A few years ago, when Mysuru-based Professor (retd) Rudraradhya had trouble breathing, he was rushed to the hospital.
Tests revealed a lung disorder, and the doctors told him that he would have to rely on using two oxygen cylinders every day. He was also advised to not exert himself or step out of the comfort of his home and was bed-ridden for close to three months.
The man had retired after an illustrious career as a professor from the University of Agricultural Sciences, 14 years ago. The one-acre integrated farming model that he propagated and demonstrated at the Agricultural Research Station of Bavikere (Tarikere) in Shimoga district of Karnataka, helped hundreds of small and marginal farming become self-sufficient and make farming sustainable and profitable even with a small landholding.
How could he be confined to a bed and be forced to live life in a manner he did not choose?
“This was when I took up terrace gardening,” he recalls in an interview with The Better India.
It may seem strange to you and me, but the mere activity of sowing seeds and tending plants on his rooftop spelt hope for the former professor.
He meticulously planned how he could best utilise the limited space on the terrace to cater to the requirements of his home.
Hemlata, his wife, also pitched in and the couple spent hours looking after their growing terrace garden and adding new members to the green army.
Today, in a 60x40ft space, the man grows over 20 varieties of vegetables and 10-15 varieties leafy greens!
Some of these varieties include cabbage, cauliflower, knol-khol, coloured capsicum, brinjal, tomatoes, beans, radishes, carrots, drumsticks, curry leaves, methi, spinach, coriander, etc.
“We harvest close to 8-10 varieties of vegetables from our terrace every day. In the last three years, we haven’t bought a single vegetable from the market for our personal consumption. I have harvested 250 kgs of tomatoes and 100 kg of chillies on my terrace till date,” beams Rudraradhya.
Some of the fruits he has grown on his terrace include strawberries, dragon fruit, fig, mango, papaya, passion fruit, grapes, etc.
Apart from harvesting ten meters of flowers every day from the flowering varieties, he also grows medicinal plants like wild coriander, brahmi and bilwa (bael).
Despite having such diverse species of plants on his terrace, the 72-year-old urban gardener does not rely on the use of any chemical fertilisers or pesticides.
“My idea while building this terrace garden was to have a space that answers the food needs of my family, without spraying any chemicals or poison on it. Often the veggies that you buy from the market are doused in chemicals. Even the ones that are not, lose their freshness or get damaged during transportation. Today, we eat our veggies and greens straight from our rooftop to our plate. They are fresh, healthy and homegrown. What more do you need?”
When prodded, Rudraradhya shared some of the methods that he follows:
1) Most plants are grown in earthen pots of different sizes depending upon the needs of the variety. Whereas trees like mango, bilwa, grape, fig are grown in big HDPE (high-density polyethene) drums.
2) The plants don’t just grow in soil. They grow in a mixture that consists of 30 per cent soil, 30 per cent of compost or organic manure (mostly kitchen waste), 20 per cent coco peat and 20 per cent neem cake.
He adds how the mixture works best for a terrace garden setup.
“Sometimes using a single growth medium like soil could be heavy for a terrace garden and may not give you the best results in the form of yield. Manure and coco peat help retain water and are also light-weight. The neem cake, on the other hand, acts as manure and also manages soil-borne diseases. It helps good microbes thrive in the soil and keeping pests at bay. I have been maintaining my terrace garden for three years, and I haven’t met with a major pest problem. All my experiments with crops have been successful.”
3) The most common hack to manage pests in a terrace garden, he says is to either remove the affected part of the plant or remove the plant itself. Also, a weekly spray of neem oil can help.
4) The plants are watered using drip irrigation. The process is water efficient and prevents excess water from washing away the nutrients or manure in the soil.
“When you use your terrace, ensure the water doesn’t seep through it or leak into your living space. So watering has to be a careful process.”
5) The garden also has a beehive. Apart from producing honey, these bees are crucial for the pollination process, for members of the gourd family (like ridge gourd, bitter gourd, sponge gourd, snake gourd, pumpkin, ash gourd, muskmelon, and watermelon) that the family grows.
Rudraradhya shares that there is always surplus produce, and they share it with their neighbours and friends. He also adds how he has been utilising patches on the ground floor to grow vegetables.
“In three months, I sold produce worth Rs 10,000. When people bought this produce from me, I encouraged them to start growing their food. Terrace or urban gardening does not just help you fulfil the food requirements of the household, but is also be a good part-time profession,” he smiles.
He doesn’t restrict his knowledge to himself but shares his learnings with all those who visit his terrace garden. “My terrace is space for learning for many urban gardeners, students, and kids. I hold workshops where I teach them all aspects of successful kitchen and terrace gardening.”
He boasts of more than 150 horticultural varieties on his terrace and having more than 1,000 followers in the gardening community.
He has also been a resource person for the Agricultural Department for training terrace gardening farmers.
Additionally, students from four colleges in the vicinity, both agriculture and general, visit the man over the weekend for guidance about the best practices.
Over the last three years, the terrace garden, with its fresh air and bountiful produce, has been instrumental in improving Rudraradhya’s health a great deal.
He also adds how Mysuru, which is commonly known as the ‘city of palaces,’ is also a ‘city of gardens.’ And one of his biggest honours was winning the ‘Best Terrace-garden in Mysuru’ award during the 2018 Dasara celebrations.
He bids farewell with a message, “I am aware that not all of us have acres of land to grow our food on. But many of us have a terrace. If followed systematically, fresh, healthy and clean food can be grown in this limited space too.”
If this story inspired you, get in touch with Rudraradhya on WhatsApp at 94481 45228.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)