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How to turn your terraces into mini Edens

Professor Viswanath Narayan tells DNA how he has helped hundreds turn a patch into a green wonderland

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Professor Viswanath Narayan tells DNA how he has helped hundreds turn a patch into a green wonderland

The seed

The year was 1995, I was flying back from Delhi after a meeting on Bio-Fertilizers (that I was manufacturing at the time) and the flight was circling Bangalore Airport. When I saw the sight of empty terraces reflecting the sun’s rays, I thought to myself if only we could grow plants on terraces, we can reduce heat and Bangalore’s temperatures can dip.

The thought then was merely cooling terraces. But since then there has been no turning back — I started helping people with landscaped gardens and moved to organic terrace gardens for vegetables. The first workshop on Terrace Gardening I conducted was at the Institution of Agricultural Technologists (IAT). About 100 participants were present and their feedback made me go back to our facility and grow vegetables for two seasons. That gave me a lot of confidence to conduct classes in 1996 and since then I’ve been teaching people to cultivate their own terrace gardens.
Why should we grow our own vegetables?

The primary point of eating food is to have good health, but what if we are eating poison and calling it food. Our underground water is contaminated and our immediate environment is polluted. Organic terrace gardening gives each individual the opportunity to grow what they eat. A terrace garden also cools the house by reducing the heat; this in turn saves energy bills.

The microenvironment becomes cleaner as it takes carbon dioxide and releases oxygen and there’s no need to go to oxygen clubs.

If everyone has a terrace garden carbon footprints are reduced and we, as a country, can earn credits. Instead of complaining about global warming, you are doing something in the confines of your own house. It also helps reduce pollution. Terrace gardening is also a great way of utilising you kitchen waste; it can be used as compost to grow your plants.

Also with Bangalore’s tree cover disappearing, a small green patch at home can be refreshing. And of course, you’re growing your own food. It’s also an alternate production system or area for the loss of agricultural land that is reducing.

It’s catching on
Terrace gardening is catching on among youngsters; it’s becoming a popular hobby.  In Cuba, urban farming including terrace gardens is feeding the entire country. In the West, many schools in cities are promoting urban farming to promote healthy eating habits. There are a lot of resources online where one get an idea about how popular organic terrace farming is across the world. Cityfarmer.org, is a website by Michele Levenston that gives reviews of gardens from across the world. Recently, a National Seminar on Organic terrace gardening was held in Bangalore to bring terrace gardeners on to a single platform.

How can one get started?
Starting your own terrace garden is very simple. Start with one pot a week and gain hands-on experience. You can do it on your own or attend a workshop. But you should first realise that it isn’t complicated to grow your own terrace garden. Humans have a connection with plants from time immemorial, so gardening is almost instinctive.

Have space
According to Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, one square metre can yield 20 to 50 kg of produce per year. So, if you have 10 square meters it will be 200 to 500kgs of vegetables and fruits per year. If you have a small balcony you can use that as your garden. If space is a constraint, you can go vertical. The only limitation is sunlight. If your terrace receives enough sunlight (which is free) you could have a wonderful organic terrace garden.

Cost of your garden
You can start your own garden with as little as Rs50 and then keep adding to your garden as time goes by. But if you want to turn a space of 30x 40 terrace into a garden you might have to invest Rs15,000 to Rs20,000, that’s the cost, if you want someone to implement the garden for you. If you are willing to do it yourself, set aside Rs7,500 to Rs15,000, and you will need three to five months to see your first crops. Gardening is also good exercise, so not only will you improve your health, but your medical bills will reduce.

First harvest
To cultivate your own organic terrace garden, it’s a good idea to start with leafy vegetables (greens), as they are easy and quick to grow. Always try to grow what you like and use frequently, like mint, coriander, curry leaves, chillies, tomatoes, etc. Add to these two or three of your favourite vegetables. And once you gain confidence you can even grow fruit crops. What’s important is to plan how you want to do it.

What are the challenges?
The present challenge is to convince schools to start organic terrace gardens on their terraces as they are the future of this country. This way we can also ensure that they eat healthy food. Companies can also use their terraces for gardening. A college in the city has started a course on organic terrace gardening, which is heartening. The greatest challenge is to convince our bureaucrats and politicians to have awareness programmes about terrace gardening.

Learning to grow
Teaching people to cultivate their own terrace gardens has taught me a lot. I’ve picked up valuable lessons on things like cultivation, management of nutrients, pests, disease and water anagement. In the process of teaching I’ve also developed lighter growing media, suitable containers to our terraces, etc.

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