For a four-person vegetarian family to feed itself off the land, would take about 2 acres of cultivable land. Even lesser if you are okay to depend on protein sources such as eggs and meat. However, this assumption is being challenged with newer and innovative ways of growing vegetables all year round. There are sufficient examples of people and families who are making use of every inch of area available to them –vertically and horizontally, to produce fruits and vegetables all year round. (Checkout videos on Our Inspirations page)
Here are a few ideas on how you can grow and harvest your own food:
- Raised beds: These are soil pits which are created either above the ground or on terraces to grow fruits and vegetables. The typical height of a raised bed is approximately 1 – 1.5 feet. The raised beds use soil and compost (sometimes also cocopeat) mixtures and can be adjusted based on the kind of plants one wants to grow. The size and dimension of raised beds depend on the area available to an individual. Here are a few images for samples. Grow-beds or raised beds are a good ideal for terraces and balconies. See video for a talk with a friend who started growing food on her terrace.
- Vertical garden: While the most traditional way of growing plants (edible or other) is on the floor horizontally, making use of vertical spaces is another way of making most of the available space for growing food. Herbs, fruits that grown on creepers and plants that do not require too much soil and can be harvested frequently are ideal for this kind of a set up. Few plants that can be grown vertically are:
- Hydroponics: These are plants that grow in water and do not require any soil but are fed nourishment in other ways. This method of growing vegetables and greens is gaining popularity in urban centers. Though the method is technique intensive but once gained, can mean enough harvests from your water gardens. (useful link)
- Traditional pots and bins: Earthen or plastic pots and bins for growing plants is the most traditional way in urban gardens, terraces or balconies. The one drawback I feel is the inefficient use of space when using pots and bins. Though they are best when one wants to move the plants around too much dur to sun angles or other reasons.
- No soil gardening: Usually this method uses raised beds on terraces, balconies or pots. Instead of soil, one uses brickbats, coconut coir, compost and/or cocopeat. The benefit of having this kind of a set-up is that it is very light and does not over burden balcony or terrace structures, which a soil bed might end up doing.
- Companion plants: Our idea of growing own food primarily stemmed from the need for self-sufficiency and eating healthy and organic. But growing plants and being able to harvest produce of your favorite fruits and vegetables are two different things… Plants have their own rhythm and tantrums – some like soil and some don’t, some like water and some don’t, some like a lot of sun and some only just a little bit, and the most dreaded… some attract pests and some don’t. So, the idea is to identify plants that complement each other, feed off and feed into each other. Here’s a link to a few companion plants… You might want to keep the list handy while seed or saplings shopping. Useful link
- Using flowering plants as companions: Ornamental plants that flower are the best solution to pollination and effectively dealing with pests as per permaculture practices. Use them at the edges and in between fruit/vegetable plants. They add aesthetics, important wildlife and also help deal with pests by diverting and taking on the onslaught on themselves.
We understand that it is not easy to grow anything when one has tiny balconies… trust me, we are living in the city too and have two balconies as of now. The point is to start with anything which we find drawn to and feasible in our own little spaces. The joy of plucking a fresh stalk of basil to add to the pasta for children cannot be measured in words.
Another important aspect is the role of community spaces in building food gardens. Builders and societies are increasingly spending resources on creating and maintaining lawns and gardens which serve only the purpose of aesthetics and recreation. How about devoting some space to growing food? Children especially, can hugely benefit from this exercise as it brings them closer to nature, the soil and also to the reality of how food is actually grown with sweat and patience. There are innumerable lessons in the whole ecosystem coming together to create the food on our plates. That’s food for thought.
Love and grace.