Author: Dr. P. R. Chaudhary
The past year saw unprecedented havoc unleashed by the coronavirus pandemic. Lockdowns in many parts of the world restricted the movement of people and confined them in their homes for extended periods. Many people took to new hobbies to engage themselves and use their time more productively. One of the most flourishing and widely adopted hobby during the lockdown has been urban kitchen gardening. Urban kitchen gardening is not a new concept and has been gaining popularity for the past few decades. With an increase in awareness and demand for residue-free, organic, and nutritious food, many people prefer to cultivate vegetables and fruits at home.
So what is urban kitchen gardening? Urban kitchen gardening is the cultivation of fruits and vegetables in the home garden with the sole purpose of providing fresh produce for family consumption. In India, traditionally house backyards are used for cultivation of fruits and vegetables. However, due to urbanization and increase in land prices, houses have become small with minimal or no backyards. High-rise buildings and flat systems further restricted kitchen gardening to terraces, balcony and even windowsills. Still, the space constraints have not dampened the spirit of gardeners and they utilize whatever space is available to them to grow some greens.
Rise of Urban kitchen gardening
Lockdown rekindled the interest of people at large in kitchen gardening and encouraged many first-time gardeners. With uncertainties all around, kitchen gardening gave people a feeling of accomplishment and fulfillment during the difficult and gloomy period of lockdown. Many people enjoyed growing their own veggies during the pandemic. The new generation of indoor gardeners has been booming all across the globe. This has also created a sense of awareness among the people regarding agriculture, food production, environment and climate change. Home gardening helped people to relax and reduce their stress during the pandemic while providing them with fresh produce.
During the initial stages of lockdown, kitchen gardening was taken up as a means for sustenance. Strict lockdown and limited availability of resources made it imperative for city dwellers to grow basic vegetables at home. People were afraid to go out even for purchasing basic necessities. Later on, as the lockdown extended, people turned to gardening as a hobby to beat the blues. It gave many people a sense of purpose and pride to grow their own vegetables. Delhi-NCR, Mumbai, Bengaluru, and other major cities in India, even the North-East states, reported an increase in kitchen gardening during the lockdown.
YouTube tutorials, blogs, Facebook posts, Instagram and other social media platforms helped to spread the know-how and to teach the basics of kitchen gardening to the novice. A boom in sales of home gardening tools and materials such as vegetable seeds, containers, grow bags, tools, manures and fertilizers, etc. was seen during lockdown. Snapdeal saw more than double the increase in the sales of gardening-related products during the lockdown in India. A sharp increase in online google searches for gardening (184%), how to grow your own food (809%) and compost (420%) was observed as compared to last year.
Many people cultivated their own veggies wherever possible, be it backyard of a house, rooftop, terrace, balcony, and even windowsills; utilizing any available space. In fact, kitchen gardening also led to the adoption of composting kitchen waste at home during lockdown. Recycling organic waste into compost at home supplied organic manure for the kitchen gardens in lockdown. Many people opted to prepare homemade manures and bio-pesticides (neem, turmeric, ginger extracts) to grow their vegetables organically.
People used their own planting material available at home such as coriander, fenugreek, mustard seeds or obtained seeds from tomatoes and chillies to grow in their kitchen garden. Some even used kitchen scraps such as mint cuttings and tops of carrot, beet, and radish. This renewed interest and enthusiasm also reflected in an increase in online orders for different vegetable seeds.
Lockdown also piqued interest in hydroponics i.e., soilless cultivation using nutrient-rich water as growing media and vertical farming. The sales of DIY home hydroponics kits skyrocketed during the lockdown. To maximize the utilization of space, vertical garden wall hanging pots as well as vertical tower planters were commonly used.
Micro-greens, the superfood, found a new admirer during lockdown – children. With online classes and no play, children around the country engaged themselves in growing micro-greens. More than 2000 children from different parts of India participated in an online initiative by E zone ‘Become a little farmer’ for 15 days during the lockdown to grow micro greens at their home. Micro-greens are nothing but young seedlings that are easy to grow, require less sunlight, or grow in artificial light, and are ready for consumption within a few days. Micro-greens of fenugreek, mustard, sesame, wheatgrass, coriander etc. are power-packed foods being rich sources of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
With a lot of free time on hand and the growing interest in healthy eating and improving immunity turned out to be a boon for kitchen gardening. Social media posts also helped to create an upward trend and positive attitude towards kitchen gardening. People posted their experiences of kitchen gardening on various social media platforms. They took pride in soiling their hands and becoming an urban farmer of a sort. They understood the value of food and the efforts it takes to grow them. This new outlook will also help people to appreciate the farmers and be more sensitive towards wasting food in the future.
Benefits of Urban kitchen gardening
There are several benefits of urban kitchen gardening. First and foremost, kitchen garden helps families to become self-sufficient in the production of fresh nutritious produce. Families get chemical-free veggies and fruits right from their garden. Kitchen gardening if undertaken by people with meager income can help to alleviate malnutrition by providing nutritious vegetables.
Kitchen gardening, in both urban and rural areas, has been identified as one of the means to help eradicate malnutrition under various government schemes in India Especially during lockdown when anganvadis were closed many kitchen gardens developed by NGOs helped to provide nutritious vegetables to children, pregnant, and lactating women.
Apart from nutrition, gardening also helps to keep a person fit both physically as well as mentally. It plays an effective role in reducing stress and improving mood. There have been many studies in the past which proved that gardening helps to reduce the levels of stress hormone cortisol even better than reading books and thus boosts positive mood. “Green Therapy” or “Therapeutic gardening” is a new concept used for improving the mental wellbeing of people. One such example is Sydenham Garden in south London that receives several patient referrals for six to twelve months of gardening to help them in recovery and rehabilitation.
Furthermore, gardening is also used as an effective tool to fight against addiction. People struggling with addiction are often recommended to take up gardening as a new hobby to overcome the cravings and negative thoughts and to assist in better recovery. Tending to your garden is a relaxing and refreshing activity. It provides physical exercise, can alleviate anxiety and depression, and gives the satisfaction of growing beautiful plants and fresh produce for consumption.
Kitchen gardening is like an investment that needs to be nurtured with care. It involves proper selection of soil, sowing seeds, watering plants regularly, weeding, fertilizing, training and pruning, monitoring plants for any pest or disease and finally harvesting the produce. Involving daily in gardening activities is a commitment that gradually turns into a hobby and passion. Gardening also invokes creativity during designing and planning of garden or while selecting plants or pruning plants to form beautiful topiaries etc. And last but not least, toiling in your garden will bear sweet fruits of your labor.
The coronavirus pandemic gave humankind a wake-up call on many fronts in life including food production and holistic wellbeing. Urban kitchen gardening and farming are need of the hour and rightfully so gaining importance around the globe. It is a vast field that needs to be utilized to its full potential. In the coming years changes in climate, rise in global population, and limited natural resources will make it imperative to adopt urban farming in all cities across the world. And India better be ready and well prepared for this change.