Giant of A Lemon

Heavy with fruits, the lemon tree looked as if it was drooping. Planted some 10 years back, at last, this July it fruited. The fruits were huge and green, hanging like tiny Chinese lanterns. So huge that it fooled me into believing that it was something else. Maybe it is Malta, Tangerine or Orange. I knew I would have to wait till they ripened and the taste reveals what it really was.

Lemon tree.jpgEvery week I would religiously stop by the plant admiring the fruits and waiting that they ripe and become yellow. I had to wait for nearly two months. In between, I did pluck one and tried squeezing it but it wouldn’t yield a tear of juice. I gave up after a couple of tries. Meanwhile, a heavy breeze which struck late at night felled the fruit-laden plant. I and Mangal did our best propping it up with scaffolds. Happy that we had done the needful!

Days later I picked a ripe yellow fruit and on tasting it realised that it was a lemon. A jumbo-sized lemon fit for an eight-member family not a three-member family, like mine. You’re unlikely to find such type of lemon in the market. So big, it would last a week. My farmer colleague, KG, calls it Id Nimboo.

Over a period of three weeks, I collected some fifty of them. Some came home and rest delivered to a friend who treasures them; squeezing them each morning into a glass with ginger and honey. Says she, “Each lasts me for a week.”

This weekend when I went to collect more I found that the leaves had browned and dry, and the branches looked lifeless. In short, the tree was dead. However, I found to my surprise that new shoots had made their appearance giving me hope that though it was playing the dirge it was pregnant with promise! In my quest to understand what the lemon gives I squeezed one after slicing it into eight pieces. I measured the juice it was around 200ml.

 

 

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Butterflies, Butterflies Everywhere

The sun and the rain are playing hide and seek; it’s almost August end. The sun appears for a while and then it begins to drizzle. It happens often and is almost synchronous.  And then I notice my winged friends, the butterflies, moving all around especially zooming around the rattlepod plants which I had planted years back, gifted by botanist and native plant nursery owner Kusum Dahivalkar of Nashik .

butterfly1The rattlepods die and are reborn on their own. The butterflies don’t seem to be bothered by the drizzle drinking nectar from the slender branch of the plant. It’s as if there will be no more tomorrow. The insect-host plant association is very charismatic. Plant feeding insects make up a large part of the earth’s total biodiversity.

I’ve found that if you tried catching them when they are feeding you could catch a handful of them for they seem to be intoxicated by the plant’s nectar. This year the arrival of the butterflies has been too early. Don’t know why.

Similar thing has happened to my mulberry plants: they have fruited and in two weeks or may be in ten days the fruits will darken and will be ready to be plucked. Generally, the mulberries in my farm fruit sometimes around November but this year they have fruited too early. My friends in Ratnagiri tell me their alphonso mango trees have bloomed which ordinarily happens in the month of January.

Are these happenings telling something? Is Nature going astray?

My interest on butterflies grew when I read the country’s most famed lepidopterist Peter Smetacek’s book, Butterflies On The Roof  Of the World  and also interviewed him. In the course of the interview he told me that butterflies are excellent bio indicators of the surrounding environment. Be it fields, valley, forest or farms. Every time I chance upon swarm of butterflies or a lone ranger nesting on my plants I feel happy that everything is benign around here.

Gift A Plant, I Promise You Fruits

 

I’ve been a collector of books since long. Most of them came to me for review—this was when as an editor I reviewed some five books every month and additionally chatted with authors worldwide, either through email or phone, for the monthly’s interview column—while the rest have been acquired new or bought from second-hand sales. And now, as buying books having become as easy our daughter, Poorvi, a very fast reader, has been getting dozens of them from Amazon!

Black haldi1Being a weekend farmer I’ve had similar luck with friends gifting me with plants and seeds. It began with MR gifting me two litchi plants which he brought all the way from Muzzafarpur lugging it for two long days in the train compartment. That was some eight years back. Of the two saplings, he gifted only one has survived and has yet to yield fruits. I’ve not given up and working on it feeding it with the right kind of manure and fertilizer. I hope it will shower me with the fruits in the forthcoming season. If you readers pray and it fruits I promise shall send some to you. Haven’t I done the same with mangoes, mulberry and turmeric!

The lemon sapling which my friend, Dr SG, brought all the way from Bongaigaon in West Bengal and which has prospered I’m hoping will fruit soon.

Last January while travelling to Mangaon, 92 km from Alibaug, on an assignment for a webzine I met Anand, a landscape architect, who runs one-of-its-kind nursery devoted to bamboo varieties collected from all over the country.  Situated on a hill the nursery rarely gets visitors but for the occasional buyers of bamboo saplings. When evening falls and the workers retire to their respective home in the nearby village he keeps company with a glass of whiskey and a jackal whom he had tended and taken care of its injuries.  Anand gifted a variety each of Dendrocalamus Brandisii and the other whose name I fail to remember. Both have survived and grown really tall.

RK’s custard apple seeds which he gifted when I visited his village,  Pimpari Dumala, about 60 km from Pune, have grown up to become healthy saplings. The Balanagar variety of custard apple growing in nursery bags have gained height but not big enough that I could replant them.

In March this year KR, a former colleague blessed with green fingers gifted me with two saplings of Govindbhog Plantain. She brought the saplings travelling in a train all the way from Cooch Behar in West Bengal, a 40hour ride. In fact, after boarding she had sent a What’sup image: it looked as if she had set up a plant nursery in her compartment! Govindbhog is a native variety of banana which grows only in Cooch Behar and is known for its pleasant aroma. “If your step in the banana grove you’re likely to be enveloped by its heady aroma,” KR told me.

The newest member to arrive at my farm is a variety of turmeric, called Lakadong, grown on the Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya. If you slice a freshly harvested Lakadong you’re likely to be surprised by its colour—a mix of yellow and red. It’s claimed that Lakadong turmeric has high curcumin content which is about 7.94%. The fingers (rhizomes) of the Lakadong variety travelled 18 days to reach my friend, VB, who is trying to ascertain its curcumin content in a lab. He paid a handsome amount to lay his hands on Lakadong.

As I end this post I want to tell a friend who has been following my blog and often leaves a comment or two: “Remember a handful of vetiver (khus) grass you had given me I’ve planted them on the river bank. And it’s a pretty sight.”

The gifts I’ve been showered with, I believe, makes the world a better place. So what if that world is my one-acre farm?

Mango Called Sadabahar

Link to my article https://www.thebetterindia.com/140411/farmer-created-sadabahar-mangoes-kishan-suman/

I have copy pasted the same below:

Intimately associated with the history of agriculture and civilisation in India, we have had a love affair with mangoes since long, but it was Hsüan-Tsang, the seventh-century Chinese traveller who brought our fascination for Mangifera Indica to the world’s notice.

A country which has 1,500 varieties of mangoes, as a nation, we get excited whenever a new aam or amba variety makes its appearance. We each have a different way of eating, peeling and slicing or making aam ras with milk and jaggery—the luscious and fragrant fruit is summer’s greatest gift.

The same is happening with ‘Sadabhar’, a mango which flowers thrice 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.

Many in the know are likely to confuse Sadabahar with ‘Baramasi’ or ‘Dofasla’, which flowers and fruits twice or thrice a year but the former stand out due to its table quality, its lack of fibre, shape and size—all akin to Alphonso.

Popular with the masses due to its adaptability, nutritive value, rich variety, delicious taste and excellent flavour, Indian mangoes rank first among the world’s mango producing countries, accounting for about 50% of the world’s mango production.

The word ‘mango’ comes from the Portuguese ‘manga’, which is probably derived from the Malayalam manga. It is believed that the Portuguese introduced vegetative propagation methods in India during the 15th century when they established trading outposts along the western coast of India. These were then used to clone superior mono-embryonic trees, like the Alphonso, named after the Portuguese general Afonso de Albuquerque.

The most important mango cultivars of India like Alphonso, Dashehari, Langra etc., are selections that were made at the time of Mughal Emperor Akbar (1542–1605 AD) and therefore, have been propagated vegetatively for several hundred years.

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 1995, they started cultivating rose, mogra and mayurpankhi (thuja) and continued doing so for the next three years. During this period, he developed rose plants which yielded seven colours of rose in a single plant and made good returns.

“I thought if I could work with roses, why not with mangoes. I acquired mango stones of different varieties and nurtured them. When the saplings became big enough, I grafted them on rootstock,” recalls Suman, sitting among saplings of different sizes and ages, bearing flowers and fruits.

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.

Soon the word spread and one Sundaram Verma, a volunteer with Honey Bee Network, informed the National Innovation Foundation (NIF), the institutional space for grassroots technological innovators and outstanding traditional knowledge, about Suman’s innovation. “NIF asked me not to sell or gift Sadabahar saplings, and for 11 long years I followed their advice while it was grown by them at different places in the country to authenticate the veracity of my claims,” says Suman, who took about fifteen years to develop his variety.

But for Suman’s nursery-cum-orchard, Sadabhar yielded fruits in Kamal Hissaria’s two-acre farm near Aalniya Mata Mandir on Kota Jhalawar Road, 30 kms from Kota railway station.

Suman-in-his-orchard-500x667

“I gifted him 20 plants in 2012 and the trees have been yielding fruits. When the fruit ripens, the skin acquires orange colour, while the insides have a saffron hue,” says Suman.

Hissaria who runs a tea blending unit in Kota is among the few who can enjoy the delicious and sweet mangoes three times in a year, unlike others who have to wait for the summers to have their ‘king of fruits’.

In March 2017, Suman was conferred with the Farm Innovation Award during the 9th Biennial Grassroots Innovation and Outstanding Traditional Knowledge held at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

According to Hardev Choudhary, Innovation Officer, NIF, Sadabahar blooms throughout the year. “The fruits are sweeter in taste audit and developed as a dwarf variety which is suitable for kitchen gardening and can be grown in pots for some years. It has great potential, unlike the existing varieties, and due to its off-season availability, it is likely to benefit the growers immensely,” he says.

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.

Will it be able to dethrone favourites like Alphonso, Langra or Dashehari? It’s too early to tell. Meanwhile, ICAR-Central Institute of Subtropical Horticulture (CISH), Lucknow, which has the world’s largest germplasm of mangoes in its field gene bank, has acquired the saplings of Sadabahar.

Work at CISH is on to determine factors such as preferred agri-climatic zone and soil quality for Sadabahar to prosper. Dr K K Srivastava, Principal Scientist, CISH, says, “We now have five plants of Sadabahar mangoes and are studying its performance. It will take us close to three to four years to arrive at any conclusion.”

But mango lovers are unwilling to wait. And ever since Suman’s mangoes were planted at Rashtrapati Bhavan, his phone has been continuously ringing.

So far, Suman has sold over 800 plants, available for Rs 1,000 each, to nurseries and individuals in Delhi, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Telangana. “I have even received inquiries for saplings from individuals in Nigeria, Pakistan, Kuwait, Iraq, UK, and the USA, but don’t know how to go about it,” shares Suman.

Mangoes take around five summers to yield fruits. Growers need to wait that long but they are not complaining, for Sadabahar is unlike other mango varieties. Isn’t that worth the wait!

You can contact Suman at 9829142509.

The article appeared on http://www.thebetterindia.com on May 8,2018

 

 

How to Grow Off-Season Moringa And Make Money

I came to know of  Thanga Raj Nadar (38) while doing an article for the Hindu Business Line and ever since then has kept in touch with him. A year later I connected with him to know what learning’s he has gathered growing Moringa.

Moringa 2

Having worked six long years as a software engineer in Mumbai-based  Kotak Securities Nadar quit his job in 2013 to return to village Karungulam in Tamil Nadu’s Nagercoil district to pursue farming. He planted three varieties of Moringa, namely PKM 1, PKM 2 and ODC, on his 20-acre ancestral farm. Besides running a software firm with his brother in law he now manages his 90-acre farm and also sells his agri produce like moringa powder, moringa dried flower, moringa seeds, fresh drumsticks etc. through his website www.indianagrifarm.com. Here is an excerpt from a chat I had with Nadar.

Why did you choose Moringa as a crop?

Even a person who has hardly any knowledge in farming s/he is likely to get good yield growing moringa if the proper schedule of irrigation, application of fertilizer and pest control is followed.  One can get an abundant yield in March and April in Tamilnadu but as the supply is more than the demand one can get only 5 Rs per kg but the same pods sold in November and December is likely to yield 100 Rs per kg!

What practices did you follow to get good yields in the off-season?

We conducted a study at our farm to induce off-season flowering and pod set during November to February. In this study, we followed some practices to induce flowering and fruit setting of ODC3  moringa variety. We arrived at these conclusions:

  • Sowing to be done between 30thApril to 15th
  • Germination begins from the 10thday post sowing and the pinching done when the plants reach a height  of 2 ft. and subsequent pinching e 25 days later. This helps the tree to form an umbrella like shape which induces more branching followed by better holding capacity of the tree for flowering and fruiting.
  • The crop has to be sprayed with the chemicals 0.5 % potassium nitrate, 0.5 % nitrobenzene at the rate of two sprays during the 70thday and 85th
  • The crop will come to flower from 90 to 100 days after sowing.
  • The spray induces flower initiation by bud formation at the onset of flowering. (Physiological parameters like total chlorophyll content, soluble protein, nitrate reductase activity and relative water content had a significant effect on the off-season flower induction and fruit set)
  • This induces the off-season production of moringa during November to February. The rainfall if coincides with flowering could induce dropping of flowers but later dates after flowering will not affect the pod set and pod yield.
  • Flower should not be allowed  before last week of September
  • Plenty of FYM should be given as a basal dose
  • Flowering can be induced by giving mild stress to plant ie. stop water or give less water, this activity should be done in the second week of September
  • The first week of September,  5-10 kg of Poultry Yard Manure should be applied to each plant, this PYM generates soil heat and helps the plant to flower.

Moringa1What is the variety of Moringa you prefer?

ODC3 as it is a selective variety of ODC. We visited a number of ODC drumstick farms located in different states of India in our quest for a good variety of Morina. We acquired some 45 samples and planted them in our farm in 2012. We observed different characteristic of plants i.e. flowering season, fertilizer application, water requirement, fruit set, taste, size, weight and yield. We  selected few plants which possessed special characteristics, which we thought could get us good market both in India and abroad. It is a pureline selection developed by continuous selfing for six generations, collected from varies States. In each generation, only long pods, good colour, taste like desirable characters were selected and advanced. The fruits are fleshy and tasty. It comes to flowering within 3-4 months of sowing and can be harvested within 6 months of planting.  The average yield of the variety is 300 fruits / tree.

Do you suggest any seed treatment before sowing? If yes, what?

Yes, I strongly recommend the following seed treatment to prevent the spread of seed-borne diseases.  I would recommend bio fertilizers like Azospirillum and  Pseudomonas  for seed treatment.

Is there any organic fertilizer you suggest?

There are plenty of commercial organic fertilizers in the market which are very costly and not affordable for small /medium scale farmers. The main raw materials for all commercial organic fertilizer production are animal manure so applying your own Farm Yard Manure (FYM) with enriched form is likely to do the trick.  However,  only one organic fertilizer I would recommend at the time of flowering, i.e. “HB-101”. It is plant   growth enhancer manufactured in Japan. It’s very costly. A litre costs around 15000 INR.  You can order the same online. http://www.hb-101usa.com

Beside Moringa what do you have any your farm?

We do four varieties of Tulsi, Stevia and fodder crops such as Super Napier and CO5.

Have you tried Moringa extract as a bio fertiliser?

No, I have heard about it but haven’t tried it as yet.

 

Ramphal, Sitaphal’s Better Half

As the summer begins I have seen them umpteen times on the fruit carts of the neighbourhood hawkers but dared not to buy them. Moreso as I was never introduced in my childhood.

I was in for surprise this weekend as Mangal picking them up from a tree which had shed its leaves he presented them to me—a fruit shaped like a human heart.

RamphalYears back Mangal had mentioned that he had planted one at the edge of the farm plot. Standing ignored and hardly cared for, this April it yielded its surprise: Ramphal.  Not one but four of them.

Adam had made its appearance now I’m waiting for Eve to do my bidding! My three Sitaphal (Anona Squamosa) trees though over six years old have still to bear fruits.

Named after the deity Ramphal (Annona Reticulata) is sweeter than Sitaphal. Compared to Sitaphal, its texture is creamy yet slightly granular, especially nearest to the skin. It’s smoother, butterier and the best part is that it has fewer seeds. Also known as bullock’s heart Ramphal tends to have a smoother surface in varying colours. Some fruits are pale yellow while others are a rusty shade of pink. The fruit’s insides are very much similar to the female namesake, Sitaphal.

Ramphal grows wild and there has been no attempt to make hybrids of it, like in the case of sitaphal. Ramphal’s main fruiting season occurs from March through May. As it grows wild and not grown as a commercial crop you’re unlikely to see it in shops and malls.

A rich source of potassium and ample vitamin C, a nutrient that boosts the immune system, keeps skin healthy and assists with repairing wounds and cuts. The fruit also contains a good dose of potassium, which helps the body regulate its electrolyte balance, enhance muscle growth, and improves the body’s ability to process waste.

 

Red Ants Chutney, Very Nutritious

The moment I saw it I wondered what it was.  I asked Mangal what we need to do. He suggested we spray some pesticide but I was not willing and planned to seek an expert’s advice.

It was a like a cocoon created a swarming group of red ants with the help of newly arrived tender leaves of mango. An art installation created by scores of red ants.

RedAntsThese are the same red ants much popular among tribals of Bastar in Indian state Chhattisgarh who make Chapda chutney from it and British cook Gordon Ramsey during his visit in 2010 to make documentary loved them. He termed chapda chutney the world’s best chutney.

He clicked a couple of pics and messaged them to experts in my group.

I approached Ramesh Khaladkar, a postgraduate in agri science and an agripreneur and he told me that they were commonplace in the red soil of the Konkan region.

“Do you see any damage due to the Ants?”, he asked and went on to suggest: “If not, please do not disturb them. Actually speaking, the Ants are very helpful in controlling some pests.”

According to him, the ants make their passage from one tree to the other not disturbing human beings or cattle passing beneath.

Botanist and water conservationist Dr Ajit Gokhale explained it was a nest of red biting ants called as ombil (ओंबिल) in Marathi. “Their sting has formic acid and they keep the tree sanitized for some pests.  Not vicious though their sting can be a bit painful. They are also thought to pollinate the flowers accidentally. The chutney made out of them is bit sour and high in folic acid and other B group vitamins. Good to have them unless they are too many and too close to comfort,” he added.

Flower Memory

Such occurrence doesn’t happen often. At least I haven’t seen it in my decade of watching the natural world. I also believe that a decade is a mere blink.  In the second week of  February, I had made several cuttings of Gliricidia, the green manure tree, and put them in nursery bags. So that they would get ready for plantation before the monsoon appears.
img_20180306_100936.jpg

In the first week of March, I came across flowers which have appeared from the cuttings. The episode was timed with the flowering of Gliricidia. A clear indication that the cutting (branch) instilled the memory of flowering. And when the mother plant bloomed the cutting too flowered.
I haven’t seen this happen in any plants I have worked with. Isn’t it a miracle of nature? I think so. If you’ve come across such miracles I would like to hear from you.

Mulberry Days

For a fruitarian, summer is the time s/he anxiously waits for. With the last days of February it begins with mulberry, then comes green jackfruit, followed by grapes, watermelon, love apple and ultimately ending with the king of fruits: Mangoes.
Most orchard owners do not care much for mulberry for various reasons as it invites scores of birds and then there is the problem of picking the tiny fruits. But my purpose has been to build an ecosystem where I am happy to have the bird, the snakes, the butterflies, lizards and all sorts of benign and harmful insects. Well, the birds do chomp away a lot of mulberries. I let them have it for I have benefitted from their transgressions. They have brought and deposited seeds in my garden, of which some have grown into trees, namely the Laburnum, Singapore Cherry and several others.

mulberry (2)In my childhood, I knew mulberry as shehtoot. In Marathi, it’s known as tooti. Having spent my childhood days in Cantonments in places like Kanpur, Ludhiana and Ambala we were exposed to the cream-coloured variety which we devoured returning home from school after having written our exams. I have the magenta-coloured one. It makes its appearance as green, turn’s red with time and ultimately assumes the dark shade of magenta making one feel that it’s black! And that’s when the birds come to have their share. Not a stray one or two but scores of them raising a ruckus.
Plucking them individually is a chore and time-consuming though Mangal likes them that way even climbing the tree. I try the easy way out spreading old sari all around and violently shaking the tiny branches. The ripe ones get dislodged and drop down.

My mulberries—I have three of them—yields fruits twice. In October-November and once again in March. The trick is to prune the tree every year which results in the appearance of new branches along with leaves.

InShot_20180307_204205Though packed with nutrition, mainly anti-oxidants mulberry have a very short shelf-life and thus not available in the market. They also contain large amounts of vitamin C as well as Vitamin K, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, really high levels of Iron, and Dietary Fiber which all help to give the body and mind incredible energy.

According to www.ReturntoNature.us.They are also high in minerals like potassium, manganese, and magnesium and contain the B vitamins, B6, Niacin, Riboflavin, and Folic Acid. Mulberries contain flavonoids and phytonutrients and are extremely high in anthocyanins which help to fight against cancer as well as reduce ageing and neurological diseases, inflammation, diabetes, and bacterial infections. The berries also contain resveratrol, a powerful blood flow increasing antioxidant which you have probably heard promoted through the wine industry as their new claim to fame. Resveratrol is a powerful healer for many conditions such as ageing diseases, inflammation, and a number one go to as part of a herbal protocol for the treatment of Lymes disease.

Growing them is very easy as a mere cutting planted during the monsoon can yield a tree. I try to populate my orchard with one mulberry every year.

This year I had a bountiful harvest. It made wifey very happy and she made several glasses of smoothie which we have been downing your throats every morning. She has promised to make jam and pancakes too.

Biochar, the best way to dispose coconut shells

This Sunday something surprising happened. Months back, if I remember rightly, I had asked her whether she used grated coconut in her kitchen. And she, a Tamilian, had said: Yes, I do.

Thinking it as an opportunity to bring her closer to my plan I had said: “Can you gift them to rather than throw in the garbage bin.”

I had explained to her in details why I needed and she agreed. I knew I had converted to my cause.

biocharFour months later she waited for me at Badlapur station with two shopping bags full of coconut shells. I made a return gift of a medium-sized green papaya, a bunch of lemongrasses and a handful of carrot.  She was delighted and promised to motivate her neighbours too towards this eco-friendly disposal of coconut shells.

Days later Mangal helped me make charcoal out of the coconut shell which we commonly have known as biochar. Being porous biochar stores moisture for a longer period and can be spread around plants. Within a couple of months, biochar decomposes increasing the carbon content of the soil.

Coconut shells generally take nearly a year to decompose. Converting them into biochar hastens the process immensely. It’s very simple. Make an oven out of bricks, place the coconut shells and introduce the fire. Don’t let air to move in. And you get biochar in minutes.  As it cools spread them around your farm.

Thanks Poornima for believing in my cause. May your tribe increase?

Also read: https://anibongpalm.com/2010/06/23/the-case-for-coconut-waste-utilization-i/