Biowise Farm born out of need to enable every family to grow a part of their own nutritious, healthy food in small urban spaces like balconies, ledges, shelves, ridges, projections, terraces, kitchen gardens and even in a windowsill. But, why should we do that? There are plenty of vegetables, herbs and fruits in the market. Why take all the pain and effort to grow food in our balconies? The reasons are plenty. Our body needs plenty of greens, salads, medicinal herbs not only to flavour but to supply the required nutrients to keep it healthy and disease free. The software embedded in human body knows how to absorb the nutrients present in good food for its nourishment. But, when food is contaminated with pesticide and insecticide, those residues enter into our body and causes adverse effect on our nervous system. Growing critical food nutrients like salad crops, leafy vegetable, greens, tomato, okra, potatoes, beans etc. is no big deal in small urban spaces. Enabling everyone to grow is the mission of Safe Food Gardener leading to physical and wellbeing of the family.
- To develop horticulture farm that grows fresh and safe vegetables, fruits, greens and herbs for consumers without use of pesticides
- To improve skills of growing fresh and safe farm produce and to develop a sustainable farm, surviving off its own cash flow
- To increase efficiency of production and provide complete set of technology including quality seedlings, compost, nursery plants, fruits and vegetables in all seasons
- To promote fair business trade for organic produces from the farm and set up a digital platform enabling farmers to sell it to their consumers
- To promote organic farming and procure from the farmers their produce for marketing purposes
- To set up farmers collectives, producer companies for pesticide free farming practices
In the context we are referring to there is a need to elaborate on what exactly we mean by small urban spaces. While it may seems quite self-explanatory and evident, it would certainly help to spell it out somewhat. Your comments would help us pry out gems we may miss!
To begin, let us look at spaces in the city and neighborhood.
For one is our home itself.
If we live in an apartment, we have a balcony. However small it may be, there is always scope for that little pot of the hardiest of vegetables. Tomatoes! But if you have a little more space, there are wonderful ways to maximise growing area
You could even think of growing indoors. There are many shade-loving plants and if you have a windowsill with just about enough light, perfect for herbs.
The rooftop of your apartment complex is a great place as well. Get together with your neighbours and your resident’s association and use that space. A wonderful activity for all, particularly the children. Seed to edible produce is a great learning experience
If you have an independent home with a garden, then, of course, there is no stopping what can be done. Don’t miss those driveways or balconies or porches.
Parks and common areas are spaces that need more involvement from the community and permissions from the authorities. But one that can be got.
In conclusion, small urban spaces can be just about any space where one can place a planter, container, hydroponic system or even a repurposed packaging container or bottle!
Why do we need to use small urban spaces for growing edible plants?
There are several reasons why we should use our available spaces in cities to grow edible plants.
It is healthy
Growing our own herbs and vegetables is about the healthiest thing to do. We are sure of what goes into growing it and we have no doubts about its safety. We use natural compost and growing medium and make sure they are not subjected to poisonous pesticides. What could be safer than fresh homegrown organic veggies! And plants clean the air in your space and make it look good.
If you want to give some boost to your plants, you may want to try our “Plant Booster” (insert link)
Saves time and cost
Those herbs and vegetables so close at hand saves so much of time and cost buying and storing them. Remember that time you were desperate for that handful of coriander for your curry? Just reach out and take a couple of sprigs and feel the difference in the aroma and taste of what is grown naturally
Putting your kitchen waste to use
A great way to dispose your kitchen waste is to compost it at home. And using this all-natural decomposed organic matter back to your soil is the best way to feed your plants and do your bit for the environment. And don’t be concerned with how to compost safely at home. You will find a range of home composters at (insert link) or get in touch with us for our periodic training programs at our organic farm Manasa (insert link)
A great lifestyle experience
Getting your children involved is a great way to make them aware of the benefits of growing your own food and making them sensitive to nature and its wonders. Planting a seed and watching it grow can be eye opening. There are a number of sources for seeds from groups such as OTG (link) or check out our heritage seed collection here (link)
There is no denying the environmental benefits that can accrue if more and more people in cities can bring some green into their homes and surroundings. It adds to the greening of the city and communities while helping reduce greenhouse gasses and global warming. Not to mention reduced waste to landfill and cleaner cities.
And everybody can do their bit. Here is a wonderful example of how a small neighbourhood clothes ironing service provider did his bit in Indiranagar in Bangalore.
Agriculture is estimated to started nearly ten thousand years ago. It has sustained our species and the planet in a sustainable manner. But over the last hundred years or less, to meet the needs of growing populations and advent of technology, we have increasingly added a cocktail of chemicals to our soils and plants.
From a slew of chemical fertilizers like Urea, DAP, MoP and others we have taken away the health of our soils and made them more saline. With decreasing soil health, the quantum of fertilizers inputs is increased, thus exacerbating the problem. Added to this are several chemical pesticides which, while killing off crop pests leave their residues on the soil, which enter into the very food we eat. Everyone knows today of the dangers that DDT and the immense damage it caused. So much so they are banned in most parts of the world today. No different is the case with Endosulphan causing irreparable damage to the environment and deformities in humans and animals.
For many who have grown up in cities and have left their village roots behind, all food is generally what is bought from the supermarket or the neghbourhood vegetable vendor or kirana shop. And with all the pressures of working life it is of course so much more convenient to just pick up what we need.
Often it never even crosser ones mind to grow something at home. And if one should, the first thing is on growing ornamental plants or flowers. While these do have their aesthetic or sometimes ritual benefits there is also much to be gained by growing edible plants. In fact, you will be quite surprised to know that it is indeed quite possible and easy to grow them at home.
We all know that not only are the vegetables we buy grown on farms with high inputs of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. We know by now that this is harmful for the soil and our health in the long run. Obviously nothing can beat the freshness and wholesomeness of homegrown vegetables.
So what does it mean to grow your own food and what are the benefits of doing so?
Best for your family’s health
Every doctor and nutritionist has advised that the most important thing you can do is to eat fresh fruits and vegetables. And growing them at home naturally will come with its highest content of vitamins and minerals.
There is no question that the food you grow is a lot tastier that the ones we buy. For one we can have access to heritage seed varieties that are unique in its flavour and are not available in stores. Check out some of our varieties here. (link). And growing them naturally in compost made at home or all organic fertilizers like the one found here (link) adds loads of taste and flavour to food. For those who have the good fortune to visit their village back home and eat from the back garden will know quite well.
With the cost of vegetables soaring day by day, not the mention the cost of going out to buy it, one can well imagine the savings in picking it right off your garden. For avid gardeners who can grow most of their food or those who are willing to eat what they get from their garden it costs nothing more than the love and labour. But even if we get just a portion of our needs it is still a saving and can add up to quite a bit.
For those who love growing herbs and exotics this is by far the most compelling reason. It is not often one can get that sprig of chosen herb for the recipe you want to cook up for your children or guests. Just reach out to your herb garden!
In our previous posts, we talked about what are small urban spaces, how you can use just about any little space you have, and all the benefits of growing your own food. But what can you actually grow? What can you handle? It is all too much for me, you may say. I have never grown anything before!
Worry not. We will give you a primer here.
When we begin at last to get down to it, better to choose what we can grow easily and without much effort or fuss. We need to get our confidence up. One of the easiest things to grow is tomatoes. They are hardy plants and it is always gratifying to see your first fruit in fairly qick time. You can get seeds from anywhere. They are easy to find online such as this resource here (add link). We have had people take any old tomato bought from the shop and squeeze out the seeds onto a pot and not before long have a plant or two out of it.
Another simple thing to grow is coriander. Raid your larder and try some on your prepared pot. So with Methi (fenugreek). You will be surprised to find that there are quite a few seeds and things right in our kitchen to get us going.
Once you get bitten by the bug, you will find all sorts of things to grow. Save those pumpkin seeds. They do quite well in pots and so do most gourds. Like bitter gourd (Karela), snake gourd and ridge gourd. Bottle gourds are super easy too.
The more experienced gardeners have successfully grown vanilla, strawberries, and several other exotics. Join a kitchen gardener group around your community or home. You will find the Organic Terrace Garden group on Facebook (insert link) to be a great resource and inspiration.
If you feel you need to know more and participate in a training program, there are several groups who do so. Check online or write to us for our next training program which will be held at the Manasa Sangama resource center. This is our farm near Hoskote which demonstrates sustainable waste management with organic farming.
We are sure you are sufficiently inspired by now to convert your available space however small, to grow your favourite herbs or vegetables. While it may be just as easy to get head long and plonk some pots and tubs with some seeds thrown in, it would be wise to think it over a bit and put a design in place.
Don’t be daunted by the word design and we are not referring to getting a landscape designer. Though if that is what you need, go right ahead. But it is not really that difficult to design your own space. It would help to sketch out your area, for example your balcony. Use a tape measure if possible so you have the dimensions written down.
Sketch out what you will place where and don’t worry about being neat or perfect. The only perfect is to get started and do it. Put a couple of planters here, a tub there and a wall rack on the end if you have a wall.
Once you have a sketch in place, get the pots, containers and shelves in place first. It is not necessary to get it all done in a day too. Take your time. The key is to get started. Use your drawing as a guide and improvise as you go along. Add pots and planters that are bought or salvaged. Old tins work fine. Hanging pots make for a lovely view while catching some sun.
Most importantly, enjoy the process!
Make sure the plants that require the most sunlight are kept where you get the most of it. If you dont have a water tap, you can keep a small reservoir. One can get lazy to water plants and you know what can happen to plants that have not been watered for a while.
To add aesthetic value to your design process, add some garden ornaments which you can buy at flea markets or if you are the crafty kind, well there are tons of resources online and you can get your kids to do some. If you have the space, don’t forget to add a comfy chair like the cane ones which weather well. As your garden starts to grow you would surely like to sit down and admire what you have done with a well deserved cup of tea. Well make that a healthy ‘Tulsi Tea’ and your favourite magazine or book!
There is nothing quite as satisfying as growing your own vegetables. The contribution we make is not just to our own health and well being but for all. Bill Mollison the father of permaculture said – “ Thre greatest change that we need to make is from consumption to production, even if on a small scale in our own gardens. If only ten percent of us do this, there is enough for everyone”.
Growing vegetables is not as daunting as it seems at first. There are a few essentials. Let us look at some of them.
Sunlight – Most vegetables grow best in sunlight. Some require more than others but to get them to yield, you need those veggie plants to get at least a few hours of sun a day. So make sure you place your pots or planters or make your vegetable growing beds in areas that get that sunlight. There are of course several shade tolerant vegetables one can grow such as lettuce, Chinese cabbage, broccoli or Brussels sprouts. Experiment a little and learn as you go along.
Soil – We often think of soil as just mud or dirt but in reality it is a rich and active ecosystem of fungi, bacteria, micro-organisms and many trace elements which go to make for healthy plants. Prepare you planting beds by loosening soil and add sufficient well cured compost or farm yard manure. For pots, make your potting mix by adding a combination of coir pith manure, compost and soil or sand. Vermicompost (earthwork castings) make for an excellent fortified plant and soil enricher. Aim for it to be light and airy to make it well drained. You can also make it completely without soil. This will also make your containers light and easy to work with in your balcony.
You can as well buy potting mix from any garden store or find them here in our store (insert link)
Choosing what to grow – With so many vegetables to choose from you may be wondering where to start. Well, the first thing is to consider what you and your family like to eat. And then choose the ones that are easy to grow as well. Tomatoes are among the easiest to grow vegetables. So are lettuce, squash, spinach, chillies, beans and several native vegetables. Look around your neighbourbood. Find out what others are growing. You will find inspiration in their success.
Seeds – A key ingredient and in fact a crucial factor is getting the right seeds. Among the best ways is to collect seeds from other home gardening enthusiasts. Link up with groups and the neighbourhood. Exchange seeds and plants. Not only can many of them be had for free you also end up making some good friends along the way. One can also buy seeds online or from a garden store. Look for heritage seeds preferably or many F1 hybrids are good as well. If you don’t want to grow from seed but start with a grown baby plant, get a seedling instead. You can find them in some nurseries near farmlands. You can find several varieties of seeds and seedlings in our online store as well. (link)
Healthy plants – It is important to keep your plants healthy. Know how much to water and fertilize your plants. Too much or too little of both can affect the health of your plant. Water once a day and fertilize once a month. Use natural compost and organic fertilizers only.
Pests – This is by far the greatest downer for the home gardener. We do everything right, the plants shoot up well and healthy only to be attacked quite unexpectedly by something or the other. Firstly know that there are no true pests. Everyting is part of the ecosystem. So fret not and don’t reach out for any poison or chemical. Use the many organic pest control methods that you can find from online resources or your gardening group. From companion plants to water extracts of chillies, garlic, turmeric and neem oil, there are a multitude of options. But always begin with healthy seeds and a healthy growing medium. Spraying with natural preparations like Panchagavya (link for details) will help keep your plants healthy enough to resist pests and diseases. And if you let those birds and create a robust ecosystem, they will sort themselves out.
Share – Now for the other side of growing your own vegetables. Share them! You can surprise your neighbour or friend with a hamper of your home grown veggies. You can also pickle or process excess produce which makes excellent gifts. Best of all cook them in your favourite dish when you have friends and family over.
We would love to hear from you and have our community learn from each other
The last time we talked about growing your own vegetables. Now let’s talk about growing a kitchen staple. Herbs. Growing them can be easy and rewarding in more ways than one. Herbs are great in cooked food, salads, and as a home remedy for a number of common ailments.
Herbs are easy to grow in pots and small containers. Use your imagination! Use old cans, paint tubs, and even coffee mugs. Only make sure they have a drain hole. Preferably. If you cannot have a drain hole for some reason, water sparingly.
The best growing medium for herbs is a potting mix without soil. Three parts of coir pith manure mixed with one part of good organic fertilizer or vermicompost would do great for most herbs.
You can start with seeds foraged from your kitchen. Corriander and fenugreek (methi) seeds should be worth a try. If you are a part of a gardening group such as OTG (link) or others they will be happy to share a pretty good collection of seeds. You should do likewise. Prepare your container and sow the seeds directly onto it. Cover it with some more of the potting mix and dampen generously but not soaking wet!
Visit your local nursery and you can find a range of herbs. Basil is hardy and easy to grow. There are several varieties; from Italian, Thai, Lemon and of course the native Indian Tulsi. Nothing like holy basil to bring in the good vibes. They are easy to grow in soil as well.
Replant the seedlings and small plants in your favorite container with your prepared or bought potting mix. They are best placed on a sunny windowsill or balcony and watered once in two days. Most herbs are fairly resistant to pests and you may not need to spay any protection. If you should notice signs of attack, use organic pesticides like the one available here (link) or make your own with garlic and chilies soaked in water overnight. Then ground in a mixie and let rest for a couple of hours and strain through a muslin cloth. This concentrated liquid can then be diluted with ten parts of water and sprayed on the plants once a week until it is back in good health.
If you have a backyard garden, make a small bed for your herbs. Some herbs like Rosemary do extremely well planted in the ground. So do lemongrass. If space permits, a curry leaf tree can be very useful.
To make your herbs grow vigorously and luxuriously, consider spraying them once in two weeks with Vermitea or Panchagavya. Vermitea is easy to make by soaking a cup of Vermicompost in a liter of water overnight. Strain in a muslin cloth and use to spray your plants with. Panchagavya is not as easy to make at home though if you want to there are methods to be found here (link). It can also be bought online at (link). You will have less likelihood of pest attack with these natural plant growth promoters.
Harvesting herbs for your use as the plants grow is as simple as pinching off a couple of leaves or a sprig or two. In many cases, this helps the plant to grow better and produce more leaves. This is particularly true for Basil which grows better if the seeds formed at the end of a stem are pinched off regularly. If you grow more herbs than you can use fresh, you can always harvest and dry them preferably in the shade and store for future use. They keep well for upto a year and make great gifts.
To make sure you have a continuous supply of your favorite herbs make sure to sow seeds and replant at given intervals. This could be particularly true for a commonly used herb in the Indian kitchen like coriander.
While herbs are not just great in cooking such as additional ingredients in the recipe, they are also wonderful just pinched off the pot and added to a fresh salad of cucumbers, tomatoes or potatoes. Toss in some pasta and there you have a Mediterranean low cal healthy meal option.
The medicinal properties of herbs have been known throughout history. India has a rich tradition of using herbs for illness and health. Teas and infusions of many herbs have been used in traditional homes for headaches and stress reduction to indigestion, appetite, and colds. We will cover some recipes in another post.
Meanwhile, do post your comments and let us know how your herb garden is coming along
In our previous posts, we looked at the essentials for growing vegetables and herbs. While these can be rewarding in more ways than one, ornamental plants are wonderful to grow as well. For one, they are well, ornamental. It is not necessary that all the plants we grow must necessarily be of the edible varieties. They can as well just be grown for the sheer beauty of the way the plant and its leaves look. They come is a variety of colors, shapes and foliage. Of course not the mention flowers. And who doesn’t love flowers!
So, what are the essentials for growing ornamental? Two things. Decide on ones that can be grown indoors and those that can be grown outdoors.
Choose your location:
Indoors: Plants are wonderful to grow indoors. There are many shade-tolerant plants that have great fe a week or at least once a month.
Outdoors: A lot more to play within plants when you grow them outdoors. Whether you choose to use your windowsill or balcony or your backyard garden, the choice is vast. The front of your home, the porch, verandah, or even a pot or two in front of your apartment door can add immense value and looks.
In either case, where ornamentals would need to be shown off, use attractive containers and pots. Remove dead leaves and branches regularly and give your indoor plants a wash or spray down with water once in a while to keep them looking good and clean.
Choose your plants
Flowers: Ornamentals are mainly chosen for their looks. If you want to grow flowering plants for their sheer beauty and fragrance, you certainly need to have a sunny area. A windowsill or balcony that catches the sun can be perfect for some Geraniums. Many of these smaller plants can be grown in soilless media in pots. If you are inclined, you can also grow a flowering creeper in the sunny part of your balcony or in a corner of your garden. Several of them grow from woody cuttings. Or visit your local nursery. Once you have them home, you will need a larger pot. Make a potting mix of red earth with compost or farmyard manure, and plant them in the pot with at top dressing of a handful of vermicompost once a month. Trail them as they grow with string or wires. For a heady fragrance that will exhilarate you, get a Night Queen (Cestrum nocturnum) also called Raat ki Rani.
Foliage: A very interesting range of plants that are grown mainly for the lush foliage they provide in a garden, balcony or indoors. Foliage plants like ferns are very popular and so are money plants and their varieties. Many foliage plants come in leaves of fantastic colours such as Begonias, Ti plant also called good luck plant and many variegated types.
You can use almost any type of container or place them in attractive pot holders when placing indoors. You can find a range in our online store (link). Normal or soil-less potting mix can be used. Do not overwater particularly if they are indoors.
So go ahead and share your thoughts ideas and experiences in the comments below.