I do not have any farmland or a garden, how do I grow my own food?
This question bothered Ajay Sharma, a medical officer in Rajasthan’s Bhilwara district, after learning about how vegetables are grown on a visit to the market.
“I relentlessly tried to find fresh vegetables without any smell or rot. On inquiring, a vegetable vendor admitted that farmers end up using drainage water due to water scarcity in the region. That led to me to think about all the health problems and lifestyle diseases that have risen over the years and how food plays a crucial role. This incident prompted me to grow my own food,” Ajay tells The Better India.
While the general notion that land is a prerequisite for organic farming, Ajay remained undeterred. He turned towards the internet and success stories of home farmers.
“I had zero knowledge about growing food, but I was ready to put in time and efforts if it meant giving a healthy lifestyle to my family,” says Ajay.
Choosing vegetables that are low maintenance and have short roots were two of the most important takeaways from his research. However, he was thrilled when he came across case studies where people were growing vegetables in their balconies or terraces.
Taking that as an inspiration, Ajay kickstarted his farming journey with pudina (mint) plant on almost zero budget.
Today his 2,000 square feet terrace boasts of 20 varieties of organic veggies and over a hundred plants grown round the year by drip irrigation.
From brinjals, tomatoes, chillies, beans, spinach, bottle gourd, cabbage, and ladyfinger to fruits like guava, lemon, and chikoo, Ajay’s terrace flourishes with greenery, birds, and temperature that keeps the entire house cool.
While all this sounds so simple and almost magical, his success did not come easily. It was only after months of experimentation that his garden started giving veggies regularly, that now feeds the eight family members.
The best part?
The Sharma family eats food grown without chemicals and saves nearly Rs 4,000 every month, that otherwise would have gone in buying vegetables from the market.
Ajay was very particular about choosing organic seeds. He spent a few days looking for an organic farmer, “I could have easily purchased pudina that may or may not have been grown using chemicals, from the market at Rs 10. But I wanted to do it right.”
He continues, “My father and I put coriander and mint in the containers and got a fresh and qualitative yield. We decided to scale this and started growing other vegetables gradually.”
100+ Organic Edible Plants
Apart from purchasing organic seeds of various vegetables, Ajay does not spend a single penny on growing food at home.
Since chemical fertilisers and harmful pesticides were a strict no-no, Ajay found a way to prepare them naturally at home at zero cost. He procures cow dung from a nearby animal shed and discarded coconut husk from a temple for free. He mixes both with water separately, and keeps it aside for nearly a week.
“I make cocopeat from crushed coconut husk and water, compost by mixing cow dung and water, and soil from the roadside,” he adds.
Meanwhile, to enhance the nutrition of plants and keep insects at bay, he uses leftover food from his kitchen.
“Vegetables and fruit peels contain nutrients necessary for the growth of plants. In addition, I keep banana, onion, and garlic peels in water in a pot for 7-14 days. After filtration, the final solution is sprayed and makes my plants healthy,” he explains.
For zero-budget farming, he reused a cooler tray, thermocol, oil bottle and the lid of a water tank to sow seeds, instead of purchasing a pot from the market, “One pot can cost up to Rs 500 and plastic containers can easily be found in Indian households. This not only saves money but is also an effective way to reuse plastic and unburden the environment.”
With so many plants on his terrace, watering became a time-consuming task, as Ajay would spend nearly three hours in a day.
So, he changed his watering method and opted for drip irrigation through pipes, the benefits of which are many. He now covers all the plants within an hour.
“This is a type of micro-irrigation system that has the potential to save up to 60 per cent water and retain nutrients by allowing water to drip slowly but directly to the roots of plants, either from above the soil surface or buried below the surface. This practice also minimises water evaporation,” explains Ajay.
Additionally, drip irrigation also prevents the growth of weeds and helps the plants grow faster.
Ajay is quick to warn about maintaining a balance while watering, “Irrigation should be done according to the season and the plant. For example, in the summer season, irrigation should be done twice and two hours of sunlight in the morning are sufficient. Excessive sunlight can damage the plant.”
These gardening hacks have proved beneficial, and today, his small farm gives him healthy and nutritious food. He gets harvest on a daily basis, thus eliminating the need to rely on vendors for veggies.
Every meal time, he only has to walk over to the terrace and pluck the colourful and fresh vegetables, herbs, or fruits.
Another advantage is that it keeps the house cooler and attracts a lot of pollinating agents.
Inspired by him, his relatives have also started gardening on their terraces. The fruitful response and appreciation gas inspired him to add more plants to his little farm.
He plans to grow stevia, a safe and healthy sugar substitute. It is said to have impressive health benefits, such as reducing blood sugar levels and the risk of cavities.
“Gardening is easy, does not consume much time or require hard work. People are often discouraged by space crunch. In such cases, you can go for vertical gardening. The monetary investment is not much and the returns are massive, the biggest being the health benefits. If you grow your own food, at least you will know what you are eating,” Ajay signs off.
6 Gardening Tips Ajay Abides By:
- Start with easy-to-grow plants like tomatoes, chillies, fenugreek, and spinach that do not require much water or compost.
- Choose used containers or unused items in the house to cultivate food instead of spending on pots. Choose the container as per the height of the roots.
- Use your local soil as it is already in sync with the weather conditions.
- Use 50:30:20 ratio for soil, cocopeat, and leftover food in your container. Cocopeat is a must since it is light.
- Use fruit-vegetable peels to keep insects at bay.
- Two hours of sunlight in the morning are sufficient, and do not overwater your plants.
To know more, get in touch with Ajay Sharma at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)