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‘Is compost really necessary for soil?’

Updated September 11, 2016


What could be healthier than organic produce from your own garden
What could be healthier than organic produce from your own garden

Q. After studying the subject carefully I have come to the conclusion that compost, both homemade and that available in the market, be it imported or locally manufactured, cannot be regarded as 100 per cent organic for one reason or another so is best avoided. Moreover, the compost available in the market is very expensive and few gardeners can afford to buy it. In such circumstances, surely it makes sense to depend on good soil alone but where can such soil be sourced from?

A. Compost is essential for soil health and without the regular addition of compost, in one form or another, soil health deteriorates as does plant growth and crop production. There is no argument about the quality of so-called organic compost available in local markets as much of it has questionable contents, a fact mentioned in more than one previous articles. Homemade compost is as organic as the person making it intends it to be. If only 100 per cent purely organic material is composted, the resultant compost is totally organic too. Irrespective of the quality, a gardener cannot rely on soil alone. Soil must be fed on an on-going basis for it to remain fertile and compost or compost mulch is the only organic way of doing this. Chemical fertilisers may add plant food but only on a temporary basis and they do nothing for soil health, quite the reverse as, in the long term, such chemical inputs slowly poison and ultimately kill the soil. Maintaining soil health, organically of course, is already scheduled for discussion in a future article.

Q. Should garlic water or neem water be used every time plants are watered? I am a little confused on this subject and request clarification please.

More and more people are using organic methods to grow vegetables and fruits in their garden

A. No, this isn’t necessary. Garlic or neem water is for pest control and its use should start at the first sign of a pest attack and continue until pests are eradicated.

Q. Can olive trees be cultivated in Lahore, Sheikhupura and Bhakhar districts of Punjab?

A. If suitable soil and necessary maintenance e.g. watering, can be supplied, then the answer is yes, although please keep in mind that the annual harvest may be hit and miss depending on seasonal weather variations.

Q. Is cottonseed meal used as a fertiliser beneficial for plants and, if so, to what extent? How should it be applied?

A. Cottonseed meal is an excellent, slow-release, general plant food. It provides trace elements, nutrients, phosphorous, nitrogen and potash over quite a long period of time. It should be very lightly scattered on the soil surface and will get watered in over time. A kilo is ample for an area of approximately 50 sq feet. Applying cottonseed meal every four to six months is sufficient. Please take into consideration that cottonseed meal is acidic, therefore it is not recommended for use on already highly acidic soils and is not suitable for alkaline loving plants. Here in Pakistan, cotton crops are far from being organic so indigenously produced cottonseed meal is not an organic fertiliser.

Q. I have a tropical Hibiscus with variegated leaves. I have now had it for a few months and it is growing well but the previously variegated leaves have all turned green! What is the reason for this and how to rectify the problem?

A. If your Hibiscus is in a partially shaded location, lack of sunlight can cause variegated leaves to turn green. Moving it into a sunnier spot may help ensure that new leaves are variegated although it will not change existing green leaves back to variegated ones. If this is not the case, then, as variegated plants such as hibiscus are grown from variegated leaved cuttings (known as ‘sports’), which initially appeared on parent plants with otherwise green leaves, your hibiscus may simply have decided to revert to normal green leaves as an inbuilt survival mechanism. If this is the case, nothing can change the leaf colour now so sit back, stop worrying and enjoy the flowers.

Q. I have okra and ridge gourd (turai) in my garden in Karachi. I have been growing turai for 16 years now. I have noticed that in both okra and turai, the shape of the leaves changes as the plants grow. In okra the gap within a leaf widens as the leaf grows bigger. Is this normal or is there some deficiency in the plants.

A. There is no deficiency in your plants. This change in leaf shape is a completely natural phenomenon.

Q. I have seeds of apple gourd, cucumber, bottle gourd, okra, chillies and peppers but am not sure when to sow them. I live in Karachi and need guidance.

A. Seed sowing guides are given in this column on the first Sunday of each month and cover that particular month. But briefly, the seed varieties you mention will now have to wait until early next year before being sown.

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

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, September 11th, 2016