From lettuce and tomato to the world’s hottest chilli pepper, Bangaloreans are growing it all on their terrace gardens
Manikandan P has not bought tomatoes for over three-and-a-half years — he merely plucks what he needs. Except that the software engineer in Bangalore stays in an apartment, not a farmhouse with a huge garden. So how is he managing this? Having been an avid gardener since childhood (he had 100 ornamental plants in his garden in Chennai when he was 13), he did not want to let the fact that he now had to stay in a flat in the city come in the way of his passion. The solution: a garden on his terrace.
“I started with ornamentals on my balcony… and then moved to tomatoes, capsicum and spinach,” says the 31-year-old, who has gone on to grow pretty much everything possible on a 500 square-foot space on the terrace from lettuce to strawberries. Being the peak of summer he says his garden is not in the best shape but the terrace of his apartment in south Bangalore turns out to be fascinating nevertheless with 17-foot tomato plants, various herbs and drumstick trees in plastic pots. The floor of his greenhouse is lined with fat pipes, in which he grows vegetables hydroponically (without soil). His interest in experimenting with different plants has seen him harvest beefsteak tomatoes (the largest variety cultivated), bhoot jolokia (the hottest chill peppers in the world) and watermelon in containers.
Though he has made a one-time investment of Rs 80,000 in his elaborate garden which includes Rs 50,000 for constructing his greenhouse, he says you can start your own balcony or terrace garden with around ten pots for as little as Rs 1,000-2,000. Or you can begin by merely crushing a tomato into some soil in a pot, and then wait for it to grow, he says. “What you need is interest, which I feel most people have.” There are many in the city converting this interest into an actual garden, he says.
Manikandan should know, from the various queries he gets through his gardening blog, www.geekgardener.in, which is a one-stop spot for anyone looking for information on terrace and balcony gardens. Before putting up videos of the various steps of planting seeds, he says groups of people used to land up at his doorstep for tips on weekends. “My entire Saturday would be gone,” he laughs.
B N Viswanath, a former professor with the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore and an organic terrace garden consultant, affirms the popularity of the hobby. “People were interested in terrace and balcony gardens in the city but I’ve seen a big leap from 2005, when more youngsters, especially young IT couples, started to try their hand at it,” he says. Viswanath began promoting terrace gardens when he espied the number of terraces from an aircraft he was in ten years ago. “One way of bringing down temperatures in the city, I thought, was to have gardens on terraces,” he says. The interest in growing organic vegetables on balconies and terraces, he feels, was fuelled by the spate of articles in newspapers about pesticides in vegetables and fruit.
The growing awareness about organic vegetables is also fuelling the rise in the popularity of terrace and balcony gardens, says Rajendra Hegde, a project leader at the Vittal Mallya Scientific Research Foundation, which promotes organic cultivation. Hegde, with other experts, conducts an all-day workshop on the terrace garden of the institute once in two months for Rs 500. “But I know there will be takers if we have workshops every month, too,” he says. The most common queries he gets are on whether the terraces will leak and if they can withstand the weight of all the plants. “We tell them that if your terrace does not leak during the monsoons, it will not start doing so because of the garden. And, if it is constructed well, it should be able to bear the weight of the plants.”
The main deterrent to people starting their own kitchen garden seems to be psychological. “People feel they don't have time though all it will take is a couple of hours a day, at the most,” says Hegde. Reiterates Manikandan, “It is as simple as throwing some tomato seeds in a pot. And the moment you plant a seed, your life will change.”