Sunday, 25 May 2014

Composting and Beyond!

We have been working hard at creating the perfect compost and now our compost pit is full to the brim. And the time is right for giving the trees their quarterly dose of good Farm Yard Manure (FYM).  So this is what ‘Organic Farming’ is all about!
The Compost pit behind the cow shed

If you read about all the myriad ‘Composting techniques’ you will know that for a good compost, you need a balance of Carbon and Nitrogen – Carbon provided by dry leaves and Nitrogen by the green mulch. The compost starter is the cow dung – which is available in plenty thanks to our large bovine family.   Our two compost pits – one 15’ x 10’ and the other 10’ x 4’, both 5 feet in depth – are located behind the cow shed one on either side of the cow-path which leads the cows out to the gate for their daily walk in the forest.  All the dry leaves that we rake and collect are layered over the dung that is collected each day. The cow shed is washed and all this water too goes into the pit.  The layer of dry leaves ensures that there is never any stink around this area.  Our farm-hand wields the sickle with amazing speed and clears out weeds and overgrown shrubs – all this forms the ‘Green –nitrogen’ component of the compost. While hubby has really mastered the art, I am not yet good at wielding the sickle, so I try to contribute the carbon component by raking leaves -with my favorite Rake .  But it seems an insurmountable task when after an hour of vigorous raking, the pile of leaves looks miniscule when you turn around and see the un-raked portion of the land.  

Mind you – all this jargon about Carbon and Nitrogen that I gleaned now is an age old method; something that these locals have been following ever since. 

The dense growth of weeds provides the green mulch for the compost.

So last month, the compost was ready to be spread in the plantation.  We hired a group of people from the village – it takes 2 days for a pit to be cleared. Each Arecanut tree gets a basket full and a coconut tree gets 3 baskets of FYM. The other fruit trees get their share according to their age and size. The workers work in a relay system, and the ease with which they carry the heavy load on their heads is admirable.

They giggle with amusement as I try to get pics of them. They work tirelessly the whole morning till their well deserved mid morning meal which is usually a large serving of upma or dosas that I make for them along with some tea.  At noon they go to their homes for lunch and are back at it again at 2 pm.   The last hour of their day is spent spreading the FYM evenly around the base of the tree.  6 pm and they are done with their day’s work.

The team

 The trees sway in gratitude as the setting sun light filters thru and casts dancing patterns on the enriched land.  The pits are cleared out and await the next batch of ingredients to restart the composting procedure.

Well now apart from this FYM, we felt we need to do much more as the quantity of compost produced is still not enough for the entire plantation. So we have learnt to make Jeevamruth and Panchagavya. 

Jeevamruth is prepared by mixing cowdung, cow urine, flour of any dicotyledonous seeds (horse gram or white peas) and some jaggery   in a huge drum with 200 litres of water. This mixture is to be stirred (not shaken) twice a day – only in clockwise direction – if you please; The mixture ferments, the good bacteria multiply several fold and on the sixth day the frothy mix is ready to be poured at the base of every tree in one acre of land.
Stirred, not Shaken

Panchagavya recipe is more complex and involves mixing ghee, milk, curds, jaggery, ripe bananas, tender coconut water ........hold on, I am not making a delicious chilled smoothie;  for all this is to be mixed into the ubiquitous cow dung and cow urine.   Stirred each day for 20 days, this mix is much more potent than any fertilizer I have ever seen. Diluted at a mere 2% solution (200 ml of this mix in 10 litres of water), the solution is sprayed as a ‘Foliar spray’ ie over the leaves of the pepper plants; banana plants and all other plants whose leaves we can reach. And I learnt the hard way that this is not to be sprayed after the sun comes up – for it burns up the leaves and makes them shrivel and dry up. But spray it at sun-down and watch the new leaves sprout out almost like Jack’s famous bean-stalk.

And to think that all these wonderful mixes were being used in India since time immemorial – their origin is attributed to the 10th Century scholar ‘Surapala’ whose treatise ‘Vrikshayurveda’ deals with the science of plant health.  Unlike chemical fertilizers/pesticides that destroy both good and bad bacteria that exist in nature, these 2 plant elixirs build immunity, allow the good bacteria to win over the bad, and improve the overall health of the plants.  

So did you just hear the plants whisper  “Panchagavya is the secret of my energy?..... Our Energy”

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