Kong Angie is in her late 50s but her heart is evergreen. Having lived most of her life in almost all the metros of India because of her husband’s job she is now finally ‘retired’ with him. Suddenly, she discovered she has green fingers too.
On 15th July 2017 Kong Angie moved with her family into the newly built cottage on the picturesque south-facing slopes of Laitkor, hardly a kilometer from Shillong Peak. After more than three decades of living in the simmering heat of the plains, life at 6500 feet above mean sea level can be tough. The place was a mess when they moved in. It still needs shaping up and the lady is forever busy bringing her house to order besides organizing a proper, organic garden.
With almost no gardening experience Kong Angie now finds herself obsessed with plants. She is slowly introducing flower cuttings into her garden: lilies, carnations, asters, marigolds, sweet william, poinsettias, winter roses, hibiscuses and the flowers closest to her heart, roses. She has even carpeted a small space with grass brought from the Shillong Golf Course.
Kong Angie realized that raising plants, whether for aesthetics or own consumption, is a pastime she can never have enough of. She is learning how to grow almost all the vegetables the family will need all the year round, besides a beautiful flower garden, determined that the coming winter her family will eat self-grown fresh, organically raised vegetables, including potatoes and tomatoes.
The 10000 square feet piece of land where the house stand has still enough space for more than just a kitchen garden. It could feed a small community if properly managed.
Kong Angie’s husband has plans to raise chicken, ducks, goats and pigs, as well as making vermicompost. Being away from the main city has its advantages: there are yet no restrictions on raising farm animals in Laitkor. But there’s a plenty of work left to do. When the house came up a lot of building debris got strewn around. Even now the ground is still uneven and fencing work still remains. Landscaping too.
The family plans to fence with wire mesh. Her husband hates concrete walls. They take away the beauty of the land. Wire meshes are more aesthetic. They don’t hinder hedge plants. They lend accent to flowering plants and support to creepers, adding to the beauty as well as provide food for birds, bees, and beneficial insects.
A small row of thin bamboo is already planted on the eastern and western boundary which will gradually become wind-breakers (Laitkor is quite a windy place) and provide great material for many purposes. Kong Angie’s son has brought in a number of important fruit tree saplings from the horticulture department: Pear, peach, plum, black cherry, chestnut, guava, sweet pear, pomegranate, orange, lemon, including a kind of kafir lime.
Kong Angie intends to plant more fruit trees. No doubt, in another five to ten years the trees will bear great fruit.
Ever since moving to Laitkor she fell in love with the idyllic countryside. The rolling meadows and wide vegetable fields at the foothills or on the hilltops were fascinating to even look. But what is sad is that farmers here have little respect for the soil. In a bid to get the near-instant bumper production they often resort to using fertilizers and pesticides. Demands of the market and to offset potential losses, they reasoned.
Kong Angie doesn’t want any fertilizers to taint her little garden. For her, only organically grown plants will do. She decided early on to make her own compost and use as much of green or animal manure as necessary.
She understands the yields might not be as great as with fertilizers but the vegetables and herbs she raises would be organic. Yes, they may not even look as great or big but organic means safe to eat and superior in taste. So she preserves any type of biomass like leaves, banana peels, and just about any organic and biodegradable kitchen waste into an old tin.
She later transfers this to a compost pit. In a few weeks’ time, the compost turns into perfect manure – healthy food for the hungry plants.
Pests are part of the ecosystem. They are part of nature’s cycle and Kong is not overly worried about them. She has come to learn that pests are their own predators: they eat and get eaten as well! But she keeps watch over her plants and destroys pests manually whenever she finds them.
However, she hasn’t faced any mentionable problems with pests so far. In the event that she does she will use only organic pesticides like neem-based or tobacco and garlic mix sprays. As far as plant diseases are concerned, she says, just as with humans, the nutrient-rich healthy soil will ensure her plants stay healthy and happy.
If taken seriously gardening becomes an addictive but rewarding hobby. It is also exacting and exerting. There is a lot of physical and mental activity involved: bending, exerting and stretching. Being mostly an outdoor activity it provides plenty of physical exercises.
Kong Angie says she has developed a strong and agile body and an alert mind because of it. The other rewards need no explanation: euphoric sense of fulfillment, feelings of intense joy, peace, happiness and satisfaction. She even talks to the plants!
Kong Angie knows that very soon a good amount of vegetables and herbs the family needs will come from their own garden. That means money is saved, and money saved is money earned, she concludes.
What is most rewarding of gardening’s gifts is the good pastime it offers the sincere gardener. The two to three hours a day of gardening that occupies much of Kong Angie’s time in the morning spells for her undiluted happiness and a deep sense of fulfillment, plus health.
Does one have to have any gardening experience to start with? No, that is unnecessary. All one needs is a desire to grow something. The rest will happen along the way. A habit will form. And as you watch the seeds sprout, or buds appear, excitement and passion will also begin to grow.
Before you knew it you have become a seasoned gardener. But, she cautions, don’t be complacent. Be consistent. Be disciplined. And does one have to have a large place for backyard gardening? If you have such a place you are lucky but for any garden, backyard or kitchen garden, space is the last concern.
Make use of whatever space you have, Kong Angie advises. Innovate – use old pots or tins, discarded plastic buckets, cold drink bottles and sundry articles you would normally throw away. And make use of technology at your fingertips – the mobile internet – to search for gardening ideas. Within weeks you will be feeding your family with fresh greens and other vegetables from your own backyard!