Want to grow your own veggies but don’t know how to begin? Dr. Viswanath, the pioneer of terrace gardening in India, will tell you all you need to know. The right mix of the soil, what veggies to grow and how to take care of them – here is your guide to a lush green urban terrace garden.
“These are ready to be plucked too,” Dr. Viswanath Kadur plucked fresh red tomatoes as he talked about his lush green terrace garden. “Treat the plants like your babies and they will give you amazing returns,” he further adds, as I stand there appreciating his amazing garden which has several varieties of veggies.
If there is one urban terrace gardener who knows the secrets behind a healthy organic terrace garden, it is Dr. Kadur. An Entomologist by profession, he went to the USA to pursue a course in film production and started making agriculture films and documentaries when he returned to India.
But it was a delay in the landing of his flight that made him a pioneer and a go-to name when it comes to urban terrace gardening.
“For some reason we were not able to land on time and were flying over the city. That’s when I saw the rooftops of houses and thought about the rising temperature of Bangalore city. The idea came to me that if these open rooftops could be covered, it could help to reduce the temperature, and that is why I thought about bringing terrace gardening into the picture,” he says.
The family’s experience of kitchen gardening came in handy and he started growing veggies on his own terrace. “Earlier in Bangalore, every house had a kitchen garden in the backyard. That culture got lost somewhere. I wanted to bring it back by recreating the garden on the terrace,” he says.
He thought of putting his experience and knowledge to use and started organizing workshops on terrace gardening in 1995. “Though we charged a fee, the response was great. We got over 100 people for the first workshop itself, which gave us the confidence that people are interested in this,” he recalls. Today Kadur and his team of urban gardeners, which include Laxminarayan Srinivasaiah and Dr. Rajendra, organize an urban terrace gardening workshop every month.
They also started a Facebook group to bring all interested people together. The group which started with just 9 members now has over 23,000 members from across the globe.
“When it comes to terrace gardening, many people are interested but they don’t know how to start and where to get the resources. Seeds are available at one place while saplings have to be purchased from another place – it is a lot of work. To solve this, we started a mela called Oota from your Thota (OFYT),” he says.
OFYT is organized once in every three months and brings together all the necessary equipment and resources for terrace gardening under one roof. From seeds to pots and soil, the little market has everything to offer.
In case you are a first timer and do not know how to grow your own veggies, here is your guide to get a healthy organic terrace garden –
“It is very easy. We the human species can naturally relate to plants, we live among them. So there is nothing major to teach or learn. You just show lots of care and you will get the return,” says Dr. Kadur.
1. Getting started – Get the right space
If a house is built as per the books and in the right way, anything can be grown on the terrace and it can take the weight of even bigger trees. You can also cover the entire surface with soil to make a lawn and experiment with it. In case you are covering the surface of the terrace with soil, make sure you water proof the surface to avoid any leakage into the home. If you are going for a regular terrace garden with pots, there are no extra efforts required.
2. How to get the right soil which is rich in nutrients
The right type of soil is very important as the nutrients decide the growth of the plant. The right mix of soil requires regular soil, compost coir peat (or sand) and vermicompost in equal quantities. “After the heavy rains make sure you add essential nutrients back to the soil as water tends to wash them away. You can add compost every week or so to make sure the soil has enough nutrition,” Dr. Kadur says.
3. First time gardener? This should be your first step
If it is your first take at gardening, you can start with a small pot and single vegetable and than gradually expand to other veggies. Plants like tomatoes and chillies are easier to grow and do not require much care, so you can start with those. “You have to be very patient. It will take a couple of months to start giving results so you should not give up and keep taking care of the plant,” Dr. Kadur says.
4. What all can you grow on a terrace garden?
“Everything!” says Dr. Kadur. French beans, chillies, tomatoes, brinjal, okra and lime are easier to grow. You can also try cucumber, ridge gourd and bottle gourd. Root vegetables like potatoes, onion, radish, carrots, groundnuts can also be grown but they require a larger area.
Apart from these veggies you can also grow fruit bearing trees like guava, banana, etc. “I had seen a coconut tree on a terrace garden. If one can grow that, one can grow anything here,” Dr. Kadur says. He advises against growing a mango tree on the terrace as it requires a lot of effort. “Though mango can be grown, but it requires immense care and effort, which might be a bit difficult for urban gardeners,” he says.
5. Other important things to keep in mind
Watering regularly is a must. In summers, your garden requires watering twice a day. In winters you can just press the soil with the back of your hand to check the moisture and water accordingly. “I would advise not to water the garden in rains and even one day after the rain as excess water drains all the nutrition away from the soil,” Dr. Kadur says.
Another important thing is enough sunlight. The terrace garden should receive at least four to six hours of direct sunlight, and in areas where the sun is too harsh, people can use a shade to prevent the plants from getting scorched.
Dr. Kadur advises people not to use portable water and do their own Rain Water Harvesting. “Also, prepare your own compost by using waste veggies,” he says.
With the efforts of people like Dr. Kadur, Bangalore has over 5,000 terrace gardens now, with an increasing interest among youngsters.
One of his favourite gardens is located in Hyderabad and is probably the oldest terrace garden in India. This 35 year old garden hosts trees like banana, guava and sapota, and the entire terrace is covered with plants, trees and grass. Dr. Kadur believes that with the government’s support, the country should be able to meet its vegetable needs through urban gardeners.
“There should be better facilities made available in villages so that people stop migrating. An old man cannot work in his farms as much as he did before. Once he stops, who will produce food for us as the younger generation is migrating to the cities? We need more people to go back to farming,” he says.
Dr. Kadur wants to take gardening to the slums and urban poor
“We will provide them with material and training. They will just have to take care of the garden. They can sell the produce and earn some money from it,” he says.
Dr. Kadur has also started engaging school students in organic farming. He believes that schools are the best places to inculcate the habit of farming among young minds. He has implemented the model successfully in BM English school, Hennur where kids grow their own veggies, sell it to their teachers and also bring it to the OFYT events.
“Put your soul into it, throw seeds and take care of them,” he concludes.
The first ‘Oota from your Thota’ event of 2015 to promote Organic Urban Farming/Terrace Gardening is going to be held on 1 February, 2015. The event will have demonstrations/discussions and exhibitions on organic farming inputs and products/foods, rain water harvesting, waste segregation & home-composting, vertical gardening, window farming, solar lighting, irrigation and so on. Check their facebook page for more details.