I have recently started reflecting on where plants in our garden are originally from, because people often ask me the same question about myself. Most of our flowers, fruits, veggies and herbs in the garden are from other countries. I have started writing a series of blog posts to explore some of our favourite flowers and edibles we have grown over the years which are from overseas. In my previous post, I covered edibles we love growing which are native to India. I try to keep my blog posts short, so they are quick and easy to read. I would like to continue with a few more of our favourite edibles which come from India.
Before I cover them, I just want to make a few points that are applicable to this entire series of blog posts. There is sometimes debate about where plants originated from and I have come across conflicting information. Sometimes, plants are native to more than one country or region. Plants were discovered and introduced to other countries by explorers a very long time ago. It might be difficult to prove where plants are originally from, especially if primary resources no longer exist as evidence. As a history lover, I do find the background of flowers and edibles I grow in our garden fascinating. Thanks to explorers and trade, it is wonderful that so many different plants are available in so many other places nowadays. But it does perhaps explain why some things have failed to thrive in our environment. For example, the Musquee de Provence pumpkin I covered in my post about our favourite edibles which come from Europe has never done that well in our garden. The pumpkin in the photograph is the only one we have ever harvested despite faithfully sowing a packet of seeds every year for the past seven years. It comes from Southern France, which has a very different climate to Auckland, where we live.
Lemons are thought to be native to India. The tree in our garden is a variety called Meyer, which originates from China though. It is a very common variety grown in NZ and does very well here. Having a lemon tree is very common in NZ, even if people don’t like gardening. They are very easy to grow, but expensive to buy. Sometimes you can only find small waxy lemons at the supermarket (which are fine if you need rind for a recipe) rather than varieties like Meyer which are large and contain a lot of juice. In recent years, the biggest challenge to growing lemons successfully is a pest called the guava moth, which I covered in my earlier post about pests and diseases in NZ.
I love growing eggplants every summer. They usually grow very well over the summer and crop heavily in autumn, but last year wasn’t a good season due to cooler than usual temperatures as well as the floods and cyclones in Auckland. I grow both long and round varieties. I always grow our eggplants in large black containers. The soil temperature is a bit warmer than the ground and it also saves ground space for growing other crops which require depth in order to perform well (for example root crops such as potatoes and sweet potato) and those which need room to sprawl (such as pumpkins, squash and melons).
As times have become quite tough, I have started recycling my old potting mix rather than purchasing fresh potting or container mix for growing plants. I add a scoopful of a product called Pot Recharger, which I purchase from a garden centre in Auckland. But if you live in another part of the country or overseas, you may find that you are able to rejuvenate old potting mix by adding another product. I recommend a slow release fertilizer (typically sold in pottles) rather than a granular one (usually sold in bags), as the latter won’t disintegrate in a container and is designed to break down in the ground over time.
This is a fantastic vining spinach which is native to India. However, I discovered it thanks to my customers from the Philippines when I ran a plant nursery selling veggie seedlings I propagated from seed from home a number of years ago. They refer to it as aloobati. Malabar spinach thrives in very hot weather, so it didn’t do well in our garden last summer. The picture below was taken several seasons ago.
As it is a tropical plant, I always start seedlings on my heat pad in mid-spring when the weather is a bit warmer. I usually soak the seeds overnight as they have a hard coating, which can make germination more challenging otherwise. I scatter the seeds in a punnet filled with some seed raising mix and cover them lightly with a layer of seed raising mix. When the plants have germinated, I move them to the greenhouse and allow them to grow a bit more before transplanting them into six-cell punnets. By that stage, it is much warmer and once they are established, I move them outdoors to our patio so they can harden off (acclimatize to outdoor conditions) before being planted outside. As a vining spinach, Malabar spinach benefits from some support. We grow ours against a plastic trellis, as you can see in the photo. At the end of the season, seeds will develop which can be saved for replanting the following year. I have also found that the seeds sometimes fall off the plant and self-seed in spring.