GARDENING: ‘HOW OFTEN SHOULD I CHANGE THE SOIL?’

Zahrah Nasir April 26, 2020

Flourishing flower bed | Photo by the writer

Q. Every March, I dig up and throw away the top three inches of the soil in the kiyari I use for growing flowers in. I do this because it seems the soil has lost its nutrients. Then I replace it with new khaad and mitti, and sow my summer flowers. When the summer flowers are finished, I plant winter flowers in the same kiyari without adding any more khaad, etc. Then I repeat the process from March. I need to know if I am doing the right thing or, if not, what I should do instead. Also, how often should the soil be changed?

A. Soil should never be dug out and thrown away unless, in an extreme case, it has been irreversibly poisoned by something such as lethal misuse of weed killer, etc. Soil is a precious resource and even the thought of someone throwing it away makes my hair stand on end! The soil nutrients may be depleted after being utilised by both your summer and then winter flowers but, as you add khaad when you put in the soil each March, it really should still be quite fertile. Please stop this wasteful process and simply feed the soil that is there; feed it with khaad and/or completely rotted down compost, just once a year for flowers — twice if you decide to grow vegetables — and that will suffice. Soil needs caring for and feeding, and if it is done properly, soil fertility will increase over the years to come.

Q. Is there somewhere in Islamabad where I can get raspberry, blackberry, blueberry and other berry plants?

A. Unless pot-grown plants — as against those growing in the ground — are available, you now need to wait until late next winter/very early spring and then do a thorough search of all the nurseries in your area. If you don’t see the plants you want, ask the nursery owner if they can be specially ordered for you as, I believe, they may have to be brought in from Mardan or Peshawar.

Q. What is the best way to develop a kitchen garden intended, in time, to provide enough fresh produce for both the home and a restaurant? Can this be managed in pots, in a small garden, partly shaded and partly open to the sun, in Islamabad?

All your gardening queries answered here

A. Depending on the size of your family, you may be able to grow at least some of your daily vegetable requirements in a small area of pots but, I suspect, not enough to make buying vegetables a thing of the past, and certainly not enough for a continuous restaurant supply. For information on how to develop your kitchen garden, I suggest that you study all available material, including this weekly column, pick the brains of other garden enthusiasts and, perhaps, join your local horticultural society whose members will, undoubtedly, have much knowledge to share.

Kitchen garden produce

Kitchen garden produce

Q. I want to grow vegetables using a hydroponics system. I have watched several tutorials on the internet in this regard, but couldn’t make anything out of them. Can you please guide me? Also, please tell me from where I can get the necessary hydroponic nutrients. I reside in Peshawar.

A. Sorry. I cannot advise you on hydroponics as, personally speaking, I do not support the producing of vegetables by feeding them with water-soluble chemical formulae.

Q. Why are blisters appearing on the leaves of my Alstonia plants? Is there a remedy for this problem? I live in Islamabad.

A. Alstonias are often plagued by minute flying insects called Pauropsylla Tuberculata. These pests lay their eggs inside the leaves where they hatch into larvae, forming the galls/blisters that you see. The larvae eat their way out of the leaves, develop wings and fly off to repeat the cycle. Control is extremely difficult. Removing all infected leaves and disposing of them sensibly may help but, in cases of severe infestation, the shrubs/trees can become so unsightly — even die off — that it is recommended to remove them and plant something else instead.

Q. Every summer a big attack of flies ruins my guava crop in Bara Kahu, Islamabad. Kindly suggest a natural remedy.

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A. Please refer to the gardening columns published in the January 5, 2020 and February 16, 2020 issues of this magazine. Both of them deal with this problem.

Q. Why do you advise us against adding milk and yoghurt to our compost bins? How do they harm the process of composting?

A. I have never given such advice! On the contrary, both milk and yoghurt, mixed with water at a ratio of nine parts water to one part milk/yoghurt, are highly efficient plant food which, if you can afford it or

if you have a milking cow/goat, can also be applied undiluted. There is nothing at all bad about adding them to compost heaps either; although, for a day or two, they may smell.

Please continue sending your gardening queries to zahrahnasir@hotmail.com. Remember to include your location. The writer does not respond directly by email. Emails with attachments will not be opened

Published in Dawn, EOS, April 26th, 2020

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