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Growing tomatoes the cool way - upside down

By Laila Karim

Growing tomatoes is a regular feature of our winter cultivation. All the gardens are already adorned with this vegetable (technically, it is a fruit!) either at the ripening stage or having already yielded the first phase of their production. It is not yet too late to have another go at tomato cultivation, but in a different way. With limited space and time, we the urban gardeners are always ready to do things differently. Let's try another way of cultivating tomatoes -- upside-down (let's call it USDTG).

Albert Newton's 'theory of gravity' works well here, because of the vertical growing method, USDTG uses the power of gravity. Water is poured into the top of the bag or planter. Gravity pulls the water and nutrients directly to the roots; particularly USDTG in bags also lends the greenhouse effect, allowing the root system to expand easily and in a healthy manner.

For your USDTG gardening we need lighter pots/containers (tin/plastic, or sacks), cement bags (two-three together) to make the container strong enough to hold the plant firmly in its upside-down condition. We need to have strong loops to hang the bags or pots when filled with soil. Select the garden area with access of enough sunlight and air flow. Now make the air-drainage holes around the body of the pots and several at the bottom of the containers. If you intend to use sacks, make some holes around the body of the sacks. We can also use the large-sized water cans. Buy medium-range wire/ropes (tar/dori -- available in hardware stores), calculating the requirement of the hanging ring and loops around the pots (to ensure sealing the opening side of the pot and plants).

There are two ways of USDTG -- one is the regular way of planting: first do the planting as we usually do. Collect healthy, young saplings of 2-3 weeks and plant a maximum of two in one pot/bag, nurture them for two weeks or until they reach 6-12 inches high, then close the lid tight with wire or so after putting net bags or net type of material to prevent fall/leakage of soil while in upside-down position. If you want to have your own saplings, collect the seeds of your choice of several varieties available in the renowned nurseries.

Nowadays cherry tomatoes are becoming popular for their size, shape and taste. There are imported or high-bred sun-gold types available at all outlets. Sow the seeds in a well-manured/well-mixed soil, cover them for a few days and protect the area from all types of harm.

When the new seedlings pops up, remove the cover and take regular care. Allow them to grow with sufficient space until they are 6-10 inches tall. Now shift the healthy ones to the pots or sacks and take the next step. Let them be stable in the new home for one-two weeks. Your pots are then ready to hang. Water the plants regularly. When the plants are well-adjusted and getting ready to flower, pour some water lightly mixed with fertiliser and keep nurturing the plants with love and care. After a while the look will be bushy -- prune the extra branches, keeping the strong few to grow well. Now you start seeing the tiny buds which within a few days will turn into tomatoes -- gradually from green to matured light yellow and then to red!

Advantages of USDTG are manifold. It suits our apartment-based and small-spaced life, allows multiple use of space, can be hung on the outer side of the balcony, and other types of planting could be done easily at the base or at different layers of the small space. This method ensures better circulation of air and sunlight around the container, thus the chances of soil-borne insects, diseases and weeds are decreased significantly. USDTG also keeps the area clean; there is no need for supporting staking as the plant grows nicely around the pots. You can ignore or manage some of the minor disadvantages. Watering is a problem sometimes, so you need to adopt different mechanism to prevent the pots from drying out prematurely. Applying fertiliser is also a bit cumbersome but it can be managed with a little innovation -- dilute the fertiliser (small amount of TSP or khoyil), mix with water dripped through a pipe or so. Sometime strong winds can harm the plants or damage the total system. So you need to be extra vigilant all the time, only then you can enjoy the fun of USDTG!

Problems you may face: insects, fungus/grey leaves, damp weather and bad fruiting, rotting of roots, early fall of the young buds/fruits and cracking of tomatoes before they ripen, etc. To prevent the disease, select healthy, green saplings -- let the stronger branches grow, remove the new branches coming in between those. This will allow the main stems to grow strong and produce flowers and fruits. The moisture of the soil of pot-planted saplings need to be regularly maintained, make the soil clean, and the plants need adequate sun and air flow -- take out the affected part carefully. If the weather is too cold or wet, the plants may be attacked by fungus or other diseases. If required, take help from the nearby nursery.

Do it in a cool way and surprise your friends and neighbours. I am sure they will start the USDT planting soon.

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


Nutrition in a pill?

By Karim Waheed

We might think that we eat healthy and get all the required vitamins from food but even fresh fruits lose vitamins by the hour. Call it the bane of civilisation. Hence, vitamin and mineral supplements were developed. Let's go over some of the facts you should consider before making up your mind about supplements.

When vegetables or fruits are cooked, heat-susceptible vitamins such as the B-group, C and E are oxidised and destroyed. Boiling or steaming vegetables removes water-soluble vitamins such as those just mentioned. And some vitamins such as B6 can be destroyed by microwave irradiation.

The perfect solution would be to eat the vegetables and fruits raw, but most people don't like how raw vegetables taste and it also requires a lot more preparation to make raw food taste great.

The older your food gets, the more nutrients it loses. By the time fruits and vegetables come from farms to the city markets, and finally to your refrigerator, they have already lost most of their nutrients.

Even when food intake is adequate, inefficient digestion can limit your body's uptake of vitamins. Plus, we don't chew our food perfectly each time. This results in larger than normal food particle size, too large to allow complete action of the digestive enzymes.

Frozen food containing vitamin E will result in significant reduction of the vitamin once defrosted. Many common sources of vitamin E, such as bread and oils, are highly processed so the actual content is significantly reduced or missing. Since vitamin E is an antioxidant, which prevents oxidative damage to all tissues, lack of it will increase faster damage to your cells. Other vitamin losses from food processing include vitamins B1 and C.

Antibiotics are popular for fighting infections, but they also kill the friendly bacteria in the gut, which normally allows B-group vitamins to be absorbed through the intestinal walls. These deficiencies can result in a variety of conditions.

Chemical, physical and emotional stress can increase the body's requirements for vitamins B2, B5 and C. Air pollution increases the body's requirements for vitamin E.

People with minimal exposure to sunlight can have a deficiency of vitamin D, which is required for calcium metabolism, without which bone thinning might develop. Often the sun is blocked by clouds, fog, smog, smoke, ordinary window glass, curtains and clothing.

If you work out regularly, your body is undergoing a large amount of stress (depending on the routine). This type of stress increases your need for B-group vitamins, vitamin C and iron. It is impossible for your body to fully recover without the proper vitamin and supplement intake.

When we are at a very young age, our ability to recover fast is very high. As we age our bodies need more vitamins and minerals, particularly iron, calcium and zinc.

There are some good locally-produced vitamin and mineral supplements that are available at all pharmacies. Look around, get more informed and make your pick.


Cauliflower power

By Asma Aziz

Cauliflowers are very versatile vegetables, and can take on a wide range of flavours. They also cook quickly, and are an easy option to add something healthy on the menu.

Cauliflower with Coconut and Tamarind
2 tbsp coconut cream
5 tbsp milk
1 tbsp tamarind pulp
1 tbsp chickpea flour (besan)
1½ tsp chili powder
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 cauliflower, broken into small florets
1 tsp mustard seeds
2 tbsp vegetable oil
Salt, to taste

Dilute the coconut cream in the milk. Soak the tamarind in 2 tablespoons of boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes. Squeeze the husk and discard the tamarind piece, saving the water. Combine the tamarind water with the flour, chilli powder and coriander in a bowl, and mix well. Add the cauliflower and coconut milk, and stir until cauliflower is coated. Heat oil in a saucepan, then put in the mustard seeds. Once the mustard seeds start popping, add the cauliflower mixture. Cover, and let simmer, stirring occasionally until cauliflower is tender.

Spicy Cauliflower
2 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp mustard seeds
2 tbsp oil
1 large onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp ginger, minced
Salt to taste
½ kg eggplant, cut into small chunks
3 cups cauliflower, broken into small florets
2 to 3 tomatoes, diced
1 cup canned chickpeas
½ cup plain yoghurt (preferably non-fat)

Warm a heavy pan over medium heat. Toast the curry powder, garam masala, and mustard seeds on it for about a minute, stirring continuously, until the spices begin to darken. Move the toasted spices to a small bowl.

Heat oil in the pan, and add the onion, garlic, ginger, and salt. Stir for about 3 to 4 minutes, until softened. Stir in the eggplant, cauliflower, tomatoes, chickpeas, ½ cup water, and the toasted spices. Bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are tender.

Serve with a spoonful of yogurt.

Palak Methi Roti
Adding methi, palak and paneer to whole wheat rotis increases their calcium content greatly. Methi is also rich in calcium and vitamins A and C.

(Makes 6 rotis)
1 teacup whole wheat flour
1 tsp oil
½ teacup methi (fenugreek) and palak/spinach leaves, finely chopped
1 tbsp yoghurt, or more if necessary
½ tsp chilli powder
¼ tsp turmeric powder
A pinch of asafoetida (optional)
½ tsp sugar
Salt to taste
1 tbsp paneer, grated

Mix together all the ingredients except the paneer, and knead into a dough. Add more yoghurt if required to make the dough. Divide the dough into 6 portions, and roll out into rotis. Cook the rotis on tawa (griddle), on both sides. Sprinkle the paneer on the hot rotis.

Low Calorie Semolina Laddu
These semolina laddus can satisfy your sweet tooth without packing on too many calories. Enjoy them without guilt.

1 cup semolina
½ cup (or according to taste) powdered sugar
½ tsp cardamom
3 tbsp cashew nuts, chopped
2 tbsp raisins
Approximately ½ cup milk (enough to form the laddus)
1 tbsp ghee or butter

Dry roast the semolina well. Remove from heat just before it starts to turn slightly brown. Let it cool. In a blender, grind the roasted semolina till almost powdery. It does not need to be reduced to a fine powder, any well-grinded consistency will work. Add the powdered sugar and cardamom, and blend well.

Place the mixture in a bowl. Melt the ghee/butter and mix it in. Add the cashews nuts and raisins, and mix well. Warm the milk. While continuing to mix everything together, add the warm milk in, one tablespoon at a time. Just when it starts to form a ball, stop adding milk. Quickly form mixture into balls using the palm of your hands.

Let the laddus cool before serving.


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