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.


Searching for Weeds

The earth has dried up but is not parched as such, because of the morning dew which ushers in the moisture every day. Rains are a two-month-old memory now for it has been that long since the monsoon receded. Now, it’s opportune moment to watch for plants and flowers you’ve not been familiar with but which have taken home in the soil.


Like the two plants, I found last week. For me, they were weeds–a plant in the wrong place is called so. But then there are soil scientists who believe that weeds arrive or sprout to take care of the soil’s deficiency. And in their own way add nutrition which the soil till recently lacked. Well, that’s the way I too think. For I’ve never sprayed pesticides to exterminate the termites which are plenty on my soil. In fact, I’ve created a congenial environment for them. Come the second week of October when the soil is still moist having received incessant downpour beginning mid-June they start chomping on the twigs and branches strewn all around. They begin covering the twig/branch with a thin film of soil creating a cocoon and slowly as the days advance it chews it away and soon thereafter the dust joins the soil.

When I found two alien plants I clicked them with my phone and sent it my botanist friend, Ajit Gokhale.

tridex procumbance
Tridax procumbens

The tiny flowering plants he identified as Tridax procumbens, also called coat buttons. The flowers are bulbous and easily snappable with long delicate stalks. Its Hindi name is Khal muriya , Tal muriya and Ghamra. While in Sanskrit it’s known as Jayanti veda.
One can find this plant along roadsides and attracts a lot of low flying butterflies. The leaf juice has wonderful wound healing properties. In fact, its Telugu name is Gayam which means wound.

The second plant is Anantmool (Hemidesmus Indicus). Try pulling it out from the soil and you’re likely to find that its roots are unending or anant.

It has a sweet smell and at times prostrate or semi-erect shrub. Its roots are woody and aromatic. The leaves are opposite, short-petioled, very variable and elliptic-oblong. Its flowers are greenish outside and purplish inside.

Anantmool is one of the Rasayana plants of ayurveda and has medicinal galore. It is used for venereal diseases, herpes, skin diseases, arthritis, gout, epilepsy, chronic nervous disorders, abdominal distention, debility etc. Its saponin content is considered to have a steroidal effect that enhances the production of testosterone.

Did you know that a face pack made of anantmool root powder and milk and applying can make your face bright and clear complexioned?


Terdal’s Banana Bounty

Terdal (16.5°N 75.05°E.) is a bustling municipal town of 30,000 residents in Jamkhandi taluka of Karnataka’s Bagalkot district. Lying on the Jamkhandi- Miraj road on National Highway 53, it’s one of the many so-called towns—a hybrid made up of a village and a wannabe town—one comes travelling on the highway. There no malls or multiplex here. Yes, it does boast of a polytechnic and an Ayurveda college.

If there is anything the town is famous for it’s the Terdal Shree Allamprabhu temple. Try googling “Terdal” and you’re likely to come across scores of entries related to banks IFSC code, Just Dial numbers and the name of the local MLA. The nearest big town is Jamkhandi, 18kms from Terdal while Sangli (Maharashtra) is 80kms away.

Siddappa with nephew Prabhu
Dhareppa with nephew Prabhu

Kitturs of Terdal, a family  of farmers, are writing the bright story of farming. A media which feeds on sensationalism has totally ignored the success stories scripted by the farmers nationwide. The Kitturs are believed to be originally from Kittur in Belgaum—famous for Rani Chennamma of the State of Kittur (1778–1829) who fought the British East India Company, during which a British Commissioner, St John Thackeray was killed. Prabhu Kittur, Dhareppa’s (23) nephew, is the recipient of Krishi Yuva Samman Farmer of the Year 2015 (Youth) Award, an initiative of the Mahindra Group, for his innovative farming technique of growing tissue culture bananas, using organic methods and drip irrigation. Like most youth of his age Prabhu likes to watch Hindi movies but is not able to string together enough Hindi words to form a sentence unlike his father. “My nephew dropped out of school after seventh standard and has been doing farming since then. He was just six month old when my brother, Siddapa, died” says Dhareppa (46).

The Kittur family owns 19 acres. In one such acre Prabhu planted some 1800 G9 Banana tissue culture saplings in August 2013 and had a bumper crop 67,600kg of bananas. The irrigation was through drip organic fertilizers included vermicompost, Jeevamrut, Panchgavya, goat dung and biogas plant slurry was fed to the crop. The eleven-month crop was harvested in the month of August. In the rest 18 acres, the Kitturs grow vegetables, turmeric, onion, methi, palak etc. “We acquired sapling for Rs 10 each and intercropped it with marigold and chilli which also fetched us a good price,” says Dhareppa who sells the harvest at Terdal market on his own. “Marigold and Chilli gave us an additional Rs 60,000 and that too without any any added expenses.”

A farmer who likes to experiment, Dhareppa who never completed his schooling sells what he calls “organic milk” at a price of Rs 40 a litre. He has installed a biogas plant which takes care of his cooking gas requirement. “I take lot of care of my 15 cows and 10 goats give them proper cattle field,” says he. After having read an article in a local newspaper about scientist Jagdish Chandra Bose’s experiment with plants Dhareppa has been playing music to his cattle and the crops since last ten years. “Between 10pm and 4am every day I play recorded instrumental classical music and have seen an increase in the yields by 10 per cent,” Dhareppa concludes.

Living with crawlies

Most people are at their disgusting best and tend to say: Yuck; even those who swear by organic foods, when they come across an earthworm. When such incidents happen around me I generally mumble a prayer: God pardon them for they do not know.
mangalI know these ‘yuck’ people will never want to enter my farm, at least not during the rains: for you’re likely to come across the creepy crawlies at every step you take or see snails moving slowly on the branches. I am fond of my earthworms and they know that. My policy of peaceful coexistence has paid dividends: Earthworms here are nearly 8 inches long and almost thick as a lead pencil.
Last year I had begun my search in mid October and realized it was too late. This time I started early and have been repeatedly egging Mangal, and thankfully we have had a good harvest of earthworms. earthAll these earthworms go to my vermicompost pit to live and multiply among the leaf and grass litter. Occasionally I feed the pit with the flour mill dust and egg peels. A farmer friend who sells vermicompost frequently sprays his pit with ghee and honey. “It helps,” he says.
I was introduced to the beneficial affects of earthworm by none other than Dr Sudhir Ghatnekar of Biotechnology Resource Centre. A pioneer in management of waste and garbage using biotechnology, Dr Ghatnekar in November 2011 gifted me with buckets of earthworms.

Read about it https://sundayfarmer.wordpress.com/2011/12/02/vermiculture-in-badlapur/

Shell Value

Mangal, my farm hand, had a surprise this Sunday for me.
Let me go back before I reveal what it was.
For over a year now I’ve been delivering used coconut shells to my farm; having carried them from home. Coconut shells in my home are not consigned to the dust bins to be taken to a landfill away from the city. Every Sunday as I leave home to take the 7.08am Badlapur local wifey makes it a point to put the coconut shells in a carry bag along with the other things I carry to my farm including my lunch.
Over the months the pile of coconut shells has grown to attract notice of visitors. This Sunday I found the shells missing. Mangal has burnt them turning them into charcoal which I intend to use it as biochar.
I have spread the biochar alongside my coconut palms and mango trees. biochar

Biochar Merits

Several days back I wrote a post about me carrying vegetable waste—peels, juice waste etc. to my farm spreading them around and letting them decompose. Since last week I added coconut shells to the list. Using one coconut a week at home for garnishing poha, upma and idli chatni we end up using around 10 coconut a month. Imagine using 10 shells multiplied by 12 which come to 120 a year. In fact, its 240 shells (as the coconut is broken into two pieces) going to the municipal dump! From now onwards it will be less 240 shells. That will be my contribution in recycling and conservation.
I don’t litter them in my farm leaving them to the elements but process them to make biochar (or biocharcoal).
What’s Biochar?
It is essentially charcoal, but burnt at a lower temperature and with a more restricted flow of oxygen. Remember the black thing (charcoal) used by the neighbourhood istriwala to heat up the iron to iron the clothes. Nowadays, he uses electricity to power the iron.
Biochar works in several ways. Though it is not filled with nutrients itself, it is able to attract and hold on to nutrients, so preventing them from leaching away, and holding them just where plants can reach them. Its porous nature provides refuges for mycorrhizal fungi, which in effect enlarge the plant’s root system while also increasing its resistance to diseases. It makes soil far more attractive and stable for beneficial microbial activity. Essentially it does everything organic matter does to the soil, but better, and permanently.
Dr Saran Sohi, of the UK Biochar Research Centre, started his career researching soils and soil additives. He says the effect biochar has on soil is different from that of any other additive.
“Biochar brings a physical and permanent change to the soil. Every other additive decomposes but biochar remains, and its effects increase over time,” he told The Telegraph.

How to Make Biochar
• Dig a deep trench in a bed. Use a fork to loosen the soil in the bottom of the trench and you’ll get the added benefits of this “double-digging” technique.
• Pile brush into the trench and light it. Fire starts out hot, but is quickly slows down as oxygen supply is reduced.
• The best way to tell what’s going on in a biochar fire is to watch the smoke. The white smoke, produced early on, is mostly water vapour. As the smoke turns yellow, resins and sugars in the material are being burned.
• When the smoke thins and turns grayish blue, dampen down the fire by covering it with about an inch of soil to reduce the air supply, and leave it to smoulder.
• After the organic matter has smouldered into charcoal chunks, use water to put out the fire. Another option would be to make charcoal from wood scraps in metal barrels.

Read http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/gardeningequipment/9970889/Biochar-a-slow-burn-success.html
Also check out biochar.info

Yellow Carpet

Copper-pod tree
Copper-pod tree
In our rush to carry on the business of life we miss the fragments of beauty strewn around us. Unable to recognize it we fail to enjoy its importance and splendour. Only when they are not around we will surely miss them. Come April you may have seen streets, roadsides and grounds of parks strewn with yellow flowers. I also noticed it recently after having read Common Trees by Dr H Santapau.
pavemntThe yellow flowers from the Rusty Shield-Bearer “not only cover the tree with a colourful halo, but are strewn on the ground beneath the trees to form a magic carpet of bright colours.”
The tree (Peltophorum Pterocarpum) also called the copper pod tree, is found in large numbers in our city, with a spectacular display of brilliant yellow blossoms. The flowering season commences at the end of February and reaches its peak in the middle of April. The canary-yellow flowers, with strangely crinkled petals, clustered on upright stalks at the end of branches, present a breath-taking view in summer. While still fresh, they fall off the trees, forming a radiant carpet of bright gold.
Excellent shade providers, they are home to golden orioles, coppersmith barbers, spotted doves, mynahs, squirrels, bats and lizards. The pollen and nectar attract bees and insects which in turn attract insectivorous birds.

April is Pink

PINK IS THE COLOUR,THIS SEASONThose visiting Mumbai during the nine-day long Navratri Utsav come across a phenomenon, which I would prefer to, call ‘colour shock’, in absence of anything better. For majority of working women who commute to their place of work are dressed in a particular shade. The colour coordination begins with the sixth day of the festival, with green. Then comes yellow, followed by red and blue. Be it the municipal offices, the State Government offices, the train platforms, the shopping malls, the schools and others places where women are seen or assemble are awash with colour. Most of them dressed in saris. These are the days when the drabness of the city is blanketed by a colour palette.
lilacIn a similar vein I think months to have their favourite colours. I would assign ‘pink’ to April. It’s the colour of flowers I have come across all over. The hint of bloom begins in the last week of March and matures in the following month. The colours are pink, mauve and lilac blooming everywhere. Roadsides, housing societies, parks and gardens and farms provided glimpse of this, provided you’re watching.
The first one is the Queen’s Flower.Can someone there help me identify the other one featured in the post or suggest names of other ‘pink’ plants?

Of Winged Wonders

2013-01-06-0190The yellow flowers of my Khulkhula (Showy Rattlepod) plants have withered. Their nectar stolen they have dried and dropped down.  It’s over a week now and the butterflies no more frequent it. A butterfly or two do come up in search of nectar but soon abandon it. On a closer look at the plants I saw strings of seeds hanging from the branches. In another month or so they too will dry up. I’ll have handful of  seeds which I intend to sow all over the edges once the rains set in June-July. Once the flowers bloom in November I’m sure I will get an eye full living in the company of the winged wonders. I plan to offer the seeds free to my neighbours too.

If any of you want Khulkhula seeds, you know whom to approach.

Also see http://wp.me/pAYA1-eG

Importance of Leaf Litter

People I have met in my avatar as a farmer have time and again advised me on the importance of mulching.  But it was a casual talk with the veteran organic farmer Vasant Futane which made me realize the importance of mulching.

He went on to say that he has come across many incidences of agriculture universities burning agricultural waste and not use the same for mulching.

If P Sainath (referring to Everyone Loves a Drought, the book which brought the nation’s attention to farmers’ suicides) wrote a book on the importance of mulching his contribution to the debate would be much immense than focusing on the suicide, said Phutane.

Why is leaf litter important for a farm?

Leaf litter is dead plant material, such as leavesbarkneedles, and twigs, that has fallen to the ground. This detritus or dead organic material and its constituent nutrients are added to the top layer of soil, commonly known as the litter.

Litter aids in soil moisture retention by cooling the ground surface and holding moisture in decaying organic matter. The flora and fauna working to decompose soil litter also aid in soil respiration. A litter layer of decomposing biomass provides a continuous energy source for macro- and micro-organisms. As litter decomposes, nutrients are released into the environment.

Leaf litter provides food and shelter for earthworms, pill bugs, millipedes and a multitude of smaller life such as eggs and larvae of insects and spiders of many kinds. These creatures are all essential components of the food web providing sustenance to toads, frogs, lizards, and countless other animals. Nearly all backyard birds require protein from insects to feed their young.

Good. Argument taken.

But how does one indulge in mulching if one doesn’t have enough leaf litter? has been my problem. I have tried collecting vegetable waste and sugarcane thrush and transporting it to my farm. However, I have discarded it as a viable option to build leaf litter or organic mass, as it has proved a costly proposition.

And then suddenly researching on the subject I came across two plants, namely Kadamb and Jungli Badam, famous for producing leaf litter in big volume.

Suitable for reforestation programs, Kadamb sheds large amounts of leaf and non-leaf litter which on decomposition improves some physical and chemical properties of soil under its canopy. This reflects an increase in the level of soil organic carbon, available plant nutrients and exchangeable bases.

I got the idea of Kadamb having observed it in my neighbourhood and impressed by its litter.

This monsoon I plan to plant dozens of kadamb and jungle badam, and I’m sure that in coming years I will be able to follow Vasant Phutane’s advice.

I’m looking for more such leaf litter-rich plants, do suggest if you know one.

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