Gurudatt Naik is the proud owner of a luscious rooftop garden located in Borda, a bustling suburb in Margao, Goa. He has converted his small balcony, the adjoining sloping roof, and a portion of the terrace into a food forest with potted fruits and vegetables. He grows fruits such as chikoo, pomegranate, banana, guava, mango, and vegetables such as brinjal, gourds, celery, sweet potatoes, and more. He also grows a variety of adenium plants, alongside all this.
The man’s love for growing food-bearing plants started 30 years ago, the day he joined work at the Public Works Department as a Junior Engineer.
“There was space around my office building, and the officers were wondering what kind of flowering plants they could grow there to make the area look more aesthetically pleasing. But I suggested that they plant fruit-bearing trees like guava, and mango so that it will benefit us in the future. The other officers agreed, and I purchased seedlings from a local nursery, and carefully planted them around the building. Within two years, the trees started to grow fruits,” he recalls.
A Terrace Garden Full of Fruits and Vegetables
In 2010, Gurudatt was posted to Margao and moved into an apartment complex with five homes along with his wife and two children. Their house had a small balcony so he decided to start a garden which would produce fruits and vegetables for everyday use.
“My first attempt with growing vegetables started with onions and chillies. I decided to recycle milk crates that a local milkman was about to dispose of and grow the plants in them. I purchased an organic potting mix, and some seeds from a local nursery, and got to work. At that time, I was unaware of composting or how organic manure can enhance the growth of my plants, so all I did was water my plants regularly. Once the plants grew taller, I used neem oil as a pesticide. Within a few months, I harvested the produce, and till date, those plants continue to grow in my garden,” he states.
Soon, his interest to grow other varieties of vegetables expanded, and so did his garden. Gurudatt started visiting flower shows, and farming-related exhibitions held in Goa regularly and purchased seeds to grow a variety of plants. He also collected used paint buckets, water drums, a broken computer, and many other throw-away items to grow the plants in.
“While the onions grow in milk crates, brinjals, gourds, tomatoes, capsicum, amaranthus spinach, palak, sweet potato and more growing in 20-litre paint cans and broken buckets. Initially, most of these were growing in my balcony, but the space was too small, so I took permission from my apartment association and moved my plants to the common terrace. I took it upon myself, as a challenge, to grow my plants in various containers. In the future, I plan to procure broken toilets, washbasins, and pipes to grow my plants in,” says the talented gardener.
Apart from vegetables, during the exhibitions, Gurudatt also procured a variety of seeds to grow fruits. Before starting planting them, he attended workshops organised by other urban gardeners to understand how to grow them the right way. He claims he would also speak to many farmers at exhibitions to get their advice too. Today, he grows a variety of fruits such as chikoo, guava, banana, and mango.
“By the time I started planting the fruit seedlings, I started to gain more gardening knowledge. I started potting all my seedlings in an organic potting mix, mixed with a little cocopeat. Apart from that, I also purchased compost from a local nursery, to add nutrition to the plants. As a pesticide I used neem oil which I purchased during an exhibition,” says Gurudatt.
The first fruit he planted were pomegranates. For this, he converted an adjoining roof from his balcony into a plant-bed and hired professionals to raise a 3 feet high brick enclosure and divided the area into two compartments. After it was filled with potting mix and cocopeat, Gurudatt planted pomegranates and lemons side by side.
“I harvest more than ten pomegranates every year. But last year, the plant produced more than 35 fruits. It was the best season I have had until now. There are three varieties of lemons growing, one is small and round, the other is elongated, and the third one is sweeter compared to regular lemons,” he remarks.
Every year, he harvests more than 2 or 3 kilograms of fruits, which he distributes among his friends and neighbours. Gurudatt says he never weighs the vegetables that are cultivated because his family uses them based on their necessity. “If I have too much of one vegetable, I send the excess to friends and family staying in Goa,” he shares.
“That boy has a green thumb. He can grow anything! He sent me amaranthus spinach, palak, chillies, capsicum, sweet potato, and brinjal. All the produce was neatly wrapped in newspapers and plastic covers, so there was no damage. Though it had been four days since the harvest, the vegetables were intact,” says Sira Bai, a family friend who has known Gurudatt since he was a young boy.
Apart from fruits and vegetables, he also grows approximately 100 plants, including four different varieties of adeniums and amaryllis lilies. They are grown in vases and other containers filled with a mix of sand and garden soil, vermicompost, and lined with charcoal or roof tile pieces at the base.
“The flowers come in more than 100 shades of colours, and they make the terrace look so vibrant. I started growing the flowers after seeing them at a flower show held in Panjim, Goa. I have purchased seedlings for the adeniums from dealers across the country. I usually place orders for them over a phone call, or online,” he says.
But he does not stop at just growing them. Keeping sharing as his core value, if someone seemed interested in growing adeniums, he would offer a graft of his plant for free.
Early in 2020, he enrolled in a competition organised by The Botanical Society of Goa and won the first prize under the organic terrace garden category.
“Gurudatt is an enthusiastic gardener who has converted his home into a food forest. He grows vegetables of many kinds which are used for his family’s daily consumption. Apart from that, the flowers he grows are impressive, and they also make his terrace look exotic. His garden is an inspiration for other urban dwellers,” says Alvito D’Silva who is a member of the Botanical Society of Goa, and part of the judging committee for the competition.
In the future, he plans to grow apples, cherries, and figs in 50-litre water drums. He also hopes to procure grape seedlings, to start a vine on his terrace.
“It has been four months since I planted the apple graft and cherry seedlings, and they are growing rapidly. I had procured them from a friend who runs a commercial farm in Goa. Soon, I hope to purchase grape seedlings, to cultivate some, and make homemade wine,” says Gurudatt.
Image courtesy: Gurudatt Naik
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)