When Kerala went in for a State-wide lockdown on March 23 to slow the spread of COVID-19, Baiju Chandran and his neighbours in Thiruvananthapuram district feared a shortage of vegetables if the pandemic were to take a turn for the worse and the lockdown extended.
Instead of merely talking about it, they decided to do something productive. The next day, they began working on a piece of vacant land that belongs to Pradeep Kumar S, Baiju’s neighbour.
“All that there was on the plot was a tiny shed, which we now use to house our gardening tools. I was planning to start an automobile repair shop on the land but when Baiju, his brother Shiju, and Shibu Kumar, another neighbour of ours, suggested we use the land to start a vegetable farm, I agreed,” says Pradeep.
The land was tilled and fertilised with organic manure before they started planting varieties of amaranthus, green chilli and tomatoes.
Two months later, the 14-cent plot of land at Pazhakutty, Nedumangadu, has turned into a vegetable garden. Varieties of amaranthus have just been harvested and the team that toiled on the plot are all set to pluck cucumbers, lady’s finger, brinjal and so on. “We hope to plant yam, ash gourd, snake gourd and pumpkin… soon so that we can harvest them in time for Onam [late August],” says Baiju, a senior-grade assistant at the Kerala Government Secretariat.
“Apart from being able to pick fresh vegetables from our garden, turning to gardening during the lockdown was also a way for us to do something constructive with the time we had on our hands,” says Pradeep.
Pradeep used to run a farm in Panavoor on the outskirts of the city. However, once he took up a job as a JCB driver, farming took a back seat. The lockdown gave him the nudge he needed to pick up the hoe.
“Before the lockdown rules were relaxed, we would start our day at 6 am and be out in the field till 11 am. We would then resume gardening by 5 pm and wind up by 7 pm. As all of us are back at work again we farm mostly in the evenings and nearly the whole of Sunday,” says Pradeep, who finds gardening “therapeutic.”
Baiju discovered his green thumb and passion for gardening four years ago when he decided to start a kitchen garden after reading media reports that most of the vegetables available in the market were often sprayed with pesticides. Worried at how the pesticides could affect his health and that of his family’s, he began reading up on gardening.
“I concentrate on seasonal vegetables and plant everything from green chillies and tomatoes to broccoli and beetroot on my rooftop garden. As I had no prior experience in gardening, I attended various courses organised by Thiruvananthapuram Karshika Koottayma. Experts in various gardening groups I am a part of helped me with whatever queries I had,” he explains.
Their families also help them with their farming.
Shibu, a commercial goods vehicle driver, finds the act of harvesting “the most satisfying” in the whole gardening process. “I used to help out in farming at an ashram in Pothencode on Sundays. I still go there after my time in our field. There is something special about having a dish made from ingredients right out of your garden. In fact, I am looking forward to preparing the Onam sadya with our vegetables,” he says.
Shiju Chandran, a junior co-operative inspector at the Department of Cooperation, chuckles when he says their neighbours are all inspired by their gardening. “On some days, we get excess vegetables that we sell in our neighbourhood. As the flavours of freshly farmed, organic vegetables are distinctive when cooked, many have asked us for seeds and saplings. It looks like gardening is fast becoming a hobby for many.”