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70-year-old grows strawberries in water bottles, Palak in PVC pipes on the roof

For Lizy John, 70, from Bengaluru, Karnataka, tending a lush vegetable and fruit garden on her patio has been very rewarding and satisfying. Without a second thought, she credits her passion for farming as the sole reason for staying healthy and energetic even at this age.

After running a snack business for over 25 years, she decided to retire and focus on expanding her farming business. Even though there wasn’t enough space, she says it wasn’t a challenge at all.

“Although we have a 1,200 square foot terrace, I grow my vegetables on less than 1,000 square feet, because the solar panels and water tanks consume the rest of the space. But it was more than enough for me. I confess that I am happier and at peace since I started growing my own food at home,” says Lizy. The best India.

She grew up in Kerala, watching her father, a teacher and an agricultural enthusiast, working very hard on their farmland. It inspired her so much that despite the frequent changes of places and residences due to her husband’s work, she always tried to grow something or the other in tight spaces.

Finally, after moving to Bangalore in 1998, Lizy laid out her terraced garden with some basic vegetables like chillies, curry leaves, spinach, etc. It was about nine years ago that she enlarged the terraced garden which today has almost all vegetables and several fruit trees.

Now she harvests about 1kg of vegetables daily from her terrace garden, which she says is more than enough for the family of five.

A view of the garden from Lizy John’s terrace.

When asked how many varieties of vegetables and fruit trees she grows, Lizy says, “The question should be: what don’t I have in my garden? she laughs.

She proudly says, “We only rely on the market to buy onions and sometimes potatoes. The rest is available in our garden.

“I’ve grown almost every vegetable, from seasonal to exotic, and I haven’t counted the numbers. There are different varieties of each type of vegetable, spice and herb as well as several fruit trees. Thus, for several years, we have only consumed fresh, non-toxic food harvested directly from our terrace every day,” she explains.

Lizy John's home in Bangalore (left) and a day's harvest from her terrace garden (right)
Lizy John’s home in Bangalore (left) and a day’s harvest from her terrace garden (right)

Lizy has been grow your vegetables mostly in grow bags kept on raised racks on his terrace. Apart from grow bags, she also uses plastic containers, buckets, barrels, PVC pipes, and even plastic bottles to grow fruits, spices, herbs, and leafy greens.

“My policy is to use anything and everything. I never throw away plastic water bottles and instead turn them into little pots, especially to grow fruits like strawberries. Also, I use PVC pipes to plant leafy vegetables like spinach, cilantro, etc. she says, adding that although these were her ideas, it was her husband John who helped bring them to fruition.

“Without his help, it would have been impossible for me to manage. He is the one who put everything in place for me and who has constantly helped me in this adventure,” she adds with a smile.

Strawberries growing in plastic bottles and PVC pipes on Lizy's terrace garden.
Strawberries growing in plastic bottles and PVC pipes on Lizy’s terrace garden.

When it comes to fighting pest attacks and plant diseases, Lizy says she only uses organic fertilizers and pesticides in his garden. She credits her years of agricultural experimentation with helping her find the best organic mixes, fertilizers and pesticides.

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“Cow dung is one of the best organic fertilizers, but being in town it was often difficult to get it easily. Therefore, I mostly rely on organic ingredients like home compost, peanut cake, rice water, etc. to feed the soil and improve the growth of my vegetables and fruit trees,” says Lizy.

It uses a unique technique for a constant supply of organic fertilizers, especially for fruit trees. “I use plastic bottles and open the bottom. Then fix the open mouth in the soil of the jar. Fill the bottle with daily kitchen scraps, dried leaves, etc., and add jaggery to it , buttermilk or cow dung. Then seal the bottom of the bottle with a coconut shell. The mud formed inside the bottle will drip into the soil, nourishing the growth of the plant,” she says, adding that she refills the mix once or twice a week.

To keep pests at bay, Lizy says she uses an array of measures. One is the use of a yellow trap which she says helps keep some pests away. “Other than that, I make a mixture using 5ml of neem oil in a liter of water and add soap or detergent. Spraying this mixture on the plants once in a while would resist pest attacks You can also ferment rice water, dilute it in water and spray it on the plant,” she adds.

Lizy says she treats her soil well before planting anything. “For this, I mix earth with lime and dry it,” explains Lizy, who always makes sure to buy only good quality seeds and seedlings.

“I buy vegetable seeds/seedlings through people I know or through trusted farmer groups on social media. Also, when it comes to fruit trees, I pick the saplings different places I go,” she says.

Different varieties of tomatoes, brinjal, peas, okra, beans, spinach, chili peppers, bitter gourd, chow chow, air potatoes, cucumber, drumstick, potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, celery and so on are some- just some of the long list of vegetables that Lizy grows on her patio.

Beans, cauliflower and tomatoes from Lizy's garden
Beans, cauliflower and tomatoes in Lizy’s garden.

She also grows spices like pepper, turmeric, ginger, pippali (long pepper) and even cardamom.

One of the highlights of her terraced garden is the collection of strawberries which are mostly grown in water bottles or on PVC pipes. With the exception of strawberries, guavas, pomegranates, mangoes, jamunsgrapes, custard apples, water apples, western cherry, avocado, dragon fruit, oranges, mulberries, mulberries, etc. are some of the other fruits of its terrace.

Lizy has won several awards and accolades for her terrace gardening business from different organizations in Kerala and Karnataka. “I have received around 15 awards so far, including the Sarojini Damodaran Foundation Award, the Haritha Keralam Award and the Mathrubhumi Award,” she adds.

Lizy John has received several awards for her patio gardening business.
Lizy John has received several awards for her patio gardening business.

She says that with a lot of hard work and a bit of patience, anyone can grow their food even in tight spaces. “Even if it is just a pepper when it blooms or bears its first fruits, it gives us a kind of happiness and satisfaction. It keeps me going, and even though it’s hard, growing your own food is very rewarding in terms of your health,” she says with a smile.

Edited by Yoshita Rao