Rising vegetable prices and increasing incidence of diseases resulting from consumption of vegetables with pesticide residues continue to be major worries for city dwellers. Not so for husband and wife, Sreekumar and Gayatri Sreekumar, who've been growing vegetables and rearing poultry on their terrace for the past 25 years.
Law is their profession but terrace farming is a passion for this couple. Their 750-square feet terrace at Vanchiyoor is a typical model for self-reliance in food production. Every inch of the terrace has been utilised in one way or another. The duo grow about 50 varieties of vegetables such as lemon, cabbage, three types of tomatoes, four types of Amaranthus, clove beans, mint, black nightshade (Manathakkali), bitter gourd, coccinea, okra, chillies, cowpea, cluster beans, flat beans, winged beans, and curry leaf tree, to name a few. It is all grown in garden pots filled with soil. They grow papaya, moringa, jackfruit and mango trees in their backyard and they grow tuber crops in shade-filled areas near their compound wall.
“I believe that each of us has an obligation to participate in food production, whether we live in the city or in a village. Even if one spends just half an hour daily on farming activities, we could produce vegetable, eggs and meat required for a small family,” says Sreekumar.
Irrigating the farm
He has added water-proof coating on his terrace, and irrigates his plants either by drip irrigation or by hose irrigation, depending on the season.
One portion of the terrace has been given a fibre glass roof and is set apart for rearing poultry and Japanese quail (Kada). They rear 10 hens and 30 quails in a batch. They also cultivate Azolla in tarpaulin ponds on the terrace to feet the birds. Upto 2.5 kg of harvested daily.
And nothing goes to waste. Bird droppings are used as manure for the plants. Garden waste is converted to vermicompost, which Sreekumar says is a good organic manure.
Vermi wash, the liquid extract of vermicompost, is used as a growth tonic. Kitchen waste too is put to good use. “We have installed a fibre glass biogas plant on the terrace to convert all kitchen waste to biogas. Around 2.5 kg waste is sufficient to produce biogas enough for the cooking needs of our family of four. A solar heater system has also been installed on the terrace. It can store 500 litres of hot water at a time,” says Gayathri Sreekumar.
Like elsewhere, terrace gardens too come under pest attack. Instead of using harmful pesticides, the couple have a hands-on-approach to tackling pests – they physically look through each and every plant and pick the pests off them! They do, however, use botanical pesticides. They also re-pot once a year and alter vegetables crops in each season.
“We can produce almost all the vegetables needed for daily use on our terrace. It is only some vegetables such as carrot and beetroot that we need to purchase. Our produce, including eggs, is completely organic. Whatever is produced in excess, we distribute among neighbours and friends. Many of them have got inspired by our terrace farm and started terrace farming on their own. I am 52 years old and terrace farming has helped me a lot in maintaining a disease-free life. Besides, it cuts down on monthly food expenses too,” says Sreekumar.
In the age of urbanisation, the concept of urban farming is gaining more and more importance. Every house has the capacity to be self-reliant, if we realise it.