While Cambodians join the world in facing the Covid-19 threat and the shortage of fresh groceries and boredom of home confinement, one agriculturist is encouraging people to try growing plants and vegetables at home as a healthy hobby.

Chav Pengnam says staying home could help flatten the curve of the coronavirus infection. Rather than looking at the gloomy side of the pandemic, people should adopt positive lifestyles like indoor exercises, healthier diets, and home gardening.

The idea of home gardening might not be attractive to some city dwellers due to the lack of space, but Pengnam offers some simple guidance to growing herbs and vegetables at home.

For expatriates who want to grow some edible plants while staying indoors, he says not to worry too much about having a small living space.

Creating a “food garden” at home that suits the Cambodian climate will also beautify the place and allow people to harvest greens even from the tiniest yard.

People could just start small by reusing discarded items such as tin cans, water bottles, plastic containers, old car tyres, or even an old washing tub.

“Growing your food will provide you enough to eat while releasing stress as you exercise while gardening. Gardening will provide cleaner air around you and help save money as well,” says Pengnam who is an agriculturist and a director of Cambodia Natural Agriculture Development Organisation.

Rooftop and indoor gardens are growing in popularity in Phnom Penh.Hong Menea

Home gardening, he says, is a hobby that can bring great joy to your life, enable you to get some free exercise, and bring the entire family together.

“Although it may not sound exciting on the surface, it’s something you should consider if you enjoy the outdoors and are interested in reaping the rewards of hard work.

“Plus, gardening brings people together, and if your space is large enough, you can even earn money by selling the excess vegetables and fruits that you grow,” he says.

Pengnam says planting lettuce in a small box or bottle can earn at least $1-$2 per plot. It’s worthwhile to harvest what you planted even if you don’t have to sell them.

He offers some simple methods to achieve your objectives of having fresh greens in the backyard that are also delicious and nutritious since you can grow them without any pesticides.

“First, select what to plant based on what you and your family prefer, or you can choose to plant easy horticulture crops such as fruit vegetables (eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, okras, and cucumbers) or green leafy vegetables (lettuce, kale, spinach, bok choy, and herbs).

“However, roots and tubers are not recommended because planting this crop requires a lot of work. The root and tubers need several months to mature and attract many pests. Besides, if your soil is compacted or rocky, the root will become distorted and forked,” he says.

Gardeners can start planting vegetables through approaches such as organic gardening, using hydroponics or the square foot garden method.

The square foot garden is “small space gardening” that come in square foot increments. This technique is suitable for people who have limited outdoor space.

People like growing fruit or vegetable gardens near their homes. Such gardens can be easily prepared.

“Gardeners can cut a used plastic bottle into two parts, take the small part with a hole down into the bottom of that bottle. Then, put coconut husk, and put the mixture of fertiliser and soil on the top. Last, plant the seed into the topsoil, and water it.

“For planting, you can use old vehicle tyres, used barrels, tanks, or milk containers to design your stylish plots for planting vegetables.

“Adapting the used equipment to grow crops is an environmental practice that saves the earth. But using Styrofoam boxes is not suggested, according to research in Australia, as it can cause cancer and affect one’s health”, says Pengnam.

He says the first step to starting a beginner’s garden is to map the place where the gardening would take place. Gardeners can choose to put plots on the roof, front yards and backyards or wherever they wish.

Fast-growing seeds are perfect and one can get quick results and be ready to transplant healthy plants to the ground.

Agriculturist Chav Pengnam offers gardening guidance. Supplied

“Second, gardeners should choose fast-growing and quality seeds. Seeds that grow quickly will save time and cost less. It’s always better to buy seeds from officially authorised seed companies,” he says.

The fact that gardening and plant businesses are still open provides people with the opportunity to obtain seedlings from nurseries. They can even purchase seeds and plants through Facebook advertisers, he says.

However, Pengnam suggests buying seedlings from professional agriculture businesses to lower the failure rate.

Soil mixture can be done at a 7-3-3 ratio, which means planters should mix seven tanks of soil with three tanks of fertilisers and three tanks of husk.

Furthermore, as the temperature is warmer, plants should be watered three times per day when the sun rises around 7-8am, 11-12pm, and 4-5 in the evening.

Fertiliser is the most important treatment to enhance crop health. He highly recommends the use of a mixture of fertilisers and home composting.

Home composting is a simple way to add nutrient-rich humus to your lawn or garden. It’s also free, easy to make, and good for the environment. You can start with mixing kitchen and yard wastes that you find around your home.

Don’t let weeds rob your garden of its beauty. Some of these weeds can choke the garden plants that you’ve worked so hard to grow. For that reason, weeding should be done frequently to maintain the beauty of your garden.

At the end of the day, home gardening will keep you busy and sweating, and building a healthy hobby that contributes to a greener country after the pandemic is over.