From using cow dung to preparing compost at home, planting saplings in disposable cardboard boxes to getting soil from nearby locations, working professionals have tried several techniques as first-time gardeners since the pandemic.
Shruti Wahi, a product manager at an MNC has had new additions in her family. From being a mother to two children, she now has 30 of them since to the lockdown. She introduces them as flower- and fruit-bearing plants that she grew during the lockdown.
Her home in Sonipat looks nothing less than a mini nursery with chillies, spinach, okra, beans, tomato, bitter gourd, capsicum and lemon growing under one roof.
Gardening has been a life changing experience for her. It has allowed her to bond with her daughters. She follows zero-budget natural farming, which she explains is a chemical-free way of raising plants.
“I don’t use any chemicals at any stage. To make compost, I mix vegetable peels, neem leaves, coco peat and cow dung and keep them aside in a box for a month. I then prepare amrit jal, a concoction of jaggery, lime and natural fruit juice, and mix it with the ingredients in the box, before adding them in plants,” she adds.
Many working professionals in India like Shruti have started gardening as a hobby to kill boredom. Nishant Dahiya, Founder, Osho Vatika Nursery, who also owns two other nurseries in Gurgaon has evidently seen a transition in plant buyers.
“Work-from-home has helped young professionals to spare time in doing other things. Earlier, most of my clients were companies and retired people. But since the pandemic, most of our clients were between the age group of 25-35 years as new buyers,” he adds.
Mittesh Gaiwala, Director and Creative Head, GreenLands Nursery, Mumbai says, “Definitely every business was affected in the pandemic phase, luckily for us, many people were buying plants. The trend is further increasing. Plant parent clubs have been formed, nature bathing is on to-do list of every age and having indoor plants in space deprived urban homes and cities have increased.”
For Rashmirekha Changmai, a lecturer at Dibrugarh University, Assam, gardening started as a hobby out of her love for indoor plants. During the lockdown, she used the time she got while delivering online lectures in gardening. Though she started it as a hobby to add visual appeal to her home, her interest grew from being a plant grower to a plant nurturer.
It was through experience, she says, her interest in plants’ nutrition developed. “At one point, some of my plants died because I had put ample fertiliser. Also, I forgot to change the direction of some of the plants, because of which they died due to excess heat. Then I ensured to transfer them in another balcony where sun rays weren't harsh,” she says.
Her second-floor home has a variety of plants from ghost peppers to basil, tacoma, bougainvillea, curry leaves, orange and roses. She now refrains from using fertilisers and instead adds tea leaves and vegetable peels as compost.
Alternative methods and do-it-yourself (DIY) techniques have emerged as heroes. People have not refrained to experiment with things readily available at home. For instance, Sandeep Kalshan, a corporate employee, faced issues in finding pots during the lockdown. So, he upcycled unused bottles of cold drinks, fruit juices and phenyl and used discarded paint buckets and crates as planters.
He referred to online videos and found readymade solutions. “Availability of soil was an issue. I stumbled upon the idea of taking soil from an under-construction site,” he shares.
Since seeds were not easily available, Sandeep exchanged his portulaca plants with his neighbours and received stem cuttings from them. This way, he grew hibiscus, rose, giloy, tulsi and curry leaves easily. He also made compost on his own. He initially used vegetable peels. It was after a few experiments that he discovered that onion peels and water, as well as egg shells and water are the greatest sources of potassium. “Unlike compost which takes months to prepare, these mixtures get ready within 2-3 days,” he says.
Sakshi Malhotra also uses DIY techniques. This Indore resident grows fenugreek, mustard, coriander and spinach in discarded cardboard boxes and packs them with soil and fertiliser.
Though the technique is great and saves money, planting seeds in a box isn’t a cakewalk. Sakshi insists that the planting process requires a lot of care.
“One has to be careful that a plastic sheet is placed in a cardboard box before soil and fertiliser is added. Otherwise, the box will get soggy as soon as it will get in contact with water. It is also important to pierce small holes at the base of the sheet to allow excess water to flow out. The holes at the base of the sheet save the plant from getting infected by fungus,” she clarifies.