Gardening Sans Soil
Though soil has always been the most natural medium for growing plants, it comes with a host of problems. As garden soil is a living, breathing material, it often contains harmful bacteria and is the source of many soil-borne disease. It is also ideal solution for areas with hard, compacted soil. These mediums range from inorganic matter: sand, gravel, Perlite, vermiculite to organic material like wood chips, coconut husk and rice hulls. Soil-less kitchen gardening is ideal for small contained spaces, and terrace gardens with troughs or containers and vertical growth structures. Many commercial ventures have turned to these mediums for their obvious advantages.When plants are given exactly what is needed for growth, (pH adjusted, balanced nutrients, sunlight and water) they will grow and perform exactly as they are genetically programmed to do, and produce superior food or flowers.
Sand, Gravel: Sand is commonly used for raising seedlings, but must first be washed to remove impurities. It is best to use coarse sand as it creates air pockets that will help in aeration for the roots. Gravel has larger particles, and like sand, is good for drainage. Additionally, it can be washed and re-used repeatedly.
Perlite, vermiculite: perlite is made from minerals that are heated till they expand and become light and porous. vermiculite is a silicate mineral that also expands and has similar properties to perlite. They are excellent aerators and can be used in various Combinations with other mediums. It can also be washed and stored for later use
Coconut husk, chips, rice hulls: Coconut husk or cocopeat is the most favourable, growing medium. It is pH neutral, holds water well and also allows good aeration. Coco chips are larger and can be used in combination with other mediums. Parboiled rice hulls are the waste product of rice; as the hulls are cleaned and dried in the process of extracting rice, they are sterile and ideal for growing Plants.
Others: Water absorbent gel, peat moss wood chips, garden compost These mediums are best used combination with other materials. Most gardeners have their own recipes with varying proportions for the different stages of planting. Vermiculite, perlite, cocopeat and are a good mix, as they retain moisture and help aerate the roots. Other combinations used by gardeners are:sieved manure with peat moss, and Coco husk with crushed seashells.
Fertiliser and Pest Control:
Plants need three main nutrients for growth-nitrogen, Phosphorus and potassium, and also, a range of micro-nutrients, Soil-less mediums are inert and must be enhanced with organic fertilisers which supply necessary nutrients. These are: compost, clean sieved manure, ground limestone, bone meal, leaf mould, neem cake.
Fill your containers, grow bags or gardening space with the soil-less medium of your choice; you can sow seeds or plant seedlings exactly as you would in soil. Water lightly after sowing.
At first, it is best to observe how the new medium retains water; if you find it dries out soon, make a note to adjust the combination using more organic matter in future. If the mix does not have adequate drainage, add more sand or vermiculite. As always, these observations must be made in a garden diary for future reference.
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