By Jithendri Gomes
At a day and age where we are so used to buying almost everything off the shelf, attracted to all the imported products and looking for what looks good online, the current crisis situation has been difficult for most of us. While we are restricted with what we can buy, most supermarkets are still figuring out the process on how to cater to the online purchasing demand, and most of us are limited to buying produce from various vendors that come down our lane.
With President Gotabaya Rajapaksa championing the “Saubhagya Gewatta” (Prosperous Home Garden) programme launched by the Ministry of Agriculture, we saw many people coming forward and adopting the idea, including a number of parliamentarians, celebrities, and sport icons.
“Garden to Table” is the principal concept behind this programme. For someone who has not engaged in gardening before, the concept can be quite overwhelming. In this backdrop, we spoke to a few people who have tried and tested home gardening to share their thoughts and experiences.
Medhini Igoor from Us On Earth shared about their garden and how they have made their way to what they have now – a flourishing farm that feeds beyond their family and friends.
“We stumbled into farming with no idea of what it was or what it would lead to. We both had no prior experience or knowledge. We had a vacant patch of land on the outskirts of Colombo, and we decided to start a small patch of vegetables. Over a few months, we were able to grow more than half the food we cooked at home. By this point we were in love with the entire process of farming. What started as a small patch and grew it into a one acre vegetable farm, and we’re still slowly expanding to cover the entire two acres of land that we have,” she began.
Tips for beginners
– Start small by planting two to three varieties and tend to them before you dive into a full-fledged garden
– Start with native or local varieties that need little or no care, e.g. pumpkin varieties, brinjal, chilli, and greens like spinach, gotukola, kankun etc.
– Try to make your own compost pit or purchase a compost bin. This not only reduces the garbage waste from the kitchen, but is also extremely vital for the growth of the plants
– Try to make your own pesticides using plants like neem and aloe vera as they are especially effective in small-scale gardens
– Patience is key in agriculture. Give plants the time they need because this will also give you the best produce
Ardent environmentalist Jayantha Wijesingha from Rainforest Protectors of Sri Lanka also advocates adopting a sustainable lifestyle. He shared his experience of planting an edible garden with the limited space.
“Where I live, we have a seven-perch land with our house and I have a small garden. I have planted everything from guava and nelli to curry leaves, pandan leaves, and long beans. You don’t need a lot of space to have a garden. Each person growing five species of trees in their garden is a good way to start, and it will contribute immensely to preserving our ecosystem,” he noted.
Channa Ekanayake is an artist and naturalist. More importantly, he currently lives in an urban forest and edible garden designed and built by him. He shared his thoughts with us about how he came about building an edible garden.
“When you follow the traditional way of edible gardening, it provides food and most often, these plants have great medicinal and nutritious value. If you are considering starting your own edible and organic garden, consider native plants as we will give the rest of the wildlife a chance to survive. They are also comparatively easier to maintain. If you are able to gain the knowledge on how to harvest throughout the year within a small space, paired with traditional cooking methods, your diet will be diverse as well. This primitive way of eating is more sustainable,” he explained.
Ekanayake had started by growing vegetable patches to fulfil his requirement but had to soon let go of that practice as the surrounding areas around his garden became urbanised. However, seeing that certain species like butterflies and spiders didn’t have any other place to survive, he started to plant indigenous and endemic trees and was later able to grow vines along those trees.
Endless list of rewards
The advantages of home gardening and agriculture shared by the experts we spoke to:
- Provide you with the nutrition you need – a large portion of our meals consist of vegetables, fruits, and greens. There are many plants that grow and yield easily. For example, papaya, avocado, chilli, tomato, spinach, nelli, and curry leaves.
- Stop you from ingesting poisonous substances – most of the vegetables and fruits we consume (from outside) now are heavily dosed with toxics. Meanwhile, organic fruits and vegetables are usually much more expensive than the others, making it unaffordable to some of us.
- Help you to eat healthy – a lot of us put a lot of effort into eating health. It is a good trend that has spread fast. Watching what you eat and trying to eat healthy is all in vain if you are feeding yourself with poison. Growing your own food certainly prevents that from happening to a great extent.
- Help preserve urban wildlife – growing plants and flowers that animals and insects can feed on certainly helps and in turn you too will benefit from it. For example, small bats, lizards and fireflies eat mosquitoes at night. So having a garden that hosts them will solve the mosquito problem to a great extent.
- Help with pollination – when there is urban forestry or green cover, it attracts bees, various insects, and birds that help with pollination, thus increasing your harvest. Birds also help with distributing seeds that in turn grows trees elsewhere. It also attracts butterflies, who have their own ecosystem, one that also needs to be preserved.
- Improve the soil – having plants and trees help with improving the nutrient content in the soil. This in turn improves its decomposing capabilities – something lacking in urban areas. It gives an environment for microorganisms to survive. It also improves the soil’s water retention capabilities.
- Reduce temperature levels – it goes without saying that having greenery and trees around you will cool your environment and reduce direct sunlight. You know the difference the moment you enter a road with big shady trees. Trees also help with retaining the moisture in the air.
- Beautiful landscape – any sort of green cover has a very positive visual impact and beautifies our surroundings.
During this time of the ongoing pandemic and curfew, with extra time on our hands and limited access to essential food, it may be just the opportunity for us to give home gardening a try. It is a practice all of us can attempt wherever we live. Start small with the easier plants so that you won’t get discouraged, and get your food straight from garden to table.