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Isn’t it amazing how a single tomato from your own garden tastes a hundred times better than one from the market? Well, the reason for that is not entirely psychological. Your produce is fresh, it’s local, and it’s probably organic as well. And by growing and harvesting that one tomato locally, you’ve in fact reduced your own carbon footprint and helped save the environment!
Growing and consuming local produce is one of the most sustainable, ecologically sound agricultural practices today. You don’t need a lot of space, or even a lot of help to get a small veggie patch of yours going. All you really need is a little know how, some innovation and a lot of patience!
Any area that receives sunlight for about 5 hours a day is good to start with. If this area is a 2ft x 4ft patch on your terrace, well, let’s work with that then!
Start simple. Spinach, tomatoes, beans, gourds and herbs are among the easier veggies to grow, and it’s a great idea to start off with them. Try to source open-pollinated heirloom varieties of seeds that haven’t been genetically modified.
Once you’ve identified the types of veggies you want to grow, your next step is to prepare the medium for them to grow in. If you don’t have ground space, get yourself some containers that will fit into the space that you have. Pots, recycled crates or even empty paint cans make good containers for vegetables. Make sure the container is at least 8-10 inches high, and drill holes in the bottom to allow for drainage.
The right sort of planting medium is a much debated topic, though it is generally agreed that a rich potting mix of 3 parts red earth to one part each of sand and compost usually works well with most plants. Cocopeat is a lightweight potting medium, made of desiccated coconut fibre. It is light-weight, porous and water-retentive though poor in nutritive value. Cocopeat can sometimes be substituted for red earth, but a higher proportion of compost needs to be used in the planting mix.
Square foot gardening is an ingenious small-space cultivation method that is achieving increasing popularity in India as well as in the west. The available area (usually a rectangular planter box) is divided into areas of one square foot each, and each square is used to cultivate a scientifically determined number of plants of a particular variety. This style of gardening is particularly suited to rooftops and sunlit balconies, and maximizes crop yield in the minimum amount of space. Look it up and go Square Foot today!
A word of advice for novice veggie gardeners though: Don’t be over-ambitious. Start small and build your garden up over time, to a size that you are comfortable maintaining. Most importantly, be patient! Plants do not grow overnight. Lastly, don’t give up! Plants can often be flaky, and you’ll soon intuitively learn how to handle their eccentricities. You don’t need to be gifted in order to possess a green thumb, you can develop one just as easily with a little practice and a lot of patience!