At a time when movement is constrained, homes should be a source of food
Confinement breeds ingenuity, as can be observed from our fellow Malaysians during the movement control order (MCO). Chefs are born out of seemingly ordinary people, work has transitioned from the physical into cyberspace, albeit with some hiccups, and ultimately, Malaysia as a nation has thrived in this pandemic.
Now that we are being ushered into another period of strict MCO, many would be pondering about the free time available, and most importantly, how to utilise it in a productive manner. Here is a thought to consider. Since we are undoubtedly required to make trips to the market for fresh products, why not create a sustainable home which is capable of generating food for the family?
This is easier said than done, especially if you live in a concrete jungle where space is scarce. But when there is a will, there is a way. Everywhere is a farm Gardening can be tricky if you happen to live in a high-rise development. But with a little creativity and astute space management, your seemingly narrow balcony could be turned into a cornucopia.
If you are planning to start small, then a herb garden is your best bet. These smallish plants need little space and are perfectly at home in shallow containers, such as a nursery pot. Basil, for example, thrives in warm temperature, moist soil and a good dose of morning sunlight. Here is a resilient herb that grows quickly, requiring little fertilisation.
In fact, most herbs are relatively easy to care for, and you may consider adding some onion, garlic, ginger, thyme and mint into your garden. Said herbs have a place in many popular recipes and their availability within arms reach is a source of convenience.
Consult the seed packet for instructions if you have doubts on how to raise these plants. Moving on, those graduating from the minor league can try their hands with the larger plants, such as the cucumber. Due to its size, the cucumber is often perceived as an outdoor plant, although it is very much possible to be cultivated indoors. Cucumbers grow quickly, and it demands a much larger pot than your average herb.
Additionally, it is a creeper, hence trellises need to be erected to provide support for the plant. If you are having it indoors, note that the vines have a tendency to reach out to the nearest furniture, hence the messiness. Also, for cucumber to fruit, pollinating agents such as bees are needed. These insects can be a real hazard inside your house, so opt for the parthenocarpic types instead, which are capable of fruiting even without pollination.
If your green fingers are capable of nurturing this plant, there really is no stopping you when it comes to the other vegetables. Spinach, lettuce, celery, chilli and tomatoes are equally viable options as they do well in pots. Another crucial factor when gardening at a height is the presence of the wind. The higher the altitude, the stronger the intensity of the wind that sweeps the balcony.
A hot dry wind can quickly parch the plants, so block the wind by erecting barriers. Depending on the climate, you may want to water the plant at a higher frequency.
When less is more
Where farming at the balcony is considered, space is a challenge that needs to be addressed. For starters, ditch those massive terra cotta pots in favour of the hanging planter boxes, which occupy the vertical space instead of the limited area afforded by the floor.
Do not cut corners, so maximise space usage by purchasing square pots instead of the round ones. They close up any gaps between each other and fit easily at the edge of the balcony. But if square is not your favourite shape, then use the malleable fabric grow bags. There are even innovative pots in the market with wheels at the bottom, allowing you to easily manoeuvre the plant to a favourable position. Once the balcony has been fully occupied, you can also place a pot or two at the window sill. Just make sure the spot receives ample sunlight.
Who needs pots
Now that you have more time on your hands, this is the perfect opportunity to work on some Do-It-Yourself projects. Why waste money purchasing a pot when you can make one out of your everyday objects. Planter boxes can be formed from plastic ice cream tubs, which would become landfill rubbish if not utilised. Just drill a few holes at the bottom for drainage and they are good to go.
Coffee tins can be substituted as nursery pots, and so are the large plastic bottles when their tops have been truncated. As usual, make holes at the bottom, then layer them with rocks to help water drain out properly. Anything capable of holding in soil is a potential candidate for pot making, even used toilet paper rolls.
Let your imagination run wild. A huge advantage is that these activities will take up the spare time that would otherwise add to the boredom of being stuck at home. Such activities also allow you to look forward to the day and get excited about trying something new. Moreover, you might just find that you have a knack for such new skills.