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Homelifestylefood-and-drinkA culinary marriage of two world travellers

A culinary marriage of two world travellers

I recently revamped my garden and found myself deeply moved by the profound journeys each of these plants has taken to be part of it. It dawned on me that every plant has its own tale of transition and discovery. Today’s tale is about a newcomer, chayote squash (Seeme Badanekayi, Chow-Chow, Bengaluru Kathirikai), and coconut, an old friend.

The coconut tree is found in tropical regions globally and is one of the revered trees of the subcontinent. Whether along coastlines or cultivated inland, coconuts have had their fair share of seafaring journeys. The ones that fall into the sea travel wherever the currents take them, thanks to their floating husks. This makes me wonder: could the coconut tree in my garden be a descendant of a seed that took a sea voyage before setting roots here?

Coconut can tolerate salinity while most trees cannot. Increased salinity in the soil will destroy fertility and plants can no longer grow. Very often coconut climbers will advise you to add salt to the tree to get a sweet-tasting tender coconut. The idea is to mimic the tree’s natural saline environment, particularly when grown inland where soil salinity may be lower than along the coast.

The idea of planting chayote wasn’t random; I found many on the grocer’s shelf sprouting and thought I could use them. Though I’ve grown the vine before, doing it again always feels like a new experience. Chayote is a native of Mexico and much like the coconut, it has its own tale of global wanderlust. It was spread by early explorers to various parts of the world.

When it comes to culinary adventures, chayote is incredibly versatile. I often use it in stews and stir-fries, and it pairs beautifully with coconut, a delightful culinary marriage of two world travellers. Now, let’s delve into how you can grow this fascinating vine in your garden. Growing chayote isn’t overly complex, but like any plant, it has its own set of requirements like good support and adequate nutrition for successful cultivation.

To start with, find a chayote which is sprouting. Leave it in a tray inside the house until the first two leaves (cotyledons) appear. A few days later you will see mini roots next to the leaves. Now is the time to tuck it in the soil. Dig a hole about 10cm wide and deep. Insert it into the soil broad end down with the sprout side up (of course, don’t cover the leaves!). If there are bandicoots in your area, there is a possibility that they may dig out the fruit and eat it. So keep it protected. The soil must be moist but not waterlogged. Make sure it gets at least six hours of direct sunlight daily.

As the vine grows, it is in constant search of new places to spread — even when rooted in a place. The initial set of leaves dries up as the vine establishes itself. Once the vine has grown to about three metres in height, switch to a fertiliser high in phosphorous and potassium in the NPK ratio of 10-20-20 to encourage flowering and fruiting. Compost, vermicompost, horse or goat manure will also help. The plant gives out both male and female flowers. They are small in size and are inconspicuous. The fruits take 120-150 days to harvest. A healthy vine can give out nearly 50-75 fruits in a season.

Do watch out for aphids and spider mites. If you spot any aphids, a simple spray of water will often dislodge them. Mites are small and build fine webs on the undersides of leaves. Spray regular insecticide of neem with pongam oil mixed with soap to keep the pests away.

In the end, a garden isn’t just a space for plants; it’s a quilt of histories. The chayote and coconut have their own tales to tell — of far-off origins and journeys to our backyard. So when you’re tending to your own plants, remember that they’ve travelled afar to be a part of your life. Keep growing and keep listening to what your garden has to say.

Motley Garden is your monthly kaleidoscopic view into a sustainable garden ecosystem.

The author believes that gardening is not just about plants and how to nurture them. It is also about bees, butterflies, insects, flies, and bugs that make it their home. She is on social media as @neelavanam

(Published 14 October 2023, 23:26 IST)

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