Locked down? Here’s how to grow your own food and become self-reliant

GUIDE TO URBAN FARMING

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Vegetables grown on a rooftop terrace. Pic: Hema Vijay/Citizen Matters Chennai

It is unfortunate that we needed a pandemic to realise that we need more decentralized food production and localised distribution, better soil quality management, more dietary changes and climate and disease resilient foods. And most importantly, self reliance. This happens to be in our best interest, and also in the best interest of the environment. 

The world has 1.5 billion hectares of land under agriculture. To put this in perspective, imagine the whole of India covered in agricultural fields. Now imagine four and a half such Indias. That gives us 1.5 billion hectares of land, which was once pristine forest land and had to be cleared for growing crops to feed the human population.

This is the cost of industrial scale, mechanised agriculture. And with the human population expected to hit 10 billion by 2030, twice as much land area would be needed to feed our species under this model of agriculture. More forest land will have to be cleared away for food cultivation. This would be catastrophic in a world already grappling with a climate emergency.

If you’re asking yourself how you can help avert this catastrophe, imagine edible gardens on all rooftops in cities, apartments with community gardens, parks turned to edible food forests, decrepit open spaces overtaken by plants and lush forests springing up in an urban fabric. Imagine shrinking industrial agricultural production and being independent of the geopolitics for something as basic as food. This would be resilience and it’s time we built this.

And the best place to start this is at home

We present you with the spiral of self sufficiency. Follow the guidelines as you go along the spiral, and you shall attain what you seek, with time.

Chart by Team Ananas

Get Seeds

The easiest way to start is to begin at your local grocer. Use what you get from your groceries. Dry seeds readily available in grocery shops:

  • Methi
  • Coriander
  • Mustard
  • Green Moong, Cow Pea, dried Peas and other whole lentils
  • Raw Peanuts
  • Dried Beans

 Or the seeds that you collect from fruit and vegetables –

  • Pumpkin
  • Tomatoes
  • Dry Chilies
  • Musk and Water Melons
  • Papaya
  • Lime, Orange, Mausambi, Pomelo
  • Pomegranate
  • Passion fruit

(Papaya, Citrus and Pomegranate take longer to give you a yield, but it is still a joy to save the seeds and watch the plants sprout and grow. You’ll be thanking yourself in the months and years down the line. Your children and their children certainly will.)

Please keep in mind that most of the papayas and melons we get in the market are hybrids and the seeds we collect and sow from them might not produce fruit that are true to the parent. However, you have nothing to lose by giving it a shot. 

Cuttings

Some plants are propagated through cuttings and others methods. Follow the guidelines below: 

  • Mint; Malabar Spinach (Basale Soppu) – once you have removed the leaves, simply stick the thicker stems into a pot, they will root within a few days 
  • Chayote Squash (Chow Chow) – Can be grown simply by placing the whole fruit on soil
  • Spring onions; Celery  – Use the tops and stick the bulb back into the soil. 
  • Beetroot; Carrot; Radish – Cut off the tops, place them in a bowl of water or on soil. They will sprout leaves that can be harvested within a couple of weeks. 
  • Garlic; Onion – Garlic cloves and onions (especially small sambar onions) can be planted whole. The bulbs can be harvested in a few months. In the meantime, add the green leaves to salads or as a garnish.
  • Ginger; Haldi – Plant those parts which have nodes.
  • Sweet Potato – Cut the tips off the yam and plant or root in water. The leaves of sweet potato are also edible when cooked and can be enjoyed while you wait for the tubers to mature. Usually, sweet potatoes are ready to harvest when the leaves and ends of the vines have started turning yellow
  • Pineapple – Twist the leafy top off the fruit, peel off the first few layers of smaller leaves and place the stem in a bowl of water. Plant it out once the roots are two or three centimeters long. Also longer duration, of course, but always nice to invite the chance of a fruit in the future.

Other edible parts of plants

One of the many (many) benefits of growing your own food is that you get to eat parts of the plant which are edible but usually not available in the market. 

  • Tender leaves of Sweet potato, Tamarind and Insulin plant
  • Pumpkin & Sesbania flowers
  • Bean leaves – Long beans, Bush beans or Green beans
  • Tender leaves of Pumpkin, Bottle Gourd, Snake gourd
  • Nasturtium all parts
  • Microgreens 
  • Leaves of Ajwain, Drumstick, Carrot, Radish, Cauliflower, Beets, Okra, Onion

Eat wild plants

Many plants we call weeds are edible and have important nutritional and medicinal properties. Luckily for us, they tend to pop up in our pots and gardens entirely of their own accord.

  • Sun Berry (Solanum nigrum) – has edible berries and leaves and has long been used in traditional Indian medicine to treat ulcers and stomach ailments.
  • Wood Sorrell (Oxalis stricta) – tangy leaves
  • Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) – can be eaten raw or cooked, lovely and sour so great in salads. 
  • Tropical spiderwort (Commelina benghalensis)
  • Sessile Joyweed (Alternanthera sessilis)
  • Common Leucas (Leucas aspera)
  • Wild Amaranthus 
  • Stone Breaker (Phyllanthus Niruri) 
  • Pea brinjal/Sundakkai (Solanum torvum)

Check out Shruthi Tarayil’s lovely Facebook group ‘Forgotten Greens’ for more.

Grow Perennials 

Read up a bit about edible perennials and see which ones you can start growing at home. Perennials are ideal because they give you a continuous yield for months and sometimes years together. The more perennials we grow, the more self reliant we are. 

Click here to find a detailed chart that shares information on easy to grow vegetables, greens and herbs.

Small things count. 

We may or may not reduce the pressure on public food supply at this hour but we will be sowing the seeds of resilience.

This article has been written based on the collaborative research and experiments by Team Ananas. Ananas is a small collective of permaculturists with diverse backgrounds. They work on regenerating landscapes and reinvigorating communities by designing for living systems.  

About Himanshu Arteev 1 Article
Himanshu Arteev is a permaculturist and the co-founder of Ananas -- an ecological design company. His work revolves around designing for whole systems with a regenerative approach.