Forum: Life lesson from growing vegetables

It was more than a decade ago that I started talking about food security. My Singaporean friends thought I had gone barking mad.

At the time I was thinking of peak oil. How can we assume that there will always be fuel and transport networks to fly and ship food into Singapore? What if countries bar food exports?

My mother often told me how her family starved during the Japanese Occupation. There was a precedent.

I was not far-sighted enough to imagine a pandemic. But here we are in the middle of one.

We now have to confront not only big issues like death, but also mundane ones like supply chains.

Mum survived on sweet potato. I have often suggested to friends to start growing whatever food they can manage by whatever means.

I was hence pleased to see the recent debate on gardening "at home".

I once experimented with hydroponics. My chillies failed but I managed to produce one stalk of orchid which I presented to my general paper teacher.

More recently, my husband and I started growing more vegetables.

Our bok choy and gem lettuces kept being attacked by cabbage flies. I now grow bok choy along with various herbs and salad lettuce leaves on a windowsill.

Potatoes did not do too well this time around, having gone into the ground too late. The tomatoes suffered tomato blight.

But it was the carrots that taught me the most.

I was too lazy to thin out the seedlings when they were a few weeks old. I soon figured out that with carrots being a root vegetable, there was clearly not enough room for the big fat juicy ones pictured on the seed packet to develop.

So I carefully dug up the stunted carrots, immersed them in water, and then transplanted them into a larger quantity of freshly prepared, manure-enriched soil.

They matured late, but at least we had a reasonable harvest. Better late than never.

That got me thinking: Is it the same with young children?

If we do not give them sufficient room to grow - socially, physically, intellectually - would they also end up stunted like my carrots?

Do large crowded classes, likewise, stifle a child's natural potential?

Lee Siew Peng (Dr)