While growing up in the verdant and shady suburbs of Mumbai, I enjoyed watching trees sway in the wind, and admiring the burning bright blossoms of the African Tulips, Flame of the Forests, Bougainvilleas and the Gulmohars in the summers. During those years, I loved spending time on farms and watching farmers nurture the soil and the crops. Back in the city, there is a shortage of space, but gardening is what one can still do. Since then, I aspired to learn about gardening, but as I was very busy studying to be a medical doctor, I could not take it up at the time. Later, I got very busy building my practice, but the seeds of my childhood impressions were still strong. It was only years later that I could grow a garden of my own.
Setting Up Sustainable Systems In My Home
When I started gardening, I had no idea or experience about it–just some terrace space and my “memory seeds” that were feeding my desire to grow something. I started with a small and simple hydroponic system, which is a system of growing plants without soil. The system made it easy to provide nutrition to the plants. My first plants thrived well, and the yield was very good.
Encouraged by the results, I decided to spend more time learning about recycling as well. Every day, I was throwing away a lot of greens from my kitchen, and realized that I needed to do something about it. And I found out about another system called Trustbasket, which made recycling of green waste from the kitchen very easy. It is a 15-day cycle, so I purchased 3 buckets. Each month I made home compost for my garden, which was very easy to manage. This way, all organic and food waste could be recycled and become ‘the food of my food’. It is a wonderful feeling when I finally set up a recycling system at home.
It was around this time that I came across a workshop on growing microgreens at home. This is also very easy to set up in small space. I started growing microgreens like mustard, bok choy, wheat, amaranth, flax and mung–to have daily for my smoothies.
Nurturing & Observing
Plant infections are a common issue and its better if one is prepared for it early on. I lost a few plants to a fungus, so in my free time, I started learning about pest-and-fungal infection control. Gardening solutions are often as simple and natural as gardening itself. Neem oil diluted in water is an effective natural pesticide, which can be sprayed on plants regularly. Apart from that, I also used natural flower remedies made from Indian flowers (I make these remedies myself) to enhance plant growth and strengthen their immune systems.
As my passion for gardening intensified, I started visiting my plants more often and tended to them more carefully. It is important that we connect with our plants, love them, talk to them, and this goes a long way to enhance their growth.
Every day, my learnings about plants and gardening practices widened and as I devoted more time to my green patch, I could observe and develop a better understanding about how things grew. For instance, bitter gourd will grow better in the monsoons and ginger will take almost to ten months to grow. The best example was that of my cucumber plant. Initially, the plant yielded many yellow flowers but no fruits. I waited patiently, but in vain, and eventually the plant died. Was I missing a step? Was there something that I wasn’t aware of? On researching about the lifecycle of the cucumber plant on the web, I found that one needs to use the technique of hand pollination. I learnt how to identify male flowers and female flowers and the technique of hand pollination. Once I applied this technique I harvested many cucumbers that season. In the same way, my attempts to grow mint failed a dozen times, but finally I figured out a method of growing mint successfully. Now it is thriving well.
This was how I slowly developed a deeper connection to my garden and learnt from my missteps. It was like my garden and my gardening were guiding me gently all the time. No one can claim to be an expert. Things can go wrong even in the hands of experts. As a new student, I understand that I will keep learning from my garden all my life. Sometimes I learn about water & sunshine, air & temperature, seed quality, right time of the year, insects and so on.
As you nurture your garden and your connect with it deepens, one often develops an uncanny ability to perceive ways of hastening the results more effectively. Rather than choosing the seeds you want to grow, ask the soil what would you like to grow this season? Instead of “trying to grow”, listen to nature and then grow what it wants to grow for you. This way the plant grows effortlessly! One just has to stay open to new learning daily.
(Below, L-R: Alvi , Alvi Shoots, Bok Choy In Bloom)