Greens grown in urban kitchen gardens beat the lockdown blues

  • While the availability of a regular supply of vegetables is a concern for some during the ongoing lockdown in Indian cities, those who have been maintaining kitchen gardens for a while have a sense of relief with the availability of some vegetables in their backyard.
  • The interest in kitchen gardens has spiked among urban residents during the lockdown and those who have been gardening for a while are sharing best practices in informal networks and through formal platforms.
  • The lockdown period has also got people interested in composting and organisations working in this area are promoting composting of kitchen waste.

“I have a lawn in my house and developing a kitchen garden was always on the back burner. But due to one or the other reason I was never able to do so. Life was always so full that there was no time for doing what you really wanted to do. But finally, it was during the lockdown, I got in touch with an expert who helped me make a start and during the last two weeks I have already planted saplings of tomatoes, okra and beans,” said Jasmine Gulati, a homemaker who lives in Patiala (Punjab).

She said the best part is that her family can make their own manure from food waste and take basic care of the plants from goods available in the kitchen. Gulati explained to Mongabay-India that she contacted Amita Bhuwania, a kitchen garden expert known to her, and with her help, she was able to use materials and pots that were already available with her to start it.

Gulati is among many of those in India’s cities, who, during the coronavirus-linked lockdown, have got interested in learning about kitchen gardens as they witness the benefits for those who already have kitchen gardens.

For 51-year-old Amita Bhuwania, a resident of Delhi’s upmarket Greater Kailash locality, who helped Jasmine Gulati start off her own kitchen garden, the availability of some of the routine essential groceries, after the announcement of the nationwide lockdown was not a major concern. “I had a good supply of vegetables from my kitchen garden,” she said.

Since March 25, there has been a countrywide lockdown by the Indian government to control the spread of COVID-19. It was initially announced by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24 (starting from March 25) for a period of three weeks but on April 14, he extended it till May 3. During the three weeks of lockdown, there have been some reports of people facing trouble with securing some vegetables and fruits. However, on the other hand, for people growing vegetables and herbs at home, it’s a time to appreciate their own efforts that are coming well in use during the lockdown.

Kitchen garden of Karan Manral and Yogita Mehra in Goa. Photo by Karan Manral.

Bhuwania, who has tended a kitchen garden in her current home for over eight years, at present, has about 200 potted plants on her terrace in which several vegetables and herbs are growing. “When the lockdown was announced I had a stock of tomatoes, chillies, mint and coriander from my own garden. A significant share of the vegetables that we consume at home usually comes from our own garden and the time during lockdown has been no different, even though my stock of peas and potatoes had recently got over,” Bhuwania told Mongabay-India while stressing that nearly the full stock of leaf-based vegetables and brinjal for her family of six now comes from her own garden.

Bhuwania, an investment advisor, holistic health coach and medical tourism professional, credits her love for the kitchen garden to her upbringing in Chandigarh where she said having a lawn in front and a kitchen garden in the backyard is a usual thing. She also stressed on composting of kitchen waste and a series of steps to conserve nearly 200 litres of water every day by using water released from washing clothes to mop the house and then water the plants. She also collects water used in the kitchen for washing vegetables to water her plants.

Her efforts are already reaping fruits as she has inspired many in her own locality to start something similar. “I motivated people in my own locality and over the years more than 100 families have started similar practice. The lockdown is a gentle reminder for many of us that we have to go back to our basics. It has also made people realise the importance of sustainable consumption,” emphasised Bhuwania, who is maintaining her garden for over eight years now.

She underlined that during the lockdown she has received scores of queries from her family, friends and others who wanted to understand the concept and do something similar.

Variety of vegetables grown by Amita Bhuwania in her garden in Delhi. Photo by Amita Bhuwania.

However, Bhuwania explained that the amount of vegetables from their kitchen gardens depends on the space they are using. “For those living in flats and having limited space, the kitchen garden yield may be small but someone who is using a terrace and has ample space can easily grow 40-50 percent of monthly vegetables from these gardens. They may not require an investment of more than Rs. 500-1,000 to start. While some vegetables will be available within 15-20 days some may take a couple of months,” she explained.

Meanwhile, for some, who used to maintain such gardens as a hobby, lockdown is the time when they are reconnecting with it. “I used to grow vegetables like bitter gourd and tomatoes in my kitchen garden but responsibilities made me take a step back. Now, during the lockdown, I have started taking care of my kitchen garden again and I hope to continue it,”  said Bhumika Metha, a Delhi-based blogger.

Dietician Kajal A. Mehra, who has a small kitchen garden, at her house aims to revive it once the lockdown is over. “I have a small kitchen garden and due to some issues, many of my plants had died. But I understand the importance of growing my own food and thus I am just waiting for the lockdown to end and then I will revive it,” said Mehra.

Amita Bhuwania’s rooftop kitchen garden. Photo by Amita Bhuwania.

People realise the importance of kitchen gardens

On one hand social media highlights hardships faced by migrants and many others in securing basic essentials like food. But on the other it is also witnessing many people flooding their social media accounts with pictures of vegetables and herbs grown in their balconies or terrace. The new kitchen gardens not just earn praise from family, friends and strangers, they also act as a catalyst for many who have been waiting to do something similar but needed the motivation.

Vinita of Daily Dump explained that the lockdown has pushed many people to consider growing their own food and composting their kitchen waste. Started in 2006, Daily Dump is a Bengaluru-based social enterprise that offers a range of environment-friendly solutions from composting kitchen waste to growing one’s own food in kitchen gardens and other zero-waste solutions.

“Due to the lack of time and mind space, many people were still sitting on the fence about doing something about their kitchen waste or wanting to grow at least some of their own food. This lockdown has pushed some of them to now follow through on those ideas. We are getting a lot of queries from across the country. People are realising the importance of food and the waste generated from their kitchens. There is definitely an increase in the interest of the people and we hope that stays the same even after the lockdown,” Vinita told Mongabay-India.

“We have already conducted a few webinars on the subject and would conduct several more before the lockdown is lifted,” she said.

Many people, who were interested in developing a kitchen garden, are using the lockdown time to learn about it. Photo by Amita Bhuwania.

Husband and wife duo Karan Manral and Yogita Mehra who run Goa-based Green Essentials have a similar story to tell. Started in 2009, Green Essentials guides people on how to grow their own food at home organically. Over the years, through their workshops on organic kitchen gardening, they have had over 3,500 participants for their organic garden coaching. Yogita Mehra started their kitchen garden in 2006.

Karan Manral said that during the last decade the concept of kitchen gardens has got a lot of attention.

“But during the lockdown, the interest of people in starting a kitchen garden has increased manifold. Not even from metro cities but we are now getting a good amount of queries from smaller cities and towns across the country. If this idea was earlier considered hot, it is on fire right now.  Earlier, on average, if we were getting X number of queries on our social media channels regarding growing our own food, now they are in the range of 5X. In countries like the United States of America, we hear that orders at seed companies have grown in the range of 10X,” Manral told Mongabay-India.

He revealed that they have received queries from even tier-3 and tier- 4 cities as well while emphasising that different urban centres throw up a different mix of people involved and interested in kitchen gardening.

Besides vegetables, people are growing fruits too in their kitchen gardens. Photo by Karan Manral.

“To be honest, the lockdown has not had any major impact on our own supply because of our garden (vegetables for the kitchen). Also, people seem to have more time available to learn about growing, which earlier was spent in travelling to the office. I hope this interest in kitchen gardens is sustained even after the lockdown is over because it provides more nutritious food,” said Manral adding that the lockdown also seems to have positively impacted people’s consumption patterns and they now seem more mindful of their eating habits.


Banner image: Lockdown inspires interest in kitchen gardens. Photo by Amita Bhuwania.

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