If I were to do it all again, what would I make sure to bring to Dhaka? Many of these would be great at any hardship post, but they definitely would have made life here nicer in some ways. I’ll do these posts in a series, so check back for more. I’m starting with this one, because I am still hungry after last week’s post on cookbooks!
Many people here have lovely roof decks perfect for making a rooftop garden. Unfortunately, there aren’t any great seeds available here. You’ll have to train your gardener, if you have one, on how to grow these plants, and some might not be able to handle the seasons, but many of them would do well. If I were coming here again, I’d get:
Food For Health Emergency Garden Seeds There’s enough in there to help you recover from an apocalypse, so there should be ample for a roof garden. Includes: Corn, Peas, Radish, Sweet Onion, Beet, Tomato, Eggplant, Kohlrabi, Spinach, Cabbage, Swiss Chard, Romaine Lettuce, Buttercrunch Lettuce, Carrot, Broccoli, Jalapeno, Pepper, Cucumber, Pole Bean*, Zucchini, Crookneck Summer Squash, Green Hubbard Squash, Spaghetti Squash. (Italics designate things available only seasonally for 1-2 months in Dhaka, and bold is not available at all. Many of these plants could be grown year round, if you’re willing to water them and improve their soil). *There is a long bean here, but it’s nothing like a green bean. It’s a lot tougher, for instance.
Assortment of Culinary Herbs Fresh Herbs are rare here, except for in early spring when Cilantro takes over the market. This assortment of seeds includes: Italian Parsley, Thyme, Cilantro, Sweet Basil, Dill Bouquet, Oregano, Sweet Marjoram, Chives, Summer Savory, Garlic Chives, Mustard and Culinary Sage
Lettuce is particularly hard to get here, especially if you want something other than the anemic green leaf lettuce that never gets bigger than 3″ or so. So, if you like salad, bring a lettuce assortment. A blogger friend has become the hero of the community for the lettuces she grew from a mesclun seed mix.
I personally have a tomato addiction, so I’d bring an assortment of heirloom tomato seeds too. The local tomato is a mealy Roma/plum tomato. It’s good for cooking in a sauce, but is usually rather repulsive raw. Those who are less of a tomato fiend may find it ok. I am terribly tomato picky though.
There are bugs (links to a study of the insects that affect farming in Bangladesh) and birds here, so you’ might want some kind of organic pesticide and netting. Netting and construction workers are available here, and one of our neighbors has a kind of greenhouse made of net to keep the birds out of their garden. There’s sun in abundance, however, so a glass or plastic greenhouse isn’t necessary, unless you really want stunning year round tomatoes.
The soil here is all delta silt clay, so you should bring some soil amendments to help those tender roots grow. The carrots available in the market are all stubby and wide because of the dense soil. The poor things can’t dig very deep in the silt-clay. Plants like runner beans or herbs would never make it without lightening up the soil. When the soil drys, it clumps and cracks, so you’ll want to bring a humus agent and/or some vermiculite to retain water and nutrients.
Some kind of low-chemical fertilizer would also be good, as the soil is not always very rich. The local produce is heavy with pesticide, fertilizer, and post-harvest chemicals, so it is a good idea to keep your own produce chemical free.
Both humus and fertilizer can be made by composting, and the Berkeleyite in me feels more than a bit guilty for not doing that here. I like a rolling composter for roof gardens. This one looks like the Death Star, for twice the fun! This one looks like a barrel of fun (groan!). The key to a rooftop composter is that it shouldn’t have to be completely composted and emptied before you add new material. Most of them have some kind of catchment system to allow access to the finished compost without having to pick out chunks of uncomposted stuff. Compost heaps aren’t very practical because of space and smell issues. A good composter should be odor free, even in Dhaka heat. Also, since your time here isn’t all that long, comparatively, you might want some compost kickstarter to get things going.
On many roofs, you can install a drip irrigation system. Our roof has a spigot in a convenient spot to help you with that. Alternatively, you can have your gardener water the plants every day with a hose. However, this would require training the gardener thoroughly, as these plants are not grown here, at all, and most gardeners aren’t really green thumbs, regardless of their job title. Ours killed a bromeliad, for example, a plant that’s pretty hard to kill.
Raising chickens is not unusual here, at least among the local population. I’m not sure if your landlord or GSO would approve of a chicken coop, but if you want to give it a try, get some chicken supplies before you come too. This coop is pricey, but stylish… a veritable chicken chalet!
Last, if you’re a novice to gardening, you might want some instruction before you begin. I haven’t read any of these, but they’re all about gardening after a disaster. They all seem to be helpful for a novice working in strange conditions and without access to a helpful local gardening center.
Gardening When It Counts, by Steve Solomon (4.1 stars and 104 reviews on Amazon)
The Resilient Gardener, by Carol Deppe (4.6 stars and 41 reviews)
Mini Farming: Self Sufficiency on 1/4 acre, by Brett L Markham (4.3 stars and 83 reviews)
Raising Chickens for Dummies, by Willis and Ludlow (4.9 stars and 120 reviews)