Grow your own ‘Rainforest!’ | Daily News

Grow your own ‘Rainforest!’

When you are growing your own food in your home garden you must be fully aware of the life cycle of your plants. They are all living beings and need to breathe, drink and eat. Therefore, we must be aware of the food our plants need. Green Thumbs speaks to Founder President of Eco Friendly Volunteers (ECO-V), Kanchana Weerakoon on natural and non- poisonous manure for organic home gardens.

She pointed out that when we say manure it’s mainly animal dung. But we also use this term for a fully natural substance like compost with animal dung (usually loads of animal dung such as Cow, goat, chicken, horses even elephants) It could also contain any other organic matter like parts of trees, grass, straw too. In organic farming we use the word ‘manure’ more than ‘fertilizer’.

“When you say fertilizer, it could be either chemical or organic. But in our home garden system, we never use chemical fertilizer. A home garden could be a few perches of land or even small area with few containers like pots. In such limited areas nutrition is absorbed by plants and there is no way of getting more nutrients as it’s an artificial environment or an area with limited soil. So, the plant roots can’t grow further and find its nutrition. Therefore, we must nurture them. That’s why we must treat our plants with manure more frequently. I would say you have to add manure at least once a month,” said Weerakoon.

Biodegradable waste

Compost is ‘decayed organic material used as a fertilizer for growing plants’. Compost is part of manure! Basically all of your wet kitchen waste which are biodegradable (capable of being decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms and thereby avoiding pollution), all fallen leaves, cut grass, fish or meat left over can go into composting. Some people don’t add meat or fish left over for composting as rats can be attracted. But if you have enough space (at least 2 perches of garden) you can add them.

“In fact, I usually make ‘Fish Tonic’ out of all fish leftover which is another natural manure you can keep for a long time with you to add slowly to your leafy vegetables. Honestly humans can’t make compost! But what we can do is, we can get help from other animals to make good compost for us. Composting is a process happening naturally and microbes are doing it. Earth worms and other macro animals help during the latter part of the process. This is why we always say the Metta Garden is the best place for ‘unseen beings’ as we create the best home for them to do their job. Without these microbes we are nothing! Other than using homemade compost there are many other ways you can add nutrition to your home garden. This is part of waste management at home too. Egg Shells, Fruit peals, meat bones or fish or prawn parts are good sources of natural fertilizers you can make at home and to mix with compost and add,” explained Weerakoon.

Manure is basically animal dung and other organic matter. However, this manure could get contaminated mainly due to human activities. For example, if the dung is from farm animals who are kept in cages or in restricted areas and fed with antibiotics or other sorts of artificially made food without any natural grazing then obviously the dung is not natural. This is why we should be careful when using chicken droppings. Many chickens are not free roaming and treated with loads of antibiotics and hormones. So, we are not supposed to use such droppings. Also, the manure can get contaminated if the greens add into them are contaminated with chemical fertilizers such as urea, and treated with pesticides. Then obviously when we use them along with animal excreta it is contaminated.

Be careful

“That’s why we are advised not to use any compost made out of municipal council waste.

The reason is the municipal council waste can come from all sort of places like, dispensaries, dustbins and from public toilets. Also waste water can be mixed with other solid waste. People use so much of detergents, soaps and other cleansing agents nowadays. This is why our Kohila, lotus stems or any greens that are available in markets are not healthy these days. The water could be contaminated with all kinds of chemicals. Traditionally in our homes, we had a small kohila patch where the waste water from bathrooms or kitchen went and got collected. Those days we never had issues with eating them. But today unfortunately it is not healthy. If you use any kind of commercially made soap, shampoo or detergents, then your own bathroom water outlet is badly polluted. Having said that we still can go for natural alternatives for such products,” pointed out Weerakoon.

Another type of manure is your own toilet waste. This is a practice in some parts of Australia, UK and USA. If you have a compostable toilet, then you can use your own excreta and urine in growing your food. But in Sri Lanka this is not popular yet. But if you are taking any antibiotics or medicines for diseases like diabetes, cholesterol and heart problems then your urine and excreta will be not as healthy as other animal excreta.

Soil system balance

The consequences of this ‘poisoning’ to the visible and invisible members of our home gardens are terrible. All the best microbes such as bacteria and other micro fauna and flora will vanish. Then earth worms, millipedes or any other macro fauna will vanish slowly. Therefore, the balance of the soil ecosystem will be disturbed and it will become dead soil. Some people approach us and tell us ‘no matter how hard we try to grow in our garden we can’t do it’. The reason is you must consider the health of the soil first. You know it is like getting pregnant. You can’t have children if your womb is not healthy. So first you must have a healthy womb. That is the same case with the soil.

Usually, healthy soil is blackish or a dark brown color and with less stones. Then when you dig in that soil you will find tiny insects in the healthy soil. You will also see earthworms in the best soil. When you smell it, there will be a beautiful earthy smell! If you drop a seed in such soil it will grow like magic!

Follow good practices

“You can turn an unhealthy area into a beautiful healthy garden if you follow all the good practices in natural farming. I did it! When we started our Metta Garden in 2013 it was a bare land. People had bulldozed it to clear the vegetation (to prevent dengue) and also had burnt all the grass. But we made it a healthy plot of land within less than a year. We brought back earthworms, beautiful wild plants and along with them bees and butterflies, dragonflies and even some reptiles over the period. So even if you have a small home garden with limited space you can still make it a better place,” explained Weerakoon.

She went on to explain that the first step is making your soil healthy. The top soil is the most important. Usually, it is said that to make 1 inch of top soil it will take at least 3 years. But you can accelerate that in your garden. In making it you must stop tilling, leave the grass as it is and only cut the overgrown grass. Use all your cut grass, fallen leaves from bigger trees and any other unwanted branches and twigs. And if you can bring straw, banana stem and any other wild wines, then add them all in a corner of your garden to make compost. Add your wet kitchen waste on top of that. Within three months you will have your first batch of compost. After that you will get compost in every few weeks. There are many methods you can make good compost at home.

“If you follow the correct steps you can make good quality compost in your balcony or terrace too. Having good compost is the key point. The precise science behind healthy natural home gardening is maintaining the balance of home garden ecosystem. Once you have good compost then there are many other natural ways you can add nutrients into your garden. As I mentioned some examples are adding your egg shells, fruit peels, fish waste or even lining the beds with coconut husks,” added Weerakoon.

Eco-friendly methods

When there is no poison no body suffers! Everyone is happy. The whole ecosystem is in a balanced cycle. It is only when the balance is lost that adverse results appear. So, when you practise organic home gardening you are not disturbing this balance. Prey and predators are within the same area and you don’t have to use any pest control methods as each one does its own job.

“A successful home garden is somewhat similar to a rain forest. You will see similar features like layers of trees. You will surely get ground cover with grass and wild plants, undergrowth with bushes, ginger, turmeric, lemongrass, many plants such as sunflowers, Das pethiya, ata pethiya, guava, kathurumurunga, lemon, lime, vines like passion fruit, kiri aguna, long beans and wing beans, blue butterfly pea (Nil Katarolu) and the canopy level trees like jack fruit, avocado and mangoes. This is what we had in our ancestral homes, what we called ‘Kandyan Home Gardens’. Today the western world calls this concept ‘Analogue forestry’. Our home garden is a well-balanced ecosystem. I know in the urban setup you have limitations in maintaining such an ecosystem. Don’t worry! even in a two perch garden you can still make a model of a Kandyan Home garden which I have done,” said Weerakoon.