Getting started with gardening

marigold saplings

Getting started with gardening or gardening for beginners was long overdue. Wanted to post this before the start of the 2020 growing season in Qatar, but somehow did not materialize.

This year started up with the post well in advance, still got delayed. But I am going ahead with the post as it’s better late than never 🙂  . Hopefully, this post will help you in creating your own beautiful garden from scratch.

So why is growing your own plants important? Apart from the fact that you get chemical-free produce, you get to play a part in nurturing and balancing the ecosystem.

This is why it is more important to grow plants without using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Usage of these for years on end has polluted everything that we consume – air, water, and food.

It is going to take even longer to bring them back to their original pure state. For which every human on earth should start contributing in his or her small way.

Growing a garden is one such small way of doing your bit for the earth. Agreed, a small garden in one corner of your house will not bring about a great impact on pollution or climate change 🙂  .

But when all of us do it, the collective effort will definitely bring about something. If nothing at all at least we can release more oxygen into the atmosphere (by growing plants) than the CFC’s and HFC’s (from our AC’s and refrigerators).

Apart from that, a garden can soothe, calm and comfort you and you can definitely handle stress better. The satisfaction of bringing food from the pot to the table is indescribable, especially when you are involved in every stage of its production.

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It doesn’t matter if you do not have space for gardening. Just a sunlit wall is enough to grow quite a few plants with vertical wall planters. For people with very limited space, stackable pots are also available.

If nothing at all, just buy a few suitable hanging pots and hang them from your windows. If there is a will there is always some way 🙂  .

So guys, if you are not into gardening get started today. Help is easily available these days as there are so many people sharing their experiences on the net. Of course, I shall do my bit in guiding you with my experiences.

The focus here will be on growing in small spaces or in containers as I have been used to that. I have never been into farming as we do not own any agricultural land.

arai keerai

Before getting started make sure you have that small passion or intent to create a garden and just a bit of your time every day for it. Without these main ingredients, even the best of conditions will not sustain or create a thriving garden.

The 3 most important things for even getting started with gardening are soil, water, and sunlight.

There is no match for conventional soil. Though these days soil is replaced by a lot of other mediums like organic and inorganic mixes like cocopeat, perlite, vermiculite, compost, etc. And then there are hydroponics and aquaponics which do not require soil at all.

sweet potato

From the small space around my house

Water and sunlight are the other important needs of a plant. Still, frequent watering may not be needed for plants like succulents and sunlight may not be an issue for plants growing in the shade or indoor plants.

Let’s get to the details. Again, this post is based on my experience over the years with gardening and I am not a professional gardener. Am just a homemaker who is heart and soul into gardening.

You may not get any professional advice. Nevertheless, I can assure you that you can create a wonderful garden from scratch through this post of mine.

Soil

The most basic ingredient for any garden. Soil has always been the preferred medium for growing plants. It holds the plants in place as well as soaks itself up with the water and nutrients that the plants need for growth. Above all this, it nurtures the growth of microorganisms which is what keeps the soil alive.

Soil can be clayey, sandy, loamy or there can be even red soil or black soil. Each soil type has its own qualities which may or may not suit a particular plant. So it will do good to first learn what kind of soil is available for you to start a garden.

garden soil

Reading the Soil

Now, the first thing you notice when you look at the garden soil is the color. Whether it is light or dark in color or something in between.

Then when you take it in your hand you notice its texture. That is if it’s light, heavy, if it contains lots of gravel, sand, or is soft. All these do play an important part in assessing the soil.

Next, try digging up the soil. The top few inches may be easy to dig. After that, it becomes a bit harder, and then deeper inside it becomes very hard to dig. That is coz of the different layers the soil contains which make up the soil profile.

Soil fertility

Soil fertility is the capacity of soil to provide crops with essential plant nutrients. It can be classified as physical fertility, chemical fertility, and biological fertility.

  • Physical properties of the soil, like structure, texture, water absorption, holding capacity, etc are called physical fertility.
  • Chemical fertility is about the nutrient levels and the chemical conditions such as acidity, alkalinity, and salinity that may be harmful or toxic to the plant.
  • Biological fertility refers to the organisms that live in the soil and help the plants by performing a number of vital functions.

Soil profile

There are 3 layers or horizons as they are called that make up the soil profile – the topsoil, subsoil, and parent material. The topsoil which contains more air and organic matter is generally the most fertile layer and has the highest concentration of plant roots.

The subsoil contains more clay and a lesser amount of organic matter, while the parent material consists of bedrocks and does not contain any organic matter.

Soil texture

Sand, silt, and clay are what a normal soil is made up of and the relative proportions or combinations of these three give the soil its texture. Most soils are a combination of the three, which is a loamy soil generally considered good for most plants.

Light soil refers to soil high in sand relative to clay, while heavy soils are made up largely of clay. To understand the soil type, a soil texture triangle is used by professional gardeners. The 3 sides of the triangle show the clay, silt, and sand in percentages.

soil texture triangle

Garden soil is collected from several parts of the garden, mixed with water, and allowed to settle. The 3 distinct layers of sand, silt, and clay that form are measured in cms and converted into percentages. These measurements are set into the texture triangle to find out which kind of soil your garden has.

Anything towards the center of the triangle is considered good for the garden. This much detailing is not needed for a small home garden, still for the general know-how am adding it in the post. The youtube video below guides you on how to test your own soil.

Soil color

Moving over to color.  Grainy topsoil with light or pale colors is associated with low organic matter content & high sand content. Those with lots of organic material are dark brown or black.

Color can tell us about the soil’s mineral content. Deep orange-brown to yellowish-brown soil indicates high iron content in the soil.

Color can also tell us how soil behaves. A soil that drains well is brightly colored. Dark soil colors may result from poor drainage. Shades of red indicate a clay soil is well-aerated, while shades of gray indicate inadequate drainage.

Soil pH

The full form of pH is the potential of Hydrogen or simply put the concentration of hydrogen ions. Soil pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of the soil. It is an important indicator of soil health.

A pH scale ranges from 0 to 14 with pH values above 7 being alkaline or basic and below 7 being acidic. Most soils have pH values between 3.5 and 10. In higher rainfall areas the natural pH of soils typically ranges from 5 to 7, while in drier areas the range is 6.5 to 9.

Since the pH scale is logarithmic, each unit on the scale has 10 fold acidity or alkalinity. This means compared to a pH of 7.0, a pH of 6.0 is ten times more acidic, and a pH of 5.0 is 100 times more acidic.

A pH value of 6.5 to 7.5 is considered neutral soil. Less than 6.5 is acidic soil and above 7.5 is alkaline soil. Soils with a pH less than 5.5 are considered strongly acidic.

A soil pH of 6.5 to 7 is considered ideal for most plants. Though, some plants like blueberries, gooseberries, sweet corn, cucumber, etc prefer acidic soil while some like asparagus prefer alkaline soil.

Now, why should you be worried about the pH of the soil? Coz, pH affects crop yields, crop suitability,  plant nutrient availability, and soil micro-organism activity.

The availability of nutrients to the plant is strongly linked to the pH of the soil solution. The pH affects how tightly nutrients are bound to soil particles.

If the soil pH is extremely high (basic) or very low (acidic), many nutrients become inaccessible to the plant because they are no longer dissolved in the soil water.

For instance, soil pH values below 5.5 and between 7.5 and 8.5 limits the availability of phosphate to plants. Acidic soils make the micronutrients like manganese (Mn), zinc (Zn), copper (Cu), and iron (Fe) more available.

At pH values of less than 5.5 toxic levels of Manganese(Mn), Zinc(Zn), or Aluminium(Al) can be released into the soil. The soil may become deficient in secondary nutrients, Calcium or Magnesium.

Soils with high organic matter content are able to resist a drop or rise in pH as they have a greater buffering capacity. Sandy soils commonly have low organic matter content, resulting in a low buffering capacity, high rates of water percolation, and infiltration making them more vulnerable to acidification.

So you can see how important the pH of the soil is for plant growth. Farmers generally use fertilizers such as sulfur or ammonium-based nitrogen fertilizers to make the soil more acidic. And lime or dolomite is used to reduce acidity.

You can do a simple DIY soil pH test using 2 ingredients in your pantry-vinegar and baking soda.

  • Take about a handful of soil in a container and add half a cup of vinegar to it. If the mixture fizzes the soil is alkaline.
  • Similarly,  in some soil, add a bit of water to moisten it and then add half a cup of baking soda. If it fizzes, the soil is considered acidic.

If there is no reaction the soil is considered neutral. But this is a very rough calculation of soil pH. Also, inexpensive, easy-to-use field kits are available for testing pH values, but these too provide only an approximate value.

So, if you are into commercial gardening you can get your soil tested which will help determine the health and fertility of the soil. Apart from this the base saturation rate and the cation exchange capacity(CEC) can also be tested.

Base saturation is the ratio of the 5 nutrients potassium, magnesium, calcium, hydrogen, and sodium in percentages. Too much of any nutrient is not good for the plant.

Cation exchange capacity is the holding capacity of the soil. The higher the number the more amount of water, nutrients, and pesticides the soil can hold.

Reading soil through the weeds

Weeds are an indicator of soil health. They often indicate something amiss with the soil though at times something good too.

So large patches of a particular kind of weed can be taken as a symptom to rectify the soil. Few examples below.

  • Dandelion which is an edible weed indicates soil that is compacted and poor in calcium. They have long taproots which help in breaking up the soil.
  • Chicory also an edible weed indicates a rich soil high in nitrogen.
  • Most kinds of moss indicate soggy acidic soil, low in nutrients.
  • Mustard indicates dry sandy soil high in phosphorous.
  • Oxalis or wood sorrel indicates low calcium and high Magnesium.
  • Purslane, also an edible weed, indicates a rich soil high in phosphorous

You can google up more details on weeds as you spot them in your garden.

Soil life

The soil is abuzz with activity with communities of microorganisms like bacteria, fungi & protozoa, apart from earthworms. These organisms form the life of the soil, keep the soil fertile, and constitute soil biodiversity.

Soil organisms play a major role in processing the organic matter in the soil. The well-being of all plants and land-based animals depends on the complex processes that take place in the soil.

Soil stores carbon mainly in the form of organic matter, and is the second-largest carbon pool on Earth, after the oceans. The more organic matter there is in soil, the better a carbon sink it can be.

In fact, though not visible to the naked eye, there is more life beneath the surface of the soil than above it. There are billions of microbes in just a tablespoon of soil.

The area of the soil around the roots is called the rhizosphere. This region is full of microorganisms like bacteria and fungi that feed on the compounds or exudates secreted by the plant and in turn help the plant.

For instance, bacteria like azotobacter and rhizobium help in fixing atmospheric nitrogen in the soil, while pseudomonas produces various biologically active compounds such as antibiotics and lytic enzymes.

Protozoa graze on the bacteria and help in regulating the bacterial population in the soil. They also help in maintaining soil fertility by releasing nutrients when they digest bacteria. Trichoderma viride is a naturally occurring beneficial soil fungus which protects the plants from soil-borne fungal pathogens.

Earthworms aerate the soil and consume organic matter excreting castings which are rich in water-soluble plant nutrients. Worm castings have an N-P-K ratio of about 3.2-1.1-1.5.

It is packed with minerals that are essential for plant growth, such as concentrated nitrates, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, and calcium.

It also contains minerals like manganese, copper, zinc, cobalt, borax, iron, carbon, and nitrogen. The point to note is that these minerals are immediately available to the plant, without the risk of ever burning the plant.

The fertility of the soil is dependent on the number of microorganisms and other organisms in the soil. Hence our major focus should be to increase them in the soil so that there is a continuous supply of nutrients to the plants.

Water

Water is another essential need for plant growth. All major processes taking place in a plant require water. Up to 95% of the plant’s tissue is made up of water.

Water helps in transporting minerals and nutrients dissolved in the soil water from the soil to the plant. The uptake of water by the plants will vary according to the climatic conditions and plant type which will determine the water need of the plant.

watering plants

For instance, during summers or when the climate is dry, plants will need more water. While in winters or in moist weather conditions it will need a considerably lesser amount of water.

Also, thick-skinned plants like succulents do not need frequent watering while the gourd varieties require ample amounts of water.

It is always a good idea to water the plants only when they need water. You can determine this by poking your finger, around 1-2 inches into the soil. If it seems dry, water it else avoid watering.

Another thing to be noted is that whenever you water your plants, water them thoroughly. In containers, you can water till the water starts to come out of the holes at the bottom.

Low moisture will cause browning of plant tissues and leaf curling, eventually leading to plant death.

Excess water can lead to root rot. Ensure that there are drain holes at the bottom of the pots to drain excess water.

When watering garden plants, it’s important to provide a thorough, deep watering rather than frequent, light watering to encourage deeper root growth.

Sunlight

Sunlight is the energy that propels the earth. The sun’s energy is absorbed by the plants which in turn convert it into food for the other living beings on the earth.

Sunlight is needed for all plants to perform their principal function of photosynthesis. Some plants can thrive in shade, while some plants can thrive in partial sunlight. Even indoor plants need a little bit of sunlight.

sunlight

But most plants require a good amount of sunlight to perform their normal functions. Hence plan your garden at a place in your house where you get maximum sunlight. Balconies, rooftops, and window sills can be good enough if you do not have other space around you.

Also, place in the plants in a way that one plant does not block sunlight for another plant. For instance, in 1 pot with tall plants like okra, tomato, brinjal, etc you can plan to grow short plants like coriander, greens etc.

As the plants grow taller, remove the base leaves so that the small plants growing at the base will get enough sunlight.

Getting started

Now that you have decided to create a garden, the first thing you have to decide is what you want to grow. Or rather what you can grow given the availability of air, water, sunlight, and the kind of soil that you have access to at your place of living.

So basically when you start out the climatic conditions at your place and the variations throughout the year will determine what you can grow.

For instance, here in Qatar, our growing season is roughly between September and March when all gardeners become active. The temperature drops considerably at times to even 9°C.

People flock to the local nurseries which brim with bright colorful flowering plants, vegetable saplings, and flower and fruit seeds. And you can grow pretty much anything from gourds to carrots and cabbages.

The Government also encourages people during the growing season by providing saplings and seeds at the vegetable markets at affordable prices. Roadside parks with colorful flowers are a treat to the eyes.

roadside garden

Roadside garden

Hot months start from April, and peak in July-August when literally all plants die. Apart from that most people go to their home countries during the summer months, so the plants perish anyway.

Preparing the pots and the soil 

Pots

Pots are available in all kinds of sizes. They vary from terracotta to plastic and even Ceramic and cement pots. Plastic pots are the cheapest of all. Other than that UV stabilized grow bags are also available.

These last for quite some time. The grow bags that I got from India 3 years back are still going strong. Here in Qatar, I bought from FFC for as low as QR 1.5/- though I am not sure of how long they will last.

But there is no hard and fast rule that you need to use store-bought pots for growing. You can use just about any container that can hold the soil and the plant.

I have successfully grown lady’s finger in the 1kg yogurt containers and the best part is one has thrived the summer and has started flowering this year too 😀  .

lady's finger

You can use plastic containers, water cans, paint cans, cardboard boxes, thermocol boxes, etc. I have even used the 5kg rice bags, lining the inside with a plastic bag.

So the options are many. If you are looking at aesthetics then you may have to invest in pots. But if you have unwanted plastic containers, do put them into reuse this way.

Rice sacks usage

Reusing rice bags

Whatever the container you use, ensure that there are enough drainage holes at the bottom so that the excess water drains off. Most store-bought containers and grow bags come with drainage holes, but if they don’t make them yourself. Three or four holes should be good enough.

Next, you need to cover the holes with pebbles, shells, or coconut shells. I normally use coconut shells, by breaking them into smaller pieces and covering the holes.

Preparing pot

This ensures that the soil does not cover the holes and water drains without getting blocked. If the water does not drain and collects at the bottom of the pot, it can lead to root rot and eventually the plant dies.

The depth and size of the pot also generally depend on the plant you are growing. Shallow rooted plants like strawberries can be grown in 4″ depth containers, while plants with long taproots will need bigger deeper pots.

But as far as I am concerned, I let them grow in small or medium-sized pots as long as they are okay and rarely change pots. This is coz, I find it easy to handle my pots when I keep moving them from the front to back yards depending on the sunlight availability.

In my view, as long as you can provide them with water and nourishment they can thrive in any pot. Though the growth of plants growing in the soil can never be compared to the ones growing in pots.

So if you have spaces around, that will be the best option for gardening. Container gardening can be opted when you have no other choice, or you have lots of cemented areas around the house like me.

Soil preparation

Preparing the soil is one of the most important part of gardening, more so when you are into container gardening. For small spaces around you can dig up the area, add manure like cow dung, and compost if you have.

Mix up the soil well, water it, and let it be for a day or two before sowing or planting. This is for empty spaces. But if u already have some plants, prune the plants for the season and add some compost and manure at the base, after raking the topsoil.

What I used to do was to dig up the soil and add the kitchen wastes into it and cover it with soil during the lean period. As much as possible, I tried to cover the entire area I had before the start of the season.

By the time the season started, the soil would become nourished enough to grow the plants.

To prepare the soil for the pots, take a good amount of garden soil or any soil available outside your house. Remove the big stones and unwanted stuff from them.

Preparing soil

Add some compost, cow dung manure, cocopeat, potting soil, and neem cake to it. Mix well and fill the pots around 2/3 or 3/4th with this mix.

To transfer a plant make a cavity in the center. Carefully remove the plant with the soil and place it in the cavity. Add more soil and cover the base of the plant completely and water it.

transplanting the plant

There is no specific measurement for soil preparation. Everyone has their own proportion. I prefer taking 50% garden soil and 50% being the remaining ingredients.

Cocopeat helps in retaining moisture and keeps the pot lightweight to handle. So I add around 20 -25% of it. Here you get it in powder form. In India, it’s available as blocks or bricks too.

If you happen to buy the bricks, you have to soak them in water and break them once they expand.

Compost and/or vermicompost can form another 10 – 15% if you have. If you don’t, fill about a fourth of the pot with the soil mix, then add a layer of kitchen wastes, and then put the remaining soil on top. This method has also worked for me.

Next comes potting soil. Potting soil is mainly cocopeat or peat moss enriched with essential nutrients for the plant. This is easily available in all gardening-related stores or nurseries.

Completely filling the pot with the potting soil never worked for me. Hence I mix a few handfuls around 10%.

Then comes cow dung manure which I add the least quantity of around 5%. Too much has not been helping my plants.

The water that comes out of the drain holes with too much cow dung is yellow in color and stains the cemented floor of the yard.

A rough measure would be for every 2 parts garden soil, 1 part cocopeat, 1/2  compost, 1/4th part potting soil, 1/8th cow dung, and 1/8th neem cake.  A bit of Trichoderma viride can also be added.

If the cow dung has not been properly dried, it breeds worms that infect the plant. But when you are gardening with some space around your house you can add more of everything.

Seeds

Once you have evaluated the general growing conditions, you need to procure the seeds. Seeds and saplings of the plants that can grow in a locality are mostly available in the local nurseries.

These days you get different varieties of seeds through online shops. In India, quite a few people are collecting and selling native seeds through their youtube channels and Facebook groups.

You can try buying seeds that way too. Growing from seeds does take some time compared to growing through saplings.

Wherever you buy the seeds there is no guarantee that they will all germinate. Still, for me growing from seeds is a blissful experience, as I see a new life unfold before my eyes 🙂  .

But just with the seeds and stems of fruits and vegetables that you get at the local market, you can grow a whole lot of them. Here are a few that I have tried growing successfully.

The general rule that you need to remember is to water gently after sowing the seeds and place the pots in partial sunlight or in a place where they can access the morning or evening rays.

Also, ensure that you completely wash the seeds off their pulp if any, and dry the seeds for a day or two before sowing. The pulp can attract worms and insects which may not let the seeds germinate.

Seeds need warmth for germinating. If the soil is hot or cold it will not sprout. During such conditions, you can germinate them indoors.

Many gardeners practice seed treatment which is nothing but soaking the seeds in some kind of nutrient solution like panchakavya. This is made using cow dung and cow urine and in India, it is considered the best nutrient for plants.

Treating the seeds makes them more viable and resistant to diseases while germinating. I have not tried seed treatment so far. I will update with pics when I try that out.

Also, it is good practice to sow the seeds in a nursery tray and transplant them when they grow a few inches. In this way, you can control the growing conditions of the seed and also get to select healthy plants once they have grown.

The soil for the nursery tray is generally a good quality potting soil. You can make your own too by mixing compost with cocopeat.

But for me, it has always been directly into the soil 😀  .

Over to the seeds…

1)From the pantry

Coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds, mustard seeds, and chillies. 

Fenugreek seeds or methi and mustard can be grown by just sprinkling the seeds over the soil and then covering it with a layer of soil. Water gently and ensure that the soil is moist. It will sprout in 2-3 days.

fenugreek leaves

Fenugreek leaves/methi

Same with chillies. The seeds that you find in the dry red chillies in your pantry can be used to grow chilly plants. The small round ones, big long ones, hot chillies or mildly spicy ones, anything you can choose to grow.

chilly plants

Chilly plants

For coriander, it’s slightly different. One whole coriander actually has 2 seeds. So you need to apply mild pressure by using a rolling pin or some small lightweight wood rollers to break it into 2 parts.

coriander

Once you break it, scatter the seeds over the soil and cover it with a thin layer of soil as you did with the mustard and fenugreek. It takes about 5 days to sprout when the climate is favorable. Else, it takes longer.

2)From the store-bought vegetables

1)Mint, ginger, garlic, turmeric and shallots

Mint can be easily grown from the stalks of the mint that you get from the stores. You just need to put the stalks in the soil, cover it with a good layer of soil, keep it in a partially sunny spot and keep watering.

Some people root the stalks in water and then transfer them to the soil. But I find this method more workable for me. In 15 days you can start harvesting mint.

mint

Mint/Pudina

Ginger, garlic, turmeric, and shallots or small onions can be grown with the ones that we get from the stores. It will take quite some time for the roots to bud and develop and you can harvest only when the plant completely dries up.

Meanwhile, you can use the leaves of shallots, garlic, and turmeric. Young Garlic can be pulled out before maturing and used as green garlic which is popularly used like spring onions.

garlic

Garlic

Turmeric leaves are used to steam dumplings like modak in India as it imparts a mild flavor to the food. It is also used as a herb in many parts of India.

Mom used to put ginger pieces in the pots whenever she happened to buy. I remember her telling me to dig out and bring a piece whenever she made chutney. And they were always available for her 🙂  .

Ginger and turmeric can be soaked in water the night before to remove the chemicals if any sprayed on them to prevent sprouting.

2)Brinjal, Tomato, cherry tomato, Capsicum

The seeds of matured store-bought brinjal can be used to grow them. Similarly, you can collect the seeds of the best-tasting tomatoes and cherry tomatoes dry them, and use them for growing your own. These come up easily.

Tomato saplings

Tomato plants

So also with the capsicum. The seeds of all the colored ones that you buy can be dried and sowed. They do come up and fruit.

capsicum

Capsicum

3)Melons and gourds

If you have space to let the creepers and climbers grow then you can try pumpkin, ash gourd/winter melon, musk melon, and watermelon. All these come up easily from the seeds of the store-bought ones.

Of the gourds, bitter gourd can be grown from the seeds of a ripe bitter gourd. Wash off the red coat before sowing. Snake gourd, ridge gourd, bottle gourd, sponge gourd, and chayote can be grown from matured seeds.

chayote

Chayote

In the supermarkets, it’s very difficult to find a tender gourd, matured ones are easily available 😀  . So whenever I buy gourds I look for the hard matured already broken gourds and take out a few seeds from them. At times, I even buy a small matured piece for seed sake.

Snake gourd seeds

Seeds collected from matured snake gourds at the stores

I have successfully grown snake gourd and bottle gourd this way. Cucumber can also be grown with the mature seeds that you find in the store-bought vegetable.

snake gourd

Short snake gourd

 

4)Beans and peas

Green bean is one vegetable that comes up beautifully with matured seeds. The seeds of the matured beans that we find difficult to cut can be used for this. They give bunches of beans even when just a few inches in height.

bean plant

Bean plant

A few fresh shelled peas that I had kept in the refrigerator had sprouted. When I put them in the soil these came up and gave a good quantity of peas.

pea plant

Pea plant

But these two plants are very short-lived. Once the chill weather changes they start drying up. Still, you can grow them when they come up.

5)Root vegetables

Most root vegetables that we purchase from the stores can be grown at home. Potatoes,  Chinese potatoes(koorkan kizhangu), Colocasia (arvi/taro), sweet potatoes all come up easily.

Colocasia plant

Chembu/Taro/Arvi

Potatoes come up only in winter while the rest of them come up throughout the year. The leaves of sweet potatoes and colocasia are highly nutritious and can be used as greens.

sweet potato leaves

Sweet potato 

6)Greens 

Most greens come up through seeds that can be purchased from a local nursery or through online stores. But there are a few which can come up through stems. By just putting these in the soil you can grow them.

Ponnanganni

Ponnanganni keerai/ Sessile joyweed

A few examples are the Malabar spinach(Pasalai keerai), water spinach(vella keerai), Ceylon spinach(chedi pasalai)and sessile joyweed (ponnanganni). A few amaranth varieties like the red and green thandu keerai also come up through stems.

malabar spinach

If you can get a drumstick stem from a neighbor you can try growing that too.

3)Growing fruit plants from store-bought seeds

As far as fruits are concerned I sow the seeds of all the tasty fruits that I get to eat 😀  . Other than papaya, none of them have fruited so far. Still, I keep trying for the love of trees.

So far I have grown mango, lemon, apple, jack fruit, custard apple, papaya, chickoo, guava, grapes, strawberries from seeds. You can try growing them too if you are adventurous.

strawberry

Strawberry

Fruit trees take a long time to reproduce, so try if you have the patience for it. Else you can buy dwarf varieties of fruit trees conducive for growing in pots which will give fruits in a year or two.

I even managed to grow an apple tree and an avocado tree in a pot. Unfortunately, the apple tree which survived two summers here, perished this year with the avocado as I was away on vacation.

Trees in pots

Avacado and apple trees in pots

The seeds of the golden globe grapes that we get here in Qatar too, come up easily. But coz of the extreme heat and cold here, they tend to become dormant. Still, hoping 🙂 .

grapes

Grapevine

This mango tree I grew from the seed of an alphonso mango. Look at the size of the leaf though I was growing it in a small pot

 

Mango tree and leaf

Mango tree and its leaf

Same with these guava trees grown from the seeds of store-bought Srilankan guavas.

guava

Guava plant

All these are around 3 years old. They may fruit if shifted to the ground, but I am continuing to grow them in pots for the simple reason that I can move them to shade when it becomes too hot here 🙂  .

4)From the nurseries or online stores

I usually make it a point to buy seeds of vegetables and greens mainly from the local nurseries whenever I visit India. I have also bought seeds from Amazon and Nursery live as well as from native farmers.

All of them came up decently, though mostly after the third or 4th attempts in sowing them. This could very well be attributed to the climatic conditions here rather than the quality of seeds.

broad beans

I never get tired of buying seeds from the nurseries here in Qatar 😀  . Though most of them esp the flower seeds never come up as expected, unable to resist temptation, I keep buying.

snapdragon

Snapdragon

A better idea would be to buy flowering plants instead of seeds. Most of them are seasonal and perish at the end of the season.

kalanchoe and daisies

Kalanchoe and daisies

Still, they can add a lot of color and beauty to your front yard. Petunias, pansies, dahlias, roses, snapdragons, zinnias, daisies, Kalanchoes, marigolds are some that I have bought.

petunias and zinnias

Petunias and Zinnias

Apart from this, I have tried growing quite a few herbs too from seeds. Basil, dill, parsley, sage, marjoram, thyme all came up beautifully from the nursery seeds.

thyme

Thyme grown from seeds

My tryst with gardening

That was a brief on getting started and on the plants that I have grown. Now to gardening my way 😀 .  Feel free to adopt whatever suits you and ignore the rest.

cowpeas

Cowpeas in pots

There has always been some limitation for me at every place with regard to time, space, soil, and at some places even sunlight. Still, I keep trying to grow something. Also, I am frugal in gardening always trying to make the best with the least.

In this house, I have an L-shaped backyard, most of which is covered with a wooden shed, to provide relief during the hot summers. This renders most of the backyard unusable as it deters sunlight completely.

I also have a small front yard which is also cemented with a very small patch of land in which apart from the compulsorily grown plants of the community for aesthetics I grow hibiscus, drumstick, Alamanda, Crepe jasmine, roses, and papaya.

Now, my gardening is in containers in my cemented back and front yards. So there is not much of an issue with seepage. But if you are into terrace gardening with containers, you will have to waterproof your rooftop to prevent seepage.

Also, it’s a good idea to assess the weight your terrace can hold and ensure that you are within that limit. Always keep your pots on a raised surface so that the pots do not come in direct contact with the roof and there is air circulation under the pot.

Keep some system in place so that the excess water drains off properly without becoming stagnant. Some pointers before I proceed further.

1)Start small

When you are into gardening for the first time start with a few pots maybe 4 0r 5. And with plants that can easily come up, like fenugreek or spinach in winters and okra and other greens in summer.

Or if you have access to saplings you can try out ones like brinjals. Once you gain the confidence you can expand to more pots.

2)Grow only what you need

When the space is limited you need to make judicious use of it. Only grow what you use and you need. For instance, if you don’t use brinjals there is no use growing them just for the sake of growing.

3)Grow a few of more

The idea here is to grow as many vegetables as is possible within the limits so as to reduce buying them. So you should focus on growing a few plants of more number of vegetables rather than more number of plants of a few vegetables.

beans

What I am trying to tell here is that rather than growing 3 or 4 snake gourd plants, you should try growing one each of snake gourd, bottle gourd, ridge gourd, and bitter gourd. So that you will keep getting 4 different kinds of vegetables rather than more of just one.

For plants like tomatoes, lady’s finger, brinjal, etc 5-6 plants should be enough for a small family. Other than that you can grow a few chilly plants too.

brinjals

Brinjal grown in small spaces

4)Make most of the space

For this, you need to do intensive planting in the pots depending on the size of the pot. Try to grow 3 or 4 different plants in a single pot in a way the growth of one does not disturb the other.

So with a tall plant, in a pot, you can grow a climber, some bean plant, and some greens or herbs at the base.

As the climber and the tall plant grow bigger, remove the lower leaves so that the smaller ones in the pot too get sunlight.

Bean plants are known to have nitrogen-fixing bacteria or rhizobium in their roots. So growing them together with other plants is a good idea, as they can provide nitrogen to the other plants.

The ifs and buts of this I will deal with in my companion planting post.

5)Choose your plants wisely

When you are limited on space, grow those vegetables that will come up well within the given conditions in a way that you can completely avoid buying them in the season.

Like growing chillies, spinach, tomatoes, etc rather than cauliflower or broccoli kind of vegetables. These give just 1 vegetable per plant which means you cannot completely avoid buying it.

chillies

6)Practice thinning

Normally, we tend to sow more seeds than is actually needed as we cannot say for sure how many of them will germinate. If all of them come up we need to choose the healthiest of the batch and discard the rest.

Of course, if you have lots of space you can grow all of them. But when you are short on space you cannot afford to grow all of them.

Thinning is the process of removing unwanted plants so that the plants that you decide to grow have space to grow and they do not have to compete with their breed.

I know it is difficult to discard plants, but this is a must if you want to get the best out of your plants. You can give away the excess saplings to some friend who may need them 🙂  .

My garden….

My priority has always been climbers as they fill up space, and add to the greenery as well as give a good amount of vegetables, every now and then.

pumpkin

Indian vegetables like bottle gourd, snake gourd, bottle gourd, bitter gourd, ash gourd, and pumpkin always find a place in my garden. All these vegetables contain lots of water content and are very nutritious.

These plants need a trellis to climb which can be made easily with wooden rods, even if you don’t have space. Just place 1 rod in every pot and connect them using twine.

In this house since I have an iron staircase, I set the trellis onto it. It’s been more than 3 years since I first made this trellis and it’s still going strong despite the harsh winds here.

trellis

In my previous house, I placed 4 pots 3ft apart in a shape of a square. I kept 1 wooden rod in each pot and used twine to tie from one rod to another so that it formed a square shape. I couldn’t locate the tied-up picture, hence just sharing this so that you guys get an idea.

trellis3

Square shaped trellis

You can make several layers of this as needed keeping a gap of about 1ft between each layer. You can also place the pots in a zig-zag manner and tie them from one rod to another in a zig-zag shape.

For tying, I largely use the woollen yarn which remains strong and works out cheap. Wooden rods can be bought for a reasonable amount from the carpenter’s shop.

You can use the unused cloth stands, ladders, broken chairs, and whatever you have around to let the plants climb.

trellis 1

Or if you have access to the nylon trellis you can easily fit them too to a wall or set it onto the window as I have done here. You get this at Daiso in Qatar.

 

Watering

Now comes the next part, watering. I prefer to keep a tray at the bottom of the pots and water till it comes out onto the tray.

This is very useful esp in summers when the potted plants need lots of water and they have very limited access to water than plants in the soil.

During winters, watering once in two or three days or when the soil becomes dry is generally advised. But like me, if you are growing a lot of plants in 1 pot then you may have to water daily.

By nature, gourds require lots of water compared to other plants.

Keep a watch on the leaves of the plant. Yellowing of leaves is one symptom of overwatering or underwatering.

The leaves will droop and sometimes curl up too if you are not watering enough. Whereas overwatering can rot the roots and kill the plant.

So you need to keep a constant watch on this. You can even go for soil moisture sensors which are easily available online if you prefer.

Regular use of rice-washed water is good for the plants. Similarly, you can use all the washed waters like dal, vegetables, fish, meat, etc. Buttermilk diluted with water can also be used once or twice a week.

I will deal in detail with the other nutrient solutions in my upcoming fertilizer post.

Fertilizing

Organic fertilizers contain plant or animal-based materials that are either a byproduct or end product of naturally occurring processes, such as animal manure and composted organic materials.

Irrespective of whether nutrients originate from organic or inorganic sources, plants are only capable of absorbing nutrients in certain forms as ions.

For example, nitrogen is only absorbed as nitrate (NO3) ions or ammonium (NH4+) ions and potassium only as K+ ions. Thus, plants do not differentiate between nutrients derived from organic and inorganic fertilizer sources.

Inorganic or chemical fertilizers readily provide nutrients to the plants in these forms. But in the case of organic fertilizers, the organic matter has to be broken down by the microorganisms in the soil. The nutrients released into the soil in the process are utilized by the plant.

Organic fertilizers are thus slowly released into the soil over a period of time. They are a valuable source of micronutrients for plants. They also stimulate microbial activity and improve soil structure.

Fertilizing organically literally means to feed the organisms in the soil which form the soil biome. Just like in our gut biome, bacteria and other microorganisms play a very important role, in decomposing and balancing the soil biome.

As nutrients are not directly fed to the plants it becomes the duty of these organisms to convert the organic fertilizers like cow dung, compost, etc to plant-utilizable form.

So our major focus in growing organically should be to provide a conducive environment for these organisms to do their job efficiently.

Organic fertilizing is mainly done through compost, vermicompost, waste decomposer, manures, oil cakes, bonemeal, and nutrient solutions. These days ready to use bio enzymes are also available.

You can make good quality compost using the waste from your kitchen and use it for your plants. If you cannot make it yourself, you can opt to buy too. Most nurseries sell good quality compost and/or vermicompost.

But rather than making compost, I prefer organic mulching which means just putting the peels on the soil. This has worked wonders for me here in Qatar. Initially, there will be fruit flies that diminish as it decomposes.

Better still would be to put the wastes on the top and cover it with a layer of soil. As I already said in my other post, mulching a plant with the wastes of the same plant works well for that plant.

Use only uncooked vegetable peels for this. Cooked stuff and meat products should be avoided as they give a foul smell and encourage unwanted visitors.

This method may not work for everyone, as if you have rodents in your area they will make a mess of the mulch. In that case, composting will be the best option. So choose your options accordingly.

Another thing that I found out from my laziness 😀  , is that letting the peels sit for a day before adding to the soil is even better, as it becomes partially decomposed by the organisms in the air.

This eases the job of the organisms in the soil. Organic mulching has increased the earthworm population in my garden considerably. All my pots are full of earthworms.

earthworms

The problem with earthworms in pots is you cannot have soil up to the brim. It keeps pushing the soil out, so it is advisable to fill the pot up to 3/4th its capacity.

I also have another group of decomposers, the shelled creatures. They do a very good job of breaking down the fresh peels and leaves.

So as long as you keep providing them food in the form of organic mulch they will not harm your plant.

decomposing by shelled creatures

Decomposing by shelled creatures

If you are not okay with organic mulch do not encourage their growth, as they will finish your plant. Too much exposure to sunlight and lack of moisture will kill them. So you can try using these methods to get rid of them.

You can also opt to buy organic fertilizers which are easily available these days in most malls and nurseries in Qatar.

In India, cow dung plays a very prominent role in fertilizing plants. Organic gardeners make a number of nutrient solutions like the panchagavya and jeevamrit using native cow dung and cow urine.

If you are in India, you can try making them yourself with the help of youtube videos. If you do not have access to cow dung or your short on time, you can opt to buy these too through online stores.

Other than this you can make fish amino acid, egg amino acid, lactobacillus, and fertilizers with peels like banana peel fertilizer, onion peel fertilizer, etc. More about this in my fertilizer post.

As much as possible try to make your own fertilizers so that you can be sure of what is in them. You can try to access dung from the local farms if any. Oil cakes can also be bought locally from the cold press oil manufacturers in the locality.

You can also get good-quality fertilizers from your local nursery. If nothing works for you, and you are short on time opt for online stores. Fish amino acid is best made at home as the ones you purchase smell bad.

Managing pests

This is one major issue for all organic gardeners. Pests come about in various sizes and shapes and vary from plant to plant. As far as pests are concerned, you do not have a sure-shot solution in organic gardening.

It’s mostly trial and error. The best solution would be to spray some kind of pesticide once a week or 15 days so that infection is prevented in the first place.

Two simple things that you can do is

  • to avoid watering the foliage esp when the air is moist. Moisture encourages powdery mildew as well as a host of other pests.
  • remove the base leaves of the plant as they grow up, in a way that there is air circulation and sunlight falls on the soil. This will prevent congestion at the base which is the breeding ground for a lot of unwanted pests.

The most common pesticide is the neem oil pesticide which is made by mixing a tsp of neem oil in a liter of water with a few drops of mild liquid soap.

This is very effective as a preventive remedy, though once infection sets in, it does take some time to get rid of.

Keep a close watch on the plant and try to manually remove the pests and worms as you spot them. Also, remove the infected leaves and discard them.

This is easy to do when you have your plants in containers. Other than this, you can sprinkle turmeric to get rid of ants.

3G or ginger, garlic, and green chilly taken in equal quantity ground to a paste, diluted with water, and sprinkled on the plants is also an effective organic pesticide.

Usually, there is one mother insect for every pest that comes on the plants. If you can find that one and get rid of it multiplication can be avoided.

The size of the worm infesting the plant can be known from their excreta. When you see black pepper-sized excreta, be sure to find a finger-sized worm on your plant. The size of this will decrease with the size of the pest.

More about the various pesticides in my pesticide post.

Harvesting

Harvesting the fruits or vegetables at the right time is a must for the further growth of the plant as well as for the quality of the product.

If the plant keeps providing for the mature fruit when it is still on the plant, it cannot feed the upcoming fruits which is why as the season progresses you tend to get smaller fruits.

 

Greens and herbs like coriander need to be plucked every now and then to encourage fresh growth. Else, they will tend to bolt and become bitter.

harvest

You can let a few vegetables dry out on the plant to collect seeds for the next season. The general advice is to collect the seeds from the middle batch of vegetables every season.

Gardeners generally mix the seeds with ash, dry them well and then store them, so that they stay good without being infected.

Other than this pruning at regular intervals is a must to stimulate new growths. Removing older yellowing leaves also brings up fresh growth at the nodes.

For me, gardening is a passion, something which gives me positive vibes and makes me appreciate life. It does require some amount of dedication, hard work, patience, and time. Even after all that some plants do not come up for reasons best known to nature.

At times we become clueless as to why the same plant which came up so well last season, grown in the same manner just refuses to grow. Happens with all gardeners.

Learn to take it in your stride and move on. Maybe you weren’t lucky this season 🙂  . But never give up. You will get to learn a lot by yourself through the experiences. The learning never stops however long you have been gardening.

Keep in touch with fellow gardeners, and join gardening groups that you come across on Social media. Also, keep a watch on the activities of the horticultural and agricultural departments around. Some of them conduct online classes too which is a great learning experience.

If you came up till here, a big thank you for patiently reading my post 😀  . I hope I have covered almost all the aspects of basic gardening. Coming up next with my fertilizer post, pesticide post as well as details on growing individual plants.

Do keep connected…

Hema Magesh signature

 

 

References

https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/extension-gardener-handbook/1-soils-and-plant-nutrients

https://www.soils.org/about-soils/basics/

https://www.qld.gov.au/environment/land/management/soil/soil-properties/

https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/

https://www.almanac.com/weeds-indicator-plants

https://www.almanac.com/

https://www.futuredirections.org.au/publication/living-soils-role-microorganisms-soil-health/

https://www.intechopen.com/books/sustainability-of-agroecosystems/activity-and-variety-of-soil-microorganisms-depending-on-the-diversity-of-the-soil-tillage-system

https://ec.europa.eu/environment/archives/soil/pdf/soil_biodiversity_brochure_en.pdf

https://cedarcirclefarm.org/tips/entry/the-living-soil-microorganisms

https://www.futuredirections.org.au/publication/living-soils-role-microorganisms-soil-health/

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/organic-fertilizer

https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/

 

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