Tuesday, 20 September 2011

The War Against Mosquitoes: Protecting your home

Breeding ground: In the fight against the Aedes mosquito, it is key to remove standing water from all areas around your house and garden.

The enemy is at large and hidden among us. It is attacking us from all sides. It's time to take charge of the situation and take our grounds back!

Track down your enemy!

Watch out for a 2-3 mm black mosquito with white stripes on its legs and body called Aedes, which has, unfortunately, lived up to the literal meaning of its name: "unpleasant."
It targets children and adults equally. Its modus operandi includes biting an infected person and then biting another person to spread the sometimes deadly dengue fever virus. Our enemy lives among us in cities and villages in empty pots and discarded containers that hold standing water, and of course water storage tanks, and it has breeding habits different than the mosquito that carries malaria.
We have lost our men, women and children in this war. It's time to declare war against the mosquitoes.

Chose your weapons!

Let's face it. Our enemy is almost invisible and its coming from directions unknown. We can not predict where its going to attack next. It can be us, it can be someone we love.
We have two choices. We can use chemical warfare. It will surely kill the enemy, but it will also have some side effects. On the other hand, we can use much safer weapons that will only kill the enemy and protect us without any loss.
Organic Pakistan (a center for agriculture and urban farming) has developed a plan of action using tested and trusted natural control and cure methods that will always work if done properly. The best part is that there are no side effects and the plan is cost effective too!
Mosquito-free homes and workplaces are absolutely essential. Here are a few things you can do to make that happen:
Double your guard
Introduce mosquito-repelling plants around you. Plant rosemary, mint, lemon grass, catnip and marigold in your garden, containers, hanging baskets or window boxes. Mint and marigold are easily available in most nurseries.
Attack on their ground
Do not let water stand in trays under pots and clean your birdbaths once a week.
Make them run for their lives
Mint works like magic to repel insects and has been used as a mosquito repellent for centuries. Hang or place dried mint leaves in a sachet around the house or near windows.
Make your own mint mosquito repellent by taking a few fresh sprigs of mint and fresh citrus peelings and adding boiling water to the mix. Let it sit over night. Strain and add an equal amount of rubbing alcohol. There you have it! Mix it well and use it on your body to repel mosquitoes where ever you go.
Hermal, also known as "wild rue", is a thicket-like herb that has many medicinal properties.

A liquid mixture of five (5) parts rubbing alcohol mixed with one (1) part mint oil can also be used as mosquito repellent. Essential oils of lemon grass and garlic are also highly effective mosquito repellents.
Smoke them out by using hermal-seed smoke to fumigate your rooms daily.

Heal yourself

The good news is that 80% of infected people have minor symptoms, such as high fever, and only 5% will have severe conditions, while a small number will face life-threatening complications. People suffering from conditions such as diabetes and asthma have more chances of suffering from life-threatening dengue fever.
If you suffer from high fever, muscle and joint pain, headaches, pain behind the eyes, nausea and vomiting, you must visit your doctor and follow professional treatment.
Remember, healing doesn't have to be a series of torturous events. These simple and healthy drinks should be part of your treatment plan: i) the juice of a half lemon squeezed into a glassful of fresh apple juice should be taken thrice daily to fight dengue fever; and ii) select your favorite from, or a combination of, grapefruit, guava, bell pepper, tomato and lemon or lime juices to strengthen your immune system.

Make your own herbal tea to recover from dengue fever

Mix one cup each of fresh lemon, ginger and garlic juice and add one cup of apple cider vinegar to it. Bring this mixture to a boil and let it simmer until you are left with three (3) cups. Turn off the heat and let it cool. Once it's cold, add four (4) cups of any honey (preferably acacia honey) and combine the mixture. Use an airtight container to store it in the refrigerator.
It's recommended to put two tablespoons of the mixture in a glass of water and drink it daily on an empty stomach.
Remember, the best strategy in any war is to never let down your guard. Your enemy might have the advantage of a surprise attack, but you can be prepared to eventually reverse the situation in your favour. Follow our action plan and buttress your defences. Everything you need to protect yourself is in your home, or close at hand.

published at Newsline Magazine on 20th September,2011 http://www.newslinemagazine.com/category/lifestyle/home/

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Rethink Mint!

There is arguably no other herb as versatile as mint: whether it is a savoury dish or a dessert, this aromatic herb adds taste with its amazing range of flavours from soothingly mild to pleasantly sharp. It is the perfect finishing touch to put on just about anything that needs a bit of green garnish and sometimes shines through as a star on its own.

Its distinct flavour has made it popular in every culture. Mint adds mellowness to raitas, enhances curries, lends flavour to barbeques and salads alike, refreshes drinks and creates a mouth-watering fusion of sharp and gentle flavours when added to chocolate desserts. A glass of mint lassi on a hot day will leave you refreshed and mint tea on a cold winter evening is something I always look forward to.
This herb is not only popular in the cooking world but is also a well-known digestive aid. It improves circulation, helps in chills, colds, fevers and congestion. Mint tea is used to ease heartburn and nausea.
Is there any reason not to grow this miracle herb in your garden? Absolutely not! So here is how to get started.

Growing mint in your garden
Mint, most commonly known as pudina in the subcontinent, belongs to the family Lamiaceae. The most popular types of mint species are peppermint and spearmint. Mint is a fast spreading perennial that grows best in moist and nutrient rich soil. It thrives in partial shade and a cool place. Summers bring delicate white flowers to these lush, green plants.
Grow mint in your kitchen garden to make use of its anti-parasitic qualities. Mint helps repel aphids, ants, fleas, rats, mosquitoes and while attracting bees that pollinate your garden. Still, the plant is prone to certain diseases, one of which is mint rust, a fungal attack that makes dusty orange or pale yellow spots appear on its stems. It is best to replace the plants with new ones if you see such symptoms.
Mint has invasive roots, so confine the plant into containers where its roots will not spread horizontally and bother other plants.
Although mint plants produce seeds and can be grown using those seeds, it’s an unreliable practice. There is a much faster way to grow your plants by taking root or stem cuttings.
For stem cuttings, simply select a healthy stem and make a cutting of about 8cm. Pinch off the new growth and plant this new stem into the soil. Water and cover with a plastic bag to retain moisture, so that the new seedlings will not dry out. For root cuttings, water your plant a day ahead. Carefully take out the plant and use a sharp gardener’s knife or a cutter to divide the roots and re-pot each new plant into large containers.
In a few weeks you will have your own new dense mint plants. Simply pick some sprigs to add a little minty surprise to your favourite appetiser, meal, beverage, or dessert.
Go plant some mint and enjoy every bit of this remarkable herb!

Pick your favorite Mint Tea

Nane limon

Nane-limon ( mint-lemon) is a famous Turkish mint tea that is made by squeezing a lemon wedge and infusing a spring of mint into boiling water. It is usually served as a after dinner beverage to benefit from its digestive properties.


Sauf Pudina ka paani or fennel and mint tincture is famously used as a local remedy to ease discomfort and regain energy during dehydration or diarrhea. To make this refreshing drink, boil a tablespoon of fennel seeds with a bunch of mint leaves. Refrigerate and take a few sips several times a day.

Make you own blend

Mint goes well with most of the herbs such as lavender. You can make ginger mint tincture or add mint to punjabi masala chai. There are endless combinations to try so what are you waiting for ? Go plant some mint and enjoy every bit of this remarkable herb !

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, September 18th,  2011.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Gardening: Ra-ra-radishes!

A fast-maturing vegetable that can grow in small spaces and is flavourful to boot — sounds like an urban farmer’s dream. Such is the radish or laal mooli, a well-established crop since Roman times, which is still popular among farmers for all these reasons.

The red-skinned and white-fleshed vegetable is a globe with a diameter of around an inch. Both the root and the leaves are used for culinary purposes. Radishes are loved for their bright red colour and sweet, mild flavour. Although there are a variety of different shapes, colours and tastes among radishes, the tiny globes with the blushing red colour are unbeatable!
Try growing each variety as it takes only 20 days for this wonder crop to mature from sowing.
Sowing seeds
Radishes can easily be grown in small or large containers or trays if you do not have a patch to grow your vegetables on.
Randomly scatter the seeds two inches apart and lightly cover them with compost. Plant seeds in small rows after every 10-15 days. Remember that it is better to sow a small amount than have a large amount of radishes ready to harvest at the same time.
As indicated by the Greek name of its genus, Raphanus meaning “quickly appearing”, the seeds sprout within two days. That they grow so fast makes radishes suitable for plant projects children could work on.

Growing radishes in your garden
Radishes would grow best in a well-drained, rich, loamy soil. It is a crop for the cool season. For a winter harvest, plant seeds as soon as you see autumn emerge from summers. Give radish seedlings a minimum of 6-8 hours of sunlight and water them regularly. Irregular watering will blot their skins.
This fast-growing crop can be planted along with slow growing counterparts to avail the unused spaces in the garden: Carrots, onions, marigolds, lettuce, cabbages, beans and tomatoes enjoy the company of these bright red veggies.
Harvesting and beyond
Radishes should be picked as soon as the spheres reach an inch in diameter. Leaving them for a slightly longer time would change the taste from a desirable, pleasant tang to an unwanted spiciness. If picked at the right time, radishes make a variety of dishes tasteful. The flesh and seeds are also edible and add crunchiness to salads.
The greens can be refrigerated for about 2-3 days and the vegetables for about a week. But for a truly scrumptious treat, eat them fresh!
Storing seeds for sowing
Leave a few plants growing beyond maturity to encourage seeding. Left like that, radishes produce flowers that turn into seedpods. These seedpods contain seeds that can produce many more radishes. Simply let seedpods mature and dry on the stalk. Carefully open up each seedpod and collect seeds in a dish. Let the seeds dry for two days in direct sunlight. They would then be ready to store in an airtight container or a sealed bag.
A green idea
Storing seeds is a rewarding practice for any farmer. The quality of seeds produced depends on growing methods adopted and the seeds that the plants were started from. Make sure that the seeds you start off with come from an organic source and are not hybrids. Avoid chemicals on plants and keep them pest and weed free.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, September 4th, 2011.

further reading

crops in pots