Gardening is one of those hobbies which refreshes and rejuvenates you. Spending some time digging in the garden also is one pleasant way of exercising. Gardening increases the aesthetic value of a house as well as provides fresh produce the year round. More and more people are getting involved in home gardening as awareness for fresh organic produce is increasing by the day.
I have always been associated with gardening whether I have space for it or not. As much as possible I love to start from seeds, rather than buying plants from the nursery. Watching the seeds take shape into plants from sprouting to flowering and then fruiting gives immense joy and a sense of satisfaction to me. Its a whole life unfolding before my eyes. By involving in gardening and growing plants I feel I am giving back something to the earth.
Good quality soil, sufficient water and ample sunlight creates a successful garden. You don’t need acres of land to get started with gardening. Even a sunny window sill, some old unused plastic containers or sacks and the soil found around, are pretty much enough for growing the kitchen essential plants. But if you do have some space around your house, then you should put it to the maximum use and create a good and worthy garden.
Though there are certain basics to gardening too, most of the learning comes through experience by trial and error. We get to know a lot by observing the growth of plants at every stage. So though we can definitely learn a lot from the internet and books, practical experience works the best. Again what works good for my tomatoes and chillies here, may not work very well for you in some other part of the world. Nevertheless, that little bit of intent and passion in you will create the best garden.
My focus here will be on how to create a home garden, without any great investment. I am not a professional gardener, but a homemaker who loves gardening. Most of what comes up here is my personal experience with plants. I have never had great spaces around my house, but still have done some effective gardening. The house that I am presently in has a backyard which is fully cemented. So I was inspired into container gardening and am just loving it.
Lets get down gardening…
1) Understanding basic needs of plants
Just like us humans, plants too have certain basic needs viz, air, water and light. All plants need ample amounts of sunlight. So always plan your garden in a way that it basks in sunlight for most of the day. Even cold weather plants require quite a bit of sunlight.
Don’t ever try gardening without sunlight. In one of the houses that we lived, we had a decent backyard for gardening. Our Filipino neighbour had a huge drumstick tree in her house, which totally blocked sunlight in my backyard. But I wasn’t the one to give up so easily. I tried reflecting the sunlight by keeping mirrors here and there, switching on the backyard light throughout night etc. But seriously nothing worked. The plants were growing alright, but they never flowered or gave fruits. It was a total waste of my energy. From then on I decided I will never do gardening if there is no sunlight.
Good soil is a must for good returns in gardening. The soil outside is usually enough, when you are gardening for the first time around your house. But for the next season you need to replenish the soil as it gets depleted of nutrients, after the first time. Mixing up the soil with a bit of sand helps in proper drainage of water. Adding some compost or manure can also increase the nutrients in the soil.
If you are growing in pots, then buy or prepare a quality potting mix. I prefer to fill soil/dirt only upto 2 ⁄ 3rds of the pot, so that i have space to add manure, compost etc without disturbing the roots.
Then there is something called the pH (Power of hydrogen/Potential of hydrogen) of the soil, which is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of the soil. The value of 7 is considered neutral. Acid soils have pH below 7 and alkaline soils have pH more than 7. Most plants do well in the pH range of 5.5 to 7.5. There are simple kits to measure the pH of a soil. I’ll get to it later. But seriously I have never bothered about all this.
Rather this is what I usually do. During the lean period like the hot summer months, when all the plants die, I just dig the soil and dump the everyday kitchen wastes into it and cover it with soil. By the time the season starts, everything gets decomposed, nourishing the soil.
Water is another important need of every plant. Some like melons and gourds require lots of water, while some do not need much water. While in summers and at temperatures as high as 40ºC or more, you may have to water twice a day, in winters you can get away watering once in 2 or 3 days.
The best way to judge if you need to water the plant is by poking your finger into the soil. If its dry, you need to water, else you don’t have to. If you are growing in pots then I would suggest that you water, till it starts leaking through the drain holes at the bottom. Then you will know exactly if you are over watering or under watering. I keep the drain plate at the bottom, which is very helpful during summers. Some people feel watering till it comes out through drain holes, will wash out the nutrients too, but this method works for me.
2) Seasonal Planting
You should always have a basic idea, of what plant to grow in which season. Generally as a rule of thumb cool climate crops like broccoli, peas etc will grow when the climate is cool, and okra, brinjal etc grow when it is warm. If you try the other way round, you will be disappointed. So when you get down to gardening , plan your plants according to the season .
Another thing to be noted is that, be it cool or warm climate crop when the seeds germinate they need warmth. If the soil is cold, frozen or very hot they will not come up. Because of this reason, most gardeners germinate the seeds indoor and then transplant it after it grows a few leaves. Also mixing a teaspoon of cinnamon powder into the soil before sowing will protect the seeds from ant like insects.
3) Garden tools
For a small home garden, you do not need any great gardening tool. But these basic ones will make your job easy.
Trovel – is a small tool with a pointed scoop shaped metal blade and a handle. It helps a great deal in digging and mixing.
Rake – is a small handy metal broom and is mainly used in gathering together dead leaves and loosening soil.
Garden shears – are scissor like tool which help greatly in pruning plants.
Shovel – is a large metal blade with wooden handle, usually used to dig and move big sized materials. You do not need this if you are into container gardening.
Garden spray bottle – This is not a tool essentially, but is a must have for every gardener. It is very helpful to spray fertilisers and pesticides on plants.
These are the only tools I use in my home gardening. For people in Qatar, you can get all these tools at Ramez for a very reasonable price.
4) Plant care
Gardening is not throwing some seeds into the soil, watering them and relaxing. Some effort definitely goes in creating a worthy garden. You need to keep watching them as they grow. If not daily atleast twice a week is a must. If the plants don’t look healthy then there is definitely some issue to be taken care of.
Apart from the basic needs of air, light and water plants need nutrients to grow. The Macro nutrients are NPK or Nitrogen, Phosphorus & Potassium. All these three play a vital role in photosynthesis, as well as help in the growth of leaves, flowers and fruits. Then there are the secondary macro nutrients Carbon, Calcium and Magnesium as well as the micro nutrients like Copper, Zinc, Iron , Manganese etc. Shortage in any of these will impact plant growth. I will deal in depth on this in my fertiliser post.
The second important thing, you have to look out for are the pests. Most of them are on the underside of the leaf. Some of them are wonderfully camouflaged that most certainly you will miss them. If you are into organic gardening like me, then you will have a hard time handling pests. ‘Prevention is better than cure’ works the best here. That is, whether you spot pests or not, you have to spray pesticide every alternate week. There are a lot of organic pesticide recipes with garlic, onions, chillies etc which curb the pests without harming the plants. More on this in my pesticide post.
5) Other factors
When growing green leafy vegetables like the Indian greens or herbs like cilantro, do not let it overgrow. If you keep picking the leaves regularly, you will get a steady supply, else they will start bolting. Bolting induces growth of flowers and seeds in leafy plants and herbs, making the stems woody and the leaves bitter.
While picking vegetables and fruits from the garden, make sure you pick everyone of them ready for harvest. I read somewhere that leaving a few fruits or vegetables on the plant, induces a psychic reaction in plants, making them feel they have overproduced that season. So in the subsequent seasons the production will come down drastically. Whether true or not, I have had that experience with my plants, as I only take what I want and leave the rest on the plants.
Prune your plants regularly. When you pinch off the top most bunch of growth the plant starts to branch out. This induces flowering and fruiting especially in gourds, which normally produce male flowers in the main stem and female flowers in the lateral stems. Pinching off runners from creepers like strawberry and suckers in tomatoes will give a good yield.
6) Must knows
Mulch is a layer of material that is applied on the surface of the soil to protect the plants or insulate them. Mulching can help in enriching the soil, control weeds, prevent evaporation during the hot months, and maintain soil temperature. The materials used for mulching varies based on the need. Mulching can be organic or inorganic.
Organic mulches are normally barks, grass clippings, cocoa shells, newspaper, straw etc which decompose into the soil. These also provide nutrition to a certain extent, apart from preventing weeds. Inorganic mulches are usually plastic sheets or stones/pebbles which are mainly for providing aesthetics.
I mulch my plants with everyday kitchen wastes and scraps. Though the best way to use up kitchen wastes is by composting, I find this method the easiest of all. It does not look appealing, but provides so much nutrition to the plant.
Use only the uncooked kitchen wastes, as cooked wastes will give out a very bad odour and will be breeding ground for insects like cockroaches. Though the uncooked kitchen wastes do attract a few insects like the fruit fly, house fly etc it will not smell foul. You can get rid of flies too by lightly scattering soil over the mulch if it becomes bothersome.
I have found out that mulching a plant with its own kitchen wastes is very beneficial and enhances the growth of the plant. For instance, mulch the snake gourd plant, with its own kitchen wastes, whenever you happen to use it. After all the fruit of any plant will contain all the nutrients it requires. Similarly with the dry leaves of the plants. And coz its organic mulch it will decompose quickly and can be replenished frequently.
This is a must know for organic gardening as well as for people limited on space. Just like us humans, some plants get along well with others, while struggling with a few. Companions provide some sort of support, mutual in some cases. For instance the famous 3 sister companion planting in vogue for thousands of years in North America.
The 3 sisters are the maize/corn, squash, and bean and all the three benefit from each other. The corn provides pole for the bean to climb, the bean provides nitrogen for the other two, while the squash acts as a living mulch deterring pests and preventing weedy growth.
Similarly while there are a lot of plants which help each other, there are also plants which simply cannot co-exist. There are a lot of companion planting charts on the internet, still we can get to know a lot by observing how plants fare together in our garden.
Thus by having a basic idea of companion planting, you can save on space by growing varieties of plants in a single pot. This is also one way of providing fertilisers and pesticides to the plants organically. Coming up with in depth details on this in my companion planting post.
Those were the very basics for a simple home garden, from my viewpoint and experience. In future posts will get down to the specifics like making your own fertilisers and pesticides, plant wise growing needs, container gardening and more. I am glad that you are here and hope you will join me in my garden expeditions.