Meet Nithila, Organic Roof-top Gardener

29 Sep

At one point of time, we harvested rainwater, walked everywhere, made and mended our own clothes and we even grew our own food. We were self-sufficient to a large extent and were dependent on others only during dire times. With modernization and technological expertise we have adapted to changing scenarios.

Meet Nithila

Here’s a proactive Bangalorean who is actively trying to reduce her carbon footprint.  Nithila Baskaran is a photographer, traveller, bird watcher, wild life conservation enthusiast and now she’s into Organic Roof top Gardening. We asked Nithila about her rooftop garden and how  she came about growing her own veggies for her home.

Nithila Baskaran- Organic Terrace Garden

Nithila’s Take On Organic Gardening

●  What motivated you to set up a roof top vegetable garden?

I like the idea of growing fresh, safe and pesticide free food.  It is a good way of reducing our carbon footprint, most foods travel many hundred of kilometers from farm to plate. But most importantly, because I enjoy it and its a great sense of accomplishment when you put on the table the veggies you have grown.

●  How big is it?

150 sq ft.

The Terrace Garden Unit

● How is the general set up? What is it made of?

Container with wooden sides and a thick plastic sheet for the bottom, and drip irrigation.

● What are the veggies you grow? What grows best when and in what?

Beans, Spinach, Arugula, Lettuce, Swiss Chard, Brinjal, Tomato, Coriander, Mint, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Basil, Chillies and other greens.

Mint

Tomatoes, Greens, Beans

Brinjal

● How much veggies do you grow here? Are you self sufficient as far as some crops go? Do you think you can one day reach a stage where you no longer need to buy veggies from outside?

We no longer buy any greens (spinach, dhantu soppu, swiss chard, mint, coriander etc). Our consumption of these has also increased drastically resulting in a healthier eating habit for our family. Tomatoes, radish, brinjals and chillies are  so plentiful that we sometimes end up giving them away.

Days Harvest

● Is it completely organic? Tell us about the manure you use.

Its fully organic. We use vermicompost, vermiwash and bone meal about once or twice a month .

● Are there any pests? If yes, how do you control them?

Sure there are pests and diseases. Aphids, caterpillars, mealy bugs, leaf curl etc. We spray a concoction of garlic basically, sometimes a diluted neem spray.

Greens

●  What other special care do you take to keep your garden healthy and alive?

Regular application of vermicompost and bone meal. Controlling the moisture levels in the growing medium and pruning when needed.

●  How easy or difficult is it to maintain and manage a terrace garden such as yours? Is it high maintenance, can others have their own small set ups?

Its easier than you think! It’s not high maintenance at all. It takes a little bit  of discipline to pay attention to things such as pests and weeding etc, but once you get the hang of things it becomes quite enjoyable.

● How can people with very little terrace or balcony space start their own mini gardens?

Lettuce

You really don’t need a lot of space to grow your own veggies. What’s more important is spending a little time everyday and learning the basics on organic kitchen gardening. Here are a few websites that will help.

http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/articles/2008/05/15/a_plot_in_a_pot/

http://urbanhomestead.org/

http://gardening.about.com/od/vegetablepatch/a/ContainerVeggie.htm

http://rajsmusings.wordpress.com/2009/05/

●  What soil combination do you use?

Rain water Harvesting Unit

I use coco-peat, which is essentially composted coconut fiber, since it is much lighter than soil-which is an important factor since it reduces the load on the terrace and holds water for much longer.  Leafy vegetables and most other vegetables take to it very well.

●  How much of a budget does one need to set up a self-sufficient unit like this? Or a smaller one?

The only significant cost is in setting up the unit especially if you opt for one of the custom-made setups with an integrated drip irrigation system. But a simple setup consisting only of containers or pots and soil/coco-peat can do just as well.

Easy to grow and maintain

● How many hours a day do you devote to your garden?

On an average it would work out to around thirty to forty minutes a day.   The time spent in my garden , tending to the plants and watching them grow is actually a stress buster.

Terrace Gardening

●  Any advise for beginners?

Don’t let the space or money constraints stop you.  Home grown organic vegetables can even be grown in empty paint buckets or sacks of soil! Start small and expand your garden as you go along. Once you experience the joy of harvesting home-grown veggies you’ll find yourself hooked!

If you are a novice vegetable gardener try starting with spinach (paalak) ,radish, mint and coriander. Market bought palak and coriander are often grown in very unhygienic conditions; radish is a good crop to try for starters as its quick yielding and relatively pest free.

Swiss Chard

It makes good sense to grow green leafy vegetables , especially those that are eaten raw in salads, as the market bought ones are often heavy on  chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Quick Quiz:

Favorite vegetable to grow? Arugula, Pok Choy, Tomatoes.

Easiest veggie to grow? Radish, Swiss Chard

Favorite soil composition?

Red mud and gobar if you are farming on land whereas coco-peat makes for a better medium for terrace garden owing to their light weight. You can enrich coco-peat by adding vermicompost.

Favorite natural pesticide? Garlic Spray

Preferred composting technique and appliance? A leave-it composter pot. You can buy it in Bangalore from dailydump.org.

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16 Responses to “Meet Nithila, Organic Roof-top Gardener”

  1. dr. madhukar jadhav March 14, 2011 at 11:46 am #

    Hats of to you. I just want to know what is the area of your terrace occupied for garden.

  2. padma March 2, 2011 at 3:52 pm #

    can u please tell me the exact mixture of soil for containers

    • Description March 3, 2011 at 12:30 am #

      Well Padma, this really depends on what you are growing. But generically, you can try a blend of cocopeat that retains moisture longer than just soil and some nutritious vermicompost for a good effect. We also like to add some rich red soil if we’re growing root vegetables. Best of luck.

  3. Rani February 23, 2011 at 2:35 pm #

    Hi Nithila,
    I live in Bangalore and would like to visit your rooftop garden.Please let me know if its ok.
    Best Regards
    Rani

  4. Labbydayrub January 31, 2011 at 8:43 am #

    In the seventh heaven Additional Year one! 🙂

  5. anandhi January 30, 2011 at 10:39 pm #

    Hi Nithila,
    Thanks for sharing your gardening experiences.
    1. Can you please share with us, your rain water harvesting system in detail.
    2. What kind of plastic sheeting you use (or which is better) for the growing bed? and where to get them?
    3. How the excess water if any, gets drained in the growing bed?
    4. Do you cover the growing area from rain?
    Thanks Again, Anandhi.

  6. Ephephots January 11, 2011 at 10:11 am #

    Happy Additional Year. harry! 🙂

  7. Jameel Ahmed January 2, 2011 at 5:24 pm #

    I am interested in growing organic vegetables on my roof. Would you help me in setting up the garden.

    • The Green Life Initiative January 4, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

      Hi Jameel, you’ve made a great decision. While we can’t directly help you set up your garden, we are planning an organic gardening series to guide folks like yourself. We’ll be providing links and contact details for gardening and horticulture related resources on the blog as well.

      Subscribe to our blog and watch this spot to stay informed.

  8. bet365 November 22, 2010 at 5:35 pm #

    how are you I was fortunate to come cross your subject in yahoo
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  9. me November 17, 2010 at 9:58 am #

    sweet

  10. Deepanwita Biswas September 29, 2010 at 7:03 pm #

    I want to make a roof/terrace garden in Thane(Mumbai). Want your help about it. I absolutely don’t know anything about gardening except watering, weeding & talking to them. I will very happy if you can help me. Another thing i don’t like worms specially earthworm much.

    • The Green Life Initiative September 29, 2010 at 8:16 pm #

      Wonderful to see your interest Mrs. Biswas. Nithila makes it sound quite simple. Check out the links she’s suggested to get a quick understanding of what you need.

      Earthworms are great for soil but if you can’t bear composting yourself, you can pay a visit to a nearby nursery and they will point you towards a local supplier for vermicompost, coco-peat and other necessities – ready made compost – worm free. Before you plant a new crop, make sure you get on-line and do a quick search on the growing conditions, nutritional requirements of the plants.

      We’ll be posting more relevant links on our Facebook groups as we discuss this topic so stay posted.
      Feel free to ask us any queries you may have 🙂
      Best of luck and let us know how your project goes.

      • anandhi January 30, 2011 at 10:34 pm #

        Hi Nithila,
        Thanks for sharing your gardening experiences.
        1. Can you please share with us, your rain water harvesting system in detail.
        2. What kind of plastic sheeting you use (or which is better) for the growing bed? and where to get them?
        3. How the excess water if any, gets drained in the growing bed?
        4. Do you cover the growing area from rain?
        Thanks Again, Anandhi.

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