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.

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 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.

 

 

Guide to Growing Cauliflowers in Pots at Home

Fully grown cauliflower ready to be picked
Fully grown cauliflower ready to be picked

I absolutely love cauliflower. Now who does not like cauliflower!!!! Its one of the most versatile, textural and yummy vegetables around. You may have it as a soup, as a paste, roasted, grilled, sauteed, baked and in curries. In some recipes it is even used raw as a substitute to grains. But then if you are not growing them organically you can’t really have it in as many ways. Because of the texture of the vegetable, pesticide easily get trapped in the vegetable and cant be washed off. Hence to enjoy a cauliflower without any dangerous side effects you need to grow them naturally. In this post I’ll guide you on Growing Cauliflowers in Pots easily at your own home.

Quick Reference Table for Growing Cauliflowers in Pots

Transplant one cauliflower sapling in 15-20 liter pot when you are growing cauliflowers in pots
Transplant one cauliflower sapling in 15-20 liter pot

Though cauliflowers comes in different colors like purple, orange and green now a days, the white variety is the most popular. The reference table below is for white variety, but it should work well for other varieties too. In the white variety you can choose between self blanching or non self blanching varieties. Blanching is a process of providing shade to the cauliflower head by tying the large leaves of the plant with a twine. This process makes sure that the head remains white and does not get discolored due to sunlight. The leaves of self blanching varieties automatically cover the head and hence no manual blanching is needed. When you are growing cauliflowers in pots in your terrace, where sunlight is plenty blanching is a must.

Item Value
Growing Temperature 15 – 25 °C
Germination Temperature  20 – 30 °C
Germination Time  3 – 8 days
Soil pH  6 – 7 (slightly acidic to neutral)
Sunlight Need  Full sunlight
Preferred Planting Method  Transplanting is preferred over direct sowing
Container size  20 liter
Time to Harvest  50 – 70 days
Harvest Period  Needs to be harvested quickly as the buds start to mature very fast.
Pollination  Not Applicable
Typical Pests  Aphids, Cutworms, Cabbage Loopers
Best season to plant in India Beginning of winter or anytime in winter providing sufficient growing time (at least 60 days)

Choosing Container for Cauliflowers

Cauliflowers work well in box container
Cauliflowers work well in box container

Cauliflower is a shallow rooted plant and hence does not need very deep containers. Any container with at least one feet depth works fine. So you can plant cauliflowers in an earthen pot, bucket or box type container. Among these box type of container works best as you can plant a few cauliflowers together and this leads to better utilization of space. Make sure to keep the distance between two plants to at least 15 inches, so that each plant has enough space to grow. But when you are growing cauliflowers in pots plant one sapling in 15-20 liter pot.

Seed Sowing and Transplanting

Cauliflower Plants in growing stage
Cauliflower Plants in growing stage

Cauliflower is a heavy eater plant. Hence make sure your potting mix is a really good one. While growing cauliflowers in pots, you can directly sow seeds in the pot. But germinating seeds in controlled condition, hardening the saplings and then transplanting works better. That is mainly due to two reasons. First starting seeds in controlled environment gives you better chance of success. You can even start seeds just before ideal temperature is reached in the garden. The other reason is to protect the plant from any soil borne disease that can affect young seedlings.

Seeds can be started in seed trays or paper cups. Sow the seeds about 1/4 inch deep in loose seed starting potting mix. Water properly and keep it as a warm place. Check moisture level everyday and spray water if soil starts to dry out. In about 3-4 days time the first seedlings will start to appear. Place the seedlings in a place where it can get enough sunlight after germination.

When the seedlings are about 4-6 weeks old, they can be transplanted. At this point thin the saplings to just one. Use a pair of scissors to cut out rest of the saplings. Make a hole in your pot so that the ball of the seedling can easily fit into it and then cover with soil and firm the soil lightly around the plant. Water the pot well and keep the pot in an area where it can get full sunlight.

Growing Cauliflowers in Containers

Blanching prevents discoloration of Cauliflower buds
Blanching prevents discoloration of Cauliflower buds

Cauliflower needs moist soil especially during flowering. So never let your pot dry out. Check the moisture level in the soil regularly and water as necessary. While watering take care not to spill water on the cauliflower head. Water the plant from the sides. Cauliflower being a heavy feeder needs a rich potting mix to start with. When you are growing cauliflowers in pots its a good idea to supply them with extra nutrients. Hence about forty days after transplanting, you can supplement each plant with approximately half a liter of well decomposed compost. If you have planted a non self blanching variety its a good idea to cover your cauliflower with the large leaves kept in place by a clothes pin or a twine. It will protect cauliflower from discoloration due to sunlight.

Young plants are susceptible to attack from cutworms. If you find leaves of young plants eaten away, then check early in the morning for worms and remove them manually. Aphids also can attack cauliflower plants overnight. Its is a good idea to check under the leaves every morning for aphids. If you find them wash them off with a jet of water. You may also use neem oil based spray to get rid of Aphids.

Harvest time for Cauliflowers

Young cauliflower
Young cauliflower head

Cauliflowers need to be picked when the heads are still firm and compact. When cauliflowers matures its heads start developing gaps between the buds. You need to pick them just before this happens. You can harvest cauliflowers when the head is around 6-8 inches in diameter. But when you are growing cauliflowers in pots organically you are going to get them in different sizes depending on the pot size, quality of potting mix and sunlight availability etc. So you need to keep a good watch on when they are ready to be picked.

Sometimes the heads lose their color due to sunlight if they have not been blanched. So if you see your cauliflowers turning a little purple pick them immediately. To harvest cauliflower cut the stem of the vegetable including a few leaves for protection. The leaves are also edible and can be cooked as any other green leaf as a stir fry or curry. And of course you can also enjoy your cauliflower in numerous ways. So just go for it. Grow your own cauliflower at home this cold season.

 

How to make your own Inexpensive Organic Potting Soil

One of the most important thing in growing your own food in containers is the medium in which the plant grows. As vegetables plants need nutrition to grow and bear fruits, using plain soil as the medium is not enough. Hence a few items like compost are added to enrich the soil. A few other items may be mixed with it to get a desired feature in the medium. The growing medium thus prepared is called Potting Soil or Potting Mix. In this post I’ll take you through the various features of a good potting mix and then guide you on how to prepare your own Inexpensive Organic Potting Soil.

Features of Good Potting Mix

  1. Rich in Nutrients – When plants grow on ground, its roots can go quiet deep or spread in all directions in search of nutrients and water. In container gardening, the roots of the plants have limited space to grow. Hence you need to have a very rich medium in your pots so that the roots get enough nutrients.
  2. Water Retention – Due to limited size of pots water can dry out too quickly. But if the soil can retain water well, then you can minimize drying out problems.
  3. Drainage – While it is important for the organic potting soil to hold water, at the same time you have to make sure there is no water logging. Excess water should drain out easily from the pot, or else root rotting can take place.
  4. Structure – Some times when soil dries out it does not absorb water well. Such issues happen when there are not enough aeration in the soil. In other words the structure of the mix is not right. Your Organic potting mix should have particles of different granularity so that it is well aerated. But it should not have big lumps which affect proper root growth.
  5. Weight – The soil should be of light weight, so that you can move pots around easily. Moreover higher the weight higher the pressure on the structure where they are placed.
  6. Microbial activity – A good potting soil is always a living one. It means the potting mix should have enough microbial and insect activity. This keeps the plants healthy and helps them to grow well and give good yields.
  7. Free of pests and other pathogens – Most of the time potting soil has viral pathogens and dormant pests in them. If you grow plants in such mediums it damages not only the individual plant in the pot, but the entire garden as pest infestation can easily spread from one plant to the other.
  8. Optimum pH level – The pH level is a measure of the acidity of the soil. Generally most plants do well in neutral to slightly acidic organic potting soil mixes. Optimum pH reading can be between 6.0 to 7.0 in most cases.

What goes into our Organic Potting Soil

Pound soil well to remove lumps and sun sterilize it.
Pound soil well to remove lumps and sun sterilize it.

With the above features in mind here is a list of ingredients that go into our potting mix.

  1. Vermicompost or Earthworm Compost – Vermicompost is not only the best compost in terms of nutrients, it is also very good in terms of microbial activity and structure. Good quality vermicompost is the most important item in our potting mix. It is best to have your own vermicompost bin at home, but you can also purchase it from stores. Check whether the compost that you purchase from stores is earthworm compost or city compost. Do not go for city compost. While it is good enough if you are growing flowers, it just does not make the cut when you are growing vegetables.
  2. Home made compost – We always stress on organic waste recycling as a part of Organic Terrace Gardening. So even if you can not make earthworm compost at home, you should be making simple compost at home from organic wastes. In making compost at home its just not about recycling waste. You also are assured about the quality of the compost.
  3. Coco Peat – Coco Peat is the residual waste of the coconut coir industry. It is treated to remove salts from it and then sold in bags or in compressed form as bricks. When the bricks are soaked in water it expands to almost ten to fifteen times it size. Coco peat is very light in weight and has excellent water holding capacity.
  4. Garden soil – You can get red soil from nurseries or pick up soil from your backyard. If you can get hold of the clay from river beds, mix it with equal amount of red soil. Though river bed soil is great in terms of fertility but it is also too fine and hence can make the soil hard. Hence mix it with some red soil. Remove the lumps from soil by pounding it and then sun dry it for 5-6 days to kill pathogens.
  5. Cow dung manure – It is cheap and easily available and a great fertilizer.
  6. Neem Cake – Neem cake is the solid waste left over after neem oil extraction from neem seed kernels. Neem cake acts as a pest repellent and prevents pest and pathogen growth in the soil. It also acts as a great fertilizer.
  7. Oils seed cakes – Other oil seed cakes like mustard cakes, ground nut cakes are also great fertilizers.
  8. Fish Meal – This is a very potent fertilizer, but you can skip it if you are vegan or vegetarian.
  9. Amrut Jal -Amrut Jal is used to condition our organic potting soil by increasing the microbial activity in the potting mix and also enrich with nutrients.
  10. Earthworms – Small earthworms which burrow deep into the soil keep the potting mix loose and aerated.
  11. Wood ash – Wood ash is used to bring down the pH level of potting mix if required.

Organic Potting Soil Recipe

Neem cake acts as pest repellent besides being a source of nutrient for plants in your organic potting soil.
Neem cake acts as pest repellent besides being a source of nutrient for plants in your organic potting soil

To make approximately 11-12 liters of potting soil follow the recipe below.

  1. Mix together 3 liters of sun sterilized soil, 3 liters of coco peat, 2 liters of vermi-compost and 2 liters of home made compost (or 3 liters of vermi compost).
  2. Add a liter of cow dung manure.
  3. Add a handful each of neem cake, mustard cake and ground nut cake.
  4. Add a handful of fish meal. Skip this if you are vegetarian.
  5. Mix this very well by turning the mixture several times over.
  6. Check the pH level of the mix. If mix is too acidic (pH reading is 5.5 or below), add a handful of wood ash. If it is alkaline (pH reading is over 7) add more compost.
  7. Now sprinkle about approximately half liter of Amrut Jal and give it a good mix. Amrut Jal is rich in microbial life and this step helps to increase the microbe count in the potting mix. To check the correct moisture level of the mix, try to make a ball in your palms. You should be barely able to make a very crumbly ball at the right moisture level. If moisture level is lower you’ll not be able to make the ball and if it is too high you’ll be able to make the ball easily.
  8. Store this mix in a container, cover it and let it rest for 2-3 weeks. Make sure the container is protected from direct sunlight and rain. Do not cover the container tightly. Air should be able to pass without any problem.
  9. Mix in some Amrut Jal every 4-5 days when the mixture starts to dry out to keep the moisture at a good level to encourage microbial activity.
  10. After about 2-3 weeks potting mix is ready to be used in pots. While preparing the pots drop in some earthworms in the pot. They are the best friends of your potting mix.
Wood ash helps to bring down acidity level.
Wood ash helps to bring down acidity level.

In the above process step 2 to step 9 are optional. But these steps will improve the quality of your Organic Potting Soil significantly. For germinating seeds in seed trays, substitute 2 liter of soil with 1 liter of vermicompost in the above recipe.

Maintenance of Soil in the Pot

At the correct moisture level you should be able to barely make a crumbly ball.
At the correct moisture level you should be able to barely make a crumbly ball.

As a plant grows and produces fruit in a container, the nutrients are depleted. Additionally sunlight and rain too leach out the nutrients from the potting mix. With time the soil tends to become acidic. To minimize these issues here are a few tips on how you can maintain the potting mix in your pots.

  1. Mulch your pot with organic material like dry leaves or dried sugarcane bagasse , wood chips etc. Not only it helps to retain moisture, it helps in maintaining a suitable micro climate for microbial life to flourish.
  2. Use cow dung based soil conditioner like Amrut Jal or Jeevamrut on a weekly basis.
  3. Check the acidity level of the potting soil once every 3 to 4 months. If too acidic add wood ash. If too alkaline add some compost.
  4. When an old plant has been rooted out from the pot, add vermi-compost, cow dung manure, neem cake and other oil cakes to the pot, sprinkle some Amrut Jal, cover it and leave for a couple of weeks before planting again.
Rest your organic potting soil for two weeks.
Rest your organic potting soil for two weeks.

In market potting mix price starts from approximately Rs 40/- per kg and can go up to about Rs 100/- per kg. When you build up a garden even in a balcony space housing about 10-12 containers, you need at least 50-60 kg of potting soil. Buying Organic Potting Soil from market will burn a hole in you pocket even for a balcony garden. With the given recipe you can get high quality potting mix for almost one fifth of the cost of potting mixes available in market. Moreover you know exactly what has gone into the potting mix when you make your own. You know its completely organic and chemical free. Many of the commercial potting mixes actually have growth hormones additives in them which is quite dangerous for your health. So go ahead and make your own Inexpensive and completely Organic potting soil for your garden. It takes a little effort, but totally worth it.

 

Amrut Jal for Plants – Preparation and Usage

In an earlier post I wrote about how to prepare and use Panchagavya. Panchagavya is an excellent pest repellent, foliar spray and fertilizer for your plants. In our garden we use it mostly as a foliar spray and pest repellent. That is because the recipe of Panchagavya calls for a wait period of 18 days, but it can be stored for 2 months time. Hence it is convenient to make one batch of Panchagavya every two months and use small quantities as a pest repellent. For fertilizing the plants we use two other cow dung based solutions. Namely Amrut Jal and Jeevamrut. In this post I’ll be guiding you on how to prepare and use Amrut Jal.

Amrut Jal has been popularized by Prof Sripad A Dabholkar as a part of what is known as NatuEco Farming Technique. But most gardeners I talk to are blissfully unaware of this magic potion. I hope this post will reach out to as many Organic Terrace Gardeners and farmers as possible, so that everyone can reap benefits of this humble yet powerful gift of nature.

How does Amrut Jal work?

I first came to know about Amrut Jal from Urban Leaves blog and decided to try it in our garden. First we tried it on a flower plant that had dried up and had stopped flowering. Guess what! In about fifteen days the plant had started bearing flowers and in about a month’s time it was covered with them. And since then Amrut Jal has been a regular feature in our garden.

So how does it work?

Fresh cow dung not only contains nutrients for plants, it also contains millions of soil friendly microbes. When they are fed well, they multiply. And when you feed the soil with these microbes soil comes alive. They not only improve the structure of the soil, they also start to break down the available nutrients into a form, that can be easily taken in by plants. The process of making Amrut Jal is basically a process of increasing the number of already available microbial life in fresh cow dung of the Indian breed cow.

Amrut Jal Recipe

Ingredients

  1. Fresh cow dung of Indian breed cow – 1 kg
  2. Urine of Indian breed cow (Older the better) – 1 liter
  3. Organic Black Jaggery – 50 gms (can be substituted with 2 glasses of sugarcane juice or six over ripe bananas)
  4. Water – 10 liters

Process

  1. In a plastic or wooden bucket mix the jaggery with some water or urine to liquefy it. The jaggery serves as the food, which the microbes will eat and multiply.
  2. Mix in the cow dung and urine. Use a wooden stick to do the mixing. Alternatively plastic can be used. But do not use any metal to do the mixing. Cow dung contains different type of beneficial microbes. Cow urine contains microbes which help in photosynthesis. It also makes the food more palatable for the microbes.
  3. While doing the mixing stir slowly in one direction. If you stir too violently then you’ll be killing the microbes.
  4. Add in the water, cover the container with a piece of cloth or any other loose cover and leave it to ferment. Make sure that the cover is not air tight. Avoid exposure to direct sunlight and rain.
  5. Stir the solution 12 times in both clockwise and anticlockwise direction using wooden stick three times a day. This helps in distributing the microbes uniformly in the solution. Why 12 times? Well answer to that I really don’t know. But since the recipe calls for it lets stick to it.
  6. From the second day onward you’ll see that the fermentation process has started. On the fourth day the microbial activity reaches its peak. And that is when Amrut Jal is used.
  7. On the forth day for every liter of the fermented solution add ten liters of water and Amrut Jal is ready to be used.

Usage of Amrut Jal

Amrut Jal is best used on the fourth day for watering the plants. However we also use it on 3rd and 5th days. We use it in almost all gardening activities. They are

  1. Watering the plants using Amrut Jal on a weekly basis keeps the soil alive and rich in nutrients.
  2. Spraying filtered Amrut jal once a week or once a fortnight helps in lowering the chance of pest infestation. It is also an excellent foliar spray.
  3. Seed treatment using Amrut jal by soaking for 24 hours before sowing them helps in better germination rate and stronger plant.
  4. Root treatment of saplings for 30 minutes before planting them helps develop a stronger and more disease resistant plant.
  5. Dried leaves or dried sugarcane bagasse is soaked in Amrut Jal and then used as mulch for plants.

How to Grow Radish in Containers… Even in a Plastic Bottle

A single radish plant can be grown in a recycled plastic bottle
A single radish plant can be grown in a recycled plastic bottle

Radish is one super friendly vegetable to grow in small spaces. Hence it is a favorite among people doing container gardening. You can grow them in as small container as a recycled plastic soft drink bottle. Yes you heard me right. You can grow full fledged radishes even in small containers as plastic bottles. All you need to do is to do it in the right way. This post is a complete guide on How to Grow Radish in Containers from seeds to harvest.

Quick Reference Table to Grow Radish in Containers

Coated radish seeds
coated radish seeds

There are many varieties of radishes to choose from. From long slender ones to round ones, from white ones to red ones, the choices are many. Every variety varies in term of optimal growing condition. This table is a more generic table that covers almost all general varieties.

Item Value
Growing Temperature 10 – 28 °C
Germination Temperature 15-30 °C Ideal
Germination Time 3-7 days
Soil pH 6.0 to 7.0
Sunlight Need 5-8 hours per day
Preferred Planting Method Direct Sowing
Container size 3-4 can be planted in a 10 liter containers. Keep 6-8 inch distance between two plants.
Time to Harvest 30-40 days from germination
Harvest Period 10-12 days
Pollination Radish is a root vegetable which is harvested before it starts flowering.
Typical Pests Aphids, Cut worm, Cabbage looper
Best season to plant in India Beginning of winter and through winters

Choosing Container for Radishes

Around 12 radishes can be grown in a 1.5 x 2 ft box
Around 12 radishes can be grown in a 1.5 x 2 ft box

As I told in the beginning of the post radish can be planted any type of container with some minimum depth, so that the root has enough space to grow. You can choose from grow bags, recycled wooden boxes, recycled thermocol boxes, old plastic buckets, recycled paint buckets, recycled plastic bottles (2 liter of bigger bottle works well. Avoid anything less than 1.5 liter bottle), recycled juice or milk cartons or your good old un-glazed earthen pots. To grow radish in containers the choices of containers is endless. Just use a little imagination. And you can recycle many things at your home and grow radishes in them. Just make sure that depending on the variety of the radish, the root will have enough space to grow downwards.

Seed Sowing and Germination

Making a small well for sowing radish seeds helps in keeping the plant straight later
Making a small well for sowing radish seeds helps in keeping the plant straight later

For sowing seeds prepare your container in the morning and leave it in the sun so that the potting mix warms up by evening. For sowing make marks with your finger at the place where you would be sowing your seeds. Now scoop out potting mix from around the mark to make a small well. The depth of the well can be approximately 1 inch. At the center of each well make a hole of approximately 0.5 inch depth. Drop 3-4 seeds in each hole and cover the hole loosely with some potting mix. Water using a watering can. Keep the potting mix moist and make sure it gets sunlight. You’ll have your first few seeds germinate in about 3-5 days. When the saplings are about 3-4 inches tall thin the saplings to just one.

Now you could always sow the seed without making the well. But there is a reason why we recommend making the well. Young radish plant is very frail and tends to bend even in light windy condition. When the plant bends, its root does not develop too well. When the plant is young and has grown to approximately 2 inches of height, the well is covered with potting mix and lightly firmed with hands. This makes sure that the radish plant stands straight and develops a proper root.

Growing Radish in Containers

well formed radish peeking out of the soil
well formed radish peeking out of the soil

Radish is a root vegetable and hence the condition for the root to grow should be kept at optimum. If your pot dries up often the root will not be able to grow well. Hence keep the potting mix moist. But make sure that its not too wet. That will cause the root to rot. If your potting mix is a well drained one and you have made proper drainage holes in the container then you should not have issue of rotting.

Liquid fertilizers work well for root vegetables. Hence use organic liquid fertilizers like Amrut Jal, Jiwamrit, Panchagavya, compost tea once a week to fertilize your radish plants. Keep checking under the leaves once in a while for aphids. If you find them spray them away with jet of water. Alternatively you can use neem spray once in a week to get rid of them. If you find any leaf eating caterpillars of insects just remove them manually. Check for them early in the morning else you’ll never be able to spot them.

Happy looking radish plants growing in a box type container
Happy looking radish plants growing in a box type container

When the plant is frail and young protect is from strong winds. If the plant still bends down straighten it up by putting some soil around its trunk and firming it up making a small mound. Bent radish plant means not well formed radishes. So try to keep the plant straight before radish starts developing. To grow radish in containers this is all you have to do and in no time they will be ready for harvesting.

Harvesting Radishes

When radish roots starts developing it starts to peek out from the soil. So just keep checking how well your radish has grown before harvesting it. When radish plant starts flowering the radish does not taste very well. Hence in case you see any signs of flower harvest your radish immediately. Ideally you should be harvesting radish well before it flowers. To harvest just pull out the radish from your pot. You could wet the soil to make the soil loose before harvesting. And remember to wash your radish clean before consuming them. When you have harvested your radish do not throw away its leaves. The leaves can also be cooked as any green leafy vegetable and let me tell you it tastes yummy.

As radish has a very short time to harvest, you can keep sowing radish seeds once every 10-12 days in your garden. This will make sure you have a continuous supply of radish during its growing season. One last tip to grow radish in containers would be to plant your radish as a companion plant. As radish does not take up too much space it can be planted along with egg plants or tomatoes as a companion plant and you can enjoy fresh radish from your garden without even having to get a separate container for it.

 

 

Pumpkin Leaf Stew Recipe from Odia Kitchen

Pumpkin Leaf Stew
Pumpkin Leaf Stew

In a post earlier on how to grow pumpkin in containers I had mentioned that all parts of a pumpkin plant are edible. A lot of people actually were surprised to hear that. Which naturally meant that many people have never tasted a pumpkin leaf stew before. Which obviously meant that I had to make this post on Pumpkin Leaf Stew Recipe.  This is my mother’s recipe and hence is a great comfort food; simple, nutritious, delicious all at the same time. We generally have it with steamed rice or rotis. But add a little more water, you can enjoy it even as a soup.

Young pumpkin leaves and stems
Young pumpkin leaves and stems

Pumpkin Leaf Stew Recipe

Vegetables are cleaned and cut into bite sized pieces
Vegetables are cleaned and cut into bite sized pieces

As the main ingredient here is the pumpkin leaf you have to make sure that you have grown the plant yourself organically. Commercially grown pumpkin plants are generally sprayed with poisonous pesticides and hence its leaves are not at all safe to consume. In case you do not have a pumpkin plant in your garden, just borrow a few leaves and young stems from your friends garden. And in exchange treat her with this delicious stew.

Pumpkin leaves are washed and chopped coarsely with the stems
Pumpkin leaves are washed and chopped coarsely with the stems

Ingredients

  1. Young pumpkin leaves and stems washed and chopped coarsely – 15 to 20 leaves plucked with its stem
  2. Potatoes cleaned and cut into bite size pieces – 2 medium sized
  3. Eggplant cleaned and cut into bite size pieces – 2 medium sized
  4. Pumpkin cleaned and cut into small pieces- 100 grams
  5. Moong Dal washed and soaked for over an hour – 1 cup
  6. Garlic crushed – 6 to 7 pods
  7. Onion cut into small pieces – 1 medium size
  8. Green chilies cut into small pieces – 2
  9. Whole Mustard – 1 teaspoon
  10. Vegetable Oil (or any oil for frying) – 2 tablespoon
  11. Salt – to taste
  12. Water – 2 cups

Method

Heat Oil and add mustard, chilies, garlic and onion
Heat Oil and add mustard, chilies, garlic and onion
  1. Heat oil in a pan or wok.
  2. When oil is hot add mustard, green chilies and garlic pods. After about 30 seconds add the onions and saute till onion is translucent.
  3. Add pumpkin leaves and saute for two to three minutes. This step is very important and never miss this step.
  4. Now add all vegetables and the dal. Mix everything well.
  5. Add salt to taste. Add water and bring it to boil.
  6. When the stew starts boiling reduce heat and simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes till the greens and vegetables are soft and tender.
After sauteing the green leaves add veggies and dal
After sauteing the green leaves add veggies and dal

Your Pumpkin Leaf Stew is now ready. Adjust the amount of water if you want it more runny like a soup. Now all you got to do is to enjoy this delicious stew with your friends and family.

So…. What is Terrace Gardening ?

Terrace gardening, Container gardening and a few more such terms are in vogue today. Sometimes one comes across related terms like city farming or urban farming which makes things even more confusing.  In essence these are nothing but your good old kitchen garden.  Yes it is that simple. Though there are subtle differences (which I’ll touch upon later in this post), in spirit these terms are used only to refer to the activity of growing fruits and vegetables in the confines of your homes. We generally use the terms terrace gardening and container gardening because that is exactly what this site is about.

Terrace Garden

Simply put terrace gardening is the set of activities that one does to grow food in unused spaces of one’s home that is conducive to grow food. Technically one can grow everything from cereals, pulses to herbs. But growing cereals and pulses in terraces and balconies for consumption is a little far-fetched as of today. Hence terrace gardening really refers to growing vegetables and a few fruits in unused spaces of one’s home. And since these are grown mostly in containers it is also known as container gardening.

As urban open areas are shrinking in size every day the only real viable place that one can grow one’s own vegetables then becomes the balcony. If you are lucky to live in an independent house with a terrace then there is nothing like it. A 30 square feet balcony can yield sufficient green leaves and a few vegetables while a terrace of 1000 sq feet can fulfill 50% vegetable requirements of a family of four. All it takes is some planning and imagination to utilize the available area and resources efficiently and effectively.

Recycling is Organic

A Kitchen garden is not only a place where food is grown; it is also a place where all the food waste from home is recycled. According to a survey about six meals are wasted per week per household in the US. In India itself about 40% of the food is wasted according to United Nations Development Program. That’s a huge deal of food to be wasted. And having a kitchen garden at home ensures that one’s home becomes a zero food waste home as all food waste is typically recycled back to feed the plants.

Urban Farming

That was terrace gardening in a nut shell. So what about urban farming and city farming!

Urban Farming or City Farming is defined as growing fruits, vegetable and herbs and raising animals in cities. Terrace gardening also comes under the bigger umbrella of urban farming. But while city farming is a more organized and community based activity, terrace farming is a personal or family based activity. However in some cases community gardening is also done in terraces of public buildings which have huge amount of space.

Organic Terrace Garden

You can grow food in your home using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. But then the whole point of growing your own food is lost. When one is growing one’s own food certainly she wants that food to be free of chemicals and poisons read fertilizers and pesticides. Moreover use of such chemicals is not only extremely bad for our health but also for the health of mother earth. Hence for us by default terrace gardening is only about growing food in an organic and sustainable manner using only organic resources and waste available.

Way of Life

For us terrace gardening not just a term. It’s a spiritual way of life. It makes one more aware of the environment and hence empathetic towards the earth and life. More on that in the next post. For now I’ll leave you with a quote from the legendary Masanobu Fukuoka of the one straw revolution fame.

“The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings”