We somehow generally tend to associate gardening activities with elderly people. There is a notion that gardening is an activity of the retired people done to pass time. Well, that is partially true. However, it is important to note that there are some exceptions. Take for instance, this terrace gardener in our Bengaluru, who is all of 23 years old!
Meet Kiran C Pattar. A believer in unconventional education, he has been practising terrace gardening for the past seven years. Kiran has a garden of about 400 square feet on his terrace, where he grows 25 varieties of fruits. He uses empty paint buckets and large containers to grow fruits and vegetables. He has also constructed beds for the plants using bricks, all by himself. Since he believes in the “do it yourself” attitude, he started to build the brick structures on his own and completed them successfully. He says, “It was really a fulfilling experience, although it took me quite a lot of time to complete.”
Vegetables & fruits unheard of Unless seen personally, it is hard to believe what a wide range of vegetables and fruits Kiran is growing on his terrace. Among vegetables, he has almost all varieties that are available in the market. His garden even has an endangered species of indigenous brinjal that is not found in the market these days. Needless to mention that he grows flowers and medicinal plants like mint, lemon grass, citronella and many other local varieties. In addition, he grows spices like curry leaves, allspice, pepper, cardamom, bay leaf, galangal and turmeric.
Among fruits, Kiran grows custard apple, rose apple, water apple, jamun, passion fruit, fig, yellow and red dragon fruits, grapes, papaya, carambola (star fruit), avocado, banana, orange, lemon, sapota (sapodilla), pomegranate, apple ber, guava and five varieties of cherry. He also grows plum, peach, pear and apple that he is yet to harvest. He has already harvested soft fruit varieties like mulberry, strawberry, raspberry and blackberry. This is not all; his garden even includes many exotic vegetables that many of us haven’t heard of! He has already harvested asparagus, broccoli, red cabbage, leek, pak choi (Chinese white cabbage), black and red carrots, strawberry popcorn, multi-colour corn and agati.
By now, you are probably wondering how it is possible to grow fruit-bearing trees on the terrace. Well, Kiran uses grafted varieties of plants that bear fruits on very small plants and uses 30-40 litre containers to plant them. He maintains the height of these plants through regular pruning. He says that with a few trial and error experiments, he has mastered the art of growing such varieties of fruits.
Kiran follows rainwater harvesting, has installed drip irrigation and practises mulching for optimum use of water. The garden is completely organic, as he believes in strengthening the plants internally by using only natural fertilisers and pesticides. He refuses to use chemicals in any form. He prepares vermicompost and buys biofertilisers from GKVK Bengaluru.
He also leaves a few infested plants untouched so that the pests don’t attack the other healthy plants. He says, “I don’t worry much about pest control. I believe 20 to 30% of what I am growing is not going to be mine, and I am okay with that. I believe nature claims it from me through pests, worms and insects.” His garden, with all natural factors and biodiversity has become so conducive for the pollinators, that recently, a bee colony decided to settle in there.
The initial investment to establish the terrace garden was approximately Rs 30,000. This cost was recovered almost in two years. On an average, Kiran harvests two to three varieties of fruits every month and is 80% self-sufficient in vegetables. He harvests and freezes the vegetables that are seasonal and are grown in plenty so that they can be used during off-season.
He is also self-sufficient when it comes to turmeric powder. He harvests turmeric roots and grinds them at home to get a fresh homemade turmeric powder. He adds, “It is a joyous experience to consume organic vegetables and fruits, as my family and I no longer worry about harmful chemicals”.
The seeds that Kiran uses are 90% indigenous and 10% hybrid. He has been maintaining a seed bank with different varieties of seeds for each vegetable. For instance, he has at least 12 varieties of beans. He reaches out for exotic seeds online, but says, “You need to be extra careful while buying seeds online. There is a high chance that you might get cheated. It is better to buy from trusted companies”.
On an average, Kiran spends at least an hour in his garden on a daily basis. He works in the garden for five days and has a designated schedule — one day for seeding, one for pest control, a day for pruning and so on. He, of course, analyses during each visit, what needs to be done and which plants need immediate attention.
Kiran is also a member of various terrace gardeners’ groups in Bengaluru that meet once a month to discuss concerns, to share seeds and to offer suggestions to its members. He says, “The group is very helpful. Every month, I get to learn something new from fellow gardeners”.
There is no doubt that Kiran could be an inspiration to young people who want to start growing their own vegetables. To those wondering from where to begin, his advice in a nutshell is, “Start with the one you like the most among easy-to-grow vegetables, such as beans, tomato or leaves, and expand to difficult ones later. Don’t invest in the resources in the initial stages. Instead, start using resources available at home. Once you are confident, go ahead with the investment”.
For the really busy weeks with little time for gardens, Kiran has a suggestion: “You don’t have to spend time on setting up the garden. There are agencies in the City that can do it for you. You just need to hire their services. There are automated drip irrigation systems that can be controlled through mobile phone applications to water your plants. You can spend time in gardens on weekends to do seeding, planting and pest control.”
So, doesn’t it seem like it would be a joyous experience to spend some time during weekends in our own gardens? Also, rather than complaining about harmful chemicals used on vegetables, isn’t it better to grow at least some on our own? Think about it.