Suma Narendra, 42 hails from Peringanad, Kerala, and she is popular among family, friends, and admirers as an exceptional Bharatnatyam dancer and an expert gardener with amazing space management skills in using grow bags.
“My passion has always been dancing, but I also nurtured a dream of setting up atleast a small garden in my home But when we bought a house in Adoor, it was situated in 4356 sq. ft. and excluding the house, we had very less area to set up a proper farm,” Suma explains.
Refusing to give up on her gardening and farming dreams, Suma started setting up her dream farm in grow bags.
“I thought why not start utilising spaces like the terrace and the fences to cultivate creepers, climbers and local fruits and vegetables,” she adds.
So she bought 25 grow bags from the Krishi Bhavan in Adoor and started chemical-free terrace gardening in 2005. Starting with easy vegetables like tomatoes and green chilies, Suma slowly ventured out into the green world.
In just five years, the terrace garden expanded into 500+ plants filled with different varieties of vegetables like cauliflower, beetroot, onion, ginger, cabbage, and even a set space for a herb garden.
Today, she cultivates almost 25 varieties of plants in just 10 cents of land and has won the Kerala State Award for the Best Terrace Farmer!
Managing Space, Using Grow Bags
After winning the all-rounder prize at the Pathanamthitta District Youth Festival in 1990, Suma went onto start a dance school during her pre-degree days. She became the first rank holder in her Bachelor in Arts degree in Bharatnatyam from R.L.V College, Tripunithura and further took her Masters from the Tamil University, Thanjavur.
But something she didn’t expect was that life would give her the ‘green’ thumb and in a matter of a few years, she would turn into one of Kerala’s finest terrace farming experts.
Soon after her marriage, Suma moved from her home in Peringanad to Adoor, Kerala with her husband Suresh Kumar, who works as an electric-plumbing contractor.
Along with her terrace cultivation, Suma also started growing creepers and climbers on the fence and set up a 2 ring compost so that she could use all the biowaste in her kitchen for the plants!
“Today we get a pretty good harvest from these plants and we distribute it to our neighbours for free and sometimes sell it at the market. It is a good source of income for us, but we mostly use it for our daily needs,” she explains.
“A lot of people asked us if we experienced any loss during the lockdown. I can proudly say, not at all. We realised the importance of having a personal farm because we could safely eat our homegrown fruits and vegetables, without any risk, “ says Suresh Kumar.
The produce was sufficient for the family of four including their son Gowtham Krishna who is in 7th grade, and daughter, Ranjini Krishna.
Nona Thomas who lives in the house opposite to Suma’s tells The Better India (TBI), “We’ve always done small scale farming. But ever since Suma and her family moved opposite to our house, they’ve been a great source of inspiration to start grow bag cultivation.”
So how did Suma make maximum use of her space? What does Suma have to share from her 15 years of experience?
Minimum Space, Maximum Utility
“When it comes to farming on the terrace, the important thing to remember is that space is the most important aspect and it must be used efficiently. When I first started using grow bags on the terrace, I had to keep in mind that the water from the grow bags could affect the foundation of the terrace, so I had to think of a way to keep it intact and grow my veggies parallelly,” she explains.
Thus, Suma places the grow bags on concrete pipes, all through the terrace. Besides this, Suma has also used PVC pipes to set up a drip irrigation system for her plants.
“This is a very unique technology and reduces the effort from our side, in terms of watering every day,” she explains.
Despite the lack of space, Suma has also ensured to keep the grow bags a bit apart from each other to place pest protective nets on the grow bags.
“I use certain ‘sticky’ nets which are blue and yellow in colour to cover the fully grown plants. The colours tend to attract pests and insects and they get stuck on the net. These are easily available in Krishi Bhavans and nurseries,” she adds.
And as for the ground level farming, Suma has set up a rain roof and grows many varieties of vegetables, fruits, and herbs.
“Behind our home, we’ve set up a two-ring compost so that the biowaste from the kitchen can be converted into compost. This does not take up much space and is very effective.”
“Every little nook and corner of the land surrounding the house has been used to its maximum. Suresh and I have understood that space is really not that important when it comes to farming. It really narrows down to how much care we can provide and how patient we can be,” she concludes.
With 500+ plants in 10 cents of land, Suma has proven everyone wrong and has shown that land is not a necessity when it comes to farming. Let us know if these tips worked for you and your urban garden.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)