“I failed even in growing tomatoes which are the easiest. Once I tried growing potatoes but the plant ended up giving me chillies,” says Dr Shivani Kalra, who is now growing watermelons and various other vegetables in grow bags like a pro.
A couple of years ago, people did not believe Dr Shivani Kalra, a dental surgeon from Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, when she said she wanted to grow watermelons in containers on her terrace that measures 13×10 square feet.
In fact, a maali (gardener) advised her against the idea, explaining that the plant species are maintenance and need a huge space and warm climate to thrive.
Today, Dr Kalra is glad she wasn’t discouraged by those comments as her morning begins by watering ready-to harvest watermelons, in her lush green garden.
Not just that, the very same small space that was once ridiculed by some, now has multiple vegetables and fruits, all growing organically.
“It is true that the watermelon plant demands specific growing conditions but that doesn’t in any way imply that it is impossible for urban dwellers to grow it on their terrace or in the balcony. It may take multiple failures and patience to get the best results but once you crack the formula there is no looking back,” begins Dr Kalra, in a conversation with The Better India.
How to Grow Watermelons in Containers
Dr Kalra had no guidance when she started growing watermelons, so she had to go through several failed attempts before finding success. She shares a couple of things to keep in mind before starting:
Select an area that gets ample sunlight.
- Choose the watermelon varieties carefully. The ‘Sugar Baby’ and ‘Back Hybrid’ varieties are comparatively easier to grow. They also have a high survival rate.
- Watermelons are the one most “hungry” fruits. They consume a lot of compost, growth promoters and water. Make sure the soil is always moist.
- Since it is risky to grow on the ground (due to pest attack) or in air, Dr Kalra recommends resting them on dry leaves which also act as a pest repellent.
- Watermelons require multiple visits from pollinators. For the same, she has planted sunflowers that attract bees.
- Don’t be in a hurry to harvest. Check for signs like skin colour, dry tendrils or hollow sound on hitting it before harvesting.
Dr Kalra uses grow bags made from cloth that are easily available in nurseries to cultivate watermelons. These are a good option, as they have pores that allow water to easily drain off from the soil and prevent any infection.
One of the most important requirements is the nutrition for the plants that determine the growth rate, quality and to some extent, taste. For this, Dr Kalra adds a mix of dry leaves, cocopeat, compost made from kitchen waste and black liquid that drips during the composting process.
She also uses home-made gardening hacks to keep insects and infection at bay. “Neem oil, a mix of garlic and ginger boiled solution, buttermilk, a mix of crushed onions and cow dung are some of my go-to organic methods. I also use jeevamrutham.”
If You Are Beginner, Start With Flowers Or Onions
In addition to watermelons, Dr Kalra’s terrace garden boasts of various veggies and fruits like brinjals, capsicums, bitter gourds, bottle guards, tomatoes, chillies, onions, potatoes, lemons, garlic, okra, and mint.
However, success did not come easily, as it took multiple trial and errors. The experiments helped her understand the climatic conditions, the pH level of water, nutrients needed for plants and so on.
“I failed even in growing tomatoes which are supposedly the easiest to grow,” admits Dr Kalra, “Once I started growing potatoes but the plant ended up giving me chillies. Strawberries came in after three years of efforts. I was disheartened, but I kept going.”
For beginners, Dr Kalra recommends starting with any flowering plant and for edible plants, she suggests onions as they are underground and require absolutely no space. Mint is another viable option.
Dr Kalra is one of the many urban gardeners who firmly believe that it is possible to grow food at home. All one needs is a little effort, time and patience.
“I began my gardening journey the day I decided that my family and I needed to consume chemical-free food. Until you become a part of the process, it is very challenging to ensure this. By growing vegetables, we can also preserve rare varieties of veggies that otherwise are dying rapidly,” she signs off.
All photographs sourced from Dr Kalra. Follow her gardening activities here.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)