Maya, a landscape architect:A good balcony garden involves planning. Before you move into a house, ensure that you balcony is shielded from wind. It can harm the plants. But there should be sunshine and availability of water. Also, plan a proper drainage system. Otherwise, the water can leak into your neighbour’s space.
P. Vincent, organic farmer: Gardening should serve two purposes: reduce and recycle waste. Use kitchen wastes, microbes and fumic acid as manure. Also, prepare your growing media with vermin compost and coir pith. These loosen the roots, allowing them to penetrate deep into the soil.
Priya Menon, inefficient gardener: My friends gifted me with three plants as a birthday gift last year. I do not have a green thumb and I thought the plants would perish. Surprisingly, they survived and all I did was water them every morning. But I must confess every time I make a trip from the balcony to the kitchen with basil for my salad, mint for my chutney or curry leaves for tempering, it is not without considerable pride.
When things do not grow
Chitra Krishnaswami is a consummate terrace gardener who conducts gardening workshops. Here, she answers questions put to her by an enthusiastic but crestfallen gardener, Nandakumar Ganesh, whose plants refused to grow.
Nandakumar: My plants were infected with white insects. I applied turmeric powder but it did not work. I had to take them all off the pots.
Chitra: Turmeric is used to avoid ants. It does not act against pests.
N: I mixed mud and sand to prepare my growing media. Should I have mixed something else?
C: Sand is heavy and does not retain water. But, coir pith is light and holds moisture. The ideal growing media is prepared from coir pith, red soil and organic compost.
N: Is manure necessary?
C: Manure is necessary. However, one handful, per week, is enough for one plant. Do not over-feed the plant; it can die. Use agro-waste, made out of cow dung, mixed with earthworms. Panchagavya (cow’s milk and urine, cow dung, ghee, curd, jaggery, banana...) and kitchen wastes such as vegetable, fruit peels and egg shells are also excellent manure.
N: Is it necessary to water plants twice a day?
C: Once is enough. You should pour small quantities of water for kothamalli and curry leaves. When the leaves are small and tender, you should just sprinkle water on them. When they grow big, you can use more water. Pour the water at an angle, without hurting the plant.
N: Is it all right to keep plants in direct sunlight?
C: No, what you did was right. Plants need direct sunlight. Small herbs need sunlight for four to five hours. A bigger plant has to get sunlight for at least six to seven hours.
N: How do I prevent insects from infecting the plants?
C: Panchagavya spray is helpful. Garlic and ginger paste is an organic pesticide. Grind ginger and garlic and dilute the paste with water. Keep overnight. Strain it the next day and spray on the plants. You can also boil tobacco, keep it overnight, strain and spray on the plant. It is better to spray in the morning as the pesticide along with the heat will kill pests. Neem oil is also a good, natural pesticide.
Use plant gel. It absorbs water and retains soil moisture.
Water timers alert you to water the plants or do so automatically.
Leaves and twigs covering the top soil will prevent water from evaporating.
They will also turn into manure and enrich the soil.Protect your balcony garden from wind, too much sun and rain.
Cover your balcony with bamboo shades (available near Poo Market), rattan screens, metal frames and green garden nettings (available on Mill Road).