Retirement gives you the perfect excuse to get into gardening, and eating home grown is just one of the perks By Normita Thongtham
The end of the year brings a new wave of retirees, but life after work means you can spend more time in the garden.
Four days more and the year is drawing to a close. I am sure thousands of people in the workforce will be saying their goodbyes to colleagues as they begin a new chapter in their lives and join the ranks of retirees. For some, it is like being sidelined from the mainstream and being relegated to the role of a bystander. At least, that’s how I felt when I retired, and I am sure some people retiring this year also feel that way. But if my own experiences are any guide, you will find that you are twice as busy when you are retired than when you were holding down a regular job.
Imagine the opportunities awaiting you. You will be able to read the books and magazines you have hoarded over the years, never mind that the articles in the magazines may now be outdated. You can now try out the recipes in the cookery books you have collected and cook fancy meals for your family. You will be able to travel. You may even be able to write a book. Orphanages need volunteers, and you can do volunteer work caring for orphans and abandoned babies. And of course now you have the time to chat and catch up with your friends wherever they are in the world through Line and Facebook.
One of the most satisfying pastimes you can indulge in is gardening. There’s nothing more gratifying than planting a seed and seeing it grow into a shady tree or a flowering plant, or being able to serve up fruit or vegetables on the dining table and say, “I grew these myself.”
There are several trees that even a city dweller can grow. Citrofortunella microcarpa, commonly known as calamondin, or somchit in Thai; Carissa carandas, which Thais call
manao mairuho; Morus nigra, or mulberry; Malphighia glabra, or acerola cherry; and Annona muricata, or soursop, easily come to mind. They can all be grown in a small yard, or even in big containers. But what’s probably more important is that you can harvest the fruit of your labour without having to wait for years, and enjoy fruits that are packed with vitamins and minerals. Some are even said to reduce the risks of cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Not all of these fruits can be found in the market.
Take calamondin, for example. Thais think of it only as an ornamental tree and find no use for its fruit, hence it is not sold in any market. Yet, the fruits resembling tiny oranges are packed with more vitamin C than lemon. “Vitamin C is good for your teeth and bones,” my mother always told us children when she wanted us to drink the calamondin juice she prepared. “It makes your bones strong, and prevents tooth decay and bleeding gums.” In the Philippines, where Citrofortunella
microcarpa is known as calamansi, the juice is mixed with warm water and a teaspoonful or two of honey as a remedy for cold and dry cough. It is made into a most refreshing drink just by adding sugar or honey and ice, and added to iced tea in lieu of lime or lemon. Higher still in vitamin C content is Mal
phighia glabra, which Thais call cherry. It has been found to contain 65 times more vitamin C than oranges. It is also rich in antioxidants that guard against cancer — two reasons why you should find a place for it in your garden. Unlike the common cherry, but like most fruits that contain a lot of vitamin C, acerola cherry is sour and Thais usually eat it with sugar mixed with salt and powdered chilli. Also touted as a medicinal plant is
Carissa carandas, commonly known simply as caranda. Its berry-like fruit is said to be effective in preventing and curing diabetes, anaemia, urinary problems, constipation and sore throats, among many others. The fruit is sour, but you can mix it with sugar to make a delicious jam which your whole family can enjoy. Mulberries, both Morus nigra and Morus
alba, are also said to contain high amounts of anthocyanins which guard against cancer, ageing and neurological diseases, inflammation, diabetes and bacterial infections. They are also rich in potassium, manganese and magnesium, as well as vitamin B6, niacin, riboflavin and folic acid. These, and the leaves that can be dried to make a healthful drink, are good reasons why you should plant a mulberry or two in your garden. They are only really shrubs that grow to a height of three metres. Soursop is higher at between five and eight metres, but it is not a sprawling tree so it does not require much space. Grown from seed, it begins bearing fruit three years after planting. The fruit is rich in vitamins B and C, and usually eaten fresh or put in a blender to make a delicious drink. Researchers in various countries, including the US, have found that soursop fruit and leaves have anti-cancer properties.
Potted fruit-bearing calamondin, caranda and mulberry plants — and even acerola cherry if you look hard enough — can be purchased at the Chatuchak midweek market or at any local plant shop. All you have to do is find a sunny place for them in your yard. Remember, however, that potted plants need more regular watering than those planted in the ground, since their roots cannot browse for moisture if the soil in the pot runs dry. Also, they will need to be moved to a bigger container with a fresh soil mixture as they grow bigger, and be given a regular dose of fertiliser to replace the nutrients leached when you water them.
Fruit trees perform better when planted in the ground and in full sun. Dig a hole wide and deep enough to accommodate the root ball, plus 10-20cm on all sides to facilitate the growth and expansion of roots. Mix the soil with plenty of organic matter such as compost or leaf mould and decomposed animal manure.
Water your plants every day or every other day until they are well established, after which you can water them as needed. They will also benefit from a handful of complete fertiliser (NPK 16-16-16 or equivalent), applied one month after planting and repeated every three months. Water thoroughly after every application.
Once you are hooked on gardening, you will find that there is life after retirement, after all. Now you may even have time to grow ornamental plants and flowers, as well as herbs and vegetables.
Happy New Year to all readers. May the year 2016 bring peace to the world and to us all.