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 moister as the rains are now a memory. The twigs, fallen branches, dead leaves, fruit waste and all have become the food of the termites.
Utter the word ‘termites’ and you’re likely to hear orchard growers curse them. More so those who have a farm in the Konkan belt of Maharashtra where it is considered a menace one need to live with. Every means available are used to them exterminate them but fail miserably. Yes, for a brief period the termites seem to be effaced. But they return: for they share a relationship which is as old as this planet.
Unwilling to be defeated, the farm owner repeats the cycle and it goes on and ends. But the soil unlike our kidneys which flushes out what the body doesn’t need loses its fertility, eliminated of its most friendly dweller.
What do the termites do to the litter?
It envelopes the litter with soil and within months it disintegrates to become a fine powder, like sawdust.
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 will disturb the ecological cycle. Keeping my ear and eyes to the ground. Listening to the symphony of the soil. We, humans, consider ourselves as a superior species and are unwilling to let Nature be what it has been, for eons. And that has been our failing.
Once the rains come, the termites go into hibernation for 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 is all over the place so that they don’t attack my tree.
Soils deepen with the accumulation of organic matter primarily due to the activities of higher plants. Topsoil deepens through soil mixing. Soils develop layers as organic matter accumulates and leaching takes place. This development of layers is the beginning of the soil profile. What soil scientists address as “A horizon”. This humus-rich topsoil where nutrient, organic matter, nd biological activity are highest (i.e. most plant roots, earthworms, insects, and micro-organisms are active). The A horizon is usually darker than other horizons because of the organic materials.
But mine isn’t darker and I’m not complaining.