It all comes down to one’s roots.
Back home after years spent in foreign lands, growing children, a career, and then some, I am back in loud, pulsating, over-the-top-in-every-way Mumbai. And with a lineage of enthusiastic farmers in the family rooting for me, farming became inevitable. I needed to reconnect with my own earth, my own family, my own country. And so my urban farm was born – our family’s source of uncontaminated produce, our green refuge from the city, and my singular access to the solid earth of my country.
One view of my urban farm/terrace garden in Mumbai
Don’t buy your greens (or reds or whatevers) – grow them!
Year One – What Works, What Doesn’t and Some of the Reasons Why
The first summer of my little terrace urban farm was a season of experimentation, getting many basic questions answered and coming to terms with Mumbai again!
- Where do I find farming tools and why do most farmers/gardeners not wear gloves in India? – Only the big shops bother to sell good tools/gloves. Sadly, farming and gardening is still considered the job of lowly workers who are expected to have their own tools as they look for daily work – or worse still, dig the soil with their bare hands.
- Is the soil being delivered to me organic? – Most suppliers are clueless about whether the soil is organic or not, so the chances are that you are getting mixed soil unless you have your own source from organic farms.
- Where do I find good quality worms for my compost and why is no one manufacturing vermicompost bins? – I found one supplier of worms at Dharavi through a friend but yes, can someone please tell me where to find sensible, affordable, apartment-friendly vermicompost bins in India?
- Why doesn’t the municipality ensure that residents separate their waste? – Now that is a BIG question which took me right down the road to Indian politics, a road I prefer to avoid so I can keep farming!
- Will Italian basil grow in Mumbai? – Yes, it does, and bountifully!!!
- How do I grow tomatoes without a tomato cage? – The way Indian farmers do it – let them spread out on the ground, or if that is too icky, support them on wooden tripods.
- Why is it that chemical fertilizers are easily available in all garden shops and you really have to hunt to find organic feed for plants? – Another of those BIG questions I do not have an answer for today!
- How many times do I need to tell my helper that store-bought containers have to be prepared with holes and a layer of stones before we dump the earth in? – Many, many times.
- How do I farm in peace and privacy without having my neighbors in the ten storey building next door peer in?! – Spend a fortune on shade cover! Otherwise, grin and bear it – perhaps some of my more inquisitive neighbors may get inspired to take up urban farming themselves!
- How do I recognize a true sapling of a veggie from a serious looking Indian weed I have never seen before? – I get lucky sometimes and yank out the imposter. Otherwise I’ve been known to lovingly feed the little imposter until my helper comes along and congratulates me on growing weeds!
- What precautions do I need to take for terrace farming/gardening? – Every possible precaution to reduce weight, and avoid water accumulation and leakage. This includes use of lightweight containers, neat containment of all soil within, bricks to hoist containers off the ground, clear passageways for water to flow through and out of drain holes, and a spotlessly clean, brush-swept terrace floor that can dry within a few hours of watering. All of this is easily and perfectly doable – first year done, and no leakages whatsoever!
- What precautions do I need to take before the famed Mumbai monsoons descend on my terrace in full force? – Trim down perennials, sow seeds in a sheltered spot, plant out sturdier saplings, clear summer harvest plants, cover empty containers to prevent armies of ambitious weeds from marching all over my farm, and then run for cover from the deluge!
And that was year one with lots of lessons learned along the way about what works, what doesn’t, and some of the reasons why!
Until the next post, goodbye and happy growing!
PS: Since this inaugural post was written in 2013, my little urban farm (and I) have come a long way! Instead of waiting for other folks to solve my newbie urban farming problems, in April 2015 I just decided to solve them myself. So while my urban farm continues to grow, its entrepreneurial offshoot – Mandy’s Farm became the country’s first online range of natural and organic soil amendments and original potting mixes. We continue to sell our premium, trusted earth products across the length and breadth of India on e-commerce platforms, inspiring many more urban farmers to keep growing. And along the way we also invented, produced and marketed Bath Products, and in 2018, launched our Online Nursery. This year 2019 we have launched our Green Agri-Tech venture and there shall be more to come….Yes, wondrous indeed, are the shoots that spring from humble earth 🙂
© Mumbai Farmer 2013. Do not copy in part or whole without prior written permission from the author. Infringement of copyright will render you liable for legal action.
You folks are doing a great job.
Thanks – and it would be great if more folks joined in to grow their own food organically!
Hi, it was wonderful to read your blog. I have never done any kind of gardening before in my life. But lately I am developing a keen interest in plants and especially it’s benefits in small spaces and indoors. And I am really keen on starting to develop it at my home to begin with. But I have no idea where to get started. I don’t know what plants,what soil,what compost… nothing at all.
Do you teach gardening? If yes where are you based and how do you charge?
Thanks for the comment Charvi – I’m glad you liked this blog! Growing green is great for the planet, as it is for our souls 🙂 and I would encourage you to take up gardening. I do plan to offer courses and will be announcing them on our facebook group shortly. So join us at Mumbai Farmers on facebook, and in the meantime, do check out this basic info to get started…https://mumbaifarmer.com/how-to-grow-2/
It was great to read your post; the problems you mentioned are the ones that I also faced! Have been successful in growing oregano, Basil, insulin plant etc. However, capsicum seeds never fructified. I will now try to grow spinach, ginger and turmeric. Would you know where to get the seeds for spinach. Thanks, Kalpna
Hi Kalpana, glad to know you liked the posts! Capsicum seeds are relatively easy to germinate in the right season, so don’t give up, and do read this page on Growing Capsicum in Mumbai at https://mumbaifarmer.com/what-to-grow/growing-capsicum-in-mumbai/ Also, you should get seeds for spinach and other veggies at most garden shops. The big ones at Byculla stock them, and they are now all available online at Amazon & eBay. Good luck with the growing 🙂
hi mandy,you write well. your blog was very interesting to read and all your problems are so real. i am looking for some worms for composting in my home. i have already had lots of success but now am out of worms. pl let me know if u have them for sale and how much they cost for delivery in mumbai . thanks
Hi Manreez, thanks for the kind words! Wish I could fulfil your request but unfortunately I do not stock worms 🙂 I do know that there’s a guy at Mahim Creek who supplies red worms and will try and get his number to post to you…tc!
Hey Mandy. Felt so good reading all about your experiences and lessons. I want to start and need your help doing this at home. Please suggest how we can connect. Thanks.
Hi Jagdeep, thank you for your lovely comments! You must indeed start growing your own greens if you feel inspired to do so. May I suggest you connect with our group “mumbaifarmers” on facebook? Out there, you will find a lot of like-minded folks, and a supportive community to keep you growing. Feel free to also inbox me your number and I could call you to sort out any questions you may have.