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Give life to your little balcony nook

By Laila Karim

We have accepted that having a court or backyard is almost a dream today when living in apartments or condos is the call of the time. Our real estate gurus are not so keen on keeping some good space for our breath of fresh air. Creativity or imagination is the last thing they consider; instead priority is always given to dividing the space with more and more walls. Despite all these limitations, we can cultivate our dream through proper planning and making the best use of whatever space is available. We can explore options like vertical gardening to maximise the utility of the limited space of our small balconies, or by creating layers. Raising beds can also lend a different shape and mood to our small balconies.

For vertical gardening, make iron shelves with 2-4 layers/levels -- two layers/levels are good to free the upper portion of the balcony to see the sky. If your balcony faces another nearby building, it is better to have several layers/levels of shelves to create some privacy. The bottom shelf is for the bigger pots and the upper shelves for smaller pots. Place pots and plants of your choice. Mix and match several types and colours for a vibrant look. The two upper shelves can accommodate orchids or so, and in between you may place different types of money plants like creepers to give a flowing natural look.

Things to remember:
Enough light and air with drainage system is necessary. Insufficient light usually manifests in paler foliage, hampers growth and kills the lustre. When this happens you must do whatever you can to increase the light intensity for that plant. On the contrary, plants will be sunburnt if they are put in to too bright a light.

Size of the pot (clay or plastic): according to the type and nature of the plants.

A small pack of manure, pesticide, one or two garden shovels along with a water pouring jar for use at any given time.

Good colour combination and variety of vibrant plants always please the eyes.

Cactus and succulents as well as plants with thick leathery leaves do not transpire moisture, suffer in wet conditions. Similarly plants with thick fleshy roots should not be over-watered.

Good ideas, smart planning and knowing how you can turn your small balcony into the best little hideaway can be worth the effort. With good imagination, your otherwise really tiny space can have potential to be a refuge from the chaos of other areas of the house, a place to start and end a day. Look into it.

Keeping the balcony plants healthy (in response to the queries of Nazreen Islam)

Dear Ms Karim,
Thank you for your kind offer of providing advice on garden issues. It would be much appreciated if you would advise me on how to keep my indoor plants healthy. My plants in the balcony get plenty of light and sunshine. I normally add manure once a year around March/April. I don't know much about the use of chemical fertilisers. I would appreciate if you would let me know what chemical fertilisers to use, in what proportion and how frequently, to make the plants look healthy. Besides using fertilisers, please share any other tips that you may have. Look forward to hearing from you soon.
Nazreen Islam

Dear Nazreen,
It is always good if your balcony gets plenty of light and sunshine which is essential for all types of plants. Good soil texture is the prerequisite of healthy plants and you need to mix manure/fertiliser three to four times a year. Oil cake, better known as khoil is also very good for healthy growth of any fruit-bearing or flowering plant. Keep some pieces of khoil in a container with the lid on. Soak those with enough water for two-three weeks; the content becomes a rather thick liquid. As khoil liquid is very smelly, dig small holes in the soil and after pouring some liquid into each hole; cover it up with soil again. Do not forget to water the pots every day. You will see the magic in a week or so.

Do not apply manure directly to the stem or close to that, particularly in the case of chemical fertiliser. If you opt for chemical fertilisers, get the guti (small ball) manure, or the TSP mix available in all the nurseries. Put several gutis or small portions -- two tablespoons for big pots and half for the smaller pots (better to mix with the soil), then sprinkle some water to make the bed moist. Please remember to nurture the plant bed with manure before flowering time and also afterwards.

Check the soil regularly to see whether it is too wet or too dry -- both are harmful. You will experience that some plants need more water and some less. Your close observations will teach you gradually about the nature and type of their needs.

Proportion of fertiliser mostly depends on the size of the pot and also type of plant. I found less is safer.

Your plant also needs routine and periodic care -- spend half an hour a week. Take a garden hand shovel and loosen the soil to help it get air and sunlight, this will make the plants healthy. Look at the leaves and branches… are they okay? Take out the dry leaves, or leaves with fungal infection, or containing eggs of insects. In our tropical weather, daily small amount of watering is essential for almost all plants. Feed them regularly, touch your plant, talk to the plant, it will respond to you and make you happy soon.

Finally, plants need the same treatment as any other living creations need. Love, affection and care are three essentials to have a healthy and smiling garden.

Please feel free to send me email to share your thoughts, feedback, and photos of your garden, or to tell your story; or ask a question on the garden issue. Email: lifestyleds@yahoo.com


O is for One Billion Rising

Munize Manzur

Growing up, I was told the 'perfect' numbers for a woman were: 36-24-36. Numbers that have forever tortured me, and perhaps many other women, since my young adulthood. I finally learnt to stop letting that particular set of numbers dictate the quality of my life. There are other more important numbers which plague me now.

According to the United Nations, 1 in 3 women in the world experience sexual violence of some sort. Do the math. That's one billion women.

“Violence against women is rooted in a global culture of discrimination which denies women equal rights with men and which legitimises the appropriation of women's bodies for individual gratification or political ends. Every year, violence in the home and the community devastates the lives of millions of women.” (Broken Bodies, Shattered Minds: Torture and Ill Treatment of Women, Amnesty International, 2001)

In Bangladesh, violence against women has always been a focal point of the feminist movement. Yet, according to a Human Development report, Bangladesh has the worst record of rape in South Asia, with one in every thousand women having been raped. Almost every day, numerous women are subjected to violence in our country. Although many admirable initiatives have been undertaken by women's rights organisations, NGOs, etc. to empower women and fight against this gross injustice, there still remains more to be done.

There will be a call to action on 14 February 2013 -- Valentine's Day -- To create awareness that there is nothing remotely loveable about the statistics cited above. It is a shout out to get ONE BILLION RISING, to protest the violence occurring in our homes, our working places and our streets.

ONE BILLION RISING is a global campaign initiated by V-DAY (www.vday.org) to instigate people into action. V-DAY plans to do this by initiating global programmes that will get people to strike, dance and rise. Strike and rewrite the social manuscript that subjugates women with violence. Dance to the proactive cadence of a world where a woman can wear what she wants, go where she wants, do what she wants without worrying about her gender sensibilities. Rise and be counted.

Till date, 160 countries have already joined the ONE BILLION RISING global campaign and more are joining every day. It was officially launched in Bangladesh on 13 September. A variety of events will be held across the country, creating awareness till the final day of action.

Now comes the most important number of this campaign: 1…You. The success of this initiative relies on the support of all stakeholders, whether as part of an organisation or as an individual. Everybody's support counts. In case you are wondering, what you as one person can do…remember the words of Mother Teresa:

“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”

So, join us today and help us Rise against this Violence!
(Thanks to Tasaffy Hossain for pertinent information)


The Heart-Smart Whole Grain
One of the easiest ways to significantly lower your cholesterol is to eat whole-grain oatmeal daily. The fibre in oatmeal forms a gel that slows down your body's absorption of cholesterol. Easiest way to add oatmeal to your diet? Have a bowl of Quaker oats for breakfast.

Bonus benefits: People who eat oatmeal for breakfast tend to stay full all morning and consume less at lunch, due in part to the protein and fibre.

The Fit Fish
Shrimp is about 90 calories per three-ounce serving, it has virtually no fat, and it's packed with protein, making it the ultimate diet food. It may even help prevent heart disease, according to research, thanks to astaxanthin, the antioxidant that gives the shellfish its red tint. "People shy away from shrimp because it's high in cholesterol, but cholesterol in food is much less likely to raise your blood cholesterol than, say, trans fat," says Kathy McManus, RD, a FITNESS advisory board member and director of the department of nutrition at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. Moreover, eating about a cup of shrimp daily can raise your good cholesterol level, found a Rockefeller University study.

Bonus benefits: Shrimp is also rich in cancer-fighting selenium and bone-building vitamin D.


The Next Nut

Pistachios are the new health nut. Why is that? New research from the University of Toronto shows that they may reduce the risk of diabetes by decreasing the effect of carbs on blood sugar levels. "Pistachios are high in protein, fibre, and healthy monounsaturated fat, all of which contribute to the slowing of carbohydrate absorption in the body

Bonus benefits: Other recent research has shown that eating two to three ounces of pistachios a day can help to significantly raise your level of good cholesterol (HDL). Pistachios are full of vitamin B6 and copper too, which help increase energy.


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