It is the 127th day of lockdown, and the sun is just about to set in Hyderabad’s Kalyan Nagar. 67-year-old Tarakam Chaturvedula walks into his luscious garden to harvest half a kilo of tinde (apple gourd).
Just when he starts plucking, I call him to know more about his gardening goals and how he set up 200 plants on his terrace after retirement.
“I hope you don’t mind if I continue my harvesting while talking. I am trying to use the lockdown to grow more plants in my garden,” Tarakam tells The Better India, excitedly.
His love for gardening goes back to his childhood when planting a hibiscus plant and ensuring it survived was an achievement.
He has changed houses and witnessed technological advancements, while his philosophy of gardening remains the same.
Even today, the pleasure of a flowering plant or spotting birds on his terrace due to the biodiversity is unmatched. “Yes, sure I want to consume healthy and organic food, but gardening for me is more about serenity and peace. All my worries magically disappear once I enter the terrace.”
Tarakam decided to nurture his hobby after he retired in 2011. He surrendered himself to gardening tutorials and learned all about it. As a teacher, he said that a good student continuously learns from his mistakes and does not fear failure. The committed teacher crossed the bridge and became a sincere student.
The 1,000 sq ft area in his garden blooms with medicinal herbs, fruits and vegetables grown without chemicals.
Exotic and Rare Varieties
From red aloe vera, bael, pashanbhed (Bergenia ciliata) (which can treat renal problems), punarnava (anti-inflammatory and diuretic agent), darbha (salt reed grass), heartleaf moonseed, black turmeric to black guruvinda plant, Tarakam’s garden boasts of some rare and exotic medicinal plants.
Likewise, he has taken bold decisions of growing aerial potatoes, sweet tamarind, Israel orange, dragon fruit and so on. Other plants include brinjals, tomatoes, pumpkins, moringa, papaya, guava, garlic, bottle gourd, and leafy vegetables.
He has also planted two or more plants in one container such that they act as companion plants and help each other grow. Ivy gourd with coriander and brinjals with tomatoes are some examples.
With so many edible plants at home, the family rarely purchases market produce. In fact, in the last four months, they have not purchased anything. “On good days, the produce is so much that we even distribute it to our neighbours.”
Find Everything At Home
Tarakam does not believe in investing a lot of money on setting up a garden. He looked around the house, picked up plastic containers, water bottles, and buckets to sow seeds.
Next, he converted kitchen waste into compost.
Elaborating, he says, “I mix garden and kitchen waste with bacteria activators like curd and jaggery and leave it. After a month or so, my fresh compost is ready.”
While his near ones suggested purchasing high-end organic fertilisers to enhance plant growth and keep insects at bay, Tarakam turned towards home remedies.
“I am a firm believer in finding solutions at home. There are 150 plastic bottles that we consciously chose to keep, thinking that they will be of some help in future. Likewise, I studied what properties are needed to protect the plants and found their equivalent in household items,” he adds.
His terrace receives ample sunlight that keeps away insects and pests. For the ones that still come, he recommends a concoction of garlic and ginger spray. Alternatives like eggshells and soaked neem also work.
“One can also take banana peels and soak them in water for 24 hours. Add a spoonful of jaggery and curd and keep it aside for some days. Then add the peels to the mixture in water and spray it on the plants.”
Dr Shivani Karla, a garden expert from Meerut too believes that home remedies could be more effective than chemical fertilisers.
“Plants require nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and micronutrients to grow. Use buttermilk or crushed amla as a foliar spray that acts as an organic replacement. Eggshells are a rich source of potassium and potato peels in water can increase calcium in the soil. Meanwhile, onion peels in water ward off pests. Planting marigolds and coriander can protect plants from pests and allow ladybugs and beneficial insects to thrive,” she tells The Better India. Read her story here.
To enhance nutrition in plants, Tarakam soaks betel leaves (which is rich in calcium) in soil and dilutes it with water. The final product is added to the soil. He also uses a paste of cow dung and jaggery.
The same philosophy of reusing is also applied when it comes to watering the plants. “We have leakage in our tank, and almost 400 litres of water is wasted every day. So I collect it for my garden.”
Start With Trials and Errors
“My vast knowledge of gardening is not an overnight phenomenon. It was the result of a series of failures and plant damages. For instance, I learnt the importance of pH level after I overused compost for one of my plants. I also learnt that bushes could capture or retain water for longer periods,” says Tarakam.
His zeal and enthusiasm for gardening have inspired many, including his daughter, Namratha, who is growing a Miyawaki forest near Nandi Hills in Bengaluru.
“Gardening was an integral part of my childhood. My father never imposed his philosophy on us, but we imbibed it by experiencing his undying passion for plants and experiments. He excitedly updates me with his experiments. I admire him for also keeping certain plants for the birds,” she tells The Better India.
At an age when most people take rest or relax, Tarakam bounces around his garden, tending to his plants. When asked if gardening tires him, he responds, “No way. On the contrary, it gives me more energy,” and continues plucking tinde for dinner.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)