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
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 farm problems, in April 2015 I just decided to solve them myself. So while my urban farm continues to grow most of our family’s daily veggies and herbs, its entrepreneurial offshoot – Mandy’s Farm is now the country’s first online marketplace of natural and organic soil amendments, original potting mixes and farming tools (gloves, anybody?!). We are selling across the length and breadth of India on various e-commerce sites, inspiring many more urban farmers to keep growing. Yes, wondrous indeed are the shoots that spring from humble earth 🙂
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