Growing Coriander and Methi

tenneti rao
tenneti rao / 3 yrs ago /
  9

 Coriander and Methi

In an earlier blog I wrote about growing mint (http://pattri-pulu.blogspot.com/2010/08/growing-mint.html). Now that summer is here, this time too we got into some herbs. For the vegetarian Indians, coriander and fenugreek (methi, ) are special greens. Nothing can describe the taste of a home made rasam with a pinch of asafoetida and a few strands of freshly grown coriander. Here in US, this green herb is mostly known as cilantro. Nowadays it is available in most supermarkets all round the year. Still, sometimes it is a bit costly. What can you say? There is inflation in India and there is inflation here too, particularly in food items. A bunch of coriander costs a dollar, a can of milk costs two dollars, and a gallon of gas almost four dollars (though it has come down a bit - $ 3.65 now).
So, even in normal times, coriander, methi, and other Indian green leaves are a bit expensive. This is true even in big cities here. But with a bit of ingenuity and patience, any one can grow, these herbs and other green leaves, either in hot summer months or indoors during the cold months. There are a few incidental expenses like potting soil, compost, and a bit of fertilizer. But the intangibles like outdoor activity, bodily exercise, and mental relaxation – they outweigh the meager inputs. You may not make profit, anyway this is only subsistence farming on a very small scale, but you do not incur heavy expenses either. A garden, even a very small one attracts lovely birds, butterflies, bees, rabbits and at times some pesky pests (slugs, Japanese beetle, aphids) too. Here, this season, I have seen a whole bevy of winged creatures: Newly hatched wood peckers, chickadees, doves, cardinals, blue birds, black birds, and golden finches. Their musical serenade wakes us every morning here, at very early in the dawn at four thirty a.m.; then they pick up where they leave off in morning again in evening hours, at six thirty, after the sun dips a bit lower.


Growing greens directly from seeds needs a little more care. Growing mums or marigolds from established plants is one thing. Growing bushy dark green coriander is another thing altogether. The latter requires high quality seeds, porous nutrient soil, excellent drainage, and right amount of sun, moisture, and shade. And of course, most important – the right temperature. All seeds require the right (optimum) temperature. (How clever plants are, the mother plant would not like her young die prematurely, so a seed will not germinate unless all conditions are fully favorable!) This means, in cold climates germination may have to be started either in green houses or indoors near a sunny warm window. In hot India, usually such crops are started right after monsoon rains because it affords plenty of moisture and cool climate. In hot dry ambient conditions, seeds will dry out too much. Added to this temperature and moisture, we must provide nutrient rich soil. Here, we can do this with either peat moss or nutrimix or compost.


Briefly here is how I potted a small rectangular plastic pot (30 in x 8 in x 7 in ). Plenty of holes (I had to drill them) at the bottom for good drainage. Filled the bottom, i.e., the first (lowest) layer with some wood chips, bark, coconut shell pieces, and dried leaves and pine needles. In some respects container gardening is easy, we can lift and carry it to wherever we like – I mean we can transport to provide it with right amount of sun light, shade, and cool moisture. But, this must be borne in mind to avoid disappointing results, container gardening is a bit tricky, just a little difficult. Adequate draining of excess water (from overhead watering or rain) is essential. Plant roots need space to breathe, they need breathing space (oxygen), only then the root system will grow. And unless roots grow rapidly, the plant will not thrive, it will not yield flowers, fruits, or dark luscious green leaves. For some plants, I also use pieces of washed-out charcoal. Charcoal helps to absorb excess water and accumulated gases from the root system.

 


Upon the first layer of croaks, coconut shells, and pine needles, I poured a mix of top soil, compost, and sand. Try to avoid heavy clay-type soil. We are trying to grow very tender seedlings (coriander, mint, etc.) – their roots are very delicate, a fine loose soil helps a lot. That is why, in India we see farmers growing water melon, cucumber, fenugreek, coriander on dry river beds. Such places contain very fine sand (silicon dioxide), rich minerals, and nutritious clay (brought by river waters). Fenugreek seeds (yellow in color, a bit hard) are used as they are. The seed packets (from Burpee or brand name vendors) are a bit expensive; we can get the same quality seeds from Indian grocery stores. Or, reach for spice corner in your kitchen. For growing coriander leaves, we can use “dhaniya” seeds, again the inexpensive source is – Indian groceries. Each coriander seed yields two plants; we have to split the seed. One way to split the store bought seeds is: Spread the seeds on a clean newspaper, cutting board, or just bare floor. Use a slipper (flip-flops, sandals) and gently rub on the seeds. Spread the seeds with hand (just drop from above, a sort of broadcasting) uniformly on top of soil. Cover the seeds with very fine soil, peat moss, saw dust, vermiculite, or very fine sand. Keep the pot in semi-shaded place. Spray water (use a spray bottle, or just sprinkle with hand gently) twice a day. Methi (fenugreek) usually sprouts within three or four days, it all depends on temperature, moisture, and light. Coriander is a bit tough, it takes a bit longer to germinate. Just be patient. Once you see little plants sprouting out, you can now place the pot in a bit of sun light. Gradually increase duration and intensity of sun light. Soon you will have a dense well sprouted methi and coriander greens in your kitchen garden.


 


So far I have not applied any liquid fertilizer to this container gardening. One thing I have noticed with many herbs – very rarely they get pests. Mint, coriander, methi, rosemary, or basil, all of them grow without any pest or blight. This could be due to spice oils in their leaves and stems. When we grow plants in containers, we have to watch for sudden heavy downpours, or extended dry hot spells of summer. I try to save these young tender plants from extreme conditions of drought or flood by moving them into shelter. Sometimes I place them under the porch. Or, put them in the protection of big shady trees. Or you can put a plastic cover over them.



 


I fondly remember an annual festival in our village. In the month of April, all villagers used to grow fresh plants from seeds in containers. They would buy very inexpensive palm-leaf woven containers (they come in all shapes, sizes, and even colors) in local farmers market. Gather soil from backyard, canal banks, farms, or cow sheds. As kids we would buy nine different types of seeds (nava-dhanya) from our kirana merchant and grow the seedlings with tender care and love. After 3 - 4weeks or so, we would take young plants and offer to our local goddess. This festival used to be a sort of harbinger of the first rice crop sowing after a hot summer. Only when one grows oneself from scratch, one appreciates the pains of agriculture. It is heart breaking to see Indian small farmers struggle for quality seeds, fertilizer, water, and fair price for produce – after six decades of independence and umpteen plans.
If you grow these herbs sequentially (staggering) in two or three containers, you can have them ready for cooking throughout the season. With a little patience, you can grow them indoors during winters too. Just you have to place seedlings next to a sunny window, a bit closer to a heating vent. The plants tend to grow tall, with hard stems when the weather is hot and dry, that is only natural. Advantages of home gardening: You can grow herbs and greens with total care, even better than store bought organic brands. Much more inexpensive than “inflated organic” produce. The freshly cut coriander, mint, or spinach often has more flavor than the superstore items. What you find in a superstore is probably harvested several days (even a week) back, then went through long distance hauling, repeated drenches of water spraying, and occasional drying out.


 


Yesterday, we used freshly cut methi leaves for methi-toor dal dish. The taste really superb, no exaggeration implied nor needed. Coriander is still growing in the pot. I pinched a few tender coriander leaves for spicing up “menthi-majjiga” as we ran out of curry leaves.


tenneti rao / / 1 year ago
tenneti rao

thanks Alka for your comment, for reading this post. Here, it is still a bit chilly, we are going through early spring. Soon I too have to start my gardening. Rake the old leaves, etc. Good luck !


Alka / / 1 year ago
Alka

very useful information ,i am trying to grow thse two in my pots in garden but it got srouts but died before full growth. now i am trying again. thanks for this information.


tenneti rao / / 2 yrs ago
tenneti rao

Thanks Anand for your comment. Flowering a bit early is a problem, it happens with coriander and methi. When the air is a bit dry, hot, or too much sun, the plant reacts by producing flowers ( I am just an amateur gardener). If you can provide a bit of shade, more moisture, then you can promote busy leafy growth. Some farmers here use a thin semi-transparent fabric to protect spinach, swiss chard, etc., from too much bright sun. I am sure experienced farmers & agriculture extension workers know many more tricks to solve the problem.


anand / / 2 yrs ago
anand

Sir actually we had produced methi from seedsin our farm & we found flowers in it's early stage


anand / / 2 yrs ago
anand

Sir actually we had produced in our farm & we found flowers in it's early stage


tenneti rao / / 3 yrs ago
tenneti rao

Lamberdar,

Thanks for your compliment & comment.

shivashankarshastry: thank you for an interesting home remedy. I have known about fenugreek (methi) seeds remedies. Coriander leaves (even its chutney) are powerful too. Indian agriculture & its economics are too complex, I may not be qualified to comment on such weighty issues. Certainly the hard working Indian small farmer can avail better resources and guidance.

To MuteSwan,

You're right each age (generation) will bring its own fads. Per se, there is nothing wrong with organic vegetables - except they are prohibitively expensive for many average consumers. In cold countries where the growing season is limited, one tends to go for frozen packets or indulge in freezing (or canning) some vegetables. This is more out of necessity rather than pure personal preference. In India luckily through out year one has access to fresh vegetables in abundance - both in variety and quantity. Still, in extreme summers, the options tend to be limited. Or, like in recent past, a crop (like onion) may fail.


MuteSwan / / 3 yrs ago
MuteSwan

home grown Fresh veggies and greens are always better than the supermarket products...its good to see that u have taken efforts to follow it in your life...organic packets have become a fad, many want to buy sambar veggies cut and packed and there are others who buy fresh veggies as they arrive in market and then store it in the fridge for over a week;)


shivashankarshastry / / 3 yrs ago
shivashankarshastry

It's really heartening to see that someone far away from India is so passionate about agriculture, albeit symbolically.

Yes, even in India where every farmer can easily switch back to organic agriculture, all institutions and the government are misleading farmers into concentrating on monocrop agriculture using pesticides and chemical fertilisers. Producing bumper crops in this manner causes grave side effects such as impoverishment of soil, increased consumption of water, pollution of water, health hazards for both the farmer and the consumer Dr. Swaminathan has done great harm to the cause of agriculture in India and has destroyed its rich and proven traditions.

Coriander leaves crushed and mixed in majjiga/buttermilk{without cream) and taken regularly in the morning can restore the heamoglobin content in blood very fast in those who are deficient in it--Shiv--


Lamberdar / / 3 yrs ago
Lamberdar

Excellent blog on home glowing of plants in cities! Very nicely narrated, and supported by beautiful photographs.
- Lamberdar


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