Living in Mumbai in a rented house comes with one big asterisk: Unless you have a trust fund, forget about lawns and the vegetable gardens growing behind your parent’s home in Pune. A four by four balcony is considered a luxury. That said, it must be noted that with a little ingenuity you can still be able to pluck fresh tomatoes for your evening salad within your 600 sqft apartment. We spoke to horticulturist Shaan Lalwani at the Vriksha Nursery in Vile Parle, Mumbai and learnt about how to build the perfect apartment kitchen garden.
Almost all vegetables that you find in your garden back home can be grown in your apartment. For starters it is best to start with something small. There isn’t much that plants need except to be watered regularly. Herbs make ideal plants to start with because they are both small and since they are used in small amounts you can start harvesting your crop earlier than with bigger vegetables. Imagine the satisfaction of telling your guests that the baked potatoes are seasoned with rosemary that you grew! Lalwani suggests, “start your mini garden with rosemary, basil, mint, ajwain, lemon grass or garlic Chives. These plants will survive the odd day you forget to water them.”
The biggest roadblock to having a kitchen garden is space and we’ve broken it down into three possible scenarios for people living in apartments.
SCENARIO 1: You’re one of the lucky ones with one or more balconies that are flooded with sunshine.
We grew up believing that pots were meant only for flowers and decoration ferns but the truth is that if you were to just increase the size of the pot you could grow anything from herbs to lemon trees in them. Packing crates emptied of mangoes make beautiful alternatives to mud pots. “Lemons, limes, oranges, avocados and berries grow well in containers,” says Lalwani.
A 12 inch diameter pot is big enough for one plant and additionally herbs like oregano and mint can be grown at the bottom. Growing herbs at the bottom of these plants not only is space saving but aids in the root development of these plants and also ensures that the soil remains moist for longer. Pineapples, curry leaves, aloe vera, broccoli, bell peppers, brinjals and lettuce are some of the other plants that also grow well in containers.
“Herbs are relatively easier as they can be clubbed together in a large pot to make a herb rack,” says Lalwani. At Vriksha nursery you can find 8 inches x 12 inches herb racks of 8 to 10 herbs per pot. Just imagine being able to pluck a sprig of fresh mint everyday to add to your morning tea.
Contrary to what we think, herbs aren’t very high maintenance. A little water once a day will ensure you lesser trips to the market. If even this seems a little much replacing the soil with a mixture of cocoa peats and husk with a few additives that are available at your local nursery will make watering the herbs a once in two-three day event.
SCENARIO 2: There’s no balcony but the windows have been grilled in a way to give you about a foot wide extension.
Herb racks are ideal for such a situation. Similar to herb racks vegetable like broccoli, tomatoes, bell peppers and chillies also grow well together. Envision your window with one large pot of mixed herbs and another with vegetables for tomorrow’s dinner. Appetising isn’t it?
“Another alternative is growing a green curtain of black pepper, passion fruit or Karela creepers. The creepers add decorative value as well as keep away those annoying little insects,” says Lalwani.
SCNEARIO 3: No balconies, no window extensions but you won’t let that stop you
If you don’t have the floor space there’s nothing stopping you from using the ceiling space. One option is to grow herbs in pots suspended from the ceiling. “Mints, chives, oregano, thyme and parsley grow well like this,” suggests Lalwani. While space constraints might stop you from growing larger plants like avocados and lemons, smaller plants like peppers, tomatoes and some varieties of cucumber can be grown indoors in smaller decorative pots on the window sills. Instead of throwing out your chipped mug let herbs grow in them.
Galangals, brinjals, black pepper, thyme, rosemary, oregano, sage, taragon, rocket lettuce and pakchoi are some vegetables that can be grown indoors without much sunlight.
Don’t say goodbye to your neighbourhood vegetable vendor. The small plants will definitely add to your stock in the fridge but won’t produce enough for you to feast on everyday. Excited? We harvested a few fresh basil leaves for our dinner last night and just knowing that it had come from the pot in the corner made dinner all the more appetising.
- We’ve realised that it’s easier growing herbs from saplings rather than seeds. If you’re staying in Mumbai, check out the wide range of herbs and vegetables saplings at the Vriksha nursery. Address: 1 Ganga Apartments , Irla Railway Society (2nd last bungalow lane opp Papilon hotel )