Terrace gardens are the soul of urban homes, and we got a design and home expert to explore this lush green world of organics.
Every Bengalurean who grew up in the verdant cantonment in the good ol’ days, remembers living in homes with ample yard space, and atleast a small kitchen garden. My favourite memory of my ancestral home was accompanying my great grandmother to the backyard, harvesting beans and gourds from the trellis, and hurriedly plucking curry leaves from the tree for tempering.
Old Bangalore’s reputation as a Garden City may have taken a beating in the past few years, what with rapid urbanisation and deforestation. However, a growing resurgence of interest and public awareness is now leading to a small-scale green revolution led by eco-conscious urbanites wanting to enhance every bit of green space in our concrete jungle.
As awareness of the pitfalls of large scale farming practices increases, so also, does the ringing of alarm bells — Where is our food coming from? What goes into making our veggies grow, and how does the food we consume impact the environment?
The answer is to eat organic, both to decrease the amount of pesticides we consume, and to help protect the environment from toxic chemical overload. But organic foods can get a bit expensive. Luckily, organic terrace or balcony gardening is the way to grow your own delicious, fresh produce, while having fun and learning at the same time: Win, win!
Organic gardening means you won’t be using synthetic fertilisers or pesticides, but that doesn’t mean your plants are left to fend for themselves. An array of tools bolster plant health and ward off pests. Organic gardening also isn’t just about what you don’t do; it’s about trying to foster a more holistic and natural ecosystem.
While we can’t start growing our own rice or wheat, we can start small, even with just five pots. It is possible for us to have a company swoop in and set it up for us, or even do it ourselves with just a little time and effort on our own part.
There are many kinds of gardens one can plan. If space is an issue, then a vertical garden is the best solution. They are also visually pleasing, and can form a focus on a balcony or small terrace. These can be made with hanging pots, readymade vertical garden set-ups, or with recycled materials such as PVC pipes, soda bottles etc.
Square Foot Gardening is a concept where one plants a variety of plants in a small amount of space. You’ll have to put a little bit of money into constructing the raised beds and filling them with soil, but once you put in the work, the vegetable yield is consistent.
If one is tight on space, consider a windowsill garden. All one needs is a ledge wide enough to hold some pretty pots and adequate sunlight. Not only does this bring green into a home, it’s pretty convenient too, with absolutely fresh herbs and greens just an arms’ length away.
For those lucky to have adequate terrace or yard space, it may even be worth investing in a small greenhouse with racks to hold a number of containers, and because of the shade netting, one can be assured of controlled sunlight through the year. It’s also easy to set up a proper drip irrigation system here.
It’s best to start with the basics. Plants like tomatoes, chillies, beans, brinjals, herbs and leafy greens are very easy to grow, and don’t require much of a green thumb. Fruiting plants require more sunlight than green leafy ones, so the amount of sunlight your balcony or terrace garden gets daily will determine what you grow.
Similarly, the kind of vegetable will also decide the container used. Root vegetables like carrots, or beets will need deeper troughs, as do tomatoes and the like. Greens and herbs can be planted in shallower containers. Apart from pots, anything food-grade can be recycled into doing double duty as a plant holder, from cut PET bottles and tetrapacks, to wooden troughs, and treated grow bags.
Each container needs to have adequate drainage holes, to prevent root rot from waterlogging. They should be filled three quarters with organic compost mix, with a loose substrate at the bottom.
Fill each container three-quarters with organic container mix. If you are planting from a seed, plant the seed according to the instructions on the packet. A good rule of thumb is to plant a seed twice as deep as its diameter. Plant multiple seeds per container. If you are planting seedlings, dig a hole twice as large as the plant’s roots. Place the roots in the soil, then cover with container mix and a handful of compost.
Compost is best made from household wet waste in home composting bins, many kinds of which are available, from terracotta ones at the Daily Dump to plastic bucket bins from Ecobin. It’s a learning experience in itself, but one which ensures that your garden receives nothing but the best nutrients.
Fertilise the containers every month or so. Most potting mixes have enough fertiliser in them to feed your plants for up to two months. You can dig a small amount of compost into the container soil or use a commercially available, organic fertiliser.
Water each container to thoroughly soak its soil after planting. Container-grown plants dry out more quickly than in-ground plants, so you might need to water daily. To avoid this problem, and to minimise water wastage in these dry times, it’s best to install a drip irrigation system that delivers water directly to the roots.
Homemaker Aparna George started her gardening journey when she started composting at home to manage and reduce garbage. Once she had this rich and lovely compost, she bought a few pots and started growing her first veggies. Five pots became 10, and soon the terrace was taken over by the kitchen garden. She did face issues — from ensuring that her terrace was properly waterproofed, to learning to manage pests, even squirrels and monkeys! It took a few years to find the right balance of not using much pesticides, even if organic, and just learning to share with these creatures. “Once you get used to growing your own food, you question where the food we buy comes from — How is it produced and how it reaches you? Despite challenges, it is a heady feeling to control that process, and to pluck those fresh veggies and greens just before need arises in the kitchen. This was the biggest reason I have never looked back,” she says with justifiable pride. And that pride in truly enjoying the fruits of ones’ labours is what makes terrace gardens such a rewarding experience.
A whole divine yard
Srikant Kapuganti is an active member of the FB page Organic Terrace Gardening. Gardening for over four years, he also writes blogs to provide easy starting tips for gardening newbies. He shares some tips for a successful foray into the exciting and enriching foray into organic gardens.
Sowing: Plants such as tomatoes, chillies, peppers and brinjals should be sown into germination trays. Sow two to three seeds in each compartment, so that at least one germinates.
Transplanting: When you transplant a sapling into the final pot, place a handful of cow dung/ manure beforehand. This will give the plant an extra dose of nutrition. It is advised not to transplant root vegetables, like beet, radish, carrot, onions etc. These should be sown directly. Seeds like methi, coriander, palak and kale can be scattered in the pot itself.
Pests: The most common pests are aphids and mealy bugs. Use a jet of plain tap water to clean affected areas on the plant. If the problem persists, use a concoction of 20 ml neem oil + 1 litre water + 5 drops of dish washing liquid.
Nursery plants: One common complaint is that nursery-bought plants dry up and die fast. This is because chemical fertilisers are added to make plants/saplings “sell-able”. Over a period of one to two weeks, the efficacy of these chemicals reduces. It’s advisable to re-pot soon after buying. Removing old soil without disturbing roots, and adding organic compost helps improve plants’ life.
Drainage: Every pot used for growing veggies/flowers, needs proper drainage holes. Pots for succulents/cacti do not need it, only limited and controlled watering. Pots for orchids need more drainage holes.
Companion planting: This is a concept when two or more plants are growing in the same container and one complements the other. Grow 2-3 onion plants in the same pot along with a tomato, so that the strong smell of the onion leaves keeps pests away from the tomato plant. Adding a tulsi plant and/or a marigold helps in keeping pests away.
Space utilisation: Usually in a pot/container of size 12+ inches, 1 plant of either tomato, brinjal and chilly is grown. Since there is only a stem, the rest of the surface area is not used. One can grow quick growing methi or coriander here.
And the city’s trail...
Bengaluru has many resources for an aspiring green thumb. There are garden companies like My Dream Garden, Poorna Organics, etc. that set up your gardens, with all the containers and systems needed. They even send their own people for garden maintenance on contract basis, apart from guiding and handholding you through the whole process. Stores like Happy Healthy Me also hold regular workshops on organic terrace gardening. Social media groups like the eponymous Organic Terrace Gardening also prove to be a valuable resource and support group for likeminded gardeners.
Oota From your Thota is a gardening event that is held across Bengaluru, usually every quarter. Entry is free. For a newbie, this event is a one-stop-shop for all their gardening requirements, mainly seeds, saplings, potting mix, cocopeat, compost, various types of containers, etc; basically anything required for a garden.
— The writer is passionate about art and design, and wants to leave behind a beautiful planet for children. She runs her own interiors firm, Eclatliving.