Chhattigarh Farmer Develops 65cms long brinjal

Hiren Kumar Bose

 A brinjal as long as a snake gourd but thicker girth, variegated-skinned and endowed with mild sweet pulp, is increasingly becoming the staple of scores of dishes, as more and more farmers grow it.

The brinjal variety named, Niranjan Bhata, is unique as it softens and dissolves, once cooked, and has few seeds. Though brinjal is known as baingan in the Hindi-speaking belt, in Chhattisgarh it is called bhata. 

Developed by a Chhattisgarh-based farmer and grassroots innovator Ram Sahu from a traditional brinjal variety, the sixty-year-old Sahu’s innovation has earned him the Plant Genome Saviour Award by the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority (PPV&FRA) New Delhi.

Often described as a poor man’s vegetable, brinjal is popular amongst marginal growers. Every household in India, regardless of food preferences, income levels and social status features the vegetable from the Solanum melongena family in the dishes. Low in calories and high in nutrition, it has a very high water content and is a very good source of fibre, calcium, phosphorus, folate, and vitamins B and C.  India being the second-largest producer after China, brinjal is an important cash crop for over 1.4 million small, marginal and resource-poor farmers. A hardy crop that yields well even under drought conditions, it is grown in almost all parts of the country. West Bengal, Orissa, Gujarat Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Bihar are the major brinjal producing states.

Perhaps the most versatile crop in the vegetable world, brinjal has adapted to different agro-climatic regions and displays a wide range of fruit shapes and colours, ranging from oval or egg-shaped to long club-shaped; and from white, yellow, green through degrees of purple pigmentation to almost black. Over 66 known brinjal hybrid varieties, developed by Agri universities and research bodies, like Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Indian Institute of Horticulture Research, Indian Institute of Vegetable Research and others, are grown in India besides the indigenous ones—the consumer preference being dependent upon fruit colour, size and shape.

Among brinjal’s long varieties are Pusa Purple Long, Pusa Purple Cluster, Azad Kranti, Arka Keshav, Arka Shirish, and Pusa Hybrid— ranging from 10 to 25 cm.  Significantly, the 46 cm long Niranjan Bhata has dwarfed its less elongated cousins. “I even had ones which were 60cms long but chose not to introduce them as I felt that it would not be easily accepted and difficult to market,” tells  Sahu. 

He developed it by mass selection—a breeding method where the genetic values of individual plants are estimated and then based on these estimates selected to be the parents of the following generation—from a traditional variety conserved by his forefathers. “I have been cultivating the traditional brinjal variety since 1988 but started the selection in 2010 and it took me another three years to develop, all along keeping in mind its length, spine on stem and calyx, tolerance to pests and disease and number of fruits per plant,” informs Sahu.

A resident of Dhuma village in Kurud tehsil of Dhamtari district in Chhattisgarh, Sahu cultivates various crops throughout the year, like paddy, turmeric, gram, black-gram, vegetables, and other local crops on the family’s 7.5 acres. As his village regularly encountered water scarcity, Sahu has voluntarily built several check dams which have led to increased irrigation in his and the neighbouring farmers’ fields.  One who believes in growing traditional crop varieties and pursuing organic cultivation practices, Sahu’s achievements in organic farming have been highlighted in the NCERT textbook for standard VI-VIII.

For seven years now, Dhuma’s 150-households have been beneficiaries of Sahu’s innovative brinjal variety and is grown in 40-odd acres—most landholdings here are between 2.5 acres to five acres. Cultivating twice a year, the brinjal growers make between Rs 35 to Rs 40 a kg.

In 2016 Niranjan Bhata went on trial in famers’ fields in six States at the instance of NIF-India and received encouraging responses. For instance, in Nandurbar in Maharashtra farmers, Ramesh Pawara and Jaysing Pawara of Bhujgaon village in the Satpura range grew it in their kitchen gardens consisting of 50 plants, each yielding 5kgs of fruits. “Initially they struggled to make any sale due to the brinjal’s size and colour but as the word went around about its taste and keeping quality sold their entire harvest and made around Rs 8,000,” says Padmakar Chandrabhan Kunde, scientist, Plant Protection, Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Nandurbar. “I too was amazed by its taste and realised that once cooked it dissolved like butter.”

A crop that is susceptible to bacterial, fungal and viral pests, Niranjan Bhata is tolerant to major insects and pests compared to the other varieties. “Here in Chhattisgarh we are not much exposed to chemical pesticides and use organic methods, like neem-based pesticides and also broadcast the field with ash from the hearth,” says Sahu, honoured with a State award by the President of India during Festival of Innovation-2017, organized by the National Innovation Foundation (NIF)-India.

NIF supported Sahu for on-site evaluation of the variety by the Department of Vegetable Science, Indira Gandhi Krishi Vishwavidyalaya (IGKV) Raipur, Chhattisgarh and confirmed that its length (45-60 cm), fruit quality and lower susceptibility to pest attack and disease.  It also facilitated its trials in farmers’ fields in States namely West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Kerala, Nagaland, Manipur, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat.  For instance, its performance in a farmer’s field in Gujarat had excellent results with the fruit achieving an average length of 1.5 to 1.7 feet.  

In Manipur, seeds of Niranjan Bhata were distributed to four farmers in 2016. According to Laishram Yelhounganba Khuman, Innovation Fellow, NIF-India its fruit size was considerably bigger compared to a local brinjal variety. “Though the infestation of Fusarium wilt and stem borer were observed which could be due to the quality of soil and season, however,  its fruit was fleshy, remained soft and contained lesser seeds even during the maturation stage,” he stated.  

Niranjan Bhata has found new takers in the southern States where it can be grown all year round. A farmer from Tiruchanapally in Tamil Nadu who has been growing the variety for three years now told Sahu that used in sambhar the variety “melts, making the gravy thicker”. While a farmer in Jatpur in Raigarh district, bordering Odisha, who planted it on a half-acre plot, had plants reaching a height of 12 ft. The said farmer not only made a handsome amount selling the vegetable in the neighbouring state but disposed of the crop remains, used as fuelwood, for an additional Rs 18,000!

A conservator at heart, Sahu has built a seed vault at his home and is working on breeding newer varieties of paddy, turmeric and cluster beans. Rather than outsource the germplasm to seed making companies, Sahu prefers to sell the seeds of Niranjan Bhata to individual growers and regularly interacts with them to know about its performance and even offers guidance on the agronomic practices to be followed.

Reach Sahu at 098261 48629

Blue Tea!

Having been a green tea regular, it was my first experience with floral tea. French have a word for it, Tisane, pronounced tee-zan.

Tisanes come from a water-based infusion of herbs, spices, flowers, leaves, etc. Essentially, an herbal infusion, or tisane is any plant-derived drink other than true tea.

Making it is very simple. I let the flowers remain in a bowl full of water overnight. Next day I found that the water had turned blue. In fact, aquamarine blue.

Today I made Tisane from Shankhpushpi. The conch-shaped (or shankh in Hindi) flower, also known as Asian pigeonwings, Shankhini, Kambumalini, Aparajita, Sadaphuli and Sankhaphuli, is popularly used as a memory booster and brain tonic. In Ayurveda, the edible flower is used to calm one’s mind.

From a painting by Murali Nagapuzha

I sipped the floral tea while wifey clicked the pics. I fail to describe its taste but I know I enjoyed it. I took it because it promised several wellness properties. Yes, it does calm the mind.

I am told it helps in balancing brain chemicals such as neurotransmitters and ups secretion of dopamine, which in turn keeps the serotonin level under control. It also helps to reduce various symptoms of anxiety which includes restlessness, uneasiness, cold hands and feet, and makes one mentally stronger.

Shankhpushpi Tea

FYI Amazon sells it as Butterfly Pea Tea in 25 g bottles.

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Alphonso Of Nagar Revived From Extinction

Shamkant Thange and his family have helped revive the local ‘Tikhliya’ mango variety by saving grafts from the branches of one tree. His 2-acre orchard now grows 200 mango trees.

Ever since word spread that Shamkant Thange has successfully revived a once-popular mango variety in his two-acre orchard in Tikhol village in Ahmednagar Maharashtra, he has been receiving a stream of visitors including farmers from far off Sindhudurg.

Swamped by hundreds of orders for the saplings of mango, locally known as ‘Tikhliya’, the 52-year-old assures prospective buyers saying, “I will be able to offer it by early next year.”

A small village with 2,000 plus inhabitants, Tikhol sits in a valley circled by the Sahyadri range. Barely 3 km from National Highway 61, the village of farmers is home to an earthen dam, which caters to drinking water and is also used for irrigating crops like bajra, sweet pea, onion, tomato, sugarcane and beans. The village also borders the famed Ralegan Siddhi, considered to be a model of environmental conservation.

According to the villagers, the Tikhliya mango trees have stood on the edge of the village since the British era but stopped yielding fruits in the early ’90s. There are two theories about how it got its name: first, because it belonged to Tikhol village and second, because of its light green dots (tikki in Marathi) on the fruit’s body. In Maharashtra, mango trees which come up beside water bodies, like a river or a pond are known as raiwal or gavran amba (local mango variety). Tikhliya is also a raiwal variety.

Old timers here tell you that the mango variety has had a special place in the heart of Tikhol and its neighbouring villages. Till about the 1970s, after harvest, bullock carts laden with ripe Tikhliya were taken in a procession with a brass band playing till the village’s border. However, the practice was discontinued in the early ’70s. “We took the mangoes loaded in bullock carts to the Nagar (Ahmednagar is colloquially referred as) mandi, which is 40km away. Six bullock carts carried around six quintals each of the fruit,” reminiscences Sakhare Thange (85). He adds, “It took us close to three hours to reach the mandi and we sold a choudah (a pile of 14) for Rs 40.”

As late as 1984, a Tikhol farmer, Rangnath Ganpat Kabre, was awarded a cash prize of Rs 1,000 by the Ahmednagar Zilla Parishad for growing the Tikhliya variety. Now we know why it acquired the moniker, ‘Nagar Cha Hapus’ (Hapus of Ahmednagar), comparable to Konkan’s Alphonso.

However, by the late ’90s, the tree had stopped yielding fruits, which in horticulture is called becoming ‘senile’. Six years into the new millennium it had withered. Then, sometime in 2006, Shamkant, whose family had enjoyed it’s fruits, decided to conserve it. “The tree had withered and become lifeless, barring a couple of branches. I brought home a couple of them and made grafts of them which over the years I planted on three gunthas (3000 sq. ft) of land,” says the man who has devoted 15 long years to revive Tikhliya.

Flowering on this tree begins in the December-January period and a 10-year-old tree annually yields between 3 to 5 tonnes of fruits, according to Shamkant.

From the oldest orchard comprising 50 trees, this year, the Thanges harvested 50 quintals and sold it for Rs 150 a kg.

Of the many who consider Tikhliya to be a hidden gem awaiting to be rediscovered is one Vasant Gharat (60), a Panvel resident who trades in fish spawns. He says, “During a business trip to Tikhol I happened to enjoy the mango and ever since then, my family and I have been asking for more of it. What’s remarkable about this mango variety is it’s aroma stays with you. I was so charmed by it that I acquired a couple of saplings and gifted them to a farmer friend.”

There are scores of farmers in Tikhol who grow mangoes, namely Dasheri, Payeri and Kesar but it’s the Thanges who besides growing other crops have helped revive a local variety and propagate it too.

Dwelling on the identifying characteristics of Tikhliya, Devendra Jadhav, Block Technology Manager, ATMA (Agricultural Technology Management Agency) who has been working in Parner taluka since 2016, says, “Tikhliya arrives after all the mango varieties, like Hapus, Kesar, Payeri, etc, have finished their three-month-long reign. Harvested in mid-June it’s much-sought after among the fruit’s dedicated fans.”

Every year a storm characterised by high-speed winds and heavy rains fells the mango crop in large numbers leading to losses to the grower. Interestingly, Tikhiliya is endowed with a unique feature noticed by the villagers. The thick stem on which fruits hang in a bunch protects it from erratic weather conditions.

ATMA has big plans for Tikhliya. Jadhav says, “We will provide all the assistance to the Thanges to develop a nursery and cater to the huge demand for its saplings. We want to make Tikhliya synonymous to Maharashtra which will benefit growers who want to grow off season mango.”

Weighing around 250-300g, the fruit, once plucked, remains fresh for up to 25 days. Slightly rounder in shape, firm-fleshed, fibre-free and endowed with a pleasing aroma, Tikhliya has delicate skin. When ripe the skin becomes yellow. But it lacks the extreme sweetness of Alphonso.

Taking into consideration its unique features, ATMA has filed for GI (Geographical Index) status with the IPR cell of Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth, Rahuri.

The family also aspires to enter the variety in the National Database of Mangoes which is maintained by the Department of Biotechnology, Indian Council of Agriculture Research and Central Institute of Subtropical Horticulture. “If the Thanges achieve the status of becoming a custodian farmer like hundreds of others spread across the country who conserve our horticulture heritage,” says Jadhav.

Having tasted few slices of a freshly-cut Tikhliya I tend to agree with what Avinash (28), a third generation Thange and an agriculture graduate, told me: “Whatever you write, it would still be inadequate to express the mango’s uniqueness.”

Reach Avinash on 9552585143

Also check https://www.thebetterindia.com/260084/maharashtra-farmer-saves-extinct-tikhilya-mango-breed-farming/

Mulberry Leaf Powder Can Help Control Diabetes

Being a farmer for over a decade and half now, I have always been eager to know about plant chemical or phytochemical properties of plants, it’s fruits, and its flowers. In short, to know whether it’s minerals can be harvested for plant nutrition. Over the years I have  been able to identify the phytochemicals through poring over reams and reams of literature and used the same to benefit my orchard. I think most farmers who are curious do the same. These are organic alternatives  to the synthetic chemicals we use to feed our plants.

Plants produce many chemicals that are biologically active, not just in themselves, but also in other organisms. Some of these chemicals enhance their own survival.

Many plants have high levels of minerals because they can draw minerals from the soil and can convert them into a form that is more easily used by the human body. Mineral content is often the key factor in a plant’s effectiveness as a medicine.

I have used calotropis leaves to cure boron deficiency in mangoes,  fermented banana stem solution to harness potassium needs of turmeric and used moringa leaf spray to enhance vegetable growth. 

Last week my quest led me to  Mulberry leaf  tea and I came to know that it is an excellent medium to control Type 2 Diabetes. I would not claim it to be my discovery: for thousands of years ago it was mentioned in the Bhavprakash Nirghantu but has been ignored and overlooked by present day physicians who can’t think beyond prescribing Metformin.  By the way the plant is known as Tula, Brahmadaru and Kramuka in Sanskrit. Over the years medical journals and research have provided ample proof that blood sugar can be treated by Morus Alba or white mulberry.

I am no physician but the following paragraphs provide you with ample evidence of what promises mulberry holds for diabetics. 

The plant is rich in phenolics. The leaves contain flavonoids, artocarpin, cycloartocarpin and analogues. The root of the plant contains flavonoids like kuwanons, sangennons, mulberrosides and mulberofurans. The small branches contain mulberrin, fructose, glucose, flavonoid, coumarin, arabinose, xylose, stachyose, sucrose. The fruit contains carotene, vitamins A and C, thamene, riboflavin, tannin, linoleic and stearic acids.

Most importantly the leaf contains 1-Deoxynojirimycin (DNJ or 1-DNJ), also called duvoglustat or moranolin, is an alpha-glucosidase inhibitor, most commonly found in mulberry leaves.

An easy to grow plant, Mulberry is propagated through cuttings and is grown in almost every part of India. With the number of diabetics increasing, be it in cities or villages, it would not  be wrong to say that wherever there are diabetics you’ll find Mulberry!

Sadly, most diabetics are not aware  that mulberry is a panacea for their ills. It is a fast-growing, small to medium-sized tree which grows to 10–20 m tall. The white mulberry is widely cultivated to feed the silkworms employed in the commercial production of silk. It is also notable for the rapid release of its pollen.

Chemicals present in white mulberry  work in a similar way to some medicines used for type 2 diabetes. They slow the breakdown of sugars in the gut so that they are absorbed more slowly into the blood. This helps the body keep blood sugar levels in the desirable range.

The leaf extract of Morus alba (LEM) shows the competitive inhibition to α-glucosidase. This single- blinded, placebo-controlled study investigated the effects of LEM on postprandial glucose and insulin levels in type 2 diabetes patients treated with or without sulfonylurea hypoglycemic agents (SU). Elevations in glucose and insulin levels were suppressed and the excretion of breath hydrogen gas was markedly increased in healthy subjects after ingestion of jelly containing LEM. These results suggest that LEM can suppress the postprandial elevation of glucose and insulin independent of SU treatment.

White mulberry is also tried for treating high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, the common cold and its symptoms, muscle and joint pain such as from arthritis, constipation, dizziness, ringing in the ears, hair loss, and premature graying.

Taking 1 gram of the powdered leaf three times a day for 4 weeks decreased fasting blood sugar levels by 27%, compared with an 8% decrease with the diabetes medicine glyburide, 5 mg daily.

In a small study of people with type 2 diabetes, white mulberry leaf, 1 gram taken 3 times daily for 4 weeks, reduced total cholesterol by 12%, and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol by 23%, and increased HDL (“good”) cholesterol by 18%.

Taking white mulberry along with diabetes medications might cause your blood sugar to go too low. Monitor your blood sugar closely. The dose of your diabetes medication might need to be changed.

White Mulberry Leaf combats the three invisible enemies of high blood sugar levels right at its core: the Overactive Lipids that hijack the pancreas causes the body to go in defense mode; those irritated cells then lead to inflammation.

White Mulberry Leaf with its healing properties gives a natural balance of inflammation in your cells.

A scientific review, published by the American Diabetes Association, declared that, “studies have shown that ingestion of mulberry leaf produced significant reductions in blood glucose increases and maintained a healthy balance in the pancreas.”

For further reading:

Mulberry leaf extract decreases digestion and absorption of starch in healthy subjects-A randomized, placebo-controlled, crossover study https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28501729/

American Diabetes Association February 3, 2007 Mitchell Mudra, Nacide Ercan-Fang, Litao Zhong, MD, PHD Julie Furne, and Michael Levitt, MD12Address correspondence and reprint requests to Michael Levitt, MD, Research Office, Minneapolis VAMC, 1 Veterans Dr., Minneapolis, MN 55414

Journal of Drug and Food Analysis December 01, 2017

BMC Administration of mulberry leaves maintains pancreatic β-cell mass in obese/type 2 diabetes mellitus mouse model

https://bmccomplementmedtherapies.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12906-020-02933-4

​IJBCP Assessment of Morus alba (mulberry) leaves extract for anti-psychotic effect in rats

https://www.ijbcp.com/index.php/ijbcp/article/view

Is Sonpari, Alphonso’s Closest Cousin?

Is there a mango to rival the numero uno position Alphonso has achieved?

Many lovers of this variety of Mangifera Indica, grown in the red soil of Maharashtra’s  Konkan region, that too in Devgad and Ratnagiri may baulk at the question but there is one that has all the attributes of Hapus but for its size. It has been around for two decades now and yet kept a secret among the orchard owners of Navsari and its neighbourhood. If you’re a mango aficionado and try acquiring a dozen you’ll know that it is a difficult task. As Navsari-based horticulturist Ankush Patel tells me last year he after a lot of efforts could lay his hands on a handful of saplings.

In fact, it has remained limited to Gujarat but for some aberration like one Janardan Waghere, a Nashik Zilla Parishad Health Deptt employee who also doubles as a mango grower and is a diehard Sonpari fan.

Sonpari rarely reaches the market. Considered a family jewel, they are shared among families and acquaintances of orchard owners.

Alphonso has an unparalleled, unique flavour and aroma. Its magnificent colour-deep orange saffron flesh with sweet delectable taste makes Mumbaikars and Puneites salivate once the news of its maiden harvest is announced in the media.

Arguably the world’s best mango, Alphonso is on the decline in the coastal belt of the state, where most of it is grown. In Ratnagiri alone, it is cultivated on 65,000 hectares. Climate change and unsustainable cultivation practices are slowly but surely taking their toll in the form of repeated pest attacks, destroyed flowers and large scale fruit shedding. For farmers, this means spiralling cultivation costs and plunging returns.

A  premium cultivar of mango, Alphonso constitutes more than 60% of the mango being exported from India. is in great demand globally. Lately, it has suffered a major setback from “spongy tissue” (ST), a physiological internal breakdown disorder. Fruits affected by this disorder do not show any external symptoms and the malady is detected only after cutting the fruits open, posing a challenge for quality control. ST is higher in the coastal Konkan region of Maharashtra than in other inland regions of India.

Being a delicate mango crop that fruits once in two years, too hot or too cold weather disrupts flowering and impacts production. Largest scale government-propelled Alphonso monoculture since the 1990s has led to the near-total disappearance of several other local mango varieties like Raiwal and Payari. Dwindling Payari cultivation this year led to a dozen notching a price of Rs 2,000.

Alphonso is a grafted hybrid, but due to the disappearance of Raiwal, the preferred rootstock, Alphonso is grafted on Alphonso. Its popularity  has replaced the traditional mix of orchard crops like coconut, areca nut, cashew, and fruits like karvand, making farmer economies heavily Alphonso dependent and vulnerable.

…….

So loved is Alphonso that plant breeders since the Seventies have been putting their efforts to make a hybrid—a fruit closest to one the Portuguese colonists gifted us.

Waghere with a bunch of Sonparis mangoes grown in his farm at Chinchwad

It began with Ratna, a hybrid from the cross of Alphonso and Neelum; Sindhu, a hybrid progeny derived by backcrossing Ratna and  Alphonso; Konkan Ruchi, a hybrid from the cross between Neelum and Alphonso; PKM-2 from the parentage Neelum and Alphonso; Al Fazli from the parentage Alphonso and Fazli; Arka Aruna, a hybrid between Banganapalli and Alphonso; Arka Puneet, a hybrid between Alphonso and Banganapalli; Arka Anmol, a hybrid from a cross of Alphonso and Janardhan Pasand; and Arka Neelkiran, a hybrid between Alphonso and Neelum; Neelphonso, a hybrid of Neelam and Alphonso. Interestingly all these hybrid varieties are not victims of  spongy tissue disorder and unlike Alphonso regular bearers.

In recent years, a new variety of mango, named Konkan Samrat, has been introduced which is a hybrid between Alphonso and a non-native variety, Tommy Atkins of Mexico.

In the year 2000, the Gujarat Mango Hybrid-1 (GMH-1) was released from Agriculture Experimental Station, Paria in Navsari and later given the name, Sonpari. This mango hybrid was developed by taking Alphonso as a female parent and Baneshan as a male parent. The trees of Sonpari are vigorous in growth, have dense foliage of lanceolate leaves with sub-erect branches which gives the dense round canopy structure. Sonpari is a heavy yielder and regular in bearing. The fruits are obliquely oval in shape like Baneshan, big in size weighing 360–550g. The tree bears fruits singly. The fruit skin is smooth and becomes golden yellow in colour on ripening. The big-sized brown lenticels moderate densely spread on skin give a very characteristic look to the fruit. The peel is very thin and does not adhere to a pulp. The pulp is firm and fibreless, attractive golden yellow in colour with average pulp content of 75-77%. The taste is excellent and resembles that of Alphonso and very good for table purpose. The fruit has a good blend of sugars and acids which are desirable for consumer preference. The TSS is more than19.5% with lower acidity 0.18% and higher total sugars 14.46%. The keeping quality is very good and fruits remain in good condition for more than 10 days at room temperature. The fruits mature in the second week of June. The trees are free from mango malformation, shoot borer and mealybug. The fruits are free from spongy tissue disorder.

Sonpari mango

According to Janardan Waghere who has 25 other mango varieties growing in his orchard Sonpari is closest to what one gets out of Alphonso. “It can be grown in any type of soil unlike Alphonso which prefers the coastal belt of Maharashtra’s Konkan region,” says he. “I see a great future for it and would suggest people to grow it.”

Waghere has a handful of Sonparis which have fruited in the third year of planting. Each tree has given him 20 kg, unlike Alphonso which gives a mere 5kg on its maiden harvest. The largest of them weigh 750g.

Acquiring  Sonpari saplings is not easy because nurseries rarely keep them. If you’re keen to have some, you need to log in to the Navsari Agriculture University portal and fill a form that is in Gujarati. And if you’re lucky to get the saplings you have to bring them from Paria, a village situated near Vapi in Valsad district of Gujarat.

Adds horticulturist, “Once relished Sonpari’s taste and aroma lingers for hours.” 

A Heart-Friendly Plant We Consider As Weed

Wherever paddy is cultivated it comes uninvited and stays until uprooted. Only to return. Though considered a weed it is a preferred leafy vegetable among the peasant community and farm folks. In States like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and others. In fact, peasants believe that consumption of its gives one instant energy.

We, Indians, have loved this succulent plant otherwise how does on rationalises the many names it has. Noni Sag in Bangla, Nonila Ghol and Motiloni in Gujarati. But it’s surprising to know that Assamese have seven names for it, Malayalam has eight names to describe it, and Kannada two, namely Doodagooni Soopu and Dudagorai.

As we urbanized ourselves and our food diversity got limited and we no more considered food as medicine we forgot Purslane (portulaca oleracea).  From “noxious weed” to “superfood” the journey of this succulent has been very interesting. Purslane is widely distributed around the globe and is popular as a potherb in many areas of Europe, Asia, and the Mediterranean region.

If you’re a plant lover you’re likely to compare Purslane with a miniature jade plant. Yes, it looks like that.

The moisture-rich leaves are cucumber-crisp and have a tart, almost lemony tang with a peppery kick. But the taste is not the only reason to eat. Purslane has recently been identified as the richest vegetable source of alpha-linolenic acid, an essential omega-3 fatty acid.

Scientific analysis of its chemical components has shown that this common weed has uncommon nutritional value, making it one of the potentially important foods for the future.

Health authorities highly recommend that we consume fish regularly to meet our bodies’ requirements of omega-3 fatty acids, as other sources are limited and do not supply nearly as much omega-3 fatty acids. Unlike fish oils with their high cholesterol and calorie content, purslane also provides an excellent source of the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids without the cholesterol of fish oils, since it contains no cholesterol.

It is a rich source of potassium (494 mg/100 g) followed by magnesium (68 mg/100 g) and calcium (65 mg/100 g) and possesses the potential to be used as a vegetable source of omega-3 fatty acid. Consider this:  while 100g of banana offers 358mg of potassium, coconut water 250mg in the case of Purslane it’s an astounding 494mg.

Purslane flourishes in numerous biogeographical locations worldwide and is highly adaptable to many adverse conditions such as drought, saline, and nutrient-deficient conditions.

It grows well in orchards, vineyards, crop fields, landscaped areas, gardens, roadsides, and other disturbed sites. In fact, once it has taken it’s very difficult to kill it. Remember why it’s called a weed.

According to Dr Artemis Simopoulos, president of the Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health in Washington, who discovered Purslane while working at the National Institutes of Health that the plant has the highest level of Omega-3 fatty acids of any other green plant considers it as a “miracle’ plant.

Her research was first reported in the New England Journal of Medicine in the late 1980s, but it has taken time for nutrition awareness and food culture to catch up.

Purslane is very easy to grow, either from a cutting or seeds. While there are very many recipes to cook it, I take two branches of it along with the leaves, wash it, and chew it.  

As you bite into it, it bursts into your mouth and has a crisp, juicy texture and a bit sour.

While Moringa has got its due—also called a miracle plant— it’s time we recognize the importance of Purslane.

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22 Mango Varieties On 1 Plant. Sangli Farmer Aims To Reach 100

Antral. How this village of 280 plus families, 15 kms from Jath taluka in Sangli district (Maharashtra), came to be known so no one is able to tell you. (By the way Antral in English means ‘breathing space’). 

In this medium-sized village resides one Kakasaheb Sawant, a former automobile mechanic who after having worked for automobile majors  like Bajaj, Telco, Kinetic and others for decade and a half decided to return to his native village in order to grow mangoes and encourage others too.

“In the last job I held I was working as a faculty member with Kohinoor Technical Institute at Sangli. As I was transferred elsewhere I decided to return to my village and take care of the family’s farm lands,” he told me on the phone.

In a district famed for its vineyards and pomegranate farms 43-year-old Kakasaheb, always dressed in a full- length white shirt, is famous here for his nursery of fruit-bearing plants and a mango tree with varieties of mangoes. His one-year Kesar mango sapling is available for Rs 50.

Awarded the title of ‘Udyan Pandit (2018-19)’ by Maharashtra government, Sawant reminiscences: “When I began planting mangoes a decade back people laughed at me saying ‘This isn’t Konkan.'”

Sawant’s family, which includes his two brothers who are teachers own 20 acres of land in a place considered drought-prone. The Sangli district is situated in the Southern part of Maharashtra and is a part of the Deccan plateau. It is gifted with fertile black soil.

Sawant’s farm plots are equally divided into the mango and non-mango ones. The Kesar variety occupies 10 acres while the rest farm plots have chickoos, pomegranates, custard apples, guava, tamarind and others.

Farmers from far and near visit Sawant’s farm with dual purposes– to pick up the fruit saplings and to have a dekho at the horticulture wonder: a three-year-old mango tree with 22 varieties grafted on it which at this time of the year is laden with fruits of different sizes and colours–from teal to bottle green, from parrot green to moss–and with names (yes, they are labelled for the viewer’s sake, like a museum exhibit) like Sindhu, Dudhpedha, Kroton, Dasheri, Vanraj, Niranjan, Lalbagh, Taiwan and 14 others including Amrapali, Alphonso, Baramashi and others.

Grafting is a horticultural technique whereby tissues of plants are joined to continue their growth together. The upper part of the combined plant is called the scion while the lower part is called the rootstock.  Sawant has introduced scions of 22 varieties to the desi rootstock.

Though all are from the Mangifera Indica family some fruits are bulbous, some spheroid and some skinny. You also come across mangoes as long as one’s palm and some the size of an apple. This summer 16 of them have fruited.

Farmers return home nursing a desire to replicate Sawant’s miracle, one day. I too nurse such an ambition.

His nursery, called Banashankari, is spread on an acre. “I sell around two lakh mango saplings a year alone besides custard apple, jamun, chikoo, guava and lemon,” informs Sawant.

Having sourced most of the mother plants from Dapoli-based Balasaheb Konkan Krishi Vidyapeeth over the years he has so far grafted them on a desi mango variety plant, known in Marathi as Rawal. When I tell him about Katimon, a dwarf-sized Thai mango variety that fruits thrice a year and is now a rage among West Bengal orchard owners who source it from neighbouring Bangladesh Sawant asks me to provide contact details. “I’ll try to acquire some,” he tells me.

As he runs a large nursery Sawant sources skilled workmen to make the grafts and saplings who come from Dapoli, 225 km away from Sangli, to work at the nursery from June to August living with the family and having their meals together. “They’re very skilled and the saplings are a hundred percent success,” he informs. “I’ve picked the techniques from them. In fact, among them is one sixty-year-old man who has been grafting plans since the age of 12 and he is a master.”

Last year as they were unable to come to Antral riding on State Transport buses from Jalagaon due to lock-down Sawant sent a car to pick them. Each day these ‘graftsmen’ ready around 800 to 1000 saplings, earning Rs 3 each.

Eager to share the technique of growing mangoes without expecting anything in return, he says,”I’m always available on and enjoy talking to strangers and willing to share what I’ve learnt over the years.”

Sharing the secrets on what, how and when of grafting, Sawant elaborates, “When choosing the branch to be grafted make sure the leaves on it are not over four months old and the branch is tender with green skin. The day temperature should be between 25 to 30 degrees C which is during early May here,” he informs, adding that in a couple of years he plans to reach the magic figure of hundred grafts on the same tree.

Having seen a video of the luscious-looking mangoes hanging from wire-thin branches I inquire: “Who gets to eat the 22 varieties of mangoes?”

“My family members, of course,” he replies. “Our family has 16 members.”

Reach Sawant on +91 82753 91582.

Check out these videos

https://youtu.be/cq20-aJ6z84

https://youtu.be/L-cPV0D0i8g

……

Fruit Called Lotka. Tastes Like Lychee

The Lotka trees in the forests of Jalpaiguri (West Bengal) are full of fruits—the branches and the trunk clustered  with round to oval berries. Often sighted in the Nilgiri Hills there is hardly mention of it being found in North Bengal and Northeast India.

“Its first week of April and the trees here are full of them,” tells Pradip Kumar Ray, a former banker, an environmentalist and conservator of folk varieties of paddy seeds calling me early in the morning to talk about his find who chanced upon Lotka trees during vacationing. “They look like potatoes growing on trees.”

Ray admiring a Lotka tree

A small, translucent, orb-shaped fruit, langsah as its known in South India can be quite sour when unripe, but are perfectly sweet when ripe with a taste similar to a bittersweet grapefruit. It s flavor is sweet and lightly acidic like lychee, juicy and refreshing. The seeds are soft, bitter, and should be discarded. Even though this fruit’s demand skyrockets when it is in season, its rarely cultivated.

Each Lotka berry measures about 3.5 to 4 cm in diameter with the thick, hairy outer skin resembling potato. The leathery skin in raw unripe fruits emits clear milk-like resin.

The fruits ripen in the middle part of July. It’s offered to Lord Jagannath during the rath yatra which happens in the same month. In fact, there is a mad scramble to acquire them in the village fairs which leads to it’s high demand and becoming much dearer.

Fresh fruits are very good source of B-complex vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folates. These vitamins are essential since they function by acting as co-factors to help the body metabolize carbohydrates, protein, and fats. Further, it also carries small amounts of minerals like calcium (19 mg), phosphorus (31 mg) and iron (0.9 mg). Being a juicy tropical fruit, it holds good amounts of potassium, an important component of cell and body fluids help control heart rate and blood pressure; thus, it offers protection against high blood pressure and stroke.

Lotka tree with cluster of fruits

“It is a long erect plant, which begins to yield after about 4 years of plantation and continues to produce fruits for over 100 years, I’m told,” informs Ray. “Air layering is the best way to propagate them then from seedling.”

Lotka fruits are very refreshing if eaten while fresh. The fruits perish early and should be eaten early though it can be kept inside refrigerators for up to one week. As the fruit ages it tends to become bland.

Dry fruit peels and burn them to keep mosquitoes at bay as they emit an aromatic fragrance.

Mango Called Romance. You Read It Right. And Fruits Twice

Come summer when it’s sultry and the temperature goes south, reaching close to 40 degrees, I enter the mango phase. I dream, think of mangoes and nurse a desire to acquire mango varieties I have heard of or read about.

Every summer I come to know of a mango variety that I was not familiar with. Why summer? Because that’s the time people talk passionately, especially growers about their mangoes.

Mango lovers are very tradition-bound and unwilling to try hybrids. Like their parents and grandparents, they continue to live in the thrall of Alphonsos, Kesars, Himsagars, Mankurads, Langdas, Fazlis, Maldas and others. And this fascination is reflected in the growers preference too. He prefers to grow only those varieties that have a market. But there are mavericks too, who gather unknown or lesser-known varieties and grow them while keeping the fruits to themselves.

This March I discovered three varieties, all hybrids. In fact, I have made a promise to myself to seek out growers all over the country who are custodians of lesser-known varieties revelling in the diversity of Mangifera Indica.

It was through a professor and a farmer that I was introduced to Miraj-based Parmanand Gavane, a maverick who practices the ultra-high-density plantation system with 900 Kesar trees on an acre. He has a plantation of 3600 trees, spread on four acres.

Along with Kesar, Baneshan, Tommy Atkins he has a mango hybrid which fruits twice a year, named Al Rumania, Romania or just Rumani which he acquired from Tamil Nadu.

Gavane with a bunch of Rumani

Those in the 40s and 50s may have seen or heard about the Hindi movie, Thoda Sa Rumani Ho Jayen (1990). Yes, Rumani is romantic in Urdu.

Mostly grown in North Andhra Pradesh, the ripened mango skin of Rumani is yellowish-green with a red tint at the top. The pulp is sweet and golden yellow. Its pulp is sweet, juicy and with the least fibre. Rumani is mostly used as a table fruit and also for making mango drinks. The fruit is spheroid shaped and weighs around 250g.

According to Gavane when tender and raw it’s picked and used for making pickles. He has 500 Rumanis on 25 gunthas of land. Barely two years and six months old its maiden fruit appeared last year, once in November and now he is expecting another harvest in May. Those interested in Rumani grafts Gavane can be a good source.

Rumanis hanging from the tree

Rumani has a hybrid cousin, thanks to the union between Rumani and Mulgova. It’s called AU Rumani.

…..

Whenever we think of Gujarat we generally think of two varieties, namely Kesar and Mulgova. A few days back I came to know of hybrid varieties which only connoisseurs are aware of. Only those living around Navsari are aware of Sonpari. Those who have tasted Sonpari don’t bother much about Alphonso, a variety favourite among those residing in Mumbai and Pune.

Sonpari arrives in April and stays till May end. Last year the season began with Rs 2,000 for 20 pieces and by season-end, it was still at Rs 1200 for 20! Developed by Mango Research Centre, Paria in Navsari it was released in 2000. As it takes close to six years to fruit there were hardly any takers for the variety initially. But those who did consider planting it now nourish it as their family jewel unwilling to put the fruit on sale and prefer to give it to friends and relatives as a gift. Horticulturist Ankush Patel tells me last year he could lay his hands on some. “Once relished its taste and aroma lingers for hours,” he explains.

Sonpari’s peel is very thin and does not adhere to the pulp which is firm and fibreless with attractive golden yellow in colour. The taste is excellent and resembles that of Alphonso.

Much before Sonpari’s debut one Dr R. I. Bhatt who was the Research Scientist (Hort.), AES, GAU, Paria had released Neelphonso, Neeleshwari and Neeleshan in 1986.

Neelphonso was developed by taking Neelam as a female parent and Alphonso is its male parent. Trees of Neelphonso are oval-shaped, moderately in growth with suberect branches and have dense foliage. This hybrid is moderate regular in bearing but a late bearing tendency. The tree bears fruits singly. The fruits are ready for harvest in July-August when most of the mangos have been harvested and eaten. Some trees have been found to ripen in September. Due to this, the fruits of Neelphonso get a good market price. The oval oblique shaped fruits of Neelphonso are medium in size weighing about 200g. The skin colour on ripening becomes apricot yellow while the pulp becomes orange-yellow. Due to thick, smooth skin, the fruits are not harmed by the rains.

Neeleshwari was developed by taking Neelam as female and Dashehari as a male parent. Like Amrapali. The trees of this hybrid are round shaped with dwarfing nature and sparse foliage containing lanceolate leaves. It bears narrowly oblong-shaped fruits moderately and regularly in bunches of two-three fruits. The fruits are free from spongy tissue disorder. The skin colour on ripening turns apricot yellow while pulp colour becomes yellow. The thin smooth skin adheres to moderately firm textured flesh. The non-fibrous juicy pulp is suited for the table as well as for making juice and has moderate keeping quality.

Neeleshan was developed by taking Neelam as female and Baneshan as the male parent. The trees of this hybrid are spherical or dome-shaped, sub-erect to spreading branches and moderate-vigorous in growth with dense foliage containing oblong leaves. It bears attractive obovoid shaped fruits heavily and regularly. Generally, the fruit bears singly or in a bunch of two. The fruits are free from spongy tissue disorder. The average weight of fruits is about 318g. On ripening the skin become cadmium yellow while the pulp becomes attractive golden yellow in colour. The fruit skin is thin, smooth, moderate adhering to the pulp with a firm and non-fibrous texture. The fruits are suited for table purpose and have very good keeping quality of more than 10 days after ripening.

Turmeric Story: Farm to Latte

A letter to my turmeric buyers

Now as you’ve received the organically grown haldi (turmeric) powder, sans preservatives and additives I would like to share some details which will help you appreciate how the crop is grown and later processed.

If by any chance, you visit my handkerchief-sized plot–for it’s just an acre–which overlooks the perennial river Barvi you will witness that I grow turmeric as an intercrop, that’s in-between the space offered by mango, chickoo, dragon fruit, custard apple, phalsa, jackfruit, coconut, love apple, cashew nut, mulberry, papaya, avocado, betel vine, pineapple and scores of medicinal herbs and spices.

Step on my farm in the months following October you’ll find the farm’s red soil which hides the stones and boulders exist in harmony with heaps of leaf litter, dried grass, fallen twigs and branches all over giving the impression that it belongs to a lazy farmer who can’t even keep his farm clean!

I suggest you drop on your haunches, pick a decaying twig and you will watch a miracle unfold–scores of termites munching on it and in the process creating soil. Yes, really. You’re witnessing a live demo of nature’s closely guarded secret. I’ve never tried to exterminate the termites because I know I will meet with failure for these tiny bugs have been around far longer than us, and it would be foolish on my part to believe that they can be exterminated! Many have tried and many in future would but you can’t overpower them. And if you did chances are that the soil will become pesticide rich. Earlier you accepted it’s better. It’s the termites who make the soil porous and are an inalienable part of Earth’s ecosystem. 

The millions of termites and earthworms make my farm their home and I have let them be for they are extremely beneficial to the soil’s health and farm’s future.

Coming to turmeric, I sow the rhizomes (planting material) a week before the rains arrive on raised soil beds enriched with vermicompost, farmyard manure, biofertilizer and jeevamrit . They remain under the soil close to nine months and grow in volumes spreading its roots while the leaves having opened the earth receive and absorb the sun to make food. In December the leaves which till recently were used to make a sweet dish using rice flour and jaggery have yellowed and dried up. Sending you signs that irrigate it once a fortnight.

Come April it’s time to harvest the rhizomes and mother rhizomes which have become as big as your palm after having occupied precious farm space for nine long months! Consider this with grains which mature within 120 to 150 days. Reason enough why this spice attracts a premium price. More so when its grown using natural and non-chemical fertilisers.  Did you know that the same patch of land cannot be used successively to grow turmeric as the crop exhausts the soil of its nutrients and needs to be left fallow for a season? Or go for a bi-annual crop.

Harvested, the rhizomes and the fingers are thoroughly cleaned, washed and then boiled for close to 45 minutes. As the vapours rise the cooked haldi spreads its aroma all over disinfecting the air and saying to us: I’ve arrived to bestow you with health. When volumes are high rhizomes are boiled in boilers. Once the rhizomes cool they are split and dried for a fortnight in shade. Hard and dried the rhizomes look like insects waiting to be powdered. From harvest to powder the volume reduces to a quarter. Which means if the harvest is around 100kg,  the powder you get at hand is merely 25kg. 

Having come to know of an indigenous variety cultivated by the tribals of Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh which has 6 per cent curcumin and 9 per cent volatile oil content, this year we sourced the rhizomes (planting material) from Srikakulam–a distance of 1460 km from our farm in Badlapur, Maharashtra. 

It’s aroma is excellent and unparalleled, one has to savour it to experience it’s purity. Those used to packaged/ branded haldi will immediately feel the difference. 

A physician friend who rode with a kilo of our haldi in his car complained that he had to breathe the spice-laced air for two days!

Ayurveda physicians also suggest haldi for skin problems, like acne. Make a paste of haldi using virgin coconut oil and a pinch of camphor. Apply before going to bed and wash it in the morning. You will see the difference within two days.

Interestingly you will find the colour of our new harvest yellow-ochreish and not yellow you’re familiar with. 

Importantly the haldi we offer is not only chemical-free it has no preservatives and neither do we add corn powder to increase the volumes. It’s just pure haldi. Har kan kan mein haldi, as I would like to say.

With  haldi powder reaching you its journey ends when you take it specifically to boost your health (yes some use it on their dishes).  And if you do we advise you to take it either with warm milk or ghee after adding a pinch of black pepper. The fat in the milk or ghee hastens the absorption of curcumin (haldi) and piperine (black pepper). 

Lastly, thanks for making me an agripreneur though I still continue to be a journalist. 

Tip: Always store spices including haldi in steel or glass containers to ensure long shelf-life.