World Environment Day 2023 is celebrated to promote environmental protection. Mumbaikar Chetan Soorenji through his efforts towards environmental protection has transformed his urban dwelling into a nature retreat
Chetan Soorenji with his passion fruit plant that has not only given him fruits but green roofing over his terrace
World Environment Day 2023 is bringing together people from all over the world to promote environmental protection for the current as well as future generations. With the receding green cover in the cities, the ways in which today’s generation is finding solace in nature has shifted from the backyard and the courtyards of houses to the city's outskirts. Ask anyone in the city what they do to get away from the cacophony of city traffic and the coldness of the concrete jungle, and the answer would lie in the lush green nature resorts outside the city limits. But for Chetan Soorenji, the answer lies in the nature retreat that he has created right at his home.
Vibrant birds sing in his courtyard, bees make honey on the terrace. Butterflies rest on the flowers that have bloomed in his backyard and passion fruits hang from the vines as his fruit of labour, providing a cool shade from the sun.
“The house gets very hot during the summers. Hence, we wanted to create a natural shading to bring the temperature down, and that’s when it all began”, shares Chetan as he takes us through his mini forest.
As soon as one steps into his house in Chembur, it’s hard to believe that you are within the city limits of Mumbai. The tall shoots of bamboo and sugarcane in his garden on the ground floor are unmissable. But what is even more fascinating are the holes in the bamboo shoots.
“These are done by the Carpenter bees”, he tells us.
A bamboo shoot with a hole carved by the Carpenter bees for nesting in Chetan's garden. Photo Courtesy/Manjeet Thakur
Harvesting honey at home
Soorenji is known to be a pioneer of beekeeping in the city. “We established the first bee box in the city in 2017. This bee box belongs to the species Cerana Indica.” Soorenji points out the white-coloured multi-layered bee box on his terrace that got him started with beekeeping at home.
While it currently lies abandoned by the bee colony, Soorenji still practices beekeeping of a different specie. “This is my second bee box and it houses the Trigona species of bee. These are stingless and act like natural pollinators as they pollinate almost every fruit and vegetable that is there in India. The honey made by the Trigona bee is known for its medicinal uses in Ayurveda and is even called a ‘miracle liquid’ by some. The pollen you see on their feet are the ones they have collected from the plants here”, tells Chetan.
Currently, Chetan's bee box houses the Trigona species of bee. Photo Courtesy/Manjeet Thakur
While most of us would go for ornamental flowers for our garden that look pretty, Chetan has grown flowers that would support a bee's pollination process. The Bakula tree, also called the Spanish Cherry, has been planted by Chetan keeping in mind the shelter for birds. The list of fruit plants in his mini forest includes Mulberry, Mango, Papaya, Orange Coconut, Jamun, Jackfruit, Rambutan, Cherries and many more.
The Passion fruit project
But the fruit that has given profound success to Chetan is Passion Fruit. This tropical fruit plant is the backbone of the green roofing system at Chetan’s house. Pointing out to the metal roofs near his building he explains, “Instead of having metal roofs like those for shading your terrace, we all can have a system like this where Passion Fruit creepers form a green canopy on top of your roof. Not only is it good for air quality but also great for bringing house temperature down. Also, it invites a lot of biodiversity in the garden”, says Chetan.
The passion fruit tree not only provides Chetan with fruits but green roofing over his terrace. Photo Courtesy/Manjeet Thakur
Even for irrigating the Passion Fruit plants, Chetan uses an age-old method of irrigation where a clay pot filled with water automatically becomes the source of water for the roots of the plants to extract water.
As we look above at the creepers emerging from the saplings of the Passion Fruits, our eyes can't help but notice fresh and juicy Passion Fruit calling for attention. These are fruits of labour grown and consumed sustainably from start to end. “After consuming the Passion Fruit, we make a bio enzyme from the Passion Fruit peels that acts as a natural cleaning agent”, he explains.
Composting kitchen waste
Not only Passion Fruit peels are turned into bio enzymes but all the organic kitchen waste is composted in a special composting bin. While most of the coconut shells at his house are dried and used for composting, a few are even used for potting plants.
The composting pit at Chetan's home in which organic kitchen waste is composted. Photo Courtesy/Manjeet Thakur
The rainwater harvesting system
The initiatives taken by him are not only benefitting Chetan and his family but his entire neighbourhood. The rainwater harvesting system installed by him at his home recharges the groundwater and benefits the entire area he is living in.
Chetan’s home is a nature wonderland indeed - that has become a mini sanctuary sharing gifts with the entire ecosystem. Only if perhaps we all could make our home a little greener, each house might have its own nature retreat.
In case you are wondering how to celebrate world environment day 2023, Soorenji has a suggestion. “Try planting atleast one native tree at your home and it will be the best thing you can do in your lifetime” he concludes.