Every morning, 84-year-old Hema Rao climbs one floor of her home in Bangalore with a small basket in her hand. Once she reaches the terrace of her apartment complex, she wanders around, carefully inspecting the blue drums of lush vegetable plants spread over 12,000 square feet.
She picks the ripest vegetables, takes out a pair of scissors, cuts the branches and collects what she needs in her basket. Then she brings the harvest home.
The octogenarian has been following this routine for a few years, providing his family with fresh vegetables every day.
Her son Aditya says: “The other day, my mother brought five eggplants and three bitter gourds. Knowing that these would be insufficient to feed our family of five, she innovated a unique recipe combining the two with jaggery and cooking spices. It turned out to be delicious.
Aditya says it’s the little joys of having an organic terrace garden. “Call it a hobby or whatever, having a chemical-free vegetable garden has given us multiple benefits,” he said. The best India.
On the terrace of the Ittina Anai apartments in Bellandur, a few residents, inspired by the Rao family, have come together to grow a variety of vegetables to reduce their dependence on market produce, with the aim of switching to organic farming. While the Raos started out with 6,000 square feet of space, a few more joined later.
The Raos harvest around 12 kilos of vegetables in a week and say their grocery costs and household expenses have dropped by 60%.
An extremely rewarding activity
Aditya (47) says: “My family is from Hyderabad and we moved to Bengaluru in 1999. We had a 2 acre bungalow then, where my mother grew all the vegetables from her vegetable garden. Around 2012 we moved here to an apartment complex, and she started to miss the way she grew her own food, something she loved the most in Hyderabad.
This, he says, inspired the family to convert their patio into an edible garden that not only gives them sweet comfort, but also immense health benefits.
Hema and her daughter-in-law Chitralekha started growing food as a daily activity. “The structure of the apartment limited my mother and she lacked open space to walk around in the morning and evening. So I brought home some recycled barrels, in which she started growing vegetables. These have now become a garden in their own right with green leafy vegetables like cilantro, basil, mint, spinach and squash, as well as tubers like beetroot, radish, carrot and potato. land,” he said.
Aditya says the terrace also has tomatoes, peanuts, yams, amaranth, chilli, capsicum, peas, different types of beans and fruits like papaya.
He explains that all the vegetables are grown organically. “We used recycled plastic drums to fill them with coconut peat and mix the sludge extracted from a treatment plant installed in our company,” he explains.
He adds, “The lighter soil mix makes repotting and barrel handling easier. In addition, it prevents soil stains on the floor and reduces water consumption.
Aditya says the sludge is the by-product obtained after sewage treatment and contains rich nutrients such as ammonia, nitrogen, phosphorus and others which are essential for plant growth. “We use minimal soil to combine the fertile mix, which makes the barrels much lighter. If we only use soil, each barrel would weigh around 50 kilos, while using the mixture reduces it to around 15 kilos. We have to be careful of the weight because the load is added to the structure of the building,” he says.
The factories receive treated water from the treatment plant. “We refrain from using fresh water from the civic body. This step reduces water consumption and saves valuable resources. Unlike other residential companies, we do not hire transportation to process our sludge and other waste. All waste is treated at source,” he says.
Aditya uses neem oil, water mixed with chilli and other natural pest control methods. “We don’t mind sharing food with squirrels, monkeys, pigeons or other biodiversity. But it is insects and infections such as fungus or worm infestation that require corrective action,” he adds.
Aditya says that although organic farming is difficult and yields fewer crops, it is rewarding in terms of health. “Currently, we harvest 12 kilos of vegetables in a week. We could have obtained 50 to 70% more yield by using chemical fertilizers. But then the goal of consuming fresh and healthy food would be defeated,” he adds.
He also notes that growing their own food has reduced their need to travel to market. “We still rely on the market to buy onions, potatoes, ginger and some other vegetables,” he says.
In addition, exercise provided health benefits for the family. “My mother and my wife were diagnosed with vitamin D deficiency. But since they started spending time on the terrace, the health problem is solved. Family members get sick less often and need less trips to the hospital,” he says.
He says the green cover on the terrace also helps top-floor apartments stay 3-5 degrees Celsius cooler. “So far, we haven’t spent more than Rs 25,000 on maintaining our garden, and the rewards are immeasurable,” he says.
Inspire others to join us
Aditya adds that their initiative has also inspired ten members of the residential complex. “Some of them later gave up, but together we are growing food on 12,000 square feet of space. All residents living in 72 apartments across four buildings are the direct and indirect beneficiaries. Surplus production is used for sale, sharing or distribution by food producers,” he notes.
Sudha Anand Bala, who was inspired by the Rao family, says, “I was very impressed when I saw their terrace garden and immediately started gardening. Since 2021, I have been growing eggplant, tomatoes, spinach, peas, bottle gourd, bitter gourd, okra, fenugreek and cilantro.
Sudha says she has taken classes from Aditya on using organic fertilizers and has experimented with growing several vegetables. “I gave away excess peppers and other vegetables to neighbours. Some of them visited my garden and were also interested,” she adds.
She also notes that the added benefit is that more people have become interested in patio gardening. “Previously, no one visited the empty space of the terrace. But now, many locals climb up to take a night walk in the greenery. It also makes children excited, and some of them show interest in wanting to grow vegetables,” he says.
However, Aditya wants enthusiasts to understand that maintaining an organic patio or vegetable garden requires immense passion and dedication. “A lot of people wonder about the profitability and performance of the business. However, it is up to everyone to realize that such an exercise is not on a commercial scale and can only suffice for the needs of a limited number of consumers”, he specifies.
Edited by Divya Sethu