September 2017: Goals

I don’t know if anyone is still around but I’ve missed blogging and I’m going ease my way back in by posting weekly book reviews and round ups of what’s happening in my garden.

Reading Goals:
I haven’t been reading much these days. Here’s my reading list for September. Two fiction and two non-fiction books:

  • Interesting Times, Terry Pratchett
  • My Brilliant Friend , Elena Ferrante
  • The Master Algorithm, Pedro Domingos
  • Health, Healing and Beyond, T. K. V. Desikachar

Gardening goals:
I’m learning to grow vegetables in containers and my goal is to feed our family with organic produce by the end of next year. With the exception of onions, potatoes, carrots and suchlike it’s theoretically possible to grow almost everything else for ourselves. Flowers for puja included. Let’s see how this project goes. I have quite a liberal budget set for this and I hope to start breaking even by next year.

Here’s my target for this month.

  • Revive my bottle gourd and snake gourd vines which somehow look a bit wilted and yellow
  • Get the cucumber creepers to yield
  • Tomato, brinjal, chilly plants are flowering, they need to start yielding
  • Start cauliflower, beets, carrots, spinach from seeds
  • Plant a few gongura stalks
  • Plant banana and papaya trees in the garden

10 Mistakes that will Kill Your Terrace Garden

Transplanting Everything
Seedlings are not cute. They’re as clingy and needy as newborn and throw tantrums like toddlers. At the top of the list of seedlings that will die of shock are cucumber and bhindi (ladies finger/okra). Tomatoes and brinjal (eggplant) will survive transplantation but if you’re a beginner like me, then only barely.

None of the transplanted creepers in the back survived. I should have culled the radish in the front

Too much attachment and too little culling
If you’re a first time gardener like me, you probably get excited looking at any seed that sprouts. Don’t. Most seeds that sprout will not make it. So the point is to be ruthless and just cull a seedling . So the ratio is something like this – about 80% of seeds will germinate and about 60-70% of those will grow into some kind of viable plant. As the seeds get tinier the ratios get worse so plant a few seeds per hole and cull, cull, cull till you get the right number of plants.

Watering too little
Forgetting to water your plants for a day or two in Chennai will, unfortunately, kill them as I found out when I locked my house and went away for a weekend. I watered my plants on Friday evening and came back to droopy babies on a Monday morning.

Watering too much
I learned my lesson and outsourced watering to my maid when I was out of town last weekend and I came back to find that my mint had drowned. Quite literally.

Over watered and under fertilized.

Insufficient fertilizer
Call it a hangover from pregnancy five years ago but I’m happy to never even look at a vitamin supplement again. While that works for humans, it doesn’t work that way with plants. The soil you spent all that money on? Turns out it’s not going to feed your plants even for a few months. You need to fertilize your plants every freaking week. Bad enough I need to plan for groceries to feed the family three meals a day. Now I need to buy food to feed my plants too?

Planting stuff wherever
I never understood why my bhindi wasn’t growing despite water, mulch, sunny spot, fertilizer, no aphids, and lots of talking and love. Turns out the bean creepers on the wall (more about this later) cast a shadow on the bhindi for most of the day. The bhindi decided to bolt.

Whatever the case, bhindi blooms are so precious 🙂

Planting stuff whenever
Case in point, I have two lovely green broad bean (chikkudikaya) creepers that will never flower or bear vegetables because I planted them too late. I will have to uproot two perfectly healthy plants because they’re basically useless both to me and to their own evolutionary purpose. Sigh!

Insufficient Support for creepers
Creepers are attractive to new gardeners because ooh, they’re so cute and ooh, I don’t need too much space to grow them. But guess what? Creepers are like the tiny dogs of the plant world. They need a lot of maintenance especially in the early days. If you don’t provide a creeper with support in the first couple of weeks it will not grow. Once you do provide support you need to train the creepers up the support. And you also need to keep pruning the lower branches because you cannot…

Should have pruned the lower branches and trained the creepers up much earlier

Trust the benevolence of nature
What is that you say? Trust nature? Sure, that’s exactly what I did before I lost an entire bed of long beans creepers to aphids. Where did the aphids come from? Well, I didn’t prune the lower branches of the creepers well enough and that was enough to infect the entire stems and lower branches. Not just that, in one week the aphids spread from the beans to the bhindi and destroyed half of those too.


Storms and other s*it
When all else fails, rest assured that a water tanker strike or an out of season cyclone will kill your remaining plants.

Killed, just killed by Vardah

I’ve decided to thank our farmers and treat my terrace garden for what it is – an expensive, soul-crushing, time sink of a hobby. What am I saying, I’m just going to do it all over again in June because hey, I’ve made all the mistakes possible, right?

A harvest of long beans