Re­tire­ment gives you the per­fect ex­cuse to get into gar­den­ing, and eating home grown is just one of the perks By Nor­mita Thongtham

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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.

TAKE THE BIT­TER WITH THE SWEET: Acerola cherry is sold along with sugar at a mar­ket in Phayao. The sour lit­tle fruit has been found to con­tain 65 times more vi­ta­min C than or­anges.

GAR­DEN OF PLENTY: Plant sour­sop, caranda, cala­m­ondin and mul­berry for a sat­is­fy­ing hobby and a steady sup­ply of fruit rich in vi­ta­mins and min­er­als.

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