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.

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.

How to Build Shade House for Your Vegetable Garden

Climate change is real. Every year the summers are getting hotter and its not good news for your plants in your garden. There are many inexpensive ways you can take care of your plants to protect them from summer heat. But a shade house which needs some investment is the best bet. And this fact forced us to build a shade house for our terrace garden this year. We did not build it over our entire terrace because the shape and other factors of our terrace did not allow us to do so. We built it on one side of our garden covering approximately 300 sq ft. In this post I’ll guide you on How to Build Shade House for your garden.

Things to Consider before you Build Shade House

Shade House Structure makes efficient use of space by allowing climbers and creepers to grow vertically
Shade House Structure makes efficient use of space by allowing climbers and creepers to grow vertically

In certain part of summers and during monsoons our part of the world becomes very windy. And on the terrace the winds are much stronger than on the ground. So in such windy conditions we needed to have a strong structure to hold the shade house together. Which means the only material we could build our shade house structure with was steel. PVC pipes or bamboo structures would not withstand heavy wind condition.

In steel itself there were two options. Whether to go for pipes or to use angles. We stuck to pipes for two reasons. First, they are easy to manage and it is much easier to fasten the shade net to a pipe rather than angles. And secondly the aesthetics of a pipe is much better than that of angles.

We also wanted our structure to double up as trellis for climbers and creepers. So we decided to keep the minimum height of the structure at 6.5 ft.

Shade House Design

Concept Design of Shade House
Concept Design of Shade House

Here is the shade house design and the material that was used.

As shown in the picture 1.5 inch steel pipes were used as verticals to hold the structure while 1 inch pipes were used for everything else. Flats were used for trellis structure. In hind sight flats could have been replaced with 1 inch pipe from strength and aesthetics point of view. It would have cost only a little extra. Here is the list of materials we used to build the shade house.

  1. 1.5 inch steel pipe (2mm thickness) – 3 pieces of 20 ft length each
  2. 1 inch steel pipe (1 mm thickness) – 14 pieces of 18 ft length each
  3. 1 inch flat – 7 pieces of 18 ft each
  4. 75% shade net cloth – 400 sq ft
  5. UV resistant plastic wire
  6. Paint and Primer

How to Build Shade House

Shade House Structure Construction Step 1
Shade House Structure Construction Step 1

As a first step the outer vertical poles were cut to size and erected. They were supported on either the walls or the false pillar posts. A small square rod was first drilled into the wall at an angle of  20-30 degrees to the ground. This angle helps the rod stay put inside the wall. Then the 2 inch steel pipes were soldered to these rods.

Shade House Structure Construction Step 2
Shade House Structure Construction Step 2

Next measurements were taken for the triangular trusses. And each of the three trusses were fabricated from the 1 inch steel pipe to measurement and marked. Then they were soldered on to the vertical posts.

The inner verticals were then erected and soldered onto the trusses. A few flats were also soldered on to the verticals for extra support and to create permanent trellis structure.

Shade House Structure Construction Step 3
Shade House Structure Construction Step 3

And finally the horizontal bars (1 inch pipe) were laid down on top and soldered to the top of the trusses. These connected the three trusses to each other.

After the structure was ready we cleaned up the pipes using sand paper and cloth and painted it for protection. After the paint was dry the shade cloth was laid on top of the structure and was fastened using fishing net wire. The fishing net wire we used were UV ray protected. So it would not easily disintegrate in heat and would hold on for much longer than normal plastic wires.

Shade House Structure Construction Step 4
Shade House Structure Construction Step 4

To give it extra protection from wind we tied coconut fiber ropes going across the shade cloth from one side to the other. This was necessary as our place is very windy. In case you don’t get so much wind you do not really have to do this.

Total Cost of Building Shade House

Shade house structure after painting
Shade house structure after painting

When we build the shade house the cost of steel was Rs 60/- per kg for the best brand of steel in town. Other lower quality steel was approximately Rs 50/- per kg. But we chose to go for the best quality steel and the total cost of the steel pipes was approximately Rs 8000/- including transport.

Laying down the shade net in progress
Laying down the shade net in progress

The shade net we used was a 75% sun block variety and the total expense to for about 400 sq ft of shade net was under Rs 1,000/-. The UV resistant fishing net wires cost another Rs 200/-. The paint and primer expenses for painting the pipes was approximately Rs 600/-. We did the painting job ourselves and hence not counting the wages for painting here.

UV resistant string for tying shade cloth
UV resistant string for tying shade cloth

And lastly the fabrication charges for the shade house was Rs 5,000/-. So the shade house over 300 sq ft space cost us a little under Rs 15,000/-. Now to some of you this may seem a little high, but if the structure building cost is distributed over 20 years (the structure will last at least 20 years. The shade net may have to be changes every year) then it comes out to be under Rs 700/- (13,000/20) per year, which is really negligible if you look at the other advantages of the structure in additions to serving as a shade house.

Other Advantages of the Shade House

Shade Net tied to the steel pipes
Shade Net tied to the steel pipes

Now that you know How to Build Shade House, there are many other reasons for Why you should Build a Shade House. Though the shade house functions primarily to protect plants from heat, here are a few of the other advantages of the shade house structure. These are a few of the functions that we are using as of now. You can always get creative and use the structure in many more ways.

  1. Coir Ropes used on top of shade cloth for guarding against strong winds
    Coir Ropes used on top of shade cloth for guarding against strong winds

    Water requirement of plants reduces leading to water conservation. Here are some more tips on conserving water.

  2. Used as permanent trellis structures.
  3. Climbers can be made to grow vertically making efficient use of space.
  4. Pots could also be hung from the structure.
  5. The shade house keeps the house cool too.
  6. Protects plants from heavy rains as the shade net arrests most of the force of the rain drops.
  7. Protects plants from monkeys. You can achieve this by covering the whole shade house with shade cloth or you can use fishing net to cover the sides of the shade house.

How to grow Ridge Gourd in Pots

Ridge gourd seedling
Ridge gourd seedling

Its summer time again. And its time to plant some cooling vegetables in your garden. While cucumber is a must have vegetable in your garden in summers ridge gourd is another vegetable that you can easily grow in containers. Ridge Gourd belongs to the cucumber family and contains a lot of water along with dietary fibers. It has very low amount of saturated fats. Hence its a great vegetable for weight loss. Ridge Gourd is also an excellent source of vitamin A. Ridge gourds need very little attention and hence are well suited for any garden. But with The help of this post on How to Grow Ridge Gourd in Pots you can increase the yield and performance of your plant.

Quick Reference Table to Grow Ridge Gourd in Pots

 

Item Value
Growing Temperature 26 – 36 °C
Germination Temperature 28-38 °C Ideal
Germination Time 3-7 days
Soil pH 5.8 to 6.8
Sunlight Need 6-9 hours per day (Sun loving Plant)
Preferred Planting Method Direct Sowing
Container size 20-30 liter container works well. 2-3 plants can be grown in a single containers. Keep 4-5 inch distance between two plants.
Time to Harvest 45-60 days from germination
Harvest Period  50-60 days
Pollination Bees act as pollinators, Hand pollination can be done in absence of bees.
Typical Pests Ants, Fruit fly, leaf minor
Best season to plant in India Starting from beginning of summers till beginning of winters.

 

Choosing Container for Ridge Gourd

Plant ridge gourd in at least 20 liter pot
Plant ridge gourd in at least 20 liter pot

Ridge gourds are heavy feeders. They need a lot of nutrients and also a lot of water. So you need a bigger container to grow ridge gourd in pots. Generally a 20 liter container would work fine. You can grow 2-3 plants in one containers. You can use container of any shape. Just make sure that it is at least 12 inches deep. Use a nutrient rich potting mix which has good water retention property. A higher amount of organic compost in the potting soil mix will ensure that it is nutrient rich and also help in retaining water.

Seed Sowing and Germination

In a 20 liter pot you can grow 3-4 plants. The distance between plants needs to be approximately 4-5 inch, so that roots of all plants can spread well in all directions. For sowing the seeds it is a good idea to soak the seeds in Amrut Jal for 10-12 hours. Plain water also works fine if you don’t have Amrut Jal. Soaking seeds helps in faster germination, but is is not a compulsory step. 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 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. Check the moisture in the soil everyday. Don’t let the soil dry out any time. In about 3-5 days you should see happy seedlings looking out from the pots.

Grow Ridge Gourd in Pots

Ridge gourd vine can climb even on fishing net
Ridge gourd vine can climb even on fishing net

Ridge gourd is a climber and it grows at fast rate. So you need to build a trellis well in time for the plant. Keep the height of the trellis at least 6 ft. The plants can also grow vertically on a stretched fishing net. Whatever your trellis structure is make sure you have it in place by the time ridge gourd plant is 6-8 inches tall. That is when they start shooting out tendrils to climb.

Ridge gourd plants need a lot of water. And because they grow in full sunlight the soil can dry out very fast. So mulch you pot heavily to avoid evaporation. To make sure that the soil remains moist throughout the day you can use a recycled plastic bottle for drip irrigation in every pot. Make a tiny hole on the cap of the bottle. The hole should be small, so that water flows out of in tiny drops. Fill the bottle with water and place the bottle in pot head down. Fill the bottle in the morning every day during regular watering. Remember this is in addition to your regular watering.

Use Amrut Jal or any other organic liquid soil conditioner/fertilizer every 10-15 days. During flowering increase the frequency. When the first fruit appears its a good time to add extra nutrients to the pot. To do this remove the mulch and add about 2 liters of well decomposed compost to the container. Spread it evenly and mulch again.

When you grow ridge gourds in pots you don’t have to handle many plants. So it is best to do pest management by removing the pests by hand. For ants sprinkling turmeric helps. Tendrils of any climber plant help only in climbing. In fact too many tendrils would impact the yield negatively. So nip off most of the tendrils. Just retain a few of them so that the plant does not fall off from the trellis. Nipping off the tendrils will help in increasing the yield.

Pollination

Ridge gourd female and male flower buds
Ridge gourd female and male flower buds

Ridge gourd plant produces different male and female flowers. The female flowers have a small fruit attached to its bottom while male flowers do not have the fruit. Pollination is done by bees. In case you do not get bees in your garden you need to hand pollinate the flowers. Hand pollination is very simple. Just pluck a healthy male flower and remove its petals gently without disturbing its stamen. Now rub the stamen gently on the stigma of the female flower. You can use a single male flower to pollinate 2-3 female flowers. But in case you have enough male flowers use a single male flower for each female flower.

Harvesting Ridge Gourd

Ready to harvest ridge gourd
Ready to harvest ridge gourd

Ridge gourd fruits grow very fast even when you grow ridge gourd in pots. After pollination they are ready to pick in approximately 8-12 days. You can pick your gourd about 2-3 days after the fruit has stopped growing. Leaving it too long on the plant makes it fibrous and then it can not be consumed. However the fruit can be left to dry on the vine for harvesting seeds and using the fibrous part called loofah as a natural scrubber. Use a pair of scissors or any garden cutter to remove the fruit from the plant. Do not remove the fruit by pulling. It will damage the plant. 


Ridge gourd is a hassle free plant to grow when its nutrient and water needs have been taken care of. You can plant them in a staggered manner in your garden once in every 20-25 days to enjoy them throughout most parts of the year.

How Not to and How to Water Plants in Pots

Popular clip art of a Happy Gardener
Popular clip art of a Happy Gardener

The happy gardener. You see him/her everywhere; on TV, on bill boards in magazines. And its mostly a very happy and content looking person watering plants with a hose or a watering can. And the water falling on the plants in an almost poetic manner with shower like effect. The image conveys the beauty and happiness involved in gardening (and sometimes it is also to sell some gardening equipment). Most gardeners I have met tend to water their plants in this popular way as it feels and looks really nice as per them. Unfortunately this is exactly how you should NOT water plants in pots or in garden. This post is a guide on How Not to and How to Water Plants in Pots. Though I’ll stick to container gardening, the same is applicable to all gardens.


Where you should Water your Plants

  1. Water plants at roots; Not on leaves
    Water plants at roots; Not on leaves.

    While it is okay to ‘bathe’ your plants once in a while to remove off the dust from leaves, it is not okay to water your plants on the leaves. Plants need water at their roots and not on the leaves. The roots pull moisture from the soil and through capillary action send it to the leaves. So you should help plants by watering at the roots. Moreover moisture on the leaves if left overnight can cause fungal attack. Hence avoid wetting leaves of the plant while watering.

  2. Generally the branch roots of a plant (the ones that suck moisture and nutrients for the leaves) spread out to all directions. Water needs to be given to this system and not at the base of the plant. Watering at the base of the main trunk of the plant will loosen the grip of the plant in the soil. Hence water away from the base of the plant. You can water along the rim of the container for most effective watering. Generally the canopy of the plant gives an idea of its root systems. So while watering plants outside, you can follow the spread of the canopy and water around it’s projection on the ground if you your plant is on the ground.

When to Water your Plants

  1. Water early in the morning or late in the afternoon (if not possible in the morning). Watering in the morning makes sure that the plant has enough moisture to be used throughout the day. If by any chance you are unable to water in the morning, water your plants late in the afternoon. It should not be too hot when you are watering in the afternoon. At the same time there should be enough time for leaves to dry off in case they get wet. Never water your plants when the sun is over your head. Heat leads to excess water evaporation.
  2. Water only when soil dries out. Don’t water for the sake of it. To check if
    Excess watering causes nutrient leaching
    Excess watering causes nutrient leaching

    you need to water your plants you can put a finger inside the soil. If you feel the moisture, then there is no need to water the plants. Excess watering will lead to nutrient loss and also water loss.

  3. Sometimes in summers you’ll notice drooping leaves during the day time. Don’t rush to water your plant in such a case. Do the moisture test with your finger. Water only if the moisture has dried out. Otherwise just leave the plant. The leaves will spring back to life when the sun goes down. Drooping leaves result due to faster evaporation from leaves than the amount of moisture the roots can pump to it.

How to Water your Plants

  1. Ganga flowing to earth through the matted hair of Lord Shiva
    Ganga flowing to earth through the matted hair of Lord Shiva

    Water your pots to make the soil moist and not dripping wet. Not only its a criminal waste of water, too much water in the pot can lead to root rot if the soil or your potting mix is not a well drained one. On regular observation you’ll be able to figure out the water requirement of each pot. Water accordingly. Over watering also leads to leaching or wastage of nutrients.

  2. Water with as less force as possible. It is best to just take a watering pipe with almost no force in the flow of the water and place it in your pot along the rim. Water jet disturbs the soil.
  3. Lastly on to some mythology. Though I am supposed to write about How to water plants in pots, you must be wondering why I am suddenly diverting to mythology. Well just read on to find out. In Indian mythology there is a story of the great river Ganga coming
    Use thick layer of mulch to arrest speed of water
    Use thick layer of mulch to arrest speed of water

    down from the heavens to the earth. But her force is so much that it would destroy the earth. So the great yogi Shiva uses his matted hair to arrest the force of the river Ganga coming down from the heavens. And that is exactly what you have to do by using a thick layer of mulch. Mulch helps in arresting the speed of the water falling on the base of your plants. Hence mulch your pots well. The other thing about mulch is that it catches the dew at night and when the dew condenses it flows down to the soil. Hence mulching also acts like a automatic watering system.


Water is an important natural resource and hence you should always aim to conserve it. Use as much surface water as possible and conserve ground water. Harvest rainwater, reuse domestic waste water (water in which vegetables have been washed). And most importantly water correctly and water efficiently. You not only conserve water, you also keep your soil and plants healthy and happy.

How to Protect your Plants in Summer – Simple and Effective Tips

I recently attended national seminar on climate change where I got to see a lot of data on the changes in temperature and the effects it is having on our environment. Not that I was not aware of it. We all are aware of the change in climate and its effects. But when something is presented in the form of well researched data it does say a lot and has much more impact. Our planet is indeed getting hotter at an alarming rate. Last year Titlagarh in my home state recorded 47.5 degree Celsius and the predictions are that this year even this record will be broken. Everyone is suffering from this extreme heat. Even the plants in your garden are suffering albeit silently. And then there is also the problem of water shortage in summers which makes the whole scenario even more complicated. But of course you can do a few things to take care of your garden in summer. And this post on How to Protect your Plants in Summer will guide you on that.

Water Management is the Key

Dry leaves are excellent for mulching.
Dry leaves are excellent for mulching.

Water requirement of plants goes up as the heat increases. But the water availability decreases in summer. So managing water is key to a successful garden during harsh summers. Here are some tips for water management to protect your plants in summer.

  1. Mulching – The importance of mulching can never be stressed upon enough. Mulch your pots heavily with organic material to reduce water evaporation from soil. Dry leaves, cleaned and dried sugarcane bagasse, grasp clippings, paddy  straw, wood chips, coconut husks and dried corn peels are some of the things that you can use as mulch. Make sure that the mulch is 2-3 inches thick, so that no part of the soil is directly exposed to sunlight.
  2. Water as much as necessary to moisten the soil in your pot. Keep your soil moist and not drenched. Don’t let water run off from pots. It not only wastes water, nutrients from the soil also get leached due to over watering.
  3. Water only to replenish. Do not water just because it is time to water. You can check the moisture in the soil by poking a finger into it. If you feel its moist, there is no need to water.
  4. If you see drooping leaves don’t water your plants immediately. Check the moisture in the soil and water if needed. Leaves dry out fast in summers. The rate at which the root system pumps water into the leaves can not keep up with the drying rate. But when the sun goes down the leaves come back to shape.
  5. Do not water during the day. It leads to faster evaporation. Water early in the morning and/or in the evening before it gets dark.
  6. Do not waste water in watering the leaves of your plants. In fact watering the leaves is not advisable in any season because it can lead to fungus on leaves.
  7. Water your plants evenly in the container. Watering from one side does not wet the soil from everywhere.
  8. Drip irrigation systems work very well to save water. If budget is not a constraint you can invest in a drip irrigation system for your garden. Saving water is a big step to protect your plants in summer.
  9. If budget is not a concern you can also consider investing in self watering containers. These containers store excess water at the bottom and water is pulled into the soil through capillary action.

Manage Shade to Protect your Plants in Summer

A shade house is great to have to protect your plants in summer in your garden.
A shade house is great to have to protect your plants in summer in your garden.

Tropical plants do well in hot and humid conditions, but in scorching heat even they can be heat stressed and eventually die. Excess watering does not help in such cases. Shade is what plants need in such cases. Here are some tips to manage shade to protect your plants in summer.

  1. Find the more shaded areas of your organic terrace garden and move your pots to such a place. This can help a lot of your plants survive the summer.
  2. Use shade cloth or shade net to protect your plants from direct sunlight. Greenhouse shade cloth is a net like cloth that lets partial sunlight pass through it. Shade nets are graded according to the amount of sunlight it blocks. You can chose somewhere between 50% to 80% shade cloth depending the temperature in your area. Since the temperature in this part of the world goes beyond 40 degree Celsius in summers we use 80% sun block shade net for our garden.
  3. You can choose build a shade house by putting up a structure of steel or bamboo. This involves some expenditure, but its a good long term solution to have. In case you do not plan to spend a lot of money putting up a shade house here is a simpler solution. Put 4 to 5 stakes in your pots along the rim. The stakes should be a little taller than (2-3 inches works fine) the plant in the container. Now you can place your pots in a row and cover the entire row with shade cloth. The shade cloth will rest on the stakes and protect your plants from heat. You can also cut the shade clothes and put it up individually for each plant.
  4. If you have few plants then you can dry your everyday clothes around it. Just make sure that the clothes are aligned in a north south direction, so that it provides shade to the plants. The shade of the clothes will be a relief for your plants.

Wind Management is Important too

Sugarcane bagasse can also be used a mulch. This is more wind tolerant than dry leaves.
Sugarcane bagasse can also be used a mulch. This is more wind tolerant than dry leaves.

Wind can dry out soil too fast. Heavy warm winds during summer time also can damage  your plants. This is what you can do as a precaution.

  1. Build a simple wind break with a shade cloth screen using either steel rod or bamboo. There is no need to do this on all sides of your terrace garden. Generally in summers there is a particular direction from which the wind blows. For your area identify that direction and put a wind screen on that side.
  2. Bigger and sturdier plants also can act as a wind break. Place the bigger plants on your terrace on the side where you expect to get maximum wind flow.
  3. You can also grow creepers and climber on flat trellises. Such plants also act as a wind break.

Choose your Plants well for Summers

Pointed gourd is a good vegetable that you can grow in summers.
Pointed gourd is a good vegetable that you can grow in summers.

There are some plants that don’t do too well in heat. No matter how well you take care of them, they eventually will succumb to the heat. So it a good idea to plant seasonal and heat tolerant plants in summer. Some examples are,

  1. Banana
  2. Ridge Gourd
  3. Okra
  4. Bitter gourd
  5. Variety of Cucumbers
  6. Pointed gourd
  7. Variety of Eggplant
  8. Chilies
  9. Water melon
  10. Amaranth

A few varieties of beans, peppers and tomatoes can also be grown in shade house in summers. But you have to be very careful with these varieties. They may not have as good yield.

The seminar on climate change that I attended had a very clear and strong message. As the planet is getting hotter and drier it becomes our responsibility to conserve water and resort to natural cooling methods. Hence installing coolers and fans is your garden is not something we are going to encourage you to do. And no amount of importance that you give to reuse and conservation of water can ever be enough. So we urge you to take a conscious steps towards a cooler and greener planet through organic terrace gardening this summer.

 

 

How to get Organic Certification in India

There has been a steadily growing interest in Organic farming in recent times. Large scale farmers and groups of small farmers who have taken up organic farming are now getting organic certification for their produce, which enables customer to be assured of buying actual organic products and enables the farmer to get a premium on his returns. In India NPOP (National Program for Organic Production) and its regulatory body APEDA (Agricultural and processed food products export development authority) have laid down the guidelines for organic certification and all products that is organic certified displays the ‘India Organic’ logo for customer to easily identify certified products. This post touches upon the process of organic certification in India.

Organic certification in India - India Organic Logo
Organic certification in India – India Organic Logo

In 2006, India’s organic certification process under NPOP has been granted equivalence with European Union. It has also been recognized for conformity assessment by USDA’s NOP.

Principal of Standards

The organic certification process in India follows a set of standard guiding principals laid down by National Program for Organic Production (NPOP). They are as follows.

  1. Conversion of land for Organic Farming must be done.
  2. All inputs to the farm should be natural.
  3. No Genetically Modified inputs or Irradiation technology should be used.
  4. Integrity of all processes (physical, biological, mechanical) must be maintained at all times.
  5. No contamination from nearby farms or other means must be present.
  6. Sustainable practices must be followed in the farm.

Process of Organic Certification in India

Though organic certification can be obtained for all types of agricultural produce including processed food and food served in restaurants, in this post we’ll focus on only agricultural produce. Large scale farmers or small size land holder growers groups (minimum of 25 and maximum of 500 farmers having lands in the same geographical area) can apply for Organic certification of their produce. The point to note here is that the land is not certified as organic. Rather the produce from it is certified.

APEDA offers an internet based e-service called Tracenet to collect, record and report data on organic certification and thus facilitating the process of organic certification. It is also used to trace any organic produce all the way to the farm from anywhere in the supply chain.

Organic certification process is carried out by accredited bodies under NPOP. Here is the process of Organic certification in a nut shell.

  1. Receipt of application by any accredited organic certification body from farmer(s).
  2. The certification body provides standards and operational documents to farmer(s).
  3. There is an agreement of roles and commitments between the farmer(s) and the body.
  4. Demand of fees by accredited body.
  5. Document audit.
  6. Regular Field inspection by internal quality system manager and external inspector and documentation of the same.
  7. Compliance verification through inspection and audits.
  8. Preparation of reports by the field inspector.
  9. Review of report by a reviewing body.
  10. Decisions on certification.

The field inspection is one of the most important process step in Organic certification in India. Here is a summary of the inspection methods.

  1. Visit of external inspector to fields and facilities.
  2. Review of records and accounts.
  3. Calculation of input and output norms and preparation of production estimate from a farm.
  4. Assessment of production system
  5. Interview with responsible person(s).
  6. Risk assessment from neighboring farms.
  7. Inspection of use of any GM products.
  8. Inspection of use of off-farm inputs.
  9. Analysis of residue tests by certified laboratories for pesticides, heavy metals if required.
  10. Inspection of sustainable practices.
  11. Inspection and study of entire production unit.

Organic certificate for any produce is valid for 3 years only. It must be renewed after expiry of 3 years.

Wild Harvest Organic Certification

Wild harvests also can be certified as organic and no conversion period is required for wild lands. Here are a few pointers on certification of wild harvests.

  1. Only products and not the forest is certified.
  2. Applies to natural forests only.
  3. Collection not to exceed sustainable yield of any species and it must not threaten local ecosystem. Around 40% produce should be left in the forest itself.
  4. The produce must be derived from a stable and sustainable growing environment.
  5. Produce collection activities should positively contribute to maintenance of natural heritage.

Time period and expenditure for Organic Certification in India

The typical expenditure on getting organic certification for Individual farmers varied within 25,000/- INR to 40,000/- INR, while for farmer groups it varies between 40,000/- INR to 1,00,000/- INR.

Type of agricultural unit Typical time period for organic certification
 Farm  24 months
 Fruit Orchards  36 months
 Dairy unit on certified land  90 days
 Food Processing units  1 day
 Unused land  Typically takes the same time as a farm or fruit orchard. But if the land happens to be in remote area then the time can be relaxed by 12 months at best.

The entire process of Organic certification involves a lot of record keeping and process steps. It may look daunting, but the organic certification adds a lot of value to the produce as the certification is accepted not only in India, but also in North America and EU. Customers are ready to pay a premium if they are assured what they are buying is actually organic and not fraudulent. The India Organic logo gives that assurance to the end customer.