Pluck and cook

Now, shopping for your veggies can be just a stroll around your house

A kitchen garden is delightfully easy to maintain, and with it all your ingredients will always be fresh. Called potagers, the more common French term, a kitchen garden is convenient when you’re whipping up a meal and simply need a particular herb. It is also a great stress-buster.

A kitchen garden doesn’t require a large plot of land. All you need is a windowsill, an unused corner, or even the stairs—these can all be turned into verdant little areas lush with fragrant herbs and veggies. Container gardens, windowsill gardens, and balcony gardens are good examples for people who live in metropolitan cities and have a paucity of space.

Where to begin?

Space: While planning on growing a kitchen garden, one of the most important things to consider is space. Even though there is not much space to garden in urban India, container-planting is a very easy solution to that. Mark out the area in your house that gets sufficient light and has the space to host a few pots and containers.

Plants: If your apartment is small, grow plants that are small. You don’t want a plant that grows up to six feet in your one-room apartment!

Lighting: Your garden must get enough sunlight, full or partial sun, to keep the plants healthy.

Seeds or saplings: You can either plant seeds [available at your local nursery] or saplings. Both will work.

Soil: Choose the right soil for your indoor garden. Some soils hold on to water while others are more porous. Ask your local nursery to help you with the type of soil, the amount of water and other such details.

Container gardening

Use plastic takeaway containers, old mugs, old buckets, and wire baskets for hanging smaller plants. Don’t throw away your empty cans and bottles. You’ll be amazed what you can grow in them. Don’t forget to make drain holes in all the pots.

When using small containers, make sure that the plants you grow don’t have large roots.

How to select which vegetables to grow?

The two important factors to consider are: which plants can thrive indoors, and which one you can use. Decide on the kind of vegetables to grow and plan your space accordingly. Choose vegetables and herbs based on your kitchen requirements, your knowledge of growing them, and the resources at your disposal.

Also, grow plants according to season. Planting vegetables as per the changing climatic conditions will ensure that there is a regular supply of vegetables throughout the year. It doesn’t make sense to grow a winter crop in summer, and expect it to thrive.

Herbs and vegetables you can easily grow at home

Chives
Chives are happy-go-lucky plants—you can grow them anywhere for they thrive in window boxes as well as gardens. They are best grown in full sunlight, but being hardy plants, they grow well in shade too. They will also grow well in almost any average, well-drained soil. Just keep in mind that when growing chives in containers, you need to fertilise them once a month and water the plant whenever the compost begins to dry out.

Coriander
Bury a few coriander seeds into a pot and keep watering it regularly with care. You’ll see the first bloom very quickly.

Curry plant
Curry plant makes a very nice house plant—provided you can give it plenty of sunlight. This plant will need supplemental light if you can’t give it six to eight hours of powerful light a day. If you do place a curry plant in a pot, make sure to add some sand to the soil for good drainage and water it sparingly. These plants prefer soil that drains well, sunlight, and warm conditions.

Garlic
The three things that you need for a healthy garlic crop are: a good sunny location, loose soil, and good drainage. Even though garlic doesn’t require any special handling per se, it can often contract a fungus [referred to as white or pink rot] in cool and damp climates.

Ginger
Get yourself a ginger root, one that isn’t shrivelled, and soak it in warm water overnight. The next day, fill a pot that has good drainage with potting soil and plant it.

Mint
Mint is easier to grow from a sapling than from seeds. Take a sprig of mint [make sure that the cut is below a node] and plant it in a moist but not wet pot. Mint likes shade and consistent moisture so don’t expose it to direct sunlight.

Spring onions
This is the easiest to grow. Take an onion that is sprouting just a little and plant it. Water it carefully and soon you’ll have fresh spring onions in your house. Harvest spring onions when their green tops are one inch
in diameter.

Tomatoes
The tomato remains one of the easiest and most successful vegetable plants to grow. Most tomato varieties only need well-draining soil and six to eight hours of sunshine per day. The soil must be kept consistently well watered. Depending on the mature height of the tomato plant, you may need cages or stakes to provide support for the plants.

Peppers
Pepper plant varieties include sweet bell peppers, chilli peppers, and banana peppers. Pepper plants need conditions similar to tomatoes: six to eight hours of sunshine per day and well draining soil. Also remember that they need to be watered at an even rate of one inch of water every week.

Tulsi
Tulsi seed is easy to germinate and grow. It prefers full sunlight, rich soil, and plenty of water. Tulsi does well in pots or window boxes. One thing to keep in mind about tulsi is that it needs a warm, humid environment to grow.

There’s no feeling quite like seeing the fruit of your efforts—that first leaf, the first vegetable sprouting... and then using your produce to prepare yummy meals. Now that you know, go for it. Try your first kitchen garden. But don’t forget: kitchen gardening takes a lot of time and commitment.

Adapted with permission from Kitchen Clinic by Charmaine Dsouza. Published by Random House

Gardening tip

Start small with herbs such as coriander or spring onions. They’re easy, they grow fast and the first bloom will give you the encouragement to grow other things.

This was first published in the December 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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