The ancient well in the front yard of this house is intriguing. As your gaze widens, you notice plantains, yams, pumpkins, green gram, okra, ginger, chilli, and many other plants.

The plants are flanked by bunds of coconut husk, and a merry assortment of leaf litter covers the soil. We are at the Ramakrishnan residence in Thiruvanmiyur, a house that is moving towards a self-sustaining, energy independent and zero-waste existence.

Kavitha Ramakrishnan wouldn’t dream of clearing up the front yard. The leaf litter happens to be mulch, the biological material that protects, nurtures, and eventually becomes one with the soil.

“There is an entire ecosystem beneath this leaf litter, and their interaction is what makes these plants as ‘alive and kicking’ as the plants you would find in forests,” she says, pointing to the assortment of worms and bugs that crawl happily on the soil. Does she have insect visitors creeping into the house often? “Not at all, they are happy where they are."

Actually, the natural ecosystem has largely negated the mosquito menace in her house, she says. All around the house and on the terrace too, you find plants growing in an assortment of containers, from woven baskets to discarded bath tubs. This ensures that she grows most of her own vegetables.

“Having moved into Chennai from Singapore after 15 years, we had to renovate the house, and we decided to do it along self-sustaining lines,” says Kavitha. So they retained the ancient well and now use it as a recharge pit for rain water. A soak pit for recycling grey water (used bath water, washing machine water and wash basin water and kitchen water) has been added too.