Rooftop farming is here to stay
Every morning, Asta Maya Dangol goes to her rooftop to pick vegetables and herbs to cook for the day. A resident of Dhobighat, Dangol has filled her roof with herbs and vegetables growing in clay pots, plastic crates, white polystyrene bags and boxes.
There are guava trees and dragon fruit trees. A few boxes contain ripe cauliflower ready to be harvested. There are tomatoes (in various stages of ripening), Chinese leeks, and common bean and green bean vines supported by thin metal poles.
Dangol checks her plants and trees, and before leaving the roof, she picks a few Chinese tomatoes, guavas and leeks for the meal.
“I wanted to start rooftop farming many years ago, but it wasn’t until last year’s lockdown that I finally managed to do it. I think deciding to start rooftop farming was one of the best decisions I made during the lockdown, ”said Asta Maya Dangol.
Steadily rising land prices and questionable vegetable quality have prompted many valley residents to convert their rooftops to urban farms. However, it was not until 2013 that the concept of rooftop culture (kausi kheti) started to become very popular. That year, the Metropolitan City of Kathmandu (KMC), in association with the RUAF Foundation (Resource Centers on Urban Agriculture and Food Security); UN-Habitat; and the Organization for the Environment and Public Health (ENPHO), provided rooftop agriculture training to 150 households in the valley. This training was an integrated course in solid waste management, wastewater management and rooftop vegetable gardens.
Sanumaya Maharjan was KMC’s focal person for the 2013 Rooftop Agriculture Training Program. During the program, Maharjan spent several days providing training and guidance to families.
“In 2013, we focused on the use of biodegradable solid waste and wastewater from the kitchen. We encouraged people to use onion, potato and banana peels to make organic compost for rooftop vegetable growing and to water the plants with water used to wash rice or dal. », Explains Maharjan. “To our surprise, during the lockdown, we saw increased interest from people in getting into rooftop farming. During last year’s lockdown, I was busy giving rooftop farming webinars. “
For many years, 50-year-old Binoj Raj Shakya grew flowers on his roof, but it was only very recently that he started growing vegetables and herbs.
“I grow organic cauliflower, taro leaves and tomatoes on my roof,” Shakya explains.
Like many, Shakya started farming on the rooftops mainly because of the ever increasing prices of vegetables in the valley and the overuse of pesticides in vegetables, which is published in the news every now and then. Lockdown last year gave him the time to tend to the plants.
“Since it’s impossible to grow all the vegetables we eat on my roof, I have to buy vegetables from the market. But growing some of my own vegetables decreased my dependence on vegetables from the market, and it also saved me money, ”says Shakya.
While the vast majority of rooftop farming households do so for their own consumption, there are a few outliers that have commercialized their rooftop farming.
Microgreens Brothers is one of those rooftop farming businesses. Launched by Prashant Raj Giri and Niroj Khadka in 2019, the company produces and sells microgreens, young green vegetables used for salads and toppings.
“When rooftop farming started to become popular in the valley, we realized that we could also use our own rooftops to grow vegetables for commercial consumption,” says Giri, 24, an agriculture student. “After doing a lot of research, we decided to commercially grow microgreens on our roofs using our expertise and knowledge. We started this business with an investment of 200,000 rupees, and over the past two and a half years we have sold 1.2 million rupees worth of products to some of the major five star hotels in the valley.
As more and more people enter rooftop farming, Maharjan says there are some basic things that you need to know before you start.
“Since the lockdown last year, the valley has seen a huge increase in the number of households entering rooftop farming. But many entered it without having the proper knowledge. Many households have filled their roofs with so many plants that the weight could compromise the structure of the buildings, ”says Maharjan. “The roof of an ordinary house made on four earth annas has a maximum load capacity of 3000 kg. Since most households in the Valley have two 1000 liter water tanks on their roofs, we advise families not to exceed 1000 kg for their pots, plants and land for farming on the land. rooftops. Plants should also be placed on the opposite side of the water tanks so that the weight is distributed evenly on the roof.
Another important thing families need to understand as rooftop farming revolves around the use of fertilizers and pesticides, Shakya said.
“Fertilizers play an important role in ensuring the health of plants and pesticides in warding off harmful pests. But instead of using chemical fertilizers and pesticides, I suggest people explore organic matter, ”Shakya explains. “Mixtures of burnt ash, sand and other biodegradable kitchen waste can be used as an alternative to fertilizers. “
Since Dangol started growing on rooftops, she has spent considerable time on YouTube researching ways to make fertilizers and pesticides at home.
“Pests that damage plants are a top concern for rooftop farmers like me. Most people give up farming altogether because the pests destroy their plants and they cannot eradicate them properly. Some resort to harmful pesticides, ”explains Shakya. “I did a lot of research on YouTube on ways to make organic pesticides and fertilizers. I learned on YouTube that cold powder mixed with water repels parasites. There are so many such tips on YouTube that one can use.
In addition to providing his family with a constant supply of herbs and vegetables, Dangol says farming has also been therapeutic.
“We live in a concrete jungle, so it’s nice to have my own few square meters of greenery on my roof,” says Dangol. “Rooftop farming has served many purposes for me, and I’m glad I started it last year. I think more people should do this and get on with it and make the most of their empty and underused roofs.