Monday, July 26, 2010

Learn how to grow your veggies organically as part of a healthy diet

Courtesy to ANUSHA K. from NST

A WALK through the vegetable aisles in a supermarket nowadays have shelves of organic vegetables.

This surge in all things organic over the last few years is because many individuals are opting for a healthier diet.

But how do you differentiate between organically-grown vegetables and those conventionally-farmed? Well, organic vegetables don’t require the use of synthetic chemicals like pesticides and fertilisers.

They only rely on compost, mulch, green manure, inter-cropping and crop rotation to build soil fertility, and using biological methods to control weeds and pests.

By growing your organic vegetables, you’re also doing your part to save the environment by reducing dependence on non-renewable resources.

Recycling by-products like kitchen waste, grass, tree leaves, livestock manure, rice husks and palm oil residue eliminates wastage in households.

Not only is growing your own vegetables organically ensures that they’re pesticide-free, but vegetables straight from your garden are also fresher, tastier and cheaper than those in the market.

Starting your organic garden Growing your own veggies is relatively easy provided you have the right ingredients.

Some vegetables need to be germinated in seed boxes, bags or in nursery beds first before being transplanted as seedlings to the garden beds when they’re two to three weeks old.

Certain vegetables can be planted directly in the garden.

Climbing plants need support structures, which should be built 10 to 14 days after planting.

If the frames are put in later, they will disturb the roots of the plants. It is also important to water the seedlings before transplanting and ensure minimum damage to the roots.

“Passion, persistence and faith will also help yield a better harvest,” said Tan Siew Luang, organic farming project co-ordinator of the Centre for Environment, Technology and Development (Cetdem).

She also emphasised that soil should always have enough nutrients to produce flourishing plants. You can add liquid fertiliser (as a supplement) to the plants.

To learn more, read books about organic farming and interact with vegetable gardeners to gain more experience.

So, as you go along, you’ll eventually be a hands-on expert. Don’t follow short-cuts. Rather, learn by observing how the plants grow on a daily basis.

What is compost? One of the vital components of organic farming is compost, which houses micro-organisms (fungi and bacteria) and small animals which live and get energy by decomposing their food, that is, dead leaves, grass, trees and animals. It’s a humus-like substance. (Humus is partially decomposed organic matter.) It also makes the soil fertile and alive. Crop and vegetable production using compost enables plants to flourish with the least amount of agricultural chemicals.

When the soil is rich with natural nutrients and alive with micro-organisms and small animals, the plants are healthy and little pesticides are needed.

To make compost, use recycled products such as kitchen waste (wet material), weeded grass, livestock manure, rice husks, etc.

To produce good compost, it’s best to mix “dry” and “wet” matter with soil in order to provide the micro-organisms (which help decomposition) an optimum medium in which to thrive.

The appropriate ratio should be 6 (dry matter): 3 (wet matter): 1 (soil).

Dry material has little water content and usually high carbon/nitrogen (C/N), which decomposes slowly.

Examples are rice straw, other crop residues, sugar cane, banana leaves, rice husk and tree leaves.

Kuntan’s made from rice husks smoked by a fire underneath a tin. It’s used as a source of soil minerals like phosphate, potash and calcium. Its alkalinity reduces soil acidity.