Having grown up in a family that enjoyed gardening, Shimul Parekh knew she wanted a garden when she shifted to a new apartment in Mumbai with her husband, two years ago. “Luckily, we had a balcony (37ft) and two window sills, where I could grow and experiment with herbs, vegetables and greens," says Parekh, 35, who works as head of design at Kokuyo Riddhi Paper Products Ltd.

Hits and misses

Before starting the garden 18 months ago, Parekh started reading about microgreens online. “They are more readily available in the market now but still quite expensive. I watched a lot of gardening videos on YouTube and Instagram, and it seemed like microgreens would be ideal to grow in confined spaces," says Parekh.

Initially, she used whatever resources she had at home—fenugreek, mustard and coriander seeds, and recycled takeaway plastic containers to grow them in.

The results were mixed. She realized her mistakes through trial and error. “In the beginning, some of them would catch fungus because I was watering them too much; then they would dry up if I didn’t use enough water," she says.

Eventually, she got around to buying a wider variety of microgreen seeds, such as onions, bok choy and amaranth, from gardening websites. “I used to buy the soil from a nursery in Santacruz and Bandra, then due to lack of time, I’d order it online. The soil was premixed with compost and easy to use. Also, I do composting at home so I use that as well," she says.

To learn the basics of gardening, Parekh also attended a two-hour gardening and composting workshop. There, she learnt about using different soil mediums, how to preserve seeds and kitchen waste composting—information that has helped her with growing microgreens.

“Since I work alternate Saturdays, I don’t really have time for workshops. Most times, I just follow gardening influencers on Instagram to learn about new techniques or ideas. Most of them post detailed videos and instructions," says Parekh, who is currently experimenting with soilless cultivation for the microgreens.

“I am trying out a technique wherein you grow microgreens by placing the seeds on wet tissue paper. I believe this way they don’t catch fungus easily, there’s better yield and there are fewer pests and bugs because there’s no soil. It literally takes five minutes to set up," Parekh says. She’s also trying out non-GMO (genetically modified organisms) seeds that she procured from a village market recently.

Juggling job and hobby

Since time is always a constraint for Parekh, who is usually at work from 10.30am to 7pm, she prefers growing microgreens. They don’t require too much prep work or maintenance, she says. “And the best part is that they can be harvested in eight to 15 days (depending on the variety). Given that I sometimes have to travel abroad for work, the quick growth cycle makes it easier for me to look after them," she adds.

In terms of investment, Parekh has till now spent 1,500 on eight to 10 packets of seeds, and 500-600 a month on soil.

Apart from the microgreens, she has a thriving garden of basil, oregano, rosemary, chillies, coriander, tulsi, aloe vera, lemongrass, mint, lemons, roses and butterfly pea flowers that attract hummingbirds and bees to her balcony. “When I put up pictures of the garden on social media, friends always reach out with requests. So far, I have gifted five-six pots of herbs to friends," Parekh says.

Whether she’s topping a salad or pasta with microgreens or adding them to a sandwich, Parekh says there’s a sense of pride whenever she uses home-grown organic produce. “Even spending an hour or two in the garden over weekends makes me feel calm. Honestly, it’s really therapeutic, especially since my work can get really hectic during certain months."

Urban Farmers explores the lives of professionals who experiment with farming at home.