On 29 January, the first lecture of the Dilmah Conservation Sustainable Lifestyles Series took place at the Lighthouse Auditorium, and it was a full house from the start. The series on sustainable living is moderated by Sunela Jayewardene, an environmental architect and author with a passion for conservation.

The series itself is an interactive one, with different topics addressing smart living and exposing the climate reality. The session for January was focused on edible gardening with two speakers taking the stage.

Channa Ekanayake is an artist and naturalist who currently lives in an urban forest and edible garden designed and built by him. The second speaker was Miller Rajendran, a tech enthusiast and serial entrepreneur who founded SenzAgro (Pvt.) Ltd.

Ekanayake took the podium first to share his personal experiences with edible gardening. He said he started by growing vegetable patches to fulfil his requirement, but stopped as the areas surrounding his garden soon became urbanised. And as certain species like butterflies, spiders, etc. didn’t have any other place to survive, he started planting indigenous and endemic trees. Later, he was able to grow vines along those trees. That is how it all began, he said.

He had then introduced a garden pond which helped him address the problem of mosquitoes. The pond had guppy fish that ate the mosquito eggs laid in it. The pond also attracted many birds to his garden and also bats that consume mosquitoes.

With the growing enthusiasm pertaining to butterflies in Sri Lanka, he decided to observe their behaviour. He noticed that the edible native plants and herbs he had planted were the same ones that attracted the butterflies as well.

He emphasised that once the first cycle of the garden is completed, it becomes sustainable. He also elaborated on how most often, the plants we consume are also consumed by different species, meaning we end up sharing the space with other living beings. When you follow the traditional way of edible gardening, it not only provides food, but also, most often, great medicinal and nutritious value.

When considering how to start on your own edible and organic garden, he stated that the audience should consider native plants as they would then increase the chances of survival for the rest of wildlife. They are also comparatively easier to maintain.

If you can gain the knowledge on how to harvest throughout the year using a small space and pair it with traditional cooking methods, your diet will be diverse as well, he said. This primitive way of eating is more sustainable. Biodiversity is the best way to address this climate calamity. Climate change itself is not entirely an environmental problem but is rather about overconsumption and wastefulness, concluded Ekanayake.

Rajendran then took the stage and spoke about his start-up – the first of its kind in Sri Lanka to be working with agriculture-based technology. He spoke mainly on how to build a well-planned garden. Before he started, he encouraged the audience to analyse their space. For example, he said they should consider how much sunlight the garden gets, whether they want to increase or decrease it with shade, the temperature, etc.

Everything else, like the planning, crop cycles, what plants to introduce to the garden, etc., depends on this as well. He encouraged the audience to take at least a week to really evaluate the space available to them. The time commitment to gardening and also the budget are important factors to consider, he said.

With this information in hand, you would be able to successfully choose what to plant. Any native plant will survive, he said. He also mentioned that there are heat-loving plants like salad leaves and cucumber. The important thing is to find the right kind that will fit in your space and the environment. He introduced a small device that is on sale and can be connected to your phone. The device will tell you everything you need to know, like about the soil’s moisture, how much sunlight you are receiving, the soil’s fertility level, etc. With this, you can plan to include your preferred plants, he said.

He shared that in a garden, one is supposed to plant herbs, fruits, flowers, roots, vegetables, and then herbs again – i.e. to follow a circular manner. The plants you prefer are supposed to be chosen in a manner complementary to each other. If you maintain this rotation, your needs will be fulfilled, he said, while sharing a chart demonstrating an example of such a cycle where, at the same time, an ecosystem was also created. Space allocation is also important to understand, i.e. how much space a plant needs. Otherwise, the plants will compete with each other for sunlight, nutrition, etc.

He then focused on the different methods that can be adopted when planting, especially if you don’t have access to ground space. Even on the ground, he said, if the soil is not suitable, these methods can be adopted.

He encouraged vertical gardening, or making gardens that rise up, in these instances. He also said that all this can be done on one’s own. The newest trend in Sri Lanka is coir beds, in which you can have multiple crops. This option is also mobile and very sustainable. Where his innovation comes into play, apart from providing you with all the necessary information, is irrigation. You can choose between drip, sprinkler, or hose and you can water your plant via your phone. The irrigation system can be connected to your phone and you can schedule when to water your plants from wherever you are. Your garden can be controlled with a press of a button. He ended his session by inviting the audience to be a part of the movement focused on urban, organic, and home gardening.

The talks were followed by an interactive question and answer session. The lecture itself was followed by a practical workshop conducted on 1 February, where the participants received hands-on experience with urban gardening and guidance on how to grow.

The original article was published by The Morning

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