Preparing your pot/ grow bag or garden bed – Part1 – Understanding the need

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It has been quite some time I have written my next article. Apologies have been busy with personal work and setting up my shopping cart for all your organic needs including seeds and organic supplements. Lets get started.

Preparing your pot/ grow bag or garden bed

Part1 – Understanding the need

In my previous blog I had written about preparing our own potting mix now that we have prepared it we need to setup the mix in such a way that fits the growing conditions of a plant. You might wonder why I am writing a article on this? Isn’t it a simple task to just fill the pot and sow the seed/ fix a plant. Well not really. Lets see why.

I would like to quote my previous article for reference here. We all know by now the real manufacturer of feed for the plants need are the leaves. However the prime supplier of required nutrients and water to the plants are the roots. Moreover the roots need to spread and establish themselves clearly so that the plant  is stable.

Hence our teacher (the nature) has created the complex system of soil layers to make the above possible. The soil layers are broadly classified into 3 layers.

  • The Top Layer
  • The Sub Soil
  • The Bed rock

This is further classified into horizons namely OABCR

The Top layer: This consists of O and A Horizons. The O horizon is nothing but the partly decomposed materials. This indeed is the surface layer of the topsoil which we see. Then cums the real nutrient and mineral rich soil the A horizon which is the humus rich zone where micro organisms, earthworms and other insects live. This is also rich in mineral content. The soil is mostly porous and well aerated. For records this is the potting mix that we have prepared.

The Sub soil: This is called as the B horizon. This is where the compounds that drain from the O and A horizons settle. This is not as porous as top soil. Mostly it is clayey and thick in nature.

Then comes the C Horizon which is nothing but the partly weathered layer of the bedrock.

The Bed rock: This is the R horizon where the bedrock formation settles.

Now a plants root system is desinged to spread across the top soil in search of nutrients and minerals while the tap root drills down in search of water. By isolating the location of nutrients minerals and water nature makes the roots spread there by giving the plants a stable place above the ground.

Its always interesting to know natures design. To cut the long story short I have just given you a basic understanding on soil layers. While it is not important to design the same formation in our raised beds, pots or grow bags, it is important that we design a basic setup for the plants to thrive. This is called the “sandwich soil” layering method. The above information would help you understand why we need to prepare the soil layers in our pots

Will write about the method sandwich soil layering method next.

Happy gardening folks

Crazy Gardener

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Preparing a healthy soil Part – 2: Preparing the potting mix

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Preparing the potting mix.

As mentioned in my previous article the most preferred soil for growing plants is the alluvial soil. However it is hard to find in southern states except for the locations where you have good flowing rivers but still if you can find it nothing like that. Not all red soil that is being sold is perfect. By itself red soil is poorer in nitrogen, phosphorus and organic materials but rich in potash. Our whole purpose is to convert any soil to a perfect potting mix loose well drained and rich in microorganisms thereby reducing the input of frequent additional nutrition’s.

Materials needed:

  • Good quality soil (let’s assume you have shop bought red soil)
  • Vermi Compost (VC)
  • Neem oil cake
  • Panchagavya (PG)
  • River sand (in small amount)
  • Cocopeat
  • Bonemeal (if you prefer)
  • Powdered egg shells (if available)
  • Rock phosphate (if available)
  • Dry cow dung manure  (CDM in small amounts if available)
  • Dry leaves (in small amounts if available)

As mentioned earlier the idea is to create a potting mix loose, well drained and self-sustaining with microorganisms, hence we are not going to use packed microorganisms such as Pseudomonas, Trichoderma Viride, Azospirillum or Rhizobium. This is a lengthy process but worth the wait.

Preparing the soil: Mildly water the red soil and leave it to naturally dry for 2 days. Believe me the next process is one of the dustiest process hence please use a face mask, head cap and plain goggles and also cover yourself appropriately. This ensures the soil particles to bond first. After 2 days spread the soil and remove any visible debris. The next process is to sieve the soil and separate it to layers with a slightly larger sieve ( I use the ones used in construction sites). While sieving you get 3 different layers.

Sieved red soil
  • The dusty fine soil and fine gravels that could pass through the sieve.
  • Slightly larger gravels that could not enter the sieve but with slightly pressing breaks further.
  • Larger stones mixed with the soil. Do not throw these away they can be used while layering the potting mix in the pot.

I normally mix grains of clayey soil as well to the above.

River soil: River soil helps in much needed root aeration. You can borrow this from any construction sites or purchase a bag full at any building materials shops. Sieve it and remove the larger gravels. Give the soil a good wash at least 2 times.

Soil Mix
Mix of river soil (Top), Red Soil (Middle), Clay Soil (Bottom)

Cocopeat (CP): After expanding the CP block ensure to give it a good wash by soaking it in water at least 3 times to remove any pathogens present in them. Squeeze the excess water and allow it to shade dry at least for 6 hours. I normally give it a warm water wash in the beginning and then wash it 3 times and then tie them in a gunny bag for 2 days. This allows the excess water to drain naturally retaining correct amount of moisture.

Cocopeat (CP)
Finely washed CP rested for a week in gunny bags
Mixing the ingredients

The mixing proportion is going to be 1 portion of red soil in weight: 1 portion of VC in weight: 1 portion of CP in mass volume : ½ portion of river soil measured in weight. Neem cake and other ingredients constituting another portion( I will give the accurate measurements shortly)

In short it would be 1:1:1 proportion. Let’s assume we are preparing a 10kg batch.

First layer the CP measured in mass volume (let’s assume you use a 1 kg mug) add 10 mugs of CP in the bottom. The weight volume would work out to be 3 to 4 kgs tentatively.

Next apply 10 kg of VC and then add 10 kg of soil on top of it. Mix these ingredients first. Now add 5 kgs of river soil and mix well. Now we have prepared the soil mix which is well drained and rich with vermicompost. The total volume is around 28 to 29 kgs.

Start adding other ingredients for every 10 kgs as per the below measurement.

  • Neem oil cake 250 gms
  • Pungam oil cake if using 150 gms. (Not mandatory)
  • Bone meal if using 100 gms (Preferred)
  • Powdered egg shells if using 100gms. (Preferred)
  • Rock phosphate if using 100 gms. (Not mandatory)
Mixed soil topped up with neem oil cake, bone meal and powdered egg shells.

Once mixed well add a litre of PG to this mix and keep mixing well until the soil feels loose. You may add dry CDM and dry leaves to this but ensure the CDM is powdered and the leaves are finely chopped. The Idea behind adding CDM and dry leaves is to facilitate the decomposition process further and to feed microorganisms that would be developing.

Now the potting mix is ready but not completely. Sprinkle some water and dump this mix in jute gunny bags or drums and store in a cool, dry and shady location for minimum of 6 weeks. This process is called resting of soil. Ensure the mix is well aerated, jute gunny bags come in handy for this however if you are using drums ensure they are opened up at least for few hours daily and the soil I turned. 2 times a week sprinkle water over this mix.

Final mix stored in drum. Hope you can feel the soil visibly.

During this soil resting period microorganisms develop in this soil mix converting it to a perfect potting mix. The end result should be a loose well drained soil which looks dry but contains moisture when squeezed. My soil resting period is for 12 weeks and the end result is as below.

The perfect potting mix :). Hope now you can feel the texture change pre and post resting period. The soil smell itself would be different with a mild moisture felt only when squeezed.

Potting soil. Coriander germinated the 3rd day 🙂
Soil texture remains the same even after 1  year (picture post 2015 rains.

Hope this post was useful friends. Please do share your valuable comments and also subscribe to my news letter. Speak to you soon with yet another interesting Practical Article.

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Preparing a healthy soil Part – 1: Knowing the soil

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Preparing a healthy soil Part – 1

Let’s get to know some basics

Many of us prefer to use coco peat (CP) along with vermi compost. Many do market it as the core alternative to soil less gardening. It is light in weight, stores good amount of water and nutrients. However one needs to understand few facts here. CP as a source does not contain any additional nutrients. It does not maintain a suitable environment for natural microbial activities and hence needs top up of nutrients frequently. In my experience CP mix has also been found to be host of mealy bugs sourced by ants. Hence to maintain a cost effective organic garden one needs to know the ways of preparing a potting mix which includes soil and CP. This perfect potting mix will be helpful in sustaining organic growth at pretty low costs.

Why soil?

The properties of soil that affect plant growth include texture, aeration. A vital function of soil is storing and supplying minerals and nutrients essential for plant life. This is referred to as soil fertility. The proportions of clay and organic matter found in soil influence its fertility.

As a regulator and collector of water, soil absorbs and stores moisture for plants and organisms to use. It also shelters plants against extreme temperatures and protects roots from direct sunlight. Moreover, living organisms of various sizes thrive in soil. There are microorganisms and insects in soil that improve it, allowing plants to grow better. These tiny microorganisms, such as fungi and bacteria, decompose the soil and transform old, dead materials into raw materials that plants need for growth.

The quality of soil is important for the health of plants and the humans and animals that consume plants. Organic soil is rich in humus as a result of decaying materials such as leaves, grass clippings and compost. It holds moisture, but drains well. A Good organic soil should be loose and fluffy, filled with air that plant roots need.  It should have plenty of minerals essential for vigorous plant growth. It should be alive with living organisms such as earthworms, fungi and bacteria. Proper pH is also an essential characteristic of healthy soil.

Types of soil found in India

In Indian sub-continent we get six different types of soil. They differ in composition and structure.

Alluvial Soils: These are formed by the deposition of sediments by rivers. They are rich in humus and very fertile.

Black Soils: These soils are made up of volcanic rocks and lava-flow. Rich in Lime, Iron, Magnesium and Potash content it still lacks in Phosphorus, Nitrogen and Organic matter.

Red Soils: These are derived from weathering of ancient metamorphic rocks of Deccan Plateau. Its redness is due to iron composition. When iron content is lower it is yellow or brown.

Laterite Soils: These soils are formed due to in­tense leaching and are well developed on the sum­mits of hills and uplands.

Mountain Soils: These soils are formed as a result of the accumulation of organic matter derived from forest growth. They are found in Himalayan region and vary in different regions according to altitude.

Desert Soils: As evaporation is in excess of rainfall, the soil has a high salt content and saline layer forms a hard crust. These soils are gen­erally sandy and deficient in organic matter.

Gardeners prefer red soil which naturally develops in a warm, temperate, wet climate that have thin organic and mineral layers. This blends well with organic mix and gives the plants a lush faster growth. However the perfect soil for preparing a good quality organic potting mix would be an alluvial soil. With my little experience I can vouch you can also turn the clayey soil found in many parts of the city into a perfect soil with a bit of hard work.

I will write in detail about the much awaited perfect soil mix as the second part of this article.

Note: My Tamil typing software is having some problems identifying advanced grammar content. Will write this as a separate article in Tamil once the issue is resolved.

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