A cinematographer grows his own vegetables
Vidu is a professional cinematographer with roots in Sri Lanka and the Czech Republic. He wanted to grow his own vegetables for Sri Lankan dishes, but didn’t want to use soil. The solution? Plagron hydroponic products! Vidu will tell you in his own words.
What do you grow?Tomatoes, okra, hot chillies, gotu kola, kangkung (Ipomoea aquatica), red-stemmed chard, basil, and a bit of mint. This year I want to try growing beans and bitter gourd. I know most of these plants from Sri Lanka, where I was born. But as I am half Czech, I live in Prague, where they are not very easy to find. So I decided to try and grow them.
Some of those names sound unfamiliar. What are they?Gotu kola is a medicinal herb used in ayurvedic medicine. Sri Lankan cooking is strongly rooted in ayurvedic medicine. So even the spices we use are not only for the taste but for their medicinal preventative value too. Gotu kola promotes healing and is said to improve memory, among many other things. But most of all, I like the taste! I would describe it as close to carrots. Okra is my favourite. I can buy it in Prague in a Vietnamese market, but that’s on the other side of the city. So I tried to grow it two years ago and it worked. I will try growing Okra on cocos this year.
So you cook all these?Yes! The majority I will cook or eat fresh. I freeze the extra chillies for the winter. The basil I use to make pesto, which I then freeze too. You can make salads and curries with them. Would you like some recipes?
A typical Sri Lankan gotu kola salad will need about:
50—100g of fresh gotu kola leaves with stems
1-2 medium sized tomatoes
1 small to medium onion
Chop the onion fine and, cut the tomatoes in small pieces too. Then chop the gotu kola very fine and mix all together well. Add salt, pepper and a bit of lime juice and mix again. It is delicious! With the amount of gotu kola I grow, I can make a salad about twice a month.
Kangkung I stir fry with a bit of garlic and a few chopped hot chillies. I cut the kangkung (leaves and stems) into pieces about 2–3cm long and and a bit of salt when stir frying on mild heat. The taste of kangkung is quite mild. A friend of mine said it’s close to sorrel, but not as sour.
And for a typical Sri Lankan okra curry you would need:
10–15 okra pods harvested when still green and tender
1–2 hot chillies (optional)
1 teaspoon unroasted Sri Lankan curry powder, but you can also use unroasted Madras curry powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder (ayurvedic medicine too)
Cut the pods into pieces about 4cm long and gently stir fry them on mild heat. Add the curry powder, turmeric powder, salt and also the hot chillies finely cut. Keep stirring until the okra pods get dark green in colour. Ready to serve! Okra has a slightly slimy but tender texture, the taste is very mild, not very distinct.
I discovered that IKEA was selling a hydroponic growing set back in 2017. And I wanted to grow my own gotu kola, because I missed it. But... this may sound awkward, but since childhood I’ve disliked soil. I don’t like its texture and how it feels in my hands and how it smells. So hydroponics seemed to be exactly what could work for me. The only time I had heard about hydroponics before was in Star Trek. So I was surprised it really works, unlike a holodeck. The problem was IKEA here in the Czech Republic could not sell their own hydroponic fertiliser because of some administrative issues. So I searched for alternatives and found out about Plagron, which was praised by many. I read the nutrients had no smell and that the mixing and dosage was very simple. The smell was an important factor, as I wanted to grow the gotu kola in my living room. And the ease of use was important as well, because I had absolutely no prior experience with growing anything. And of course, the price is very reasonable too.
Why did you choose Plagron?
How many plants do you grow?This year I want to have 8 tomato plants, 8 okras, 3 hot chillies, 4 bitter gourd and 4 beans. Gotu kola tends to grow all over the place after some time, so I keep about 0,2 square meters of it indoors and about the same amount outdoors. The same is true for the kangkung. Basil and mint… just a few plants. My growing space is very limited, as I don’t have a garden, but a 12 square meter balcony. But it’s also what I can reasonably handle while still keeping the growing as a hobby.
For how long have you been doing this?I started in autumn 2017, so it will be 3 years now.
And for how long have you been using Plagron?
Right from the start.