When I was six or seven, I used to help my sister with her efforts to grow a flower garden. You could imagine what the “help” from a boy of that age would constitute. At least those who happen to have a kid brother or two would!
Sis was (still is) fond of roses. Those were the days you had to beg, borrow or steal the seedlings. We didn’t even know that seedlings of flowering plants could be sold. She used to get the cuttings of various kinds of roses and I used to help her plant them. Being the ‘young man’, I was chivalrous enough to deal with the thorns and put the cuttings down and fill the earth.
Kids are impatient, and rational thought is something alien to them. I used to sneak out within hours (or maybe minutes. Time goes at a difference pace for kids) to check whether the cuttings sprouted already. I said “sneak out” because I had been told in very certain terms that the cuttings will not sprout for a few days, and I shouldn’t go look at it. But no such injunctions find value with the curiosity of kids.
Finally after much prayer and prodding, the small sprouts would appear on the stem. That was an exciting event. The problem once again was that the poor plant would never meet the expectations of growth for the said kid. It needed to flower. NOW.
So began the incessant watering and fertilising to make it grow faster. The normal advice is to use cow dung, which was abundant at home. Two cows and an ox create enough nasty (to think from a plan’t angle, make it ‘tasty’) stuff to fill a little pond every day. But that would be, at least for the little mind, similar to the ‘kanji/khichadi’. You can live on it, but it is not something you get too excited about.
So, the little plant should get something akin to ‘chicken roast’ in our terms. Being a farmers house, having some chemical fertilizer, like urea or NPK mixture lying around was not uncommon. Once again, I would sneak out and feed some of the ‘good stuff’ to the plants. Obviously, the plants died the next day. No one knew the reason. Sis cried a bit and then went back to her chores. No one thought of investigating, so my skin was saved.
I would love to say that I learned the lesson, but being an adult (and the fact that my kids might read this column) I should at least be honest to say that this story repeated many times. No. Not only in childhood, but even after graduating to the green thumbed balcony farmer. Even now, I find it difficult to not over do the water and fertilizer routine.
So, dear readers of this column.. Remember.. Fertilizer is like food. Chemical fertilizer is like ‘chemical food’, ie like salt, baking soda etc. You should use them carefully. You would never eat salt alone (It is bad. Trust me. I have tried). You will only mix a bit of it with a large quantity of food. Think about pickle. That too, we eat only in small quantities and along with other bulk foods and similarly, you should make sure that all kind of fertilizers are applied in moderation. Less is more in this case guys!
Keep the salt and pickle analogy in mind. Chemical fertilizers are like salt, and organic fertilizers are like pickle. Use them wisely and your plants will thank you for it. Or else, unknowingly you will end up being responsible for a plant genocide.
And oh, if you have kid brothers.. treat them well. They are good at heart.. Honestly.
A kind contribution from Dileep Kumar for Housedelic.