I created my first sustainable garden while in elementary school in Karnatak, India. You can say that I had a knack, and a passion, for gardening at a young age.
After working for 30 years as a design engineer, I moved into small house in Texas to reduce living expenses. I wondered how I could use my expertise in science and engineering to create a completely sustainable living space, and in turn, save money on utility bills, reduce my carbon footprint, and recycle the materials around me to do my part in contributing to create a more sustainable world.
I began volunteering with a master gardener to learn about horticultural design and the cultivation of flowers, fruits, and vegetables. I became inspired by shadowing the master gardener, and not long after, I started applying what I had learned from him to my own home garden. My 40x60 foot backyard was currently a blank slate, and my imagination was filled with ideas and plans to implement a garden in my very own space.
I started by using leftover limestone and bricks from the neighboring house that was still under construction (with consent from the house owners) to layer in the garden to control erosion. The limestone also serves as the foundation and gives the space an organized layout. I arranged the bricks inside the garden to create a walking path. I prepared the soil by tilling it and bought an additional truck load of garden soil that I spread over the entire space.
My first implantations were fruit trees, which I planted around the perimeter of the garden, leaving enough space (and sunlight) in the middle for vegetables. I have cared for and nurtured the plants in my garden for over 8 years, monitoring water intake, weeding, replanting and reseeding. Today, my garden produces a wonderful variety of organic and delicious goodies: pomegranates, peaches, pears, persimmon, figs, apples, olives, jujubes, and more.
Gani’s Water Collection System
I wanted to use a rain water harvesting system to serve as a supplement to my sustainable garden. I learned that the City of Austin offered a water conservation rebate program to residents who actively harvest and recycle rain water, since the area has hot summers and a low amount of rainfall, making it extremely drought-prone. My engineering background became useful in installing the rain water harvesting system for watering the garden. Having no plumbing experience, I prepared the layout and plan and got city approval for the maximum allowable rebate for the project.
I completed the rain water harvesting system with two inexpensive poly tanks, 1,500 gallons each, with PVC pipes for plumbing. Unlike metal pipes, plastic pipes are easy to assemble with cleanser and glue and do not require soldering. I also equipped the system with a pump for future drip irrigation capabilities.
In 2004, the City of Austin awarded me the Green Garden Award, an annual title that recognizes attractive and environmentally friendly landscapes. Later in the year, my garden was featured in the KLRU (PBS TV) in Central Texas Garden (CTG) program.
Gani’s Green Home
In 2004, the City of Austin introduced a rebate program for residential solar energy as a way to encourage residents to reduce energy consumption. Naturally, I applied for the program and after a few inspections, my home served as a suitable house for solar installation. The solar system allows for 3kw per residential building and connects with the city’s smart grid that monitors energy consumption on a regional level. When I generate more energy than I use, it gets credited to my account. By using solar panels as an alternative energy source, it helps reduce dependency on fossil fuel and improves global warming effects. In the future I hope to use this solar power to run a direct current (DC) powered pump for my rain water system.
After I built my rain water harvesting system and installed solar panels, I started promoting a sustainable lifestyle by attending seminars, giving lectures and hosting workshops to the public. Not long after my project was complete,
the City of Austin asked me to lead a project to build an educational rain water harvesting system for the public to help educate residents and consumers. I helped build the system with other master gardeners, and today the rain water harvesting system at Zilkar Botanical, “the Jewel in the Heart of Austin,” is open year-round to the public. In 2005, I received the “Gardener of the Year” award from the Texas Master Gardeners organization for my contributions to rain water collection and education to the public. In 2009, my garden was the focus of a broadcast segment on KXAN, the Austin NBC affiliate.
I started my sustainability project with a theme, “Grow What You Can Eat.” It was my hope to use natural free resources water and solar energy to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Though the progress may be slow, I am proud to see the changes that my neighbors and other communities have made in realizing the value of this global issue to be solved by each one of us. As a specialist in the education and implementation of water conservation and rain water harvesting, we all should take small steps with end goal of someday achieving total sustainability.
Venkappa Gani is a senior life member of the IEEE, a member of the Travis County Master Gardeners Association (TCMGA), a life member of The Garden Club of Austin (TGCA) and past president of the Austin Organic Gardeners Club. He is also the past president of Austin Kannada Sangh and Member of UT LAMP (Learning Activity for Matured People).
Gani has a B.E.in Electrical Engineering from B.V.B College of Engineering and Technology and an MS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Colorado. He currently holds two patents on semiconductor circuits and received the Invention Achievement Award from IBM.