Workshop on Growing Plants in Barren Areas

Barren vegetation describes an area of land where plant growth may be sparse, stunted, and/or contain limited biodiversity. Environmental conditions such as toxic or infertile soil, high winds, coastal salt spray, and climatic conditions are often key factors in poor plant growth and development.

Very often we consider barren lands unfit for gardening. Do you live in any such areas and have refrained from gardening due to the unfavorable land conditions? Rocky areas are one such land where vegetation is sparse and has very little scope for gardening.

But “Where there’s a will there’s a way”. In this workshop a devoted gardener from Jammu, who has overcome all hurdles and converted a very rocky area behind her house into a beautiful lush garden and made it suitable for gardening. Watch this workshop based on “Growing plants in Barren Area” with our speaker Mrs. Neha Khajuria. She grew up in the beautiful city of Jammu. She’s a mom and a Ph.D. scholar who loves to spend time in the lap of nature with trees, butterflies, in mountains, and near oceans. You can connect with her on her Instagram page “plant_momy”

Neha and her tips for growing plants on barren land:

“Hello, everyone. Welcome to another workshop by TAOS. Today we have with us, Miss. Neha khajuria. We are very interested to know more from you on today’s topic. Before that, please introduce yourself to our audience,” said Zehra.  

“Hello, everyone. I am a Ph.D. scholar and a mother as well. My journey began when we shifted to our newly constructed home about three years back. The area happened to be barren then; there was not even a single tree. So, I decided to enter gardening from there. When I started planting trees, the biggest challenge I faced was the texture of the soil because the soil in my area is towards the silty side, having pebbles and gravel. We know that the ideal soil for gardeners is one which has the perfect balance of clayey texture and silty texture. So, didn’t matter what I planted; the roots won’t grow. For example, I tried marigolds in the first year, but the clayey structure of the soil won’t let the plants grow. So, I understood I needed to change the soil structure then. I started picking up pebbles, rocks and cleaning the soil in the area. Here in Jammu, the soil is mostly alluvial, but in my area, we had our house constructed, so there was cement and other chemicals too that got blended in the soil. Then, I worked on the aeration of the soil, which is also very important. I added cocopeat in the soil, which has a very good retention capacity of water, and I have recently started adding perlite also. For nutritive purposes, I used manure, primarily cow dung. I preferred dry manure, which would get decomposed easily. I am making my own compost also, with bananas. We just have to dry banana peels, and after drying them for about 15 days, we can grind them and add them to the plant. It is very rich in potassium, phosphorus, calcium, etc. Earthworms are also the natural agents which help maintain the porosity, drainage, etc., of the soil. So, I prefer them in the soil. 

I started with growing coriander, then Spinach, Petunia, marigolds, etc. The flowers were blooming, but the quality wasn’t good. In summer, the productivity was even lower. It took me three years to finally be able to grow plants on the soil. Preparing soil for pots is very easy. I’ll show you a test that will show how you can assess the quality of soil,” said Neha.

“Can you tell us the mix you used for the land soil?”

“It needs to be 1:2:1. One part should be cocopeat, two-part should be garden soil, and another part should be nutrient, like compost. So, for the test, take a fistful of soil. Make a dough, and then try to break it. If the process goes well, your soil will have a balanced mixture. If you’re not able to make a dough, then the soil is more on the silty side. Whereas, if you’re unable to break the dough, the soil is more on the clayey side. In that case, you have to work on it to make it loamy,” said Neha.

“Please explain what steps need to be taken in order to restore the soil to good and usable condition.”

“If it’s silty, add cocopeat in the soil. If you feel it’s more clayey, then you can add perlite. For nutrition, you can add compost like vermicompost, cow dung, etc. 

Now, I also faced another problem which is that while growing vegetables, only a part of it would come out during harvest, while the rest would often stay in the soil, which means the soil is excessively clayey. Now it comes out properly, which signifies proper soil quality. Many people add more soil to remove the clayeyness of soil. It would heat the soil, which can harm the plant. Hence cocopeat is better,” said Neha.

“That was indeed an interesting piece of information. I hope the viewers would be able to relate,” said Zehra.

“Coming next to the topic of composting, as against popular opinion, composting is actually very easy. All you need is a composter; you can take a bucket, pot, or any container according to your need. You need to ensure aerobic pores in the container. If there’s also a tap, that would be an added advantage since otherwise, the water will seep from the aerobic pores. We will add our kitchen waste for composting. It happens to be foul-smelling; to compensate for this, we will add carbon to it. We will add small branches, or you can add dry cocopeat. We put our waste on the cocopeat, and to initiate the process, we will add a cup of curd or jaggery. I add water on alternate days. I add vegetable peels, even cooked vegetable leftovers, etc. Just make sure you add some dry leaves or dry cocopeat as well along with it. The compost takes almost 40-60 days generally. If you open it in the middle and find a stinking smell, you need to understand that nitrogen content is high; hence add dry waste to it. 

“Can we put waste papers in it?”

“We can, but it’s not desirable. The paper has ink on it, which is chemical in the end. You can use it to cover the compost, but using it to make compost is not a good idea. In fact, egg shells also do not get decomposed completely, so you can grind it first, then add it. Fruit seeds also do not fully decompose in a compost. You can add the remnants in the next batch; they will get decomposed eventually and gradually,” said Neha.

“You had mentioned adding peels to the compost. Do you cut them into small pieces or just add them as they are?”

“I did not cut them. I added them as they were. 

For ants, you can add turmeric powder or neem oil in the compost.”

“You had said you add the waste on alternate days. When the container is full, do you just leave it as it is?”

“I have two composters. Once the first one is full, I keep it aside for two to three months and go for the next one.”

“Do you open and check your compost in the middle, or actually leave it completely?”

“No, one thing is that you need to churn the mixture at times so that the insects in it get mixed up homogeneously, and the process gets speeded up.”

“You had mentioned adding jaggery to the compost. Can you elaborate?”

“It is very simple. Just take a small container of water, and add jaggery to it. Make a paste of it, a sort of batter, and then add it when you have added everything else to the compost to initiate the process of composting. That’s all.”

“Can you briefly give a few important tips for people who are starting out with composting?”

  • “Whatever container you are taking up for composting, it should have pores in order to enable proper aeration. Otherwise, it would lead to an anaerobic process, and it would smell very bad. The pores should not be very big either, or the soil would seep out.
  • If you can somehow add a tap, that would keep it clean.
  • Try to put the compost over a metal structure so as to prevent insects from climbing into the compost.
  • Make sure you add more dry waste than the dry waste in the compost.

These are some tips.”

“Over the years, I have grown a lot of vegetables and plants, such as Radishes, Cauliflower, cabbage, beetroot, tulip, cucumber, peas, lemon, etc.,” said Neha.

“So, did you grow them in pots or open soil?”

“Both. Some of them in pots, and some in soil. I keep alternating them sometimes. In pots, it is very easy to maintain the soil texture. Hence, for winter crops, pots are better. If you are planning to grow peas, pumpkins, or vines, then plant them in the soil. In the case of fruits, I have grown guava; it is very easy to grow. You just need well-drained soil. The first year is a little fragile. You don’t need to water it much since it survives on rainwater. However, worms are a problem. So, harvesting it before it is fully ripe may help in this regard. You can also spray basil oil to keep worms away. It is mainly fruit flies that infect the crop. We know that fruit flies are found near ripe winter crops. You can use incense sticks to keep them away. This way, you can save your guavas and have a very good harvest.

Now, I have watermelon also, which we can plant in the summer season. You can grow it from seeds and keep them in a sunny bright space. The soil composition is the same as I mentioned before. You can also add the same nutrients, and in 90 days, the melons will start to grow,” said Neha.

“That was an interesting session indeed. Thank you so much for joining us today.”