Living with coronavirus: Many urban families turn to kitchen gardening

Gunjan Sharma and Uzmi Athar

New Delhi, May 17 (PTI) Stuck in homes due to lockdown, many urban families in Delhi-NCR have discovered their green thumb and are nurturing kitchen gardens in their terrace and balconies.

The fresh, pesticide-free produce is not only helping address the food safety concerns of people but also serving as a stress buster during the time of coronavirus-induced lockdown.

Nibha Dalal, a resident of Noida sector 41 has been growing tomatoes, okra and potatoes in her kitchen garden.

'At first it was just a hobby but when I saw the risk of resources depleting at super markets and also that exposure to fruits and vegetables may increase chances of coronavirus transmission through the surface, I thought it might be a good idea to be self-sufficient,' Dalal said.

Her neighbour Varsha Rajora said she is not only growing vegetables for food security but also to de-stress.

'All my three children are in Mumbai presently and we keep seeing news of how badly Maharashtra is impacted by coronavirus. My kitchen garden helps me stay distracted and occupied,' Rajora, who spends an average of four hours in her kitchen garden everyday, said.

Naseema Firdaus, a resident of Mayur Vihar Extension, has converted her balcony into an area to grow vegetables.

She is growing cherry tomatoes, curry leaves, coriander leaves and potatoes in her balcony.

'The idea to grow my own vegetables came after the lockdown started. I realised it would be a lot safer to grow vegetables in my own garden but due to space constraint I am growing only those vegetables that can survive in a limited space,' she said.

Nisha Tomar, a Gurgaon resident, said gardening has become a matter of self-sustenance.

'In the initial week of lockdown, attempting to grow some vegetables was less about a hobby and more about self sustainability. We don't have local vegetable shops around my society and Big Basket took time to resume delivery in my area after the lockdown was announced. 'So, I decided to attempt the basics on my own. I tried basil and mint first and they quickly grew. Then I got excited about it and moved to spinach,' Tomar told PTI.

The limited accessibility in initial weeks of lockdown prompted Dhwani Bhardwaj to try her hand at kitchen gardening and she found it a unique way of keeping her kids occupied.

'I remember as kids we would paste different seeds in holiday homework scrapbooks but honestly I never gave a thought that we can try it at home. So following some YouTube instructions I planted tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper and lettuce and we named each of the pot after each family member to fix responsibility for the pot. And now after a month, we were excited to see the results,' she said.

'It is not even an accessibility issue now but I think I will procure limited vegetables from outside till the corona crisis is over,' she said.

Dipti Jhanjhani,who has been growing vegetables in her balcony for a few years, is now receiving calls from her friends and relatives who want gardening tips.

'The lockdown has taken the DIY trend to another level.Earlier, whoever visited my house would be stunned with how I have accommodated so much in the balcony and how I am so dedicated to gardening. Now during the lockdown I got calls from many of my friend who wanted to experiment with kitchen gardening,' she said.

There is no available data on how many families may be growing vegetables at their homes since the lockdown.

Atul Sharma, owner of a plant nursery in Noida, said the demand for seeds specially of vegetables has significantly increased in the last two months.

'Though the nursery has not been operational due to the lockdown, I am getting 10-12 calls every day inquiring about seed availability and if home delivery is possible. Earlier such demand was seen for flower seeds but now it has moved towards vegetables,' he said.

Bhim Singh, a gardener, said he has been getting calls from people asking tips for their plants.

'What kind of soil this vegetable needs, how much water should be given, is it suitable to grow it in pots are some of the common queries I am asked. Ironically, I would have got many gardening opportunities if I could step out,' he said.

Rabia Hasan, a psychiatrist, said growing vegetables can act as a good stress buster.

'It gives people the satisfaction to think that they have enough to take care of the needs of their families. News of shortage of food items is also making people think that they are prepared to an extent and if nothing else it is a good hobby to pursue,' Hasan said.

India is currently under the biggest lockdown with around 1.3 billion people asked to stay home in view of the coronavirus outbreak that has claimed 2,752 lives and infected 85,940 people in the country.

The government has asked people to 'learn to live with the virus,' urging people to make COVID-19 prevention guidelines a part of their lives as a behavioural change. PTI GJS/UZM DV DV