Breakfast? Toast with home-grown tomatoes and mint. Lunch? Sambar that has brinjals from the garden and a poriyal of just-plucked greens. As for fruits, there are guavas and bananas, again from the garden. Sounds like Utopia?
Not for those whose lifestyle allows such a luxury, however small in scale. Take, for instance, Sujatha Krishnan, known for her successful ice cream business. Her pride and joy are the six pots in her terrace that bear chillies, capsicum and brinjal. A visit to the Agri Fair last year inspired Sujatha to grow vegetables at home. Some trials and misfires later, she perfected the art of raising the seedlings.
Sujatha sticks to simple home-grown logic and it shows in her harvest that is all organic — over 200 brinjals from two plants in less then two months, and nearly a 100 capsicums from three plants.
It was a similar desire that saw Gitanjali Rao plant greens and vegetables in her rambling backyard. There's a sprawling patch of mint and thandukeerai, another of coriander, and a couple of brinjal shrubs. She harvests the greens once a week, and the brinjal yields enough for her family of four.
Retired bank official P. Vincent does things on a slightly larger scale on his terrace. All organically at that. Using innovative planting techniques, mulch from his garden, and the earthworms around his house, he raises a vegetable garden with greens (palak, thandukeerai and drumstick), chillies, radish, beans, bush beans and more.
The star attraction is a vertical planter that Vincent has come up with — it allows him to grow a whole lot of greens in limited space.
City Commissioner of Police C. Sylendra Babu raises vegetables and fruits in his spacious home in the heart of Race Course. For those who know the IPS officer, this passion for farming should not come as a surprise — he did his Masters from Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU).
Bursting with variety
With the help of a dedicated staff, he raises varieties of banana, tomatoes, brinjals, musk melon, ash gourd, bitter gourd, cauliflower, ladies finger, pumpkins, radish, sweet potato, chillies, coriander, greens, onion, sweet corn, and much more. Everyone who works on the garden gets a share in the produce.
“It is extremely relaxing walking through this greenery after the rigours of work,” says Sylendra Babu, who spends at least 10 to 15 minutes in the garden every day. He beams with pride as he walks us around his garden where green tomatoes hang heavy on plants, and a new crop of cauliflower takes root.
In Vincent's case, it was his lifelong love for plants that saw him experiment and raise them at home. Undaunted by lack of space, he chose his terrace and came up trumps.
“It is so easy to raise greens. Take, for instance, drumstick. We tend to ignore the leaves, rich in protein, calcium and iron. When you grow this tree for its leaves, even a pot is enough.”
For those who worry about the extra load on the roof, water seepage and water consumption, Vincent has a ready solution: pots filled with coconut husk and coconut pith enriched with vermicompost and Effective Microbes solution. These don't weigh much, cost next to nothing and don't consume much water.
The cost factor
For Gitanjali, growing her own vegetables is convenient. “I no longer worry about sudden guests. I know my mint patch and greens will come in handy,” she says. “And, nothing can beat the fragrance of home-grown mint,” she feels.
That's something Sujatha agrees with. Her refrigerator stocks the last of the season's capsicum and brinjal, and her kathirikai karakozhambu smacks of freshness.
Then, there's Manidipa Mandal, a freelance writer and editor and a part-time foodie based in Kolkata. Convenience and the cost advantage saw her raising mint, coriander, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme for use in soups, salads, stews and sauces. These led to her growing cherry tomatoes, cauliflower and miniature oranges. Creativity in the kitchen soon followed.
“There was cauliflower-based pasta sauce and cherry-tomato chutney with fish. Lemon basil was introduced to mango sorbet. Woody oregano became a bed for roast chicken to crisp on...”
So, what are planning to grow on your patch of green?
Create your own garden
* To promote kitchen gardens, TNAU sells pouches containing hybrid seeds, priced at Rs. 10 each. These contain seeds of leafy vegetables, chillies, brinjals, tomato, gourds, drumstick, lab lab, etc. “We sell about 300 to 400 packets every day,” says L. Pugalendhi, Head of Department, Department of Vegetable Crops, TNAU.
The staff also guide those interested in knowing how to raise them, organically or otherwise. You can pick up the packets at the counter near the Botanical Gardens. Call 0422-6611283 for details.
* P. Vincent also trains SHGs and those interested in setting up kitchen gardens. He posts detailed notes of his experience on http://maravalam.blogspot.com/. Or, call him on 98940-66303.