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.

Guide to Growing Tomatoes in Containers

Tomatoes ripened on the plant
Tomatoes ripened on the plant

Tomato is one of the most versatile vegetables which is loved all around the world for its flavor, texture, color, taste and juiciness. But tomato is also a food source with an ambiguity. Though botanically its a fruit, it is eaten as a vegetable. However knowing this fact really does not make any difference to you when you want to grow juicy, colorful and yummy tomatoes in a container in your garden. But going through this post on how to grow tomatoes in containers surely will. So without much ado here we go.

Quick Reference Table to Grow Tomatoes in Containers

 

Item Value
Growing Temperature 15 – 30 °C
Germination Temperature 20-30 °C Ideal
Germination Time 3-10 days
Soil pH 5.5 to 6.8
Sunlight Need 6-8 hours per day (Sun loving Plant)
Preferred Planting Method Transplanting
Container size 15-20 liter
Time to Harvest 60-100 days from germination depending on variety
Harvest Period  3-4 months
Pollination Self pollinating.
Typical Pests leaf eating caterpillar, aphids, fruit borers
Typical Diseases Blossom End Rot, Leaf curl, Septoria leaf Spot, Early Blight, Late Blight
Best season to grow in India November to February. Under shade house you can grow from October – April

Tomato Varieties you can Plant

Cherry Tomatoes Growing in Bunch
Cherry Tomatoes Growing in Bunch

Tomatoes come in many sizes and colors. The smaller tomatoes that are typically not more than an inch on the longest side are called as cherry tomatoes. These come in many colors ranging from red, pink, yellow to purple and are salad friendly vegetables. These are also container friendly varieties and give a huge amount of yield even in small containers.

Tomatoes also can be of bush and vine varieties. The bush varieties which grow to a height of 2-3 feet are called determinate variety and are usually shorter and more compact plants than the vine or indeterminate varieties which grow up to 6-8 feet.  As the indeterminate varieties grow much taller more staking is usually needed for these. The major difference however between the determinate and indeterminate varieties is the fruiting cycle. Determinate plants bear fruit in batches. An entire batch fruits and ripens at the same time. And a few days after the first batch has ripened a new batch of flowers start blossoming. In indeterminate variety fruiting, flowering, ripening continues till the season ends all at the same time. However due to size the determinate variety is more suitable for container gardening.

Starting Tomato Seeds and Transplanting in pots

Tomato Saplings in Paper Cups
Tomato Saplings in Paper Cups

To grow tomatoes in containers you need to start the seeds in a seed tray under controlled conditions as the seedlings take good amount of time to grow. If you do not have a seed tray you can use used paper cups. Fill up the seed tray loosely with seed tray mix (see potting mix post for details) and give a tap so that it settles down nicely in the tray. Spray wet the media so that it settles down further. Drop 3-4 tomato seeds in each cup of the tray. Cover the seeds with more seed tray mix so that the seeds are just covered with 2-3 mm of the mix. Water again very lightly with a water sprayer and keep the tray in a warm place. If the seeds are good and the temperature is right it should germinate within 3-4 days. When seeds have germinated, transfer the tray to a place where the seedlings can get at least 4-6 hours of sunlight.

You need to water the seedlings as needed. Make sure they are protected from direct rain and harsh sunlight. Its better to keep the seedlings under shade house if the daytime temperature is more than 30 degrees. In about twenty to thirty days time when 4-6 true leaves have emerged the sapling is ready to be transplanted.

Staking arrangement done for Tomato Plant as soon as it is transplanted
Staking arrangement done for Tomato Plant as soon as it is transplanted

The potting mix that you use for tomatoes must be rich in minerals especially calcium. So be sure to add some fish meal or bone meal to your potting mix when you grow tomatoes in containers. Additionally you can also add crushed egg shells to provide additional enrichment to the soil.

To transplant carefully take out the sapling from seed tray and bury the ball of the sapling it in the center of your pot. Water the pot properly and place it in a sunny area. After about 7-10 days when the saplings have adjusted to the new soil remove the weaker saplings. Retain only one plant and cut off rest of the saplings using a garden scissor. To grow tomatoes in containers successfully you need to limit the number of plants to 1 for 15-20 liter container. If you have much bigger containers you can plant more saplings. But keep at least 1.5 feet distance between each sapling.

Growing Tomatoes in Containers

Companion Planting - Tomato with Carrots
Companion Planting – Tomato with Carrots

Tomatoes grow very well when they get optimum climatic condition of cooler temperature, low humidity and full sunlight. In case your area is very hot even in winters it will be good to keep tomato plants under a shade house or under shade net. Tomato plants are not strong enough to bear fruits without support. When saplings are planted in a container of appropriate size they grow quite fast and hence staking arrangements need to be done upfront. When you grow tomatoes in containers you can simply stake using a bamboo stick and tie the tomato plant to it using a jute string. You can even stake the tomato plants using a cotton or jute string hanging from any support above the plant. The important thing is to stake your tomato plant well in time to help it grow well.

Fully grown tomato plants
Fully grown tomato plants

There are a lot of opinion on how to handle the suckers (Suckers are sprouts that develop between the main stalk and a leaf node. They are similar to suckers in eggplant. You can see the picture of a sucker in the post I made on eggplant.) in tomato plants. Some people are of the opinion that, if left on the plant suckers affects the yield and overall health of the plant. While another group of people are against removing the suckers. I follow a middle path approach. I remove the bigger suckers which hinder airflow and penetration of sunlight to all parts of the plant. And rest of the suckers are left untouched on the plant. And this seem to work out fine.

Water your tomato plants as needed. Dry soil can stress your tomato plants. But over watered tomato plant is undesirable. Water the plant at the base and never on leaves. Wet leaves can easily catch fungus. Rain can also cause fungal attack. Hence it is good to provide some protection to the plants during rains so that the leaves do not get wet. When you grow tomatoes in containers it become easy to move them around and protect them from rain. Use a good organic soil conditioner like panchagavya once every 12-15 days to supplement the soil with nutrients. Spraying panchagavya once every 12-15 days also helps in better fruiting and keep away a lot of pests.

Pollinating Tomatoes

Self Fertile Flowers of Tomato
Self Fertile Flowers of Tomato

Tomatoes are self pollinating. In lay man’s language every flower of tomato plant is self contained and has the potential to turn into a fruit all by itself. But they need a little help from wind, bees and wasps to get pollinated. So in case you find your tomato flowers are not turning into fruits in spite of the weather being right and plant being healthy you may have to help your plant in pollination. Giving a little shake to the plant helps pollen to fall off from the stamen onto the pistil and thus pollination takes place.

Another way you can hand pollinate tomatoes is by using some kind of vibrating apparatus that mimics the vibration caused by flutter of bees or wasps. A battery operated tooth brush is one such apparatus you can use. Just put on the brush in vibrator mode and move it around near the flowers. Be careful not to touch the flowers. the vibration created in the wind will be sufficient to pollinate the flowers.

Pest Management for Tomato Plants

Winter Moths Bore into Tomato
Winter Moths Bore into Tomato

Keep watching for bugs on your tomato plant on a daily basis. Mealybugs are very common on tomato plants and if not checked during initial stages they can infest the plant. Wipe away the bugs as soon as you spot them. You can use a cotton cloth dipped in some methylated spirit to wipe them off. Other major bug family that seem to like tomato plant is caterpillar. Some of them eat up the leaves while others like the winter moth get inside the fruit and eat it up. Cow urine diluted ten times with water can be sprayed to keep the caterpillars away. Panchagavya is also an excellent pest repellent to keep them away. But manually removing them early in the morning everyday works out best.

Harvesting Tomatoes

Bountiful Tomato Harvest
Bountiful Tomato Harvest

Tomatoes produce a lot of fruits under suitable weather and soil conditions even when you grow them in containers. On the flip side tomatoes are actually very slow growing vegetable compared to most other veggies. They take about sixty days on the plant before you can pick them. A few varieties even take around ninety days to become ripe and mature. So you need to have patience when it comes to harvesting them. Tomatoes in the unripened stage are green and after staying that way for 40-50 days they start to ripen. It is good to pick them up after they have completely ripened and turned red. As soon as they turn red pick them up immediately when they are still firm. You can also pick them up when they are partially ripe and leave them to ripen in your kitchen. When mature, tomatoes can easily be separated from the plant with hand.

Additional Tip

Blossom End Rot in Tomato
Blossom End Rot in Tomato

Tomato fruit is susceptible to BER (Blossom End Rot) especially when you grow tomato in containers. The bottom end or blossom end of the fruit is rotted while rest of the fruit looks fine. When this happens you can not consume them. And this happens due to lack of calcium in the soil. As there is limited amount of potting mix in your container, tomato plant may not be able to get the required calcium. To fix this you can water your plant with butter milk with a pinch of asafoetida for a few days. Other quick fix method that you can use to address this problem is to use a herbal calcium tablet. Take one tablet per plant, crush it properly and mix it with half a liter of water. Water your tomato plant with it. This will fix BER issue for a single tomato plant.

And here is the last tip before I sign off. Keep your tomato plants (and plants belonging to tomato family like eggplant) well spread out in the garden. Keeping them together will be conducive for pests (esp caterpillars) to spread to all plants. Keeping them away from each other reduces the probability of pest infestation.

How to Grow Brinjal in Containers

Eggplants galore
Eggplants galore

Fire roasted brinjal (or eggplant or aubergine) smashed with chopped onions, chilies and a little mustard oil is a dish that is smoky, sweet, gooey, meaty, hot and above all irresistible. It is an absolute favorite here in my part of the world. In fact eggplant is one of the most used vegetables in Odia cooking. Its goodness can really be enjoyed to the fullest if it is organically grown and is of indigenous variety. Brinjal being a perennial vegetable in tropical weather, it can be planted any time and it can be enjoyed throughout the year. In this post I’ll guide you on how to grow Brinjal in containers organically in your terrace garden.

Quick Reference Table to Grow Brinjal in Containers

 

Item Value
Growing Temperature 15 – 30 °C
Germination Temperature 25-30 °C Ideal
Germination Time 6-12 days
Soil pH 6 to 7
Sunlight Need 6-8 hours per day (Sun loving Plant)
Preferred Planting Method Transplanting
Container size 15-20 liter
Time to Harvest 60-80 days from germination
Harvest Period  8-12 months
Pollination Self pollinating.
Typical Pests mealy bugs, aphids, fruit borers
Best season to plant in India June – November

Starting Eggplant Seeds and Transplanting in pots

Seed starting in paper cups
Seed starting in paper cups

To grow brinjal in containers you can sow the seeds directly. But its better to start brinjal seeds in a seed tray as the seedlings take good amount of time to grow. During this time it is susceptible to forces of nature. If you do not have a seed tray you can use used paper cups. Fill up the seed tray loosely with seed tray mix (see potting mix post for details) and give a tap so that it settles down nicely in the tray. Drop 3-4 eggplant seeds in each cup of the tray. Cover the seeds with more seed tray mix so that the seeds are just covered with 2-3 mm of the mix. Water the tray very lightly so that the soil mix is not disturbed. Now cover the tray with a polythene sheet and keep the tray in a warm place. Make sure that there is about 1-2 inch gap between the soil and the polythene sheet. The plastic sheet helps in retaining moisture. But you can skip this step if you want to. But you need to make sure that the soil is moist all the time. In about 6-7 days time seedlings will emerge in the tray. As soon as the first seedling emerges remove the plastic sheet and transfer the tray to a place where the seedlings can get at least 4-6 hours of sunlight.

You need to water the seedlings as needed. Make sure they are protected from direct rain and harsh sunlight. Young brinjal seedlings are susceptible to root rot. To reduce probability of root rot you may water the seedlings with Amrut Jal once in a week. in about thirty to forty days time when 4-6 true leaves have emerged the sapling is ready to be transplanted.

watering the eggplant seedlings with a spray
watering the eggplant seedlings with a spray

To transplant carefully take out the sapling from seed tray and bury the ball of the sapling it in the center of your pot. Water the pot properly and place it in a sunny area. After about 7-10 days when the saplings have adjusted to the new soil it is time to remove the weaker saplings. Retain only one plant and cut off rest of the saplings using a garden scissor. To grow brinjal in containers successfully you need to limit the number of plants to 1 for 15-30 liter container. If you have much bigger containers you can plant more saplings. But keep at least 2 feet distance between each sapling.

Growing Brinjal in Containers

Brinjal grow in full sunlight and hence the soil can dry out very fast. So mulch you pot heavily to avoid evaporation. Keep the soil moist all the time and never let it dry out. in harsh summers a fully grown plant can get water stressed.

Happy brinjal seedlings
Happy brinjal seedlings

Just like Tomatoes suckers sprout in a brinjal plant too. Suckers are sprouts that develop between the main stalk and a leaf node. If left on the plant it affects the yield and overall health of the plant. So check for suckers and remove them using hand shears regularly. It is a good idea also to remove all leaves that become old and start touching the soil. You can also prune the leaves that point towards the stem of the plant. Such leaves block sunlight to other leaves and also prevent airflow.

Suckers in eggplant have been cut off
Suckers in eggplant have been cut off

Use Amrut Jal or any other organic liquid soil conditioner/fertilizer every 10-15 days. During flowering increase the frequency and use it once every 7 days. When you grow Brinjal in containers you need to make sure your plant gets enough nutrients at all times. Do not forget to add extra compost to your pot at regular intervals. Adding about 3-4 liters of compost for each plant every 40-50 days will keep the plant healthy. Always add compost below the mulch layer.

Flower of aubergine
Flower of aubergine

Aphids and Mealybugs are the major pests that you have to face when you grow brinjal in containers or on the ground. So check your plant regularly below the leaves. In case you find them remove them with water jet. You can also use a neem spray or any broad organic pesticide like diluted cow urine to get rid of aphids. For mealybugs take a cotton ball dipped in a methylated spirit to wipe them off.  During fruiting plant can get infested with borers especially if temperature is low. Spraying once a week with Panchagavya keeps borers away. It is a good idea to keep all your brinjal and tomato plants away from each other so that borers can not spread easily.

Harvesting Brinjal

Fruit borer on brinjal
Fruit borer on brinjal

Eggplant flowers are self pollinating and they are pollinated with the help of a little wind. You can also tap the flowers gently to help in pollination if there is no wind. The plant tends to fall over during fruiting due to the weight of the fruits. So staking is a must for brinjal plants. Stake your plants before or as soon as flowers start to bloom. Staking will also help protect your plants from heavy winds.

An eggplant has just formed
An eggplant has just formed

Eggplant is ready to be picked up in about 15-20 days from formation of fruit. Press the fruit slightly to check if it is mature. If it is soft to touch then it probably will grow a little more. If it is hard to touch it has already matured. You need to harvest your eggplant when it is no more soft to touch. To harvest do not pull it. It will not come off and will damage the plant. Use a pair of garden scissors to cut off brinjal from the plant.

Second life of Eggplant

When you grow brinjal in container, in about 5-7 months after the first harvest there may be a reduction in size of the fruit and the leaves. When this happens its a good idea to cut off your plant from top leaving only 3-4 main branches and about 8-10 leaves in the plant. The best time for this to be done is during monsoons. Never do this in harsh summers. In few days time new and bigger leaves start to emerge.In about a month’s time your plant will grow to its full glory again, and the brinjals that will fruit in the plants will be of bigger size. Thus you’ll be able to get tasty and nutritious eggplants round the year from the same plant.

 

How to Prepare Garden Soil for Organic Vegetable Garden

Sometime back one of our readers wrote to us about his ridge gourd plant that he was growing in his backyard vegetable garden. And he wanted to know if there is any special way to prepare garden soil for farming in the backyard. I am making this post to help him out on preparing a raised bed garden. And I am sure this will be useful to many others who want grow organic vegetables in raised vegetable beds.

In organic farming and especially in natural farming as made famous by Masanobu Fukuoka we follow a ‘no till’, ‘no dig’ method of farming. The tiling and digging is all done by the microbes and other organisms living in the soil. Our job is just to make sure that they are comfortable and well fed. In this post I’ll be taking you through the steps of preparing your garden soil and maintaining it, for a ‘no-till’, ‘no-dig’ method of natural farming.

Division of Garden Space

Divide your garden into raised beds and walking isles
Divide your garden into raised beds and walking isles

The first and foremost task in preparing your garden soil for organic vegetable farming is to clearly divide the garden space into vegetable beds and walking aisles. Walking aisles as the name suggests are the pathways where you walk and vegetable beds are areas where you grow vegetables. Once the beds are made, you should not be walking on the raised beds as it leads to compaction of the garden soil. The garden should be designed in such a way that you should be able to access all parts of the raised garden beds from the isle. Making sure that you can access any part of the garden beds from only one point in the walking isles makes sure that area is used efficiently. Generally by extending our arms we can access upto 2 feet of a raised garden bed. If there are walking isles on both side of a garden bed then you can keep 4 feet as the width of the raised bed. If you can access the bed only from one walking isle then its width will be 2 feet. The width of the walking isle is generally kept 2 feet as it is enough for an average person to walk on and do gardening activities. But feel free to change these numbers according to your physicality.

Create a Lasagna Garden for a Head Start

Now don’t get me wrong. We don’t grow lasagna in our garden. Lasagna Garden here simply refers to the way the garden soil is prepared. It just has a good resemblance to the process of making a lasagna. Just like there are layers of veggies, meat, pasta sheets and sauce in a lasagna your garden bed is going to have layers of different types of organic materials and garden soil.

Prepare raised beds by burying layers of organic material
Prepare raised beds by burying layers of organic material

To prepare a bed first you need to dig out the soil (though this involves digging, this is a one time job only) up to 9 to 10 inches from the vegetable beds. Do not dig the walking isles. Now you need to throw in different kind of organic materials into it along with some of the soil, cow dung manure, compost, wood ash in layers. You can use any kind of organic materials. Some of them are,

  1. Dry brown leaves
  2. Dry Green leaves
  3. Grass clipping
  4. Twigs, branches of plants
  5. Weeds (Make sure they are not bearing seeds)
  6. Puja Flowers
  7. Coffee grounds
  8. Tea leaves
  9. Corrugated sheets
  10. Vegetable and Fruit Peels (Make sure they are dried up)

You need to take care that the ratio of  your greens to browns is in between 1:1 to 2:1. This helps in faster and proper break down of the organic materials. If you are wondering what are greens and browns here is an excellent resource you can read up.

Here are the steps of layering the vegetable grow bed.

  1. Spread some cow dung manure in a thin layer.
  2. Spread 3-4 inches of organic material.
  3. Sprinkle a little amount of Amrut Jal to make the organic material slightly moist. This helps in faster decomposition. If you don’t have Amrut jal you can use plain water.
  4. On top of it sprinkle cow dung manure, wood ash and some soil. Manure is a source of microbes which will breakdown the organic material. Wood ash helps in bringing down the acidity of the decomposed organic material.
  5. Additionally you can add some neem cake for pest and disease control.
  6. Now go to step 2 and repeat  for 3 to 4 times until the entire bed is filled up.
  7. Finally cover the bed with the leftover soil. You’ll end up with a garden bed which will be slightly raised w.r.t to your walking isle. By the way if your soil is really bad don’t hesitate to mix in some compost to the soil.

Building Garden Soil by Mulching

Creating a lasagna vegetable bed gives a good head star. But you’ll have to keep building the top soil all the time. Now this may sound like a huge task. But in reality you really don’t have to do much. Nature will do all the job for you. You only have to let it.

All you really have to do is mulch. Cover your vegetable beds with 4 inches of loose organic material. Grass clippings, leaves, cleaned and dried sugarcane baggasse and paddy straw are some of the things you can use.  From time to time keep sprinkling Amrut Jal to supply nitrogen. The mulch serves four basic purposes.

  1. Protect the microbiology in the soil from direct sunlight and rain. Microbial life in the soil does not exactly like the heat of sunlight. They do much better under some shade. When you provide shade microbial life flourishes. Moreover the mulch layer will prevent evaporation and thus maintain moisture which again is essential for microbiology of the soil.
  2. Prevents nutrients from the soil getting oxidized and evaporated into air. Prevents leaching of nutrients due to heavy rains.
  3. Builds top soil through decomposition. This is also known as sheet composting or in situ composting. When you mulch with organic material its not just going to sit there quietly. The lower layer which is in touch with the soil will start decomposing and will become top soil. Giving a sprinkle of Amrut Jal time to time will make sure that the decomposition happens faster. As the mulch decomposes you need to put more organic material to keep the thickness of mulch at 4 inches. So keep checking and adding mulch time to time.
  4. Prevent weeds from growing in the garden soil by blocking sunlight.

Useful Tip – Weeds generally have a very deep root systems which helps them to survive. As the roots go deep they pull out lot of minerals from under the earth. Hence mulching with leaves and stems of local weeds helps a lot in soil building.

Protecting Raised Garden Beds

Layering the raised bed with plants of different height is a great way of protecting garden soil
Layering the raised bed with plants of different height is a great way of protecting garden soil

Soil building in your vegetable garden is a continuous activity. You need to keep the ground well mulched all the time. The waste leaves, old and dead plants come into use when your vegetable garden becomes a complete functional unit. Just chop and drop them on the raised bed and you are done. The mulch protects the soil from sunlight and rain. But when the sun is very hot or there is lashing rains you need more than just mulch to protect your garden soil. And again the solution comes from design.

If you grow plants of different height on the same bed together they can provide an added layer of protection. For example suppose you grow okra on a garden bed. Then in between the okra plants you you can grow brinjal. And then whatever gaps are left you can grow a creeper bean to cover it up. If you get a bird’s eye view of the garden bed then you should not be able to see the mulch layer through your plants. Which means that planting vegetables of different height has given an extra layer of protection to your garden soil. Another way to cover up the bed is by planting creepers with big leaves. Plant anything like a pumpkin, bottle gourd or cucumber and let is spread over the raised bed to cover it everywhere.

To make sure that the vegetable patch always remains fertile follow crop rotation on them. Rotating your crops on the same garden bed ensures that the same type of nutrient is not getting used always and your soil is not getting imbalanced.

And lastly as I pointed out in the beginning of the post you should never ever step on to the garden bed. It will compact the soil and make it hard. It will also kill a lot of microbiology in the soil. Additionally you also must check the mulch getting compacted. Sometimes when that happens anaerobic bacteria get activated as there is not enough aeration and you really don’t want that.

 

 

Make Your Own Self Watering Pot

Water is an important natural resource and it gives life to plants, animals and humans. When you are growing your own food at home you should never take water for granted and must do all you can to conserve water. Also when you are away from home you need to make sure that you plants are watered everyday. Self Watering Pots can solve this problem to a great extent while conserving water. After we made a post on Correct way of Watering, one of our readers wanted us to write about Self Watering Containers. And though we are a little delayed, here is the post finally.  Additionally we are also going to talk about what can you do to conserve water.

Simple Ways to Conserve Water

There are very simple ways to conserve water by making some habit changes in our daily lives. Watering your plants in the right way and not over watering is one of the best things you can do as a gardener to conserve water.  Mulching helps in reducing evaporation to a bare minimum and hence it must be done to conserve water.

In the monsoons find easy ways to catch surface water and use it. Even if you do not have a proper rainwater harvesting system you can just place a drum at a places where water is drained out from your terrace. This will catch a lot of water and you can use this water in your garden when its not raining. Other simple change that you can bring into your life is not to throw away the water with which you wash your vegetables, fruits, rice and pulses. Just store this water in a separate container in the kitchen and next morning use it to water your plants in the garden. Small steps can make a big difference.

Olla Watering System

Olla Irrigation
Olla Irrigation System

Olla watering systems fall into the no nonsense class of self watering container. Because it is such a simple thing it is easy to overlook it. But it is a great way to ensure that you are having as close to 100% water utilization as possible. An un-glazed earthen pot with a narrow opening is buried into the ground such that the opening is at the ground level. Water is filled through the opening and it is covered so that evaporation does not take place. The roots of the plants nearby reach the earthen pot looking for water. The roots then suck the water through the micro pores of the earthen pot.

Most of the water in conventional irrigation is lost to evaporation. In Olla watering system there is no loss due to evaporation and plants are able to get water in an hydroponic sort of way so to say. It is a simple and great self watering system for open garden beds. If you have big containers in your terrace garden you can use this system. Bury earthen pots in big size containers or gardens at regular intervals like a matrix. And when plant roots grow big enough to reach the Ollas, you can do watering through olla system only.

DIY Wick Based Self Watering Container

Wick based Self Watering Container cross section
Wick based Self Watering Container cross section

These are the more popular self watering container which come in all sizes. In this method water moves from bottom to up unlike the top down watering that we are used to. There is a water storage space at the bottom of the container. The growing media in the pot above the water is connected to the water through a wick. The water is sucked up by the wick and through capillary action reaches all parts of the growing media.There is a water filling tube which goes all the way upto the top of the container and water is filed through it. A overflow hole just below the top of the wick makes sure that water in the storage space does not touch the growing media directly.

I am going to demonstrate how to make a wick based self watering container using waste materials from home. It is a small self watering container. But as I said it comes in many sizes and you can use this method and concept to build bigger self watering pots.

All I used to make this container are

  1. Old plastic paint bucket
  2. Discarded plastic medicine bottle
  3. A piece of discarded plastic pipe
  4. Small pieces of discarded styrofoam
Barrier Wick and Watering Pipe
Barrier cut from the lid. Small plastic bottle used as wick. Piece of old plastic pipe used as watering Pipe. Cuts made in the barrier to fix the wick and the watering pipe.

I took a small plastic paint bucket and cleaned it thoroughly. I then cut around the lid of the bucket using a pair of scissors. This circular cut out would work as the barrier between my water storage and potting soil space.

For the wick I used another small plastic medicine bottle and made holes all around it. Next I drew a circle near the center of my barrier using the wick and cut it out using a pair of scissors again. For the watering pipe I cut out another hole on the side. The small holes in the barrier in the above image are breathing holes for the potting soil and it is optional.

Overflow Hole
Overflow Hole

Next I marked a point just below the barrier level in the bucket and made an overflow hole using a drill.

Support attached to the barrier
Support attached to the barrier

I cut out two pieces from a styrofoam board and attached it to the bottom of the barrier using glue to support the barrier. The height of the supports is same as the height of the wick. I also attached the wick to the barrier by pushing in the wick into the hole.

Placing the Barrier in the self watering pot
Placing the Barrier in the self watering pot

Now all I had to do is assemble the pieces.

Barrier and wick placed in planter
Barrier and wick placed in planter

This is how the assembled container looks like.

Self watering container assembly completed
Self watering container assembly completed

In the above pic there is gap between the barrier and the wall of the container. That will cause the potting soil to fall into the water storage section of the planter. But this can be easily avoided by placing a garden cloth between the potting soil and the container.

Finally I packed some potting soil firmly in the wick and then filled the container with potting mix. I filled in water using the watering pipe and I was done.

Self watering planter is ready
Self watering planter is ready

Drip Irrigation Systems

In drip irrigation method watering is done at the base of the plant drop by drop so that there is no run off. Hence water is used efficiently and the wastage is reduced. However wastage due to evaporation is still there in this system. Drip irrigation systems can be converted into self watering systems using a little bit of technology.

The water flow in the system can be controlled by a timer attached to the valve at the water source. The controller can be programmed to open the valve at fixed time in a day or it can even be controlled from a remote location using a transmitter and receiver pair.


Self watering container and systems are a good way of saving water and making sure plants get water when you are away. But some of the options can be expensive if purchased from stores. Hopefully this post will help you save a lot of money by making your own self watering containers.

Benefits of Gardening : Infographics

One of our reader Peter Kimzey of Yo Innovation came up with an infographics on benefits of gardening and shared with us. We liked it and after some minor changes that we suggested the infographics looked really good. So we decided to share it with you.

Thank you Peter for this beautiful and informative image. If any of you would like to share anything useful here do let us know by dropping a mail at [email protected]

Benefits of Gardening
Benefits of Gardening

Update on Urban Farming Training

In April this month we announced our Summer Course on Urban Farming on facebook and got a overwhelming response. And our first course on Organic Urban Farming Training commenced in May 20017. Our course was designed with the following objectives.

Participants preparing their pots
Participants preparing their pots
  1. Sensitize participants on the problems with the food we eat today and the food and nutrition gap we are facing now.
  2. Make participants aware of all major aspects of Organic Urban Farming which are
    • Choosing Containers and preparing them
    • Preparing potting soil
    • Choosing appropriate vegetables
    • Preparation of organic fertilizer and soil conditioners
    • Composting and recycling techniques
    • Water management
    • Soil management
    • Crop rotation and companion planting
    • Pest Management
  3. Impart hands on training on most of the above subjects
  4. Motivate and inspire participants to use the gained knowledge to start their own gardens
Potting Soil Mixing by participants
Potting Soil Mixing by participants
Amrut Jal Preparation Demo
Amrut Jal Preparation Demo

With all the above in mind we created a course of a 5 hour workshop and nine training programs (2-3 hours each) which were spread over 20 days. The participants had to do hands on gardening work in the training to really get a grip of things. And we also had them come over to visit our model Organic Terrace Garden to really connect with what they learn.

Urban Farming Course

A lot of notes were taken too
A lot of notes were taken too

After the facebook announcement and a help from one of our participants finally we got our first batch which consisted of people from various walks of life and the age of the participant ranged from 20 years to 60 years. One thing was common in all the participants. They were all very passionate about growing their own food and they were eager to learn. And that motivated us further to do better.

The course took off on May 8, 2017 with the workshop and ended on 27th May. In the process of imparting knowledge we also learnt a lot. I am sure it was equally if not more beneficial for all the participants. Though the course has ended our engagement with the participants has not. All of them have been given  a deadline of 4  months to create a functional food garden and we have promised to help them with it.

Thats all for now. Signing Off.

Participants got a chance to visit our model garden
Participants got a chance to visit our model garden
Entire batch in our Organic Terrace Garden
Entire batch in our Organic Terrace Garden
A Group Selfie with Mangoes
A Group Selfie with Mangoes

p.s. If you want to organise workshops or training programs on Organic Urban Farming in your company, community, school do drop us a mail at [email protected]

 

Guide to Growing Broad Beans in Containers

Mature Broad Beans Pods
Mature Broad Beans Pods

You either hate Broad beans (also known as fava beans or flat beans) or you love them. This is one bean that is difficult to ignore because of its intense flavor and hard texture. I love that intensity and the bite. We get a lot of indigenous varieties of flat beans here in eastern and southern parts of India. Most of them are climbers and need a trellis to grow. A few hybrid varieties are also available now which are of bush variety and hence can easily grow at any place. Being a leguminous plant it also fixes nitrogen in your soil and keeps it healthy. So even if you don’t love fava beans your garden loves it. This plant prefers cooler temperature and hence is a a great vegetable to grow in winters. In this post I’ll guide you on growing broad beans in containers in your kitchen garden.

Quick Reference Table for Growing Broad Beans in Containers

 

Item Value
Growing Temperature 15 – 25 °C
Germination Temperature 20-30 °C Ideal
Germination Time 3-7 days
Soil pH 6 to 6.8
Sunlight Need 8-10 hours per day (Sun loving Plant)
Preferred Planting Method Direct Sowing
Container size Grow 2-3 plants in a 10 liter containers. Keep 3-4 inch distance between two plants.
Time to Harvest 60-80 days from germination
Harvest Period  50-60 days
Pollination Self pollinating.
Typical Pests Aphids, leaf minor, ants
Best season to plant in India  

Start your seeds about a month before onset of winters. October to February are the best months to grow broad beans.

Seed Sowing and Germination of Broad Beans

Broad Bean Seeds
Broad Bean Seeds

Broad beans are medium feeders and shallow rooted. So they can easily be grown in a 10 liter container. You can grow 2-3 plants in a single 10 liter container. If you are using a bigger container and planting in rows then you need to keep about 6 inch distance between plants and around 10 inch distance between rows.  For sowing the seeds it is a good idea to soak the seeds in Amrut Jal for 24 hours. Plain water also works fine if you don’t have Amrut Jal. Soaking seeds helps in faster germination. Mark your spots where you’ll be sowing your seeds in the pot. Now make 3/4 inch to 1 inch holes in the soil using one of your fingers. Place the seeds (Use 2 seeds for every mark. Thin saplings later retaining the healthier one) on their side in the holes and them cover them loosely with the potting soil. Water the pot gently. Be careful not to disturb the soil. As the seeds germinate better in humid conditions its a good idea to keep the container covered. Check the moisture in the soil everyday. Don’t let the soil dry out any time, but at the same time don’t keep the soil wet every time. The seeds germinate better if the moisture level is slightly on the lower side than on the higher side. In about 3-5 days you should see happy seedlings looking out from the pots,

Germinated Broad Bean Seeds
Germinated Broad Bean Seeds

Sometimes seeds do not germinate or have a very low germination rate. When this happens you can try to germinate the seeds in a bottle. Wrap your pre-soaked seeds in a damp cotton cloth or damp kitchen towel. Place it inside a bottle, close the lid and place the bottle in a warm area. Check after 3-4 days if the seeds have germinated. If the seeds have germinated you can sow them in your pot. If most of them have not germinated you need to change your seeds.

Growing Broad Beans in Containers

Broad Bean Plant in Flowering Stage
Broad Bean Plant in Flowering Stage

Broad Bean is a climber and it grows at fast rate. So you need to build a trellis well in time for the plant. When the broad bean plant is about 6-10 inches tall it starts to climb. So keep your trellis ready by then. By the way if you are growing the bush variety then you don’t have to worry about the trellis.

Because broad bean grow in full sunlight the soil can dry out very fast. So mulch you pot heavily to avoid evaporation. Keep the soil moist all the time and never let it dry out. If at some point the plant gets water stressed then it may be difficult for it to recover.

Bush Variety Broad Bean Plant
Bush Variety Broad Bean Plant

Use Amrut Jal or any other organic liquid soil conditioner/fertilizer every 10-15 days. During flowering increase the frequency and use it once every 7 days. You can add extra compost for better fruiting at regular intervals. Adding extra compost to the container every 40-50 days keeps the plant happy. To do this remove the mulch and add about 1 liters of well decomposed compost per plant. Spread it evenly and mulch again.

Aphids are the major pests that you have to face while growing broad beans in containers. So check your plant regularly for aphid attack. Check leaves, stems, buds and flowers. In case you find them remove them with water jet. You can also use a neem spray or any broad organic pesticide like diluted cow urine to get rid of aphids. Spray your plant once a week if you see aphids. In case a plant has got infested with aphids its better to move the container to isolated area and spray it. If the aphids do not go even after spraying then get rid of the plant to protect rest of the plants in your garden.

Harvesting Broad Beans

Young Broad Beans Pods
Young Broad Beans Pods

Broad beans fruits grow slower than other beans. The flowers generally stay on the plant for 7-10 days before turning into pods. The pods also take around 15-20 days to grow and become ready for harvest. To know if they are ready for harvest or not press the pods gently and check for the seeds. If the seeds have formed properly the bean is ready to harvest. For seed saving leave the first few pods on the plants till the pod turns light brown to brown color. You can do seed saving only if the bean is a open pollinated variety.

Generally every plant flowers and fruits well two to three times after which the pods become smaller and most of them dry on the plant. So after you have got two or three batches of harvest, cut off the plant and use it for mulching.


I have made this post about growing broad beans in containers on request by one of our readers with a beautiful name of Chandrakala. I hope it will be helpful for her and also for all of you. And if you want us to write on some topic, then do write to us at [email protected] and we’ll do the needful asap.

Announcing Summer Course on Urban Farming

High pesticide residues, lack of essential nutrients, use of growth hormones, lack of fresh fruits and vegetables, GMO contamination and rising food prices are some of the reasons why people all around the world are taking to growing their own food at their homes and communities. With a very high population, depleting resources and climate change food and nutrition gap in India is growing at an alarming rate. To deal with this issue and to be future ready Urban Farming is fast becoming a necessity rather than a hobby. In states like Kerala govt is giving subsidies and encouraging people to do Organic terrace gardening.

Urban Farming and Organic Terrace Gardening Workshop in Odisha
Urban Farming and Organic Terrace Gardening Workshop in Bhubaneswar, Odisha


For the first time in Odisha where this concept is still to catch up Organic Terrace along with Paz Farming and Solutions launches a summer course on Urban Farming. Our summer course on urban farming aims to make people aware of all aspects of GROWING ONE’S OWN FOOD ORGANICALLY by recycling the waste from one’s home. We also aim to sensitize people about the need of Organic Terrace Gardening and Urban Farming.

This course on urban farming consists of a workshop and nine hands on training modules spread over a period of 21 days. During this time participants will learn how to design their own gardens in small spaces, recycle waste, select appropriate vegetables, take care of their plants and soil, deal with pests and every other major aspect of organic terrace gardening.

Irrespective of weather you are a novice or you are an expert this course on urban farming is designed to add value to your gardening know how. We are limiting the number of participants to 15 to be able to give individual attention to each participant.

Don’t miss this chance to become an urban farmer and adopt a healthy lifestyle for yourself and your family. Registrations close on 6th May. So hurry up and book a seat for yourself. Call 9937099274 or 9937866309 to register.