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Business News/ Mint-lounge / Features/  Bangalore Bhath | Under the same roof
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Bangalore Bhath | Under the same roof

With a blossoming kitchen gardeners' club, many in the original garden city are growing what they eat

Vijay Satish’s kitchen uses the produce from his garden. Photographs: Aniruddha Chowdhury/MintPremium
Vijay Satish’s kitchen uses the produce from his garden. Photographs: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

Vijay Satish’s day begins on his rooftop terrace at 6am. “I think of it as my meditation time. That’s the kind of peace tending to my kitchen garden gives me," he says. His 1,000 sq. ft terrace is lined with pots. Satish points out 13 types of tomatoes (only a third of the varieties one can grow, we are told), zucchini, bhut jolokia chillies and yellow-coloured brinjal. “You can grow almost anything from across the world in Bangalore. It’s the best place to be a gardener," says Satish.

He started his rooftop paradise seven years ago. From a family of agriculturists who grow arecanut on their farmland outside the city, he grew up in a house nestled amid vegetable gardens, fruit trees and ornamental flowering plants. When his family decided to expand the house, the garden was shifted to the terrace. “I decided that all our vegetable requirements should be met within the house," he says. His family of five now only buys onions and grains from the market; everything else is grown on the roof.

In addition to the 1 hour he spends in his terrace garden, Satish spends another hour on the Internet talking to and responding to gardening queries on a Facebook group called Organic Terrace Gardening (OTG). The group, a natural offshoot of the Garden City Farmers’ Trust started by B.N. Vishwanath, was started in 2010 to bring the city’s organic gardeners together. Vishwanath, who is said to have given India its first terrace gardening push, was inspired by the organic gardens of Cuba more than two decades ago. When Lounge mentioned OTGin a story on the city’s gardeners in 2011, the group had around 2,000 members. That number has gone up to more than 7,000 in the past year. Group moderator and gardener Laxminarayan Srinivasaiah says that while the numbers on the page might not be reflective of the number of actual gardeners, it is indicative of the dramatic rise in interest. “The questions just keep coming and now we don’t have to do all the answering, older members of the group jump in to share their experience," he laughs.

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B.N. Vishwanath is considered the pioneer of organic gardening in India

The Facebook group, managed by a group of gardening enthusiasts like Srinivasaiah, all mentors of Vishwanath, is built around his beliefs. “There are several agriculturists who offer short cuts with chemicals, but the moderators immediately zone in to discourage it," says Srinivasaiah. Instead, the community constantly experiments with new growing methods and innovative containers. “People are often concerned if their roof will be able to bear the weight of layers of soil or if water will seep through," says Vishwanath. To circumvent these concerns they propose the use of light-weight plastic containers and tyre tubes to grow plants. “Just use old buckets or dustbins lying around. It’s the best way to recyle," he says.

Aparna George started out three years ago by composting the vegetable waste from her kitchen. “The rich compost made me think about gardening. It was an awakening of sorts," says George. She then signed up for a basic gardening workshop with the Vittal Mallya Scientific Research Foundation (VMSRF), a research organization that conducts organic gardening workshops every few months. She also became a member of OTG and is now one of the five moderators. In the past three years, George has gone from zero to 80 pots. “When you start gardening, you are faced with problems that no amount of online research will be able to solve," she says of OTG where members actively post images of their harvests, bugs infecting their plants or new techniques of potting and composting.

Food blogger Nandita Iyer recalls posting an image of a plant with bright flowers that had sprung up in her kitchen garden. “I was met with frantic responses within half an hour asking me to pull the weed out immediately," she laughs. For Iyer, who writes on nutrition, growing vegetables or herbs is one way of ensuring that her family is not consuming pesticides. “There is no established proof to say that organic food is way healthier than that grown with pesticides, but it helps to know that we aren’t eating those chemicals," she says. The flavour of freshly-picked organic fruits, vegetable or herbs is the other motivation. “In fact I would say any self-respecting restaurant in Bangalore should grow their own herbs," she says, adding she was surprised how flavourful her sambhar was when she used capsicum from her garden.

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Aparna George in her garden

The online group also serves as a great place for people who make seeds (from ripened fruits in their harvest) and want to give them away. Veterans like Satish have a stock of heirloom seeds and make saplings to distribute among people who drop in their garden. “If you are just starting, I would recommend that you begin with tomatoes or chillies that grow with little trouble," he says. Seeds found in gardening stores are often of the hybrid variety and heirloom seeds are best taken from other organic gardeners.

The Bangalore gardening community will celebrate International Kitchen Gardener’s day with its largest ever organic mela,Oota From Your Thota, or OFYT, which means food from your garden, on 25 August. Besides stalls with saplings and seeds and other gardening tools, they are inviting organic farmers from around Bangalore to sell directly to customers. Look out also for stalls that will display common garden insects and bugs. A gardening workshop for children will be conducted at the venue.

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Updated: 24 Aug 2013, 12:06 AM IST
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