My name is Lutfun Hussein. I started here in 1999 as a volunteer and began working as the Healthy Eating Coordinator in 2000, originally it was called Ethnic Minority Support Worker. I work with the Coriander Club, which is a gardening club. People come and help me with gardening, planting seeds, whatever I need. I teach people how to garden. Every month I also run healthy cooking workshops. In my register there are 27 women. I give them some fresh vegetables that they can share with their families.
I came to this country from Bangladesh in 1969. In that time you couldn’t find fresh Bangladeshi vegetables. I missed the taste of the fresh food we used to eat: kodu, lablab, amaranth. I tried at home to grow some but I wasn’t successful because of the weather. In the first year all the plants died. I tried again and again. The weather is different in Bangladesh. This is the way I learnt. With the weather.
There are many of types of kodu. You need to know which one you are growing, which one is good. Same with beans and amaranth. If you keep your seed, you know which kinds of seed you kept. It’s organic. You know it’s good seed. If you buy in the shop you don’t know how old it is, and how quickly it will germinate. My seed germinates quickly.
I feel healthy. I enjoy growing and cooking. Other people enjoy when I share with them. When people appreciate what I do, it inspires me to grow more. I take part in many growing competitions, and I have won lots of trophies and certificates. I feel happy and proud.
The vegetables we eat are connected to our culture. I love Bangladesh and I feel proud when I grow my country’s vegetables. When the community sees the vegetables from Bangladesh growing here they show their children and feel proud. Even people from other cultures appreciate it, and ask me how to grow and cook. I feel a connection to the village where I grew up when I see these vegetables freshly cut. I am proud that I am the first to grow these vegetables from Bangladesh successfully in London, and it gives me good memories.
This is my seed. I have saved it here every year for the last 17 years.
You have to know the timetable properly if you want to be successful. Kodu seed is difficult to germinate. At the farm I use a propagator to germinate, but at home I don’t use a propagator. At home, end of March, I start planting seeds in a pot. I put it on top of the boiler where it is warm. When the seeds start to germinate, I put the pot on the window. If you leave it on top of the boiler too long, the plant will grow too big and it won’t survive. When it first starts to germinate put it in a sunny window. You can start with a few seeds in one pot, but when they germinate you need to separate each seedling into a separate larger pot. Keep them inside for April-May. End of May, beginning of June, after the frost, put them outside. Plant the kodu in new organic compost or manure. Don’t plant too many, as they need space. Give the plants support with sticks, then make a macha – a trellis structure for the plant can climb up. Water it regularly.
You need to hand pollinate the flower to get the kodu fruit. Wait till the male flower is open, which is in the early morning or evening. The male is the flower with no fruit behind it. Peel the petals off the male flower to expose the part that looks like a cotton bud covered in pollen. Gently rub this onto the female flower, which has a fruit growing behind it.
When the kodu vegetable is young we peel it, chop it and cook it with vegetable curry, fish curry or meat curry. The Bangladeshi people harvest the young leaves and stem, which you have to peel. We use it like spinach. Wash it, chop it, put it in the curry or stir fry with garlic and onion, and not too many spices. Add green chili and salt and eat with plain rice.
Keep the first fruit for seed. You need to mature the seed. The seed from the first fruit can produce good quality and many fruit. In November cut the fruit from the plant and remove the rest of the plant. Let the fruit mature till January. Then take the seed out, clean it with a sieve. Dry it somewhere warm, but not too hot, like on top of the boiler.
First time I tried to grow it here it didn’t work. The Bangladeshi beans don’t produce fruit here because of the weather. But one of my club members has family in America, and she brought the seeds for lablab beans 6 years ago. This is the beans that I succeeded growing here. It’s the same bean but adapted to the climate.
Beans are easy to germinate. Plant them the second week of May inside or in a greenhouse. Look after them for three weeks inside your home. In the first week of June, when there is no chance of frost, put them in the ground in fresh compost or manure. You have to be patient, otherwise the plant can die if there is frost. Give them support, with long sticks to climb up. Water regularly. At the farm I don’t use any chemicals, I just fertilise with farm organic manure or compost. At home, when the flowers come, you can use some plant food.
I make a curry with fish and spices, and serve it with rice. Fry onion and garlic in oil, then fry mixed spices, add a little bit of water to make a paste. Cook the fish and take it our once it’s done. Then add the beans till they’re cooked. Add a bit of water. Then add the cooked fish. Boil for 5 minutes. Add chili. Garnish with coriander. Serve with rice.
Black fly like beans. Use a hosepipe to wash them off properly. But lablab beans are usually ok.