This is a documentation on using the terrace gardening kit. This kit contains some rather unusual items like azospirillum, phosphobacteria, trichoderma and pseudomonas fluorescens as biofertilizers. One would find it difficult to get a guide to use this combination with the medium provided.
Step 1: Materials List
Farm yard manure or vermicompost - 12 Kg.
Tarpaulin sheet(optional) - I substituted this for an old flex banner.
Bucket or container big enough to contain the expanded coir block
Step 2: Items in the Kit
1. 6 UV stabilised grow bags (400gsm HDPE)
2. 2 kg coco peat block per bag - thats a total of 6x2=12 Kg
4. Azospirillum biofertilizer
5. Phosphobacteria biofertilizer
6. bioderma w.p
7. biomonas W.P
8. Neemarin 300
9. Two brinjal saplings.
10. Six seeds
d) Lab Lab
e) Spinach -Indam kolakat
All this at a total cost of INR 500 (7.53 US $)
Step 3: Preparing the Potting Medium
The potting medium is essentialy a mixture of coir peat, manure and biofertilizers. The first step in preparing the medium is to expand the coco peat. The easiest way to do this is to place the coco peat block in a suitably sized container and add adequate water to soak them. Allow the block to soak in water for some time. They will eventually absorb water, puff up and break apart into powdery coco peat. You can accelerate this process further by manually breaking up the block into smaller pieces.
Selection of properly sized container is very important in this process. The coco peat expands and swells up on absorbing water. If the container is not large enough to contain the expanded peat, it gets stuck in the container and is very difficult to "dig it out". I use a rectangular plastic tub which was well suited for the task. One of the pictures show what happens when you get impatient and try to add two blocks to expand at the same time. The blocks get stuck and the expanding peat might break the container. If you encounter this problem, immediately stop adding more water to prevent them from expanding further. try to shake or wriggle them out of the container if possible. If this fails, dig it out slowly.
Spread out a tarpaulin sheet and dump the expanded coir peat on it. Any tough plastic sheet could be used instead of the tarpaulin sheet. I used an old flex banner instead of the tarpaulin sheet. The sheet is optional, it makes cleaning up easier in the end.
As the block is soaking in water and expanding, the biofertilizer mix could be prepared. The biofertilizer is actualy a concentrated powder of bacteria and fungal spores. I would recommend wearing some basic respiratory protection while working with this powder as it is easily breathed in. Open the packet and pour the powder over a hard flat surface and crush the lumps with the back side of a spade. Breaking the lumps before mixing is a lot easier than finding and handling them later on. Do this process for each of the biofertilizer provided.
Now, prepare the manure for mixing. Manure typically comes in 10Kg sacks or individual 1Kg plastic bags. Cut open the bags and pour them on one end of the tarpaulin sheet. Manure/vermicompost sometimes contains some foreign particles like plastic or (rarely) metal pieces. Mix the manure around with a spade and remove any foreign particles. Do crush any lumps present.
Mix the biofertilizer powder with the manure thoroughly. You will see any lumps in the biofertilizer more clearly now, but its a much difficult task to break them one by one.
Once a coco peat block is soaked up and swelled, dump it at one corner of the tarpaulin sheet. break up any lumps in the coco peat. It should now be fluffy and powdery. If its slightly soggy, do not worry. But if its watery, allow the water to drain as much as possible. Once you are satisfied with the coco peat, roughly measure two Kg of the mixed up manure and mix it thoroughly with the coco peat. This step would be easier if the coco peat is fluffy and powdery and not soggy.
If the grow bags have drainage holes, you can skip this step. If they don't, put a drainage hole at an appropriate location. The hole should not be at the floor of the bag as it would be covered by the floor it sits on. If its too high, the bag would still collect some excess water. To determine the right location of the hole, place the bag on the floor and expand it as it would be once filled up. Use a stationery paper punch to punch out four holes near the base. Punch two holes on one side and the other two holes in the diagonally opposite side. While using a stationery punch, a single punch will punch through two sheets of the bag. Alternatively use a scissor to carefully cut out a small hole about 3-4 mm in diameter. A larger hole will let the potting medium to fall out while a small hole might clog up.
Once the grow bag is ready, fill the bag with the prepared potting mixture. An expanded 2 Kg brick mixed with 2 Kg of manure will be sufficient to fill up a single bag. The mixture will slightly shrink on curing, so the actual height of mix in the bag would be about 1-2" less than the current one. Keep this bag apart and continue this process with the remaining five bags. Once all the six bags are filled up, keep them aside for curing. If possible, keep them in shade or cover them with a plastic sheet to preserve moisture. Sprinkle some water if it becomes too dry. Leave the bags for 10 - 15 days for the coir to partially decompose and the bio organisms in the mixture to act upon the manure and coco peat. After curing, the potting medium should be earth smelling and is ready for planting.
Step 4: Using the Other Stuff
The kit also contains Urea Phosphate which is a water soluble fertilizer. Whenever possible, avoid usage of Urea as its usage will disrupt the microbes present in the growing medium. When necessary, dissolve a little urea along with the water used for irrigation.
Neemarin 300 is a neem oil extract. Mix it with water and spray on the plants to prevent insects. Neem or pungai oil mixed with water can also be sprayed to prevent diseases. Vigorous agitation in the spraying can or using soap solution would mix the oil and water together. When soap is used to mix the oil and water together, the oil seems to become less effective. Also usage of this bio pesticide wards off beneficial insects like lady bugs, so exercise caution when using it.
Happy gardening. Do share your thought/suggestions.