Elizabeth Kota and her family moved to their residence in Hyderabad amid the first lockdown in 2020. For the gardening enthusiast Elizabeth, it was the perfect time to commence her farming activities on a 1200-square feet terrace.
“When we finally moved to our own house from a congested rented apartment, I found space to put together a terrace garden, which was always a dream. During the lockdown, when there was a sudden break from professional engagements, I decided to make the most of the time,” says the 47-year-old who owns a cookware business.
Elizabeth says she was always aware of the adverse effects of eating store-bought vegetables and fruits which not only ruin one’s health but also lack taste. “Due to the use of chemicals, most of our children don’t know the true taste of fruits. This is the reason why I decided to plant fruits. Today, I grow grapes, figs, apples, chikoo, mosambis (sweet limes), oranges, lemons, bananas, watermelons, pineapples, five varieties of mangoes and many more,” she adds.
She started gardening by planting seasonal vegetables like okras, brinjals, tomatoes, leafy vegetables, cucumbers and a variety of creepers, among others. When this became a success, she didn’t have to buy any vegetables apart from onions and potatoes from stores. This gave her the confidence to move into fruit farming in pots. She started with chikoos, mangoes and grapes. Later, she found many varieties of these fruits and planted them too.
Elizabeth says her gardening success was attributed to the ‘right’ potting mix used.
She mixes red soil, river sand, cow dung and neem cake in a 3:3:3:1 ratio. As fertilisers, she uses kitchen compost and vermicompost along with cow dung. The pesticides used are 5 ml cow urine mixed in one-litre water or diluted neem oil. This is to be sprayed once every 15 days. “I take extra care to use organic manure and pesticides. Otherwise, what is the difference between store-bought and homemade produce?”
The harvest from her terrace is majorly used in the household and distributed among family and friends. At present nothing is sold commercially but she plans to take some land on lease and start organic farming. “There are many people who wish to switch to organic farm produce but don’t find time to grow it. My primary customer base will be them,” she shares.
For those interested in organic farming, the urban gardener says, “There is no need to spend a lot of money or space to begin organic farming. You can even put together a garden on a 100-square feet terrace for less than Rs 1,000.”
“Since I plant a lot of varieties in more than 300 pots, I have incurred an expense of Rs 30,000 to date. The same can be done in grow bags, which costs less,” she adds.
She also adds that if a considerable amount of time is spent setting up the garden, it takes less than an hour per day to take care of them. “For me, plants are like my kids, so I visit them once in two hours,” she says joyfully.
Other than farming, Elizabeth gives lectures as a part of the horticulture department which trains new urban farmers. She helps families set up their terrace gardens. “I charge Rs 25,000 for setting up 40 grow bags. This includes potting mix, fertiliser, seeds and pesticides. I also visit the garden twice to check the growth, under the package,” she says. Elizabeth is also the admin of four WhatsApp groups that are filled with farming enthusiasts who have plenty of doubts.
In the same year when she started gardening, Elizabeth also found time to begin a YouTube channel called Eli’s World, where she shares her farming techniques, tips and tricks. Her videos have a viewership of 5,000-10,000. “It was through YouTube that I studied farming in detail. So, I started the channel for people like me to study farming easily,” she gushes.
Elizabeth hopes to start teaching farming formally as a crash course to beginners. “It is important to have healthy produce daily and this can only be possible if one owns a small piece of garden in their respective homes. I vouch for that and will extend support to those interested,” says the urban gardener.
Edited by Yoshita Rao