Where Planting Green is Routine: Part 1
While many people have an aversion to gardening because of the backbreaking work and endless bug bites that it entails, others embrace the challenge of truly immersing themselves with nature in their own backyards. Sustainable gardening in particular has been heralded for its emphasis on preserving biodiversity without spewed chemicals — a feat that can only be described as equally demanding and rewarding. When I met Mrs.Manjula Krishnamurthy and caught a glimpse of her flourishing sustainable garden, I was itching to learn more about not only what she plants, but also how she maintains such a robust miniature ecosystem solely through use of natural substances. In the first part of this three-part series, I explore three of the bare bones of growing a healthy garden: the plants, the soil, and the water. If you too choose to move beyond the synthetic world of fertilizers and weedicides, you may just find that the interactions you observe, and the results you harvest, are well worth the effort.
The Plants: Sprouting a Salad in Your Yard
I was curious to learn just what can grow in a sustainable garden, and Mrs.Krishnamurthy’s house was a great place to start. Every corner of her yard is brimming with life. In one corner, a vitex tree blooms gorgeous purple flowers that find home in teas and regulate hormones and breathing. In another, a pear tree stands tall and bears ripe, juicy fruit. Clusters of marjoram, okra, and the occasional squash sprout from the rich soil. When I asked Mrs.Krishnamurthy what else she grows, this was her response:
I have quite a few things in the garden. I have flowering plants, a whole bunch of herbs, vegetables, and a plum tree. I have three different types of basil: Italian basil, Thai basil, and Indian holy basil. I grow bay leaves, lemon grass, and bananas.
I also grow Amaranthus and purslane. I don’t even know how I got the purslane. Maybe I got a plant from the nursery and there was a little bit in it. I tossed it in my yard and then it started growing, and now it’s everywhere. It’s fantastic. It’s rich in vitamin C and a lot of minerals. I don’t even know where it grows in my yard. I just go and see what I can collect and eat.
When it comes to what you can plant, the options are quite literally endless! As long as you keep your plant’s needs and your agricultural zone in mind (more on that later), you truly do have the freedom to choose what to grow and how much of it to grow.
The Soil: Bringing Life Where Least Expected
Many people think that the soil that they purchase can make or break their garden, but this is far from true. Almost any soil can work as the foundation for a garden, as long as you regularly fortify it with nutrient-rich waste that can be broken down by worms and microbes. Burying your kitchen scraps — peels, eggshells, stems, stalks, and even the occasional Chipotle napkin — in your soil is an essential step in providing your plants with the nourishment that they need to extend their stalks, open their flowers, and produce vibrant fruits. According to Mrs.Krishnamurthy, it’s what you add to the soil that matters:
Soil is something that keeps changing. You bring soil from the market, and after a few years, the soil isn’t all that nutritious. But now that you have a base, you can amend it by adding all of your vegetable waste. The soil then becomes rich. Something that has life. That is extremely important.
All of the bugs and worms — the right kind of worms, not maggots — feed on the stuff you put in the soil. For example, I took half of a watermelon, filled it up with a whole bunch of vegetable waste, and put it underground. Every day, I would go and monitor the watermelon rind. I wanted to know when everything would disintegrate and become one. Three or four days later, it was gone. The whole thing was gone.
Mrs.Krishnamurthy advises that any aspiring gardener take the time to bury compostable waste underground rather than simply toss it in the soil. Because the insects and worms in the soil thrive at an optimum moisture and light content, they can shrivel up and even die if they come up to the surface for too long to break down the waste. Digging up the soil, tossing in the waste, and then covering the waste back up enables the bugs to remain cool and hydrated, while also keeping your soil rich and fertile. As for what exactly should go in the soil, Mrs.Krishnamurthy told me that any degradable waste, from vegetable scraps to flowers to eggshells to even paper, makes a scrumptious snack for underground critters. There’s no need to bury ripe fruits and vegetables to be decomposed when you have an array of peels and stalks at your service. In fact, when Mrs.Krishnamurthy added a live plant to her soil, the result was quite the surprise:
If I take the skin of a beetroot and throw it in the ground, these insects will eat it in no time. But if it is a live beetroot, they won’t touch it! They know what is dead and what is living. Once the beetroot starts to rot, the scavengers come and take it. It has to rot first. The insects won’t go near the live plants.
In short, even though we often shudder at the sight of slimy snails or glass-eyed beetles, these animals form an essential part of any garden community. They repel nasty pests, keep your scraps from reaching a dumpster, and enrich the soil in the process. The best part? As long as you have some scraps on hand, you don’t need to blow your budget on all of that synthetic fertilizer!
The Water: The Purest Form of Liquid Love
It’s no secret that most outdoor plants need water to survive. In fact, adding the right amount of water to the soil can be the difference between a sturdy plant and a wilted one. Mrs.Krishnamurthy uses her automated sprinkler system to make watering her vegetable bed as undemanding as possible, choosing to hand-water only those plants that are near her patio. Since different plants require different amounts of water, she recommends that gardeners do some research ahead of time and develop a schedule to remember when to water each plant. “Every plant is unique,” she said. As such, catering to each plant’s individual hydration needs is not just beneficial. It’s essential.
There you have it! Through use of compost and water alone, Mrs.Krishnamurthy has turned the barren patch of dirt in her yard into a miniature world that rivals all others. In Part 2 of this series, we’ll delve deeper into the challenges that push many people away from their yards and towards the produce section of their local supermarket. In the process, we might just discover that these challenges aren’t exactly what they seem.
Until next time, keep on gardening!