Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Learn the secrets of a Square Foot Garden

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

A Melodious Monsoon Meal

Pakistanis, strong rooted in their culture, love to eat old-fashioned traditional food, especially on a rainy afternoon. Like always, monsoon season is here, whispering a new life into the green, never-ending fields and the wide spreading grey cities equally. In Karachi, where I live, people revive their bonds with nature through cooking and eating unique homemade monsoon meals. Sound and smell of crackling curry leaves in butter, appetizing fragrance of freshly roasted cumin seeds and sweet scent of ripe yellow mangoes, harmonizes with the aroma of wet soil and soothing sounds of rain drops knocking on a window. The music in the air of a romantic rainy day drives them to sing old melodies.

Back in the old days, when most of the people lived in villages, fresh herbs and vegetables were harvested to make monsoon meals. “Aloo bhera Parhata” or Potato stuffed flat-bread, my specialty, is one of the most loved monsoon foods. Chilled mint chutney, raw mango pickle, garden salad and any yogurt dip is served as complements. 

Aloo bhera Parhata
Potatoes are boiled, cooled, mashed and mixed with chopped herbs, green chilies, salt and lemon juice. Next, this mixture is layered between two small and slightly thick chapati or flat-breads, then it is rolled into a comparatively thin chapatti. lastly, it is cooked evenly on both sides on a hot griddle. Homemade butter is brushed on one side just before taking if off the heat. It is best enjoyed on a terrace where you can let your senses relax under the dark damp clouds. 

Sophie's Roast Tomato Chutney

Sophie's mouthwatering tomato chutney

Like our language,Urdu, our food also blends well with other cuisines. Just like this Australian sweet and sour tomato chutney compliments our very traditional Aloo bhera perhata.

Few weeks back, our friend from Australia, Sophie Gebhardt, shared her "Infamous Roasted Tomato Chutney" recipe on her community blog The Buzz and asked me to try it. Today seemed to be a perfect for this!

Slow cooked, roasted tomatoes with a drizzle of olive oil are pureed and mixed with a combination of hot and tangy spices, vinegar and sugar to balance the acidity. Freshly grated ginger and garlic completes the flavor and a dash of fish sauce adds an unexpected aroma. 

Aubergine and Yogurt Dip

Aloo bhera Parhata is best served with any type of a raita or a yogurt dip. I love making grilled or baked aubergine dips. Thinly sliced aubergines are lightly coated with olive oil and baked until soft. I used garlic infused olive oil for extra flavor. Skins are peeled and aubergines are mashed. Yogurt and mashed aubergines are mixed together with herbs and spices to make a think dip. 

Mint and Mango Chutney

This very aromatic chutney just lifts up your mood on a rainy day. Freshly harvest mint is blended together with a ripped mango along with salt, chili flakes, some sugar and kolongi or nigella seeds. 

Its getting dark outside and I am hoping for some rain to fall so that I can cook more aloo parhatas and enjoy them with mouth watering chutnies and dips.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

In a hurry? Make "blender" compost!

Warning: After reading this piece, you will be left with no excuse to avoid composting at home.

If you appreciate composting but have not tired it yourself, chances are that you are in a hurry like me. Here is the fasted way to make compost that I am trying for my  raised bed garden. You should try it too.

"Blender" Composting
We are consuming enormous amount of fruits and vegetables each day. I hate to throw away the nutrient rich peelings, eggshells and left over coffee. On the other hand, I need good compost for my raised bed project fast. I came across this idea of "blender" composting and loved it. Its super simple to make it.

Simply add all the organic kitchen waste in a blender with lots of water. Blend it into a smoothie. Now use it directly on your soil or collect it in a bin and let it decompose. If you use it directly, you will not see results until the compost is completely decomposed.  The best part is that it will take just a couple of weeks to decompose because it is blended!!!

I will also add Indigenous Microorganisms or IMO4 to speed up the process. I will share more about it in upcoming posts. Adding IMO4 to my compost pile will help me harvest compost in just three weeks.   

I am blending my kitchen waste every day and feeling rich already. Lets pledge to put all the organic waste from our kitchen in to a compost bin and not in to a dust bin.

Happy Gardening

Saturday, 3 May 2014

How to get 40 kg yield from a 18 sq.ft. garden

layout design by

I spend a lot of time in planning my kitchen garden. This means a lot of calculations. 

After spending an hour on, I was able to make several layouts for my garden projects. Next, I calculated average yield per plant based on my own experience and research papers available online. This one produces 40 kg of a variety of vegetables from a small space of 3 by 6 sqft.

How to get 40 kg of vegetables from a 3 by 6 sqft garden

Raised beds gardens are said to be most productive. Different types of vegetables and herbs are planted in a square foot according to the space requirement of each plant. Plants grown this way create a micro climate and benefit each other even more if companion plantation is practiced.
A layout that I made using garden planner.

Companion plantation is one of the most important element of  my garden layout. This simply means growing two vegetables together that benefit each other. For example, Beans provide nitrogen for corns to grow healthy, tomatoes deter pests that attack cabbage and lettuces while chives keep tomato protected from pests. This is how brilliantly nature works. We just need to learn more from it and mimic its ways. 

Other important element of a garden plan is to know which vegetables do you want to grow, how many plants will you need and how long will it take you to get the harvest. Keeping in mind average yield per plant, I calculated how much will a 3 by 6 sqft patch or a raised bed will produce based on my layout.

Tomatoes 14 -20 kg
Cucumber 2 kg
Eggplant 3.5 kg
Corn ears 4-8 
Spinach 0.75 kg 
bell peppers 2.6 kg
hot pepper 1.5 kg
beans 5.5 kg
Lettuce leaves 0.5 kg
Squash 10-25 squash 
Chives a few bunches 

Out of all these vegetables, Corn can be planted twice or thrice during a 5-6 month season. Peppers, chives and eggplants will stay for more than a year or two during which they will produce even more. Radishes and micro greens can also be included in this plan.

Each plant has a different space requirement. In a 1 sq.ft area you can plant 16 leaf lettuce plants, 2 cucumbers or 1 squash. 

More Variations

A raised bed of same dimensions with 14 tomato plants can produce 40-70 kg of tomatoes along with bunches of basil, chives and leeks.

Here is a garden layout by This is how a raised bed will look like when planted according to the plan in the next image.

Kitchen gardening is a never ending learning process. You can sketch your garden plans or use one of the garden planners online.  Make gardening fun, challenging and productive!

Do share your plans with us or

Happy Living!

Note: Due to some technical issue, I am unable to reply to comments made here. If you have a query please feel free to write to us on

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Cacti garden: Desert rose

Cacti provide gardens an eccentric beauty . PHOTO: ZAHRA ALI

A garden without leaves can only be a cacti garden. Its striking landscape and distinct architectural form strays away from a conventional one (rich in palms, seasonal plants and creepers), giving the space a cutting-edge look.
There are more than 1,500 varieties to choose from and some cacti can live up to hundreds of years and produce countless offspring with their seeds, eliminating the need to buy new plants. “Cacti live for as long as you can take care of it,” says Fahim Siddiqui, founder of the Cactus and Succulent Society of Pakistan. His collection consists of more than 5,000 cacti and 800 succulents and the oldest cactus in his garden is almost 35 years old. “The thing about cacti that attracts me the most is its tactics to survive in the most difficult conditions… a trait rare to us.”

Pink blossoms of a Mammillaria. 

The shape of a cactus is determined by its capacity to store water or minimise water loss. This makes it an ideal plant to grow in the country, where water shortage is a perennial problem. The slender, finely toothed Yucca variety grows slowly and can reach up to 3ft, while the Golden Barrel species, covered in rows of sharp spines, takes a spherical shape and produces yellow flowers. “A Mammillaria’s bloom fascinates me the most and there are more than 170 varieties that one can grow as a beginner,” says Khalid Suhail. His cacti collection of over 15 years features interesting red, yellow and white ones.
The Queen Victoria Agave cactus.

Buying a cactus
Start by buying potted cacti first which cost somewhere between Rs100 and Rs500, depending on the type. A wide variety of ornamental species are imported, primarily the eye-catching colourful, grafted cacti. Although they look vibrant, they do not last long as grafting means slicing your cactus in half which could go terribly wrong if not done properly. Also the colour is injected in the plant which overshadows its natural beauty.

Caring at home
Well-drained soil is ideal for a potted cactus. It can be 20% organic compost or animal manure and 50% sweet sand, with the remaining 30% covered in a layer of stone chips. Weekly watering patterns work best as the plant requires minimal water only when the soil dries out and during winter most species don’t require any watering at all. For this purpose, get pots that are barely one to two inches bigger in diameter as bigger pots allow the soil to store water longer. And the best time to re-pot or divide the plant is during spring.

Gardening enthusiasts like to collect unusual cacti.

Conservation alert
Over-collection and habitat destruction has led to a threat of extinction. Preserve the endangered species by growing them in your own garden or donating to a botanical garden. Cacti take several years to grow large enough to be used for landscapes. If you come across one at a very low rate, it has probably been sourced from the wild unless the seller can prove otherwise.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, April 13th, 2014.

further reading

crops in pots