There is a bite in the air if one is out at night and one feels the chill in the early morning, even if in bed. Those who are yet to raise seedlings for winter crops will need to use straw mulch, now that the use of plastics is being discouraged after three decades of promoting its use as a solution to everything, from glass bottles to straw mulch. We have considered in October how to raise seedlings for solanaceous crops like chilli, tomato and brinjal, as well as cole crops like cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and knoll khol (wild cabbage). Except for knol-khol, it is now too late for other cole crops. You can pick seedlings from those who have extra. They need to be transplanted now to get a ‘head’ or form a ‘curd’ as in the case of cauliflower. It is still a good time for all the solanaceous crops.
The seedlings raised in a nursery need to be transplanted when in the four to six leaf stage or about three to four weeks after sowing. Hardening of seedlings is as important as weaning of infants from mother’s milk to solid foods or from living with one’s parents and siblings to hostel life. The ‘hardening’ enables the seedlings to withstand the transplanting shock, of being in a different field and in different conditions. The process is simple but necessary. And gradually you would need to reduce the frequency of watering the seedlings, from thrice a day to once a day. Reduce quantity of water two days prior to transplanting. The plants will undergo a little ‘stress’ and learn to cope with it. Thus, they will adjust to survive with less water and more space when uprooted and transplanted elsewhere.
Drench the nursery bed with water before uprooting the seedlings. For human beings we call this the ‘farewell function’. They have to feel good before they leave their cosy setting and go out into a different world. The carry-over good feeling helps them adjust. Transplant at recommended spacing and in rows. Irrigate immediately thereafter. The best time to transplant is around 4 p.m. in the afternoon when the ambient temperature is decreasing and there will be around eight hours of darkness in which to adjust to the new conditions. A little mist on winter nights is a great help. One can mulch the area between the rows with straw or dry leaves to reduce weeds and to conserve the soil moisture. This reduces the need for frequent irrigation.
Pot cultivation, and soil-less culture systems like hydroponics and aquaponics have now made balcony and terrace gardening possible with multi-level, vertical gardening options. It is quite simple once one bothers to find out how and why it is done. The students of Government High School, Dadachiwadi-Dhargal, were the latest enthusiasts to learn how to make self-irrigating pots (SIP) from used PET bottles of soft drinks and to grow mint, portulaca, aloe and other plants in them. The students of Biotechnology at Dhempe College of Arts and Science, Miramar, are going to show their skills and put their knowledge of microbial formulations in organic gardening on display at the ‘Chiasma’ exhibition in early December. It is an opportunity for students from other educational institutions to be inspired.