When the announcement about the pandemic was creating panic amongst us lesser mortals, Vijaya was calmly eating a green salad! “How can you be so calm?” I asked her, “don’t you need to stock up on groceries before they run out?” With the mysterious grin we all love her for, she shook her head, continuing to eat her daily quota of greens, while I was literally hopping from one foot to another with impatience. Even more shocking, she actually offered me a bowl full of rich greens! Who offers fresh produce during a pandemic? I wondered if she was even aware of the situation around us. But Vijaya makes delicious food, and the aroma of the raw greens, coupled with some homemade salad dressing, was too tempting to resist, and I greedily accepted the bowl.

It was an array of colors, kale, rocket, lettuce, spinach, peppers, tomatoes, onions, a dash of ginger, a hint of mint, a spoonful of yoghurt. I wolfed it all down in no time. Once I had finished eating, she asked, “how was it?” in her own adorable accent. “The most refreshing salad I’ve ever eaten!” Now, her grin grin grew impossibly wider, and I could swear her eyes shone brighter than the sun itself. “I made all this.” I smiled, “of course you did. I don’t see anyone else at home just now.” She shook her head, “I made all this, means…” and she pointed outside, towards her patio. My jaw hit the floor, and I stared at her, agape. “You grew all these plants?” She nodded with well-earned pride.

My tongue had to run to catch up with my brain as she led me outside. “How do you like my kitchen garden?” she asked, giving me a tour of the lush green space, carefully pointing out some special plants. “Hang on,” I pleaded, out of breath, “this isn’t just a kitchen garden, girl, this is an entire kitchen farm!” She nodded, “that is my dream, I want to be able to just pluck whatever I want to eat!” It was a green wonderland.

“How did you manage all this in such a tiny space?” I asked, referring to the apartment community we both live in. “Just a simple hello from me is usually enough to kill the hardiest of plants,” I admitted, feeling envious of her green thumb. In reply, she lifted a pot of money plant and handed it to me. I shook my head desperately, “no no, the plant will die if I touch it.” I always thought I was mule-headedly stubborn, but my Vijaya proved that my adamance is child’s play before her insistence. “This will live, and bring you great luck with gardening,” she winked.

Five whole days passed, and I would wake up each morning, dreading that the gift given with so much love would have died overnight. No such thing happened. On day seven, I was frantically on the phone with Vijaya, “the plant is alive! How?” In all these years, four days was the maximum period a plant lived with me. Day four would usually be its last day as a living green.

“The plant has black gold,” her answer served to magnify my panic into a full-blown anxiety attack. Black Gold? Being Indian, I have a healthy respect for anything to do with gold, the yellow metal, and all its variations. But I’d never heard of black gold, and thought it must be super expensive and precious. “Don’t worry dear,” she replied, “it is precious, but not at all expensive, in fact, it is free.” Now, the Indian in me was fully awake. Precious and free? FREE? “I want some more black gold,” I told her, “where do I get it from? I’ll even get some for you.” Between fits of laughter, Vijaya said, “you make it.”

I was flabbergasted. I can make black gold? Interesting. Sensing that she had finally managed to rouse curiosity in me, she said, “it is compost, dear.” Ookkaayy. I had heard of compost, something to do with wet waste, like food scraps and all such boring things. But that was as far as my knowledge, and until now, interest in the topic, reached. She described the process in detail, and taught me everything I know today about the miraculous black gold.

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Black Gold
Blue Thumbs go Farm to Table

The success of my methi (fenugreek) plant [click here to read the short story about the methi plant] continues till today, all thanks to this black gold. My family has been happily devouring methi parathas fortnightly. My blue thumb seems to have turned green, which is majorly thanks to the black gold I now have at my disposal. This compost is rich with nutrients, and works like a nitro-boost for your plants, literally. Just a few scoops of compost added to your plant soil will give them the energy to shoot skyward and thrive for at least half a year, if not more.

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Amar, Akbar, Anthony

Thanks to the gift, my backyard is quickly turning into a lush garden, and I no more have to worry about the health of my plants (or my wallet). In just two months, I have harvested fenugreek three times, the precious money plant is thriving (how I wish it gave real money, I’d be a millionaire by now). My very own Amar, Akbar, Anthony (Title of a blockbuster Indian movie) are blossoming – the half spud I’d tossed into a pot of soil has bloomed into a tall plant which will be ready to harvest in a couple of weeks, giving me about eight to ten potatoes, the marigolds that seemed to be acting very pricey, have suddenly decided to spurt, and are almost at bud stage, while the coriander (cilantro) is ready to harvest. And the stink? What stink? Thanks to Vijaya’s constant advice, I do my composting correctly, which means there is neither any stink, nor any flies around my compost bin. In fact, the compost has a decidedly earthy fragrance!

Vijaya’s gift of compost, and her tips, have made farm-to-table a reality in our tiny apartment home. My own compost pile is starting to look good, and I am eagerly awaiting the day I can use it on my plants. My contribution to the landfill has finally reduced (a topic very VERY VERY dear to my heart) substantially, what with all the wet waste, fruit peels, pits, vegetable skins, coffee grounds, tea leaves, all going into the compost bin towards generation of Black Gold. “Just treat your plants like your babies, and they’ll blossom,” is Vijaya’s favorite catch phrase. “Make sure your plants have good drainage,” she always reminds me whenever I tell her about sowing new seeds.

Sharing some pictures of Vijaya’s own kitchen garden (and the salad), to show you how this Goddess of Green has changed our lives with her advice and suggestions about gardening. I have personally seen her take seeds from inside the store-bought tomatoes and work her magic on them, coaxing them to germinate and sprout, to yield delicious, juicy, red tomatoes! Her kitchen garden yields enough roses that she makes the most delicious gulkand from them.

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Fortunately for me, Vijaya is a dear friend and neighbor, so I can pick up the phone or just hop over next door to pester her with questions about my plants. Sometimes, I even ‘borrow’ a little stem of herb or two, ‘steal’ a few chillies, and am now waiting for her lemon tree to grow so I can get fresh, organic lemons, free. I have also become a bit of a beginner level gardener, with my very own compost bin, thanks to her tips. The busy girl that she is, she sometimes cannot answer her phone, and then, I access her YouTube channel Kitchen Gardening with Vijaya to get my answers.

Black Gold