Our kitchen garden
K S S Pillai
With frequent lockdowns declared by governments during the past several months, people had been wondering how to use their forced confinement at home fruitfully. Shops were asked to remain closed, depriving people of essential commodities. As fresh vegetables were hard to come by, resulting in murmurs at dining tables, someone suggested that we start a kitchen garden. We had enough land behind our house to do it, but even our friends residing in cities liked the idea of starting kitchen gardens on their terrace.
The situation reminds me how I started my kitchen garden years ago. I was happy when accommodation was allotted to me in one of the newly constructed staff quarters on the university campus. It would now take only a short walk to reach the agriculture college where I taught English.
It was a three-storey building with twelve units. Mine was on the ground floor. My neighbours were graduates and post-graduates in agriculture, working in the college and the farm. There were a lot of vacant lands all around the quarters. The soil was virgin with some wild bushes on it. There was a vast field with ready-to-harvest sugarcane plants a few metres away from the quarters. We could hear the howling of foxes from there at night. Insects were busy at night with their cacophony. Sometimes we came across wild hares scurrying across the road.
“Let’s start a kitchen garden,” my wife, who came from a farmer’s family, suggested. There was instant support from others. It was decided to clear the ground in the front and the back of the quarters for this purpose.
I bought the necessary tools required for kitchen gardening. It took the labour of a few evenings to clear the area and convert it into small plots. The college had an office selling seeds in large quantities and small packets. There was another section selling seedlings. I bought seeds and seedlings as advised by my neighbours, who were happy to guide a non-agriculture guy.
Within weeks our kitchen garden had plants like brinjal, ladies finger, tomato, cabbage, cauliflower and other seasonal vegetables. My wife reserved a couple of plots for planting small onions available only in South India.
Soon the plants started flowering and bearing fruits. There were also some pests attacking some of the plants. When my friends suggested spraying insecticides and pesticides, my wife shook her head, forbidding me to use them. Instead, she plucked out the infected portion and threw them far away. She was against using violence against those pests. “This earth belongs to them, too, doesn’t it?” she asked me in disgust. She was also against using chemical fertilizers offered free by our neighbours.
Butterflies of different hues and sizes hopped from plant to plant, and honey bees sucked the flowers. Once or twice I saw snakes slithering through the plots but didn’t dare to use any violence against them under the watchful eyes of my better half. “This was their land before we invaded it,” she often reminded me.
My wife wanted to grow some plants native to Kerala at the backside of the quarters. First on the list was tapioca. Some Malayali families, growing it in their compounds gave us tapioca stems to be cut and planted. We also got suckers of south Indian banana varieties like nendran, njalipoovan, and palayamkodan and planted them there. It took almost a year for them to flower, but the robust banana bunches brought a smile to my wife’s face.
The news about our kitchen garden had spread among the Malayali families. When the tapioca plants or the bananas were ready to harvest, there used to be a steady flow of visitors. My wife knew the purpose of their visits and was generous with sharing the products with them.
Soon it was we that supplied tapioca stems and banana suckers to our friends.
(The author is a retired professor of English. A regular contributor to ‘Kashmir Vision’, his articles and short stories have appeared in various national and international publications)