The science behind the ability to grow plants

Agri-scientist and entomologist Rajendra Hegde gives a step-by-step guide to urban gardening


With people staying home during the lock-down, now is the right time to indulge in some gardening. And it is perfectly alright if you don’t have rolling fields of mustard to nurture your green thumb. Your terrace is fine too. Agricultural scientists Vishwanath Kudur and Rajendra Hegde say if you follow the science of growing plants, you will be a successful urban farmer.

Kudur and Hegde conduct workshops on terrace gardening. As these sessions have been suspended, due to COVID-19, Hegde answers questions on social media and conducts online sessions.

Hegde, born in Honnavara into a farming family, holds a doctorate in Agricultural Entomology from the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad. He spent 15 years working with farmers to help them grow crops by adopting the right strategies to manage pests. As programme coordinator at the resource NGO, Agriculture Man Ecology Foundation (AMEF), he has trained dryland farmers in sustainable practices.

“When I met Vishwanath in 2004, he was already propagating terrace gardening. We conducted national seminars to propagate sustainability by growing crops in containers,” says Hegde, who also worked for the organic farming wing of Vittal Mallya Scientific Research Foundation. He co-founded the BRICS LLP in 2015 to re-think and build on pest management practices for urban foodscapes.

Vishwanath started Garden City Farmers to promote organic terrace gardening in 2011. Hegde is one of the founder trustees. “In a place like Bengaluru if people can have healthy gardens, it is a boon. After a while people get disappointed as they don’t know how to manage pests that attack their plants. One need not kill insects, they have to be managed. Just like human beings, plants too need good health to ward off insect attacks.

During the lock-down, Hegde’s phone and mail are inundated with questions on how to start a healthy garden. “These are the basics people need to know about the overall management of plant health.”


For healthy, well-yielding plants, seeds have to be big, pest free and viable, Hegde says. “There is nothing called organic seeds. Seeds are seeds or planting material, and there is nothing organic or inorganic about it. The idea behind urban gardening is to promote native or local types that have evolved in the local environment. Crops grown like this are better than hybrids, which need different conditions to thrive. One needs to source seeds locally through gardeners or suppliers of native seeds only for the first time. Then one can learn to produce and collect viable seeds by leaving the first fruit to mature on the plant. Remove the seeds and dry them in the shade for about a week. Select big seeds and store them in a paper cover or bottle in a cool place and they will last for a year.

Seedlings and germination

Small, medium and big seeds have to be handled differently. Leafy greens, such as amaranthus, coriander, spinach, methi and mustard have small seeds and can be sown in rows with narrow spacing. Bushy vegetables such as tomato, brinjal, chilli, capsicum, cabbage, cauliflower, khol-khol have medium size seeds. They are raised in nurseries in trays, coffee cups or milk covers in a soft growing medium and transplanted. Bhindi, ridge gourd, bitter gourd, cucumber, beans have big seeds and should be planted singly (seed dibbling). They can be transplanted or directly raised.


“Containers are not as important as what goes into them,” says Hegde. You have to choose the size depending on what you are growing. Milk covers, broken buckets, wheat, rice, cement or jute bags can be made containers. Pots in mud, coconut coir and jute fibre can also be used. UV-stabilised grow bags are the latest additions in the market.

For bushy crops such as tomato, brinjal and chilli, a one cubic feet container will do.

For creepers/climbers/vines, such as ridge/bitter/snake/ash or bottle gourd, cucumber, chow chow, a 1.5×1.5×1.5 foot holder is fine. For perennial crops such as curry leaves, lime, sapota, guava, hibiscus or jasmine, a 2x2x2 foot container is a minimum requirement.

Growing medium

This would be made of three parts compost and one part soil. The compost should be a mix of 40 % manure (cow or horse dung, goat or sheep pellets) 40 % vermi compost or earth worms; five % plant cakes (neem, hongamia, mustard or groundnut); 10 % cocopeat/leaf powder; four percent rock phosphate (available in agri-input or garden shops or nurseries) and one percent bio-fertilisers/humic acid granules for organic supplements of primary and secondary nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous potassium calcium, magnesium and sulphur. Manure can be replaced with homemade wet-waste compost.

Placing the pots

Direct sunlight is more important for nearly 50 kinds of food crops. Dispersed light from the sides is good enough for many crops such as leafy greens of any kind, including lettuce. “When you distribute the pots prudently, it is another step in the right direction and requires perfect planning.”

Soil-less medium

While soil-less mediums can be used, they do not supply all the required amino acids. This is the difference between safe food (surakshita aahara) and functional food (poushtika aahara).

A workshop on pest management on urban foodscapes will be on Facebook live on May 2 at 11 am and a workshop on sustainable agriculture on May 3. For more information and queries, mail Rajendra Hegde on [email protected]

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