For a bit of green on the roof...

For a bit of green on the roof...

For a bit of green on the roof...

Have you ever imagined growing almost any vegetable you need on your rooftop? If not, meet Divya and Shripati, a couple who have proven that this could be achieved, especially in an organic and sustainable way. With the right equipment and a lot of patience, it is possible to grow almost all you need right on your rooftop, including tomatoes, ash gourds and many others.

So, how did they do it? Divya and Shripati with their two children live in a rented house with an approximately 1,200 square feet terrace area in Bengaluru. In 2014,
Divya got the idea of terrace gardening, but was hesitant of how it would work. To begin with, she bought only one pot to have her tulsi plant. After a few days, she bought a few more pots to try growing vegetables. The first one she tried was tomato as it is the easiest to grow, she says.

A vibrant garden

When tomatoes started growing as she expected, she tried leafy vegetables. That was her second experiment, she recalls. When the leafy greens started to sprout, her enthusiasm increased. With this success, she went on to the next step of growing more vegetables. However, as they stay in a rented home, they had to convince their landlord for the terrace garden, who readily agreed. Additionally, the landlord, Ramesh Babu, took care of the initial investment too.

Soon Divya and Shripati started working on how to develop their terrace garden. They consulted Divya’s cousin,Gopalkrishna Hegde, who is a scientist and the director of R&D at Noble Seeds, to chalk out a plan. Within a week’s time, the first tank-type structure which was built using hollow blocks on their terrace was ready. This served as their pilot plot with an area of 18x2 feet.

They filled this tank with coconut husks, sand, soil, compost and organic manure. After this, Divya kickstarted her experiments using a variety of leafy vegetables, green chillies and tomatoes. When her cultivation started catching up and she was satisfied with the yield, they built three more similar tank structures and expanded the cultivation.

Ever since then, Divya has never looked back. Today, her garden has almost all vegetables that are available with a local vendor. For instance, she grows five varieties of tomato, a few varieties of leafy vegetables, three varieties of brinjal, radish, carrot, cauliflower, chillies, capsicum, two varieties of bitter gourd, ridge gourd, little gourd, bottle gourd, ash gourd, cucumber, ladies finger, and six varieties of beans. Not that all these vegetables are grown at the same time, but she follows rotation system for them. In addition, you would be surprised if I tell you that they have fruits like strawberry and musk melon growing on their terrace.

Apart from these, they have hybrid varieties of guava, pomegranate, and two varieties of lemon, whose small-sized trees can be planted in pots. They also have
various flowering plants such as rose, hibiscus, four varieties of jasmine, chrysanthemum, marigold and also herbs like mint, lemon grass, tulsi, plectranthus (doddapatre), brahmi and aloe vera among others. Today, two families depend on this garden for vegetables, flowers and herbs. They are almost self-reliant and only occasionally buy vegetables from the market.

The organic route

The couple have also ensured that the garden is completely organic and free from chemical fertilisers and pesticides. They have a compost tank, which is 4x3 feet in size. The composting process is aided by the presence of earthworms and they use this vermicompost for their garden. Besides, no so-called ‘waste’ from the kitchen gets composted in the tank and ends up in the garden. Even for pest control, she uses organic methods like spraying neem oil, ash, and planting natural pest repellents like marigold in between vegetable plants.

But if you cannot afford to invest in infrastructure such as constructing tank structures and only wish to experiment on a small scale first, Divya has some suggestions, “These are not at all the constraints to start a terrace garden. You can consider using alternative techniques such as using crates of fruits, empty buckets of paint, old water cans and many similar things for growing vegetables. Instead of building a compost tank, you can use any drum with a lid.” Composting in a drum is easier than you think. “Make a few holes to the drum just to let the air in, dump all your wet waste, add some soil and dry leaves. Close the lid and set it aside for 15 days for the compost to get ready,” explains Divya.

As for water management, Divya and Shripati use borewell water. They are planning for rainwater harvesting soon. On an average, Bengaluru receives an annual rainfall of 970 mm distributed across 60 rainy days in a year. During this period, the garden need not be watered. During the dry seasons, rainwater harvesting provides a way out. If there is an arrangement to capture and store all the water whenever it rains, there will not be any dependency on external water source.

Maintaining the garden seems to be an easy task for the couple. On an average, Divya spends around 90 minutes everyday watering, cleaning and maintaining her garden. While she takes care of the garden during the week, Shripati helps out during the weekend and on days when he isn’t working at his IT company. Seeing their parents involvement in the garden, the children have also started to show interest in the cultivation and are helping out. The landlord also helps them in maintenance activities, especially in watering the garden everyday.  

Supporting each other

If you think that they are the only ones practicing organic terrance gardening in Bengaluru, think again. In fact, terrace gardeners have various groups formed across the East, West, North and South divisions in Bengaluru. These groups meet once a month where they exchange ideas and seeds or saplings and discuss their problems and concerns. Divya recalls that she had bought seeds only for the first time planting and after that she gets seeds either from her own garden or from her friends in the group.

Apart from the face-to-face meets that happen, there are also various terrance gardening groups present on various social media platforms. For instance, they have  formed a WhatsApp group where they discuss and get their questions answered instantly. There are also various Facebook groups like ‘Organic Terrace Gardening’, ‘Grow Your Own Veggies’, where they discuss issues related to terrace gardening.

Since Divya and Shripati hail from an agrarian family, their childhood experience of being involved in  agricultural activities have helped them in this endeavour. They say that it is a very satisfying experience to grow their own vegetables and they love to spend time working in their garden. Since they have been consuming organic vegetables for more than a year now, they can clearly differentiate the taste between an organically grown vegetable and those grown with chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

Don’t we often complain about rising prices of vegetables and doubt the authenticity of the organic vegetables even if the label says ‘organic’? Rather than complaining, why not give terrace gardening a try? The experience of planting, watering, and harvesting from one’s own garden could be very satisfying. Above all, we need not worry about those unknown harmful chemical fertilisers and pesticides anymore since we know what we are eating!

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox