Maintaining a vegetable garden in one’s backyard in Oregon is not a cakewalk. The weather is so cold and is not conducive for gardening. On top of it, obtaining plant material for gardening to the liking of a Sri Lankan is not easy due to the strict local quarantine laws. But a Sri Lankan couple who has a knack for gardening due to their agriculture academic qualifications obtained from the Ruhuna University is successfully doing a home garden in spite of their busy schedule. As the saying goes, ‘If there is a will there is a way’.
Sri Lankans always complain about the soaring vegetable prices in the local market. But one finds a good answer to this problem from a Sri Lankan couple permanently residing in America. They are HKD Chandrasinghe and his wife Mallika Rupasinghe.
Chandrasinghe is called Don, for short, as is the common American practice. The Don family lives in a housing unit with restricted space as urban Sri Lankans do in housing complexes. Ironically, Sri Lankans perceive that those Lankans residing in America lead a cushy urban life. The couple has made the best use of the space in their compound to grow Sri Lankan vegetables for their daily consumption. Their garden has all the wherewithal to cook meals the Sri Lankan way.
The couple’s knowledge of agriculture comes in handy for their gardening. Both are graduates in Agriculture of the University of Ruhuna. Don was a former Assistant Lecturer on the same campus and also had a stint as a District Forest Officer in the Forest Conservation Department.
Mallika was employed at Angunakolapelessa Agricultural Research Institute before becoming an Agriculture teacher until the couple migrated to America. Their life was intricately connected to the Ruhuna Campus. Their love affair had started on campus and their knack for agriculture also had its roots – no pun intended – in the campus.
The couple resides in the Oregon state of USA which experiences cold weather for a good part of the year with intermittent snowfall. The couple has overcome the hurdle of harsh weather conditions successfully, to grow vegetables. They grow some selected vegetables in greenhouses as some plants cannot withstand the freezing weather. Don is the architect of these greenhouses. He uses electricity to warm the greenhouses as well as its soil. Don uses all his spare time to tend to his vegetable plots and derives great pleasure from it.
While devoting most of his spare time to further his studies, he is always generous to offer advice to other neighbouring Lankans, on agriculture as and when they confront any problem in their own vegetable plots. Though the construction of a greenhouse is a very costly affair in America, Don built the greenhouse with his own labour and spent a meagre amount of money to buy the necessary material.
The Don couple meticulously prepares the soil, selects seeds and applies fertilizer according to the season. They obtain seeds for the next season also from the same crop.
For migrant Americans, finding seeds or plants to grow in their home gardens to use in their traditional menus is not an easy task as there are many restrictions on importing plant materials in America. Mallika and Don are very resourceful persons in finding plant materials for gardening to use in their many traditional menus from local resources. For example, they obtained sweet potato tubers from the local market for their gardening purpose. The stems for the flourishing manioc plantation in their garden were obtained from a friend in Florida by post. Florida has a weather similar to that of Sri Lanka.
Don has planted wild eggplant (Thiththa thibbatu) in their garden brought from some faraway place, which flourish to every Sri Lankan migrant’s delight for Sri Lankans always savour a dish of wild eggplant.
Though his vegetable garden plot is tiny, it has a variety of vegetables such as curry leaves (karapincha), pandan plants (rampe), hummingbird leave plants (kathurmurunga), centella (gotukola), sessile (mukunuwenna), eggplant, wild eggplant (thiththa thibbatu), tomato, green chili, snake gourd, ladies finger, pumpkin, bitter gourd, sweet potato, beetroot, knolkhol, radish and carrot, which any green grocer in Sri Lanka offers.
They set a fine example for those who complain of lack of time and space to engage in gardening because this couple made good use of time while engaged in fulltime employment and furthering their education in addition to their pastime of gardening.
(Translated by Ananda Elkaduwa)