Monday, December 13, 2010

RWH results - 2009

It is close to a year since I designed and got RWH installed at my residence and I felt it is a good time to look at the results (this was in 2009 - need to add 2010 figures)
Now the RWH itself is a storage sytem (not ground-water recharge) which had to be adapted to the constraints of the house and the experience of getting it done (design and implementation) is an interesting story which I will share in another post as I see many parallels to how we develop software…
I have taken the data from July to June for the last three years (somewhat aligns to the monsoon plus the fact that I got it done last August).
Total consumption (pre-installation) for 2006-07 was 1,71,000 litres
and for 2007-08 was 1,58,000 litres
while for 2008-09 (post installation) is 1,07,000 litres.
This implies a savings of 51,000 litres as compared to the previous year which is significant in my opinion considering that the consumption prior to RWH also is not very high (based on a norm of 135 litres/per person / per day which works out to 1,48,000 litres per year for a family of three).
Now translating this to money what does it imply?
Assuming a 5000 litre tanker costs Rs 500 the water savings translate to Rs 5100/year. The investment for the RWH was about Rs 25,000 - so it would need 5 years (with the kind of rains we received last year) to recover the costs. But if you consider BWSSB rates which do not even cover their costs it will be a long long time to recover the investment. This brings up an interesting topic - how does one measure the benefits of any such initiative? Should one go only by the economic value and miss on the bigger picture? Also it was easy in my case to measure since I had a storage system built but the same would not be possible if one sets up a groundwater recharge system.

Rain water harvesting - design

My primary motive is to give some ideas to others who might be considering RWH. It also has value in the similarities I see to our software projects where we invariably work with different constraints and choices we make during design having repercussions later down the line post deployment.
Background:The house is a 30+ year old construction which we purchased in 2001 and got it renovated. At that point of time we had not thought of RWH. Last year I started to seriously consider doing RWH within the constraints posed by the house without too many major changes.
First constraint: I could not do groundwater recharge as there is no existing well / borewell nor space to now dig one.
Second constraint: The simplest option available was to connect all the down-pipes (that bring down the rain water from the roof) together, add a pop-up filter (there is one readily available for Rs 2000 designed by a scientist at IISc Shivakumar) and then feed the water into the sump. The issue here was that we very rarely (almost never ) use the sump as the BWSSB supply directly fills the overhead tank (house is a single floor construction). Feeding the rain water into the sump meant that we would now be forced to use the pump and consume more electricity. It was a tradeoff between saving water and consuming electricity. I decided against this option. Looking back I feel now that it would have been lot simpler and possibly a cheaper option too but then I would not have had this opportunity to tell an interesting tale. I guess same goes for the design options and decisions we taken in our projects too. Hindsight is 20/20 !
So I had to figure out a RWH store and use solution which is based on gravity flow ….

The existing architecture itself provided opportunities to do so.
The car portico roof was about 2 feet below the main house roof. This gave me an idea to set up a tank here into which rain water from the main roof could flow. Now given the height difference between the two roofs this had to be a rectangular tank to maximize the storage volume. The first option thought of was to buy an outdoor loft tank. The maximum capacity available was 1000 litres. Couple of factors which made the decision against the PVC tank. One the roof space available was much more and two there was a danger of coconuts, fronds from the neighbors yard falling and breaking the tank. (A sidenote: The neighbor cut down all the coconut trees recently and replaced them with potted ornamental plants instead!) So I planned for a brick construction which utilized the space available to the maximum and provided a capacity of about 2000 litres. So far so good…
The main roof was sloped from the middle (on an east west axis) towards north and south. Given the position of the portico in the south east corner and the drain pipes being on the north and south walls of the house it would be a complex process to connect all of them to the tank on the portico (ref diagram 1). As a result only the three pipes on the south side were changed to connect to the tank. This however meant only half the water collecting on roof was being collected.
I kept thinking of the other half and finally hit upon another solution. The toilet inside the house at the north west corner had a large attic which was virtually empty. This again provided an opportunity to set up a storage to which the drain pipes on the north side of the house could be connected. In this case I went for a PVC loft tank. The space on the attic was sufficient to put up a 1000 litre tank. However as I later envisioned the process of getting the tank into the house and putting it up I realized that the narrow passage and the toilet door posed a constraint which could not be overcome. There was simply no space to move the tank in even though there was space on the attic. So deployment issues forced a change of design. Atleast I was lucky that this struck me before I had the tank brought home! As I result I had to settle for a 750 litre loft tank. A side note is that though originally I opted for Sintex but the delays the dealer had in procurement (loft tanks are not used so widely and it had to come all the way from Gujarat) made me to switch to Kaveri which was immediately available. One more constraint was that I did not want to drill big holes into the outer wall (being an old construction did not want to take chances) and had to figure out a way to get the rain water pipe in through the ventilator. Further since the tank was inside the house and overflow pipe had also to be arranged which would take the excess water outside. All the pipes running to the loft tank would not make a pretty sight but considering the utility aspect I decided to forego on the aesthetics (which anyways is not high on my priority list even otherwise!) So the design with a custom tank for the front on the portico, loft tank on the attic inside the toilet was ready and the plans for how the drain pipes would link upto them was in place. Now it was time for implementation which is another story in itself…!

Monday, December 6, 2010

36 hours - a real life drama

5:00 am Thursday Dairy Circle:
A bull calf is frolicking, enjoying the free open road which is unimaginable at any other time oblivious of what is in store…
On comes a bus, the driver too enjoying the freedom at this hour to drive recklessly…
The calf is thrown a few away and lies there, frozen in shock and pain of the multiple injuries.
5:30 am Thursday:
The security guards at KMF Dairy whose entrance is right there witness the accident and move the calf out of the road on to the narrow footpath (as a result of the BBMP axiom: widen the roads and narrow the footpaths – people on the road are more important than pedestrians). This move would at least avoid multiple runovers and instant death for the calf.
7:00 am:
“K” a worker at KMF comes out of the gate after completing his night shift. Notices the injured calf and something tugs his heart and he stays there and tries to get some help in vain. Though KMF has veterinary doctors they cannot be reached at this early hour.
7:30 am:
Some more passersby gather around. A few Christ College girls on their way to classes stop and decide to do something. Everyone trying various animal welfare organizations on their mobiles – BlueCross, CUPA, PFA, Animal Shelter but not getting through or an assured response to come and help. Most of the times it is a tag with one number giving another number to call…
The calf’s neck is outstretched and eyes are turning up but makes no sound at all. The girls feed him water.
8:00 am:
“J” is on his way to his office at Madivala. Notices the crowd on the footpath. “one more casualty to the traffic madness” he thinks in his mind as he passes by. But the thought still lingers in his mind “what if I stop for once and see if anything can be done”. Takes a U-turn and comes back to the spot.
More numbers being tried out but not getting the response. The girls getting frustrated and restless at this lack of empathy. A policeman on his way to his “duty” who evades the sight and walks away briskly. Meanwhile the traffic on the road is building up. Two wheeler riders in a rush to office or dropping children to school take advantage of the additional space available on footpath to beat the traffic. This adds insult to injury and the furious girls block the way and force a two wheeler rider with 3 kids on a TVS back on the road. Meanwhile “R” a BBMP supervisor known to “K” joins the group. A loaded BBMP garbage collection 3-wheeler comes along. The supervisor directs them to take the animal to the nearest Govt. Veterinary hospital. They promise to come after unloading the garbage. Looking at the traffic it seemed unlikely that they can make it before another half-an-hour atleast.
Finally the group spot an empty 3 wheeler truck in the crawling traffic and manage to get him to park. The animal is loaded onto it and they start for Adugodi Veterinary hospital about 3km away. The girls want to be there too despite of the fact that they had to skip classes. They try a couple of autos but they are not interested in coming there. “J” offers to take them in his car. Only problem was that being a Reva only 3 can squeeze in and there were 4 of them. Finally one of them goes along with “R” on a two wheeler and rest take the Reva.
9:30 am:
“J” crawls with the traffic and reaches Adugodi but comes to know that the Veterinary hospital has been demolished thanks to the road widening in progress on Hosur Road. However the other group along with the calf seems to have reached the place! After a few phone calls figures out where they are and manages to reach them on the wrong side of the road – thanks to the fact that while the road has been widened with stones it has not yet been paved! The veterinary hospital has been shifted temporarily to the first floor of the Traffic police station building. However there is no question of shifting the calf upstairs for any treatment. Worse nobody thinks of (this includes the hospital staff) any kind of first aid for the visible wounds too L. The “asst. surgeon” there advises the group to go to Wilson garden another 3 kms or so, where there is another Veterinary hospital. The girls feel that they should not trouble “J” who is working (on something obviously “important”). However on the contrary there was not anything particular that “J” was upto that morning and wanted to see this to the very end. So he took them to Wilson garden along with the other group with the calf in the truck.
10:00 am:
Luckily for the rescuers and the calf, there is a veterinary doctor and two assistants at the hospital in Wilson garden though the building itself is dilapidated and being under renovation. The doctor administers a drip and medication for shock and the calf shows some signs of recovery. However the overall diagnosis is bad – one hind leg is fractured at the hip and there could be other internal injuries too. The doctor candidly says that such hip fractures are difficult to fix; needs an operation fixing a metal rod etc. – costs around Rs 4000 for which one can get another calf! Suggests that the calf be taken to the animal shelter as they have no facilities to keep animals at the hospital. If at all any operation has to be done it can be considered after a few days. Further such an operation could only be done at Hebbal Veterinary College. “K” from KMF seems to have developed a great attachment for the calf – is visibly in tears and openly declares that he is ready to bear the expenses of the operation. Considering the fact that he may not be a person of substantial financial means that is a remarkable statement. Finally the girls take leave after taking mobile numbers to get in touch later. Offer whatever amount they have with them which is denied by “K” considering that they were students.
Meanwhile there is a visitor to the hospital with a cat. One of the assistants say that he is a great cat lover – has around 150 cats virtually living all over him at home. On learning about the calf, the cat lover rains the choicest urdu abuses on the owner of the calf, the driver of the bus and leaves…
Somebody makes an interesting observation except in case of humans, males are considered worthless in all animal species!
“R” the BBMP supervisor calls up to arrange one of his vehicles for taking the calf to the animal shelter in Koramangala.
11:00 am:
“J” takes leave to get back to office, with “K” and “R” assuring him that they will take care of getting the calf into the animal shelter…
12:30 pm:
“J” gets a call from “K” that the calf has been admitted to the animal shelter. One veterinary doctor is supposed to make a daily visit and they will start any treatment post his visit.
7:00 pm:
One of the college girls call “J” to enquire. Gives her an update and thinks of making a visit to the shelter the next day….
11:00 am Friday Koramangala:
“J” visits the shelter – a vast open space ( a rare sight in the city these days!) next to the Games Village. One of the workers there leads “J” to the calf. It is lying in the same position as it was on the footpath the previous day. The worker says it has not eaten anything and was only drinking some water. His prediction was that it is not going to survive. “J” talks to the staff at the shelter and realizes that the veterinary doctor had not visited the previous day and may come in some time later that day. The shelter is primarily for rescued animals and not really a place for treating such injured animals.
“J” returns to office with many thoughts at the back of his mind – “should we give up now, should we be trying out something more”.. Talks to a friend who has some contacts in CUPA and gets in touch with them. CUPA is willing to transport the animal and take charge of treatment provided it is in a treatable condition. They understandably do not want to add to its pain by shifting it again if it is a hopeless case. However they do not have a doctor available who can travel over and check the animal and take the call. It becomes a Catch-22 situation.
After some more calls the CUPA doctor at the Koramangala dog pound agrees to come over and check the animal. “J” also goes to the animal shelter to see that he gets the access. On reaching the place the staff of the animal shelter inform him that the calf passed away about 30 minutes back. Finally it gained relief from all the pain and misery it must have endured for this long.

End of this story but questions remain…
Should we blame the owner of this calf to have let it free?
Should we blame the bus driver for his rash driving?
Or the govt. for the lack of adequate facilities at the veterinary hospitals?
Should we be happy that there still considerate souls like “K”, “R” or the college girls who felt the need to attend to this call of distress rather than their other commitments?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Man's search for meaning

Just finished reading an inspiring book "Man's search for meaning" by Viktor Frankl

Viktor E. Frankl was a professor of neurology and psychiatry at the Univ of Vienna Medical School. He spent three years in concentration camps during WWII. This book based on his experiences and the perspectives he developed as result has become a classic translated into 26 languages selling more than 12 million copies across the world.
Here are a few notable pickings from the book but that should whet your appetite to go and read it all (it is a slim book – 154 pages).

“He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How” – Nietzsche.
Life is not a quest for pleasure as Freud believed or a quest for power as Adler taught but a quest for meaning.

…The majority of prisoners suffered from a kind of inferiority complex. The consciousness of one’s inner value is anchored in higher, more spiritual things, and cannot be shaken by camp life. But how many free men, let alone prisoners, possess it?

A human being is finite and his freedom is restricted. It is not freedom from conditions but it is freedom to take a stand towards the conditions.
Man does not simply exist but always decides what his next experience will be, what he will become the next moment. One of the main features of human existence is the capacity to rise above such conditions (biological, psychological or sociological), to grow beyond them. Man is capable of changing the world for better if possible, and of changing himself for the better if necessary.
Freedom is however not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon who positive aspect is responsibility. Freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. I recommend a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast to supplement the Statue of Liberty on the East.

An active life serves the purpose of giving man the opportunity to realize values in creative work, while a passive life of enjoyment affords him the opportunity to obtain fulfillment in experiencing beauty, art and nature. But there is purpose in that life which is almost barren of both creation and enjoyment and which admits of but one possibility of high moral behavior: namely, in man’s attitude to his existence, an existence restricted by external forces. If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.
Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.

It did not matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual. These tasks and therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man, and from moment to moment. They form man’s destiny, which is unique and different for each individual.

Tragic optimism – optimism in the face of the tragedy and in view of the human potential which at its best always allows for
i) Turning suffering into a human achievement and accomplishment
ii) Deriving from guilt the opportunity to change oneself for the better
iii) Deriving from life’s transitoriness an incentive to take responsible action

Three main avenues on which one arrives at meaning in life:
The first is by creating a work or by doing a deed.
The second is by experiencing something or encountering someone; in other words meaning can be found not only in work but also in love.
The third: even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation, facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may turn a personal tragedy into a triumph.

Do not aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.

Live as if you were living for the second time and had acted as wrongly the first time as you are about to act now.
Just as life remains potentially meaningful under any conditions, even those which are most miserable, so too does the value of each and every person stay with him or her, and it does so because it is based on the values that he or she has realized in the past, and it is not contingent on the usefulness that he or she may or may not retain in the present.
More specifically this usefulness is usually defined in terms of functioning for the benefit of society. But today’s society is characterized by achievement orientation, and consequently it adores people who are successful and happy and in particular, it adores the young. It virtually ignores the value of all those who are otherwise, and in so doing blurs the decisive difference between being valuable in the sense of dignity and being valuable in the sense of usefulness.
The world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best.
So let us be alert – alert in a twofold sense:
Since Auschwitz we know what man is capable of.
And since Hiroshima we know what is at stake.

Our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


My last post referred to water leakages and BWSSB call center. You might wonder why I mentioned only about water leakages. Now there is a reason and that is the topic of this one! I find that people are sensitive to different things and react differently. For eg: I am very sensitive to water leakages. Invariably on my way to office or while returning home I notice them. Earlier I would suffer with this sticking in my conscience and not knowing what to do about them (but no longer thanks to the BWSSB call center). However I am not so sensitive about overflowing drainages/manholes. It is primarily due to the fact that the solution that exists today - of collecting alll sewage and then dumping it (with whatever treatment) on neighborhood villages is not the right approach in the first place. So any leakage is only making the problem visible to us the people who are actually the root cause of the same and hence does not incite me into action ( My dream is that we should get to a stage of locally handling the problems for which we are responsible - could be sewage, could be garbage). Similarly littering while it makes a place look ugly is no big problem in my view since the current solution is just to truck it all away and dump it on some poor village to deal with the consequences. Water on the other hand being a resource for which we do not pay the "right cost" being transported from 100s of kms to reach the city is far more precious in my mind. However my wife who is a doctor is highly sensitive about the sewage given her professional background and a heightened urge for cleanliness!
Similarly on electricity I feel very uncomfortable to see a room without people but with lights on. I have to barge in and switch them off!
This reminds me of an incident from Ramakrishna Paramahamsa where he says he cannot stand the touch of money. Vivekananda tries to test by placing some coins underneath his bed when he is not around. When Ramakrishna comes and tries to sit, he gets up as if hit by an electric shock. Long back when I had read this I would wonder if this is possible but now with my own experiences I can relate to it better.

Try BWSSB's call center 22238888 - It works!

Have you encountered a water leak as you travel through the city and felt an anguish but did not know what do (who will take the effort of finding the contact number, and even if I call will somebody respond etc...)?
Here is a pleasant surprise BWSSB's call center which has been operational from some time works quite well. I have used it multiple times and every time the person on the other side is courteous and takes down all details. More than that they send you an SMS with a complaint number and even call you to check if the problem has been fixed. They take care of mapping the complaint to the BWSSB office concerned etc.
Further if the complaint is not attended to within a stipulated time, it gets escalated to the next level. So in general I have seen that the problems get fixed promptly.
So here is a govt agency who seems to have got its act right. So the next time you see that water leak do not tarry - call 2223888 any time of the day or night!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Two plants - true story

Around four months ago I had been to Lalbagh. I picked up a drumstick plant and a pepper vine from the nursery. These were planted in the garden and soon enough the drumstick plant started growing. The rate was astounding- a new leaf in the morning would be grown into a full fledged one by evening. I kept wondering how high this plant would eventually reach. At the same time the pepper vine showed absolutely no signs of growth. It remained as it was on the day it was planted. The only saving grace was that the leaves were not drying up. While this was going on for a couple of weeks, disaster struck the drumstick plant in the form of a bandicoot which routinely digs up our garden. It had been uprooted and the roots destroyed. My wife tried to transplant it into a pot but it was of no use. That was the end of a great promising beginning. On the other hand the pepper plant continued its hibernation....
Just a couple of days ago after several months and several rains, the pepper plant has stirred to life and finally given out shoots!
Moral of the story is ...

Monday, October 25, 2010

Beasts of burden

I am referring to school going children of-course! My son goes to a reputed school in South Bangalore. His classroom is on the 5th floor and everyday he has to struggle up and down the stairs with a load of 5-7kgs! This has been on my mind for some time and I was grappling for a solution. There is a concept called "Value" and "Value Stream" in Lean. From a book publishing and distribution point of view I guess it makes sense to package the complete 1 years syllabus of a subject in one book. However from a learning/teaching point of view the unit of values is the one lesson that is currently being taught. While this point may not impact the teacher so much it does result in the huge burden for the student since they need to literally carry the "muda" or waste of all lessons just because that is how text books are published and sold!
We see a clear conflict in the value definition from the perspectives of the two value streams - publication and learning. Considering that the final customer in this whole process is the student and the objective is learning it is important that the production value stream is transformed to meet this objective. This is a challenge as well as an opportunity. I can see possibilities such as print chapters on demand from an online source, text books with detachable chapters - more ideas welcome!
P.S. In case of my son the school agreed to him carrying photocopies of the relevant lessons instead of entire text books. It is an extra cost but a good enough work around for the time being...

Car parking at KSRTC busstand (KBS - Majestic) - dont!

On Oct 24th I had to make a day ‘s trip to Hassan. Since I was starting early in the morning (5AM) I planned to come to KBS (Majestic) by my car and catch the bus. I was surprised on reaching the bus-stand to note that parking beyond 4 hrs costs Rs250! However I had no choice but to park and make my trip. I ended up paying as much as my trip to Hassan by bus for just the parking! A few years back I had found parking in the bus-stand a good option to avoid the steep auto fares but it does not seem to be so any longer. Is the steep hike meant to discourage long term parking considering the shortage of real estate in that area; Bangalore Metro taking up some of their space might have added to their woes. Or KSRTC's way of discouraging cars in the heart of the city (the way Singapore or London has a congestion tax).

In any case it was a good lesson for me. I should check out if the satellite bus stand on mysore road has reasonable charges as earlier – one can park there and take a shuttle service to Majestic.
So bottomline is if you plan to park for more than 4 hrs - Majestic bus-stand car park is not an option!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Farming visits - an observation

Recently have been visiting Sahaja Samruddha an organization working on safeguarding the genetic diversity as well as a friend who is doing farming apart from his regular IT job. My good friend CM has blogged about both of this saving me the effort!
There was one interesting observation which I thought I should mention here.
On the farm visit whenever we happened to encounter the other farmers our IT farmer would exchange pleasantries and generally enquire about them, how their farming was coming along etc. He would specifically ask about the usage of chemical fertilizers and knowing his views they would go on the defensive rarely admitting to any such usage! The term they used for fertilizer was what picked my interest. They referred it to as "mevu" which is literally fodder in Kannada instead of "gobbara" which is fertilizer. Perhaps it is a reflection of the transition which has occured over a period of time in the usage of fertilzer from being an external additive to an essential part of farming!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Story of my terrace gardening - II

As I mentioned in my previous post the phase two started with my attending a 1 day workshop at AME foundation by Dr. Viswanath. Most importantly I could find two people – Laxminarayan (SL) who has designed his own boxes and Arun who supplies coco-peat based mix which can be used as the medium.
SL has a terrace garden on the 2nd floor terrace seeing which was a great motivation. Somebody should motivate him to share his experiences and photos on a blog! Further it gave a good idea on the design possibilities. He was also of immense help in identifying the sources of raw material to build boxes on my own.
Apart from his business (, Arun’s residence on the corner of RangaRao Road and VV road is a must see. It is a 100 year old house with lots of open spaces and giant trees – mango, jackfruit, silver oak – you get carried into a different era when Bangalore was truly a “garden city”. It feels good interacting with people like Arun who persist with their own values in spite of the real estate value which his site would obviously fetch today! Anyways this can be a topic for another post ….
First of all you need to find a steel fabricator and a place where old wood (recycled packing material aka deal wood) is sold. You can find them on ring road between Kanakapura road and Dayananda Sagar Engg College intersections in South Bangalore.
Keypoints to DIY box design…

You need to decide on the size of the frame. This depends on your terrace size, layout you would like to have etc… You can have a frame as small as 2ft x 2ft. I have got one made 6ft x 4 ft. This will be with steel angles of one-and-quarter-inch width (sturdy – very much required if you are going for a large frame). It also needs a stand so that it does not sit on the terrace. You can choose the height – can be as low as 1 inch. I have gone for a 1 ft stand (since I also have rain water harvesting done and did not want the water from the frame mixing up with the RWH system – I can collect the water from underneath the frame with this height). You can add square rods for supporting the vertical wooden sheets – side walls. It will also need reinforcing horizontal steel (flat plates or angles) in between if it is of the larger size. You can add 1inch steel tubes at the corners if you wish to add a stand over this – for creepers or covering it with a net etc. So if you follow some basic structural principles to ensure the stability and strength to withstand the load you can come up with the design. You can also add other good to have features like the steel tubes.
Once you have finalized on your frame you can share the same with the fabricator – best to do it with a diagram so that you can validate that he understands what you want.
After you have fixed it up with fabricator – he will need a few days to get it done it is time to do shopping for the wood.
You should check for deal wood (wood from packing cases) which is sold by the kg and comes in various size and shapes. You need to get 4 to 6 inch width pieces fitting either the width or the length of your frame. You will have to adapt based on the availability. How many pieces you need would depend the frame size. You should also account for 1/2inch or so gap between pieces (it should not be a tight fit). This space is for making holes in the plastic sheet for drainage.
For the side boards (vertical walls) you should look for 9 inches to 12 inches wide plywood/particle boards. Again you might get big sheets which will have to be cut into the right size.
Once the frame is ready you will have to fit in the bottom pieces as well as the side boards. This would need some adjustments – either you take the services of a carpenter or do it yourself.
The steel frame and wooden boards form the skeleton over which you should lay a plastic sheet so that it covers the bottom as well as the side walls – you get these big sheets on JC road.
Your box is now ready for filling with the medium (soil / coco-peat…)! All put together this should cost around Rs2500 for a 6ft by 4 ft box (steel frame, wood & plastic sheet – not including the soil, compost etc).
If all this is sounds like to much of work you can always check out places like Purna Organics ( or Vinay Chandra (Jungle Prayag) for a ready-made solution.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Story of my terrace gardening - I

Post my RWH project I was thinking of what next and started to explore terrace gardening. I visited Purna Organics founded by Mallesh Tigali an ex-Wiproite and saw the square-foot-garden. While the concept was good it did not fit my needs primarily since his “boxes” rested on the terrace which in my case would conflict with the RWH that I have. It is a collection system as opposed to a ground water recharge and hence there was the possibility of contaminating the collected rainwater with the water discharged from the garden. While still thinking of a way to use the box concept instead of waiting for a solution we started off with 22 pots. Initially we placed them where we expected the max sunlight. Disaster struck in terms of a heavy rain overnight which made the muddy water mixed with manure to overflow into our rainwater tank. As a result most of the rain water had to be let out. Luckily one of the terrace pipes had not been connected to the RWH system and hence we could move all the pots close to it though it was not the best corner in terms of sunlight. So this pot based system is going strong since last August.

I have tried to address some questions which you might have:

What vegetables can be grown?

I think there is no constraint given Bangalore’s weather. We have tried out tomatos, brinjal, chillies, doddipatre, groundnuts, greengram, potatoes, ridge-gourd (hirekai), cucumber, mara thogari (toor dal), ladies-finger, bitter-gourd, capsicum, alasande, avarekayi, dantu (greens) so far. Only our experiment with creepers has not been successful.

How about watering?
I am following the bucket and mug method. Needed about 2 buckets for the 22 pots on a daily basis. Apart from the physical exercise this also ensured that I pay attention to what is happening in the garden.
How about pests?
The major pest has been the white mealy bug which sticks to the underside of leaves. Have tried out the “ginger paste” concoction with some success though not 100%. With the onset of rains I have seen the bugs to reduce significantly. Another thought here is who defines the pests – perhaps we are also the greatest pests from the plants viewpoint!
Don’t you buy vegetables at all?
While we have tried out various varieties, I would’nt say that we are self sufficient. Unless we do this in a sufficient scale and in a kind of factory mode of operations we cannot expect a sustained yield. But then that would defeat the whole purpose of going for organic terrace gardening!

In my view the experiment is yielding a lot of insights into a miniature eco-system and the time spent in the garden is one of the most relaxing times during the day. Further it is also a time for introspection into what one wants from the garden – is it a measure of ROI (cost of inputs to market value of output), value of time spent in the garden (versus doing some other “productive job”), should there be only quantitative measures. Finally it is also a question worth mulling over what is the purpose of the plants to grow – to provide us with food, feed the various insects (so called “pests”), to propagate themselves…
It is interesting to recall what Woody Tasch says in Slow Money
Each head of broccoli that I grow costs me at least ten times what I could purchase an equivalent head for at the supermarket (or a lower multiple of an equivalent head at the health food store). In terms of economic rationality, my time working in the garden is wasted: I am investing thousands of dollars’ worth of time to produce vegetables with a market value of hundreds of dollars.
To a “ground zero” way of thinking, there is no such thing as an “equivalent” head of broccoli available from any purveyor, and what is incalculably valuable is the satisfaction that comes with the good work that is connected to the land. If it is not rooted in respite from good work, leisure becomes as cheap as the cheap food that makes it possible. If it is fresh, organic, and the product of my own nurturing over a few-month period, then broccoli is something more than just a product to be valued in terms of its market price and the market value of my labour.
I attended a workshop on Organic Terrace Gardening early this year at AME foundation by Dr. Viswanath where I got some more ideas on the “box”. So that triggered my experiments with terrace gardening phase 2 which is the subject of another post!