• Experts speak

    D.I.Y Kitchen Garden

  • –  Shraddha Bhansali

    It was set in her stars that Shraddha Bhansali would straddle two worlds with effortless ease. A cusp who stands at the threshold of Libra and Scorpio, Shraddha has constantly inhabited two identities, a fruition of which is today Candy and Green.

    After graduating from Ecole Mondiale High Schod, Shraddha pursued further education at the Boston University. Armed with Bachelor of Business Administration (B.B.A.), Business Administration and Management, Shraddha came back to India to serve stints at both the Taj Group and the Palladium Hotel.

    Her experience with hospitality, her commitment to animal rights and her penchant for the best things in life, are today standing as the delectable Candy and Green. She’s a natural cook with an instinctive understanding of flavour profiles, and believes that some of the best food in the world is devoid of much artifice. That explains her experiences of creating natural flavour enhancers, while also trying out various permutations and combinations of vegan, gluten-free, non-MSG cooking.

    When not experimenting with food and flavours that are healthy yet fun, Shraddha has been immersed in the world of fitness. She’s boxed for three years at a semi professional boxing ring, and continues to have a mixed workout regime of TRX Cross fit and kickboxing. She believes that even the best things in life are to be enjoyed in an indulgently balanced manner and Candy and Green is testimony to that.

    Kitchen farming is a great hobby, which helps you control the quality of your produce, reduces your carbon footprint and the best part is that you end up saving a lot of money!

    At Candy & Green which is my all-day dining restaurant in Breach Candy, we have a living wall and a 750 sqft rooftop garden where we cultivate a lot of our own herts, microgreens and leafy vegetables all year round. A wilted leafy green can ruin even the best salad, and the flavour is something we would never compromise on. We started this activity because we weren’t able to find a consistent supply of premium quality greens.

    Setting up Candy & Green’s kitchen garden

    While planning the rooftop garden, the whole team was closely involved in setting up the greenhouse structure, picking the right strain of seeds and using a natural growing medium and organic fertilizer. This made us less vulnerable to the market and more dependent on our private supply of greens. We also involved our kitchen team in the quality control of the farm by having them harvest the greens and plant new seeds. By giving the people who cook the food control of the supply chain we can not only control the quality and measure of our products but also reduce the wastage. Another great thing the rooftop farm helped us achieve is to be more sustainable as a business. Chances are that even when you buy organic vegetables from your local vendor, they have not been grown in the area, but have been transported miles from the actual farm. This means that the vegetables aren’t reaching you at their freshest and they have a large carbon footprint because of the distance they have travelled. Since we harvest daily from our own rooftop we eliminate the need for logistics: which basically means that our produce travels no miles! We’re calling these Zero Mile, CarbonFree ingredients.

    Due to the space restriction, we have at the restaurant we have limited growing capacity which means seasonality is really important to us. We only grow greens which are in season and have short growth cycles since we get the highest yield from them. In summer we grow greens like Thai/Italian/Lemon Basil, Lemongrass, Celery, Chilli, Kaffir Lime Leaves, Peppermint, Garlic Chives, Edible Flowers and Microgreens. In winter we increase production of herbs and green leafy vegetables like Oregano, Thyme, Rosemary, Fenugreek and Spinach. As we are set up in the outdoors, the heavy monsoon rains make it very challenging to grow anything. Depending on the climate we only grow our microgreens indoors and thick leaves like Ceylon Spinach and Carom which need limited sunshine in the greenhouse. We change our menu every season to highlight the ingredients that we grow in-house.

    Although we grow organically and in controlled environments to ensure a pest and weed-free greenhouse, we have a contract with an urban farmer, Priyanka Shah from Ikheti, who checks the health of the produce every week Since we do not use coconut peat as our natural growing medium, the chances of infestation are rare, but we follow this practice as a preventive measure.

    What we do at Candy & Green with organic fertilizers and coconut peat is great because it gives us a big volume with a low investment, but if you want to grow your own kitchen garden without any dirt and pests at home would recommend growing hydroponically. My mother, SejalBhansali has been growing greens and herbs in our Mumbai apartment hydroponically for 4 months now.

    What is Hydroponics?

    Hydroponics is soil-less farming, where plants are grown in nutrient-rich water instead of the traditional soil medium. This type of farming is great because the lack of soil virtually eliminates the need for pesticides and herbicides. Due to the constant nutrition and readily available nutrition, hydroponics allows plants to grow 50% faster than they would grow in soil. This makes it ideal for farming in compact spaces like your home balcony. Growing hydroponically could be a little technical at first, but there are some wonderful videos online that demystify the entire process. Amazon India also sells a starter hydroponics systems and nutrient solutions that make it very easy to set your first farm. My mother’s first hydroponic system was a small kit which could grow up to 5 plants at a time. The kit was small but good for a beginner. She started with easier and low maintenance plants like mint, basil, lady finger and peas.

    Growth cycle for some common kitchen ingredients 

    All these seeds and plant cuttings are available online on Amazon India or your local nursery.

    Microphones 

    7-10 days from the day the seed is planted. These leafy crops are harvested at a very early stage when they are only a week old. This chef’s favourite garnish is also known to be packed with nutrients. There is no limit to the kind of microgreens, any leafy vegetable or salad green can be grown in a microform. Depending on your taste preferences you can grow anything from basil, coriander, sunflower, mustard, fenugreek, red amaranth to beetroot and carrot. Growing your own microgreens has a low-cost as you can grow them in anything small like a restaurant takeout container. After using different methods, I find that using coconut peat mixed with a little nutrient rich soil gives the best result.

    Basil, Lemongrass, Mint and Ajwain 

    5-6 days after propagating the stem cuttings. You could also grow them from seeds, in which case the grow cyde would increase to a month. These greens grow well both hydroponically and in a natural base like coconut peat.

    Celery, Parsely, Rosemary and Thyme 

    1 month after planting the seeds. It is possible to propagate cuttings of some herbs like Rosemary and Thyme but the humidity in the Indian climate makes it very difficult to grow them after. These herbs grow well both hydroponically and in a natural base like coconut peat.

    Kitchen farming is a cost-effective activity. Buying microgreens can be very expensive as they cost anywhere from 70 -150 rupees per small box Buying the seeds, however, is a lot cheaper, you can buy mustard microgreen seeds for 40 rupees for a kilogram which will give you enough greens to last for two months The same is true for herbs like Basil, the seeds may be more expensive (80-100 rupees for a 10 gram pachi but it is a onetime investment as you can use the cuttings from the basil plant to create more plants.