One of the hardest things I faced while trying to set up a balcony garden in my Bengaluru home was sourcing good soil. No matter how much effort I put into taking care of the plants, they would die in about three weeks time. After consulting with my ‘green-thumbed’ friends I realised that the villain was the potting soil I used.
But as a saviour for several urban gardeners like myself, Anas Nasser of Aluva, Kerala has come up with a ‘soil-less’ potting mix using coco-peat and several other organic materials that replace soil completely.
“I grew up in a home with a garden and the entire gardening process fascinated me. And I learnt gardening tips from my parents who are expert gardeners. The varieties, its immense possibilities and the interest people have for it always made me feel that there was a lot to explore in this particular field,” says 28-year-old Anas Nasser.
Despite his interest in gardening, Anas Nasser worked with an IT startup after graduating with an MBA in 2014 but continued to experiment to find new possibilities for gardening. After several attempts at finding eco-friendly and cost-effective gardening solutions, in 2017 Anas came up with ‘Organure’, a soil-less potting mix.
Gardening Without Soil?
Space and the availability of soil have always been a problem for gardeners living in urban homes like apartments.
“During all my experiments, I kept this problem in mind and that’s how I came up with the Organure potting mix. The mix is completely soil-free and is made from treated coco peat, the pulp extracted from the stem of banana, sugarcane extract and elements of water hyacinth that has been subject to bio-reaction,” he explains.
“These raw materials are cleaned, treated and are then mixed in the required proportion. After this process, we also include natural fertilisers like seaweed to increase the mineral value of the soil,” adds Anas.
The proportion of the components included in the mix is customised according to the plants to be potted, depending on whether they are medicinal, herbal, flowering plants or succulents.
“Succulents are often overlooked but they also have requirements that need to be met. These plants need more heat at the bottom, whereas the soil for herbs or fruits would require something more fertile. This is something that can be made possible by altering the proportions in our potting mix and sometimes even including more elements to the mix,” he explains.
From his college days, Anas has been researching for alternate and eco-friendly ways of cultivation, especially for indoor spaces. In fact, he has been cultivating several varieties of plants in his own home with a kitchen garden that gives him a harvest of tomatoes, spinach, broccoli along with several ornamental and medicinal plants.
“Before starting out as a business, I obviously experimented with the plants in my house and honestly I was amazed at the kind of harvest I started getting and my indoor plants were flourishing,” says Anas.
He also spoke to several local farmers to narrow down the raw materials to be used. With regard to the proportions, he took help from Dr G. Nagendra Prabhu, Associate Professor at S. D. College, Univ. of Kerala, Alleppey. Principal Investigator at the Centre for Research on Aquatic Resources.
Getting Down To Business
For the past three years, Anas has been receiving an excellent response for his venture for which he runs a website and social media accounts and has been selling 2-5 tonnes of potting mix on a monthly basis.
“Most of the orders I receive are in bulk and some customers even buy soil for their grow bags and terrace cultivation which has shown to be very effective after using the organure mix,” says Anas.
Saritha Fernandes, a customer of Anas’ potting mix from Kalyan, Mumbai shared, “My plant babies have been flourishing ever since I bought the soil-less potting mix. I could see the results in just seven days and the best part is that the medium is super lightweight.”
Haris Kavanoor, a Kerala-based gardener shared a similar sentiment, “The potting mix is absolutely porous and is well blended. From my experience of using it for more than a year, I can say it is great for indoor plants and does exceptionally well for succulents.”
Hydroponics Or Soil Alternatives?
In recent years, several urban gardeners have adopted hydroponics as a soil-less alternative and although Anas agrees that this is a feasible method, he says this is comparatively expensive.
“The basic raw materials required for hydroponics like a nutrient tank might not fit into an urban gardeners budget, although it is a great way to produce a good yield. And if you’re looking at expanding into the hydroponics business, then the investment will be worth it. But for small scale or medium scale gardening, I would always prefer soil alternatives. The potting mixes that I sell range from Rs. 45-Rs.120 depending on the quantity,” he adds.
Uma Maheshwaran, a professor at the Plant Pathology department at the Kerala Agricultural University says, “Many of us are abundantly blessed with natural soil that is enriched with the right nutrients, but for the urban community, soil alternatives are always a good option. Even if you have access to soil, it might not be fertile enough to give you a good yield. When the potting mix uses cocopeat as the base medium, it is just as good as fertile soil.”
Anas points out that his soil-less farming business has been doing exceptionally well during the lockdown season as many people have started investing their time in indoor and terrace gardening and are looking for ways to source nutritious mediums for their plants online.
If you wish to place an order for this soil-less potting mix, you can contact: 8848644650 or reach out to his Facebook page ‘Organure’.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)