“I always dreamt of having a garden of my own. One that would be my labour of love and my peace of heaven,” says Sujani Reddy.
The Hyderabad-based microbiologist, who believes in doing than sitting and waiting for things to happen, created a heaven for her family on her terrace! And not only is Sujani’s garden of Eden brimming with organic and fresh veggies that take care of 90 per cent of her kitchen needs, it is burgeoning with juicy fruits and bunches of colourful flowers.
And all on 300 square ft of space!
“Ever since I was a child, having plants in my balcony, visiting gardens and being close to nature made me feel at peace. It was this love and fascination for plants and other organisms that prompted me to choose a career in science,” says Sujani.
Space for a full-fledged garden was a luxury for Sujani while growing up in Hyderabad, yet the balcony of her maternal home has little earthen pots that bloom with captivating flowers.
Little did Sujani know, her dream was not too far.
Four years ago, when Sujani and her husband, V V Reddy, a businessman, moved into their new family home, the opportunity manifested itself.
A 300 sq ft terrace space was at her disposal. She knew she couldn’t let it go to waste.
“It was around the time when there was a heightened awareness about the excessive use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers in farming. I had always been conscious of the freshness and quality of veggies and fruits that entered our kitchen,” informs Sujani.
Sujani started making trips to farmers markets in her quest to bring poison-free food for her family. Though sourcing organic produce was heavy on their pocket, the microbiologist was happy she wasn’t putting her family’s health at risk.
“While I did not mind spending that money, when I was finally able to get my terrace space, I asked myself, ‘Why not try growing food for my own family?’”
Sujani attended several workshops on terrace gardening in the city, met urban gardeners and read books that could help her kickstart her garden.
She began with 200 sq ft, and these are some of the methods she followed:
Containers for planters
Sujani upcycled old containers to plant the indigenous seeds she had sourced from other urban gardeners.
“In the first year, I planted all kinds of gourds and leafy greens. But I did not find much success. The soil was still coarse and hard, so plants couldn’t take root deeper into the containers. But I continued my efforts through trial and error.”
This also led her to contact a friend who specialised in developing plant-based organic nutrients, such as oil cakes and neem cakes, among others.
“I started using 40 per cent soil, 40 per cent vermicompost, 10 per cent cocopeat, 10 per cent neem cake and other organic nutrients as the growth medium. The results in the second year were exceptional.”
Today she grows more than 200 plants in that 300 sq ft space!
The harvest from her terrace garden meets 90 per cent of her kitchen needs.
Some of the veggies that she grows include three varieties of chillies: Mexican hot chilli, heirloom variety, Black chillies and almost ten varieties of tomatoes. These include heirloom varieties as well as exotic ones sourced from China and the US like brandy wine, yellow pear, atomic grape, tomato banana legs, among others, to name a few.
She also grows six varieties of eggplants including the white eggplant, Rosa Bianca, Aubergines and the Vengeri variety which has fruits that grow to the length of 1.5 ft. She also grows green and purple capsicum, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, radish, garlic, onions, beans, cucumbers, ladyfinger.
The types of gourd includes snake gourd, ridge, bottle, white, bitter gourd, Ash gourd, ivy gourd, etc.
Leafy greens and herbs include Lettuce amaranth (green red), Siri Leaf, spinach, Moringa, coriander, kale, Italian basil, Malabar Spinach, fenugreek (regular as well as Kasuri), Mint, PepperMint and Brahmi.
Among fruits, she has successfully grown watermelon, guava and pomegranate.
Apart from processing her organic kitchen waste into manure and vermicomposting, she also relies on organic compost from the market. In the harsh summers, when the temperatures soar, and the plants are under the threat of withering, she uses a shade net to protect them.
Managing pests is the work of hands, she says.
“In the first year, keep an eye out and identify the kind of pests that attack your plants. Usually, I prefer to remove the infected parts of the plant like the leaf or stem to get rid of the pests. But if the attack continues and you think there is no hope for a particular plant, it is best to get rid of it. I also spray neem oil every ten days to keep pests at bay.”
She adds neem to the soil while planting to help avoid root-borne diseases. She sprays diluted sour buttermilk on the plants during monsoons to prevent fungal diseases.
Buttermilk sprays are common for natural farmers. Many farmers even add a copper wire to the buttermilk to turn it sour. Since the solution is highly concentrated, it is diluted with water before being sprayed.
Reddy also adds how milk is a good alternative to tackle issues of mildew. Mildew is a thin whitish coating consisting of minute fungal hyphae that grows on plants.
Apart from the many veggies, Reddy’s garden boasts of some beautiful flowering plants too.
“Flowers are the highlight of my garden. I have everything from hibiscus, chrysanthemum, marigold, roses, lilies Tuberose, sunflowers, and several local varieties,” says the 36-year-old.
When asked what her next plan is, she says she is focusing on adding more plants and experimenting with more exotic varieties. The only thought holding her back is the water crisis in the city.
As she bids adieu, she has a special message to other aspiring urban gardeners, “Often, many of us waste a lot of time complaining. Sometimes about space crunch, at other times about resources. My only message is: Stop overthinking and start doing. Even if you start with a few pots on your balcony, your interest will slowly increase, and your confidence will start building. The key is to start.”
For those of you requiring assistance or consultation, Reddy also runs a business-My Udyan-that helps urban dwellers set up their gardens.
Know more about it here: https://www.facebook.com/myudyan/
If this story inspired you, get in touch with Sujani Reddy on firstname.lastname@example.org
Check out some more pictures from her garden here:
Image Courtesy: Sujani Reddy
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)