Vegetables in your backyard

GREEN PATCH

How about growing greens and vegetables in your backyard or any tiny space in your home? It is a much better option than buying greens grown in unhygienic conditions, suggests Rashmi Shrinivas

Growing vegetables at home is a healthier option than buying them.(Photo by the author

How often have you not asked yourself if it is alright to buy greens and vegetables grown in open markets? Though most shops claim to sell organic vegetables, they are overpriced and it is also difficult to check how organic they are. Such being the scenario, it seems best to grow vegetables in your own backyard or in pots. This will ensure that the food you eat is fresh and hygienic.

Because space and water are generally not a constraint in rural areas, most people grow coconut, mango, jackfruit, banana, papaya, etc in their backyard. Even those who do not have large spaces grow simple vegetables like basella (spinach), varieties of amaranthus (dantin soppu), colocasia, amorphophallus (yam), curcuma longa (turmeric), various types of gourds, etc in their kitchen garden, herbs like hydrocotyle, cassia, etc in the neighbouring vacant land. Some people say that these vegetables taste better than those purchased from the market.

As a child, I remember accompanying my mother to a small farm near our house to buy cauliflowers and cabbages grown in rows. We could choose the vegetable and then get it cut. Thus we were ensured of fresh vegetables.

We cannot even imagine this happening in cities and perhaps not even towns and villages anymore. Greens like the Indian spinach, amaranthus and fruits like papaya and jackfruit were never sold in my childhood. People only shared it with each other. Until recently, my village in the Western Ghats did not have a vegetable shop.

In Bangalore, where even buying a house is a luxury for most people, having a vegetable garden is an impossibility. Yet, there are certain rules that insist on some area to be left open on a site, you can still covert it into a vegetable garden. People with more open space on their site can easily grow spinach, fenugreek, spring onion, mint, etc, and simple medicinal plants like phyllanthus niruri (nelanelli), aloe vera and costus (commonly called diabetes plant).

Those who have smaller spaces can grow varieties of gourds and leguminous pods. However, such areas get limited sunlight because the shadow of the neighbouring house covers it.

Novices in kitchen gardening can make a beginning with green chillies and tomatoes. They can probably later try their hands at spinach, Bombay basale, ladies finger, etc.
When I sowed snake gourd seeds last year, they began growing well and needed a good support. So I tied a plastic rope to two water pipes horizontally and then tied a vertical rope from the roof of the window to the climber.

Because the neighbouring house was already built barely leaving any space, my plants got limited sunlight. Yet, due to natural heliotropic and phototropic movements of plants, it grew upwards and got sufficient sunlight. With the help of its tendrils, it even took support of the rough surface of the outer wall of my house. I was surprised to see that the snake gourd I harvested was three times longer than those available in the market.

Similarly, bitter gourd, pumpkin, ash gourd, milk gourd, ridge gourd, gherkins, cucumber, Mangalore cucumber, double beans, etc. can be grown easily because they occupy little space.

They can also be spread vertically with the aid of a suitable support. They can be grown even on the grill of your balcony. Growing tindora (thondekai) can be fun if you have small children at home. Your child might enjoy plucking them and simultaneously learn counting numbers.

It is a good idea to grow herbs and climbers alternately and make maximum usage of the available ground and vertical space.

Composting

The traditional method of composting is the easiest and most suitable because it demands little time. Cities like Nagpur have systematic waste disposal units which is inclusive of composting. Some apartments in Bangalore’s Koramangala and Kalyan Nagar, prepare compost out of bio-degradable waste and use it in their garden. People living in independent houses can also do this and contribute to reducing Bangalore’s garbage disposal problem.

Plants of leguminaceae family are known for nitrogen fixation in soil through the nodules in their roots. Hence in some parts of the district Gulbarga, a member of the leguminaceae family, crotolaria junceae (a weed) was planted. When it reached the flowering stage, it was crushed and mixed with soil in order to increase the fertility of the soil. The same can be done for the little kitchen gardens in cities where it can be seen growing on vacant sites. Organic waste like peels and seeds of fruits and vegetables, dried flowers used for worshipping, residual tea powder etc, can be mixed into the soil. Bio-degradable waste should be stirred at regular intervals in order to ensure proper aeration and suspend the growth of unwarranted worms. After a few weeks, it decomposes into vital humus, either brown or blackish in colour. This compost increases the fertility of the soil and also encourages the growth of earthworms.

Climbers have a lot of broad leaves which means they have a lot of stomata on their surface which consume huge quantities of water by way of transpiration. But city dwellers, who often face shortage of water, need not worry. They can collect water used for washing vegetables, rice and dal and also water used for rinsing clothes or vessels and use it in the garden. After all, beautiful gardens maintained by many multinational companies are raised using recycled water. Moreover, we can also reduce water consumption by using recycled water for plants. Further, we can cover the ground with dry leaves and coconut fibre and arrest loss of water from the ground.

Growing vegetables at home serves a double purpose. Firstly, you can get fresh, organically grown vegetables. You don’t have to pay for them though it demands patience and good nurturing. Secondly, making compost at home  is cost saving and can be a good solution to the city’s waste disposal problem.

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