Mustard, Cumin, Fenugreek, Curry leaf: This trio or quartet of spices commonly used in ‘seasoning’ most Indian foods is easy to grow in the kitchen garden
Like other herbs and spices, these easy-to-grow kitchen staples can be started from seed available in your kitchen; however, use only unprocessed seeds. They can be grown in garden beds and also thrive in pots on a window ledge or a sunny terrace. If planted in successive batches, the fresh and organically grown seeds and leaves can be harvested through the year. Remember to save some home-grown seeds after harvest for the next planting cycle.
Mustard: A kitchen essential with culinary and medicinal uses, mustard is one of the easiest plants to grow. It can be grown with slight variations for both its leaves as well as its pungent seed. Like other essential herbs and spices, it is best to grow mustard greens in succession, depending on your needs.
Sow the seeds directly in soil rich in organic matter — in a garden bed or in pots. When growing mustard for both seed and greens, plant in separate containers. Seeds for greens can be scattered over the surface of the soil and then covered with a thin layer of compost. Harvest the greens when the leaves are fully formed and tender. If you plan to harvest the mustard seeds, leave a space of four inches between the seeds to allow the plants to grow to maturity. Seeds pods form shortly after the flowers appear; harvest as soon as the pods turn brown. As the pods will burst on maturity, place them in a large paper bag where the seeds can be easily collected. Dry the seeds in the sun before storing away.
Cumin: This aromatic seed is used in many cuisines and also has medicinal properties. Sow the seeds — sourced from a garden supply shop — in moist soil rich in organic matter. Space the seeds about four inches apart, to leave room for the plant to grow. The flowers will appear in about four months and then turn to seed. As they may start falling to the ground once mature, remove the flowerheads once the seeds are fully formed and place in a large paper bag. The seeds will be still green, and once they are all harvested, dry in the sun till they turn brown.
Fenugreek: The nutritious and healing leaves and seeds of the fenugreek plant are an invaluable kitchen garden essential. The seeds — available in grocery stores — can be soaked overnight and planted directly in the soil or in a soil-less medium. Like other kitchen herbs and spices, it can be grown in batches to get a steady supply of the nutritious green leaves. And if you are harvesting both leaves and seeds, grow separately in batches, harvesting each as they mature.
The clover-shaped methi leaves can be plucked once they are fully formed and used as greens. Cut about two inches above the surface to allow the second flush of leaves to appear. Fenugreek seeds develop in long seed pods with around 20 seeds in each. Once the blooms have withered, place the pods in paper bags to harvest. Leave to fully dry in the sun, and store the golden seeds away for up to a year.
Curry leaf: This perennial plant will give a steady supply of aromatic curry leaves, for seasoning and also for dry chutneys. Get one or more seedlings from a gardener friend or nursery; plant in a sunny corner of the garden with well drained loamy soil. It requires practically no care and will self-seed eventually. If the leaves develop white spots, remove the diseased leaves and spray with dilute neem solution. Add a combination of crushed leaves and manure to the base of the tree twice a year for nourishment.