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Growing nutritious bayam anywhere
Published on: Sunday, November 03, 2019


EVERYONE knows what a bayam vegetable is, but not many young people have seen a bayam plant, much less to hold or even to grow one. 

Most who are already out of their teens would have had better opportunities to learn and recognise the plant, whereas it is likely that many youngsters today are too nerdy in the various specialisations such as handling handphones, watching TVs or enjoying computers, to recognise or know much about plant names, or even the names of relatives.

As a vegetable, bayam is also known as Chinese Spinach and belongs to the genus Amaranthus. There are many varieties of bayam within the genus but the ones most often seen in the market are the green and coloured varieties. The latter form usually comes in the leaves being mottled reddish or purplish with colourings on some sections of the stems and petioles. 

When cooked, they produce a deep red or purplish colour in the gravy which may be a turn-off for some. In fact, there should be no fear as the colour is telling of the rich mineral content in the vegetable.

Bayams are easy to grow and nice to behold. When they are young and short, especially if the seeds are earlier on spread thickly during sowing stage, they are quite appealing to look at as they appear to be like a thick layer of lush green carpet. 

This is provided they are still about 20-30cm in height and before they are ravaged by leaf eaters. 

It is interesting to note that if sown at the same time, the seedlings tend to come up together despite the crushing elbow space for all the little plantlets that are trying to grab some sunlight, water and nutrients. This, therefore, creates a pretty picture especially if it is grown adjacent to a plot of red leafy salad, or a patch of purple cabbage.

The vegetable is essentially a herbaceous annual with a short lifespan of just one season. 

As such the bayam does not go on producing for your table with just a single planting and a yield of a single harvest. 

Of course there are methods to extend its lifespan where multiple harvests may be had from a single plant which is spread out over a longer period of time. This therefore allows for the keen gardening enthusiasts to enjoy a much longer stretch of siesta rather than the short cat-naps.

Bayams are straight growers in that they do not bend during growth or become curvy-wavy while stretching in height or adding bulk. 

Unless trimmed, little branching occurs along the central stem but the flower spikes bearing the inflorescences are copious in its branching behaviour. This permits the formation of thousands more of the tiny little black seeds which are virtually microscopic in size that measure about 0.5 mm or less in diameter.

 

Planting bayam is easy

Bayam is propagated by the use of seeds which can be bought in many places. Alternatively, old plants that are allowed to mature may yield a lot of seeds in the flower inflorescences. The green types can usually grow to heights of 2.0m or taller. I have personally grown some with heights of 2.3m (7.5ft) and a stem diameter of 3.0cm at 15cm from collar. 

The reports of such statistics in many gardening books are too modest. A plot of such 7-footer plants that are mature enough can virtually yield millions of seeds. 

Such a positive feature, which is sufficient to plant up vast stretches of land and provide employment to thousands of Sabahans, can actually and easily convert Sabah into a national food basket to supply not only the vegetable needs of the nation, but also various other kinds of food and fruit products that can be exported to neighbouring states. Of course, the state has to be paid a full 100pc for any offtake and not such miserable figures as 10pc or 5pc only!

Like most vegetables, bayam is indeed easy to grow. They are usually grown on the ground, which is the usual, traditional place to cultivate the vegetable. But nowadays, there are lots of smart gardening enthusiasts who are experts too, and they know the non-traditional areas to do the job. 

It is therefore not surprising to see that there are so many avenues to go about pottering and digging and planting something beneficial such as the bayam that can be put into the kuali. 

Some of these non-traditional avenues include using planter boxes, plastic or G.I. tubs, concrete planters, clay or plastic pots, milk tins, basins, wooden boxes etc. 

The important point to note is that drainage holes have to be made at the base of such contraptions in the event that there are none such as with basins or milk tins. 

With the smaller and lighter containers such as the 20-30cm plastic pots, even children can be enticed to partake of the fun in cultivating and maintaining some vegetable plants. 

This may instil in the youngsters a desire to grow and take care of plants which may in future translate into the care and protection of nature and the environment. From all angles, this is truly a win-win situation for all.

As bayam seeds are extremely small, it is important to handle them with extra care because a misstep may result in the loss of hundreds of seeds. Once the soil is prepared, just level the surface and then scatter some seeds over it. Apply water with a light rose to wet the soil and this should be repeated once or twice daily depending on the weather. 

Pot-grown bayams can be easily shifted around to take advantage of some sunlight especially if it is done in the upper floors, and shifting around is understood to mean the pots get to be shifted closer and closer to the kitchen as each day passes.

 

Maintenance

Does bayam need care? Seeing it growing untended in many localities, together with naturally growing ulams in the jungle or roadsides such as petai and edible pucuk ubi kayu, kangkung and watercress in the drainage channels, it tends to convince any onlooker that such plants do not need to be cared for. Well, this may be true in the bygone days when hunter-gatherers only collected whatever is needed from nature.

But times have changed such that inputs are necessary in order to harvest the outputs. Therein comes the need to maintain, upkeep or care for the plants. 

In large bayam farms, vast stretches of land are given to the crop which yield abundant harvests multiple times a year. 

They are grown on well-managed and professionally-run agricultural systems where maintenance and care are factored in, and that they are certain of delivering the products to importers on fixed timelines. 

But because many leafy vegetables, which include bayam, tend to start wilting within several hours after the cut is made, the market has to be accessible within half a day to ensure they remain fresh and firm to meet the needs of consumers. 

Turgidity and freshness though, may be boosted by applying water to the vegetable after they have been sorted, trimmed, bundled, stacked and displayed. This goes to show that although bayam may be leafy and appears to be quite delicate, they can easily be firmed and freshened up before facing the market.

Bayams can be grown anywhere. In the detached kampung bungalows where there are large swaths of green space available, one can do wonders cultivating to his heart’s content. 

In city apartments or condominiums, however, space may be at a premium but fortunately, this does not preclude the owner of such restricted spaces from cultivating the juicy crispy vegetable. 

The easiest way is to get four or five containers of 30cm diameter and fill them with enriched soil that can be purchased easily. Scatter some seeds over the soil surface and lightly water the pots. 

Thirty to forty seeds per pot would be fine and would not be too crowded because they can be progressively harvested when still young and tender while in the process of growing up. There is no need to talk about planting density as potting is different from bed planting. 

By the time they reach 30 cm height, only about 10-12 plants would be left, which would be fine for the final harvest. This should take about 30-45 days from sowing. 

If the five pots are sown in succession of about 7-10 days per pot, you can be assured of regularly having the dish at four or five times a month. I can assure you of the appeal, freshness and cleanliness of the vegetable that you produce with your own hands. 

And after tossing them into a hot kuali with ikan bilis, smashed garlic and chopped small onions, I can again assure that the dish would be wolfed down with gusto in one sitting at the dining table, with perhaps some yelling for more of the delectable dish!

Remember, nothing tastes better with home-growns.

While eyes may be ogling at the dish and mouth overflowing and dripping with saliva, it is suggested that a couple of plants be allowed to grow into old age. This should allow for the formation of spikes of inflorescences that will bear the seeds for the next generation of cultivation.

On the ground, old mature bayam plants can grow to surprising great heights for a vegetable. A height of 2.3m or even taller is quite easy for the plant to achieve, and in the process, countless numbers of seeds are formed.  The stem also becomes hardened and thickened to about 3cm diameter at its base which is considered large for a vegetable. 

But because most of the roots of bayam are within the top 15cm of the soil, and as it does not have a strong and deep tap root system, it therefore tends to fall over easily especially if there is a strong wind. 

In the outdoors, it may be advisable to support the stem by the use of a vertical stake or a three-pronged support or tripod. 

Such a method is effective to save a couple of tall bayams from falling over so that some seeds may be collected later on. Also, a few seeds may constantly drop onto the ground, which incentivises friendly birds such as merbok a take a rest and a few bites too.

In the outdoors, all unutilised bayam plant parts such as the stems, may be composted and turned into something beneficial. This is one of the best ways to reduce, reuse and recycle garden waste in situ without having to disturb or disrupt the chain of activities outside.

Have a great time, folks!

 The writer may be reached 

at onggrow@yahoo.com

 





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