Did you know how important gut health is for our overall well-being? If not, let me tell you that it plays a very important role in performing vital bodily functions.

Why is Gut Health Important?

The gut is responsible for breaking down the food we eat and absorbing nutrients from it. It supports energy production, waste elimination, skin health, etc. Our gut is known as the “second brain”. Gut bacteria can send messages to the brain and even release hormones as well. This signifies that gut health has a direct impact on our mental health. Moreover, 70% of the immune system is housed in the gut! The gut wall acts as a barrier preventing viruses and fungi from entering our blood stream. Poor gut health can translate to low immunity, high risk for chronic diseases, depression, etc.

Gut Microbiome

Our body has a variety of bacteria, most of which are good for us. The gut microbiome is where our good gut bacteria resides in. This bacteria, not only help us digest the food we eat but also contributes to our overall mental and physical health. Moreover, the good gut bacteria keeps the bad bacteria in check. They multiply frequently leaving little space for the bad bacteria to grow. Having a healthy balance of bacteria is what is called equilibrium. Everyone’s gut microbiome is unique. So, the kind of food that is beneficial to one can be harmful to another. The most common intolerances are seen for gluten and lactose. 

So, what should we do to ensure good gut health?

An easy and effective way to improve your gut health is to include fresh leafy vegetables into your daily diet. Research shows that eating green leafy vegetables contribute good bacteria to your gut. The increase of good bacteria in your gut, limits bad bacteria from reproducing and settling in your digestive tract. Moreover, leafy greens contain fibre, which is also very essential for good gut health. Here is a list of Indian green leafy vegetables that you can include in your daily diet.

7 Indian Green Leafy Vegetables

1. Spinach – Palak

Spinach is considered a superfood because of its richness of nutrients and lack of calories. It is packed with vitamin A, K, C and D, dietary fibre, iron, potassium, calcium and magnesium. Spinach can help stabilise glucose levels in your blood and enhances your bone health. It also helps in controlling diabetes as it has a low Glycemic Index. Hence, it is an ideal ingredient in recipes for diabetic patients.

2. Mustard Leaves – Sarso

Research shows that mustard leaves have more Vitamin A than Spinach and more Vitamin C that oranges!! Including mustard leaves to your daily diet can result in good lung, heart and kidney health. These also contain a range of phytonutrients that protect our cells from stress and damage.

3. Amaranth – Cheera, Chaulai

Amaranth leaves come in different colours ranging from green, red, purple to gold. They are rich in Vitamins A, B, C, K, iron, and potassium. According to Ayurveda, drinking the juice extracted from amaranth leaves can help in curing diarrhoea and haemorrhage conditions. Regular consumption of Amaranth leaves can also help in easing digestion, excessive menstruation and weight management.

4. Fenugreek- Methi, Uluva

Methi leaves are rich in Vitamin A, K and C, Minerals, and B-Complex minerals like Folate, Riboflavin and Pyridoxine. According to Ayurveda, Methi leaves are also rich in diosgenin that stimulates milk production in lactating mothers and it also helps in inducing labour. The folate in Methi leaves is important for multiplication of RBCs and WBCs in our blood. This makes it a very good food for iron deficient people. It is also recommended for adolescent girls to pregnant mothers.

5. Curry Leaves – Kaddi Patta, Kariveppilai

Curry leaves have a wide range of medicinal and therapeutic benefits. Packed with essential vitamins, carbohydrates, fibre and volatile oils, curry leaves play a vital role in controlling treating heart problems, preventing infections and also providing beautiful hair and skin. The extract from Curry leaves is commonly used to treat diabetes. It also acts like a detox and cleanses your body from within when eaten raw or in the form of a juice.

6. Moringa/Drumstick Leaves

According to research, Moringa leaves have 7 times more Vitamin C then oranges and 15 times more potassium than bananas. It is also rich in calcium, iron and amino acids that are essential to build muscles and heal your body. Moringa leaves are proven to be able to combat arsenic toxicity. Moreover, they support brain health and act as neuro-enhancers.

7. Turmeric Leaves – Haldi

Turmeric leaves contain curcumin that triggers bile production which is essential for digestion. Curcumin also has strong anti-inflammatory properties, hence, that makes turmeric leaves highly beneficial for patients of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Make sure to include these or any other leafy vegetables of your choice to develop and enhance your gut health. It’s very important to ensure that your green leafy veggies are fresh and nutritous. What better way to ensure this than growing it yourself! Most leafy vegetables are easy to grow and don’t require much maintenance.If you live in a city and don’t have much space to grow vegetables, check out Vertigrove-hydro Starter Kit to grow your favourite herbs and vegetables. 

With the growing adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT), connected devices have penetrated every aspect of our life, from health and fitness, home automation, automotive and logistics, to smart cities and industrial IoT.

Thus, it is only logical that IoT, connected devices, and automation would find its application in our own kitchen garden and as such, tremendously improve nearly every facet of it. How could one still rely on plows when self-driving cars and virtual reality are no longer a sci-fi fantasy but an everyday occurrence?

Farming has seen several technological transformations in the last decades, becoming more industrialized and technology-driven. By using various smart agriculture gadgets, farmers have gained better control over the process of growing crops, making it more predictable and improving its efficiency.

What is smart agriculture? The definition and market size

Smart agriculture denotes the application of IoT solutions in agriculture. The same applies to the smart farming definition.

The adoption of IoT solutions for agriculture is constantly growing. Namely, BI Intelligence predicts that the number of agriculture IoT device installations will hit 75 million by 2020, growing 20% annually.

At the same time, the global smart agriculture market size is expected to triple by 2025, reaching $15.3 billion (compared to being slightly over $5 billion back in 2016).

How does Smart Agriculture work?

Real time data is read from the farm like, plant growth, nutrient level, moisture level, humidity, ph of the growing medium and transmitted over the WIFI and uploaded in the cloud from which after analytics notifications are sent to users to take corrective actions.

The Benefits of smart farming: How’s IoT shaping agriculture

Technologies and IoT have the potential to transform agriculture in many aspects. Namely, there are 5 ways IoT can improve agriculture:

  • Data detrimental to growth of plants collected by smart agriculture sensors in real time and send as notifications to your smartphone, e.g. moisture and humidity, soil quality or ph of the soil. This data can be used to track your garden’s health and act on them.
  • Better control over the issues at the onset as a result, take preventives much in advance. The ability to foresee the problems affecting your garden can help us sort out problems with safer options and help curb use of more potent pesticides.
  • Cost management and waste reduction thanks to the increased control over the production. Being able to see any anomalies in the crop growth one will be able to mitigate the risks of losing your yield.
  • Increased business efficiency through process automation. By using smart devices, you can automate multiple processes across your production cycle, e.g. irrigation, fertilizing, or pest control.
  • Enhanced product quality and volumes. Achieve better control over the production process and maintain higher standards of crop quality and growth capacity through automation.

As a result, all of these factors can eventually lead to higher revenue.

Some of the IoT applications in agriculture in general:

  • Automated drip irrigation

Applying IOT Agriculture will ensure that mundane tasks like watering can be automated.

  • Monitoring of moisture to trigger drip irrigation

Smart farming sensors monitors the humidity and moisture level in the plant roots.  This data can help us to intelligent decisions like reducing the water quantity or not to water at all.

  • Monitoring the ph of growth medium

Smart Agriculture will monitor the ph of the growth medium much in advance so that it can be rectified rather than wait for post-mortem corrective actions.

  • Monitoring the nutrients in the growth medium

Instead of making intuitive and inexact decisions regarding what fertiliser to use and how much, applying IOT in agriculture ensures that accurate Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium levels are monitored and maintained.

Smart Agriculture is the Future!

Applying Data analytics to our kitchen farms will revolutionise agriculture. Farming will not be the same again with powerful data analytics capabilities and predictive algorithms. The future is here.

What is Internet of Things (IoT)?

Internet of Things (IoT) is an ecosystem of connected physical objects that are accessible through the internet. The ‘thing’ in IoT could be a person with a heart monitor or an automobile with built-in-sensors, i.e. objects that have been assigned an IP address and can collect and transfer data over a network without manual assistance or intervention. The embedded technology in the objects helps them to interact with internal states or the external environment, which in turn affects the decisions taken.

IOT enables devices/objects to observe, identify and understand a situation or the surroundings without being dependent on humans. By gathering and processing vast amounts of data its possible to quantify and analyse all manner of things that was once done intuitive and inexact.

What is the scope of IoT?

Internet of Things can connect devices embedded in various systems to the internet. When devices/objects can represent themselves digitally, they can be controlled from anywhere. The connectivity then helps us capture more data from more places, ensuring more ways of increasing efficiency and improving safety and IoT security.

IoT is a transformational force that can help companies improve performance through IoT analytics and IoT Security to deliver better results. Businesses in the utilities, oil & gas, insurance, manufacturing, transportation, infrastructure and retail sectors can reap the benefits of IoT by making more informed decisions, aided by the torrent of interactional and transactional data at their disposal.

How can IoT help?

IoT platforms can help organizations reduce cost through improved process efficiency, asset utilization and productivity. With improved tracking of devices/objects using sensors and connectivity, they can benefit from real-time insights and analytics, which would help them make smarter decisions. The growth and convergence of data, processes and things on the internet would make such connections more relevant and important, creating more opportunities for people, businesses and industries.

A few applications of IOT are given below.

  • Cainthus, an Irish company is using IOT to boost productivity. It uses camera in barns to track cows in barns and fields relying on machine learning to analyse the images and to alert farmers if the cow is not feeding or moving as it should be.
  • An Austrian firm has developed a sensor that could be swallowed, it lodges in the stomach of the cow, monitoring the body temperature, movement and stomach acidity, uploading results when the cow is near a metal detector ensuring that early detection can reduce the use of antibiotics.
  • Customers of Ping An, a Chinese insurer, can use the firms face recognition software when registering accounts. One of the datapoints extracted from the face is a person’s body -fat percentage that is fed into the algorithms that calculates their life insurance premium.
  • Beam, an American Dental Insurance firm supplies policy holders with internet connected smart toothbrushes. Diligent brushes can save 15% on their premium.
  • Siemens uses an app called comfy that allows the workers to adjust temperature and light levels in their offices with their phones. Over time the system will learn the preferences of the individual workers and automatically warm and light their offices.
  • Smart homes in which consumers can use voice activated window binds and mattresses that track heart rate and sleep patterns.
  • Pampers has come up with Lumi, a sensor clipped to dispensable nappies and sends smartphone alerts to parents about diaper change.

Spinach does give you superpowers ! See what I found on the net .

Recently a critical discovery about how bacteria feed on an unusual sugar molecule found in leafy green vegetables could hold the key to explaining how ‘good’ bacteria protect our gut and promote health. Researchers from Melbourne and the UK identified a previously unknown enzyme used by bacteria, fungi and other organisms to feed on the unusual but abundant sugar sulfoquinovose — SQ for short — found in green vegetables. Each year, leafy green vegetables — such as spinach — produce the sugar on an enormous scale globally, comparable to the world’s total annual iron ore production. Bacteria in the gut, such as crucial protective strains of E. coli, use SQ as a source of energy. E. coli provides a protective barrier that prevents growth and colonisation by bad bacteria, because the good bugs are taking up all the habitable real estate,” Dr Goddard-Borger said.”E. coli is a key bacterial coloniser needed by our gut. We speculate that consumption of this specific molecule within leafy greens will prove to be an important factor in improving and maintaining healthy gut bacteria and good digestive health.”

A few years ago a talk by an endocrinologist from Amrita Hospital told us how the traditional Indian Ayurveda practices had applied the principles of good gut bacteria a few centuries ago. Practices such as imbibing herbal medicines , of drinking butter milk after every meal and vegetarian dietary habits with high amount of leaves was how our ancestors were able to lead healthy lives. Gut bacteria had a role to play in our Metabolism, our immunity to cancer, diabetes and even our neurological state!

A survey by WHO says the average Keralite consumes 8gm of green leafy vegetables daily whereas the required is 40gm daily. The onslaught of cancer and sedentary diseases in our state is a direct result of this low consumption. And we all know why. None of us actually farm and to buy green leafy vegetables that might have high pesticide content is not a very healthy option.

This is why we came up with VertiGrove , thirty plus plants consisting of spinach, palak, amarthus , in 4 square feet in your balcony will  help provide the magical superpowers we all need to live healthy ! And just in case you don’t know what do with it, try these recipes.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/embed?listType=playlist&list=PLDN8BtWTXNfvCrbKpp_XpL17H0-TE67m7[/embedyt]

Working as management representative in software industry has given me an insight into corporate goal setting and achieving the targets. One of the most important aspects of this is about setting a target that is s.m.a.r.t, Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timebound.  In order to achieve targets in software its important understand what are the relevant indicators of good health of the quality management system, also what that ideal values these indicators should have and more importantly if it’s under constant monitoring and if the deficiencies are corrected before damage .

Farming depends on  the most unpredictable factors. We developed VertiGrove  during the summer and ensured that the soil moisture  was measurable and  could be controlled but when it rained the increase in humidity meant that automatic irrigation had to be adjusted according to it.

This turned out to be a blessing  in disguise for us since then our team had to understand what were the relevant indicators of plant health ie, potting mix moisture, humidity, ph of the potting mix and water , EC of the potting mix and water , the NPK content and the micronutrients in the potting mix. The second task was to understand the optimum levels of the indicators and to measure the real time readings against this standard and  fortify the deficiency.

We are currently working on a system that will notify the client on the moisture and the nutrient  content  so that it is corrected immediately.  We believe that the urban farmer will definitely harvest a better yield if she is able to understand the science behind it.

Every June 5th we celebrate World environment day. Our environment defines our very existence and hence should get the highest priority in our lives. Today we collect together , conduct cleaning of our cities, create awareness of best practices of plastic recycling and we plant trees. But since our sustenance is at stake and shouldn’t we be doing consistent sustainable work in this area everyday? How can we live in peace knowing that our only planet is dying because of our irresponsibility and selfishness. Surely we need to put more efforts so that we can reverse this?
These questions bothered me as a student of chemistry and when I read up on global warming way back . As a mother I grew more and more frustrated that I could not contribute at all.

I knew that my small actions today would make or break the future generation and decide to include sustainable activities in my routine. Composting and nurturing a small backyard garden gave me a little peace of mind. Knowing that I was sorting at source, ie segregating kitchen waste from plastic at source and composting my waste changed my perception towards solid waste management. I realized as a homemaker I could make a difference in global warming with this simple exercise. Methane , which is 70 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a green house gas is produced when organic waste is thrown to landfills. Instead if we compost it at home we get manure to nurture a small backyard garden. Composting meant that I was fostering a miniature ecosystem in my backyard. A kingfisher, 2 minnas and an assortment of birds thronged my kitchen garden. Living in the middle of the city I felt I was making a small positive difference.

Sorting and segregating plastic at source at home became part of my kitchen work. Cleaning milk covers , fish and meat wrappers and hanging them to dry near my sink became a habit. Clean plastic didn’t smell bad. Dry plastic didn’t attract flies. It was just another raw material for another process to make another product.

Talking about composting and the relevance of eating green leafy vegetables and sharing good practices of recycling in schools and residential areas came next. Holding collection drives in schools highlighted the fact that with a little care and attention we as a nation can dream of a more environment conscious society. Then we can really earn the right to live in this beautiful blue magical planet.

Growing up in the ‘80s a backyard garden was apart of me. Orchards with fruit trees, a vegetable patch and paddy fields came with all houses in my village. So when we renovated our house in Kochi I wanted a small backyard garden. There was no sunlight in the small backyard I had wedged in between houses so I thought why not try the balcony! I had some terrace area too so we set up 30 grow bags in a space of 200 square feet on the terrace.

It looked good initially but then I encountered a few problems. The first came from my ten year old.

That patch of terrace was his football field and he couldn’t practice his moves there among the grow bags. Living in the city every square feet of space was accounted for!

2 Months into my terrace farming juncture I noticed that the waterproofing was inadequate.

When the yield was low I realized that the sunlight was very low on my side of the terrace. Tracing the sun was impossible and I had to make do with the little sunlight!

Watering the garden seemed fun for the first few weeks but then when I had to go away for a few days I was aghast to find all my plants dead.

Too much of water also proved bad. The monsoon completely killed my garden and the terrace was a mess.

As a child growing up in a village in Kerala in 1980’s with grandparents who were passionate farmers, there was always a lot happening in the backyard. You woke up to the sound of grandmother milking the cows; in harvesting season the entire village came together to work as one. The coconut harvesters were a favourite, shooting into the skies effortlessly. And the food that came from our backyard was delicious and wholesome, be it the brown rice, the eggs and thick milk that came from each household farm, the beans, spinach, drumsticks and the array of tubers that were home-grown.  Each household had its own orchard of mango, guava, cherry apples and mulberry. My happiest childhood memories were helping my grandparents tend to their farm, watering the plants, helping graze the cows, playing with the dog, and climbing the many trees.

The village was a community knit together by the common thread of working the land together. Pests, irrigation, fertilizers, labour issues and harvesting issues if any were churned out together.

Agriculture broke barriers of caste, religion and culture. My Christian grandmother worked side by side with Muslim and Hindu workers in paddy fields for years, as one family.  The familial ties were much stronger as the father, mother and children all tended to the same interest.

When the GYOF initiative started, I tried to recreate this experience for my children, and we invested in a small kitchen garden at first.  Setting up a backyard garden in one of the most urbane areas of Kochi was a revelation.  My aged in-laws, my spouse, our three kids and our maid fell in love with the vegetable garden. The dining room conversation was suddenly about farming techniques. In fact, the entire community around our house replicated our garden and there were smaller versions on terraces, balconies and tiny courtyards.  My neighbourhood womenfolk gathered around the garden with suggestions and enquiries.

In order to improve the yield from the garden and to counter our heavy rainy season, we decided to invest in a poly house – and that was another revelation!

As techies, we had no formal training in setting up a poly house unit. The poly house contractor set up the poly house without considering pre-requisites of sunlight, direction and area.  We struggled with finding the right seedlings suited for the poly house. (In spite of attending a lot of training programmes we were still not sure about the right potting mix).

The quantity and periodicity of Fertilizers to be applied was also vague.  Coming back after a day’s work sometimes we even forgot to water the plants.

Pests, both seen and unseen lurked in the poly house and the online research fell flat in this area.

In the midst of all this learning, we realised that most of our friends who had also dabbled in farming had given up due to the same challenges.  And that’s how we learned the hard way that amateur farming without proper guidance almost always leads to failure, that failure increases our dependence on pesticide-rich vegetables which in turn is linked to the rising incidence of cancer. Also, the lack of accessibility to fresh vegetables meant denying our young generation the right nutrition. So that made us even more determined to make GYOF a community-centric initiative.

A whole lot of learning.

To me, it was important to revive our respect for the soil, start taking pride in our land and set a good example for the future generation. But we had to first to educate ourselves.

We had to learn the correct way to construct Poly houses so that just the right amount of sunlight enters it and the temperature inside is made optimal.

We had to learn to how to manage the mundane tasks of fertigation, irrigation and pest control preventives so that it becomes a sustainable model that would suit our busy lifestyles.

Once we got the Poly house under control,  we had another challenge to deal with: Waste management. The general public has very little awareness of best practices of waste management, with both wet and dry waste dumped together which attracts flies, mosquitoes, stray dogs and rodents.  Add to this the onslaught of the monsoons and a whole spectrum of fevers sprout up in our land.  We realised that just the basic act of segregating food waste and plastic waste and composting food waste to get a fertilizer for a kitchen garden allowed us to bring in conservation into our homes.

Still learning, still growing…

We have a long way to go still but it has been an amazing ride so far. Our backgrounds and experience taught us that automation can transform unorganised sectors like construction, and raise control and productivity, so it made sense to apply that to the GYOF programme also and that is what we tried to do – we tried to transform backyard farming with technology.

As I look back on the GYOF story so far, two quotes come to mind:

Albert Einstein said, “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”

And, “Eat your food like your medicine else you will end up eating medicine like food”, Ratan Tata.

I couldn’t agree more!

Maya Varghese

Growing food in urban spaces is a natural step towards sustainability

Having a kitchen garden on my office rooftop is probably the best thing that has happened in my life. No matter how little space you have, growing your own food has many benefits, even if it means having a small pot of herbs on your kitchen window sill. If dipping your fingers into the earth seems too much of a stretch, this may help you change your mind.

1.You save space

Acres of forest are razed every year, and there is a constant battle between man and Nature. With the human population growing every second, the earth is heaving under pressure from our cities. Growing food in urban spaces, terraces and rooftops is a natural step towards sustainability.

2.Food is truly organic and fresh

Though groceries sold at organic stores should ideally be certified, in most cases they are sold on the basis of ‘trust’ with no formal certification. Growing your own vegetables can guarantee that you are truly eating organic. Also, since your produce is going straight from your garden to your frying pan, it couldn’t be fresher. And tastier.

3.Your carbon footprint shrinks

Most of the vegetables and fruits that we pick up from our city stores usually travel a long way from the farm — first to a wholesaler, then to a retailer’s warehouse and then to a retail store. Not to mention your car journey to the store from your home. Growing your own vegetables can considerably reduce this ugly carbon footprint.

4.You avoid wasteful packaging

“But I carry my own cloth shopping bag to the store!” you may say. To facilitate transportation, fresh produce is packaged in various materials like cardboard boxes, plastic sacks, plastic boxes, and a lot of other packaging material, depending on the nature of the item. Growing your own food can help avoid this mess.

5.It’s a fun family activity

Children of this generation are unaware of where their food comes from. Involving children and other family members in the maintenance of the garden makes it not only a fun family activity, but also educates the future generation more about where their food comes from.

6.You waste less food

Since you and your family members have put your heart and soul into the garden, and have seen how long it takes to grow, you instinctively tend to leave less uneaten food on your plate.

7.You support a mini ecosystem

Having a garden at home will start bringing in many beautiful winged visitors, like bees, butterflies and birds, which are essential for pollination and balancing the fragile ecosystem.

Having your own kitchen garden will also start building a community of friends and relatives who would like to visit your garden, providing more fodder for conversation.

8. It promotes composting and segregation

A good organic garden needs good organic compost. Though you can start by buying compost from a nursery the best way would be to segregate your garbage at home and compost your kitchen waste. It’s an amazing circle of life, where the food that you grow in your garden can be composted to nurture the very same garden.

9. You save money

Setting up your garden the first time may require you to spend a little on pots, mud, saplings and other material. But once your garden is set, over time, there is no major expenditure, and your harvest is your bonus. Fresh flowers and vegetables from your garden also make great gifts while visiting friends and family, so you save some money there too!

10. It’s good all-round: for the body, mind and soul

Growing your own food means you are eliminating a large chunk of pesticides and other dangerous chemicals from what you eat.

Also, working in your garden is great physical activity, along with being an effective stress-buster. It creates a strong sense of connection between you and nature.

– Aby