From farm to table

HARVEST TIME: Enjoying the fruits of smart gardening

HARVEST TIME: Enjoying the fruits of smart gardening  

For the land-strapped citizen, the desire to take up gardening on the terrace and roof of one’s home is but natural. There’s a growing trend in the country to fill small albeit useful spaces with a host of plants that yield rich dividends in the form of herbs, fruits and vegetables. The MELANGE team takes a look at people who are taking the self-sustaining way when it comes to food.

Growing carrots and cabbages in plastic troughs on rooftops look so easy and tempting that you’re wondering why you still haven’t tried it. On a crisp September morning, I am greeted by sprouts of beetroot greens, flourishing troughs of lemongrass and mint, plump cherry tomatoes waiting to be plucked and snake gourds hanging from a wooden frame above.

Nestled in the heart of a fairly green Sadashivnagar, the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS) is an educational institution that takes rooftop gardening seriously. And there can’t be a better group of young people than the researchers working on various projects — ranging from water and waste management, urban infrastructure, inclusion, informatics and more — that are part of India’s urban transition.

Together as a community, they’ve transformed about 1,250sqft of their fourth-floor terrace into a lush green patch, almost completely organic, yielding everything from the humble coriander to purple brinjals, and spicy chillies, and even exotic passion fruit. They see their food go literally “from farm to table” because all their produce is used in the institution’s canteen.

“We provide food for our staff through the office canteen. We have about 80 people at IIHS, so all the food demands can’t be met with what we grow,” explains Capt. K. Pooja Vasanth, Head of Operations, IIHS. But that hasn't deterred them from harvesting multiple crops almost every week. “We usually have more than a kilo of whatever we grow every week. We supplement that by buying from the market. We keep a tab and grow seasonal vegetables.”

Spinach is their best bet, being a fast-growing leafy vegetable. Their current crops include grow bitter gourd, brinjal, capsicum, coriander, green chillies, radish, tomatoes, snake gourd, cabbage, beans, knol-khol, lemon and carrots.

Kodandaram, a dedicated gardener, takes care of the rows of plastic troughs arranged in an L-shape bordering the rooftop canteen. They have a neat drip-irrigation system in place and the tall growing bins (some of which were earlier garbage bins) and troughs are lined with simple filters at the base to drain out excess water. An earthworm-based fertilizer is used. The soil is mixed and brought from the nearby guesthouse, which boasts of a large garden. They are now setting up their own composting unit from waste generated within the organisation.

Employees like to spend time amid the plants and tend to them and also help in harvesting. Shyamala Suresh — a waste management researcher and a member of the IIHS editorial team — visits the garden daily to keep tabs on the output also updates the team on their garden’s progress via an internal newsletter. “At home, we compost and grow vegetables in our balcony,” she says. Nawaz Khan, a designer at IIHS, and his colleagues pluck fresh mint to use in green tea every day. “I come from a farming family in Gulbarga so I pitch in with suggestions on keeping pests away from the crops without using chemicals,” he says, demonstrating how to pinch off white furry mildew on the lemon plant.

“The whole idea is to encourage people to stay in touch with Nature, grow organic, healthy food and convert roofs into green productive spaces,” adds Pooja.

Quick tips

*To begin with, greens are easy to grow, high in yield, and will give you the confidence to continue

*Vegetables like chillies, brinjal, tomatoes and capsicum can be grown all-year round

*Medicinal plants and herbs like basil, lemongrass, sage, and mint can be grown in limited spaces

*Food waste can be converted to compost and used to grow chemical-free food

*Source seeds and organic soil supplements with care and learn about organic pest-control techniques

*Growing in urban spaces educates people that food can be grown and not just bought.

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Printable version | Apr 5, 2020 3:47:59 AM |

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