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Sow good: Tips to build your own kitchen garden

It's possible to grow your own food in limited spaces like a balcony, terrace or even a window grill. If you have a green thumb, why not go beyond the usual plants on your window? We tell you how to build your very own kitchen garden.

lifestyle Updated: Mar 19, 2015 11:30 IST
Ruchika Kher

Richa Sirohia (28), who calls herself a 'lover of green', was fascinated by the way farmers grow food. But living in a city like Mumbai, she knew that following the passion here was impossible. This was until a friend suggested kitchen gardening to her, explaining that it's possible to grow your own food in limited spaces like a balcony, terrace or even a window grill.

Taking a cue from Sirohia, we get experts to give you the lowdown on the procedure, where to procure ingredients, and how to maintain your own veggie patch.

First steps
* Identify the space where you can grow the vegetables.
* Analyse the available sunlight. While leafy vegetables and herbs require at least three to four hours of direct sunlight daily, other vegetables and fruits need a minimum of six hours.
* Based on the sunlight, choose the vegetables you wish to grow.

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Soil mix
Getting the right soil mix is crucial. It should ideally have two parts of Red Earth (a type of red clay soil produced by the weathering of limestone) plus one part of any porous mix, and one part of any organic manure. While Red Earth can be sourced from any nursery, a porous mix refers to small gravel/powdered bricks/coco soil (coconut husk)/sawdust/broken tiles/broken earthen pot pieces. On the other hand, manure can be home compost, cow dung manure or vermin-compost.

Pots
* The pot should preferably be earthen, so it is porous. Alternatively, any material that holds soil and washes off excess water can be used, such as jute sacks, old buckets, tyres and wooden crates, among other things.
* For leafy veggies, tray-like containers or rectangular pots are needed. They should be six inches deep, and the length and breadth depends on how much one wishes to grow. For example, one sq ft will be sufficient for one bunch of spinach.
* For fruiting vegetables, the pot sizes can be 12-16 inches in diameter. Large pots help one get maximum yield. The minimum depth should be 8-10 inches.
* For root crops, the depth of the pot has to be at least 12 inches, if one wishes to grow longer varieties of root crops like carrots and radish.

Seeds
* Seeds can be dried and used from the vegetables or bought from nurseries in the form of retail pouches.
* Organic seeds can be sourced from farmers or seed banks.
* If you get treated seeds, wash them thoroughly before use.
* Seeds can be sown in a small pot and transplanted into a bigger one once the plant is strong, or sown directly in the bigger pot.

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Steps to sow seeds
* Poke holes in a small pot or paper cup.
* Fill the cup with red soil or only coco soil.
* Take two seeds and sow in one cup/pot.
* Make a hole twice the size of the seed.
* Cover the seed with soil.
* Water only in order to moisten the soil.
* After two-three days, the seeds will germinate and travel towards light.
* Keep the cups/pots in the sunniest spot of your house.
* Let the plant grow in the small pot or cups for three-four weeks.
* After you see the third leaf on the plant, transplant it into a bigger pot.
* Water once a day, either in the morning or evening.
* Most vegetables need a growing time of two-three months, and start bearing fruits from the third month onward.

Maintenance
* Regular care and maintenance will save the plants from pests. Use natural pest remedies such as 10 ml neem oil mixed with 1 litre of water.
* Spray once a month to repel pests. Companion planting (planting of different crops in proximity) will also repel pests. Other remedies such as boiling two-three green chillies, half an onion and two-three cloves in water, and then spraying that cooled-down water on plants will also repel insects.

Farmers' Markets
* If you lack space, or growing your own produce is not your cup of tea, try these farmers' markets for organic produce.
* At Maharashtra Nature Park, Bandra-Sion Link Road, the event aims to offer fresh produce and connect people with organic farmers across Maharashtra. It is open for all and is being held every Sunday till March.
* Westin Mumbai Garden City, Goregaon (E) hosted their most recent edition on January 11. Another one - that will be held in the coming months - is being planned.

Workshops on kitchen gardening
* If you want to learn more about growing your own food, here are organisations that can help you out:
* The Table Farm (they have one on January 17) www.thetable.in
* Under The Tree www.underthetree.in
* Earthoholics www.earthoholics.com/
* Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) www.bnhs.org
* Blue Bulb www.bluebulb.in

- With inputs from Earthoholics and Anna Natures Nursery