Any small patch of land can become a thriving vegetable garden
Living off the land has been around since time unknown. Growing one’s own food, whether tubers and greens or grains and herbs, has always preoccupied man.
In a BBC series, ace British gardener Monty Don showed how islanders in rubble-strewn West Indies grow vegetables in derelict plots, between tiny homes and fallen buildings. Between the debris small patches of greens, chilly, brinjal, tomato and gourd flourish. Grown organically, these vegetables are bartered among the locals in exchange for organic matter to put back into the soil such as vegetable peel, stalks and leaves.
In Central and South America, many settlers live on boats that glide along densely forested river banks, and satisfy their desire for fresh vegetables and fruit by planting gardens on layers of soil laid on floating structures alongside their boats. This is seen in Kashmir too, whose floating gardens are rafts layered with reeds and roots and covered with mud, on which potato, tomato, pumpkins and radish are grown extensively, besides melons and flowers.
Along the backwaters of Kumarakom in Kerala we see a similar approach to produce gardening. The backyards of these little homes (which lead to the river) all boast a jackfruit tree, mango tree, chilly, tomato plants, banana tree, and a small patch of paddy. The river, of course, gives fish in plenty and trees provide firewood.
On a recent visit to Kolkata, I found everything covered in a layer of dust. Could there be a more unappealing place? But as we drove into the city, something caught my eye. A man sitting under the shade of a huge signboard with a cloth pegged down with stones. He had arranged a few vegetables on it and I have never seen them so fresh — beans, tomatoes, flat beans, leeks, and cauliflower. Desi gobi (country variety) he said proudly of his unique cauliflowers. What we know as avarakai in Tamil Nadu had no resemblance to the ones he had — flat, fat, tender and so green — I was bowled over.
Just behind him, along an inner lane, was a narrow stretch of land that boasted of green and red saag . Deciding to explore, I came off the highway and found small plots of land perfectly hoed and sown with rows of cabbage, cauliflower, brinjal, chilly, and pumpkins. Poor families in dwellings alongside the land looked after the crops, growing them for their own needs and selling the rest. It seemed like another world. Here, water was ferried in pots on a cycle, fresh bundles of vegetables slung over the shoulder, and the land attended to, in rain and shine.
My driver told me how these areas, now replete with new construction activity, used to be farmlands till just a few years ago. The rich loamy soil is part of the Gangetic belt, fertile and healthy. Mahamayatala, as the area is called, is one of the oldest settlements, where refugees once arrived in droves.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and optimum use of space for man’s primary need, food, is what I have stated above.
As vegetable prices soar, a small pot on the balcony or a bed in the backyard can yield enough for a family’s consumption.