Coping with Plant Angst

The first year of my little urban farm on my terrace – my little garden of Eden – was truly a honeymoon period. Barring the occasional nuisance from pigeons and crows who kept knocking down my plant bags in an effort to find seeds and worms (countered by my tying up all plant bags with rope), all else was beautiful and bountiful in Eden.

Then sometime in the peak of summer of the second year, the devil raised his ugly head. My till-date ebullient okra/bhindi started developing an unsightly white fungus on its nodes and under its leaves. My enthusiastic crop of spinach/palak and amaranthus/tambdi bhaji got decimated within a week by an army of leaf eaters (beetles? bugs? worms? the devil himself?). And in one afternoon of intense heat my entire crop of french beans just upped, dried and died even before the sun could set that day. In the meanwhile the cabbages tantalized me with hope till mid-growth, and then succumbed silently to leaf eaters. And my cauliflowers, in a vicious show of mutiny, turned pink and shriveled just days before harvest.

  SAMSUNG  SAMSUNGLessons learnt: Spinach planted too closely in poorly drained bags, and the fungus that spread

Options for Plant Angst

It was tragic. I had no option but to bury my dead – in this case, infected okra branches, and the body and soul of all my spinach, amaranthus, french beans, cabbage and cauliflower plants. They were all uprooted and dumped in the trash to meet their wormy end. I then researched what to do next….

My traditional resources (friendly farm supplier/gardener) strongly advocated chemical pesticides. I obstinately refused. Internet organic gardening gurus suggested neem sprays, growing garlic and marigolds along with vegetables, spacing out greens, ensuring better drainage, avoiding over-watering, adopting mixed cultivation and rotating plants each season. I figured I could take some of those suggestions seriously.

It’s now been three months of neem and other organic sprays on my okra and across the rest of the garden. The menace of fungus and leaf eating worms and bugs has been reduced, if not entirely eliminated. I left the infected soil bearing my spinach and amaranthus open to a hot summer sun for several weeks, then mixed in neem powder until all traces of the fungus disappeared.

But it rains, oh it rains, and how…

Soon thereafter the monsoons arrived – a lush, caterwauling effulgence of rainfall, breathtaking in its majesty and sweep, with daily downpours for the past two months, billowing coolness and freshness into this hot, polluted city.  It also ushered in an opportune season of moisture to feed my plant fungi 🙂 With the heavens releasing all this bounty, my farm has now erupted into a lively ecozone for hundreds of caterpillars, bugs, beetles, bees, earthworms, butterflies and a motley group of other creatures whose names I don’t even know! It’s been exhilarating to see mynahs visit daily, a couple of hummingbirds checking out the cool new hangout in town, and a lone sparrow make a dramatic re-appearance in this city of sinister cellphone towers!

Farming breeds a patient philosophy, and if I can’t beat them all, I am learning to live with some, and adapt. Since there’s been little else to do while waiting out the monsoons, I’ve focused on re-inventing my little urban farm instead. Out went the ugly, black, plastic bags, and in came a retinue of deep, wide and handsome containers. The soil in all the new containers was varied with dung, peat moss and compost. Beans were sown in each one to  do their job of fixating nitrogen, along with marigold, basil and garlic (all monsoon resistant) to ward away leaf eaters. I made a note of what I had planted where, and began rotating my crops, planting more monsoon friendly veggies like tindora/tendli, cucumber/kakdi and a variety of gourds.

SAMSUNGTindora climbs the trellis, while dark monsoon clouds roam restlessly beyond

Apparently Nature teaches the farmer humility too! And this is not always easy 🙂 In my effort to cope with plant angst I alternate between patient good humor at the perversities of nature, and steely determination to make my will prevail over my little piece of earth. It’s an uneasy balance, and I am still learning! For now my little urban farm looks neat, orderly, and disciplined, and much is growing with good spirit. But I do know, as nature well does, that arrayed against this order is a swathe of deadly creatures, atmospheric conditions and sheer randomness that  threatens death and disease to my plants. We shall see how we both – nature and me – fare in the coming season!

Until the next post, happy and successful urban farming 🙂


© Mumbai Farmer 2013. Do not copy in part or whole without prior written permission from the author. Infringement of copyright will render you liable for legal action.

4 thoughts on “Coping with Plant Angst

  1. Padma

    Hi, your info is all great and of good use. I recently tried using soilless potting medium, some plants grew and died. And some continue to grow. What bothers me is the uncertainty. Any suggestions?


    1. Mandy Post author

      There are so many factors to plant success and failure – type of plant, type of medium, sunlight, watering schedule etc – so it is difficult for me to say anything about your particular instance with the limited info I have 🙂 Generally soil-less media work well for germination, micro-green growing and some particularly fragile plant types that would be prone to soil-borne diseases. What passes off for soil less media in most commercial preparations in India is actually nutrient poor, cocopeat based media which have nothing to offer the plant in terms of growth. If yours was a cocopeat based media – then you know the reason why your plants could not sustain…Good old earth is always preferable as a base for most growing (to which you can add manure and compost etc). If you choose soil-less media, check that your media is not just made up of coconut husk, and will give your plants something to grow on.


  2. Navneet Arora

    Hi Mandy, taking from this article the suggestion of planting beans ,basil , garlic and marigold in each of my containers. how many of each would you plant say in a 4ft by 4ft patch of land and how would you position these? Really enjoying going through your posts 🙂


    1. Mandy Post author

      There are no harmful effects of these plants so the more the merrier. On a 4ft by 4 ft patch you could easily chuck in about 4 basil, 1 doz garlic and about 4 marigolds. I would plant marigolds on the sunniest side and if planting climbing beans, then instal a trellis/rope on one side, or in the center for the fellows to climb on. I’m not sure about your climate patterns there but beans (besides gavar) do prefer cooler climes, and in Mumbai they pick up only in our winters… I have just released Mumbai’s first Planting Calendar for Veggies & Herbs. I will send you a copy since you enjoy planting and these posts so much 🙂 You can modify it to suit your climatic patterns in Orissa.



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