By Vasanthkumar Mysoremath
Gardening is an exhilarating and physical fitness activity for people of all ages, particularly for senior citizens who have the energy and will power to keep themselves fit and active and also be in personal contact with soil and nature. I find people of Mysuru are very fond of growing some plant or the other in their homes, including slum-dwellers; in my survey I found them growing varieties of flowers or useful household plants like mint, ginger, curry leaves, coriander, etc., that are required for their daily consumption.
Those who can afford, engage Malis to help them in creating and maintaining mini-gardens or to grow greens and vegetables in some vacant place in the front yard or in the backyard or in balconies / terraces. State Horticulture Department has been organising short term training courses/workshops for those who are interested in gardening activities. The Department has its nurseries from where people can buy red soil, organic manure etc., for a start and depending upon availability of funds, they are even supplying pots and saplings at reasonable cost.
Many may not be aware that the green leafy vegetables that are available in Mysuru are grown in villages in the periphery of the city and the farmers are either using tank water or bore-well water or if none of these are available, they are using the drainage/waste water discharged from the city that flows in the vicinity of their village, if any. Since monsoons have failed for the past two years the water flowing in side drains and storm water drains contain waste water discharged from either broken manholes constructed in the centre of these SWDs. The waste waters contain all types of faecal matters, chemicals and toxins discharged by different types of industries located upstream of such drains. Farmers tap this water by using motors for pumping to upper reaches and grow greens and vegetables etc., for supply to the city dwellers.
According to test reports, these leafy greens and vegetables like knol khol, radish, beans, cabbage, gourds, tomato, etc., grown by using such waters are stated to contain alarming proportions of chemicals/toxins, and are harmful for health of the people. Consumers are happily using these greens etc., since they look fresh and available at their door step through vendors or nearby departmental stores, at affordable rates. Unfortunately, even if one wants to get these consumables tested, one is not aware of availability of such testing laboratories in the city. Lack of such infrastructure is forcing people to consume whatever is available in the market and expose themselves to vagaries.
Such being the case, it is time to start thinking in terms of growing our own clean and green organic vegetables/leafy greens/spices etc., in our front/back yards or in balconies/terraces. In addition to large earthen pots, I am also using large size either plastic or metal buckets, drums, containers of various sizes for growing the required greens, vegetables, etc.
In addition to the above, we also grow peas, methi, avarekai, ginger, ridge gourd, bitter gourd, flat beans, onagone soppu (Alternanthera Sessilis), herbs like tulsi (Ocimum sanctum), amrutaballi (Tinospora Cordifolia), doddi patre (Coleus Aromaticus), Mehandi (Lawsonia Inermis), beetle leaves and curry leaves and also other seasonal greens and vegetables. We just grow what we want and how much we want.
We have nurtured an organic bonsai drumstick tree that is about 7 years old. It blessed us with one lengthy drumstick about 3 years ago which I dried and got about 10 pods, planted them in a large drum, got saplings and distributed to friends who are happy to enjoy tasty naati drumsticks. Similarly we have three years old curry leaves plant and a bonsai amla plant.
As for manure, periodically we buy some red soil and manure from the Horticulture Department, mix the same with our kitchen waste stored and aerobically converted into organic manure in a large drum placed on the terrace. We have completely avoided usage of chemical fertilisers or pesticides and if we find any kind of infestation caused by airborne bacteria or insects, we simply remove such plant and destroy it instead of using chemical insecticides and poisoning the plant further. We also find that our home grown greens and vegetables are much tastier and healthy than the consumables bought from outside.
One can also help birds to build nests by providing them proper congenial space, feeds and water (see photos) — for the past many years, Checkered breasted Munia birds keep visiting periodically (earlier we had Bulbuls) building nests in the Cacti plant we have grown in our balcony. Season after season, lay eggs, hatch, nurse and make the kids big, teach them flying and leave only to return for the next breeding season.
In order to care and share the world’s natural resources and to keep the food chain with other living beings, we have placed a large earthen pot with water and another with some millets/cereals at a secluded spot at a height and we have observed that birds like Parakeets, Mainas, Cuckoos, Bulbuls, Crows, Babblers, Chickadees, and occasionally Kites quenching their thirst and also having their pick of food provided.
We have grown a Singapore Cherry tree (Chatri Mara in Kannada). Everyday we find Parakeets, Bulbuls, Chickadees, Mainas, Cuckoos, Munias, Crows and a host of other birds visiting at certain fixed hours to have their quota of food/desert. Early morning visitors sing and wake us up with wonderful sounds. In addition, a variety of Bees in hundreds are found taking nectar from the flowers of the Cherry tree from morning till afternoon. In the night, we find a number of Bats flying in circles around the tree and having their pick of fruits.
Conclusion: This wonderful world we are living in, has to be protected, preserved and conserved. Natural resources like air, water and food have to be shared by all living beings on this earth called the global village. Man-animal conflict is a classic example of encroachment and vulnerability for living beings on earth.
It has become imperative for us to rethink about our attitudes and rejig our priorities and go back to basics of living moderately and modestly. Destruction of nature is not development and most developmental works are turning out to be rather environmental catastrophes for our future living conditions as also for our future generations. In addition to natural calamities, man-made changes are creating havocs with our ecosystems, as it were, snow caps are melting at an alarming rate, atmosphere is becoming warmer by the day and in the absence of carbon sequestration measures due to destruction of carbon sinks, we are facing most unexpected weather conditions and untimely droughts and flooding. We need to bring down the green house gases like CO2 etc., from the present 406 Particulates Per Million (PPM) to less than a tolerable limit of 350 PPM, if we are to keep our future generations in a liveable world.
[The author is World Bank Honoured Innovator, Environmentalist & Social Activist and Convener, Anti-Tobacco Forum & Cancer Patients Aid Association, Mysuru. He can be contacted on Mob: 98459-50440.]