A farm in your balcony

Last Updated : 15 December 2011, 16:21 IST
Last Updated : 15 December 2011, 16:21 IST

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Have you ever felt the joy of harvesting tomatoes, brinjals or ladies finger from a container growing in your apartment balcony? It’s actually possible! All you need are a few old containers, some soil, manure and seeds or a sapling. Many vegetables and herbs can be grown in a very small space in your balcony or terrace. Even the smallest verandah, window sill or portico can boast a crop of vegetables or a garden of flowers in containers.

Planter boxes, old plastic containers, hanging baskets and large flowerpots are just some of the containers that can be used. You can grow just about any vegetable in a container and also save money by growing your own vegetables. Cities that are fast expanding mean that there is very less area for green and open spaces. Gardens and natural areas have been sacrificed to build roads, commercial buildings and apartments.

Green spaces not only provide us with clean air and recreation, and they also provide a habitat for a large variety of plants, birds and insects. Apart from the biodiversity they also protect the city from absorbing pollutants, preventing soil erosion, absorbing solar radiation, reducing noise pollution and maintaining the health of the urban ecosystem overall. However, the city and this concrete jungle are going nowhere. We need to be innovative to create our own green spaces within our existing system.

Fun way to raise crops

Container gardening is a simple and fun way to grow edible crops in just about any situation. You can use any type of container. Strong plastic pouches, old strainers, curd boxes, two-litre soft-drink bottles, old airtight plastic boxes that have lost their lids, old trays, even unused bathtubs, the list can be endless.

Get creative! Apart from these recycled containers, you can also have specific planters and terracotta pots for planting. Any kind of container that is attracting and appealing to you and has a drainage hole on its bottom can be an option.

To start off, you need a container, plant, soil, manure and some water. Make sure there is enough room for all of these. Provide good drainage for the container by creating a hole at the bottom of the container. Do not stack up the soil around the holes, but place some large old clay pot pieces to allow for easy draining. Be sure to balance the size of your plant and container. Mix the soil with some manure and make it moist with a little water.

Fill it into the container and place the seeds/saplings. Provide ample water to the plant after planting, without drowning it. Water every day initially and depending on your plants’ need, you can water accordingly. Some people say that container gardening is best for those who do not have the time to attend to their plants.

It will not take so much of time and effort. There are some creative containers called earth boxes and self-watering containers that provide water at all times. Container gardens offer the advantage of changing your garden with every season.

Almost any vegetable that will grow in a typical backyard garden will also do well as a container-grown plant. Vegetables that are ideally suited for growing in containers include tomatoes, capsicum, brinjal, green onions, beans, lettuce, gourds, pumpkin, radishes and parsley. Beans and cucumbers also do well in this type of garden, but they do require considerably more space because of their vining growth habit. Most herbs and leafy vegetables do well in small containers. Vegetables require a little more root space and therefore require larger containers.

The following are some plants that can be grown:

Tomatoes: Tomatoes need tons of sunlight to grow. It would be best to grow them in the sunniest part of your balcony. Bury the roots/seed deep into the soil because they are able to develop roots all along their stem. Autumn is the best time to sow tomatoes and you can harvest it 80-100 days from planting. Gather fruits that are just reaching the ripening stage. Do not leave it till a tiny crack appears at the stalk end, or a softening of skin indicates complete ripeness.

Beans: Green beans are one of the easiest vegetables to grow. They don’t take up a lot of space and require very little maintenance. Pole bean plants need some sort of support structure - like a pole. If you have limited time and garden space, bush beans are probably the way to go. Sowing season is between August and October. Such crops can be harvested in about 45-60 days. During the flowering season, be careful when it comes to watering and drainage of excessive moisture. Flowers generally stop falling after the pods have developed. Watering is advised on a very dry day, because the crop is susceptible to water logging.

Chillies: This is the most rewarding plant of the vegetable family. The best time to harvest chilies is before the monsoon, which can be harvested after about two months. Hot peppers are usually harvested at the red-ripe stage; but green chilies are also required for many south Indian recipes. Plastic or rubber gloves are helpful when picking or handling hot chilies.

Onions: Onions are one of the most popular vegetables for growing in home gardens. Onions can be planted from seed or from sets (partly grown onion bulbs). When the plant is fully grown, bend over each bunch of foliage to cut off the supply of sap from the leaves to the bulb. After a week or ten days the crop may be harvested.

These are just few of the many plants that can be grown in limited balcony spaces. You can grow your own mini pharmacy of medicinal herbs like amrutha balli (tinospora cordifolia), curry leaves, basale soppu (basella alba), garlic, ginger, mint, etc.

Many people have adopted organic terrace gardening in Bangalore, a movement pioneered by Vishwanath. He began this initiative in 1992 by providing training to residents in their own locality and supplying the needed inputs like seeds, manure, plant protection materials, implements, containers, etc.

There are many organisations in Bangalore involved in plants and gardening. For example, Institute of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine (IAIM) in Yelahanka, Bangalore has a large nursery with all kinds of medicinal plants that can be home grown.

Published 15 December 2011, 16:21 IST

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