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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Wholesale Potato and Onion Market of Mazari Sharif

An onion wholesaler says, "we import onions from Iran. We buy it fresh, not from storage and sell it directly here. (However the onions he had were obviously storage onions) We are not keeping it here because of the hot weather. And we get it from traders and merchants. Also we import potatoes from Iran.
Mazari Sharif wholesale potato and onion market after
the bustle of trading has subsided
The head of potatoes and onion wholesale market says “now we import the potatoes and onion from Pakistan. Currently there is no production in districts of Balkh Province. And we import all from Pakistan. Then from September until November we have our own potato production from Baghlan and Bamian provinces. But now we import our vegetables like coriander, cucumber, spinach, leek and lettuce from the district of Balkh province and only we import cauliflower and cabbages mostly from Pakistan and less from Nangarhar.
Scales for weighing potatoes and onions at the
Mazar wholesale potato and onion market

“Our big problem is storage. We can not keep the potatoes and onions for a long time. If we have storage, the onions from Mazar-E-Sharif never spoil. We can keep it unile April. we don’t have a suitable place for keeping onions. We are packing them in bags and keep them in our shops. And our potatoes are from Baghlan and Bamian because we don’t have storage. When the potatoes from Pakistan arrive, the price of our potatoes drop. For example seven Kg of Bamian and Baghlans’ potato is 100 Afs. when potato from Pakistan arrive it decreases to 60Afs. (50 afs or afghanis is roughly equivalent to $1USD right now)

Retail shop owners come to the wholesale markets and
contract with the owners of these motorcycle converted
vehicles to transport their purchases to their retail shop
Another potato and onion wholesaler says” we can keep our potato in Bamian six until eight months but when it arrives in Mazar because of the lack of storage we can not keep it for a long time. Also we can keep the onions for only three months and we must sell it soon. These are at times when prices are low and we face business problems.

Interviewing wholesalers with our flip video camera and
later transferring the information to paper
or electronic medium
When we ask the head of potato and onion wholesalers about storage in Mazar he answers “there is no storage in Mazar only in Kabul and in Maidan Shahr. We lose 50% of our potatoes and onions because we don’t have storage. If we have storages facilities we can keep our onion for nine months from September until May. If we have the ability to make storage we will build storage for vegetable and fruit. But we have never seen any storage facility we have only heard of these facilities. But if an engineer comes and train us then we know how to build our own storage. Cold storage needs a lot of power and we have good power in Mazar and the power cost 15 Afs per KW for businesses."

Another potato and onion wholesaler says” if there is a possibility we go Pakistan or Kabul to see the storage then we can understand how to build ours”.

Next week the retail outlets.......

Seeds on Ash Trees Difficult to Control

Q. I have a huge ash tree that I want to either stop it from seeding or kill it. I heard about a product that can stop seeding but I am told due to the size of the tree it is impossible to spray the blooms. This tree is at least 50' tall. It is a real nuisance. Also, if I continuously soak salt brine into the ground would this kill the tree or at least shock it enough to stop producing. Do you have any ideas on how to handle this situation?

A. Most ash trees are either male or female. It sounds like you have a female tree. Male trees, in the case of ash trees, produce pollen and do not produce seed. Female trees require the pollen from male ash trees and produce seed.
            There are several products available which claim to eliminate fruit or in your case seed production. They all work a little bit differently and may or may not work on your tree. I am afraid it will be hit and miss when you start experimenting with these products. There is a possibility that some of these products may damage or even kill your ash tree or plants growing near it if used improperly.
            I do not have any research to back up any recommendations about which product might be successful. I am sorry but I believe your best solution would be to remove the tree rather than experiment with chemicals on your property. I hope this helps.

My Vegetable Transplants Always Fail

Q. It seems that whenever I try transplanting, I keep losing the plant. Mainly tomatoes, and squash type plants. I've tried putting the plant in the area that it's going to get transplanted into for a few days then make the move. I've tried boosting the area with fertilizers. Today, I tried to put up shade around the area so the direct light doesn't beat it up too bad. Do you have any advice?

A. If this was soil that was never planted in before and you don’t see any weeds growing in the soil then maybe there is a problem with the soil. Very seldom is it the case that our desert soils will grow nothing once they have been amended and irrigated.
This is what your tomato transplant should
look like out of the container if grown right:
sturdy, stocky, dark green, white roots
about 4 to 6 inches tall and free of insect and disease
(photo courtesy University of Missouri and can be found at

It is more likely not enough soil preparation or the location is not the best for transplants. Vegetables need to be placed into desert soils that have had extensive modification prior to planting. The modifications have to be ample amounts of compost and tillage to get the compost deep and provide for some drainage of water. I like to see at least 12 inches down and even 18 inches for deeply rooted vegetables like some carrots and other root crops.
I do prefer constructing raised beds for vegetables and herbs. The raised beds do not have to have constructed side walls from construction materials. The natural slope of the soils at the edges of a constructed bed will keep the bed from collapsing provided you keep human traffic on it at a minimum.

But the soil must be ripped as deep as you can with a trencher or tractor combined with water and good compost added to it and finally thorough mixing by tilling or rototilling.

The raised beds can be constructed by shoveling the soil with compost added to it on to a bed about three to four feet wide. Every time you plant for the first three years you should be adding about two inches of compost to the bed and tilling or mixing it in with a tiller.
After about the first three years of adding extensive amounts of compost and growing in it you will see your vegetable production reach a peak in yield and quality. After that then one inch is usually adequate.
Seldom have I seen transplants that were not acclimatized (putting them gradually into outside from a greenhouse or nursery) just flat out die. They usually become stunted for awhile and then start to grow again.

Make sure transplants are planted the same depth in your garden as they were in the containers if they are older plants. One exception is tomatoes which can be planted deeper and the soil piled around the stems for a deeper root system (provided the soil has been prepared well).
Young smaller plants transplant better than older, bigger plants and recover faster (usually). Squash, melons, cucumbers and many other vegetables actually perform better if they are started in the garden from seed, not transplants.

Relative Difficulty of Vegetables to Transplant
Easy to Transplant
Brussels Sprouts
Medium Difficulty

Hard to Transplant
Musk Melon

Prickly Pear Fruits Not All the Same for Jams

Q. I have Indian cactus and each year they grow flowers that have a bulb or fruit coming from the pads about 3 inches tall. I have been told that these bulbs make great jams. Is this true and if so, can you tell me how to make this jam?

Red fruits (tunas) of nopal cactus. The flesh of the fruit is
removed from the tuna by cutting the ends off and partially
slicing the fruit lengthwise.
A. What you call the Indian cactus, we now more commonly call the Nopal cactus because of its Mexican heritage. When nopal cactus pads are prepared as human food they are then called nopalitos. 

            Nopal cactus is harvested in Mexico for three purposes; fresh vegetable, fruits and animal or livestock feed. These plants are native to Central America, in particular the arid parts of Mexico and Central America, and are a staple part of their diet. I might add nopal cactus has some great documented health benefits related to lowering high blood pressure, lowering the incidence of diabetes and provide a lot of dietary fiber.
Nopal cactus pad about at the right stage for harvesting
for fresh vegetable. the spines are removed, washed
and used fresh or cooked. The taste resembles a cross
between aparagus and green beans with the texture of okra.

            Not all nopal cacti are the same in quality when used for fresh fruits and vegetables. Generally speaking if your nopal cactus is producing fruits but the birds are not devouring them when they are ripe, you will probably not like them either. However, if the birds love to devour these fruits then you are in business.

            There are selections of nopal cactus that are superior in these regards. I was growing two of these selections provided to me by faculty from the University of Sonora. These selections were nearly spineless.

            But when you grow nopal cactus for food you have to push their growth with frequent irrigations (every two weeks in the summer) and fertilizer and plant them with lots of compost. I will post more information on the nopal cactus and how to make this jam on my blog.

Jam of Prickly Pear
2.2 lbs (1kg) of prickly pear fruit (tunas) peeled (15 tunas approximately)
3 1/2 cups of sugar (840 g)
1 tablespoon of pectin
1 tablespoon of lemon juice

Cut prickly pears in pieces and blend only half of them. Keep the rest. (Because the seeds are very hard, I pureed all the fruit and strained the pulp.) Put blended fruit into a pan and cook over medium heat; as soon as it begins to boil, add the pectin, the sugar and the lemon juice. Keep stirring the mixture constantly with the spoon. Once it starts the first boil, while stirring, add the remaining fruit if you desire. Remove the jam from the heat when it acquires a thick consistency and when shaking pan the bottom can be seen (more or less after one hour). Put the hot jam into the sterilized container immediately. (Our test jam cooked more quickly.  Be careful not to overcook.)

Packaging and Preservation for safety
On a dry cloth, place the sterilized bottles or jars. Pour in the still hot jam, with the help of a spoon, leaving a minimum space of a half inch between the mouth of the bottle and the jam. Allow some steam to escape and close it tightly to form vacuum. Let cool to room temperature and place a label in the bottle with the product name and date. Jam will be ready for its consumption in 12 hours after it was prepared. This jam will keep for a year in a fresh and dry place. Once opened, the jam must be refrigerated and consumed in a month.

Alternative ingredients:
The lemon juice can be replaced by ¼ tablespoon of ascorbic acid or one crushed Vitamin C tablet of 500mg.

To keep the jam in good condition, sterilize the bottles and the cover in the following way: wash them thoroughly, retire the labels and put them to boil (with enough water so they keep cover all time) during 15 minutes counted from the first fervor or boiling. Taking off by far care, with the aid of clamps or a knife in a hand and a dry rag in the other; place the bottle and the cover on a totally dry and clean cloth (if no, the bottle can be broken). Do not touch the jam with the hands when it is still hot, since it can cause a serious burn.

To take a small taste of the jam before complete the heat treatment, take a few with a spoon, drain it in a plate, and leave it to cool completely.

Jam of Nopalitos
300 g (3/4lb.) of clean and sliced nopales into little squares (approximately 3 large pads)
200 g (1 1/4cup) of sugar
1 cup of boiled or chlorinated water (drinkable water)
1 dry maize leaf (those used for making tamales)
2 tablespoon of lemon juice
1 pinch of sodium bicarbonate

Cook nopalitos in a pot with sufficient water and the maize leaf until they are soft.  Remove maize leaf and discard. Drain the nopalitos in the strainer, rinse them with cold water and separate ¼ cup to use them later. Blend the rest of nopalitos to obtain a purée. Put purée and sugar into large pan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with spoon for 10 minutes. When it begins to boil, add the lemon juice, bicarbonate and the nopales that were keep before. Skim off the foam that is formed with stirring mixture. When the mixture is clear and thick, jam is ready. Remove from heat. For extra punch, add 3 finely minced Serrano chilies.

Packaging and preserving: 
Put the jam, still hot, into the sterilized jars. Allow ½ inch space between the jam and the mouth of the container. Before closing the container tightly, allow steam to escape to form a vacuum. Before consuming the jam, let cool at room temperature for 12 hours.  The jam may be processed in a water bath for longer shelf life. Label with name and date. The jam is conserved until by eight months. Once the jam is open, it should be refrigerated.