His love for different plants and his insistence to consume homegrown vegetables and fruits is what compelled Maheswar Khillar to come up with a rooftop garden inside his house! A resident of Saheed Nagar in the capital, Maheswar is a retired OAS officer, who has been dedicatedly maintaining his rooftop garden for the last 25 years while also encouraging others to do the same. MCL caught up with Maheswar for an exclusive interview to know more about him and his love for rooftop gardening.
What kind of plants do you grow in your rooftop garden?
I have grown many types of plants including vegetables, herbs, flowering plants, trees and some medicinal plants. I also grow various types of seasonal vegetables like potatoes, onion, garlic, bitter gourd, ridge gourd, brinjal, bottle gourd, lady’s finger, spiny gourd, ivy gourd, cucumber, tomato, long beans, cauliflower, lima beans, sweet potato, green chillies and many more.
Some of the leafy vegetables in my garden include coriander leaves, mint leaves, curry leaves, drumstick leaves, spinach and water spinach (kalama saga). I have also been successful in growing fruits like mango, lemon, papaya, star fruit, guava and banana. Tulsi and ajwain are a few medicinal plants that I have in my collection.
What urged you to start rooftop gardening in your home?
I have been into this for more than 25 years now. In fact, I have been interested in plants ever since I was a kid. After I moved to my house in Saheed Nagar in Bhubaneswar in 1991, I realized that there is a severe space crunch and my dream to have a beautiful garden in my house could probably never turn into a reality. But I didn’t want to give up on my dream and so I found a way out of this problem by opting for a rooftop garden!
Initially, I started experimenting on my roof by growing different kinds of plants and trees. Gradually, as time passed, I was able to grow more plants in my rooftop garden and it became an integral part of my life. Now, I spend most of my time with my plants and in my garden.
What are the benefits that you get through rooftop farming?
There are many advantages that one can get by adopting kitchen and rooftop gardening and farming techniques. I enjoy many benefits out of it. The most important thing is that I get fresh and healthy vegetables and fruits from my garden. In today’s world, the veggies available in the market aren’t pure and have traces of pesticides and fertilisers, which are harmful for our health. Fruits too are ripened with the use of colours and other chemical products that are not edible.
Hence, when we have our own kitchen garden, not only do we get more edible and healthy fruits and vegetables, we also get them as per our wish. Whenever I want to eat any vegetable or fruit, I instantly go to my roof to pluck them fresh. That apart, I save a good amount of money as I hardly buy vegetables from the market. And, the best part is that my mind always stays refreshed as I do all the gardening work by myself, which gives me a lot of satisfaction.
Last, but not the least, the atmosphere and the air around my house remains fresh with the plants around and so it promotes healthy living.
How much time do you dedicate to nourish the plants every day?
I devote at least one and a half hours in the morning from 4.30 to 6 am and about two hours in the evening from 5 to 7 pm. Giving this much time is essential to maintain a kitchen and rooftop garden.
What kind of materials do you use to nurture the plants and make them healthier?
I have always avoided the use of pesticides, fertilisers and chemical products for growing my plants. Rather, I use purely organic products to nourish the plants including ‘amruta jala’, ‘amruta mati’ and ‘masala mati’. ‘Amruta jala’ is prepared by mixing one kilo of cowdung, one litre of cow urine and 250 grams of jaggery with 10 litres of water. ‘Masala mati’ is a mix of saw dust and powder of leaves. ‘Amruta mati’ again is prepared from mixing cow dung, wastes of vegetables, dried leaves and rice water. The above three mixtures are used in limited quantities at regular intervals.
Apart from this, other things that act as manure are dried leaves, grass, organic wastes like vegetable wastes, discarded flowers used for adorning gods, rice water and cheese water.
What kind of containers do you use to grow these plants?
There is no specific criterion to select a container for placing the plants. One can use any type of container that is a bit spacious. I basically use cements pots, pots made of bamboos, plastic containers, plastic bags, tyres, large thermocols and broken water tankers (with a large base). Also, I have made permanent containers alongside the boundaries of my roof that accommodate more than half of my plants.
Have you tried to promote this concept in the society? If yes, please elaborate how.
Yes, I have always promoted this concept and encouraged everyone to adopt it. About 300 persons from across the capital have opted for kitchen and rooftop gardens in their roofs and balconies after being motivated by me. Many of them stay near my house! I have also made an ‘Amruta Vatika’ with the help of some persons where many plants and trees have been planted. We also provide various kinds of saplings, ‘amruta mati’, ‘amruta jala’ and ‘masala mati’ to people here.
Besides, I am the managing trustee of Kitchen Garden Association for Bhubaneswar. The association does its bit to promote awareness in the society. Every year we celebrate the last Sunday of August as ‘World Kitchen Garden Day’ and make a grand function to make more people aware about kitchen gardening.