As we continue to squeeze into crunched city spaces and our balconies, that once bloomed with beautiful flowers, become even smaller, urban farmers and gardeners are finding newer ways to keep green patches alive.
And while most urban farmers have caught up to the concept of terrace or rooftop gardening only in the last few years, one Chennai farmer learned (through trial and error) how to transform her terrace into a beautiful green patch almost ten years ago.
Today Subashree Vijay’s terrace garden boasts of a variety of organically grown vegetables, flowers, fruits and above all, over 250 species of medicinal plants reports the Times of India.
Source: Facebook/Subashree Vijay
Subashree who always loved gardening had ample space back in her hometown, Madurai. But after she shifted to a Chennai apartment, a few years ago, she was faced with a constant struggle to keep up gardening on her balcony.
It wasn’t until she moved into an independent house ten years ago that she decided to take on terrace gardening. The concept was relatively new back then, and she was one among the handful urban farmers who decided to practice the model with hardly any information available on best terrace gardening practices. Besides the costs of setting up and maintaining them were high too. But that did not deter her.
Today, the physics graduate grows bitter gourd, ladies finger, varieties of brinjal, ridge gourd, cowpeas, eight varieties of chillies, lemon, banana, papaya, guava, avocado and mulberry. She also grows about 13 varieties of spinach — manathakkali keerai, sakkaravathi keerai, thandu keerai, siru keerai, etc.
What she is most well known for are the 250 varieties of herbal or medicinal plants she nurtures in her nursery. From herbs to treat eye-related ailments (nethrapoondu) to herbs used traditionally to set broken bones, she not only grows them but also teaches people to make simple remedies out of these, she tells The New Indian Express.
Among these, about 150 medicinal plants are commercially in great demand.
“Even the horticulture department refers people who approach them for herbs to contact me,” Subashree told TOI proudly.
She also uses a mixture called Panchakaviyam (made out of cow’s urine, buttermilk, ghee and milk fermented over 21 days) or diluted sour buttermilk to prevent leaves from browning. These also act as growth stimulants.
It’s better to water plants in the evenings as water retention is longer.
“A decade ago, the cost of setting up a terrace garden was very high, and not many could afford it. But now it has become an inexpensive hobby, and there are more than 1,000 people nurturing terrace gardens in the city,” she told TOI.
She explains how more and more complexes are coming together to make terrace gardens a community initiative today. So, if you think space is a problem, you needn’t worry.
Here’s all you need to know about rooftop gardening in a 500 sq ft space:
- A 500 sq ft terrace garden can be set up with an initial investment of Rs 10,000- 15,000. This includes the cost of fertilisers which can be alternated with homemade compost.
- Within this space, one can grow a dozen vegetables, about five different flowers and the same number of medicinal plants.
- The best time to start a terrace garden is in January and July.
- You can grow okra, tomatoes, cluster beans and all types of greens, among the faster growing varieties, which can be harvested from the fifth week or creepers like snake gourd, bitter gourd, flat beans etc. which take time to grow.
- The labour of love requires daily watering and occasional spraying of pesticides. Water the plants in the evening.
- Periodically, every ten days, spray organic pesticide made from 50g neem cake soaked in 10 litres of water or turmeric powder mixed with ground neem leaves.
- Remove weeds and prune the branches.
- Use growth stimulants made from of coconut milk and buttermilk fermented for a week and then diluted before spraying. (Dilute 10ml of the mixture in one litre of water).
- To avoid wastage of water, use water-retentive coco pith instead of soil. It reduces the water use to the extent that even in hot summers, the plants will only need to be watered once a day
(Edited By Vinayak Hegde)