Soil management is probably the most important aspect of an organic or natural farming approach, but figuring out how to get it right for your pot/container/grow-bag garden is probably even more important.

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In most cities, getting garden soil means going to the nursery – but we aren’t really sure what goes in to some of the garden mixes available commercially. Also, soils in containers degrade over time as erosion due to excess water, direct sunlight and nutrition uptake of the plants take their toll.

But one thing is certain – when you get the soil mix right, the results are amazing!Here are some of the traits that you need to look for (or develop) in your soil, depending on what you want to grow:

  • Good stable medium, especially if you are growing taller plants or fruit trees
  • A balance of organic nutrients and micro-organisms, which will provide a good balanced diet to you plant (don’t even think NPK)
  • Good drainage characteristics, because water-logging kills more plants than a lack of water. At the same time its important to ensure that the water doesn’t dry out to fast either.
  • Good heterogeneous texture so that there are air gaps maintained in the soil (some small stones are a good idea)

NOTE: We will propose three types of soils/mediums – (a) for small plants (greens and microgreens) with shallow roots. (b) For medium-height vegetable plants especially of the fruiting variety (tomatoes, brinjals) which need a firmer medium and good nutrition too. For large plants (fruit trees) which need a very stable base and lots of nutrition.

Basic ingredients (must have):

(a) Garden soil, preferably reddish clayey soil since that seems more easily available (b) Coco-soil or coco peat blocks (4-5 kg size) available from a nursery (c) Good quality (not completely dry) compost, vermicompost or cow-dung as the main nutrient.

Optional ingredients (nice to have):

(a) Coarse grade of construction sand (b) Trichoderma virde powder (c) Panchagavya concentrate (d) Wood ash (e) some chicken manure The Basic Process for making great organic soil is described in the diagram below (we feel that these proportions are ideal for medium high vegetable plants).

Please note that the “formulae” mentioned in the slideshow above are guidelines. Experienced gardeners will tweak it depending on the soil that they are working with and the particular plant that they are growing.

In addition to the Basic process mentioned above, you can further improve your soil by adding the following ingredients (OPTIONAL) in small quantities as an innoculant or nutrient for better results. Please do this only if its easily available and don’t stress too much if it isn’t.

  1. Add 2-3 fistfuls of coarse construction sand (per pot) if you have excessively sandy soil, are worried about stagnation of water (in very wet places) or are growing root vegetables like carrots and radish.
  2. Trichoderma virde powder is an important additive (a fungus) as it prevents against fungal diseases. It can be mixed in your compost and left for a week in the shade before you use it to make the mix.
  3. Panchagavya concentrate can be diluted (30ml panchagavya in a litre of water) to improve the beneficial microbe levels in your compost or soil. Especially useful if your soil had dried out.
  4. Wood ash, just one fistful per pot is a useful way of adding potash.
  5. If possible, add some chicken manure as an additional source of nitrogen (one fistful per pot) if you are growing heavy feeding plants (like fruits or fruiting vegetables)

MOST IMPORTANT: After having taken all this trouble to make good soil, be sure to mulch it well so that it stays that way.