Backyards are places where we spent most of our daily lives. Kerala in the eighties had cosy backyards with a well, cowshed, fruit trees and a kitchen garden. Children grew up in this space, grandparents rested here and this area bustled with activity during the harvest and festival seasons.
Today our backyards are smaller balconies. A much-needed private space in flats, this is where a little boy practices his penalty shots, its where we dry our clothes and sometimes kitchen spices, our grandparents catch a little sun while reading the paper and at dusk this balcony is a moonlight haven for a romantic teen. Some of us who grew up on farms sometimes squeeze in a kitchen garden here. The difficulties before a balcony farmer are the following.
The little patch of sunlight moves during the day and one would practically want to move the entire garden to catch the sun. Green leafy vegetables need at least 4 hours of sunlight and Fruiting vegetables need 8 hours of sunlight in a day. Unless we have a mobile unit that can pull the plants to catch maximum sunlight all the work that is put into farming is futile.
The monsoon woes of the balcony farmer! The intense rains completely soak the Grow bags and the muddy water messes the balcony. Cleaning the mess is a chore and energy draining. One then has to restore the garden. That means getting more potting mix all the way from the local agricultural farm, shoving it up to your high-rise nest and then adding it on to the grow bags and replanting the vegetables. Only to have the next shower wreak havoc!
Balconies are the only outlet for nature in an otherwise overcrowded living space. It is the little one’s playground, the elders’ gym, the housewives work area and the urban farmer’s garden. All in one. The more compact the garden the more the balcony is utilized and the small patch of green enhances the other utilities but grow bags that occupy too much space reduce the balcony into a neglected corner.
Every farmer dream is a plentiful harvest. The hours of weeding, nurturing and labour is fulfilled when a bowl of tomatoes, a handful of beans and cucumber or 2 grace the kitchen counter. Sometimes however one tries a bountiful harvest evades the urban farmer. If backyard farmers have to thrive, they need innovative technology that can help boost the productivity so that farmer is inspired to carry on.
The kitchen gardens need to be compact, highly productive, soilless and easy to manage. Vertical farming solves the issue of space constraint. Hydroponics and good nutrient management gives a better yield . Soilless farming removes the challenge of muddy terrace. And IOT technology can cut the time spent on the garden and make it all a lot easier. As Theodore Roosevelt rightly said – “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”