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!