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Plant Care in Organic Terrace Gardening

Posted on Posted in Brics Blog

The terrace gardens in particular and urban farming in general, has the basis/principle of ‘Grow what you Eat and Eat what you Grow’. While urban farming has many options, ways and adoptions, this chapter exclusively deals in brief on the methods and management practices of water, nutrients and pests for vegetable terrace gardens.    While the commercial viability of crop production is expected, the major targets seem to be fresh, safe and functional (organic) food (vegetables and fruits) required for a family or for local needs, to develop greenery and to reduce pollution in urban areas. It is also to have a space and place for physical exercise, to relax from pressures of urban living and to get the extraordinary pleasure of growing crops and having green natural ambience and surroundings to the dwelling place.

The pleasure of growing plants will be multifold when the crops are healthy.   Plant health is the function of many growth factors and is the key for better yields.  It is difficult to have the optimum situation even on the ground, as many factors are beyond our control. As terrace gardens are artificial situations, providing a real near condition for plant growth will be a challenge and if succeeded, then crops perform well. Crops on terrace gardens are always raised on limited situations where light, water and nutrients may not be plenty for the crop growth unlike ideal field situations.  Among many factors that contribute to the performance of crops on terraces, water, nutrients and pests have significant influence on crop growth and yields. Correct understanding and management of these factors are very important.

Water

Watering is one of the most important aspects of effective organic gardening. Plants contain lots of (95%) water and most of the processes of the plant involve water. Along with light and carbon dioxide, water helps accelerate the necessary processes needed in effective care of plants.

Watering requirement of crop plants on terraces varies depending upon season/climate, type of container, plant growth medium, and so on. In general, considering all different types of vegetable plants and a growth medium which has considerable proportion of organic compost, the watering has to be adjusted. Vegetable plants are mostly shallow rooted which remain near the surface and so thorough soaking is required. It is important to maintain a constant level of moisture within the soil. If soil moisture levels fluctuate greatly from dry to very wet, that cause problems and affect the plant growth.

In a normal organic vegetable terrace garden,

  1. In summer, pots are to be watered twice a day with a mug (approx. ½ liter) of water for a pot of 12 inches.
  2. During winter, watering once a day, with a mug of water should be sufficient
  3. In rainy season, water only if required, if hot weather prevails for 2 days and the soil surface is dried.

Watering tips

  1. Water well and less frequently – helps in better root aeration and growth
  2. Water the plants in the morning or evening – Watering during a hot period can cause sunburn on foliage and shock the plant roots. Also evaporation is low during these periods.
  3. Give priority to plants that need water most – Young seedlings/transplants with shallow roots should be watered on priority.
  4. Avoid over watering – Nutrients are washed away. It can cause root rots and wilts.
  5. Add more organic compost – retains moisture for more time
  6. Water stress during flowering and fruiting prevents the flowers from developing properly and the fruit doesn’t develop at all
  7. Advanced mechanized methods of watering like drip/sprinkler can be adopted, but physical exercise has to be compromised

Plant Nutrition

Along with water and carbon dioxide, plants need different nutrients, to perform better. Though the quantity of nutrients required is very small, you can see symptoms very quickly if they are missing.  The leaves change color; the plant makes hardly any growth and remains stunted, and so on.  Addition of organic matter/compost to the planting medium helps plants to obtain different types of nutrients required for plant growth. Blend of organic matters (plant wastes, animal dung, oil cakes, vermicompost, bio-fertilizers) make these nutrients in totality and therefore always recommended.

Nutrients from air & water

Nutrients from soil

Primary nutrients

Secondary nutrients

Micronutrients

Carbon (C)

Hydrogen (H)

Oxygen (O)

Nitrogen (N)

Phosphorus (P)

Potassium (K)

Calcium (Ca)

Magnesium (Mg)

Sulfur (S)

Boron (B)

Chlorine (Cl)

Copper (Cu)

Iron (Fe)

Manganese (Mn)

Molybdenum (Mo)

Zinc (Zn)

In fact, plants absorb all the nutrients in the ionic form and will not differentiate the nutrients based on their source (organic or inorganic). But the whole process is facilitated by the microbial complex that exists in the diverse soil system which is still not understood properly.  Addition of organic compost to the planting medium favors the buildup of many useful microorganisms at the plant base which make the nutrients available to plants, improves moisture retention ability, improves soil aeration and enhances root growth and many more advantages.

Though it is possible to grow plants using only compost (soil less cultures), it is suggested to add a portion of soil for all the planting media. Still there is no replacement of soil, with respect to the diversity it adds to the plant growth medium.

In general, plant growth medium for terrace gardening are as below.

  1. Shrub/Bush vegetables – Tomato, brinjal, bush beans, chilli, etc- 1 part of soil: 4 parts of organic compost
  2. Vine vegetables – Gourds, cucumber, melons, Indian spinach etc – 1part of soil : 5 parts of organic compost
  3. Leafy vegetables – Coriander, methi, amaranthus, etc – 1part of soil : 5 parts of organic compost
  4. Root vegetables – Carrot, Raddish, beetroot, etc – 1 part of soil : 5 parts of organic compost
  5. Fruit crops – Papaya, Guava, Sapota, Pomegranate – 1 part of soil : 3 parts of organic compost

Nutrition tips

  1. Better to use well matured blend of compost
  2. Addition of more compost will not harm the plant, but add to the cost
  3. Provide a handful of compost or vermicompost at flowering and fruiting stage
  4. Liquid organic fertilizers like Panchagavya/Phytonic can be sprayed or drenched if leaves/plants turn yellow
  5. Vermi-wash spray encourage growth and reduce flower drop

Insect pests and diseases

It is well known that pest incidence on plants follow the famous host-pest-environment triangle. The pests can take upper hand only if the plant is weak (not healthy) and the environment are congenial for the pests to grow and multiply. Therefore, it is much essential to keep the plants healthy, by growing them on suitable growth medium and also choosing suitable vegetable types for the varying seasons and situations. Though it is difficult to keep the equilibrium with respect to all three interacting elements, it can give sure results if practiced.

In general, the insect pests and disease incidence will be lower in organic agriculture, that too on terraces and in kitchen gardens, as the crop plants mostly here are indigenous, well adapted varieties; such varieties will have some type of tolerance against varied types of pests via different mechanisms and probably for many reasons which are yet to be explained. However, certain pests are bound to occur. Among insect pests, sucking pests like mealy bugs, aphids, mites are major. Fungal, bacterial and viral diseases occur on plants and most prevalent are powdery mildew, blights, leaf spots, leaf curl and mosaics.

Commonly occurring pests in organic terrace gardens

Insect pests

Plant diseases

Non-insect pests

 Mealy bugs

 Serpentine Leaf miners

 Powdery mildew

 Leaf spots

 Snails & slugs

 Aphids

 Hairy caterpillars

 Leaf blight

 Wilt

 Squirrels

 Scales

 Beetles

 Leaf curl

 Fruit rot

 Rats and mice

 Whiteflies

 Weevils

 Mosaics

 Neck blight

 Pigeons

 Thrips

 Mites

Terrace gardens are very diverse because of varied structural, growth and weather conditions. It is therefore not possible to have a set of recommendations for the management of these pests. There can be a basket of options, from which the practitioner has to select out suitable options and formulate for their pest problems.

Terrace gardens are very diverse because of varied structural, growth and weather conditions. It is therefore not possible to have a set of recommendations for the management of these pests. There can be a basket of options, from which the practitioner has to select out suitable options and formulate for their pest problems.

Basket of options for pest management in terrace gardens

Cultural Methods

Mechanical methods

Botanical methods

Biological method

Keep the plant sturdy and healthy

Regular scouting

Marigold, chrysanthemum, niger, sesamum as trap crops

Spraying Panchkavya gives tolerance against pests

Good drainage

Crop rotation and selection to suit to seasons

Avoid over crowding

Soil solarisation

Handpicking and destruction  of egg masses and larvae

Removal of viral and sick plants and destruction

Neem seed kernel extract and pongemia extracts (many pests)

Chilli Garlic extract (Aphids)

Salt water (snail and slugs)

Turmeric powder (ants)

Neem products such as NeemShakti,, NeemThump (all types of pests)

Sweetflag extract (plant diseases)

Organic fungicides like MycoDim

Scouting and conserve crop defenders such as spiders, preying mantis, ladybirds, lacewings, wasps, etc

Pest Management tips

  1. Healthy plants tolerate the pest pressure well
  2. Prevention is better than cure
  3. Predatory birds can be attracted by planning a water source and nesting/sitting places

About Author

 Dr. Rajendra Hegde

Hegde sir 1

Director, Research and Developement at Bricsbio.

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