Quick n Easy Veggies for First Time Growers in Mumbai
Let's start with the good news - even if most homes in Mumbai are small, what is lacking in space is usually made up for by sunlight. So if your balcony gets at least 8 hours of full and direct sun each day - yes, you can grow! Using a 5'x10' (five feet x ten feet = 50 sq. feet) balcony template with 8 hours daily sunlight - here's how you could create a compact, productive kitchen garden:
RAISE YOUR GROWING SPACE: Obtain/order long, rectangular iron stands to run against the outer length of the balcony. Two stands of 1'x 5' (one foot wide x five feet long) with a 1' -2' height dimensions would be perfect. These stands are critical for two reasons - they elevate containers so that plants can access more sunlight AND they prevent water accumulation on your balcony floor, allowing easy flow of water to drainage outlets. Other reasons: a raised farm/garden makes it infinitely easy to care for plants, while also creating a green screen and getting you some privacy to boot!
CREATE GROWING CAPACITY: Obtain/order long, rectangular, good quality, plastic containers of 30 liter capacity each. Depending on whether you stack them lengthwise or widthwise on your iron stands, you should be able to accommodate 5 - 8 containers. In effect, you are creating soil growing capacity of 150 to 240 liters. Let's call this ROW 1. Also, obtain/order smaller rectangular planters of 5 liter capacity each to hang on your balcony railings. With about 5 of these, you would increase soil growing capacity by 25 liters. Let's call this ROW 2 Remember that your containers need to be holed and will not need drip trays - this helps water flow out easily and directly. (Caution: Do check with your building society/structural engineer that your balcony can hold the weight of these containers and soil beforehand).
DESIGN A FARMING PLAN: Plan to grow seasonal/perennial veggies in the larger containers in ROW 1, and annual herbs in the smaller hanging containers in ROW 2. Remember that growing veggies is a seasonal activity so you need to plan for sowing, growing, harvesting, excavating, composting and starting all over again each season. A twin-drum, rotator composter in the corner of the balcony would be invaluable, as would a watering can and a seeding basket.
ADD GOOD EARTH: Calculate the amount of potting soil you need and reduce by 20% as the bottom of all containers will first need to be layered with stones or broken bricks. On top of that will go your potting soil which could be basic red/black soil mixed in with at least 10% gobar, 10% neem powder and 20% compost. Epsom Salts, Limestone and Woodash are invaluable amendments to add to soil once your plants start to grow. As you get more adept in soil management (understand soil here) you may want to layer Biochar into your container to optimize water and nutrient retention. All these amendments are organic, natural, and available in bulk at my Shop. You do NOT need chemicals to grow food and you can pull off a successful harvest by farming 100% organically.
Above: 30 liter rectangular containers on long iron stands at my own Mumbai terrace farm (yes, I actually grew banana trees in those containers!)
A FARMING PLAN
ROW 1 - SUMMER VEGGIES (Seasonal) - Germinate in Feb + Plant in Mar + Harvest by June
L to R: Tomatoes, Okra and Bitter Gourd (& most other gourds) thrive in summer
ROW 1 - MONSOON VEGGIES (Seasonal & Annual) - Germinate in May + Plant in June + Harvest by Sep (Seasonals) & Feb (Annuals)
L to R Top Row: Leafy greens like Spinach & Methi/Fenugreek grow happily in the monsoons while Malabar Spinach is a perennial that can be harvested for years. L to R Bottom Row: Sweet Potato, Turmeric & Ginger love catching root in the monsoons and will grow to ripeness for a Feb harvest
ROW 1 - SECOND SUMMER VEGGIES (Seasonal) - Germinate in Aug + Plant in Sep + Harvest from Nov to Feb/May
L to R: Pumpkin, Sponge Gourd (& most other gourds) and Musk Melon will grow on till Feb. You can also grow a second season of sun-loving Tomatoes and Okra that will grow on till Apr/May.
ROW 1 - WINTER VEGGIES (Seasonal) - Germinate in Oct + Plant in Nov + Harvest by Feb
L to R: Beans, Radish & Carrot (& other root veggies like Onions & Beetroot) thrive in our winters
ROW 1 - VEGGIES (Perennials) - Reserve 1 or 2 containers for these long-living plants:
L to R: Lime, Curry Leaf and Indian Borage are kitchen garden staples that offer perennial growth. Add Chilli to this list, but remember that it grows mostly as an annual in Mumbai. And don't forget Lemongrass, a super useful perennial but one which needs a separate container - always!
ROW 2 - HERBS - Plant anytime, though monsoons are easier, for an annual or perennial growth
L to R Top Row: Tulsi, Sweet Basil & Dill will grow as annuals in Mumbai.
L to R Bottom Row: Brahmi, Oregano & Mint (mint in a separate container) will grow as perennials. To this you can add Thyme and Rosemary if care is taken to protect them from monsoon rains.
Remember that farming follows Nature, so grow in season for the best results, and follow the discipline of growing, harvesting, composting and giving back to earth - so you can grow again! You will be amazed at the generosity of Nature when we work with her, and not against her! Nature also does not give up on us, and you can grow your kitchen garden as an experiment for one year, and return to it years later - with minimal deterioration of your soil. A kitchen garden is truly a lifetime investment for you and your family because soil never dies.
Take care, stay safe and happy growing!
(Images in this post are sourced from the Internet. Please contact re objections/credits, thank you!)