Manikandan, a 33-year-old software engineer has just quit his job to become a full-time urban agriculturist. He doesn’t have a garden; he grows veggies in pots and drums on his terrace! Many home gardening enthusiasts religiously follow his blog where he’s known only as ‘Geekgardener’. He never buys tomatoes for his rasam. His terrace garden provides it. And once, when he had a bumper crop of 48 kg of cucumber, he gave them to friends, family, and then sold what was left to a nearby supermarket!
Setting aside their apprehensions about space and time, many people are turning to kitchen gardening, joining the world movement towards urban farming. The idea is to be self-sufficient by growing at least some vegetables, and of course basking in the joy of having grown something from start.
It’s not such a radical new concept. Most traditional homes in India have always had a small kitchen garden in the backyard, points out B. Narayan Viswanath, regarded as the pioneer of organic terrace gardening. He’s the president of Bangalore’s Garden City Farmers (GCF), a trust that promotes growing your own food and creating a healthy ecosystem. Four times a year, GCF conducts “Oota From Your Thota” (OFYT), an effort to bring all gardening resources together at a fair.
“Bangalore was called the Garden City not because of Cubbon Park or Lal Bagh. It was because every home had a garden or two — an ornamental garden in the front, and a kitchen garden in the back,” says Viswanath. As land prices went up in the city, people built up on every inch available, leaving no space for a garden; apartments took over. With the skyline rising, the garden too had to hit the roof. He gives an idea of the swelling numbers of urban farmers in Bangalore: “I’ve trained over 8,000 people since 1995 in urban farming. Our facebook group currently has over 750 members from Bangalore alone… Awareness about food-related health problems has increased. Many couples have started community farming, some are weekend farmers who’ve bought small plots of land to grow vegetables.”
Aparna George, 36, a mum of two, started off three years ago with composting kitchen waste in her home. “It opens your eyes to a whole lot of other things. It ties up with other initiatives like using solar power, installing rain water harvesting – all aimed at sustainability. I became health and nutrition conscious; you talk to people in the field and realise how much chemical is there in your food.” Aparna, who’s put down her experiences in her blog www.apster.blogspot.in, started off with five pots of brinjal and tomatoes, and now has a terrace full of veggies. “I have been able to grow, beans, tomatoes, various gourds, herbs, curry leaves, strawberries, lime, guava…,” she rattles off. She has leased out a plot of land to grow okra, radish, and beetroot. “I aim at going there at least once a week. I spend about half-an-hour watering my terrace garden each day, and a half-an-hour looking for pests, which is the largest challenge with going organic,” she says. Manikandan’s step-by-step tutorials with pictures depicting seedling-to-vegetable growth find lots of takers. He points out that most people are scared of making mistakes, and so don’t even start gardening! “It’s okay to fail.” He’s grown everything from beans and lettuce, to zucchini and strawberries. It’s best to start of with something easy like spinach, tomatoes and move on to growing others that are “efficient” to grow. It’s also a good idea to grow things you want fresh, like coriander. “I see my garden as a big refrigerator,” says Manikandan, who’s set up an online store called Garden Guru and is now a consultant helping homes and organisations start their own garden. He has also grown vegetables using hydroponics (growing plants without soil, only in water) and uses a drip irrigation system so that you can travel and not worry about plants dying. “My attitude is ‘If I can do it, why can’t you?’ You can grow anything on a terrace.”
It’s best to start off with something easy like spinach, tomatoes and move on to growing others that are “efficient” to grow