10 winter vegetables to grow in pots

After what seemed like eternity the air seems to be getting cooler now. Winters will set in soon and that means boom time for kitchen gardeners in the tropics. You can grow a huge variety of colorful and nutritious vegetables in your container garden from November to February when the temperature stays between 15° and 30° in most parts of India. Most of these vegetables are very easy to grow and do just fine with minimal care. Here is my top ten list of vegetables to grow in pots this winter.

Tomato

Tomato is a great vegetable to grow in winters in India
Tomato is a great vegetable to grow in winters in India

Tomato is probably the favorite vegetable of most gardeners. There are a lot of varieties of tomato that you can grow which include many exotic varieties. Cherry tomatoes is something you ought to have in your garden as they can be grown in even 7-8 liter pots. When you taste the tomatoes grown by you organically I bet you’ll never feel like buying them from the store. And the joy of growing this beautiful and juicy vegetable is priceless.

Beans

Beans are container gardening friendly
Beans are container gardening friendly

Beans is another vegetable to grow in pots in winter and that too very easily. It is not a heavy eater and hence you can grow beans even in small containers. Bush varieties of beans are suitable for container gardening. However if you can build a trellis, you can go for a climber variety and save on lateral space in your garden. Typically people grow french beans in winters. But my favorite leguminous vegetable to grow in pots in winters is flat beans beans because of its intense flavor.

Beans serves another important purpose in your garden. As they belong to leguminous family they also help to fix nitrogen in the soil.


Tip – Treating beans seeds with azospirillum bio fertilizer before sowing increases the amount of nitrogen fixed in the soil by a large amount.


Spinach

The true spinach is spinach from your garden
The true spinach is spinach from your garden

Spinach loses its nutrients quite fast after its plucked. In fact some varieties of spinach loose more than 90% of their nutrients within 24 hours. So eating store bought spinach which takes at least three days to reach your table from the farm is no good at all in terms of nutrients you get from them. Hence you ought to grow spinach in your garden and eat them as fresh as you can. Additionally it is one of the easiest things you can grow. Just sow the seeds and water. Growing spinach in containers is as simple as it can get. And they can be grown even in a shallow container. That is why spinach makes it to my top ten vegetables to grow in pots in Indian winters.

Radish

Radish is easy to grow winter vegetable
Radish is easy to grow winter vegetable

My mom loves radish when its cooked. But I love it raw. Nothing can beat fresh radish from your garden sprinkled with a little salt and chilli powder. Apart from taste the other reason that makes this root vegetable so good to grow is its short germination to harvest time. Depending on variety your radish can be ready to harvest between 30 to 50 days time. And if you were wondering how to grow these beauties here is a comprehensive guide on how to grow radish in containers.

Lettuce

Lettuce is the best salad green to grow in winters
Lettuce is the best salad green to grow in winters

To really understand why lettuce is such a loved salad green you need to pluck and eat it. The texture and taste of lettuce can really be enjoyed if you eat it directly from your garden. In most parts of India it is also not commonly eaten. Hence it is difficult to find even in super stores. And even if you get lucky I am sure you wont get it fresh. So go ahead and plant some lettuce in your garden this winter. Pick few different varieties and plant them around your house. Different colors and curly leaves also make lettuce very decorative by nature.

Bell Peppers

Grow bell peppers of different colors
Grow bell peppers of different colors

Bell pepper or capsicum is a very popular vegetable in India as it is used in Indian, Chinese, European and all other kinds of cooking. People also love it in salads. It is very versatile and you can grow them in containers as they are not heavy eaters and don’t need too much space to grow. With timely application of compost and organic fertilizers like Amrut Jal and Panchagavya you can get a bountiful of harvest from your capsicum plants.


Tip – Instead of the green capsicum which is commonly available you can go for the colored varieties like yellow, red and orange bell peppers as one of the vegetables to grow in pots in tropical winters.


Carrot

Carrots take time but are hassle free
Carrots take time but are hassle free

Carrots take a lot of time to grow. It can sometimes take even a hundred days from germination day to be ready to be picked. But still this still makes it to the list of vegetables to grow in pots in winters because this can be used as a companion plant to many of the other vegetables like tomatoes. And it also does not really require much space on its own. In just three square feet space you can harvest more than a kilo of carrots.

Cauliflower and Cabbage

Cauliflower is shallow rooted and hence grows in pots easily
Cauliflower is shallow rooted and hence grows in pots easily

When you are thinking of growing vegetable in pots rooting structure plays a very important role in selecting the vegetables. Shallow rooting vegetables are excellent for container gardening. Cauliflower and Cabbage are shallow rooting and early harvest vegetables. Moreover in one winter season you can have at least two crop cycles. So they are excellent to plant in your kitchen garden in winters. Here is a detailed guide on how to grow organic cauliflowers in containers for your reference.

Microgreens and Herbs

Coriander can be used both as a micro green and a herb
Coriander can be used both as a micro green and a herb

Microgreens are relatively new concept of food in India, but it is catching up really quick. They are basically immature green saplings of varieties of plants harvested within a month of germination. They are cut off at the base of the plant and are eaten mostly raw. They add a lot of intense flavor, texture and color to your dishes and are great in terms of nutrition. As these also need to be eaten fresh you have to grow them at home. Some of the seeds that you can use for growing your microgreens are lettuce, spinach, mustard, fenugreek, radish, beet root, kale, coriander etc. Winter is also the best time to plant herbs like coriander, mint and basil. The best part about microgreens and herbs is that they can even be grown in your windowsill provided you get 3-4 hours of sunlight there.

Ginger

Ginger is the lazy man's winter vegetable
Ginger is the lazy man’s winter vegetable

No one would really put ginger in the list of vegetables to grow in pots in winters in India. But this surely is one of the best things you can plant if you are short on time and can not look after your plants regularly. Ginger pods start showing sprouts in late winter and that is when you plant them. Once you plant them you can literally forget about them except for occasional watering when soil becomes dry. You need a container that is at lest one foot deep to plant ginger. But once planted they take care of themselves and need very little help from you. They are ready to be harvested in 6-8 months time and you’ll be surprised at the amount of ginger you get from your containers.


So that was my top ten vegetables to grow in pots in winters in India. I have already started seeds for most of these and looking forward to a bountiful harvest this season too. For those who are new to container gardening here some help. This beginner’s guide to growing vegetables in pots should be of help to you. I’ll be back with a new post soon. Till then keep well and happy gardening.

Taking Urban Farming to the Urban Poor

Awareness Drive on Organic Urban Farming
Awareness Drive on Organic Urban Farming

For those of us living in cities we enjoy service of a lot of people in our everyday lives. The services range from newspaper delivery, cleaning services to home maintenance and home cooking. And these people who make our lives easier don’t lead a easy life themselves. They live in the same cities as us where the cost of living is substantially higher than the countryside and their meager income does not help their cause. As a result their access to fresh and nutritious food is quite limited. Urban farming can be one of the solutions to this problem. To assess whether the urban poor can grow a part of their own food, I visited a slum in Tulasipur, Cuttack back in June and carried out an awareness campaign on Urban farming. The entire program was carried out by an NGO called IIEC which works in the area of inclusive development of the underprivileged.

Answering Questions during Awareness Drive on Organic Urban Farming
Answering Questions during Awareness Drive on Organic Urban Farming

What I realized during the awareness campaign is that, though people live in cramped spaces, they do not live vertically. In other words they do not stay in apartments. Everyone stays in an individual house with limited space. But almost everyone has access to some space where they can grow a few vegetables. Some of them even have a concrete roof which is unused. On the bright side, I was very happy to see some of the residents already growing a few vegetables and green leafs.

After the awareness campaign was over a lot of the residents came forward and showed interest in learning techniques of organic urban farming . Their only caveat was that the input cost of this activity has to be near zero. I promised them to be back soon and share my experience with them.

Organic Urban Farming Training – Day 1

07 Sept 2017

Day 1 of Training - Talking about Amrut Jal preparation
Day 1 of Training – Talking about Amrut Jal preparation

I had only 2 days for the training. So for day 1 I focused on hands on training that would get everyone going. For day 2 of training which was supposed to be held with at least 2 weeks gap, I decided to focus on class room training and discussions. Day 2 of the training was also for doing a review of what people would have done till then.

Everybody chipping in for preparing a lasagna garden bed
Everybody chipping in for preparing a lasagna garden bed

Training was arranged at the home of one of the participants. In the pre -lunch session I talked about garden bed preparation, potting mix features and preparation. The participants were very happy to learn how they can use organic waste like dry leaves, grass clippings and egg shell etc to build their garden soil. As I talked about using very cheap inputs like cow dung manure, compost, coco peat and oil seed cakes to prepare potting soil, it became clear to them that with very little input cost they can easily grow a few vegetables for their own consumption. I also stressed on mulching and its usefulness. The participants were really surprised to hear the benefits and importance of the same.

Participants were busy mulching a freshly prepared garden bed until camera was pointed at them
Participants were busy mulching a freshly prepared garden bed until camera was pointed at them

After a couple of hours of class room session we moved outside and I showed a demo of how to prepare a garden bed for growing vegetables. I got everyone to get their hands dirty and participate in making the bed. The layering of organic material, manure and soil was a lot of fun and everyone enjoyed making the lasagna garden bed and also coined a new term for it. They called it Biriyani bed. As biriyani is also a dish that is made by layering rice and meat alternatively I couldn’t have agreed more with the new name given to layered garden bed.

In the post lunch session we mixed potting soil and planted few seeds in a couple of pots. I also taught them how to prepare an organic fertilizer called Amrut jal using cow dung, cow urine, jaggery and water. And again the participants were pleasantly surprised to learn that they can easily make an excellent organic soil conditioner and fertilizer using animal waste which is easily available to them.

Participants learning how to make inexpensive potting soil
Participants learning how to make inexpensive potting soil

Day One of the training program ended with a question answer round. I was being bombarded with questions and had to really keep pace with them and answer each of them. I was very happy to see the usually shy people open up and get their questions answered. We came back after distributing a few tomato, beans, eggplant and bitter gourd seeds. The next training session was planned to be held after a couple of weeks, so that everyone can start on growing a few plants in the mean time. I really could not wait to come back and see the progress.

Organic Urban Farming Training – Day 2

24 Sept 2017

Participants listening attentively on day 2 of urban farming training
Participants listening attentively on day 2 of urban farming training

Couple of weeks and a few days later we were back in Tulsipur for the second and concluding part of organic urban farming training. This time the training was going to be mostly indoors and hence was held in the community hall of the locality. As a start we did a review of experience of the participants who had planted a few seeds in their backyards and containers. Most of them had positive news and were very happy to see success in germination and growth of the plants. Some people also had faced a few issues which we discussed and I suggested a few solutions. The next part of the training was pest management using organic methods. This is the session in which the participants had a lot of questions. I tried to answer as many as possible and suggested a few home made organic pesticides like neem spray, giger garlic spray and chilli spray as solution.

Pest management was the most interesting session for the participants
Pest management was the most interesting session for the participants

Post lunch I talked about composting kitchen waste and showed the participants how to do it in the correct way. Waste disposal in cities, especially in the slum area is a huge issue. Organic waste dumped near their locality creates a lot of problems for the residents. As they learnt how to compost kitchen waste it became clear to them that not only they can reduce the garbage problem, they get good quality compost for their plants by composting their organic waste.

In the end after the final question answer session the participants looked a little concerned. As the training program had ended they were not sure whether they could get solutions to their gardening problems in future. I promised the participants to support them further on their farming journey through phone and bid farewell.


Few participants taking notes on preparation of Panchagavya
Few participants taking notes on preparation of Panchagavya

I believe that to be able to grow a few fruits and vegetables is a basic life skill everyone must possess. Organic gardening not only helps to get fresh and nutritious vegetables in our diets, it also helps people to grow as human beings by working with nature. About six months earlier I had taken a proposal of organic urban farming training for the urban poor to IIEC. And this day I feel very happy and content to have been able to impart some of my experience to them.