The practice of growing one’s own food isn’t a new thing in urban India. People have been known to grow common ingredients such as chillies, peppers, tomatoes, and similar plants in terraces and balconies for generations. However, there are quite a few other ingredients that can grow quite easily in your home – as long as you can spare some space, and allow the plant to enjoy a few hours of sunlight every day. Ananya Mehta of Eden – a social initiative by ProtoVillage, made it really easy for us. As long as you have good soil, and some patience, growing almost anything at home is not impossible, and this includes not only indigenous plants and greens but also the exotic varieties. And in case you’ve been thinking on the same lines, here’s some help to get you started…
Water Spinach (Kalmi)
Water Spinach or the kalmi saag is one of the fastest growing greens, even when cultivated in a home garden, and can be grown from a cutting or a seed. The kalmi needs wet soil to grow, and can be planted along with water lily or the lotus plant.
You have to make sure that the soil has enough organic matter, and there is adequate water in the tub. It grows phenomenally, especially if it has access to about three or four hours of sunlight every day. Ideally, kalmi would grow in marshy areas, so if you can create that microclimate for the plant, you’ll be able to harvest it through the year. It’s very high on nutritional value and can be eaten in different ways, but a quick stir-fry with garlic pods, soy sauce and kalmi stems (with leaf attached) in oil is one of the easiest ways to cook this leaf – plus it’s super healthy.
The Turkey berry or sundakkai is the wilder variety of the domestic brinjal (which is generally an annual vegetable). It is a perennial plant that can last for about five to seven years. It bears fruit (in the form of clusters) continuously, and is a hardy crop, that is it can survive in adverse growing conditions.
While the Turkey berry does grow from a cutting, first time home growers would do well to use a seed. It requires good quality soil enhanced with loose organic matter, and a few hours of sunlight every day for it to bear fruits. Turkey berry is one of the essential ingredients to make a good Thai green curry.
Time taken to harvest: 6 to 8 weeks for berries to sprout
Essentially part of the squash family, the Zucchini is a summer crop and grows well in a home garden. However, you need to plant one sapling per container. The zucchini bears separate male and female flowers (the female can be identified by a mini fruit that is attached at the base of the flower) and sometimes need manual pollination. So if you have only male flowers, you might need to wait awhile for a female flower to appear.
A zuchhini flower usually blooms late in the night or very early in the morning, so keep an eye on that. It’s not very difficult to grow either as long as you use the standard soil rules. Don’t overwater the plant, which is pretty much the case for most plants. It takes a while for the flowers to appear, so be patient. You can use zucchini in stir-fries, salads, or even roast it with meat and other vegetables for a healthy meal.
Time taken to harvest: 2 months to start flowering
The bok choy or pak choi is an oriental leafy green and belongs to the Chinese cabbage family. It’s also a fairly easy plant to grow (you will need to plant a seed) and can grow in partial shade. If you let the plant grow, using only the outer leaves for your cooking, it will prosper without much interruption. You have to take care of the soil though; mulch it regularly with dry leaves, straw or even pieces of cardboard. Keep the plant strong by using a lot of organic compost, keeping the soil moist, but not overwatering it. Make sure your pot has good drainage.
You can steam bok choy with garlic and chillies, or even stir-fry it for a nutritious dish. It’s also used in Indian dals and curries for added flavour.
Time taken to harvest: 45 days
The Kale is an exotic leaf, and belongs to the game species as the cabbage and the cauliflower. There are many varieties of kale, such as the curly kale, blue curly kale, red Russian kale, etc. Now what sets this plant apart from many others in the same category is that it’s extremely high in chlorophyll, thanks to it dark fleshy leaves.
To grow kale, you need cool weather, so in Bengaluru it would be advisable to wait until September till you plant it, and you can enjoy it all through winter. If you leave the inner leaves alone, and harvest only the outer leaves, your plant will grow without much interruption.
Kale can be used in food in different ways, and because the taste and flavour vary, it would be advisable to look up what kind of kale you’re growing. For instance, the red Russian variety can be eaten raw in a salad, whereas the curly kale can be used to make a smoothie. You can also add them in curries. Since kale is an exotic green, you will have to import the seeds to grow them in the city.
Time taken to harvest: 45 days before it starts growing
The Swiss chard, another exotic green, resembles a beet leaf, and comes in different varieties. It’s high in Vitamin K, A, and C, and is a winter crop so September is a good month to plant it. Apply the same soil rules as you would for kale, and you can enjoy the greens all through winter. Once the plant begins to grow, harvest only the outer leaves, and leave the inner leaves alone for the plant to flourish.
Swiss chard can be put in stews, soups, or even as wraps for a healthy meal.
Time taken to harvest: 45 days
Chicken Spinach (nela basale)
Often referred to the Florida spinach in India, the nela basale or Chicken spinach is a beautiful plant. It’s got thick, fleshy leaves and can grow from a cutting or seeds without much trouble. In fact, the Chicken spinach self seeds effortlessly. You can keep harvesting the outer leaves of this plant and use it in your cooking. It can also be eaten raw as a salad along with salt and lime.
Despite the high levels of Omega-3 Fatty Acids found in Chicken spinach, it is often neglected as an ingredient. It’s a perennial plant and requires good soil to grow continuously. Therefore, don’t let the soil dry out or become too wet.
You can add it in a salad or a stir-fry. Incidentally, it also makes for a good ingredient in a raita.
Time taken to harvest: 30 days approximately
Chives are one of the easiest herbs to grow in a home garden. Whether you’re growing onion or garlic chives, you might want to consider planting it with another plant because chives are excellent natural pest repellents. Take a garlic pod that has a bit of a shoot sticking out and plant it. It will sprout easily, but it’s advisable to allow for a healthy bunch of chives to appear before you start harvesting it. You can also use shallots to grow onion chives.
Chives can be put in soups, salads, vegetable stock, omelettes, and sandwiches etc.
Time taken to harvest: 45 days
The arugula is a lovely salad green to grow, and one of its biggest advantages is that it self seeds beautifully. If you don’t take the plant out and let it grow, you will find them growing back next season without any hassle. It’s also quite pest-free. Again, standard soil rules apply, and don’t over water the plant. It will also require some amount of sunlight every day. And grow it from a seed.
Arugula is a delicious leaf and can be added in almost any kind of salad at home.
Time taken to harvest: 30-45 days
The sweet potato is one of the most underrated vegetables, but it packs in quite a bit of nutrition. It’s one of the best sources for beta-carotene and meets almost 90% of our Vitamin A requirements. The good news is that it grows really well in a home garden, and you can use the shoot as well as the potato in your food.
The plant needs warm weather to grow and generous sunlight. Not many people are aware of the fact that you can actually eat the leaves of this plant as well. You can grow it either from a cutting, or just by planting an eye sliced off a sweet potato. In fact, you can even plant a whole potato if you want. You can eat the tender greens in winter, leaving the root alone and it will continue to grow.
One of the healthiest ways to cook sweet potato is to cut them into wedges and bake them with some mustard, olive oil and pepper, or even as a soup with carrots and ginger.
One of the best reasons to grow aromatic culinary herbs such as rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano etc, at home is that they’re not always available fresh in the market, and when they are, they can be quite expensive. Herbs add a lot of flavour and aroma to almost all dishes – from soups and vegetable stocks to salads, and baked dishes. They are very easy to grow, don’t require too much space. However, germinating them can take some expertise, so for a first time grower, a sapling is the best way to start. When it comes to harvesting, it’s best to leave about 40% of the leaves on the plant to allow good re-growth. If you intend to use a lot of herbs, consider having more than one pot of the same herb so that you have regular supply.
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