Imagine that you could grow strawberries all year round and rocket for your salads at home. That was the message of the die-hard greenthumbs at the Horticultural Society of Pakistan’s (HSP) 61st flower show that runs till Monday at Seaview.
“All it takes is a little bit of love and a little bit of hard work,” says Yasmeen Raza, who has a stall with every imaginable herb and plenty of vegetables for show. “You don’t need a lot of land, since you can grow most plants and vegetables in pots.”
This is why proponents of kitchen gardening, as horticulturalists call it, say it is easy on the pocket, healthy and can be done by families with rooftop space. Everything Raza grows is organic, and by this she means that no chemicals are used in the process. The compost she uses comes entirely from kitchen waste.
Another exhibitor at the show, who marries his love for agriculture with his flair for electronics, is Murtaza Karimi. He takes organic gardening one step further with an innovative technique “aeroponics”. This method turns convention on its head by letting the roots of the plant dangle in the air, rather than grow in soil. “With this method you can grow plants out of season, such as strawberries all year round,” he explains.
Karimi’s stall displays a crate with a small amount of water at the bottom. A styrofoam pad runs across the top which houses the top of the plants whose roots dangle between the styrofoam and the water at the bottom of the crate.
He has attached a small motor with a pipe inside the water. At certain intervals water is sprayed on the roots and at others they suck up valuable nutrients and oxygen from the air. All of this is connected to a small solar-powered battery. Karimi also uses his own compost which he also makes entirely from kitchen waste.
“Once you get a love for gardening you’re trapped,” says Syed Abu Khalid, who is the president of the Orchid Society of Pakistan. “It’s an addiction and once you’ve started you can’t stop.” Khalid also argues that gardening can be done on a budget, on your balcony or on your rooftop and for aesthetic or practical purposes.
Khalid says that if you keep plants indoors the best way to avoid mosquitoes is by making sure no water is stagnating and is drained. Yasmeen Raza adds that lemongrass, basil and mint actually help to get rid of certain insects while marigolds also help to serve the same purpose.
“In Karachi it is better to buy annuals and small shrubs or plants that grow large leaves for small homes and gardens,” advises Mir Afzal of the Pakistan Gardening Forum. “Karachi is one of those few cities where the climate is such that you can grow most things all year round, but it’s not the best place for large trees.”
In a congested city like Karachi it can be hard to find the space to plant trees that grow over a long time. There is the additional problem of trees whose roots grow laterally and continuously underground, potentially threatening underground water lines.
Afzal adds that with so many chemicals and pesticides being used in vegetable farming, it is a safer option to grow them at home. This also keeps you safe from the variety that is watered with sewage.
For those who can afford it, many non-indigenous plants can be imported, but growers and horticulturalists at the show caution that allergies could be a by-product. Some people also prefer to import seeds, but horticulturalists say most nurseries can give you good quality ones or you can simply extract them from plants, fruits or vegetables you already have.
At the opening for the flower show, the HSP brought up the 31 acres on Rashid Minhas Road that it was granted a long time back. It has since been taken over by land grabbers despite numerous court victories.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 24th, 2012.