It is a common belief that growing vegetables in a balcony or maintaining a terrace garden requires a large amount of space for a small amount of produce. But 37-year-old Devaraj K from Bengaluru proved that the task is not as challenging as it seems, by growing a vegetable forest – 20 varieties of vegetables and fruits – in a 10×10-foot space.
“I have all the greens, herbs, curry leaves, pomegranate, potato, beans and even drumsticks growing in that small space,” says Devaraj. Moreover, Devaraj grew all that green treasure using just kitchen waste and composting. “I have not spent any money to grow the vegetables apart from buying organic mixes to prevent infection in plants,” he adds.
From a larger space to a smaller one
Devaraj, along with his wife, started a business of medical transcriptions under the name ‘Manpho Mediscribe’ in 2000. At the age of 45, the couple phased out of it from 2009 to 2014. “I started learning Yoga in 2010 and pursued courses to get a certification to become a coach. From 2014, I became a full-time yoga teacher to schools, private institutions and a yoga centre,” Devaraj said.
It was around the same time he decided to grow food for a healthier lifestyle.
The urban farmer said he developed a strong passion for growing food to pursue a healthier lifestyle. “During my childhood, I remember growing vegetables in the backyard with my grandmother and distributing the harvest in the neighbourhood,” he said.
Devaraj started growing vegetables in a house in North Bengaluru. “The house was big and I developed a terrace garden in about 30×50-foot space. But we had to shift to Jayanagar in 2014 after my son Adithya started facing health issues,” he adds.
The new house turned out to be much smaller. “It is a traditional house about 80 years old, and there is a space crunch when compared to modern houses,” he said. Devaraj said that with his son receiving medication for health complications, he decided to provide homegrown food to his son.
“We hear so many things about chemicals being sprayed on vegetables and the types of diseases it can cause. We never know how these chemicals will affect our bodies,” Devaraj said.
A tiny vegetable forest
Devaraj found a 10X10-foot space on the roof of his new (old) house. “The access was also difficult as you had to climb to get to it. But I still managed to make arrangements,” he added.
Over the past six years, he has grown carports, beans, cherry tomatoes, giloy, curry leaves, three types of lemongrass and even drumstick.
“Turmeric requires nine months to harvest and will get harvested this December,” Devaraj says.
“I want to demonstrate that even a small space is enough to grow vegetables and fruits. Some of my vegetables are evergreen, and I get produce throughout the year. About 50 per cent of the family’s requirements are fulfilled by the small space used to grow food,” Devaraj said adding all of the food needs for his son come from the garden.
The Bengaluru resident says that he has used kitchen waste to make his tiny vegetable forest flourish. “None of my kitchen waste goes out of the house. Just put the waste in the pit and cover them with dry leaves. You do need not worry about it as it decomposes,” Devaraj adds.
However, to develop a small garden on a rooftop posed unique challenges. “As the house structure is old, there is no staircase. It requires a ladder or directly climbing from slabs to access it,” he said.
Devaraj said that waterproofing the roof was another challenge. “The water needed to drain out immediately and not remain stagnant to ensure the roof did not get damaged. Installing a system to prevent damage to the roof was a task,” he adds.
The farmer said with less monitoring of plants due to accessibility, he grew chrysanthemums to avoid insects attacking the plants.
Promoting a healthier lifestyle
Devaraj says it is a relief to know that the food consumed is guaranteed fresh and non-toxic. “My son’s health has improved thanks to this clean nutrition,” he adds.
Additionally, Devaraj has helped many city-dwellers grow food at their home.
“Many people have inquired, and I am helping them to find the right size for their plants, treating the compost and finding flat boxes for growing greens. I even charted out a plan for seasonal produce about what could be planted in a particular season and when it would ripen,” Devaraj said.
Devaraj also recommends growing plants that are eaten by the family. “All these guides are for free and to help people grow healthy food,” he adds.
Crecensia Vijay Kumar, a homemaker is one such beneficiary from Devaraj.
“I had zero idea about home gardening and wanted to grow vegetables for the family, considering the pesticides and chemicals sprayed on market produce,” Crecensia said.
The homemaker added that Devaraj helped her build a home garden from scratch. “I set up in 2017, but it is only in the last six months that I have started dedicating more time to it and I am now planning to expand,” she said.
“Some of the farmers and food growers are also in the process of developing kits for urban gardening which will include organic manure, cow dung and urine along with compost,” Devaraj said.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)