With very little investment and a lot of interest P.S. Neelakandan has transformed his terrace into an organic farm that comes alive with flowers and veggies and more

In the bustling, narrow lanes of West Mambalam, there is very little scope for expansive gardens around the house. This, however, did not deter P.S. Neelankandan. He put the space on his terrace to good use, and today his one-year-old terrace garden yields bitter gourd, ladies finger and even pumpkins, apart from curry leaves, greens and beautiful, fragrant flowers. In under a year, he has managed to even rotate his crops and keep them healthy during the hot months of April and May. “I studied botany in school,” says Neelakandan with a smile. He decided to set up a garden after retiring a year and a half ago, putting his passion for botany into action.

Maximising the space on his terrace, Neelankandan used little things he found around the house to set up the entire garden, buying almost nothing new. “I use gunny sacks that we buy rice in, instead of pots,” he says. In this garden, he re-purposes a lot of things to create a safe space for his plants. So where does he find the soil for so many plants? “I pick a rice sack and collect kitchen waste on it until it fills up to about three-fourths,” Neelakandan explains. “Once there’s enough mulch, I add a little bit of soil on top and plant my seeds in this mixture. And my plants are growing perfectly well from this!” While all the kitchen waste goes into the sack, underneath these makeshift pots, throughout the garden, Neelakandan has placed empty coconut shells. “They protect the plants from heat during summer,” he says, “as the heat from the floor won’t affect them.” Not just this, Neelakandan has also used plastic bags and old pickle jars to plant smaller trees. He also bought several mineral water cans for cheaper prices around his home and used them innovatively. “I have cut them into two and used both parts of the can to plant,” he says.

While he buys some seeds and saplings, Neelakandan mostly uses the stalks of greens and seeds of plants he already has at home. “I use my own drip mechanism to make sure the plants don’t dry up during summer,” he says. On his pots, wherever the plants are under direct heat from the sun, Neelakandan has placed a bottle, with its mouth inside the soil. “I have cut out its base and when I pour water into these bottles, they keep the plants hydrated through the day.”

“From basil and curry leaves to greens, the best thing about my garden is that when we find ourselves suddenly needing something, we just come to the terrace and take what we want,” he smiles. Many flowering plants too find a place in this organic garden. “I don’t use any chemicals, it’s all kitchen waste and organic mulch,” he adds.