So you want to grow vegetables for home consumption in Mumbai? Here a quick and easy guide to show you how!
- SPACE: If you don’t have an open plot, then a terrace, balcony or even a window sill/grilled window box will work – as long as the sun doth shine on it!
- SUNLIGHT: Most veggies need eight to ten hours of sunlight daily. The minimum daily requirement is three to four hours (shade-tolerant herbs only).
- ORIENTATION: While any face would work in our tropical zone, South facing sites are best as they get more sunlight in our hemisphere – from the rising, noontime and setting sun.
- WATER AVAILABILITY: Nothing beats natural rainwater to make your plants happy, but if your site is indoors, ensure that tap water is convenient to access.
- CONTAINERS: If you have an open plot available, consider yourself blessed in space-starved Mumbai. Otherwise, invest in containers. These are available in all shapes, sizes and types in farm/garden stores. Alternatively, use recycled containers like clean paint bins, empty matkas, 1 liter plastic bottles etc. I recommend earthen containers for ground floors/outdoor use, and lighter-weight plastic containers for terraces/indoor use. Generally, bigger is better, because of the number and variety of nutrients you can accommodate to grow veggies to full size. Big containers also enable the healthy interaction of several co-dependent plants through mixed cultivation. Please know, and this is very important, all containers must be fitted with drainage holes for water to pass through. If you place trays below to catch that water to protect your flooring, then ensure that these trays are emptied every three days and disinfected regularly, to prevent mosquitoes from breeding in that stagnant water.
- STONES/BROKEN BRICKS: You will need about three inches of stones/bricks at the bottom of each container for proper drainage. Any natural stone or brick (not cement) will do.
- SOIL: Earth needs to be added over the stone/brick layer in your containers, to one inch short of the rim of the container. Organic Earth is always a first choice, but if that is not possible then do try to use cleaner, non-chemicalized earth. To this you can add soil amendments like the versatile Vermicompost and a dash of Cow-Manure as a basic starter potting mix. You could then think of other organic nutrients like BoneMeal/Fishmeal, Limestone, Epsom Salts, Cottonseed and basic fungicides/pesticides like Neem and Wood Ash, as per the specific requirements of your plants. For seeding/mcrogreens (and not general growing as there is little nutritional value in this amendment) use Coco Peat. Alternatively, use the more expensive but priceless Vermiculite Dust to give you a similar loose and sterile medium for seeding/microgreens, and to increase soil aeration. Some Cocopeat or Vermiculte Granules in your potting mix will enhance root formation for rooting veggies. You could buy any of the earth-friendly soil amendments mentioned here, at my Marketplace. However, if these amendments are beyond your budget, simply start with what you have! Let me share a secret with you….plants want to grow! Give them a decent enough medium, and they will grow!
- MULCH & GREEN COVER: It’s a good idea to layer mulch around growing plants. This has four benefits – it prevents weeds, reduces water evaporation, controls insect access and keeps soil temperatures stable. And guess what? If you use natural wood shavings from any timber shop (not wood dust) as mulch, they will eventually decompose, thus adding nutrients to your soil and increasing water retentiveness. Another option is to grow green ground cover like mint around your plants – stuff you can eat when needed! Start your mulch or green cover a few inches away from the stem of your plants, so they can grow without irritation. Also remember that if you use green cover, it will compete for nutrients with your main plant as it grows, and sometimes overpower your main plant. So keep that mint in check!
- SEEDS, SHOOTS, SEGMENTS ETC (PROPAGATION): It’s a challenging, though extremely satisfying art, to propagate from seed. If you want to skip the learning curve and save time, use young plants or saplings instead. Give your young ones a couple of days to hang out and acclimatize in the shade of your site, before placing them in full sun.
- GARDEN EQUIPMENT: You will need watering cans (two are better than one and you won’t need to twiddle your thumbs waiting for the one watering can to fill up), gardening gloves (washable rubber and cloth combo gloves are great), shovel and pitchfork (hand-sized) and gardening scissors. It’s useful to have a couple of large tubs for mixing earth and emptying pots, and a super size compost bin for garden waste. I neither use nor recommend the use of ANY chemical fertilizer or pesticides WHATSOEVER. It is quite possible to get by – perhaps slowly, but infinitely more cleanly – using only natural means to grow and nurture your plants.
- MISCELLANEOUS IMPORTANT STUFF: Sunglasses, hat, gardening shoes/slippers, and an easy chair – for those moments when you can sit down with a cuppa and watch your sweet plants grow!
Once they have found a place to call home, your plants will love a routine and look forward to seeing you everyday! Be sure you water them daily, either in the mornings or evenings (twice a day is great for Mumbai summers, and perhaps not at all during Mumbai monsoons), de-weed regularly, trim dead/diseased foliage, and train your creepers to go places. Water well around roots, more lightly across the container and over the plant, remembering at all times that over-watering is the main cause of plant death. So take it easy, enjoy the outdoors and may your little urban farm prosper!
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