Confessions of a Balcony Gardener During a Pandemic

As soon as the lockdown was announced, some of us went back to reading books or watching movies besides attending to our household chores. Some learnt new skills and others shot videos of themselves and their kids. I, for one, besides catching up on reading the books that had been lying untouched on my bookshelf for ages – started greening my balcony, despite knowing that our housing society is very inimical when it comes to having plants.

Yes, you heard that right.

The society has penalised residents for keeping tulsi plants, money plants and even an aloe vera in their balcony – on the grounds that they stain the building’s exteriors.

Regardless, I have been spending most of my time growing leafy vegetables and tending to the ornamentals (flower pots) in my balcony – the size of a suburban local seat with grills attached. For me, a weekend farmer, the experience has been like Messi dribbling on a field the size of a carom board. But I’m enjoying every moment of it though my play area has been drastically reduced.

At a time, when the residents are staying indoors for most of the time, I thought they won’t come to know of my indiscretion and hence, I started populating my balcony with planters and pots – made out of empty edible oil plastic containers, muesli jars, ice cream trays, and PET bottles.

However, as soon as I started, my wife warned, “I will not let you pay a single rupee more than the mandatory maintenance fee,” hinting at the society’s penalty clause.

I didn’t budge.

In the last four months, beginning March, I have grown green leafy vegetables like mint, spinach, coriander, fenugreek, sweet basil, lemongrass, wheatgrass, and chilli. I have also tried my hand growing microgreens like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, mustard, chia, and sunflower.

Also read: How I Started Composting Organic Waste at Home

As I began, getting soil was the easiest thing – it was from the society’s park which also serves as an outdoor gym with its exercising equipment, a feature common in Thane.

Thanks to the seeds which I had earlier procured to sow in my farm, and thus I started turning my balcony green. Years of working with soil and making its yield its bounty, has taught me that the food we eat contains organic chemical compounds, which can also be used to cultivate the plant kingdom.

Hence, what we have in our kitchen is enough to nurture plants, and I used them too for my balcony garden. For example, coffee grounds for nitrogen, eggshells for calcium, banana and potato peel for potassium and so on. At times, I have stealthily used my pee which is nothing but urea – plants are hungry for it and respond with vigorous growth.

Balcony garden. Photo: Hiren Kumar Bose.

Did you know that onion skins, which we consider as waste and throw in the bin, are a great fertiliser and contains calcium, iron, magnesium and copper? Its use increases the plant’s disease resistance capacity, enables growth, strengthens the stems, and ultimately assures productivity. Leave the onion skins in water for three days at a stretch in a container and your fertiliser is ready.

I wondered if the vitamin supplements can usher well being and health in humans, why not in plants? Hence, I have also used multivitamin capsules to revive my drooping betel (paan) vine, the maghai variety which has been accorded a geographical Index tag. Two leaves of maghai paan with gulkand and saunf has been our post-lunch indulgence for months now.

In the last three months, the mint plant has occupied a large space in my balcony. Growing it from stem cuttings is easy provided you know what horticulturists call rooting hormone (RH). If you don’t, simply make a paste with a teaspoon of honey and cinnamon powder and your RH is ready.

From the fruit peels which includes chickoo, banana, papaya, peach mango, custard apple, jackfruit I have made what we call garbage enzyme (GE). Yes, you read it right. It is very simple to make. Fill a plastic jar with fruit peels, add jaggery and water and leave it capped for three months and your GE is ready. You can not only use it as fertiliser but an organic cleaner for toilet and bathroom. Also called eco-enzyme, it’s a multipurpose liquid that is produced from the fermentation of organic waste. The idea is to cultivate enzymes into organic cleaners, from organic waste that normally goes into the garbage bins.

Like a conscientious citizen, I’ve substantially reduced my carbon footprints as less and less volume of garbage leaves my home for the landfills. By the end of the day, we are only left with non-recyclable stuff namely plastic wrappers, milk pouches, aluminium foil bags, used toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes and so on.

I believe the ornamentals – madhu malati, passionflower, syngonium, ice cream creeper, shankhapushpi – have helped usher an ecosystem bringing in bees, butterflies and even birds to my balcony. Who knew that in a pandemic my balcony’s window grille will host sunbirds, starlings and house sparrows?

Although their appearance is brief, they have surely brought joy in the lives of self-incarcerated individuals like me.

Hiren Kumar Bose is an independent journalist and a weekend farmer. He blogs at

​All images provided by author