Corn in regal blue, round bottle gourd, a not-so-spicy chilly, Italian basil with an exotic fragrance, an off-season but naturally sweet watermelon, and more — welcome to Indra and Malvika Singh’s colourful terrace garden in Delhi.
With 35 rare and exotic varieties of organic vegetables and fruits, this garden grown by the mother-son duo is a feast for the senses — the air around it redolent with a mix of delicious smells. The two-people team set up their urban garden with less than Rs 500 and more importantly, they spend zero money on its maintenance!
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And the cherry on top is that this resilient garden thrives even in the scorching heat of Delhi. They recycle discarded waste like fruit crates and use wastewater and home-made compost.
Setting up A Colourful Terrace Garden
“My professional life involves a lot of travelling in India. I come from an agrarian family and by that virtue, seeds are my souvenirs. I covered over 1,200 villages and even got some seeds from friends,” Indra, who is presently the Writer and Director of Policy and Outreach, National Seed Association of India, tells The Better India.
Indra has an avid interest in collecting and preserving rare and endangered plant species like spinach seeds from Uttarakhand, Naga chillies, five varieties of tamarind and three of tomatoes.
It’s no wonder that Singh family’s terrace garden boasts of 14 crates and over 25 pots.
The duo began by planting easy-to-grow seeds like chillies, tomatoes, tamarinds in crates and then branched out to pumpkin, brinjals, bottle gourd. Indra recommends planting not more than two seeds in one crate/pot.
And the fertiliser?
“I build the soil’s fertility by adding dry leaves, cow dung and compost. A few months later, I saw earthworms thriving naturally. In no time, I saw the garden was home to biodiverse residents such as butterflies, ants, and healthy microbes. To prevent the soil from spilling over, I covered all the crates with a garden cloth and placed old plastic bags on the ground,” he informs.
When it came to the exotic corn, Indra planted the seeds in 15 inches of soil and it flourished in the dried tomato leaves used as manure
“In a couple of months, the corn was acclimatised to India’s climate and gave blue and bubble gem corn, “It was a miracle as corn usually grows in Kharif season but we got it in Rabi,” he adds.
Not shying away from a challenge, he took the risk of planting watermelon in offseason in April and the gamble paid off as the hot temperatures supported its growth.
Indra also used the companion technique where he planted two plants that support each other. For instance, chillies, grown on climbers, protected corn from harsh sunlight.
Sustainable Gardening Hacks
Indra and Malvika strictly avoided generating carbon footprints and spending a hefty amount in gardening.
“The purpose of gardening is defeated when you purchase a virgin planter or manure from the market. Instead, every aspiring gardener should reuse and compost. Do not spend more than Rs 1,000 to set up the garden,” explains Indra.
Indra purchased discarded crates at just Rs 20 from the vegetable vendors. Luckily, he even found pots that the previous house owners had left.
“Crates are lightweight, cheap and sturdy. Plus, roots get more space and time to expand freely and can accommodate multiple seeds. For example, a crate for growing garlic has spinach coming out from sides,” he adds.
Another cost-cutting measure is making compost at home. For the last two years, the Singh family has not thrown away kitchen waste.
Explaining the benefits, he says, “Compost provides nutrients and helps in recycling the soil.”
As for his water needs, Indra prudently collects the water overflowing from his neighbour’s water outlets in buckets with their consent.
Thanks to these gardening hacks, the Singh family has stopped buying a few vegetables like tomatoes and spinach from the market.
Each seasonal cycle, the garden gives 30 kilos of spinach, 15 kilos of chillies, two kilos of bottle gourds, and five kilos of coriander. In the most recent harvesting cycle, the garden gave a whopping 26 kilos of pumpkin.
Besides consuming healthy and fresh food, the duo also enjoys the chilled temperature inside the house as the plants on the terrace absorb most of the heat, “Gardening is a therapy that improves health and saves money,” adds Indra.
Suffice to say, this mother-son duo perfectly defines urban gardening goals by using methods that are in complete sync with nature’s ecosystem.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)