Space is a huge concern in an average Mumbai home. But, despite the space limitations, you can still grow organic vegetables and herbs in a balcony garden, flower bed area or the boxed grill on your window. Depending on the space available you may be able to harvest some leaves, microgreens or vegetables every week or at least every other week.
To know how to do that, we asked a hobbyist balcony gardener, a terrace gardener who grew up at a farm, and a gardening expert who runs a nursery, for some practical tips that really work. Whether you are new to gardening or have started your own kitchen garden, these unique tips will help you grow organic plants without using chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
Right pots and tools
Terracotta and clay pots are pretty but they are also heavy. If you are concerned whether the area will be able to bear the load or the weight of all the pots and plants, try lightweight options like grow bags, plastic pots and hanging bamboo planters. There are plenty of pots based on your requirements and budget. For example, if you are growing microgreens, you can even use a shallow takeaway container by poking holes at the bottom and using its lid as a water tray.
By recycling paint buckets and plastic boxes, you are not only going to save money but also help the environment.
Even if you only have 4-5 pots, it is a good idea to invest in some basic gardening tools like a watering can with a sprinkler, soil knife and gardening scissors. You can grow your tool collection as you grow more plants.
Did you know that you don’t need to pack your pot with red soil to grow vegetables?
What you need is a combination of organic matter and soil. Here are some tips from Manasvini Tyagi, Co-founder, Green Souls Nursery to prepare a soil mix for potted plants that works for most vegetables:
- For growing vegetables like brinjal, tomato and chilli, you can use a pot which is about 14” deep.
- Make a couple of holes on opposite sides of your pot approximately at a third of the height of the pot and say two thirds the height.
- Put a handful of dried twigs and two-thirds of dried, fallen leaves, which act organic matter and attract worms and microbes. The soil life will keep moving through the soil and create space for the roots to spread evenly.
- Then add about six to seven inches of soil.
This potting mix is so light that you won’t have to worry about the weight of your pots and plants and you can easily move the plants around to the shade or towards the sun. Whether you use hybrid seeds or heirloom seeds or get plants from a nursery, this soil mix is a good way to start.
Did you know that you need to grow flowering plants to attract pollinators even if you want to grow vegetables?
Neha Kharde is an HR consultant who grows heirloom tomatoes, chilies, curry leaves, mint and many vegetables including climbers that grow all over her grills in her balcony along with some beautiful flowering plants.
She shares tips on how to use kitchen ingredients to help nourish plants.
- If a plant is drying, remove the leaves that are dry or drying. Neha tried this technique for her bush beans, which is now thriving.
- If the growth of the plant is slow, especially for plants like kadipatta (curry leaves), you can use the 3G cutting technique to cut the shoots of the plant 3 times, right at the tips of the plant.
- To prevent fungus, add a couple of spoons of turmeric to a bucket of water to dilute it and use that to water each pot as required.
- Dry eggshells in the sun and grind it in a blender. You can mix this in soil and use the soil to top up the pots as needed.
- Cinnamon powder is good for plants like chilies and beans whose roots tend to branch out. Again, this needs to be diluted so add a couple of spoons in a bucket of water and it is good to use it before the flowering season.
- Collect the water which is left after rinsing rice and dal and add about 50 ml of that water to each pot along with regular water.
Neha also recommends that you water the soil only when it becomes dry and avoid overwatering.
Did you know that the most important thing to do before growing a terrace garden is a thorough waterproofing?
G.R. Pillai started a 3000 sq.ft. terrace garden in Navi Mumbai after retiring. Having grown up on a farm in Kerala, he now grows fruits and vegetables including pineapples, papayas, brinjals, beans, drumsticks (moringa), many gourds and a variety of herbs.
Here are some terrace gardening tips to make the best use of space not only for potted plants but also plant beds for vegetables and fruits.
- Make sure your waterproofed terrace is sloping so the water is completely drained.
- Lay some plastic sheets on the terrace floor to prevent leaking and seepage.
- Mix tender coconut shells with soil in vegetable beds.
- Use onion peel juice or soak banana peels in water for 2-3 days and use that water to water the plants.
- Use cooked rice starch water (kanji), which has become sour, as a pesticide. You can spray it directly on the plants.
- You can use a diluted neem oil, tobacco and garlic juice spray to keep pests at bay. Too much of that is harmful as it makes the plant dry.
- Some pests may need to be manually removed.
- You can also dilute a teaspoon of baking soda in a litre of water and spray.
Pillai also follows Subhash Palekar’s tips for organic farming and uses the organic fertilisers recommended by them.
We hope that you can start a healthy home garden with these tips and if you have any gardening tips or doubts, please leave a comment on our Facebook page. Happy growing!