June 2009, Mumbai
September 2009 Mumbai
For Private circulation only.
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Let each one
on one’s own
nook and corner
of our planet.
Excerpt from ‘Plenty for All’
by Professor S.A.Dabholkar
This handbook has been made with the contributions and involvement of all
my dear friends and supporters.
Officials and staff of Mumbai Port Trust – without whose participation the city
farm would not have come up.
Special thanks to Shri K. A. Kondar for leading our team at Mumbai Port Trust.
Dr R.T.Doshi for the initial training and inspiration.
Shri Dipak Suchade for providing constant guidance and training in Natueco
Shri Uday Acharya for the support and encouragement in pursuing my dream
of green roofs in Mumbai.
Sreedevi Laxmi Kutty for organising & setting up of Urban Leaves.
Neesha Noronha for editing contents in the handbook.
Tejal Vishweshwar for the formatting and graphic design.
Suresh Paranjpe, Jyoti Bhave, Anil Ranglani for helping with arrangements for
Shri Avinash Kubal and staff at Maharshtra Nature Park for the support at
Visitors to the MbPT terrace farm who inspired our efforts.
‘National Society of Friends of Trees’ whose awards encouraged us to do
better each year.
Last but not the least my family (especially my daughter Prajakta and my niece
Nupur) for their love and support.
Honorary Technical Advisor
URBAN LEAVES, an Initiative of Vidya Varidhi Trust
INTRODUCTION ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 1 to 3
An Invitation to City Farm
Natueco City Farming
Benefits of Natueco Process
Top 5 Reasons to City Farm
Focus Area of the Guide
STARTING YOUR NATUECO CITY FARM --------------------------------------------------------------- 3 to 12
1. Choosing Your City Farm Site and Style ------------------------------------------------ 3
2. Material Required --------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 4
3. Selecting Containers --------------------------------------------------------------------------- 5
4. Building Amrut Mitti -Natueco unique soil ----------------------------------------------- 5 to 9
> Collect Green and Dry Biomass
> Collect Top Soil
> Prepare Amrut Jal
> Prepare Heaps
> Keep for Composting
> Green the Heap
> Check your Amrut Mitti
5. Planting ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 9 to 10
> Choosing Saplings and Seeds
> Inter Cropping & Companion Planting
> Planting Saplings, Sowing Seeds
6. Maintaining Soil Quality and Recycling Kitchen Waste ---------------------------- 10 to12
> Adding Kitchen Waste
> Adding Wood Ash
> Maintaining Moisture Content
> Monsoon Care
7. Understanding Common Modifications and their Drawbacks ---------------------12
> Using the EM Technology instead of Amrut Jal
> Using Chemicals with your soil
> Tilling and burning
APPENDIX -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------13 to 23
A. Determining the needs of a plant --------------------------------------------------------- 13
B. Why is a mixture of leaves necessary to build soil? ------------------------------- 14
C. Factors Affecting Growth of Plants ------------------------------------------------------ 14 to 16
> Soil has to be Live
> pH Level
> Sufficient organic matter with appropriate C:N Ratio
D. Cropping Pattern and Companion Planting -------------------------------------------17 to 22
E. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) -----------------------------------------------------23
CONTACTS ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ 24
An Invitation to City Farm
Welcome everyone! To the magic of city farming. More than an introduction, we extend this invitation
to you, to share in and grow our experiences with city farming. We hope that it transforms your life in
the marvellous ways, as it has for so many of us. There is enough and more for everyone!
It was only eight years ago at Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) that we first began to recognise abundance
in our lives. Ironically, only when we acknowledged the enormity of our waste and the cost involved in
getting rid of it, did change occur. Dr Doshi inspired us through his (terrace) city farm to take the first
step, of changing our perception, from waste into resource. From then on, with the guidance of Shri
Dipak Suchade, we and our city farm have kept growing.
Now, with our 3000 square foot Natueco terrace farm, we feel blessed by both 'successes' and
'failures'. We are grateful, every time we are forced to share our produce with people (not to mention
insects and birds), every time we must sweep up the untidy carpet of leaves, every time we go home
smelling of Amrut Jal.
We have benefited greatly from the wisdom of Prof. Sripad A Dabholkar and feel lucky to share our
own struggles in farming with the Prayog Pariwar and others. We are humbled by the creative
solutions offered, by ordinary people, found in their everyday lives and are awed by the millions of
mysteries that keep confronting us. We don't believe we have all the answers. But we hope that, if we
are able to make any aspect of city farming easier or more delightful, we will come one step closer to
IMAGINE all the grey (terraces and balconies) we can see from the 21st floor of Phoenix tower turned
green. Wouldn't it be wonderful? Won't you join us?
Natueco City Farming
City farming refers to the creation of farms in the city itself, through natural or innovative techniques in
open spaces, terraces, etc. Dr. R.T. Doshi, a PhD in Economics and a recipient of Padmashree
Award is considered the pioneer of city farming in Mumbai. Dr. Doshi acknowledges the inspiration of
Prof. Sripad A Dabholkar in his pursuit of organic farming. Prof. Dabholkar, a post graduate in science
and a mathematics lecturer for eleven years, felt compelled to take voluntary retirement and pursue
his calling of a teacher, experimental farmer and researcher inspired by Annasaheb Sahasrabudhe, a
co-worker of Gandhi at Wardha. Prof. Dabholkar combined the words 'nature' and ‘ecology’ in the
term “Natueco” to describe a farming technique he introduced in the early 1980s. With this technique
not only did Prof Dabholkar revolutionize grapes, banana, sugarcane, maize, bamboo, root crops
vegetable culture in Maharashtra but also changed the lives of the small farmers who started earning
high incomes in national and international markets!
The wonder of the Natueco technique is that it allows us to harvest assured calculated yields!
Paradoxically this ‘calculation’ is not aimed at a commercial exploitation of land and produce but
rather at assuring a yield that is “Plenty for All” * (*a book written by Prof. Dabholkar about Natueco
published in 1998.)
Natueco directly affects the environment and the farmer in a very positive manner as there is
‘enrichment and enhancement of neighbourhood resources’ and a reduction in global warming. Food
crops grown in the neighbourhood help to ‘eradicate malnourishment’ and make farmers self-reliant.
This technique encourages farmers to experiment and look around their environment for resources
and find their own solutions to problems. It aims at liberating the farmer from his dependence on
external commercial inputs.
In addition, Natueco farmers interact using a unique methodology called ‘Prayog Pariwar”. “Prayog”
means “experiment” and “Pariwar” is a networking family. People come together by sharing of the
results of their experiments so as to solve their farming problems. Natueco believes that the latest
scientific knowledge can be made available to each person by 'demystifying' science.
(Please visit our e-group and blog created for networking, sharing experiences, knowledge and skills.)
Natueco is more than a scientific technique. It is a culture wherein one lives in harmony with ones
environment with 5 Ls –life, livelihood, laughter, learning and love.
Benefits of the Natueco Process
• Natueco works on the premise that there is plenty for all if one follows the processes of nature.
This inculcates a non violent, patient, loving approach to farming. Natueco farmers find this
approach transcending their farm boundaries to become a part of their lifestyle.
• The nutrient value and the structure of the soil is one of the best in the world. Plants grown in this
soil have higher vitality and nutritional content than conventional plants or even other organic
• Amrut Mitti has a high content of a variety of microbial life which makes it self sustaining. These
microbes help provide the best nutrition to the plant, as in natural forests
• The soil need to be produced only once in the life of the farm, and over the years it increases in
nutritional value and most important, in microbial variety.
• The high organic carbon content of Amrut Mitti reduces the need of water. It has the capacity to
harvest dew and fulfill its needs of moisture.
Top 5 Reasons to City Farm
> Produce better tasting, more nutritious food without the harmful effects of chemical
pesticides and fertilizers.
Urban agriculture supports more sustainable production of food by trying to decrease the use of
harmful pesticides and fertilisers. It also eliminates the need for preservatives, as products do not
need to travel long distances. City farming allows fresh vegetables and fruits to be made available to
urban consumers. And last but not least, food produced in these ways, especially organic food is a lot
tastier and richer in nutrients.
> Turn waste into resource and save the city from turning into a garbage-dump.
Mumbai city generates about 500 gms of garbage per person per day. Thus, the BMC has to handle
6000 tons of garbage per day including collection, transportation and final disposal. Most of this
garbage goes to dumping grounds. City farming enables recycling of a large percentage of this bio-
degradable garbage at source itself.
> Save on cost of transportation of food.
Great quantities of food arrive in the city from far off places, incurring huge energy (and money) costs
for their transportation. The energy used to transport food would be greatly reduced if urban
agriculture could provide the cities with locally grown food.
> Encourage joy, connectedness, creativity and learning.
We see our urban lives becoming increasingly disconnected- from ourselves, our communities and
from nature. Urban farming creates a space to rebuild these connections. Body, mind and spirit may
be simultaneously employed in meaningful, joyful and healthy activities. In addition, communities may
be brought closer, sensitizing members to the need to conserve and care (for self and other people,
plants and animals).
> Provide employment.
We see large scale unemployment in cities. Urban agricultural projects are beginning to open a new
labour market in areas that have been affected by outsourcing of jobs. The activity of creating city
farms has the potential to generate employment in areas such as gardening, nurseries, consultancy,
contract for waste recycling (housing societies, corporate, institutions etc), and marketing of organic
Focus Area of the Guide
For us, the idea behind city farming is to be able to grow what you need using natural resources
available around you. So check out the available space, the sunlight and biomass available and begin
experimenting! Begin at home, in your housing societies or even on office premises. You will be
surprised to find more and more possibilities once you know the trick of utilizing the same ! Discover
the joy of community farming, of sharing and laughing with your neighbour, and literally enjoying the
fruits of your labour.
In this guide we will describe the first steps to creating your city farm. Our main focus will be the
process of creating your own nutrient rich soil - Amrut Mitti.
• Choosing your city farm site and style
• Building Amrut Mitti
• Planting saplings, sowing seeds
• Maintaining soil quality and recycling kitchen waste
• Understanding common modifications and their drawbacks
In the next guide, we will cover subsequent methods of maintaining your city farm, that is (1) canopy
management or pruning and (2) root management.
PLEASE NOTE : You might need various steps (and ingredients) repeatedly. Some of the steps might
also overlap with others. Try to read through the whole guide once before beginning.
Finally, remember that this is YOUR experiment so feel free to try things out (and do share with us the
successes and the “MISTAKES”!
STARTING YOUR NATUECO CITY FARM
1. Choosing Your City Farm Site and Style
The criteria for selection of site are:
> Easy accessibility: Ease of access is important for the long term success of your farm. Ideally
balconies, terraces, or space in your own societies are good for individual initiatives. Parks situated in
your neighbourhood, school and colleges, and organisations are good for community projects.
> Availability of sunlight: Ideally plants need eight hours of sunlight. Therefore balconies and
terraces generally make good locations for city farms. Some varieties like banana, papaya can also
be grown in filtered sunlight. In case of heavily shaded areas pineapple, mint, coriander, lemon grass
(strong smelling herbs ) can be planted. In areas with extreme climate place the delicate varieties
under a shade net to protect from the scorching heat in summer. In winter mulch heavily (6 – 8
inches) to protect from severe cold.
> Ventilation: Adequate ventilation is needed for good plant growth. However, protect your plants
from strong winds. Place a windbreaker (either constructed) or natural like bamboo & Glyricidia, for
large plants and Vitivar grass for smaller shrubs. In coastal areas plants on the terrace or balcony
need to be protected from strong winds during the monsoon by providing external support. This is
because when not planted into the ground, the anchoring roots of tall trees do not have the necessary
depth to support themselves.
> Efficient Drainage: Saplings should be planted in such a way that water does not stagnate
around the containers or planted areas. It should flow easily into the rain water drains. Ensure too that
drains are kept clear and not clogged with runaway soil and leaf litter.
> Worthiness of building structure: Ensure that there are no existing seepage problems (or
cracks) on your terrace and balconies before beginning your city farm. It is advisable to get the slab
tested from an authorised person in case of old buildings (for cracks which are not visible). Despite
what is frequently believed, a terrace farm does not contribute to seepage where none exists and will
not worsen the problem where it does. In fact, in a newly constructed site it can help prevent such
problems. This is because the green cover creates an even temperature which prevents expansion
and contraction in the concrete. Thus cracks and subsequent seepage problems are prevented.
You may face a few other “fears” when you decide to city farm. For example, the roots of plants will
grow into the concrete. At MbPT, inspite of planting directly on beds, till date (in the past eight years)
we have had no incidence of this. Similarly, you may fear that the weight of the plants and soil will be
too much. This is not so. The initial weight of soil and containers is very low as a lot of biomass or
bagasse is used. Over a period of time say 4 to 5 years the weight increases due to decomposition
and compaction of composted material. However, it will still be lighter in weight compared to ready
made soil from the nursery. Finally, if you fear that your building is not structurally sound you could
simply avoid planting large trees on it or just plant small or short life plants. In this way by the end of
four or five years when the soil weight has increased, it will be time to remove the plant and
redistribute the soil and replant something new. .
2. Materials Required
Make note of the following table to acquire the required ingredients.
Ingredient Description Sources Comments
Any aerated container – • HTP bags are Use easily available
bamboo/plastic available at grocery materials. Be creative!
baskets, recycled shops. Plastic laundry baskets
Aerated drums, bricks laid out • Bricks, Baskets of cost approx. Rs.120
containers on slab or ground, HTP plastic or bamboo, are each. Bricks are
bags etc. for plantation available in market. available at Rs. 60 per
• Drums can be dozen.
Mixture of tender, Surrounding plants Free!
mature & dry leaves
Biomass and other parts of
Cow dung & Fresh cow dung and Cattle sheds and near Rs. 5 per liter for both
cow urine not dried temples cow dung and cow urine.
Chemical-free black Grocery stores Approx. Rs. 40 per kg.
jaggery Alternatives are any
locally available over-
Jaggery ripe sweet fruit such as
banana or jackfruit or
Household wet kitchen Kitchen Recycling of kitchen
waste, e.g. Peels of waste
waste vegetables, fruits, etc.
Black colored sand Construction sites, river Sea sand can be
River sand beds washed properly and
used when river sand is
Black coloured silt River beds Clayey soil can be
River silt added
Seeds and saplings of Nursery, friends, farms Vegetable seeds are
Seeds and your choice approx. Rs. 10 per
saplings packet. Sapling price
varies with type.
Fibre which remains Juice vendors Generally free!
after extracting the
bagasse sugarcane juice
Soil found in the upper Found below big trees or If unavailable use red
1 inch of land under bushes, in nooks earth from nurseries.
and corners of the path of Approx. Rs 10- 15 /kg
Top soil flowing water. Look in
your gardens or building
Ash that remains after Bakery that uses a On a larger farm one
burning wood furnace for baking. This is may have to burn dried
(Wood) Ash an environmentally option wood, twigs available on
than burning of wood. site. Free again!
3. Select Containers:
The choice of container depends on available area and ease of sourcing. Any container used should
be well aerated. This is necessary as composting generates a lot of heat which needs to be
The simplest way is to recycle containers/bottles/buckets. For some, these may lack aesthetic value.
However, you could always use your creativity to change this!
Using baskets with green matting or old fabric (e.g. sarees, dupattas) stitched around aids aeration
and prevents the loss of compost when it gets formed from the decomposing biomass in the
container. The net also prevents loss of moisture due to evaporation thereby reducing water
Planting directly on the slabs has been most successful at MbPT. The roots get adequate space to
grow and one can keep adding Amrut Mitti as the canopy spreads. After harvesting, it is easier to clear
and plant the next crop.
Recycled drums (200 litres) are also helpful. Trees like banana, mango, guava etc. grow well in them.
However metal drums have to be replaced every 4 or 5 years due to rust. If by that time the trees
have grown well, they become difficult to transplant. Also scrap oil drums are difficult to procure and
rather expensive to buy. They should be used only if they are easily available and would otherwise
remain unused. For example, in MbPT these drums are used in the port operations and so easily
Select among those mentioned below or use your creativity!
Horizontal drum with holes
Drum with holes
drilled in it
Directly prepared on heaps
4. Building Amrut Mitti - Natueco Unique Soil
How do you start building your own nutrient-rich soil or Amrut Mitti. You copy nature! Nature on its
own takes 100 to 500 years to prepare 1 inch of soil.
Normally, through wind and rain, and the foraging or movement of animals, layers of varied plant
material (of different species and at different growth stages) are formed on the soil floor. Above, the
existing plant canopy and top layer of plant material protect the soil from harsh weather. On the soil
floor, animals trample and break down the plant material, contributing through their own life processes
to the organic matter (excreta, urine, etc). Soil macro and micro organisms further process and
decompose this organic matter, slowly converting it into soil that is rich in nutrients required for plant
When emulating nature’s method of soil building, rather than waiting for rainfall to irrigate the soil or
winds to cover the organic matter with mud you can catalyze the process by providing the required
ingredients for soil building. Life is infused into the compost heap (made of layers of biomass and
topsoil arranged alternately in layers) through addition of Amrut Jal. The tender leaves and the
matured green leaves render the soil full of nutrition and the fibre of dried leaves and stems determine
the structure of the soil. In a short period of 1-3 months Amrut Mitti is available. This soil contains well-
composted organic parts and mineral parts in equal volume. In addition it is well aerated. Refer to
Appendix C for more information related to this step.
> Collect Green and Dry Biomass
To build Amrut Mitti, your best resource is the plants that grow in the vicinity of your farm. This
“biomass” makes up the bulk raw material for soil. You can collect biomass of diverse plants; herbs,
shrubs, grasses, trees, climbers, creepers, runners, etc. so that different nutrients from various plants
are obtained. Biomass may include various parts of the plants but ensure that you collect leaves in
large quantity. Collect plenty of biomass as it will be often required to be used as mulch.
Practically speaking, Dry biomass refers to dried fallen
leaves whereas Green biomass refers to tender and
mature leaves that need to be pruned from existing
Green biomass must also be dried before use. You can
chop larger stems or branches and leave them to dry. This
process will roughly take a week in good sunlight. When
dry, the biomass should be crushed by hand, this breaks
the waxy coating on the veins of the leaves so that they
can easily absorb Amrut Jal when soaked in it.
Mix dried green biomass and dry biomass in equal proportion.
For good soil both dry and green biomass are required but if green biomass is unavailable, use only
dry biomass to initiate the process. In this case the additional 100 day “greening” process is required
to ensure complete nutrient availability, variety of microbes and good structure of soil. Please refer to
the Appendix B for a detailed explanation of why a mixture of leaves is required.
> Collect top soil
Without digging, scrape the top (only 1 cm) layer
of any unturned soil found under bushes and
trees, in nooks and corners of the path of flowing
water or any unexposed soil that lies beneath
layers of fallen leaf litter.
If the soil has too much clay, add 10% river sand
in it to avoid hardening of compost with time.
Similarly if the soil in your region has too much
sand, add river silt or clay soil in it in order to
create the desired soil structure.
This topsoil is a necessary ingredient, because it contains essential minerals along with dormant
forms of microbes. By using this topsoil with the biomass (leaves and branches) you are providing an
atmosphere to activate the dormant microbes. The microbes will become active when you mix the
topsoil with the moist biomass.
> Prepare Amrut Jal
1] Ten (10) litres water
2] One (1) litre cow urine
3] One (1) kg fresh cow dung (or
dung of any herbivorous animal)
4] Fifty (50) gms black jaggery (or
six (6) over ripe bananas or
jackfruit or any other sweet fruit locally available or two (2) glasses of sugarcane juice)
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Maturation Time: three (3) days
Method: Mix all the ingredients together and keep it for three (3) days. Stir the mixture twice or thrice a
day, twelve (12) times clock wise and twelve (12) times anti-clock wise each time. On the fourth (4 )
day, take one (1) litre of this concentrate mixture and mix it with ten (10) litres of water.
One gram of Cow dung contains crores of microbes. Jaggery is used to aid fermentation which helps
the microbes to multiply. Cow urine contains several important nutrients. Just as salt adds taste to
our food, cow urine adds minerals/salts to the compost to make it more palatable for the microbes to
Amrut Jal acts as an accelerating agent for decomposition due to the large quantity of microbes. The
microbial activity in it is highest on the 4 day, after which it starts declining. Hence, for best results
use it on the fourth (4 ) day. After that you may store it for a maximum of two or three more days. It is
always a good idea to make sure the rest of the materials you need are ready before making Amrut
Jal. If not, rather than wasting the Amrut Jal use it to water any plants you have and notice the burst of
life it gives!
Please Note : Amrut Jal is required a number of times during the whole process of preparing Amrut
Mitti, therefore read the whole procedure carefully, note when it may be required and accordingly
prepare it in time.
> Prepare heaps
Soak the crushed, dried biomass in Amrut Jal for twenty four hours. In this way all the veins and
branches will get saturated with Amrut Jal.
After this you can begin to prepare the heaps. The first layer should consist of the soaked biomass
spread thinly. The second layer is formed by sprinkling some top soil. The quantity of top soil in the
layer should be such that it equals the quantity of biomass after complete decomposition. You can
also sprinkle some Amrut Jal to moisten the top soil.
Keep on alternating the layers, pressing them downwards tightly by walking or dancing on them until a
height of two (2) feet is reached on a terrace slab or one (1) foot on a farm i.e., about thirty (30) to fifty
(50) layers. Cover with a final layer of mulch; in this case biomass or sugar cane bagasse soaked in
Heaps may be upto three (3) feet broad to permit air to circulate freely through them but they may be
of any desired length. They should also be protected from direct sunlight and rain.
Heap preparation facilitates nature’s way of soil building through decomposition. Alternating the layers
helps to increase the surface area available between top soil and Amrut Jal soaked biomass, thereby
speeding up decomposition. The top layer of mulch protects the process from direct sunlight, protects
the microbes and helps to retain the moisture.
> Keep for Composting
After the heaps are made,
• Turn (mix) every seven days.
• Mulch after turning
• Sprinkle Amrut Jal till moist (not soggy) as and when required
• Keep for thirty to forty (30- 40) days or till composted.
> Green the heap (additional 100 day process)
Through the greening process you start your search for plant nutrients from your soil. It is optional in
case you have used both dry and green biomass in your composting process (Check Appendix B for
explanation). However if you have used only dry biomass then it becomes imperative. From the
growing parts of the plants you harvest plant nutrients and build up the volume of fertile soil. It is not
important whether plants grow vigorously or germinate and die or are suffering in keen competition.
You recycle the whole biomass to build up the limited requirement of soil.
• Collect a mixture of easily available local seeds and soak in Amrut Jal for 8 hours. The selection
should ideally include fruits, vegetables including leafy vegetables, herbs, grains, pulses, big
trees, oil-plants, spices. Alternatively they could also be selected as per the different tastes such
as; sweet – varyali/ saunf, sour - tamarind, tomato, ambadi, pungent - chilli, astringent - gawar,
salty - spinach, rajgara, bitter- karela, methi, etc.
• Spread on a dry cloth overnight for sprouting.
• Sow these seeds in heaps (restrict it to the upper two (2) to three (3) inches of the heap). The
ratio is 10 grams per square foot.
• Cover the heap by two (2) to four (4) inches of mulch i.e. dry grass or dry leaves.
• Sprinkle with Amrut Jal from time to time to maintain the moisture of the heap and microbial
• Keep for 21 days.
After the first Twenty one (21) days interval
After twenty one (21) days, the seeds would have sprouted
and grown to some height.
• Harvest (cut off) the upper twenty five percent (25 %) of
the tender shoots, without disturbing the roots and lower
stem so that plants grow again.
• The cuttings should be spread on top of the mulched
• Let the seedlings grow for another twenty one (21) days.
Here, you are harvesting the tender leaves of the plant which will provide the nutrients zinc, boron,
phosphate and molybdenum.
After the Second Twenty one (21) days interval
By the 42 day, the plants would have grown into saplings
with matured leaves. Again,
• Cut off twenty five percent (25 %) of the growth, which
will consist of matured leaves without disturbing the
roots and lower part of the stem to allow the plants to
• Spread these green cuttings on the mulched heap.
• Let the cut sapling grow for another twenty one (21)
Now, you are harvesting the mature leaves of the plant which will provide the nutrients nitrogen,
magnesium and potash.
After the Third Twenty one (21) days interval
On the 63rd day, some plants would have grown significantly and started flowering.
• Cut the flowering plants from the bottom just keeping ½ an inch of
the stem above the ground and without disturbing the roots.
• Cut the flowering plants from the bottom just keeping ½ an inch of
the stem above the ground and without disturbing the roots.
• Chop plant parts up in two (2) or three (3) inch pieces and spread
them out on the mulched heap. Leave for three (3) to four (4) days
till they dry and can be further crushed easily.
• Immerse dried cuttings in Amrut Jal for eight (8) hours.
• Mix into the heap.
Compost the heap for an additional thirty (30) days. As during the first
composting period, turn the heap regularly, making sure it is moist and
This step is unique to Natueco and very important to develop a culture that includes a wide variety of
micro organisms in your soil. Roots of plants belonging to different plant families contain certain
carbonaceous materials which may be the favourite food for certain microbes. Therefore, it is the root
which decides which microbes to attract. At the flowering stage the plants are full of nutrition and the
microbial activity near the root zone is at its peak. This ensures conversion of nutrients from
unavailable form into available form. Thus through the greening process you are replicating nature’s
grassland and pasture eco system evolution in a limited space. Without this you will be daily losing the
opportunity to harvest sunlight. For better understanding of greening process please refer to the
> Check your Amrut Mitti
Good compost should never stink. Stink indicates that decomposition is not happening correctly and
attention is required (You may check the aeration or the moistness). Amrut Mitti should have the
pleasant smell of first rain.
Amrut Mitti will be crumbly and have a soft texture (one should not be able to make firm balls (ladoos)
out of it). If balls (ladoos) do get formed, you need to add some river sand or washed sea sand.
A litre measure of good Amrut Mitti should weigh about 400 grams. A greater weight implies that the
mineral content is high. If your Amrut Mitti weighs more first check the moisture content. There might
simply be too much moisture. If it is not too moist then you can add some organic matter.
When building Amrut Mitti, your magic touch with a heart full of gratitude will help pass on your
positive energy. With experience you may explore new avenues to enhance Amrut Mitti but always
remember that Mother Nature’s soil is the very best. So let her be your guide, and there will be
abundance for sure
Now that your Amrut Mitti is ready the next step is to plant saplings or to sow some seeds so start with
choosing the saplings & seeds.
> Choosing saplings and seeds
It is always a good idea to include your whole family in the city farming process so ask them what they
would like to grow and try that. You can grow things that you find useful as well as those you find
beautiful (most likely others will find them beautiful too and you'll have lots of butterflies and other
You can start with herbs such as lemon grass, tulsi, pudina, pepper mint and curry leaves. As you gain
more confidence and experience move on to vegetables such as lady finger, brinjal, chilies, tomatoes
and even corn and haldi, and then graduate to fruit trees! Ask your sabzi walas and local farmers
(including other city farmers) too what might be easily grown locally.
> Inter cropping & Companion planting
Growing different plants near to one another also helps to utilize and conserve the soil and protect
plants. A multi layered city farm, with plants at different heights, is a form of inter cropping that makes
the most of available space and sunshine. Putting plants with different needs together cuts
competition. In particular try growing:
• Tall plants next to small ones
• Deep rooted plants next to shallow rooted plants
• Climbing plants next to ground plants
• Broad leaves next to narrow leaves.
Just as we like to be with our friends, plants have their companions too. Planting particular plants
together can attract good insects and drive away pests. In general, mixed crops and strong smells
repel garden enemies, while flowers attract beneficial insects. Companion planting is a natural way to
protect plants. Please refer to the Appendix D for details on cropping pattern and companion planting.
> Planting Saplings, Sowing Seeds
Soak sugarcane bagasse in Amrut Jal for twenty four (24) hours. Sugarcane bagasse works well
because it contains sugar which aids fermentation. It also provides aeration, absorbs and retains
moisture and gives good structure to soil on decomposition. Moreover, it is easily available from the
gannawala. In case sugarcane bagasse is not available any other dry fibrous organic matter e.g. rice
husk may be used.
• Fill the first forty percent (40%) of the container with the soaked sugarcane bagasse
• Then fill in the Amrut Mitti. Six to nine inches of Amrut Mitti is all that is needed to plant a grafting
• Soak the roots of the sapling (if bought from a nursery) in Amrut Jal for a few minutes to remove
the excess soil (Retain some soil). Then place the sapling in the container. Spread the roots in all
directions gently with your fingers.
• Add wood ash on the roots and in surrounding soil.
• Add Amrut Mitti and plant the sapling firmly in it.
• Mulch with dried grass, organic matter or sugarcane bagasse.
• Thereafter as the plant grows you can add four (4) litres of Amrut Mitti for every square foot of
growth in the canopy.
If planting directly on a heap or bed on a terrace slab, the same procedure is to be followed including
beginning with a bottom layer of sugarcane bagasse.
Refer to Appendix C for information related to this step and Appendix C for details on factors affecting
growth of plants.
6. Maintaining soil quality and recycling kitchen waste.
The procedure of building soil must be done only once in the lifetime of the farm. Maintaining the
proper balance of the elements ensures that the soil will continue to be the ideal soil. The compost
heap is subject to both loss of volume as well as a loss of nutrients. There are several ways you can
maintain the quality of the soil. Refer to Appendix C for information related to this step.
> Adding wood ash to the compost heap
You can dry wood from trees pruned in your own compound and burning it to obtain wood ash. In
urban areas ash can is sourced from local bakeries rather than burning wood. 25 grams of ash can be
given per square foot at intervals of 100 days or three months. Ash is alkaline in nature, therefore
adding it to soil helps to maintain the pH level. In addition, it helps to return to the soil all the elements
the plant extracted from it.
There is a thirty percent (30%) loss of volume of the compost heap annually due to the conversion of
carbon into carbon dioxide because of the heat. Covering the heap with grass cuttings and dry leaves
or “mulching” helps to control the temperature of the heap and compensate for the loss of volume.
Moreover, when microbes in the soil are exposed to the sun for even a short period, they die, resulting
in a waste of effort taken to build them up. Hence, it is prudent to always keep the soil mulched.
Mulching also reduces loss of moisture due to evaporation. It also helps in aeration as earthworms
keep coming to the surface to eat the organic matter in effect tilling the soil.
Erosion of the Amrut Mitti heap can also be minimized by “live mulching”, i.e. by planting lentils,
sesame, and mustard, maize and “ragi” etc. Choose plants which are companions to the main plants.
They provide pest control, help hold nutrients in soil, provide biomass for recycling back to the heap.
For example, mustard repels pests, attracts beneficial parasitoids wasps and hoverflies. (Refer to
appendix for details on companion planting.)
The volume of the Amrut Mitti heap can also be maintained by providing it with roots, leaves and
branches from the plant material harvested from this heap. For example, after harvesting bananas
from the plant, the tree is cut leaving 1 foot of stem from the bottom. The whole plant is then cut, dried
and added as mulch to the area where it was growing. This ensures that all nutrients taken by the
plant from the soil are returned back to the soil.
When green biomass decomposes methane is produced which retards the growth of the white feeder
roots. Therefore, remember to place green biomass on top of dry biomass, so that it dries before the
> Adding kitchen waste
Natueco is a simple method to grow your own food. Because it follows the cyclical nature of life it
offers you the additional advantage of turning your kitchen waste into a resource in the most efficient
You can add a fistful of organic kitchen waste into your container or heap on slab everyday. Initially
you should limit the waste, adding only a little at a time or adding after a gap of a day or two.
Remember plants are like your infant babies. You don’t start feeding them as soon as they are born.
The feeding pattern progresses with the growth of the baby. Similarly over time you will notice that the
rate of decomposition increases and you will be able to increase the quantity and frequency of waste
added. This indicates that your waste has begun to contribute to the fertility of the soil.
As the rate of decomposition increases you will also notice a loss of volume in the container or heap.
To compensate for this loss we suggest that every 15 to 20 days (depending on the rate of
decomposition) you add a layer of sugarcane bagasse soaked in Amrut Jal again as mulch. For some,
the addition of mulch contributes aesthetically to the process of decomposition of kitchen waste.
Waste should be added over the mulch, away from the stem of a planted sapling and never in direct
contact with the soil. You can finely chop or pulverise the waste to ensure faster decomposition and
because pulverised waste is less likely to attract pests. If you find that the waste is attracting fruit flies
you can sprinkle a little soil over it. In just a few minutes you will notice the flies disappear. Also check
for too much moisture. Refer to Appendix C for information related to this step.
> Maintaining moisture content
As roots grow after sunset, the best time to water plants is at sunset. Plants take in nutrition in
moonlight and moisture is required for absorption of these nutrients. Watering in the evening also
reduces water loss due to evaporation.
You will require approximately one litre of water per square foot for ten days depending on the
humidity and surrounding micro climate of your farm. You can add this water in staggered intervals
based on what is required.
It is best to use a garden hose to water the soil. Using the drip irrigation method often results in over-
watering in one place. This water-logging causes rotting of the roots and leaching of the nutrients out
of the topsoil. The white feeder roots take fifty two hours to grow back. Simultaneously, the
surrounding areas may have too little water, leading to microbial death. Using a hose not only makes
it easy for the gardener to gauge and control the quantity of water supplied but it also gives him or her
the opportunity to visit the plant frequently. A relationship between care taker and plant can only
enhance production! Remember plants need moisture not water! So do not over water.
> Monsoon care
During the monsoon there may be leaching of nutrients. To minimize this you should sow seeds of
different varieties around the plant. When the saplings grow their roots prevent leaching of nutrients.
The bio mass of these saplings should later be cut, dried and added to the soil to maintain the
You should also added wood ash every month during the monsoon as this replaces all the nutrients
that may have been lost due to leaching of nutrients in heavy rains.
Beginning the process of building Amrut Mitti cannot be done in an open area or field during the
monsoons as excess moisture will create anaerobic conditions. However, it can be undertaken in a
sheltered area. Also, acquiring dried biomass or drying biomass is also difficult during monsoons.
However, if you already have collected biomass or have somewhere where it may be dried before
use, you may start the process during the monsoons.
7. Understanding common modifications and their drawbacks
Some common modifications to the Natueco method of soil formation and creation of city farms
include the following.
A common shortcut to the Natueco technique of building soil is to use ready made garden soil and
mulch it with Amrut Jal. Ready made garden soil does not have a high microbial count. Therefore
when kitchen waste is added to it daily it does not decompose in the right manner. This may result in
foul smell, fruit flies etc. Adding Amrut Jal may help to the extent of nourishing the white feeder roots.
However as the garden soil in contact with the roots is of poor quality, it does not provide all the
nutrients to the growing plants. The results will be evident in the poor tree canopy and consequently a
> Using the EM Technology instead of Amrut Jal
The Effective Microorganisms or EM is a liquid culture of aerobic and anaerobic micro organisms
mainly sourced from human food processing & from nature. It consists of lactobacilli, yeast,
photosynthetic bacteria, ray fungi and filamentous fungi. The ingredients must be purchased, so it
involves reliance on outside resources. The microbes in EM culture are not local microbes, which
would be more sustainable. Microbes in EM culture may also not be of optimum quantity depending
on the age of the purchased solution.
> Using chemicals with your soil
This technique is in fact retrogressive, as both fertilizers and pesticides kill beneficial microbes along
with the bad ones and thus reduce the quality of the soil.
> Using cow dung or vermicompost instead of preparing Amrut Mitti
Usually cow dung is stored in a pile, which results in anaerobic decomposition. When this is later
placed on the field, it absorbs oxygen from the soil resulting in lowered oxygen supply to the plant. If it
rains before complete decomposition takes place, nutrients are leached out. Often cow dung is used
before it is properly decomposed. This does not provide proper nutrition to the plant.
Vermicompost is usually done using either dry leaves or kitchen waste. This provides only a
percentage of the nutrients compared to those in Amrut Mitti. Also composting is done away from the
farm and therefore the enzymes released during decomposition, which are essential for the formation
of the white feeder roots, are lost. When this vermicompost is used on the farms it is first mixed with
the soil. This alters the structure as well as the microbial count. Due to change in the environment
(from the vermicompost heaps pr bins to the farm) the worms are unable to survive because of the
In city farming, using vermicompost instead of Amrut Mitti to recycle waste may result in excess
breeding of earthworms. This makes the soil sticky and acidic as worm hatchings are acidic.
> Tilling and burning
Most tilled fields have a period during which they are bare and exposed to the sun. The land then
becomes subject to erosion by water, wind hot surface temperatures and scaling from hammering
impact of raindrops that result in water and soil runoff. It also results in a loss of organic carbon
resulting in a loss of water holding capacity. Similarly, burning of crop residues is also injurious to soil
biology. Many organisms are killed and the food for decomposers is eliminated. Once again the
ground is left bare and exposed.
A. Determining the needs of a plant
The periodic table contains about 100 to 110 elements discovered until today. All these are needed by
plants in macro or micro quantities. One can surmise the nutrients or elements taken by a plant from
the soil by determining the mineral content of the plants themselves. To do this, typically, healthy
plants are incinerated under controlled conditions and the mineral content in the ash analysed.
Weight of fresh biomass weight that remains constant after drying
is called “fresh weight” is called ‘Dry weight’
If we allow fresh biomass to dry in the sun and weigh it on alternate days, we see a loss of weight for
some days till a constant weight is arrived at. The measured weight at that time is the “dry weight”.
Most plant parts are made of carbohydrate
Carbon, oxygen, hydrogen
These come from Air Water
Thus, when dry biomass is burnt the gasses carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen escape.
Experimental calculation has revealed that out of 100% dry weight of plants
44% --- carbon
44% --- oxygen
6% --- hydrogen
4% --- nitrogen
The remaining ash when weighed is found to be equal to 2% of dry weight.
Thus we conclude that the four elements from the environment constitute 98% of plant requirements
while more than thirty (almost 100 as per the current periodic table and increasing as new discoveries
take place) macro and micro nutrients or elements from the soil constitute only 2% of plants needs.
The problems associated with commercial farming today occur because a majority of farmers
concentrate on providing the 4 major elements (nutrients needs of plants) and do not give importance
to the micro nutrients. However it is the presence of these micro nutrients in soil that provide vital
energy to the plant. This vital energy is the energy that protects us from pests and diseases. These
micro nutrients are made available to plants only in living soils.
B. Why is a mixture of leaves necessary to build Amrut Mitti ?
Any new growth on a plant will contain all micronutrients and phosphate contents in it because every
new cell in the meri-stem needs all of these before it comes into existence. Thus the tender parts of
plants if used for soil building can help to improve the mineral content of our soil.
On the other hand, when new growth begins to lose its tenderness and as leaves expand, the mineral
nutrients that are necessary for this stage of growth are nitrogen, potash, magnesium, sulphur, iron
manganese and copper. Since these are necessary for healthy leaves of the plants, recycling these
leaves will yield the same minerals back to the soil.
Finally, as leaves mature with age, calcium is incorporated more and more in the cells. When these
leaves age and die before falling from the plant 70% of the mobile contents of nutrients are carried
back to the plant for further use or as a reserve for new growth, e.g., nitrogen, phosphorus,
potassium, magnesium, sulphur, zinc, copper. But 30% of the elements like iron, manganese, boron,
calcium are not returned to the plant as these are immobilized in the system.
Therefore we can say that:
• Tender leaves provide Zinc, Boron, Phosphate, Molybdenum
• Matured leaves provide Nitrogen, Magnesium, Potash
• Dried leaves provide Calcium, Silica, Boron, Iron, Manganese
C. Factors Affecting Growth of Plants
> Soil has to be LIVE
Too often we consider soil only in terms of its chemical and physical structure and texture. We ignore
what makes it alive or living, what supports the life (flora and fauna) we see above its surface. In
reality the soil food web or the community of organisms that live in a healthy soil include innumerable
bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, soil arthropods and earthworms. And as climate, region and
other factors change, we also see differences in the ratios and diversity of soil organisms.
Soil micro-organisms play different roles in supporting healthy plant life
> Nutrient retention and cycling
In a healthy soil food web, bacteria and fungi store nutrients from decomposed organic matter in their
own bodies, immobilizing nutrients and thereby reducing leaching. The cycling of these nutrients
happens when other sets of soil organisms (primarily protozoa, bacterial and fungi feeding
nematodes, micro arthropods and earthworms) are present to consume nutrient rich bacteria and
fungi and release (excess) nutrients in plant available form. This process invariably involves less
leaching than the application of synthetic fertilizers.
> Improved soil structure and water infiltration, absorption and holding capacity
Various processes and secretions of soil organisms help to create air and water passageways as well
as contribute to the structure of soil. For example, bacteria populations secrete glue like sticky
materials that bind sand, silt, clay and small soil organic matter into micro aggregates. Similarly
earthworms glaze passageways with a nutrient rich and active microbial slime layer that greatly
enhances water holding capacity and soil structure.
> Pest and disease suppression
Soil organisms break down toxic compounds in soil, produce plant growth promoting hormones and
chemicals, out compete and suppress disease causing organisms and buffer soil pH. When there is a
healthy balance of microorganisms in the food web, pests and diseases can be out competed or
preyed upon. When a balance is not maintained, for example if fungal diversity and volume is
reduced, micro arthropods and nematodes whose main food source is normally fungi foods may
attack plant roots instead.
Thus the measure of a healthy soil should include the presence of organic matter and the full range of
micro and macro organisms. So many damaged agricultural lands, especially in the tropics where
solar radiation is intense throughout the year, may be healed by keeping the soil covered, not tilling,
practicing crop rotation, maximising organic matter and reintroducing needed soil biology to bring
breath and life back into the soil.
To know whether your soil is alive or not you have to simply look at it and smell it. Disturb the soil, and
if you see hundreds of little creatures scurrying about trying to hide from you, you know that it is alive.
It does not look like nursery bought soil which is typically dry (stored in bags for days) and devoid of
any signs of life. Similarly, a live soil smells like the first rains, figuratively announcing the potential for
life and literally announcing the presence of actinomycetes.
QUICK TIP : Remember to add Amrut Jal.
Although the soil surface appears solid, air moves freely in and out of it. The air in the upper eight (8)
inches of a well-drained soil is completely renewed about every hour. - Soil Factoids, US National Soil
Plant roots need air as well as water and nutrients. Both micro and macro-organisms that help
decompose organic matter and make nutrients available to plants also need air. Aeration is necessary
to promote the growth of beneficial aerobic microbes
During composting the absence of air results in anaerobic decomposition which results in the
production of alcohols, organic acids which lower the pH and injure soil biology and make certain
nutrients less available.
Anaerobic conditions select for and allow the disease causing bacteria and fungi to win in the fight for
Some plant nutrients under low oxygen conditions can be reduced (chemically changed) into forms
that volatilise into the atmosphere and thus become useless to plants and soil organisms .e.g.
Nitrogen contained in inorganic compounds can be changed into ammonia that evaporates into the
If foul odours of anaerobic and putrefactive conditions exist when the heap is disturbed either by
turning or by digging into it for inspection purposes, turn the heap daily until odours disappear. No
matter how anaerobic a heap may become, it will recover under a schedule of daily turning that
reduces moisture and provides aeration.
QUICK TIP : Remember to 1. Not over water. 2. Use mixed biomass, layer the heap and turn it.
3. Not till your soil.
Just like people, compost organisms need water to live. If adequately aerated, composting material
with moisture content between thirty to seventy percent (30%-70%) will be aerobic. In practice,
however, care must be taken to avoid too much water because this displaces the air from the
interstices between the particles causing anaerobic conditions. Similarly too little moisture deprives
organisms of water needed for their metabolism, and inhibits their activity.
Maximum moisture content for satisfactory aerobic composting varies with the materials used. If straw
and strong fibrous materials like bagasse are used, the moisture content can be much greater without
destroying structural qualities or causing the material to become soggy, compact and unable to
contain enough air in the interstices. But if it contains lots of grass clippings, or dried green bio mass
which have little structural strength when wet, less water is better.
QUICK TIP : Remember to keep moist but not too wet and mulch
In aerobic composting temperature is the most important environmental factor influencing biological
processes and microbial activity. Heat is released during decomposition. Mulching helps to insulate
the heap and maintain the temperature in the heap. In low temperatures the microbial activity falls.
Most soil organisms grow well in twenty five to thirty seven degrees Celsius (25 – 37 C).
QUICK TIP : Remember to mulch and protect from extreme weather.
Addition of shredded organic material and composting it by arranging in alternate layers makes it
easier to handle and keep moist and aerated. Smaller uniform particles enable the compost to heat
more evenly, and to withstand excessive drying at the surface Shredding and layering exposes a
greater surface area, which makes it more susceptible to bacterial invasion. Bacteria convert the thick
fibrous parts of plants into humus under favourable humid conditions in the presence of oxygen,
nitrogen and temperature range of fifteen to twenty five degrees Celsius (15 to 25 C). Cellulose
provides energy to the bacteria. Under these conditions micro flora thrives and on their death their
dead bodies form lingo proteins. Humus and lingo proteins contribute towards stability and structure of
QUICK TIP : Remember to use mixed biomass, shred and layer. Add mulch and waste shredded.
> pH level
pH is the measure of acidity or alkalinity of soil, with seven (7) considered “neutral” and numbers
below, acidic and above, alkaline. pH affects nutrient retention and availability and therefore extreme
pH conditions can cause plant diseases due to unavailability of essential nutrients.
A simple method to test pH of soil is with litmus paper. A small sample of soil is mixed with distilled
water, into which a strip of litmus paper is inserted. If the soil is acidic the paper turns red, if alkaline,
blue. If you find the soil acidic you can add wood ash (at approx. twenty five (25) gms/sq feet) to
neutralise the acidity. In case the soil is alkaline you can add organic matter or compost.
QUICK TIP : Remember to add wood ash every three months and every month in monsoons.
> Sufficient organic matter with appropriate C:N Ratio
Organic matter is an essential prerequisite for maximum number and activity of heterotrophic (deriving
its nourishment and carbon requirements from organic substances) microorganisms. These
organisms use carbon as a source of energy and nitrogen for building cell structure. They need more
carbon than nitrogen.
The C:N ratio of the organic material added to the soil influences the rate of decomposition of organic
matter and this results in the release or immobilisation of soil nitrogen. Decomposition takes longer
when the initial C:N ratio is much above 30:1. The lower the ratio the quicker the organic matter will
break down and release nutrients in forms available for plant uptake. With a C:N ratio of 30:1
decomposition can be as quick as six to eight (6-8) weeks.
It is important to regularly add organic matter to soil to maintain volume, structure, and nutrition,
temperature and moisture in the heap. Materials high in carbon include leaves, sawdust, wood chips,
and straw. High nitrogen materials include grass clippings food scraps and manure.
Organic material C: N Ratio
Cow manure 20:1
Fruits peelings waste 35:1
Grass clippings 12-25:1
Horse Manure 25:1
QUICK TIP : Remember to 1. Mulch regularly with mixed biomass 2. Add Amrut Jal.
E. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
• How do we tell if our Amrut Mitti is good or not?
Refer - Check your Amrut Mitti - Page 9
• Factors affecting growth of plants
Refer - Page 14 to 16
• When should we water? How much?
Refer - Maintaining moisture content - Page11
Refer - Factors affecting growth of plants - Page14 to16
• What precautions can be taken against leaching during the monsoon?
Refer - Monsoon care - Page 11 to12
Refer - Ventilation - Page 3
• Will my terrace/ balcony leak because of my city farm?
Refer - Choosing your city farm site and style - Page 3
• Will I have insects and pests in my house because of my city farm?
Refer - Choosing your city farm site and style - Page 3
• Where can I find cow dung and cow urine? What do I do if cow dung and cow urine are not
Refer - Materials required - Page 4
Refer – Prepare Amrut Jal - Page 6 to 7
• Can we start the natueco method in the monsoon?
Refer – Monsoon Care - Page 11 to12
• Why is it necessary to make the heap in alternate layers of organic matter and soil?
Refer - Prepare heaps – Page 7
If you still have questions, concerns or suggestions please feel free to share them on
firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us.
Plenty for All - The Prayog Pariwar Methodology, a book by Prof. S.A. Dabholkar, 2001
A fresh look at life below the surface by Danny Blank. ECHO Farm Manager
Contents of lectures by;
Shri Dipak Suchade, Natueco Farming Expert & Trainer
Shri O. P. Rupela, Principal Scientist (Rtd.) ICRISAT
For more information on Natueco techniques please contact ;
Honorary Technical Advisor
Urban Leaves, An Intiative by Vidya Varidhi Trust
Mobile: +91 9819197071
www. natuecocit yf arming.blogspot.com
Natueco Farming Expert & Trainer
CEO, Malpani Trust
Mobile: +91 9329570960, 9826054388