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Kitchen gardening and food security

July 30, 2012

KITCHEN gardening for many is a hobby especially for those who love nature and long to remain closer to it. The benefits derived from the garden are of secondary importance to them.

But these days amid fears of food insecurity and increasing prices of vegetables especially in urban areas, kitchen gardening is emerging as a partial solution to the

problem. It can be a cheap source of essential nutrients and lessen the atmospheric pollution.

With the change in climatic conditions resulting in floods, droughts and environmental and land degradation giving rise to fear of food insecurity, the Punjab government in 2011 launched a kitchen gardening project in urban areas.

A sum of over Rs24 million was allocated for the scheme, and 168 officials of the provincial agricultural department were selected to impart basic training to those urbanites who were interested in kitchen gardening.

But snags hit the project when subsidised seeds and fertiliser could not be delivered to the urban cultivators and consequently the provincial government had to shelve the programme.

The worsening economic conditions is making kitchen gardening in many households increasingly popular as vegetables and fruits gardening in the backyard does not require intensive care and maintenance.

The Great Recession of the recent days has made many people in the West to devote more of their time to grow fresh vegetables for the family. It ends up as a project for the whole of the family.

More than 40 million American households these days participate in food gardening, according to the National Gardening Association (NGA). This includes everything from growing a small pot of herbs in a patio garden to large gardens designed to grow fresh fruits and vegetables to feed a family for the year.

America’s stressed economy is one of the leading factors driving its citizens to the backyards to grow fresh fruits and vegetables, explains Bruce Butterfield, research director of the NGA. The results suggest that interest in kitchen gardening may continue to increase even after the recession is over, he says.

In an urban dwelling with little space, one cannot grow all the green that is needed in the kitchen.

Yet one can try to grow some vegetables and herbs of daily use in smaller quantity such as tomatoes, brinjals, capsicums, radish and onion; salad greens like lettuce and cucumber and indispensable herbs like mint, coriander, garlic, ginger, curry leaf, oregano, green chilies, etc.

One of the easiest ways of ensuring access to a healthy diet that contains adequate macro- and micronutrients is by producing various fruits and vegetables in the backyard garden. This is applicable both to urban and rural areas.

My experience of a kitchen garden at the backyard of my house is not less inspiring. The virgin land with the addition of little compost proved to be too fertile. The first thing I planted on raised beds of land was okra seeds.

The seeds sprouted and the whitish green tiny plants came out. I watched them grow steadily and soon they grew up into healthy shrubs. The plants grew luxuriantly and attained the height of over and above the fence of the courtyard laden with the vegetable. Not only the family used the garden-fresh vegetable frequently but also shared it with neighbours and relatives quite often.

Some people also grow tomatoes, brinjal, cauliflower, turnip, cabbage, carrot, radish, onion, cucumber, and tubers like potato, turnip, sweet potato, etc depending on the availability of land and sell them to vendors to earn some money or exchange vegetables with them.

A gentleman in my neighbour who grows vegetables more than his need barters them for potato, onion and ginger or the required stuff at his doorsteps with the vegetable vendors.

On being encouraged by the growth and production of okra, I planted pumpkin (kadu), tori and bitter gourd. These plants occupy little ground provided they are helped to climb over fence walls or rooftop. I helped the pumpkin and tori lianes climb the wall to the roof top with the help of tendrils they produce and trellis.

The result was fabulous. The plants grew luxuriantly there and bore many pieces of the large vegetable. To my surprise many of them attained very big sizes and weighted over and above six kilos.

Whereas bitter gourds do not need much care and grow themselves and one gets the garden-fresh green vegetable for the family every second or third day for months.

I also planted some lemon (kagzi) plants having brought them from local nurseries. Plants even bearing fruits are sold at these nurseries.

One of the plants grew in a short time and was always full of lemons. Last year for the whole of Ramazan there was no need for me to buy any lemon from the market.

A large number of people have also grown palm trees in my neighbourhood as elsewhere in the city.

These palms are not only ornamental but also produce fruit in abundance which is sold in the market. The market is full of such indigenously produced fruits among the imported ones from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Thailand.

Among fruit trees I have planted guava, chikoo, custard and papaya. They are bearing fruits. Among ornamental plants I have planted gulmohar and coconut palms outside the house.

Out of the four palms that I planted, two seem to have taken roots. Such palms take time to bear fruits.