A beginner's handbook to building a terrace garden
Expert gardening gyaan, with some help from National Geographic’s One For Change event
It’s no secret that we at Tweak are diehard fans of author, businesswoman, philanthropist, and sari connoisseur, Sudha Murty. She is who we all want to be when we grow up. (Check out her fascinating conversation with Twinkle Khanna for The Icons series here.)
Now, there’s another Murthy — Vani Murthy, with an H — who is fast becoming a contender for the top spot in our hearts after we met her at National Geographic’s One For Change campaign launch event. Murthy, known in environmentalist circles as the compost queen, was a homemaker before becoming a leading advocate for composting, terrace gardening, and bio-enzymes. National Geographic’s initiative ‘One For Change’ spotlights changemakers like Murthy who are making this world more sustainable for us and our future generations. You can watch the short films made about them to know more of their story on the television platforms of National Geographic and the entertainment channels across Disney Star.
In our concrete jungles, we’re always looking for a spot of green to call our own. Murthy, the owner of a sprawling terrace garden in the middle of bustling Bangalore, was happy to part with her gardening secrets. “I started my garden as a way of growing my own food. I’m of the principle that you should grow what you eat and eat what you grow,” she says.
While this philosophy sounds like a cottagecore fantasy, is it really feasible to keep a proper garden in the hustle of city life? Most of us are intimidated by the time, effort, and skill that gardening requires. But turns out that you can plant exquisite flowers, plump vegetables, delicious fruits, green herbs, or a combination of all on your terrace garden. They not only freshen up your house, but they may also save you a trip to the grocery store, lowering your carbon footprint.
Just like a handful of onion skins eventually grows into a compost pile, these small steps towards an eco-friendly lifestyle can add up to real change. If you’re a gardening enthusiast who wants to get your hands dirty, what better day to start than this Earth Day?
6 Tweak tips to build your terrace garden
Save your seeds
If you’re just starting on your terrace garden, it’s a good idea to save the seeds from all the produce you eat, like papaya, oranges, capsicum, and melons. As a total beginner, instead of purchasing seeds that you may or may not succeed at growing, first try and plant the seeds from the produce you’ve already bought.
Just the push we needed to eat more fruits and veggies.
This is a tip we’ve learnt from our favourite plant guru, Jackie Shroff. How could we not grab at the chance to learn his plant-whispering ways before even the ‘low-maintenance’ money plant on our windowsill throws in the towel?
Composting is the way to go
Creating the ideal soil mix is the first step toward a successful terrace garden. Compost will become your best friend, once you figure out how to make it. Making compost requires a combination of green waste, which comes from your kitchen, and brown waste, to allow it to breathe and break down.
Cocopeat, which is made from coconut husk, is the perfect brown waste option as it’s useful for retaining moisture and regulating soil temperature. When you decide to travel for a few days without delegating watering duties to anybody, the coconut husk will safeguard your plant. It also aids in aeration and lightens the soil.
You can try your hand at making home compost with Murthy using your own kitchen waste.
Shower your plants with love, not water
When you’re tending to your terrace garden, the urge to liberally water your plants can overpower you. Don’t let it win. Excess water promotes root rot, which will be a quick death sentence to all your plants.
If your plants resemble an overflowing naala during monsoon, you’re not draining them well. Apply a layer of gravel to the pot’s base, and make sure your soil isn’t overly abrasive. You can test this by taking a pinch between your fingers and rubbing it together. It should ideally be soft and crumbly without too much grit. This will keep the soil aerated and allow for better drainage.
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Neem oil is your best friend
Before you can feast on the bounty of your garden, you might have some competition in the form of pests and bugs. To stop them from spoiling the fruits of your labour, pick up some neem oil from your local drugstore and mix your own natural pesticide.
The neem oil should be diluted with water and a few drops of dishwashing soap. As a preventative strategy, spray the mixture once a month. If the bugs have already established a territory, throw in some red chilli powder or crushed garlic with the neem and spray it on the plant.
Here’s a handy guide to making a DIY neem insecticide at home.
Go natural with terracotta
When it comes to selecting a pot for your houseplant, the type of material used is important. But it’s not just about looks; the material of your container may have an impact on how efficiently the soil drains and retains moisture.
Plants that require dry soil, such as succulents and cactus, thrive in terracotta pots. These porous clay pots absorb water and allow excess moisture in the soil to evaporate faster. Bonus: they’re a plastic-free alternative.
Opt for pet-friendly plants
When you’re building your terrace garden, it’s exciting to think that your furry four-legged baby will enjoy it along with you. But beware of common plants that might be perfectly safe for humans, and deadly for your pets. Learn from this writer, who found out the hard way when her cat started puking green. Here are some pet-friendly options you can go for – since you already know your pet will make it a life goal to munch on all the plants in your terrace garden.
These plants, sometimes known as elephant’s foot, thrive with a daily dose of sunshine. Your cat’s new favourite toy will be their lengthy tendrils. You’ll need to be careful not to overwater these plants since they prefer drier soil.
Spider plants are multitasking powerhouses. They’re simple to keep up with, even for people with black thumbs. They are pet-friendly and can assist enhanced indoor air quality. And they’re tough, so they’ll put up with your pup nibbling on their leaves every now and again.
Before you dive headfirst into building your terrace garden, armed with our tips, we recommend sticking up Murthy’s sage words on the wall, to chant to yourself when you need them: gardening is “something you have to do multiple times before you get it right.” So in those moments when your hibiscus is stubbornly refusing to flower, or the crows have snacked on all your tomato plants, take heart in knowing that the compost queen herself was once a plant serial killer. We don’t have to tell you where she is now. On Earth Day next year, your friends will be introducing you as the terrace garden guru.