When I was starting my urban farmlet, many of my plants would simply wilt and eventually die. I would bury them and grieve. Or, they would grow pathetically with spindly stalks and small leaves. For a while I settled on planting bougainvilleas because they require very low maintenance and give very beautiful flowers of varied colors. But they are not edible and do not give any aroma at all.
Upon inspection, I noticed that my soil is full of gravel and sand, maybe from the various cement jobs we’ve had for the garage and the house. It is not a good soil for planting. What I did is to have raised beds instead. Meaning, rather than digging and changing the structure of my present soil, I placed about 6 to 8 inches of nutrient-rich soil on top of the present site. The gravel and sand could stay under the new top soil to provide drainage, good aeration and anchor for the roots of my plants.
Since I didn’t have much space, I utilized the vertical planting method. I have a picture here but we will discuss this in later articles.
Another issue came up. All my available areas for planting are right under a tree. That means they would be competing with the established tree roots for important nutrients. So I decided to use containers, black plastic gardener pots. Some gardeners use any available container that will hold soil, water, and plant.
Now, let me share with you how we constructed our raised beds. Some would use boards for the sidings of the bed. This will require some carpentry work. So I use hollow blocks (Cost: about Php13 per block).
I use what is called the lasagna gardening method—yes, there is such a term. First, I lined up the bed with some newspapers, the pages with black ink only because the colored inks may not be made from organic materials. For deeper top soil, before spreading newspaper, loosen the top 6-8 inches of soil with a fork or spade. Raised beds could also be built on top of concrete floorings, specifically if you live in an urban concrete jungle.
Second, for about three months I would go to the talipapanear our house and ask for vegetable clippings and unsold vegetables and fruits that are now rotting. I just threw them into the bed to further rot.
Third, all kitchen waste (vegetable and fruit peelings, fish innards and bones, whatever) and table scraps (fish and small meat bones, uneaten bits and pieces) also went into the bed. I was careful not to include the sauces and broth because that will make the bed smelly and also attract ants and cats.
Fourth, all fallen leaves, twigs, grass clippings, and other organic matters also went into the bed. This way we have reduced our garbage and have further encouraged us to practice recycling.
Fifth, I also asked for banana stalks that are used to line the crates for bananas in transit. I used this as mulch by putting them on top of the pile on the bed to keep the pile hydrated.
Additionally, you can add coco peat, rice hull, well-rotten farm animal manure (but never dog and cat manure!), sand, and some small stones or gravel.
And to hasten the decomposition of your organic compost, you can add African night crawlers or ANC (Php100 and Php200 per pack at the Sidcor Sunday Market along Edsa corner Quezon Avenue in Quezon City) once. The ANC multiply very fast especially if there is a lot for them to eat. Be sure that your pile is always moist because ANCs do not thrive in a hot and dry environment. The cast of the vermi or vemicast is a fabulously rich fertilizer.
I kept doing these five steps for three months. And now, voila! I have nutrient-rich soil. I have planted my mulberry directly on the soil, but the others stay in the black garden bag with the new rich soil.
Now, if you are in a hurry and have no three months to spare, you can also use organic soil and vermicast that you could buy from garden/farming supply stores. The vermicast you buy may contain eggs of ANC and so in no time at all you will have plenty of wriggly ANCs in your garden. These are available at Sidcor Sunday Market, Manila Seedling Bank, Quezon Memorial Circle, and any plant nursery and store. Be sure to get organic soil. And while you’re at it, you may also buy coco peat or fiber for mulching.
If you have existing plants in pots, you can just add vermicast to enrich the soil. If you are starting from zero, you can use organic soil and vermicast combined.
Ready to plant? Let’s talk about it in my next article.