It is not always possible to find large open urban spaces to grow plants. So what do we do if we love the colour green but have limited space? We get creative!
Anand came to my house to give me home grown coriander and tomatoes. I thanked him and asked him about school. He said, “Aunty, I am happy to meet my friends and teachers again after so many days of online classes. My environmental science teacher is very good. I informed her about my garden activities and showed her pictures too. She appreciated me a lot. She wants to meet you once. Can I bring her here?”
“Sure, you can. Next Saturday afternoon will be good. You can give her my address,” I said.
Anand smiled, “Sure aunty, I will inform my teacher.”
Next Saturday, Anand came home with his teacher, Shalini. After talking to her for a while, I came to know that Shalini was new to town and was trying to find her way around. She expressed an interest in learning innovative methods to teach her subject in school.
After our casual discussion on how Anand and his friends started gardening and what they were growing in their homes, Anand went to the balcony to pluck some fruits and leaves.
“I know a few indoor plants we can maintain inside the room. Can you help me choose something we can grow in a classroom?” Shalini asked.
“Yes Shalini, there are plants that grow well in shade too. You must first check where you can place the pots. Do you have any natural light source like windows? You can also use some balcony or corridor space to place a few pots,” I suggested.
“There is some place inside the classroom. We can also keep a few pots in the corners and on the window sill,” said Shalini.
Anand called his teacher, “Come here Shalini ma’am, see how aunty is keeping plants.”
I showed the way towards my dining hall window where I had placed some plants.
“Oh! you are maintaining Sansevieria and bamboo plants in simple transparent glass mugs. I can see roots formed at the lower side. How old are they?” Shalini asked.
“If I remember right, they are almost 8-9 months old. When I brought the bamboo shoot, it was a little above the mug, now it has grown taller. Occasionally, I change the water and add a pinch of salt and sugar so the plants get basic nutrients,” I replied.
“Here you planted three different plants in one teacup! It is beautiful,” Shalini pointed to the teacup planter.
“We can plant two or three different plants in a single container depending on its shape and size. If we choose plants of different colours and shape, we can create an attractive pattern. Some succulents, ferns, or Asparagus you can choose, for which everyday watering is not required. But to maintain the plants’ health, at least once in a week you need to keep them outside for a day,” I replied.
“This is a terracotta starfish. You made it into a beautiful container. It must be heavy! How is it holding the plant?” Shalini asked.
“The terracotta containers are a little heavy and that is why we fill only sawdust or cocopeat and plant a small succulent, so that it does not add more weight to the container. Just sprinkle water once in two days, it is sufficient. You can see the pores on the star fish at the top. The lower side is nonporous, so it avoids water dripping,” I replied.
“Shalini ma’am, see the string holding the starfish, it is strong.” Anand pointed.
“Yes Anand, a strong string and hook is required if you wish to hang earthen pots,” said Shalini.
“Can you tell me how we can make students grow something on their own inside a classroom so that they can see how the roots and shoots come out of seeds?” Shalini asked.
“Have you heard of microgreens? You can do it in the classroom or in your kitchen. Come, you can have some dosa with microgreens.”
“It is a new kind of dosa, I want to eat,” Anand jumped.
I called them both to my kitchen. “Look here, first we will harvest the greens and then place them on the dosa. Now it is garden fresh dosa!”
“Oh! this is great. How do you make it grow like this? Is this a tissue paper on the container?” Shalini asked.
“Yes Shalini. You both have the dosa leisurely. I will show you how to grow microgreens,” I replied and brought trays and seeds to show them.
“You can take any seed like mustard, fenugreek or even wheat. Pour a little water over the seeds and keep overnight.
Next take a tray and spread a thick tissue paper or a cotton cloth over it. If it is cloth, you can wet and spread.
If it is tissue paper, spread over a tray and sprinkle water over it.
Place the seeds over the tissue paper, maintaining some gap between the seeds. Cover the container with a lid or cloth.
You can find the seeds sprouting after a day. Remove the cover and maintain it for two or three more days,you will find a thin stem and green leaves. This wheat grass is almost two weeks old.”
“This is great, you are maintaining many trays. It is all fresh and green. What is this brown lining in this wheat tray?” Shalini asked.
“This is a thin gunny bag material. It holds moisture to supplement growth. Remember to maintain the moisture in the tray, but not to pour water over it, or place it under direct sunlight,” I replied.
“May I use this directly with salad?” Anand asked.
“Yes, you can mix this with any other salad, it will add taste and nutrients,”I replied.
“This is great, I will make the children do this in the classroom, if we start soaking and placing seeds on Monday, by Friday we can harvest,” Shalini said.
“Shalini ma’am, I will make a chart for our class. In that you can assign each group in our class different microgreens,” Anand said.
“Yes, dear you can plan something like that. But ensure that you keep the place where you arrange the trays, clean,” I said.
“Once we pluck, do they grow again?” Anand asked.
“They are baby plants. As you are taking the whole plant, they will not grow again. You need to sow again to grow new plants,” I replied.
“May I get one microgreen tray?” Shalini asked.
“Sure, it is a return gift for you and Anand from me.” I asked them to choose one tray each.
Shalini selected the wheat grass tray and said, “I will make fresh wheat grass juice.”
Anand chose the mustard plants and said, “I will add these in vegetable salad, it gives special taste.”
Shalini said, “It is a good learning, I will try to practice growing microgreens. It solves my problem of finding vegetables everyday. Thank you very much for everything.”
“Anand, Shalini, come again. We can learn to grow more.”
- Make a list of plants you can place inside your home.
- Try growing microgreens in small containers.
The author is a botanist. She has been involved in teaching and research for more than 25 years. Currently she is involved as a consultant for We Care Society (WCS), Bengaluru and is a visiting faculty member at RIWATCH, Roing, Arunachal Pradesh. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: If How does your garden grow? has inspired you to start planting in and around your homes and classrooms we’d love to know what your experiences have been with planting. Send us photos or short write-ups of your home gardens and we will share them on our social media.