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Organic City Farming The Natural way to grow fruits and vegetables in your own home!

City farming refers to the creation of farms in the city itself, in your own balconies, window grills, terraces or backyards through natural [no chemicals!] and catalytic techniques.

A: Make your own nutrient-rich soil How do you make your own nutrient rich soil? You copy nature!

Typically in a forest, dead/dry leaves [biomass] fall from the trees onto the existing soil. This biomass is rich in a variety of nutrients whereas the soil is rich in minerals and dormant micro organisms. During the rains, the fallen leaves get soaked with

water, essential for any living organism. Animals, birds and insects contribute in their own way by depositting excreta and urine [essential nutrient supply], and trampling on the soil and thus overturing the mix from time to time. Wind and rain also contributes in this way. In time this natural mix decomposes and fertile soil is obtained. Nature on its own takes hundreds of years to make inches of fertile soil, but by emulating this technique, we can get the same rich soil in just 4 months!

Step 1: Collecting and preparing the ingredients 1. Collect green and dry biomass

The best place to get green and dry leaves is in your own backyard or in neighbourhood gardens. Dry biomass refers to dried fallen leaves and green biomass refers to both young and mature leaves that need to be plucked from existing plants. One needs to collect an equal mix of green and dry bimass because all plants contain different types of nutrients at different stages of their life. Similarly, different species also contain different nutrients and hence it is advisable to collect a variety. Green biomass needs to be dried in the sun before use. This drying takes about 7 days in good sunlight.

2. Collect soil Soil is available in building compounds and gardens or you could also purchase it from a nearby nursery. Scrape about 1cm top layer of soil that lies beneath the layer of biomass or is shaded under bushes and trees. Soil contains minerals and dormant microbes. By combining this with nutrient rich biomass, the microbes get activated and thus make the mix fertile.

3. Collect sugarcane bagasse

Bagasse is the fibre that remains after extracting sugarcane juice; this can be obtained from any sugarcane vendor, usually at no cost! If not sugarcane, then one can use the fibre of any other fruit. Bagasse is used as the bottom most layer of the soil for ventilation as it takes longer to decompose and acts as a non-compacted layer for a free flow of water and air.

4. Urine-Charcoal mix

Charcoal is an extremely porous material and helps to retain nutrients and moisture for a really long time. When marinated in urine it is a great vessel of nutrients. Charcoal is available at any local market at Rs. 20 a kilo and urine can be your own, so drink lots of water and pee away! Marinate the charcoal in urine, the longer is marinates the better.

5. Preparing Amrut Jal [water] Instead of using plain water to soak the biomass we can use Amrut Jal as it accelerates the decomposition process. Ingredients:

- 10 lits of water [1 bucket] - 1 lit of cow or human urine [nutrients and minerals] - 1 kilo of cow dung [active microbes needed for nutrient decomposition] The cow dung needs to be absolutely fresh because the microbes need to be active. - 50 gms black jaggery [aids in fermentation for the microbes to multiply]

If not jaggery then any other sugar such as an over-ripe fruit or 2 glasses of sugarcane juice will do. Preparation: Please see video below:

QuickTime™ and a Motion JPEG OpenDML decompressor are needed to see this picture.

Mix all these ingredients in the bucket of water and keep it for 3 days. Stir the mixture 2 to 3 times a day, 12 times clockwise and 12 times anticlockwise to set it in motion.

This mixture is a concentrate and takes 3 to 4 days to mature after which the microbial activity starts declining. Hence, on the 4 th day, take one litre of the concentrate and mix it with 10 litres of water. This diluted mix is your Amrut Jal! This Amrut Jal needs to be used within 2 to 3 days of making and hence needs to be used immediately and needs to be made frequently as and when required. On the 4th day, soak the biomass and the bagasse in buckets of Amrut Jal for 24 hours. Make sure to cruch the leaves before soaking so that the veins are open to absorb and get saturated.

6. Selecting the appropriate container The main criteria for the container is that it needs to we well aerated [porous] because the decomposition process generates a lot of heat that needs to be dissipated.

If you are making the soil directly on the terrace, you can loosely lay bricks in any desired shape.

If outside a window, you can source plastic porous crates or buckets and line them with a shade net or mosquito net to prevent soil from leaking out. This shade net is available in most plant nurseries.

Step 2: Making the nutrient-rich soil 1. Preparing heaps Now we start the layering in the selected containers! The layers need to be as thin and as many as possible to increase surface contact between the nutrients and the microbes.

Start with a thin layer of soaked bagasse. The second layer is formed by sprinkling some top soil, and then keep alternating between the biomass and the top soil. The quantity of top soil should be very less because it needs to be equal to the quantity of biomass after its decomposition. Hence, simply sprinkle top soil as if you are sprinkling salt in your salad!

After every 2 to 3 layers of bio mass and top soil, add a thin layer of charcoal. [Refer diagram]

Keep on pressing the layers down by jumping and dancing on them so that it is well compressed. You should get about 30 to 50 layers in a 2 foot high heap.

Cover the final layer with mulch to protect the microbes and prevent loss of moisture due to direct sunlight. In this case use the sugarcane bagasse. Whatever you use as mulch, do try to ensure that it has been soaked in Amrut Jal.

2. Keeping for composting Composting takes about 30-40 days. Remove the mulch, turn the mix and put the mulch back every week or so. Also add Amrut Jal to moisten the mix as and when required. Make sure the mix is only moist and never wet.

3. Greening the heap Greening is a process in which you grow a variety of plants in your Amrut Mitti and keep pruning and depositing the plants during various stages of its growth into the soil for decomposition. Again, plant variety and age variety is vital to get a variety of nutrients! You can use various local seeds [grains, pulses, herbs, spices] that are easily available in the superstore or are already in your own kitchen! Soak these seeds in Amrut Jal for 8 hours and spread on a dry cloth overnight before sowing. Greening increases the nutrients and also builds up volume. It is very important to do the greening process specially if green biomass has not been used in the mix to begin with. If you have used an organic mulch, mix up the heap along with the mulch. Add a thin layer of top soil on the surface of the heap. Sow the seeds in this and again sprinkle top soil over it such that the seeds are completely covered. There should be about 10gms of seeds per square foot area. You can mulch the heap with a fine layer of crushed leaves or leave it as it is as the plants that sprout will act as a mulch as well. Keep for 21 days afer sprouting.

After the first 21 day interval, cut off 1/3rd of the tender shoots and spread the cuttings on top of the mulched heap. After the second 21 day interval, the saplings would contain a mixture of tender and mature leaves. Again cut off 1/3rd , cut it up into smaller pieces and place it on the mulch. After the third 21 day interval, cut off all the remaining flowering plants into smaller pieces and place it on the mulch. Let this mulch remain for 2 to 3 days until the leaves are dry. Remove the leaves and soak them in Amrut Jal for 8 hours and add them back to the heap. Turn the mix thoroughly and leave for composting, just as during the first composting period. Thus, a fertile culture is developed that contains a great variety of nutrients ond micro organisms. Your soil [AMRUT MITTI] is ALIVE! and is finally ready for planting! Woooo hooooo!!!

Some important links: Preeti Patil’s initiative URBAN LEAVES that supports, encourages and spreads the creation of urban farms: Please read Preeti’s notes on how to make Amrut Mitti before you start: A Practical Guide to setting up a Natueco City Farm id=0B_dgmMwooSjeODE5ZWVkNzEtNmI5Ni00ZjI4LTk0ZDktMGRmZmQyNGY4Njc5&hl=en Amrut Mitti in six steps id=0B_dgmMwooSjeNjA0YTAwNWUtMjA5OC00MDBhLTk2NjMtM2JmYmI2YjdmNjA0&hl=en And do join her city farming group for queries and updates!

Organic City Farming  

Diti and Nash visited Auroville and were inspired by Bernard and Deepika from Auroville and Preeti [Urban Leaves] from Mumbai to start their...

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