Here I was merrily plucking tomatoes from my garden as and when i needed them in the kitchen, till S – our domestic help - told me that she had just bought it for 40 rupees a kilo in Russell Market?! FORTY?! I resolved to tend to my garden with greater care and gratitude!
'The garden' has always been integral to my growing years and it was only a matter of time before I started my own. So, ever since we moved to our place earlier this year, I experimented with various methods in the endeavour to make my garden as 'organic' as possible. It is another matter that a book I read recently about the Rodale Organic Farm (pioneers in organic farming) categorically states that growing plants in the restricted environment of a container cannot be considered truly organic. A trifle disappointing yes, but I would still like to believe that given today's scenario where the majority of us have little choice but to live in apartments up in the air, our container gardens can most certainly approximate organic gardening.
My east facing terrace is about 900 sq ft large and gets sunlight through the day. Some of you may have smaller terraces or just miniscule balconies. As long as you can accommodate a few pots you can get started with container gardening. It is ideal if the plants get atleast 4-6 hours of sunlight a day. Vegetables and fruits can do with and need direct sunlight whereas medicinal plants need a little shade so a slight covering with the nursery nets is useful. If you are thinking of putting soil on the terrace, then ensure waterproofing is done first.
If you are trying to raise bigger plants, plant them to the west so that they do not cut out the light for the smaller plants.
In April this year, I attended a day-long workshop on urban organic terrace gardening by Dr B N Viswanath (a retired Botany professor from UAS), hosted by the AME (Agriculture, Man, Ecology) Foundation. It offered us participants just the right balance of critical primary information and basic techniques, urging us to first start and then get back, if ever required, for any help! For those interested, these workshops are conducted regularly by Dr Viswanath. He has also written a book that's ideal for beginners - A Handbook of Organic Terrace Gardening.
Following the workshop, it took me the better part of a month to get my ingredients together. I went pot-shopping to Pottery Town (beyond Cantonment Station), seed shopping to Gandhi Nagar (near Sapna Book House), manure shopping to Green Channel and bought potting mix/soil at the APD Nursery. I could have settled for the local nurseries but like I said, I am keen to keep the garden 'organic' in all possible respects. My able composter – kambha - from DailyDump, also offers me unstinted support!
So far I have planted beans, carrots, spinach, bhindi, tomatoes, sapota, drumstick, pudina (mint), dantu soppu (amaranthus), green chillies, curry leaf and coriander. Our garden also includes a small set of medicinal plants, some of which I had picked up from FRLHT – aloe vera, omum, tulsi, hibiscus, adsoge, jasmine, amruthavalli. I use these mainly for my daughter's cold-cough episodes and to flavour our tea but I hope to soon enhance my understanding of these herbs and their use in daily cooking.
More recently, I decided to experiment with Dr RT Doshi's city farming technique (initiated at Mumbai) that uses bagasse and old cement poly woven bags or plastic drums. The sugarcane-wallah near Coles Park was shocked when I told him I would relieve him of the day's 'waste'!!! In the last 2-3 months that I have used this for my drumstick and sapota plants, I find that bagasse retains moisture and the amount of water required by the plants is therefore reduced.
My garden has also seen its share of pests which have been dealt with using home-made pesticides, as suggested by Dr Viswanath. For instance, blend 50g of garlic/ginger/green chilli/onion (any 3) and mix it in 150ml of water; then make a solution adding 350 ml more of water. Filter this and dilute it to 1 litre. Pour in a spray bottle and use on plants, as necessary. Similarly, sprinkling turmeric powder or red chilli powder works well to keep away ants.
Of course, my efforts are still at the elementary stage but I dream of the day when my garden will fulfil most of our eating and medicinal needs, while also actively contributing to a cleaner environment – more compost, less pollution. ⊕
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