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Cut-and-Come-Again Gardening

Cut-and-come-again gardening is a splendid way for urban farmers to make the most of the plants in their kitchen garden, and to make the most of the limited time, space and energy available to them. This is a technique that allows for repeated harvesting from the same plant during its growing season, often extending its growing season.

Cut-and-come-again gardening enables growers to have a continuous supply of veggies months at a time, increasing the annual productivity of their garden, saving time, energy and resources. In order to regularly harvest and easily care for these plants, it helps to plant them in small containers and keep within reach, around the kitchen.

The drawback of this method is that with each subsequent harvest, the quality and flavour of the next harvest will reduce. When the quality of the harvests deteriorates visibly, it is advised to stop harvesting and allow the plant to run its course – either to the end of its life or to seeding.

Depending on the type of vegetable or herb being grown, repeat harvesting can be done by pruning or regrowing from the crown.

Here are some plants, for urban farmers to choose to grow in their kitchen gardens:

  • Amaranth, Spinach and Sorrel – harvest the leaves by pruning; which in turn will lead to fuller growth
  • Rocket/Arugula, Corn Salad – take as much of the outer leaves but leave the center intact
  • Kale, Lettuce, Chicories, Swiss Chard and the greens of Beet, Mustard and Turnip – spare some leaves on the shoot and the rest is up for grabs
  • Basil, Cilantro, Parsley – take what little you need, whenever its needed.

Hobby to Habit

Rahul and Jigna Shah, a doctor-couple in Surat (Gujarat, India) have transformed the life of their family by making a habit out of a hobby.

Rahul’s father used to grow vegetables. As practicing doctors, Rahul and Jigna didn’t get a lot of free time, though Rahul still enjoyed caring for his ornamental plants as a hobby. He was particularly fond of his cacti and bonsai trees.

This began to change once Jigna attended some courses several years ago, and learnt of the importance of organic food. Ever since then, the family has been practicing organic farming within their home compound, meeting large parts of their daily consumption of fruits and vegetables.

The family’s farming area comprises of their 1500 square foot rooftop and some land around the house. After waterproofing the terrace, the family began growing many different things on a regular basis. While all their plants start in grow bags and pots, the ones that would grow to become trees, are eventually planted in the land around their house. Everything else is grown on their terrace.

When they started farming, they experimented with a few different vegetables. Early success encouraged them to diversify, and work towards bringing more farm-fresh organic produce to their table. With time their farming operation started to include flowering plants to attract butterflies and encourage pollination. Their set up is home to a variety of birds and insects. Even an old bathtub can now be found, repurposed as a pond that houses fish and water lilies.

They have grown chikoo (sapodilla), mango, Indian gooseberry, pomegranate, banana, papaya, black mulberry, dragon fruit, star fruit, tomato, brinjal, okra, bitter gourd, chillies and other varieties of fruits and vegetables.

The Shah family’s experience shows how growing even a few vegetables that are part of the daily diet can lead to healthier living with a step towards self-sustenance. They go months at a time not needing to buy tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables. They also say that the taste of their organic produce is far better than whatever they’re able to buy.

On a daily basis, the couple spend 2 hours of their morning time working on the plants. Jigna cares for the fruits and vegetables. Rahul cares for the flowers and ornamental ones. Their teenage son also likes to help out. In an interview the couple expressed the happiness they feel towards their son’s fondness and awareness about plants and being in nature.

“My clinic functions on the ground floor of the house. We have planted mango and chikoo trees there. There are many other trees outside, due to which the indoors of the house remain cool even during summer,” Jigna shared, during the interview.

Their story is proof that busy schedules aren’t the ‘end-all’ for hobbies or even a healthy lifestyle. As a way to share their love for organic living, Jigna has also made practice out of gifting saplings to family and friends, encouraging them to start farming as well.

Bite-Sized Farming

Cousins, Fred Mwithiga and Fred Kimani spent a large part of their childhood living on a farm in Kenya before moving to urban areas.

With time, they learnt that they share a desire to do something that takes them back to agriculture, achieved in a way that’s relevant to present times and can also be perceived as ‘cool’. The cousin duo created their own version of vertical farming in Nairobi, aimed at facilitating food security among urban dwellers.

“People are used to instant gratification; if you need something you just dial a number and you have it…” Mwithiga talks about how a lot of this consumption isn’t healthy, and needs to be re-evaluated.

The pandemic also brought with it a craze for living and eating healthier. Among people around them, there was now an urgency to find organic food; and to find different ways to grow their own food, in the limited space available to them. These requirements influenced the cousins when they set out to design a fitting farming system.

Plants require certain resources – water and nutrients, to grow. They attain these resources using their roots. Essentially, if the required resources are provided, the plant just requires a medium to live in. Hydroponics is a method for growing plants using a medium other than soil.

Depending on the space available, and the needs and aspirations of each individual or family looking to become an urban farmer, the cousins build each vertical farm with its respective irrigation system. They provide with each order – seedlings, growth media, hydroponic fertiliser, and even vermi-compost to those who request it.

Automation built into the system removes agricultural burdens of labour, weeding, pest management and watering the plants. Vertical gardening enables the optimal use of any available space. Water used in the system is recycled, reducing water usage and wastage too. Each system built by the cousins is tailored to specific needs and concerns of each customer.

Through the business the cousins co-founded, Vertical Gardens, they have provided vertical farm variants like vertical pouch gardens, vertical stacked gardens and vertical tower gardens, with over 90% of their customer base being from urban areas. People with the least available space have benefited greatly from their vertical pouch gardens.

Between the brothers, Mwithiga handles public relations and the day-to-day operations while Kimani is the one behind the design and automation of their systems. “We believe that we are here for the long haul…with time it will pick up. If we are able to grow food in the urban areas, we will be moving way ahead. We have to be smart on how we are using our water,” Mwithiga noted.

With Kenya being reasonably new to vertical gardening, bringing people on board from a business point of view hasn’t been particularly easy. The cousins are taking things one order at a time, ensuring that there is always an awareness on the benefits, weighed against the impending food crisis and climate change.

Smell of The Earth – Natural Farming Course

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Upon realising that being ‘normal’ involved working 9-5 jobs, coupled with a complacency towards the regular consumption of mass-produced easily available products containing all kinds of toxins, Debal Mazumder and his family decided to change their ways.

“Our basic needs – pure food, good water and good air to breathe – were not being met in the city, no matter how many malls popped up daily or how many brands of phones we could afford.

After moving to their village in Birbhum (West Bengal, India), the family bought a small piece of land and began farming on it. Among activities of farming and harvesting, making new friends, enduring intense storms and enjoying the frequent evening breeze, the family continues to grow.

Smell Of The Earth is a family-owned, family-run farming venture that looks toward creating meaningful experiences with more visitors, to get involved with others and participate in the rewarding task of tending to the earth.

This October, Smell of the Earth is organising the 15th in their series of courses for Natural Farming. Smell of the Earth is an individual effort. It is neither an NGO, nor a funded organization. With no permanent employees on the farm, the family does most of the work themselves, hiring help from the village only for big tasks.

Among the topics covered during the week long program, participants will gain exposure in natural farming techniques, pest management, water management, permaculture design, farm-based businesses, soil biology and urban gardening.

Other than the upcoming Natural Farming course other activities that one can engage in:
Year-round volunteering (involving varied degrees of physical labour)
Visiting Skill-Sharer Programs to share your skills with the neighborhood
Training programs to learn about growing food and saving the planet
Seasonal festivals to encourage nature-based cultural practices.

Smell of The Earth – Natural Farming Course

Upon realising that being ‘normal’ involved working 9-5 jobs, coupled with a complacency towards the regular consumption of mass-produced easily available products containing all kinds of toxins, Debal Mazumder and his family decided to change their ways.

“Our basic needs – pure food, good water and good air to breathe – were not being met in the city, no matter how many malls popped up daily or how many brands of phones we could afford.

After moving to their village in Birbhum (West Bengal, India), the family bought a small piece of land and began farming on it. Among activities of farming and harvesting, making new friends, enduring intense storms and enjoying the frequent evening breeze, the family continues to grow.

Smell Of The Earth is a family-owned, family-run farming venture that looks toward creating meaningful experiences with more visitors, to get involved with others and participate in the rewarding task of tending to the earth.

This October, Smell of the Earth is organising the 15th in their series of courses for Natural Farming. Smell of the Earth is an individual effort. It is neither an NGO, nor a funded organization. With no permanent employees on the farm, the family does most of the work themselves, hiring help from the village only for big tasks.

Among the topics covered during the week long program, participants will gain exposure in natural farming techniques, pest management, water management, permaculture design, farm-based businesses, soil biology and urban gardening.

Other than the upcoming Natural Farming course other activities that one can engage in:
Year-round volunteering (involving varied degrees of physical labour)
Visiting Skill-Sharer Programs to share your skills with the neighborhood
Training programs to learn about growing food and saving the planet
Seasonal festivals to encourage nature-based cultural practices.

Weekday Employees, Weekend Farmers

As long as there is a steady internet connection available, the “Work-from-Home” format has enabled employees of various professions to effectively flex their time, spend more of it with family and also to pursue other interests and skills.

The pandemic-induced shift in work culture has allowed professionals in Bengaluru to pick up habits centered on family health and wellness. This has had an impact on food habits as well, as people across the city have been transitioning towards consciously consuming more fresh fruits and vegetables, preferably grown using as little chemical pesticide and insecticide as possible.

Among these are change-makers who have decided to get involved in the process of growing the organic produce that they and their families consume. Many Bengalureans are now seeking land in and around the city, not for homes, but farming, where they can spend quality time farming with their families at least on weekends and holidays. A few are even choosing to live and work on their farms.

In interviews with Bangalore Mirror, software professionals Devesh and Manjunath K. shared their perspectives on buying land and getting to work on it. Working 5 days a week in a tech role, Manjunath describes the weekends engaged in farming as being stress-free and relaxing, while also increasing their overall productivity. “Thanks to my farm, my kids are also getting practical lessons about farms, birds, fruits and vegetables. Otherwise their knowledge would have been limited just to books,” he shared.

Not only are these urban farmers getting to grow and eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, they enjoy the freedom to choose which plants to grow. Experiences of the initial few, have influenced many friends and family to move towards a similar way of life, ushering in a better urban future.

Highlighting innovation in the AgTech industry

Globally there are thousands of organisations innovating in the field of agriculture. Innovations through synthetic biology, automation and robotics, the Internet-of-Things, among others, have been transforming agricultural processes and operations, as well as empowering and providing greater opportunities to farmers and food providers across the globe.

With better tools – to address specific needs and help preserve the environment – individuals, communities and companies are able to move towards responsible and sustainable farming practices.

Ever since 2020, Ag-Tech Breakthrough Awards as a platform, aims to highlight the breakthrough products, solutions and companies, from among the existing crowded market.

The platform aims to give coverage to agricultural technology advancements of all sorts, covering solutions and innovations in farm management, adaptive or smart irrigation, harvesting equipment and technologies, post harvest monitoring, IoT and AI based solutions, analytics and automation, indoor farming, livestock productivity and management, food quality and safety, finance and insurance, food replacement tech, restaurant tech, grocery and food delivery, and leadership within the industry. Nominees are judged for their Innovation, Performance, Ease of Use, Functionality, Value and Impact; within several different categories, each with their own relevant subcategories. Judges bring to the table a mix of business, academic, technical and marketing expertise from within the Ag-tech industry.

While most innovations associated with agriculture focus on large scale farming, many of the technologies can be relevant to smaller scale operations. Among the award categories is ‘Indoor Farming’, which includes awards for greenhouse production systems, vertical farming, nursery automation, lighting, environmental monitoring, and other aspects.

Some of the companies that have won awards so far include:

iFarm (2020) with their automated vertical farms that give year round harvest of locally grown, pesticide-free tasty berries.

Connecterra (2020) using their AI application to improve milk production and animal welfare by monitoring and collating behavioural data of the cows and informing the farmer when a cow seems to be getting sick, so she can receive treatment.

WaterBit (2021) provides automated irrigation solutions with factors like soil condition, plant stage and weather which being monitored and worked around with greater accuracy.

Pairtree (2022) aggregates data from multiple devices, ‘stacking’ them for a level of analytics for greater, more wholesome decision making, providing access, visualisations, comparisons and analysis of information from many different sources together (for instance, rainfall records with soil moisture sensors and yield records).

The Mad Gardener

Urban farmer Madhavi Guttikonda lives in the coastal Indian city Visakhapatnam (Andhra Pradesh), also known as Vizag. Along with her family, she has nurtured her terrace garden with such passion and consistency that it lives on as a thriving ecosystem of plants, birds and bees.

Passionate about plants from an early age, Madhavi began her terrace garden adventure as an experiment to grow leafy greens for her kitchen use. This exponentially grew when her children helped launch her YouTube channel Mad Gardener in 2018.

On her channel, she has a following of over 520,000 followers, with higher than 99 million total views of her content. Over time, she has shared her urban farming journey in Telugu and English on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook. She has an active and growing following on all platforms.

In her videos, Madhavi explains the importance of methods employed, the understanding she has developed about her plants and ‘How to’ instructions for garden activities. She communicates with her viewers through comments and the videos they share about their own growing experiences.

She says when people look at the plants they’re in awe of what shows above the soil, while the real magic occurs underneath the soil. That is where the soul of the plant is, according to her. Madhavi shares about the science of the soil, from her perspective, as she walks about her own garden. When sharing the importance of microbes in the soil she often reminds her viewers to provide nutrients and moisture to new soil in order to boost its microbial activity.

The terrace set up

While the main section of her terrace garden is that of the seasonal vegetables with their short harvest cycles, Madhavi also grows fruits and has a dedicated section solely for flowers. Her garden is home to orchids, hibiscus and chrysanthemums, varieties of gourds and beans, tomatoes, cabbages, chillies, cauliflowers and leafy greens like spinach, amaranth and sorrel, mulberries, dragonfruit, papayas, strawberries, cherries, lemons and sugarcane. With the variety grown on her terrace, she has not just bees as visitors but even sunbirds nesting there.

Roughly 90% of her kitchen needs are met by produce from her garden. She also enjoys sharing the produce with her neighbours and friends.

She has received recognition from the agricultural magazine Rythu Nestham (which introduces farmers to new methods of organic farming). The award in the terrace garden category was presented to her by the Vice-President of India.

An essential activity for Madhavi is to compost her kitchen waste which she uses as a base for many of the vegetables she grows.

“Spending time in my garden is meditative for me. As kitchen gardeners, we are also designing the inner structure of the fruit and vegetables that we consume. I believe plants can sense our presence and this probably helps in increasing their yield,” she shared in one interview.

The initial experience of growing vegetables is known to be full of setbacks. In her opinion, this is when most are discouraged from pursuing their dream of growing vegetables. Her advice to new growers is to NOT give up at such times.

Here’s a video that provides a 360 degree view of Madhavi’s terrace garden.

Farming as an Alternative to Costly Food

Living in Gaborone, the capital city of Botswana are communication and infotech professionals and married couple, Tumelo and Duduetsang Mapila.

While always interested in farming, the two of them stayed away from the prospect of farming due to a perceived requirement for huge capital.

The first major Covid-19 lockdown affected lives all over the globe, and it had quite an impact on their lives as well. Three months down, Duduetsang and Tumelo realised that it had gotten harder and more expensive to buy provisions from the local supermarket.

They sensed that if they had to endure another lockdown or a similar shortage of food supplies, they’d need to fend for themselves. This pushed them into launching their farming endeavour.

The duo are now urban farmers, living and farming in the outskirts of Gaborone. They began with a small garden outside their own kitchen, and attempted growing different vegetables there. Due to limited space and inadequate lighting, they decided to try their hand at farming on a larger piece of land.

Equipped with the knowledge gained from their numerous previous attempts, they eventually expanded their operation to include a field, with furrows and open air farming techniques. They say, “The plants don’t thrive as much in the kitchen garden, as they do on the farm.”

On the field they have successfully grown butternut, sweet corn, red cabbage, cherry tomatoes, jalapeno, habanero chillies and various herbs. The kitchen garden, now not as important, houses a habanero plant that’s a year old, and some wild rocket.

“Layout of the garden affects productivity,” asserts the farming couple. “Especially when growing a variety of crops.”

Their initial farm layout wasn’t well-planned, but as they learnt more about themselves and their crops, they planned their farm better. The field is divided into blocks and sub-blocks in accordance with the crop rotation plan designed by the Mapilas. While developing the layout, the two kept in mind accessibility to the water source as well as paths to walk around across their field.

While, presently, vegetables sold in their markets are priced higher due to import restrictions and high demand, the Mapilas have reduced their monthly spending on vegetables due to fresh produce from their own farm.

“Growing your own food is one of the most fulfilling things… especially starting off with no prior experience in growing various crops,” they say.

Once their harvests reached a sizable quantity, the Mapila family started distributing and selling fresh fruits and vegetables among their neighbours.

What started out with a heavy reliance on Google searches, has now evolved into communications with Whatsapp-based farmer communities. In their opinion however, the greatest learning they have had, has come through in-depth research on each crop they have planted on their farm.

Keep Calm and Curry On!

Native to the Indian subcontinent, the curry leaf plant (Murraya koenigii) is a low maintenance tropical evergreen. Depending on conditions and the space available, it can grow as a small bush or as trees reaching heights of up to twenty feet.

Sensitive to severe drought, extreme temperatures and infertile soil, the plant is ‘frost tender’ such that the slightest frost can damage or even kill the plant. When exposed to cold, the plant sheds its leaves and lays dormant until spring.

Provide the plant with proper light and care and it’ll give you thick foliage, and many little white flowers that’ll grow into tiny black edible berries. Curry berries contain a large amount of vitamin C and anthocyanins as well as the minerals calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and iron, and are also being studied for their potential use as a natural treatment for diabetes. Don’t eat the seeds though, they’re said to be poisonous! However, the seeds produce an antibacterial and antifungal essential oil.

The curry plant can be grown from seed or cutting
Cuttings are the easiest to grow. A single leaf attached to the stem can be used as a cutting. As long as the stem is at least 3 inches long, you’re good to go. Plant it in a soil-less medium, kept warm moist; and the roots will grow out of the cutting within 3 weeks or so. While the seeds germinate much faster when the outer shell is peeled, if you like, you could even plant the entire fruit. Sow the seed in good quality soil, kept damp and warm. If the weather doesn’t permit it, you may place the plant in a greenhouse or simply layer the soil with polyethylene.

Growth
The plant will thrive in the sunniest part of your farm/garden! It likes dry soil, so use well-draining fertile soil. Nitrogen-rich fertilisers are ideal. If it rains or is over-watered, ensure that the soil is allowed to dry out. Regularly water the plant for the first 2 months. After that, watering should be moderate. Do use insecticidal soap to prevent and/or mitigate infestation of mites and psyllids.

Harvest
Within the first 2 years, pruning the flowers promotes richer growth of the plant. Dead branches and leaves should be pruned regularly. The leaves can and ought to be harvested periodically, not only to use these aromatic leaves in the kitchen but also to foster plant growth.

Using the Produce
The plant offers a distinct aroma, as well as a somewhat citric, spicy flavour. Commonly used fresh, the leaves may also be dried and powdered for usage over a longer shelf-life.
In Java, Cambodia and India, soups and stews are often seasoned with its leaves (fresh or roasted). It can be also added to vegetables, seafood and chutneys, similar to how one uses Bay leaves.

Antimicrobial and antiseptic properties allow for its use in treating infections and inflammations. Concentrations of vitamins C and E, antioxidants, iron and folic acid enable usage for lowering cholesterol, protecting the heart and liver and is even tied to the treatment of anemia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Limbolee oil, made from the leaves is added for scent in soap. The tree wood is used as combustion fuel in Southeast Asia.