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World Earth Day 2019: Here is a dummy guide to growing your own kitchen garden

What are the right seeds, how to sow, how to have nutrient rich soil, how to grow plants without soil-all your questions answered!

Harsh Kanchan | New Delhi |

With this small decision of growing your own kitchen garden, you have taken a big step in helping your planet breathe easy, by working towards reducing your carbon footprint. When you grow your own leafies and fruits, what you are essentially doing is cutting down significantly on the use of plastic and plastic bags, while saying no to harmful pesticides and chemicals that fruits and vegetables in the markets come laced with, that eventually land up in our bodies and/or in the water bodies.

With kitchen gardening, succulent fruits and veggies could be grown in your vicinity, be it your garden, balcony, or terrace. It is cost effective and requires low maintenance, after the initial set up.

Kitchen Gardening comprises growing fruits, vegetables, plants in the spaces around villas, balconies of flats, terraces, and even near windows which get ample sunlight.

Here we provide you some handy tips to make a kitchen garden at home:

Choosing the Right Seeds: Choosing the type of seeds is equally important. It is beneficial if high quality, organic and disease resistant varieties of seeds are chosen. It is advisable to go for open pollinated seeds than hybrid. Before planting, the seedlings should be hardened off by placing them outside in the open. This helps them adapt to the outside temperature. In warmer climate areas, the soil should be cultivated to a fine tilt and seeds be sown deep.

In cooler areas, seeds could be sown in trays, bottles or even bath tubs. However, it needs to be ensured that the seeds get sufficient light, for proper germination and growth.

Sowing of Seeds: Dig the garden area 8-10 inches deep. However, do not start digging when soil is too wet. Allow it to dry and then initiate digging. After digging, sow the seeds and water them regularly.

Where To Sow: If space is a constraint, seeds could be sown in buckets, plastic bottles, buckets or even bathtubs. A medium-sized bathtub could be used to grow a variety of vegetables. All one needs to do is to fill it with soil and homemade compost.

Alternatively, one can raise the nursery initially and then transplant the seedlings to other place having ample sunlight when of 4-6 leaf stage.

Make Nutrient-rich Soil at home: Nutrient-rich soil provides solid footing for the plant. The presence of diverse microbial life supports healthy growth of plants. It is equally simple to prepare nutrient dense soil at home. Organic matter like tree leaves, kitchen waste, dried organic matter could be used. Put in the container and sufficiently water it. Add such organic matter daily to the container for best results.

Add red earth soil to it from time to time. Keep the soil covered with dry crushed leaves layer. If the waste is too wet, dry leaves, soil and newspaper could be added to cover it. This helps reduce water loss due to evaporation. It also protects microbes and organisms in soil from direct radiation and provides food to them.

Liquid Concentrate for Watering: A liquid solution comprising cow urine, fresh cow dung, water and organic black jaggery could also be added for ensuring rapid germination of the seed. Mix one litre cow urine, one kg fresh cow dung and fifty grams of organic black jaggery to make the solution. Keep the mixture for three days and stir it 10-12 times daily. On the fourth day, mix one part of this solution with ten parts of water. This concentrated liquid solution can now be added to the soil on a regular basis.

Plants Can Even Be Grown Without Soil: You would be amazed that kitchen gardening has become so user friendly that one can cultivate scores of vegetables and plants even without soil. Plants can be grown in water in a variety of other soilless media like vermiculite, perlite, sand and cocopeat etc.

Use Cocopeat for Best Results: Cocopeat is considered to be the most economic and versatile media sample for its high water-holding capacity. Cocopeat is a mixture of dust and non-useable fibre ends. Fibres around coconut kernel comprise one-third husk and remaining two-thirds consist of dusty contents rich in nutrients.

The pots/containers should be filled with cocopeat and properly washed with water. The diluted nutrients should then be added to pots like water is added in sufficient quantity once daily as required.

If one wants to avoid the formation of hazels of nutrients one can use good quality vermicompost along with cocopeat in the ratio of 1:3 (1 part vermicompost and 3 parts cocopeat).

Listed below are the many benefits of Cocopeat:

· 1 kg of cocopeat is capable of absorbing seven litres of water and can retain it for many months

· As cocopeat retains water for long duration, it reduces requirement for water and the effort to regularly water the plant. Water to the tune of 80 to 90 per cent is saved

· Hydroponic (soil-less) plants grown in cocopeat grow 50 per cent faster than they would grow in normal soil

· It also eliminates requirement of herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers as cocopeat is nutrient dense. Weed infestation is also checked through Cocopeat

· It provides proper aeration to the roots

· Use of Cocopeat eliminates soil borne diseases and insects

· It prevents runoff and wastage of nutrients in soil

· Cocopeat is conducive for growing more plants in small space as competition for water/nutrients is eliminated

· If cultivated on rooftops, hydroponic plants can even reduce building temperature by 3-5 degrees. They can even be used to fight global warming.

Spray Plants With Neem Oil and Soap Water: Spraying plants with neem oil from time to time is highly effective in preventing pest attacks.

In the case of mealy bug attack (white cottony insects) use simple soap solution for spraying on infected plant.

Usage of Thin Bamboo Sticks: Plants like climbers/vines can be supported on one side of roof/terrace through sticks and thin bamboos. Usage of bamboos also add to the overall décor of the garden

Spray Water on Plants: Occasionally wash the plants by spraying plain water to remove dust for better gas exchange and photosynthesis. A sprinkler could also be used.

Tips for Growing Veggies and Fruits: One can start by growing basic vegetables like mint, basil, kadi patta, haldi, lemon grass, chillies and spinach. They are simplest to grow as they don’t require too much sunlight.

For growing fruits, a grafted sapling is needed. Pomegranate, guava and pineapple should be grown on the terrace garden as it requires lot of space.

Once you get proficient in growing these veggies and fruits, you can try your hand in growing onions, tomatoes, cauliflower, cabbage, radish and capsicum. Keep in mind that tomatoes need to be cultivated on a trellis.

Seasonal: Vegetables such as cauliflower, cabbage, green peas, radish, carrot, bottle gourd, fenugreek, cowpea, ridge gourd, bitter gourd, etc could be grown in the colder climes.

Vegetables like eggplant, coriander, tomato, chilly, spinach, bhindi (okra), chinese vegetables, could be grown all the year round.

(With inputs from Dr. G L Bansal, hydroponics expert with The Art of Living)