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Kitchen gardens are a growing trend in urban areas. Moreover, during the Coronavirus lockdown, it can be a valuable addition to a house, if one is unable to get fresh vegetables and fruits easily from the market. Mumbai based, Priyanka Amar Shah, founder of iKheti, which promotes urban farming, points out that when Cuba faced a shortage of food following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, the country turned to urban farming. “Urban-based agriculture has the potential to turn urban locales into food production units. In the window of my house in Mumbai, I have a garden where I grow paan, mint, basil, spinach, curry leaves and ajwain. I have even shared these greens with my neighbours, during the lockdown,” says Shah.
What is a kitchen garden?
Window sills, balconies, vertical walls and any such area, can be used for setting up a kitchen garden. Start by planting things that you like to eat. “A small kitchen garden can reduce waste and grow fresh, edible plants at home. Any place that receives some sunlight and any container (earthen pots, plastic pots, old bottles, take-away plastic containers, tetra boxes, etc., with holes for aeration) can be used, to grow plants. Green, leafy vegetables can be grown in shallow pots. One can start with seeds easily available in one’s kitchen, such as methi (fenugreek), aliv (flax), dhania (coriander), or sabza (sweet basil),” says Deborah Dutta, a volunteer with Urban Leaves, which encourages urban farming to create community farms in Mumbai. Leafy greens such as water leaf spinach and Malabar spinach are easy to grow, as well and offer high nutritive value. Fenugreek, lal math, spinach, tomatoes, chillies, black-eyed peas (chowli) are vegetables/fruits that can easily be grown from seeds.
How to set up a kitchen garden
One can easily grow nutritious micro-greens like wheat grass, radish, fenugreek, beetroot or spinach, etc. Micro-greens are edible vegetables and herbs that are harvested in less than 14 days after germination. They have an aromatic flavour and are packed with nutrients. “Micro-greens are approximately one to three inches tall. For growing micro-greens one needs a shallow container (the bigger the area, the more the produce). Along with the soil, mix coco peat (a mixture of dust, as well as non-useable fibre ends) or coconut husk, if available. Soak methi seeds or wheat sprouting seeds in it, overnight. Place an inch of potting soil in the bottom of the container and smooth it out. Scatter the soaked seeds over the surface of the soil evenly. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil and spray the soil with water. Spray water on the soil every day, to keep it moist. The micro-greens will be ready for harvest after 10-12 days. Cut the greens above the soil line and rinse well, before using,” explains Shah.
What vegetables can you grow in a kitchen garden?
If you have always dreamed of a vegetable garden, here are a few simple ways, to get started. Take fresh mint with a thick green stem and place it in a glass of water. Change the water every day. After a couple of days, thin white roots start sprouting. Take the stem out from water and place it in a pot. Ensure that the pot has holes for water drainage. Place the container in a sunny spot and water it regularly. Once the foliage increases, you can start cutting for culinary purposes.
“Garlic can also be easily grown at home. It is an important ingredient used in many dishes and also has amazing health benefits. The greens (i.e., leaves) shoot up within 8-10 days, while the bulbs take 8-9 months. Push individual cloves 2-3 inches into the soil. Ensure that the flat end points downwards. Place it in a sunny spot and water the pot every day. Once the greens are 5-6 inches tall, you can start using it in your dishes,” adds Shah. If you have deeper pots (6-8 inches deep), seeds from ripe chillies, capsicum, or tomatoes, can be used, to grow plants.
How to make compost at home
The raw kitchen waste can be used to make compost, which adds fertility to the soil. There are various ways to compost organic matter. “A simple method, is to use covered earthen pots to discard the organic waste (avoid cooked waste or onion peels and citrus peels in large quantities) and sprinkle each layer with red soil over it. Repeat the process, till the pot is full. A 20-litre pot should last for approximately a month, for a family of four. Keep the full pot aside. The material in the pot would be ready for use in the form of compost, after two months,” Dutta elaborates.
Benefits of growing a kitchen garden at home
Organic urban farming, not only gives home owners fresh, pesticide-free food but the farming process itself can be therapeutic in nature, especially during the ongoing crisis. Gardening has a positive impact on our well-being – it is a relaxing activity that can aid in overcoming anxiety. It can also be a great family activity, to help children deal with boredom and enhance their motor skills. One can also be creative, by recycling and painting and old pots, containers, plastic bottles, milk cartons, etc., to be used as planters.
Urban farming tips for home owners
- Do not water the plants excessively. Check if the soil is dry and simply wet it with enough water, to keep it damp. Avoid putting too many pebbles or anything that will prevent the plant from absorbing water.
- Remove drying, wilting leaves and flowers, to encourage faster new growth.
- Excessive use of fertiliser can burn out the soil, the root system and leaves. Add fertilisers but only in recommended dosages, to keep the plants healthy.
- One must be observant about pest attacks. It is easy to control it in the early stages.
- Read-up about kitchen gardens: There is plenty of information available online, as well as do it yourself tutorials on various websites.
Where can I set up a kitchen garden at home?
Home owners can set up a kitchen garden on the window sills, grill, or on vertical walls or balconies.
What plants are ideal for kitchen gardens?
Home owners can grow fenugreek, flax, coriander, sweet basil, spinach, tomatoes, chillies, black-eyed pea, as well as micro-greens like wheat grass, radish, beetroot, etc.