficial. My gardens would have an ecosystem of their own and I'd strive to maintain that. Nature has a wonderful way of creating a balance – one morning I'd wake up to caterpillars gorging on fresh leaves and a few days later find chrysalis hanging on them and sometimes be fortunate to catch a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis. I had my own National Geographic experiences right in my back yard. Spraying pesticides on my plants would mean the indiscriminate killing of all those lovely creatures.

Understanding dirt

Gardening might not be for you if you don't like to get your hands dirty. I have had to deal with dirt under my manicured nails and it would also damage my hands. Gardening gloves always came in handy, but then I couldn't get good quality gloves here, most would tear easily. I'd keep a tube/bottle of Johnson's Baby cream/oil handy to keep my hands in good shape.

For hands that toil

The soil in your garden is important – it must be the right type and have the right balance of nutrients. I used a mix of river sand, red soil, cocopeat, compost and cow manure in equal proportion in my vegetable garden. I always scouted for government managed nurseries or horticulture department to procure soil. It was sold at reasonable price. Compost was sold at petrol bunks.

Planting seeds

I have always used hybrid seeds because they grow into plants super fast and begin producing yield at a quicker pace too. Hybrid varieties tend to bear more fruit than normal plants. I always sowed seeds in small containers, cheese tins and jam bottles etcetera and would transfer the saplings to a bed or into a container, a few weeks after the germination took place.

Sunlight in a vegetable garden

All fruit bearing plants need sunlight and ample amount of it. It is best to select a spot that receives maximum sunlight for starting a vegetable garden. You might need to provide a mild shelter or a greenhouse if your plants are growing in a pot. My observation is that plants growing in the ground are better able to handle harsh sun than plants growing in containers.

Deciding what to grow

When I started my first vegetable garden I had no idea what all I could grow. This was a container garden, on a terrace. I began in a small way growing fenugreek, spinach, mint, chillies and lemon. I gradually learned that I could grow everything possible and gradually graduated into growing a variety of fruits and vegetables.

Start small, begin by growing greens, they are ready to harvest within a month. Other plants such as tomatoes and brinjal and gourds etcetera begin giving fruit within two-three months.

Organic pest control

I was into organic gardening and used no chemicals. Whenever pest infestation was beyond my control I used a solution of liquid detergent and neem oil as a spray over my plants. This generally helped fight infestations. I'd repeat it every week until I was sure the infestation was over. Sometimes the soil had to be changed because the bugs would have laid eggs in the soil and would continue breeding.

I also learned to make my own organic pesticide that called for a paste made from one garlic pod, one big piece of ginger and 10-15 green/red chillies. I'd add this to three litres of water, let it sit overnight, strain and spray on my plants. It worked as a deterrent and kept most pests away.

Planting garlic and marigold between plants also works well. The strong odour these plants emit keeps bugs away.

Squirrels can be another annoying factor that can ruin your garden. They chomp on veggies and fruits before you can harvest them. Sprinkle red chilli powder around the periphery of your garden to keep them away. You will need to do this once every fortnight or so. You may also provide a shelter to protect the plants.

I picked gardening as a hobby. It helped me stay fit, stay occupied and serve fresh and healthy fruits and vegetables to my family.

Article by Juana
Juana is a freelance writer, with years of experience, creating content for varied online portals. She holds a degree in English Literature and has worked as a teacher and as a soft skill trainer. An avid reader, she writes on a variety of topics ranging from health, travel, education and personality development.

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Author: K Mohan31 May 2017 Member Level: Platinum   Points : 2

Really overwhelmed to read this great article which is solely dedicated to vegetable gardening. Given the time and space, probably every one would love to follow what the author does. It takes great pride to know that entire family was involved to raise vegetable gardening. What I presume is that selecting of right seedlings coupled with right combination of mud and manure would go a long way to have a nice vegetable garden.

Author: Juana07 Jun 2017 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 5

A vegetable garden at home is generally developed from sowing seeds. It is only a few big farmlands that bank on seedlings/saplings.

The choice of seeds matter. A good hybrid variety will give abundant produce, very quickly.

While soil and manure are important, for a plant to provide yield, there are other factors that are equally crucial.

Most fruit bearing plants require ample amount of sunlight, without which they will not bear fruit.

Water is another element that provides nourishment to plants. It needs to be used in a controlled manner. Some plants require more water than the others.

A basic knowledge of the nutrients required by each plant is essential. For example, green leafy veggies will do well in a nitrogen-rich medium. Fruit bearing plants need more potassium and phosphorous. Tomatoes need calcium.

There is a whole science behind gardening, and it is much more than a layperson understands.

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