CHENNAI: With the mid-day sun shining on her terrace, Anju Agarwal tends to more than 50 plants in her terrace garden, which includes varieties of spinach, tomatoes, carrots and beetroot. Her house in Choolaimedu has three terrace gardens, each with a variety of fruit, vegetables and herbs.
“There isn’t a particular order to all the plants here. Other people usually have set rows and area. My plants are always interspersed, and I never know what I’m going to get from them. It’s always a surprise,” says Anju.
Her love for organic gardening began when she was 10 years old and living in her childhood home in Juhu, Mumbai. “We had a huge bungalow, and we maintained a kitchen garden then. Ever since then, my father never used urea or any other chemical. We used cow dung and bone meal. Our bottle gourds would be a foot or a foot-and-a-half long!” says the 52-year-old. After her marriage in 1993, she moved to Chennai, at a time when it was difficult for her to find the right tools to start her organic kitchen garden.
In 2007, her parents-in-law fell ill and needed her constant attention. “At that time, I was stressed. I turned to gardening as it was the only thing I knew, and it became a source of joy for me,” she says. She then attended a meeting for gardening enthusiasts and she made two friends with whom she set up The Organic Garden Foundation, which holds conventions on organic farming and produce, all over the city. Now, Anju sells organic soaps made using the produce from her garden.
“A lot of people look at what their plant needs, not what the soil needs. The soil has to be healthy. I recommend people concentrate on soil. Once a plant’s cycle is over, I take out the soil, wash the container, leave the soil out in the sun for ten days, and add nutrients to it,” she says. She also recommends rotating vegetables, as different plants require different nutrients, which are depleted from the soil and needs to be replenished. For example, after growing a vegetable like okra, she grows spinach as it restores nitrogen in the soil.
Anju spends time testing and trying out the current trends in organic farming that she finds on the internet, and noting down the results in a diary. She is currently trying organic hydroponics and a composting method by Dr Krishna Jargan.
Her container farm also grows Barbados cherries, figs and pomegranate. She also grows turmeric and chillies, which she dries and powders to use in her kitchen. Her husband Sanjay, who she says is a huge supporter of her passion, often checks the garden in the morning and evening. Surrounded by spring onions, cabbages, cauliflowers, papaya, bananas, guava, lemons and sweet potatoes, she uses a drip-feeding system that Sanjay installed to ensure her plants are taken care of.
For details, call Anju on 9941010441 or check her FB page, Anju’s Garden.