Homes and gardens

This lockdown, learn to grow your own greens

Photo for representation.   | Photo Credit: M. Periasamy


Stepping out for procuring fresh vegetables and fruits is a leap of faith these days. COVID-19 is invisible to the naked eye and you never know when and where it's going to strike. But we need vegetables. So, grow your own, says Usha Gajapathi Raju, a passionate kitchen gardener. It helps one spend time productively, it is a safe occupation that doesn’t expose you to the virus outdoors, and most imortantly, you get healthy, fresh and nutritious vegetables right there at home.

It is the fifth week of the lockdown, but Usha is not unduly perturbed about supplies. The reason: she grows almost every thing her family consumes. Her home is a classic example of how one can be self-sustainable in times of crisis. Her kitchen is stocked with produce from her terrace garden which she has nurtured for over a decade now. She grows 25 varieties of vegetables and three kinds of fruits (passion fruit, custard apple and sapota).

"I have only stocked up on onions from the market, everything else I need is right here,” she says. She also has a Whatsapp group called ‘Vizag Gardeners’ where gardening enthusiasts from the city exchange notes. Over the past couple of years, Usha has been regularly conducting workshops on kitchen gardening and composting for various resident welfare associations .

Usha Gajapathi Raju talking about the plants on her terrace garden

Usha Gajapathi Raju talking about the plants on her terrace garden   | Photo Credit: K_R_DEEPAK

She says this is the best time to grow a green thumb! "Gardening is also a perfect therapy in times of isolation,” she adds. Grow microgreens, suggests Usha. They are relatively easy to cultivate on the desktop or kitchen counters as they are harvested from seeds like mustard, coriander and fenugreek. "However, getting fresh seeds is preferable for a better harvest," she says. It takes less than a week for the seeds to sprout and are usually good to harvest within 10-15 days. One more word of advice — ensure that the plants get at least three to four hours of sunlight each day.

So that the cycle is complete and nothing goes out of your door as waste, Usha shares simple steps for home composting. She has a home composting video on her YouTube channel Ushodayam. " Daily garbage collection is affected due to the lockdown. This is a good opportunity to convert kitchen waste into aerobic compost," she says. Usha is also part of a Facebook group called ‘Rythu Mitra’ that promotes self-sustainable gardening.

Shashi Karnani also has a thriving terrace garden where brinjal, bottle gourd, leafy vegetables, and capsicum flourish under her tender loving care.“Visakhapatnam for most of the year is hot and humid, so leafy vegetables like spinach and fenugreek, and bottle and ridged gourd grow very well. Okra and snake beans are also a good choice,” she says. Currently, her garden is yielding bountiful crops of tomatoes, brinjal, drumsticks and spinach. Not only does this spare her trips to the supermarket but it also makes her a popular neighbour as she is happy to share her harvest. “I have been having a yield of at least one kilograms over a day,” she says with pride.

Home composting tips:
  • Line an earthen pot with holes with a first layer of broken twigs or dry leaves. You can also use a bucket with holes drilled in its bottom. This is to drain excess water.
  • Mix vegetable and fruit waste (chopped into smaller pieces to hasten the composting) with dry leaves and 2 tbsps of sour buttermilk and layer. The dried leaves aid in aeration and absorb excess moisture.
  • Over the fruit and vegetable waste, add another layer of either cocopeat or dry leaves and close the lid. 1:3 is the ideal ratio of veg to dry leaves/ cocopeat/ soil.
  • Repeat these steps till the pot is full.
  • Once in three days mix the contents vigorously for better aeration. The mixture should be moist but not soggy.
  • If the contents are dry sprinkle a little water and if they turn wet and stinking, add crushed dry leaves.
  • When the pot is full, leave it for a month and in the meanwhile start the composting in a second pot.
  • The final product should be dark brown in colour and smell earthy.

Like Usha, Shashi also urges people to take to kitchen gardening in the time of lockdown. “Since you cannot step out and buy seeds, why not use the fruits and vegetables that are already around? Fenugreek can be grown from its seeds that are usually available in most Indian kitchens. So is the case for curry leaves and coriander.”

Green and leafy is the mantra thriving gardeners swear by. “Leafy vegetables grow fast and occupy less space and they can usually be harvested in three weeks. You can also squash tomatoes and bury them; they are ready for harvest within a month's time,” explains Kamala Vathi Nadimpalli who started her YouTube channel ‘Brindavanam’ in January this year Since the lockdown, Kamala has been busy working on videos to show people how to start gardens at home. “Recently I uploaded a video on how to grow and care for plants during summer.”

Summer fruits and vegetables like watermelon, lime and lemons also grow well during this weather, says Kamala . “Watermelons grow better in warmer weather, so now is the right time to sow them,” but she warns, “It is a space hog and will require big containers. If you have a big terrace or a spacious balcony watermelons are a good idea.” And if you do not have so much space, your windowsill is more than enough for you to enjoy the thrill of harvesting your own produce.”

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Printable version | Sep 26, 2021 3:06:11 PM |

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