World’s Priciest Mango

It was during a visit to Kolkata in June 2018 that I came to know of the world’s priciest mango having visited a mango fest. You can fetch a dozen of best Devgad Alphonse Mango for Rs 700 while you need to pay Rs 700 to lay your hands on a solitary piece of Kohitoor mango. I was told at times many have paid more for the most delicate and sensitive of all mangoes. Though wonderful in taste it is the most difficult mango to handle. Golden yellow in colour, the Kohitoor has to be kept wrapped in cotton wool to keep it fresh. After every 12 hours, the mango has to be turned on its side so that it ripens uniformly.

Kohitoor is grown in orchards of Murshidabad’s Azimganj and Jiaganj. There are only 10 to 15 growers and only 25 to 30 Kohitur trees left in Murshidabad district despite efforts to save the mango species. As couple of  hundred mangoes arrive in the market they are immediately lapped up.  In fact, you need to be a Nawab to afford it.  For it was Nawab Murshid Quli Jafar Khan having transferred his capital from Dhaka to Murshidabad in 1704 encourage the setting up of mango orchards.

It’s said 124 varieties of mango were once cultivated in Murshidabad. Presently, we know of only 19 varieties growing in Murshidabad. To name a few: Ranipasand. named as the erstwhile Nawab’s favourite wife liked it; Enaet Pasand, named after a jagirdar who patronised it; Bimli, named after a maid employed by Mir Jafar  for cultivating new mango variety; Anaras has a pineapple flavor; Saranga is dedicated to the musicians who played “sarangi” in Nawab’s haveli; Gulabkhas, as the name suggests, has a mild flavour of the gulab (rose); and Mohanbhog, named so as the same was offered to the deity, Lord Krishna in the temples.

Lakshman Bhog Mangoes

Though there is talk of acquiring GI tag for Kohitur not much progress has been achieved in this regard.

A paper titled, “Mango cultivars and hybrids grown in West Bengal” having studied 115 mango cultivars and hybrids—from Subza weighing 70 g to Totapuri 768.8 g opined that Lakshman Bhog, a regular bearer with an attractive colour and good fruit quality had the potential for export from the state. Though every Bong swears by his/her Himsagar it has low shelf life and thus can’t be marketed outside West Bengal. Sadly, the farmers in West Bengal unlike their brethren in Maharashtra, Karnataka or Andhra Pradesh have been unable to market Lakshman Bhog outside their State. It has the potential of doing what Alphonso has done to Maharashtra.

Kalpvriksh, Truly A Seed Exchange

A hobby-farmer (don’t know if there is such a term) for over a decade now my one acre plot has become a forest of sorts or a botanical garden, those few who come to visit call it that.

Mangoes, jackfruits, coconuts, chickoo, avocado, Love apple, mulberries jostle space with medicinal plants and aromatic herbs here. In fact, over the years the space for growing vegetables has been shrinking. I make good use of it growing seasonal vegetables, like spinach, methi, pumpkin, Bottle gourd, carrot, papaya, tomatoes etc. Yes, a lot of space is occupied by turmeric—sown in June and harvested in April-May. Turmeric is the only crop which sustains the farm and helps me feed Mangal and his kids. In short, the golden spice brings me the moolah while rest all, is either consumed by the family or given away to friends and acquaintances.

I do try to grow vegetables having acquired the home-garden packets sold by brands, like Ratanshi, Bombay Seeds etc. They cost a bomb and most of the time doesn’t deliver. Meaning, they rarely germinate or if they do, their yields are nothing to look for.

I’ve in the lookout seed savers, individuals or groups, who are non-commercial and believe in the age-old barter system. The philosophy of shareware. Give me some and I give you some. Passionate seed savers who believe in sharing their treasure.

Google was not of much help but it was Facebook which yielded: Kalpavriksh (Seed Bank Exchange Point & Sharing of Garden Ideas), the platform run by Sanjay Narote and Vivek Pathrukdar, both in their mid-thirties and passionate heirloom seed collectors.

The not-for-profit Kalpvriksh believes that home-gardeners can take these seeds where they belong—in gardens and on tables everywhere. Says Sanjay, a chef who works in a Shirdi-based hotel,  “Seeds in our bank are protected and preserved. But when they grow in your garden, they thrive.”

Though just three-month old Kalpvriksh’s mission is to conserve and promote India’s culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants. As Vivek, a zilla parishad teacher says, “We are in the process of building a movement, not a seed company.” Most seeds in his collection are from his terrace garden which he has been cultivating for the past three years. 

Sanjay is from Srirampur, 35kms from Shirdi while Vivek is from Jeur, a small village of 350 houses in Solapur district. “I’m a member of over 100 plus Facebook and WhatsApp groups and met Sanjay in one such group. We share a common interest in gardening and collecting seeds,” says Vivek, a post-grad who is a primary school teacher “which has two teachers and classes up to fourth standard”. His wife, Aparna also a post-grad and a school teacher takes equal interest in her husband’s unique initiative in popularising the movement of heirloom seeds among home gardeners and farmers.

Both have their separate collections in their homes, seeds packed in plastic pouches or tiny tin boxes. While Sanjay has around 185 varieties of seeds Vijay claims his collection is yet to reach the   300 number.

Sanjay with his collection of seeds

Whenever a request arrives they check their individual collections and mail the seeds by registered post.”We prefer registered post because we don’t want to burden the recipient with Speedpost costs.  Registered post takes much more time to reach its destination but surely it does,” says Sanjay who is helped in this task by wife Sanchita, a teacher and presently pursuing her Ph.D in political science.  Friends and acquaintances and Facebook members too add to their collection. Adds  Sanjay, “A friend who was on a trip to the southern part of the country brought me some 200 seeds of yellow Palash.”

Among both its Sanjay who is zealous about creating awareness about heirloom seeds and almost daily posts in Marathi on Indian plants on the Kalpvriksh Facebook page.

Kalpvriksh has seeds of grains, leafy and other vegetables, flower, forest, aromatic and medicinal plants. It has six varieties of cucumber, of which one grown in Konkan weighs between 8 to 10 kgs. For as little as Rs 150 one can get 20 varieties of vegetable and flower seeds. 

How does one conserve seeds for future use?

“There are three ways to conserve them. The traditional way which most villagers follow, like ‘seed mother’ Rahibai Popere does it to preserve them in cow dung and sun dry it. Me and Vivek, either store them in cow dung ash or in a tin box with camphor tablets,” says Sanjay.

Both seed collectors have this advice for wannabe collectors: “We’re always excited by the appearance of the maiden fruit, be it cucumber or tomato. That’s one you should collect for seed.” As the language of the group is in Marathi most of its followers are either from Maharashtra or those settled abroad and familiar with the language.

In addition to village, towns and cities in Maharashtra Sanjay &Co have shared seeds with individuals in Jammu & Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh and also NRIs in Dubai, UK, US and Australia.

“To the inquiries we receive from NRIs we send the seeds to their family members in India, like it happened in a case from Philadelphia (US),” informs Sanjay.

In addition to village, towns and cities in Maharashtra Sanjay &Co have shared seeds with individuals in Jammu & Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh and also NRIs in Dubai, UK, US and Australia.

“To the inquiries we receive from NRIs we send the seeds to their family members in India like it happened in the case of one Milind Ranade from Philadelphia (US),” informs Sanjay.

In addition to the villages, towns and cities in Maharashtra Sanjay &Co have shared seeds with individuals in Jammu & Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh and also NRIs settled in Dubai, UK, US and Australia. “To the inquiries we receive from NRIs we send the seeds to their family members in India like it happened in a case from Philadelphia (US),” informs Sanjay.

Vivek Pathrudkar in his home with his seed collection

A newbie seed saver like me with a small collection which includes seeds of Rakta Chandan, Rattlepod, Pumpkin, Bottle Gourd, Violet Tulsi, Laxmi Taru, Custard Apple etc. I ask Sanjay whether they were open to the idea of bartering seeds.

“Sure, why not?” says Sanjay.

So you know if you like to barter or buy heirloom seeds you know where to look for.

Farmer-Innovators of India

Innovation is rarely associated with vegetables, fruits or spices. Hiren Kumar Bose introduces us to some of the farmer innovators of India who have developed crop varieties, which besides being high-yielding, are pest-resistant and can be grown in a non-traditional environment.

Sixty-four-year old Navnath Malhari Kaspate is a farmer-innovator having developed a high-yielding custard apple with lesser seeds. Called NMK-01, the variety is preferred among prospective custard apple growers and is presently being grown in 15 States.  Kaspate holds IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) for the variety he has developed.  

The term ‘farmer-innovator’ is a very recent coinage in India, thanks to the National Innovation Foundation. The Foundation over the years has assiduously identified innovators from the country’s small town and villages. Besides recognizing their contribution to agriculture and horticulture it has promoted them too.

Navnath Kaspate in his orchard

Innovation is rarely associated with vegetables, fruits or spices. Interestingly, there are scores of unlettered farmers who have been ingenious enough to develop crop varieties, which besides being high-yielding, are pest-resistant and can be grown in a non-traditional environment.

Earlier known as the Honey Bee Network, the NIF was set up by the Department of Science and Technology. It has documented, added value, protected the IPR of the contemporary unaided technological innovators and traditional knowledge-holders, disseminating their innovations on a commercial and non-commercial basis.

According to Hardev Choudhary, Innovation Officer, NIF, it is the volunteers spread across districts in the country who identify the prospective farmer-innovators and validate their achievements.

The Biennial Grassroots Innovation and Outstanding Traditional Knowledge Awards being held since 2001 help in this regard. So far, the NIF has filed for 71 registrations under the plant variety, of which only 10 have been granted. Following proper verification, documentation, evaluation and validation by local agriculture universities or the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) which involves the work of several years, NIF assists the innovators in acquiring registrations.

Developing a new variety of crop or fruit is generally undertaken either by universities or institutions like the Indian Institute of Horticultural Research. But in the case of Kaspate though a class 11 dropout he had the passion of a grower and the perseverance of a plant breeder.  Visit his sprawling farm in Gormale village in Solapur, Maharashtra you’re likely to come across a ‘living museum’ of 42-odd varieties of custard apple collected from different parts of the world.

Kaspate introduced the farming community to NMK-01 (Golden) in 2011 and 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. Ever since NMK-01 (Golden) was launched, he claims to have sold 30 lakh saplings and makes at least Rs 1 crore from selling the fruit. Mainly grown 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.

Have you heard of a mango variety called, Sadabahar?  Very unlikely. It’s called so because it fruits thrice in a year.

Developed by Shree Kishan Suman, a Kota-based horticulturist and farmer, Sadabahar is a recent entrant on the mango-sphere and has quite a few similarities with Alphonso. Mango growers the world over are making a beeline for this new variety of the ‘king of fruits’ to have in their orchards. Fifty-two-year-old Suman of village Girdharpura, 15 kms from Kota, belongs to a family of farmers who used to grow rice and wheat but gave them up due to the fluctuating market rates. In 2000, he identified a mango tree in his orchard, which had bloomed in the three seasons viz. January-February, June-July and September-October. He prepared five grafted mango trees, using them as a scion. This tree had a good growth habit and had dark green leaves. Growing them for years, he found the mango trees immune to major diseases and common disorders. He took about 15 years to develop his variety.

Soon the NIF got in touch with him and has grown the variety at different places in the country to authenticate the veracity of Suman’s. In 2017, Suman was conferred with the Farm Innovation Award during the 9th Biennial Grassroots Innovation and Outstanding Traditional Knowledge held at Rashtrapati Bhavan. Perhaps the nation’s or in fact, the world’s only hybrid mango that flowers thrice a year, Sadabahar has been registered under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act as a farmers’ variety. So far, Suman has sold over 1500 plants, to nurseries and individuals in Delhi, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Telangana.  He has received inquiries for saplings from individuals in Nigeria, Pakistan, Kuwait, Iraq, UK, and the USA.

Jagdish Prasad Parikh is a 71-year- old farmer from Ajitgarh from Rajasthan’s Sikar district and proudly tells visitors that his jumbo cauliflower which has earned him an entry into the Limca Book of Records. As his cauliflowers are very big, they are preferred by hotels and restaurants. Growing cauliflowers since 1990, his variety received the Grassroots Innovation Award in 2001, also making him the recipient of an IPR in 2017. The biggest cauliflower he has so far grown is 25.5 kgs. The variety is unlike the regular cauliflowers you see with the vegetable vendor or purchase from your neighbourhood mall. Unaffected by warm temperatures, the variety is disease-resistant as well as tolerant to insect attacks. It can also be grown thrice in a year.

Jagdish Parikh with the jumbo-sized caulifolower

These innovations by farmer-innovators, who hold IPRs for their innovations, are shining examples of livelihood security leading to crop improvement, assuring food and nutritional security, enhancing production technologies and also providing environment security. Of them one is Sabu Varghese of Pampadumpara village in Kerala’s Idukki district sells around 10,000 saplings of his ‘wonder cardamom’ each year. It is a drought-resistant variety which yields around 3 kg of fruit per plant and can be grown in rubber plantations. The variety can be grown in high-temperature surroundings, requiring shade and humidity for a good harvest. He received an IPR for his variety in 2015 and has not looked back since.

Like Sabu T.T. Thomas (71) is from Idukki and has developed “Pepper Thekken”, a high yield variety of black pepper which gives a yield of more than 1000 pepper balls in one pepper bunch and recipient of IPR for his developed variety. About 8600 kg dry pepper can be produced from one hectare. Since the pepper is produced in bunches, harvesting is also easy.  

Sabu T.T. Thomas with his pepper variety

Plant breeders, researchers and farmers like Kaspate, Suman, Parikh, Sabu and Thomas have been granted IPR under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act (PPV & FR) of 2001. Exclusive rights to produce, sell, market, distribute, import and export a crop variety are granted to farmers under this Act. They are also exempt from the payment of any fee.

Among the unique fruit variety developed by the NIF’s farmer-innovators is an apple that can be successfully grown in plains in temperatures between 40-45 ºC, called HRMN-99. Developed by Hariman Sharma of Paniala village in Himachal Pradesh’s Bilaspur district, the variety is scab disease-resistant and can be grown in tropical and subtropical regions in the country. In 2017, he was awarded the 9th National Biennial Grassroots Innovation Award by erstwhile President Pranab Mukherjee.

Called the ‘Apple Man of Bilaspur’, Hariman (61) owns a 1.75-hectare orchard, in which he also grows mango, pomegranate, kiwi, plum, apricot and peach, along with coffee. There have been reports of successful fruiting of the HRMN-99 apple variety in Manipur, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Haryana, Rajasthan, Jammu, Kerala, Uttarakhand, Telangana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi and even Dadra & Nagar Haveli.

Harman Sharma with his apples

“Till 2005, no one would have believed that apples could be grown along with pomegranates and mangoes in the plains, 700 m above sea level in warm temperatures. But HRMN-99 has made this possible and is presently being grown in 29 states of the country,” Hariman concludes.


As Yellow Can Be

I never knew that coming to Hubli-Dharwad after a gap of three months would hold a surprise for me. In December it was the colour mauve and this time it was fluorescent yellow. Nature can hold so many surprises!

Riding in an auto rickshaw towards Hubli from Dharwad, my wife’s hometown and the place known for its chocolate-coloured pedhas, on a mid morning of March I chanced upon couple of trees standing at a distance glowing. Literally. The colour was bright, eye-catching, arresting as if someone has downed a can of colour.  The trees dressed in fluorescent yellow or electric Lime as it’s known—making the surroundings luminescent. I had never seen anything like this. Yes, I’m familiar with copper pod which also produces yellow flowers. But Yellow Tabebuia is in a different league altogether. Plant scientists know it as Tabebuia Argentea.

Yellow Tabebuia

Suitable for avenue planting Yellow Tabebuia is a quick growing tree, it attracts bees in hordes when it bloom between February and April. Originally from Brazil it can reach a height of 10m and become completely leafless when it blooms. Its foliage appears after it has shown its true colours, I mean post-bloom.

Planting Yellow Tabebuia on road sides would be a great idea providing eye candy to those travelling on the road and for the future of the bees.

Oranges Of Algarve

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.

Baer With Me, Please

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.

My Wish List

Is saal kya? (What’s new this year?)

Bunch Pepper

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.

My Experiments With Azolla

Did you say mozzarella…you make cheese?

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.

Azolla tank at my farm

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 COdue 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.


Farmer Develops New Custard Apple That Doubles Yield, Has Fewer Seeds & More Pulp

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.

This article by me appeared in

Pink Crowns Plenty

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.

Pink Trumpet

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.

Crowning Glory

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.