Across the world, the concept of ‘grow your own food’ is gaining popularity, especially in cities and towns. Rapid urbanization has increased the solid waste polluting our streets and water bodies and contributed to poverty and scarcity of fuel and water. A backyard or rooftop kitchen garden in every household can help address these challenges. This can be part of a green infrastructure strategy to create healthier urban environments and induce behavioural change among people. Citizens must be encouraged to prepare compost for use in their vegetable gardens, thereby reducing the waste that goes into landfills.
Establishing such gardens could benefit in a number of ways. They increase access to safe, nutritious and fresh food; facilitates waste management, thus keeping the environment clean and reducing health hazards; provides additional income to vulnerable groups; encourages citizens to engage positively; leads to reduced temperatures and lowers carbon emissions.
My experience with home gardening
I have been living in Trichy since 2000. Initially, we lived in a centrally located rental house that did not have any free space to grow anything. We grew some greens and herbs on our balcony using recycled bottles and other containers. About an year ago, we moved to our own house located on the outskirts of Trichy. While we built a house in an area of 800 square feet, around 1600 square feet or two-thirds of the space was left vacant to nurture a garden.
My educational background in plant science and my association with Kudumbam, an NGO based in Trichy, Tamil Nadu, India, since 1995, helped me to make a start using sustainable agriculture techniques. We first laid fence around the house. Then, we started designing our home garden.
All of my family consisting of four members: my wife Gaja, my daughter Sruthi, my son Harish, and myself, got involved in the design. Our idea for designing the home garden was very simple. We started small, with what we were interested in eating. We made a simple analysis of our family’s kitchen needs and categorised them as short-term ones, while non-kitchen needs were classified as long-term ones. We were also very cautious about spending on our garden. We decided to start with what we had, using the three ‘R’s — refuse, recycle, and reuse. In this way, we established a small home garden in our backyard eight months ago.
Plants for the kitchen
For use in our kitchen, we planted greens like kodipasalai (basilla alba), bonnanganni, (alternanthera sessilis) kuthupasalai (basilla rubra), pulichakeerai (hibiscus cannabinnus), vendhaya keerai (fenugreek), murungakeerai (drumstick leaves).These are greens we use as accompaniments for breakfast and lunch. We normally avoid eating greens with dinner. We also have curry leaves, which we use for seasoning. We use vegetables like tomato, lady’s finger, brinjal, sundaikaai (solanam torvam),cluster bean, drumstick, bitter gourd, bottle gourd, and ash gourd, which we use in dishes like sambar and poriyal.
Plants for health
We have also planted black tulsi, aloe vera, adathoda (justicia adhatoda), arugampul (cynodon dactylon), thiruneetru patchilai, thuthuvalai, pirandai, betal vine, lemon grass, ranakalli, omavalli, keelanelli, naaikadugu, curry leaf, insulin plant, maruthani and kuppaimeni (achalypa indica). We call this patch our pharmacy at home. These plants help in the treatment of common ailments like cold, cough, runny nose, fever, body pain, headache, and constipation. They also help control body heat, blood pressure, and blood sugar. These herbs can be eaten raw or can be incorporated into herbal tea, soup, sambar, and chutney.
Plants for religious rituals
Our garden also has flowering plants like jasmine, hibiscus, anthimantharai, pitchipoo, kagithapoo, andaralipoo. The jasmine is for my wife and daughter,while the other flowers are offered to God in our puja room. Every morning, the previous day’s floral offerings are collected from the puja room and sent to the compost pit while the puja room gets fresh flowers.The petals of the hibiscus are good for blood purification. So, the day after the hibiscus flowers are offered to God, we consume the petals.
We have planted several varieties of trees that have multiple uses. We have fruit trees like mango, papaya, cashew, jackfruit, guava, kodukkapuli, banana, and amla or gooseberry.We have also planted trees that have value as timber: teak, semmaram, casuarina, neem, and poovarasu. The fruit trees will start yielding in two years,while the timber trees will bring benefits to our family in the long term.
Little things that make a big difference
In many places in our garden, we have placed water in used plastic bottles for thirsty birds. When they come to drink water, they also perform pest management by eating garden pests. We do not bother about pests because the garden is not only for humans but for all living things. Peacocks, mynas, and chittukurivi are regular visitors to our garden. We keep an undisturbed space for the chittukurivi to nest. If we dig anywhere in the garden, we find plenty of earthworms; this indicates that the soil is healthy and alive.
Through this home garden, we get fresh air every morning since we work for at least an hour in the garden. It helps us stay fit and healthy and brings our family closer to nature, learning to enjoy what nature gives us. There is enough space to experience the concept of recycling. Vegetables, fruits, greens, and flowers come from the garden to the kitchen. And kitchen waste travels back to the garden as manure and compost. More importantly, we have started to conserve our own seeds and maintaining a seed bank of vegetables, pulses, herbs, greens and flowers.
This is an ecological and regenerative way of life. We concentrate on the principles of refuse, recycle, and reuse. All plants are grown in previously used plastic tubs and bottles.Most of our garden tools are made from so-called waste materials. We hope to integrate more components like chicken, fish, and goat to make our garden a comprehensive one.
We also share a lot of our garden produce with our neighbours, relatives, milkman, and scavengers,free of cost. This helps build friendly relationships with neighbours and motivates them to start their own garden.
Covid 19 and the resulting lockdown of over two months has made our family spend more time in the garden. As a result,the garden has given us plenty of produce in the form of fruits, flowers, vegetables, and greens. The sound of birds has replaced our early morning electronic alarms. Thus, our family has realised that our garden is our life.
No. 113/118, Sundaraj Nagar, Subramaniyapuram,
Trichy – 620 020,
Tamil Nadu, India
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