There’s a lot that can be grown on a terrace, in a backyard or a balcony, if we utilise the space well. As the monsoon is slowly setting in, it’s a great time to start growing some vegetables at home. In my modest experience of terrace gardening so far, I have found a very useful, low-cost, plastic-free method of growing vegetables using wooden fruit boxes.
We get mangoes packed in wooden crates in the summer, which pile up after every season. These boxes are quite big and deep (length x width x height = 49cm x 34cm x 31 cm), which is ideal for growing vegetables as opposed to shallow and smaller pots.
All that needs to be done to convert this box to a planter box is simply lining it with a jute sack. It takes two sacks to cover the entire box properly, and I add some additional jute on the bottom for more reinforcement. I fasten the jute to the box with some jute thread and a big needle.
Then comes the process of filling up the box with your favourite potting mix: soil, dried leaves, compost, cocopeat.
When I didn’t know better, I used to completely fill up the pots with soil. Now, I do layers of soil and dried leaves, which when composted add various nutrients to the soil. On royal days, I have cocopeat, which helps in keeping the soil mix porous and helps in water retention, and home-made compost that boosts the nutrients in the soil.
Next, add dried leaves between each of the other items — soil, compost, cocopeat, and keep the top layer to be a mix of cocopeat and soil.
And we are done!
Well, almost done. If you don’t plan to immediately sow something or even if you sow seeds/seedlings immediately, it’s a great idea to mulch the top soil with some dried leaves. This helps in retaining moisture and maintaining the microclimate beneath, than when the top soil is bare.
For most vegetables, the harvest cycle is about 3-4 months, which is also the amount of time by which the jute bag would have decomposed in the soil and would need to be swapped.
I also have other types of containers in the garden including clay pots, vegetable crates that we got from vegetable vendors, old paint buckets— most of which we got many years ago. Now, as we know better, we are trying to not add new plastic to our terrace for reasons of health and the environment, and fruit box gardening checks all the boxes.
Monsoon is a good time to plant all climbing variety vegetables such as bottle gourd, bitter gourd, ridge gourd, also pumpkin, tomatoes, chilies, okra, brinjal, turmeric and ginger. It’s always a good time to plant sweet potatoes — they are some of the most robust plants and give bumper harvest in four months.
A video of the process that we recorded, can be viewed here.
So save the last few mango boxes at home and get some soil, dried leaves and seeds to get started with growing veggies organically.
(Written by Nirzaree Vadgama; Edited by Yoshita Rao)