I started gardening in an inevitable situation… After working as a software professional for 12 years, I had to take a break for a year due to a health reason. The first one month went in just relaxing… doing nothing except eating good food and sleeping. The second month was for cleaning the house and arranging things in much simpler and efficient way :-) Japanese 5 S, spring cleaning sites from the US, Indian beliefs on cleanliness and what not – information from all over the globe was applied. Half way thru the third month, I had no cupboard unturned, no clothe untouched, no window dirty. Cleaning took only a few minutes a day. My experience in Project Management made me prepare a checklist for each room and each of these checklists took two or three minutes to complete if cleaning was done every day.
I hate sitting idle and I can’t stand the TV serials; channels like Travel & Living, History were good but they were repetitive (Good for me :-) ). Fate forced me to sit at home doing nothing serious. This situation forced me think of new things to do.
I like plants for their green look and their capability to produce vegetables or fruits on their own. So I decided to settle down for gardening. There came the first challenge. We are living in the first floor of Government Quarters Apartment Complex. I was not supposed to use the vacant land, though it was just vacant and not used by Govt. (by anybody for that matter) for any useful purpose. My balconies were very small. 9’ X 2’ and 5’ X 2’; used for washing and drying clothes. Maximum space I could squeeze out is about 9’ X 1’ area. Next constraints (that I took voluntarily) are a) not to go for just flowering plants and b) not spend more than a few hundreds of rupees on this project.
What are the best plants that can be grown in containers? Google gave me 970,000 results in 2.1 seconds (amazing, isn’t it!!). But alas, most of the information was about flowering plants… I changed the search to best vegetables that can be grown in containers; another huge set of results in a couple of seconds. This set was useful to an extent but for that it contained details of American and English climates and vegetables. For Indian condition, that too for east coast climates, what can be grown was a difficult thing to find out for a novice gardener(!!?!?) like me. In about two to three hours of reading I got a fair idea of where to start and what to grow.
Tomato, Brinjal, and Cluster Beans were my choices. I did not buy containers for them; instead, I used old water cans (25 litters, 12 litters) and a bucket. Red soil, sand and compost were easy to find in a shop just a walk away. In two days, my containers were ready for the seeds. Brinjal seeds did not even sprout. Tomato and Cluster Beans were very good - they sprouted pretty quickly. I was in the balcony every half an hour :-) expecting some change. I knew the number of leaves in each of these seedlings.
Next week gave me a big shock; my cluster beans seedlings started dying one by one. I was very upset watching those lovely looking seedlings die in front of my eyes; I could do nothing to save them. Tomatoes were my only consolation. There were 5 of them. They were growing in good speed. The smell of the leaves was good too. On a fine morning, there were two flowers on two plants. I am not sure if farmers, other expert gardeners, environmentalists and all other species of plant growers get excited to see flowers of a tomato plant as I was!!! I was so thrilled!!!
One week passed without any other event. Next week, there were a few more flowers, but no sign of pollination. I decided to help (?!) the plants in pollination as there were no butterflies and bees around. I rubbed the flowers on each other. Every day I did the job of the butterflies & bees and eagerly waited… The wait seemed indefinite… with no change.
In the meanwhile, I got hold of contact number of a horticulture officer, who told me that adding urea will help and he invited me for a one day session on “Urban Horticulture for Apartment Dwellers”. Session was interesting. He recommended greens, drum stick, and bitter guard for my space specifications. I could not believe that drum sticks could grow in a container. Next day, I sowed a few drumstick seeds and vendayam (methi / fenugreek) seeds. Methi was a good idea. They grow about 5 cm in 7 days so you can harvest in just a week’s time. I have Methi dhal every Friday and Fridays are my sowing days too :-)
Drumstick seed was quiet for two weeks. I stopped expecting any change in that container; but I did not sow any thing new too, not even the methi seeds. I am not an emotional gardener any more it seemed! In the third week, soil in the container had a small bump. I thought it could be an ant pit and did not bother. Next day, there were two tiny leaves on a slender stem, I was not sure if it was drumstick, but I wished so. Another week passed. The seedling grew to a plant, and wow!!! It was a drumstick plant. In about four weeks from then, it touched 4 feet. I pruned the top so that the plant would start to branch out. Now it is a healthy, good looking and useful plant. This success has satisfied my urge for productivity. My neighbors followed suite. There are jasmines, bitter guards and drumsticks along with their roses now!! I am thinking of finding out another interesting thing to do now as my space is fully done and watering the plants takes just a few minutes now :-)