As the train enters the Algarve region of Portugal you are greeted by orchards on both sides. Rows and rows of orange trees laden with fruits beckon you: for this is the orange season. While on the way to the airport I chanced upon farmers on the sides of highway with vans and crates spilling with oranges, Portuguese address them as Laranjas.
Orange colour is called narenji. Remember in Hindi orange is known as narangi. Now, you know the connection. The word orange derives from the Sanskrit word for “orange tree” (nāraṅga), which in turn derives from a Dravidian root word (compare narandam which refers to Bitter orange in Tamil). The Sanskrit word reached European languages through Persian (nārang) and its Arabic derivative (nāranj).
Orange originally came from China. This is why its name in some languages like German, Dutch and Finish, etc is “Appelsin” (or something like this) which means Chinese Apple.
The Persian term for the fruit orange is “porteghal”, derived from the geographical term “Portugal”. The Portuguese brought orange from China to Iran (and other countries) during the 15th or 16th century.
Algarve oranges are the juiciest and sweetest of citrus fruits. But it’s flavour isn’t orangey. What I mean to say it’s very unlike the oranges I have relished so far.
Oranges grow here in plenty and one can come across trees on city streets laden with fruits. And no one seems to pick them!
Though the climate is conducive for growing fruits Portugal imports fruit and vegetables from thousands of miles away like Asparagus from Peru, Apples from Uruguay, Papaya from Brazil, Mangoes from Argentina, Strawberries from over the border in Spain etc.
There is nothing nicer than a freshly picked orange almost straight from the tree and for me, even juicing them seems a small crime compared with the joy of peeling and eating one fresh!
The Algarve region produces between 300,000 and 400,000 tonnes of citrus fruits each year, and it is hardly surprising that the oranges grown here account for about 70% of the total oranges grown in Portugal – long days of blazing sunshine, adequate water supplies and good soil ensure fine crops.
In most Bengali households, in the past, we were refrained from eating kool (baer or Indian jujube) before Saraswati Puja or the Basant Panchami arrived. We never asked our parents why we shouldn’t but followed their advice as we didn’t want to incur the wrath of Ma Saraswati on us, we were school goers. Moreover, those days Google Assistant was not around to ask.
For the ivory-skinned goddess dressed in a white sari seated on a swan and holding a veena is the epitome of knowledge, learning and wisdom.
All these came to my mind while I was picking up kool from the roadside which the tree had shed. January and February is the season when kool appears in the market.
The local varieties of kool have long vanished from fruit carts and even from fruit mandis for the preference now is for Apple Bhor of Baer which looks like a miniature version of the green coloured apple. They have a shiny look but are tasteless. Yes, they are crunchy like the apple. Whoever innovated Apple Bhor failed to make it sweet! And that is its undoing. I feel sorry for the present-day kids who will never see them. As for me, I would prefer eating a piece of cardboard than bite an Apple Bhor.
Apple Bhor is a Thailand variety fruit and the farmer grows it as he gets a good price. Its claimed to be pest resistant. Fruits are big and it has more shelf life. It yields twice a year and the crop time can be adjusted based on the market demand.
As the monsoon dawns, we, farmer colleagues, often ask of each other what new do they intend to plant. For the earth, when moist is the best time to plant a sapling. However, we generally plant a fortnight before the arrival of the monsoon or after the fury of the rains has abated. Preferring to plant saplings in the last days of September or in the beginning of October. Incidentally, there were sporadic incidents of rains in November last year.
Last year I had planted several herbs, couple of Kesar mangoes, custard apple, chia, betel leaf, mulberry etc. I also experimented with growing Azolla.
My wish list is neither exhaustive nor is it limiting because there are chances that while visiting a plant show or a nursery I do end up buying some! In fact, that happens really often. Though a bibliophile (and a reader) in recent years I have collected more plants than books. That reminds that I need to make a list of plants and their varieties growing in my orchard. I did know their names while acquiring them but have forgotten many of them. Blessed with botanist friends I’m just a WhatsApp message away when I’m unable to identify them.
My wish list this year includes the following:
Bunch Pepper: The fruit trees in my orchard have been around for quite some time now and have spread their branches making the ground below shady. Which has compelled me to seek out shade-loving plants? What better than pepper? A commercial crop it fetches around Rs 700 a kg. Bunch Pepper, a high yielding variety of black pepper developed by farmer T T Thomas of Idukki, Kerala has become the choice of prospective black pepper growers in Kerala, Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra. A recipient of National Innovation Award and Plant Genome Saviour Award, Thomas’ variety called Pepper Thekken, unlike the ordinary one, gives a yield of more than a 1000 pepper balls in a single bunch. It’s also unaffected by the quick-wilt, the bane of spice growers. This variety has the potential to make spice growers in India to enhance their livelihood and also holds promise in the export market. The Indian Institute of Spice Research, Kozhikode, has recognised this variety as a unique high yielding one with branches in the spike, a rare feature in black pepper.
Jivanti (Leptadenia reticulata) : Its name itself is very catchy and wooing. In Ayurveda, it is known for its revitalizing, rejuvenating, and lactogenic properties. The therapeutic potential of this herb is because of the presence of diverse bioactive compounds. At present, L. reticulata is a threatened endangered plant because of over exploitation, unscientific harvesting, and habitat loss. The increased demand from pharmaceutical, nutraceutical, and veterinary industries has prompted its large-scale propagation. I’m told its propagation through seeds is very poor but through cuttings, the results have been good. The mention of Jivanti is even found in Atharva Veda. Charak and Bhavprakash, describe it as best among leafy vegetables. It is included in Jivaniya Gana, which is the group of herbs used for promoting vitality and life.
Maidenhair Fern: Maidenhair fern is the source of a pleasantly aromatic volatile oil long used as a rinse or shampoo that rendered black hair very shiny, hence the name Maidenhair. The same extracts have been peddled by herbalists to cure asthma, the flu, or as a general tonic though there is no good scientific evidence to support these uses.
Pink Trumpet Tree (Handroanthus impetiginosus): A semi-evergreen tree it grows 20-30 feet tall with a grey fissured trunk and palmately-lobed leaves divided into as many as seven leaflets radiating outward. The pink trumpet flowers have a white throat with yellow stripes and blooms in large clusters in the spring just before the new foliage emerges. It flowers in early December. With its impressive flowering display, the tree is often cultivated as an ornamental plant and can be a good source of nectar for honey bees.
A friend asked me a few minutes after he had stepped into the farm while I was elaborating on my new project—growing Azolla.
Most people who have never been associated with farming and even those who have taken to it newly hardly know anything about the fastest growing plants on the planet.
It has taken me close to a month and two failed attempts to have Azolla growing on my farm.
I’m told several coffee growers and other crops grown in natural ‘tree-shade’ environments in Kerala and Karnataka uses Azolla as biofertiliser. That’s what piqued my interest in Azolla. Azolla has enormous potential to sequester of atmospheric CO2 due to its rapid growth in freshwater without the need for a soil-based nitrogen source.
Azolla does not need any soil to grow. Unlike almost all other plants, Azolla is able to get its nitrogen fertiliser directly from the atmosphere. That means that it is able to produce biofertiliser, livestock feed food and biofuel exactly where they are needed and, at the same time, draw down large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere, thus helping to reduce the threat of climate change. You read it right my Azolla tank sequesters carbon oxide from the atmosphere. That’s my humble contribution to resilient and sustainable agriculture. Presently, I’m using the biofertiliser for my betel leaf, avocado and coconut. According to Azolla Foundation to 32.54 metric tonnes CO2/hectare/year after 18 days growth can be sequestered.
It doesn’t take much to grow Azolla. It can be grown in a pond or a water tank. You need the following:
· 3 to 5 kg for Azolla
· Soil or vermicompost
· Rock phosphate or Single Super Phosphate
· Cow dung slurry
After a week your Azolla is ready to be harvested, every third day. If not harvested regularly Azolla starts getting rotted. Check out this excellent video by a friend for guidance.
As said earlier it’s an excellent feed for goat, cow and poultry and reduces the cost of commercial cattle feed by 25 per cent.
If you love sitaphal or custard apple, you’re likely to choose the fruit which promises a long shelf life, and has fewer seeds which don’t stick together. Once you cut open the fruit and find that it has thick, cream-white pulp, which is somewhat granular, you are finally happy with your choice. These are traits you can find in the NMK-01 variety.
Those who wait for this fruit from the Annonaceae family to arrive early December have to thank farmer-innovator Navanath Malhari Kaspate of Gormale village in Solapur, Maharashtra. He has developed five other hybrid varieties of the fruit—Anona-2, NMK-01 (Golden), NMK-02, NMK-03 and Finger Prints—but considers NMK-01 (Golden) to be his illustrious one; it has fewer seeds, abundant pulp and rarely cracks when ripe.
Interestingly, its harvest can be extended after it matures and the yield doubles with every season.
As one arrives at his 50-acre Madhuban Farm and Nursery, like the scores of farmers wanting to grow the variety—all are greeted by a huge replica of the fruit at the arched entrance. The place is a ‘living museum’ of 42-odd varieties of custard apple collected from different parts of the world by 64-year-old Kaspate.
If you visit during the fruiting season, you’re likely to come across varieties with names like Anona Glabra, Pink’s Mammoth, Anona Muricata, Icecal, Washington Jem, Anona Montana and others.
Native to South America and the West Indies, sitaphal was introduced to India by the Portuguese during the 16th century AD. Amazingly, its appearance has been noted in ancient Indian sculptures. There is a depiction of custard apple in the Bharhut and Sanchi sculptures in Madhya Pradesh, the Ajanta Caves in Maharashtra, and the carvings at Mathura in Uttar Pradesh from the 2nd century BC.
Presently grown in 13 states of the country and Tanzania, mainly in dry-land zones, growers not only have a good word about the NMK-01 variety, but are all praises about the yield, which can be as high as 12 tonnes per acre.
The fruit has other varieties, namely Red Sitaphal, Balanagari, Washington and Purandhar, but it is the NMK-01 (Golden) whose acreage is increasing each year due to its acceptance from buyers and the remunerative results achieved by growers.
Being a dry land crop, the first two years are very crucial to its growth; it needs minimal irrigation and can be solely drip-fed. Because of this, there are fewer pest attacks.
Kaspate’s farm is unique as it happens to be the country’s largest nursery devoted to sitaphal, serving as a development and research centre too. Developing a new variety is generally undertaken either by universities or institutions like the Indian Institute of Horticultural Research. But in this case, it was a class 11 dropout, who had the passion of a grower and the perseverance of a plant breeder.
“I used to grow grapes and ber (Indian jujube) like many others here, but having developed the variety in 2001 and giving it my name, I converted my entire farm to sitaphal,” says Kaspate, the man who introduced the farming community to NMK-01 (Golden) in 2011.
Five years later, he was awarded the Plant Genome Saviour Farmer Reward constituted by the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority. He received a cash prize of Rs 1 lakh for the same. Ahmednagar-based Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth is a recipient of the germplasm of 16 sitaphal varieties gifted by Kaspate.
Ever since NMK-01 (Golden) was launched, the innovator claims to have sold 30 lakh saplings to the hundreds of farmers who visited his farm for his workshops, or to those who seek him out after watching his videos on YouTube. He makes at least Rs 1 crore from selling the fruit which he brands as being from “Madhuban Farm and Nursery”. The saplings that are sold here at Rs 60 each also add to his earnings.
Among the earliest farmers who took to growing NMK-01 (Golden) is one Nandlal Dhakad (45) of Jaisinghpura village in Chittorgarh district of Rajasthan. He watched Kaspate’s videos and visited his farm in Barshi, and planted 400 saplings on his teen bigha zameen (which is less than an acre) in 2011. Four years later, he received a harvest of 10 quintals, earning Rs 2-3 lakh per year.
“I have been getting a very good harvest, but this year, due to excessive rainfall, my harvest has been greatly affected,” he says.
Besides two post-graduate degrees, he also holds a diploma in computer applications. Nandlal is an award-winning farmer who grows exotic vegetables and betel leaves, using the principles of jaivik kheti (organic farming).
Most fruit lovers shun the sitaphal due to its excessive seeds. And that’s where NMK-01 (Golden) scores. According to a comparative study undertaken by a researcher at Mohali-based National Agri-Food Biotechnology Institute, NMK-01 (Golden) was found to be superior to the Balanagari in taste and nutrition. While the Balanagri had 70+ seeds, the NMK-01 (Golden) barely touched 15!
Giriraj Gupta of Narsingarh village in Madhya Pradesh, says, “You may not believe it, but I got a fruit which weighed around 730 grams, and I had to share it with three others. Interestingly, it had just ten seeds.”
He continues, “Each tree yields at least 20 kg of fruit from the third year of plantation. An acre holding 340 trees yields an average of seven to eight tonnes a season. In 2015, I had planted it on eight acres. This year, I hope to make around Rs 12 lakh from its harvest.”
It was the promise of plentiful pulp that prompted Ramesh Pawar (46) to plant Kaspate’s variety on his 80-acre drip-irrigated farm in Chikodi village, Belgaum, Karnataka in 2012. Having read about the NMK-01 variety in a Kannada weekly, he visited Madhuban and acquired nearly 28,000 saplings which were a year-old. “I harvest about four tonnes per acre and this is likely to increase with successive years. I am looking forward to making at least Rs 1 crore by the next season,” he shares.
The variety which arrives in the market in early December has brought in cheer among farmers in the country’s dry land areas. And as the word spreads, more and more farmers are switching to NMK-01.
It’s very unlikely that those visiting Hubbali’s Bhoomaraddi College of Engineering and Technology in the month of December will be told that its campus is home to two specimens of Pink Tabebuia or Pink Trumpet Tree. It’s a cousin of Yellow Trumpet which is found in plenty.
I had never seen anything like this. Two trees with blooming pink—the flowers in a bunch sitting like a crown. If there were leaves they didn’t show up. Or were overshadowed by the flowers. It was a sight I would pay hundreds to view. I was Intrigued, mesmerized by the beauty in front of me. No one around could name it so I sent a pic of the plant to my friend, botanist Dr Ajit Gokhale for identification. I also shared it with my friends who are passionate about plants.
Few minutes later Dr Gokhale replied that it was Pink Tabebuia (Handroanthus impetiginous), a plant rare in Mumbai and Thane but there was one in Dombivali.
Also called Basant Kumari, it flowers at the beginning of December and stays so for a fortnight. I feel it may be very enticing and attractive for the bees and that set me thinking if I could lay my hands on a couple of them and make my bees happy.
The pink trumpet flowers have a white throat with yellow stripes and blooms in large clusters in the spring just before the new foliage emerges. A native of South America, mainly from Argentina north through Central America to Mexico it has not attracted the attention of horticulturists and that’s reason nurseries rarely keep them. However, I found a nursery in Tara (Pen taluka), close to Yusuf Meherally Centre which had a lone specimen. The plant was huge and one would need a truck to carry it to an orchard! Interestingly, Hasuram Patil, owner of Vanrai Nursery assured me that he would get me a smaller one. I’m waiting for his call.
“You care for walvis (Marathi for termites),” he said and
jumped out of his seat to shake my hands.
It happened after I had informed a group which had assembled in Saguna
Baug, Neral stating that I live in harmony with the termites and has never
tried to exterminate them, as the case is with most farmers or farm owners.
The one who shook my hands was none other than Krishibhushan
Chandrasekhar Bhadavsale, the man who has innovated the sustainable and
climate-resilient Saguna Rice Technique. Complimenting he remarked: “It’s rare
to come across one who loves termites and you’re among the few.”
They are the unloved freaks of the social insect world—the termites.
While bees are praised for their pollination skills and ants lauded for their
industry, the termites munch their way through everything — our libraries, our
homes, and our farms. But Lisa Margonelli’s mesmerizing book, Underbug:
An Obsessive Tale of Termites and Technology makes clear, we have got
termites all wrong.
For a start these “white ants” aren’t ants at all but cockroaches that
evolution has shrunk blinded and turned surprisingly social. The termite bucks
basic biological rules and thumbs its nose at science as much as it does
homeowners. But this mystery makes termites fascinating to the author and a
motley crew of multidisciplinary scientists who are all trying to crack the
termite code and put it to good use. As we stand “on the border of our natural
history and an unnatural future,” this masterly book is a timely,
thought-provoking exploration of what it means to be human — as much as what it
means to be termite — and a penetrating look at the moral challenges of our
ongoing technological revolution.
Utter the word ‘termites’ and you’re likely to hear orchard growers
curse them. In the Konkan belt of Maharashtra it is considered a menace and one
needs to live with or without, as you prefer to. Every means available is used
to exterminate them but all efforts fail miserably. For they return after a
brief hiatus. We tend to forget that they have been around much before man
descended. In fact, they share a relationship which is as old as this
Having been a weekend farmer for over a decade now let me share a
secret with you: I know how soil is made. The process begins sometimes in early
October when the soil is not moist enough as the rains are now a memory. The
twigs, fallen branches, dead leaves, fruit waste and all have become the manna
for the termites.
Watch carefully and you’re likely to see what termites do to the
litter? It envelopes the leaf litter, twigs etc. with a film of soil and within
months the same disintegrates to become a fine powder, like sawdust. And
ultimately becomes soil.
In the initial years, I too felt that there is something wrong with my
soil but I played the game of caution: watching the organic matter turn to
soil, as days’ progress to become months and as seasons come and go. I
have been restraining myself from any kind of intervention which is likely to
disturb the ecological cycle.
Once the rains come, the termites go into hibernation for the moisture
is its arch enemy. But I do take precaution so that termites do not
attack my fruit-bearing trees by applying a paste of lime and copper sulfate,
beginning with the base of the tree trunk and reaching a height of a metre or
so. Also in order to fool the termites, I make it a point to spread leaf
litter, broken branches, twigs all over the place to lure and keep them busy to
do what they are good at.
To consider termites’ plunderers is unfair. They are the most
important animals in a forest ecosystem, single-handedly decomposing 40% to
100% of the decaying wood and thereby enriching the soil. Subterranean
termites, which are among the ones that bother us, humans, serve us well too.
As they tunnel through the soil, building swarming tubes to forage for food,
they increase the soil’s porosity, facilitating greater percolation of water.
Termites are known to dig as deep as over 100 feet in search of water to
maintain the humidity of their mounds.
Soils develop layers as organic matter accumulates and leaching
takes place. This development of layers is the beginning of the soil profile.
This humus-rich topsoil where nutrient, organic matter, and biological
activity are highest (i.e. most plant roots, earthworms, insects, and
micro-organisms are active. Termites feed on a carbo-rich diet of wood, soil,
grass, litter and even animal dung. Concrete is no barrier either, a small
crack is all they need to start occupying space. The greatest secret to their
success is their choice of food: they exploit an exclusive and abundant food
source, a biomolecule called lignocellulose, which no other creature, not even
other insects, can eat. Since lignocellulose does not degrade easily, termites can
access it from living plants and dead wood or soil too.
Every time the termite feeds or builds, it modifies the habitat for
the benefit of other organisms including humans. This might explain why termite
mounds, mistakenly called ant hills, are worshipped – the clay from termite
mounds was used to build Vedic fire altars and included in the Rajasuya yajna
performed by kings.
In Underbug Lisa Margonelli
investigates the environmental and economic impact termites inflict on human
societies in this fascinating examination of one of nature’s most misunderstood
insects. She introduces us to the enigmatic creatures that collectively
outweigh human beings ten to one and consume $40 billion worth of valuable
stuff annually―and yet, in Margonelli’s telling, seem weirdly familiar. Over
the course of a decade-long obsession with the little bugs, Margonelli pokes
around termite mounds and high-tech research facilities, closely watching
biologists, roboticists, and geneticists. What begins as a natural history of
the termite becomes a personal exploration of the unnatural future we’re
building, with darker observations on power, technology, historical trauma, and
the limits of human cognition.
Whether in Namibia or Cambridge, Arizona or Australia, Margonelli
turns up astounding facts and raises provocative questions. Is a termite an
individual or a unit of a superorganism? Can we harness the termite’s
properties to change the world? If we build termite-like swarming robots, will
they inevitably destroy us? Is it possible to think without having a
mind? Underbug burrows into these questions and many
others―unearthing disquieting answers about the world’s most underrated insect
and what it means to be human.
Many of my friends may
frown if they come to know that I’ve planted half a dozen paan (betel leaf)
cuttings in my farm. Because we associate paan with the dirty red stains which
adorn the walls of offices, staircases, public urinals and roadsides. I was introduced
to paan by Keya who any time of the day has a paan in her mouth. The wonder of
wonders she has sparkling pair of teeth.
Having brought cuttings
of Maghai paan years back from her native Cooch Behar she planted them in her
bungalow garden in Thane. A creeper with heart-shaped leaves it dominates her
patch of green and is a welcome look for visitors who pick a leaf or two while
I have planted the paan
cuttings after having them for over a week now post-lunch and realized that it
helps in digestion, fights bad breath and much more. My research yielded that
betel leaves contain many curative and healing health benefits. They are full
of vitamins like vitamin C, thiamine, niacin, riboflavin and carotene and are a
great source of calcium. The reason this aromatic vine is considered a
herb and can be grown easily, even in homes.
Based on shape, size,
brittleness and taste of leaf blade, betel vine is classified into pungent and
non-pungent varieties. Though India boasts of around 40-odd varieties we know
of only three varieties of paan, namely Maghai, Calcutta and Benarisi. Of this,
Maghai though small in size holds the Numero Uno position due to its taste.
Betel leaves (BL) are cultivated
in the states of Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Odisha, Karnataka,
Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Maharashtra.
In the other
states of Meghalaya, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal, where it is also consumed,
the crop is grown in a very small area.
The country has
exported 13195.43 MT of BL to the world for the worth of Rs. 46.75 crores/ 6.74
USD Millions in 2018-19.
BL is a shade-loving,
subtropical vine in the same plant family as black pepper and kava. It has
glossy, heart-shaped leaves and needs to be grown on a stake or trellis. It
prefers moist soil in a partially sunlit location
Chewing the mixture of
areca nut and betel leaf is a tradition, custom or ritual which dates back
thousands of years from India to the Pacific. Since ancient times BL has
been used as an aromatic stimulant, anti-flatulent and an aphrodisiac. The
ancient Chinese traveller Ibn Battuta described this practice as follows:
“The betel is a tree which is cultivated in the same manner as the grape-vine; …
The betel has no fruit and is grown only for the sake of its leaves … The
manner of its use is that before eating it one takes areca nut; this is like a
nutmeg but is broken up until it is reduced to small pellets, and one places
these in his mouth and chews them. Then he takes the leaves of betel, puts a
little chalk on them, and masticates them along with the betel.”
Chewing habits of people
have changed over time. The BL is chewed together in a wrapped package along
with areca nut and mineral slaked lime. Catechu (kattha) and other flavouring
substances and spices were also added subsequently. For many decades, tobacco
has also been added to the BL package. The practice of chewing BL has been
decreasing progressively and now the quid comprising of tobacco, areca nut, and
slaked lime (gutkha) is generally in practice. It’s the tobacco, areca nut and
catechu which are considered harmful and should be avoided.
You may include chuna
(calcium hydroxide), fennel, cinnamon, clove, cardamom, gulkand, grated coconut
and other spices for extra flavouring. As it is chewed, the peppery taste is
savoured, along with the warm feeling and alertness it gives (similar to
drinking a fresh cup of coffee). Betel leaves are a powerhouse of antioxidants
which clear radicals from the body. It restores normal PH levels in the body
and helps an upset stomach.
Ever wondered why having
a paan after a good meal is recommended? Because it’s carminative,
anti-flatulent and helps in protecting the gut. BL increases metabolism
triggering circulation and stimulating the intestines to absorb vital vitamins
Hope my friends will
believe now that I’ve done right. I assure visitors to my farm that I
shall gift them a handful fresh BL!
Five years back when I came to know about black turmeric (Curcuma Caseia) I tried acquiring them, considering it as exotic. Ultimately I was able to contact a trader in Bhubaneswar (Odisha) who traded in seeds and plant materials supplying them to institutions here and abroad. He sent me rhizomes of black turmeric but charged me a bomb: Rs 1200 for a kilo. The price was really steep as rhizomes of the regular turmeric variety were available for Rs 50 a kg. I knew I was paying for its exotic value like the way collectors pay for rare editions of Amar Chitra Katha comic. Rather than bear the cost individually, I shared some with my fellow farm owners who are equally crazy. Presently Black Turmeric is on the verge of extinction because of deforestation, unfavourable climatic changes, over exploitation and bio-piracy.
Over the years the volume of black turmeric with their bluish-black rhizomes in my orchard has increased several times. Sadly, I have not been able to get a buyer though initially I had been was told that Ayurvedic pharmacies could be my potential buyers. Come rains the rhizomes get a new life as leaves sprouts after being in hibernation for several months. One can identify black turmeric by the leaves as its middle is striped in black.
Having been a host to three varieties of turmeric, namely Curcuma Longa, Curcuma Aamada, and Curcuma Caesia I have recently added Curcuma Zedoaria or white haldi in my orchard, thanks to a friend from Midnapore who sent me a handful of them. It’s native to India and Indonesia. In West Bengal, it’s known as Pala or Soty (also its Sanskrit name) and its powder which looks like maida is available for Rs 600 a kg. Those growing in villages of West Bengal in the 60s and 70s may have consumed it, given by their mothers or grandmothers, to soothe their troubled tummy or to bring down their fever. Once harvested the rhizome is grated, soaked in water overnight, dried in the sun and pounded to make powder. In Maharashtra, it’s known as Pandhra Halad and its paste used to relieve fevers.
Curcuma Zedoaria is often confused with Curcuma Aamada or Mango Gingerused in making pickles in south India and chutneys in north India. A rare herb, white turmeric is considered to be healthy, much like yellow turmeric. It has anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties that keep you from any digestive or respiratory issues.
I have not planted them I have a couple of Curcuma Aromatica or Wild Turmeric
plants growing in my orchard which sprout flowers in mid-July—pinkish-white
with an orange lip. Leaves appear after the flower. I bring the flowers home
and use the same as cut-flower for they have a good vase life, at times 10 days
I have travelled with yellow turmeric powder grown in my orchard during assignments abroad and introducing it to the locals. I was in for a surprise when during my stay in a bed and breakfast facility owned by a pastor and his wife in Basel I was shown a bottle of turmeric powder with Kurkuma written on its label, that’s haldi in German. He unscrewed the glass bottle which merely contained 150g of it as if he was revealing something precious. No, he didn’t use it in his food as we Indians do. For him it was a precious medicinal herb, of which he took a tiny spoonful adding it to warm milk with pinch of black pepper every night before going to bed.
what are the joys of owning an orchard? I would say there are many but what
really matters is the community endeavour (yes, you read it right). That’s the
involvement of friends and acquaintances who further your passion and even call
you crazy. It’s like the hobby of stamp collection. Your co-hobbyist
gifting you what you’ve been looking for quite some time but couldn’t lay your
hands on or you gifting your extra stamp to someone.
I’ve come to believe that people gift you a plant or seeds which they would like to have in their garden but as they don’t have one they magnanimously offer it to you. My friends have fetched me plants to be included in my space-starved orchard from different parts of the country and even abroad. Twelve long years and each monsoon accommodating a new green guest or guests have made my acre too crowded but I’m not complaining. There is always some space in the forest! Mine is almost like a food forest. Year round there is something to be had. In March-April the Love Apples, Mulberries and Honey; in May-June the Mangoes, Jackfruits and Turmeric; in July and August the leaves of Colocasia plants; in September corn; from October to May leafy vegetables/fruits like Moringa, Red Sorrel, Spinach, Coriander, Mint, Amaranth, Pumpkin, Bottle Gourd, Bitter Gourd and fruits namely Pineapple, Papaya, Banana etc. Then there are the year-round bounties offered by Chickoo, Coconut, Lemon, Stevia etc.
I have received saplings from many—like the Avocado brought by Jeffries from Chikmagalur; the Gandhoraj Lemon from Bongaon by Dr Ghosh; the Litchi from Muzzafarpur by Madhurvat; the Mango from Kannur by Girija; lemon from Rajkot by Ami; bamboo from Mangaon by Anand; Vetiver from Khar by Kamal and several others.
Recently, it was Bidyut who lives close to Gurudev Tagore’s Santiniketan in Bolpur gifted me a plastic container full of brown Sal tree (Shorea Robusta) seeds. It’s called Ashvakarnika in Sanskrit. Santiniketan was originally an ashram built by Maharshi Debendranath Tagore in 1888. The ashram residents planted avenues of Sal tree on this arid land which earlier was populated by only Chhatim trees (Alstonia scholaris). The daily walks under the tall Sal bon (forest) Rabindranath, I believe, may have inspired him immensely to pen those beautiful poems devoted to nature.
In wetter areas, Sal is evergreen; in drier areas, it is dry-season deciduous, shedding most of the leaves in between February to April. It leafs again in April and May. Its flowers are whitish in colour which appear in early summer. In the Buddhist tradition, it is said that Gautama Buddha was born under the branches of a Sal while his mother was en route to birth him in his grandfather’s kingdom. It’s one of the most important sources of hardwood timber in India, with hard, coarse-grained wood that is light in colour when freshly cut and becomes dark brown with exposure. The leaves are used commercially for making plates and containers
Sal tree features in one of the Jataka tales as Bhadda-Sāla Jātaka . It’s a story of a king who wanted to build a palace supported by a single pillar of a Sal tree and his dialogue with a Good Sal Tree.
Jharkhand has forests made up entirely of Sal trees. The Oraon adivasis call it as Sakua. Oraon adivasi Jacinta Kerketta’s poem Laal Nadiyan traces how the forest’s Sal trees, rivers and earth have turned a toxic, infertile red with mine dust, even as the youth are enticed by crumbs of CSR Programmes setting up football leagues and youth clubs (Saazishon Ki Six Lane).
Emerging from the forests of Saranda
Gathering are people in a certain village. Women with infants in slings on their backs the aged scaling the valley leaning on their staffs
The young leaping over the hills
and children counting the sakua trees as they walk. They gather not for a protest march
but a football tournament to watch
Where a goat is to be the winner’s trophy.
Coming back to Bidyut, a painter, sculptor and the country’s leading mud-house architect who offering me the Sal tree seeds stating: “See if you can grow them. It will make a pretty sight as it is in Santiniketan.”
Before planting a sapling or seeds I generally do some research about the same and reach out to experts too. “Sal is not native to Maharashtra. But if you have any specific purposes then try planting it. I haven’t come across any successful attempt of the same. We tried making its saplings but very low success rate,” wrote Manasi of Oikos Ecological Services following my query. Oikos have made a comprehensive list of plants which can be grown in the different regions of Maharashtra and the same is much shared among farmer Whats App groups.
will try planting them: three-four of them together hoping some would germinate
and become a tree one day.
TNAU Agritech Portal gives me hope that Sal is likely to grow around my orchard for it requires average annual precipitation between 1000 – 3500mm. I’m keeping my fingers crossed and will keep you updated, if it does.