Those Tiny Red Seeds

Monsoon brings surprises. Wifey following her morning walk brought a fallen branch with red coloured seeds attached to the pods. I didn’t know what seed were they though I had seen them earlier. Having clicked a picture I sent it to ‘seed man’ Gautam Deshmukh. A man who is in his early sixties but has an enthusiasm of one who in forties with a flowing, gray beard I had met months back at a display and sale of indigenous seeds at Wada. Dressed in a half-sleeved khadi short he was handing over seeds to the adivasi women—lentils, vegetables, bamboo—taking them out from plastic pouches stored in a huge backpack lying nearby. I too stretched my arm and he dropped some on my palm: “Hope you will grow them.” They were bamboo seeds.

It’s Rakta Chandan or Red Sanders (Pterocarpus santalinus), he replied to my WhatsApp message. Are you sure, I asked while googling it. He was right. Not to be confused with Santalum album or Chandan or sandalwood.

It’s the same Red Sanders which is into news: for its wood, red in colour, is a big business. Red Sanders is in good demand in Japan and India exports it in large volumes. It’s used to musical instruments. Smuggling took off after the overexploited tree was put on the endangered list in 2000, and the Central Government banned its felling, movement, sale and exports. It is smuggled out in ship containers or as air cargo, often masquerading as foodstuff, allegedly with the collusion of customs officials. Till recently it was in the threatened list but was removed from it. Many a forest guards in Seshachalam forests of Andhra Pradesh have lost their lives killed by smugglers of Red Sanders.

The huge branch of Red Sanders which had fallen was very close by and I rushed out to fetch more seeds before the municipal guys could clean up the street. Red Sanders, I am told grows very fast and this monsoon I have plans to put them in nursery bags. May be, one day I could make some money from it.   

According to Md. Ilyas Rizvi, principal chief conservator of forest, Andhra Pradesh Red Sanders can be grown on waste land and an acre can house 100 plants. After 25 years it can fetch between Rs 50 crore to 100 crore. Isn’t that a good investment?

And about Gautam Deshmukh; he is a very interesting person and you can find him in any seed mela held in the country. One day I shall bring his story and write about his varied seed collection.

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Sholapur’s Date-friendly Farmer


They initially laughed at me. Then ignored me. My farmer- neighbours called me, weda (mad). In fact, it was a crazy thing I was doing. Which none earlier had attempted. But now as people from all over flock my farm,​​ the villagers feel proud.”

That’s Rajendra Prasad Deshmukh (57) or Rajabhau of Barshi village in Sholapur district of Maharashtra.  In 2009, he acquired seeds of desi variety from a Kutch-based farmer and planted them on three acres.

Rajabhau (left) with a guest in his farm

“At Sholapur we often witness drought condition. We are never sure it would rain. I have grapes, passion fruit, custard apple, Moringa and sweet tamarind. If one fails I can rely on the other. You’ve to make the best use of the conditions you live in… to make a living.

The average rainfall in Solapur District varies year to year and tahsil to tahsil directly affecting agriculture and horticulture activity. The climate here is dry and the daily mean maximum temperature ranges between 30º C to 35º C while the minimum temperature ranges between 18ºC to 21ºC. In May, the highest temperature can peak is 47º C. As it falls in the rain shadow area, the average annual rainfall of the district is about 510 mm. In 2003 it witnessed the lowest annual rainfall at 265.7mm while in 1998 it was an astounding 1131.2 mm! Barshi from where Rajabhau hails witnessed the highest rainfall taluka in Solapur.

Seven years after I had planted the seeds I got my first harvest in 2016. I made around one lakh rupees. Next year it was bad. In 2018 I made around three lakhs and this year I hope to make around four lakhs.

Fruits bagged with plastic bags

Ever since the harvest in June first week dates from his farm are being sold on the roadsides of Barshi and also reaches the market at Pune, 224kms from here. WhatsApp farm groups have been flooded with images of Rajabhau’s dates, the farm, the dates being sorted etc.  The dates are in three colours, namely yellow, red and golden—all from the same variety.

I tried buying tissue culture saplings but they are very costly. Between Rs 10,000 to Rs 12,000 per sapling. I can’t afford that kind of extravagance. Moreso, when I wasn’t sure it would actually grow on my farm and one day yields fruits. For me, it was a game of dice. I acquired the seeds from Kutch which hardly cost me much and planted them in nursery bags. As they grew and gained height I transplanted them on three acres. Dates are not self-pollinated.

Dates hanging from the palm

The sex life of date palm is unique with their male tree or a female tree. While the male trees produce pollen the female produce flowers.  As neither the birds nor bees are attracted to the flowers, the females have to be hand pollinated. As soon as a sheath on a male tree begins to open, it is tied with string to hold it together, and removed and hung upside down to dry. Once the pollen is dry to a very fine powder, it is stored in large air-tight containers. The female sheaths are removed and every stand is separated and pollinated at least thrice.

I’m an eighth standard drop out and singlehandedly take care of the 30acres mixed-crop farm in a drought-prone area. It makes me happy that farmer from arid zones of Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh daily visit my farm…so far some 12,000 farmers may have come. Harvest is done in June and July and it rains you’re likely to lose your harvest. So we have covered the fruits with plastic bags. I may have stopped discontinued my studies  but I’m still willing to learn and have visited countries like Vietnam, Australia and Israel to know the latest about farming techniques, new crops etc.

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Bamboo Nursery, Home to 24 Varieties

Dendrocalamus giganteus, also known as dragon bamboo, is a giant tropical and subtropical, dense-clumping species native to Southeast Asia. It is one of the largest bamboo species in the world and typically grows to a height of 33 metres.

Anand in his nursery

Bamboo, which comes from the Kannada word Bambu, and considered as the wise man’s timber, is the planet’s most massive grass typically reaching full height and width within the first 12 months of its life.

On a November evening, we met Anand Patki, the owner of the nursery in Dongroli village, a journey of 152 km from Mumbai. The 14-acre nursery sits on a hillock and is home to 24 varieties of ‘green gold’, as many call it. Surrounded by a deciduous forest, the weather in Dongroli, 10 kms from the State Highway 97, is suitable for bamboo cultivation as rainwater does not stagnate despite its neighbourhood logging nearly 2000 mm of rainfall every year.

The hill on the nursery’s south and west side arrests heavy rain showers and wind acting as a protecting wall to the mother plants. “Google maps helped me to decide and choose the nursery site,” says Patki, a landscape artist, who found that most nurseries were either unaware of the species they had or lacked knowledge of fundamental issues related to bamboo cultivation.

Anand with a giant bamboo specimen

Asked why he set up a nursery instead of a plantation, Patki responds by saying that he was deeply inspired by veteran bamboo promoter Ajit Thakur (who also happens to be his father-in-law) and he wanted to make quality planting material available.

Though the nursery is home to 24 varieties, Patki has selected seven commercially essential bamboo species which yield good returns. The selection of bamboo species is crucial before planning a plantation as bamboo flowers once in its life cycle, and depending upon the species, it can be 40 or 60 years. Once bamboo flowers the mother plant dies, making it necessary that the right one is selected for cultivation.

Setting up a nursery in such a remote location was no easy task. “It took me almost a year just to demarcate the plot for it was not farmed for a couple of decades. Then I had to set up the polyhouses, shade net and build a pond to store rainwater. It had to be fenced too because cattle belonging to the locals had a field day feeding on the saplings and then were incidences of the locals stealing away my farm equipment,” Patki informs us.

A bamboo plant can survive harsh climatic conditions, but if provided with enough water and organic fertigation it is likely to give a good yield.

“It takes around three years to have mature shoots to pop out and ready to be harvested. After six years one can start harvesting timber bamboo each year,” says Patki.

According to the India State of Forest Report 2011, the total bamboo bearing area in the country is 13.96 million hectares. On a conservative estimate, it constitutes about 12.8% of the total area under forests is under bamboo in India. The annual production of bamboo in India is about 4.6 million tonnes, of which about 1.9 million tonnes is used by the pulp industries. The annual yield of bamboo per hectare in India varies between 0.2 and 0.4 tonnes with an average of 0.33 tonnes per hectare, depending upon the intensity of stocking and biotic interferences.

Arunachal Pradesh leads with  16,083 sq kms  under bamboo bearing area followed by Madhya Pradesh (13,059 sq km) Maharashtra (11,465 sq km) and Chattisgarh (11,368 sq. km). Under the National Agro-forestry & Bamboo Mission  (NABM), the Central government has established 108 markets closer to villages providing marketing avenues to bamboo growers as well as finished products.

Additionally, efforts are being made to popularise bamboo products through participation in trade fairs. Assistance is also provided to farmers/bamboo growers for nursery establishment, plantations in the non-forest area, imparting training for preparation of nurseries and bamboo plantations, establishing of bamboo markets for farmer products, etc. A total of Rs 1689.36 lakh was released for the entire country under the NABM during 2016-2017, of which Rs 993.48 lakh was allocated to the eight states in Northeast India.

The commercial varieties available at the Dongroli nursery are Dendrocalamus brandisii, Dendrocalamus giganteus, Dendrocalamus longispathus, Bambusa tuldaand Thyrsostachys oliveri.

Elaborating the economics behind commercial bamboo cultivation Patki says, for instance, 350 clumps of Dendrocalamus brandisii planted on an acre is likely to produce six new shoots each year, meaning one ends up with 2100 bamboos. With each bamboo weighing around 120 kg, it is 2,52,000 kg of timber. “The flowering cycle of this species is 66 years that means timber can be harvested for 60 long years,” says Patki.

Patki is proud of the Bambusa cacharensis variety which he acquired from the Northeast. “I acquired this important bamboo species after consistent trials for three long years. I managed to bring some 100 rhizome offsets, of which only 13 have survived.”

His efforts are laudable as bamboo holds a lot of promise for the country’s agriculture sector both by providing livelihood to farmers and artisans who make baskets and other products. Sunil Joshi, the Chairman of Bamboo Society of India, Maharashtra chapter, says, “We require many more people like Anand Patki to make the bamboo movement a people’s movement.”

Check the original piece here https://www.thebetterindia.com/126110/bamboo-maharashtra-anand-patki-green-gold-innovation-cultivation-rural-india/

You can contact Patki at 98223555425 or email anand.patki@hotmail.com

Mumbai’s Chembur Has A Beekeeper!

Over 10kgs of honey from two bee boxes,” says Chembur resident Livlan R Chavan, “Yes, that’s what I’ve harvested.” 

You wonder if you heard it right as he takes you to the terrace of his row-house close to the R K Studious. 

It’s rare to come across a beekeeper in the metropolis of Mumbai. And that’s what makes Chavan a rare person. More so if he has been able to acquire 10kgs of honey in a season with his bee boxes located among the high rises. 

An amateur beekeeper, Chavan, a trader and a hotelier by profession acquired the bee boxes with a colony from Johnson Jacob, Mumbai’s Sole Beekeeper in November last. “Once in a while Johnson sir visits us and inspects the boxes and guides us,” says the 55-year-old Chavan.

Chavan took to beekeeping having heard that bee stings could help his arthritic knees. Strange you might say but apitherapy (bee sting therapy) has indeed brought relief to scores of people though there is hardly any evidence of its efficacy in the published medical literature. “Doctors advised me that sooner or later I would have to undergo knee replacement. But a session with an apitherapist in Pune which cost me Rs 250 brought me immense relief,” says Chavan.

That’s when Chavan decided to become a beekeeper. Strangely, not for the honey but for its venom!

Living in Ghatla, behind Amar Cinema, Chavan’s row house  has in its surrounding trees like Acacia, Gulmohar, Jam, Guava, Neem, Ashoka, Indian Coral Trees, Moringa, Chickoo, Frangipani, Bougainvillaea and  others—either growing in the premises of the housing societies or standing as avenue trees. For the bees, these are the varieties which provide them with nectar and pollen.

“Initially I bought a box with a colony from someone Talegaon and kept it on my farm in Shivkar village in Panvel but soon the bees abandoned it,” recalls Chavan.

On a friend’s suggestion he met Johnson who besides selling him two boxes in October last assured all assistance with its upkeep and maintenance. Ever since then Chavan has been harvesting honey almost every fortnight.  His enterprise shows that beekeeping can be a reality with good returns in an urban setting with high rises looming all around. “The bees have been so productive that it seems the surroundings are best suited for bee keeping,” he says.

Having tasted success Chavan plans to reach out to the neighbouring housing societies and convince them to take up beekeeping.  “Johnson sir has promised all help,” he concludes.

Pleasures of Ms Mulberry

People don’t love mulberry as they do mangoes or may be chikoos.

Why?

Because they’re small; look like an insect; takes time to pluck a mouthful; and, if ripe, stains your hands and clothes too.

Incidentally, mulberry is addressed thus in Danish, Icelandic, Nepali, Hausa, Swahili, Malay, Esperanto, Yoruba, Irish, Basque……

I’ve gone out of the way to share my enthusiasm for mulberry by sharing saplings with my co-farm owners but have been unable to shore up their interest in tooti (Marathi), shahtoot (Hindi) etc. 

Enriched with Vitamin C (more than lemons) mulberries act as an antioxidant and is said to lower the risk for heart disease by fighting oxidative damage. It’s also packed with Protein, Iron & Calcium.

Just like mangoes mulberries need lot of sunlight to produce fruits. One in my farm which grows under shade of coconut palms behaves like a bank account but the one in sunlight is like a mutual fund. Did I get the analogy right?

This March-April my two mulberry trees, both over 10 year old, has given me some close to 10 kgs of fruits. I’ve been having mulberry mousse almost every day. In fact, so good has the harvest been that wifey has consented to make mulberry jam without preservatives. Kept in the fridge these will survive close to 4 months.
Its second week of April and the trees are still thick with fruits—crimson and pale red ones. The crimson ones are ripe and as you reach and pluck them they stain your fingers and palm. Mulberries fruit twice and thrice at times provided you prune them following harvest.

Mulberry saplings can be made by stem cuttings. A week before monsoon I make cuttings and put them in nursery. Within a month and a half you’re likely to see new leaves sprouting from the stem.

Rattlepod and Butterflies

Who doesn’t like a butterfly?

My existence on this planet—and I’ve been around for quite some time now—makes me believe that everyone likes the double-winged, colourful creature who don’t live long to celebrate its second birthday (some butterflies don’t live beyond a fortnight). Only those who have been denied its fleeting beauty; and there are many among us living in the concrete jungles we have created haven’t chanced upon a butterfly in their lifetime but are not despondent about it.  Author and country’s leading lepidopterist Peter Smetacek who runs the Butterfly Research Centre in Bhimtal, Uttarakhand uses them as bio-indicators to assess the health of forests and groundwater.  As forest vanish so do some species of butterflies.

Butterflies on rattlepod plants

I regularly sight butterflies in my orchard during August-September and again in February-March. During these months as the sun rises butterflies in hordes visit my Rattlepod plants and cling to its flowers sipping nectar. In fact, they are so inebriated on the nectar that if you wanted you could catch them handfuls!

Rattlepod or khulkhula in Marathi is a leguminous flowering plant which bursts with yellow flowers attracting the butterflies. As I had mentioned earlier its seeds were given to me by a plant lover, nursery owner and a botanist Kusum Dahivalkar of Nashik.

The month of March is over and the khulkhula plants have dried up with their seed pods hanging from its thin branches waiting to be picked up or get blown away by a gust of wind. I have collected plenty of them in the last fortnight. If you’re keen to plant Rattlepods and love butterflies (which I believe you do)I have an offer to make. Let’s do barter. You give me some I give you some. Our expenses—the cost of a  snail mail.

Rattlepod seeds

Man Who Grows Giant Cauliflowers, Arm-length Brinjals

A cauliflower weighing 25.5kg!

Jagdish Prasad Parikh (72) of Ajitgarh village in Sikar district of Rajasthan has the distinction of growing this jumbo variety.

A village of 10,000, Ajitgarh is a four-hour ride from Sikar. Here most  inhabitants make a living doing farming.  Interestingly, it is the ‘gobhiwala’, sobriquet of Parikh who has put Ajitgarh in the map of Indian vegetable growers.

Ajitgarh, the cauliflower variety Parikh developed is unlike the usual cauliflower we buy. Unaffected by warm temperatures, the variety besides being disease-resistant and tolerant to insect attack can be grown thrice in a year.

The septuagenarian farmer-innovator has been growing cauliflowers since 1990 and is the recipient of an IPR (Intellectual Property Rights), awarded in 2017 by the Protection of Plant Variety and Farmers Right Act, for his variety and received the Grassroots Innovation Award, way back in 2001. 

“According to the Guinness Book the present record of growing the biggest cauliflower is 27.5kg while my personal achievement has been 25.5kg,” says he.  “But one day I hope to enter the Guinness Book too.”

The cauliflower developed by him has entered the Limca Book of Records but one day plans to enter the Guinness Book of World Records. A farmer since 1970, he majorly grows cauliflower as an intercrop on his 2-hectare plot among the fruit trees like pomegranates, lemon, wood apple, karonda (Bengal Currant)and roses—using self-made organic fertilisers and pesticides. As his cauliflowers are very big they are preferred by hotels and restaurants. Last year he sold one quintal worth of cauliflower seeds. 

There are scores of farmers, like Parikh who have been relying on their ingenuity to develop a variety which besides being high yielding, is pest-resistant and even can be grown in non-traditional environment. These innovations by farmer-innovators, who hold IPR for their interventions, are shining examples at the grassroots level providing livelihood security, leading to crop improvement, assuring food and nutritional security, bettering production technologies and importantly providing environment security.

Born in 1947 in a Brahmin family, Parikh has pursued several professions before taking up farming as a full time profession. Adopted by his maternal uncle he studied till the higher secondary level and worked for few years in a government undertaking in the oil sector at Assam. Ultimately, he quit his job and bean farming on the field owned by his maternal uncle. Beside cauliflower he has the credit for growing six ft. long ridge gourd, three ft. long brinjal, seven ft. long bottle gourd and 86 kg pumpkin.

His interest in cauliflower was piqued in 1970 when he visited Char Darwaja area in Jaipur and came across some saplings of the same in a farm, which seemed very different.  Having borrowed some saplings he planted them in his fields closer to a well. The fruits were white in colour and bigger than normal. He let them mature and develop seeds. For some 25 years his selective breeding continued ultimately yielding him one weighing around 25.5 kg!

In 1999, he grew 61 tons of cauliflower on the 1.2 hectare land and gave away seeds to his fellow farmers. “This variety is more resistant to diseases as compared to other hybrid varieties,” claims Parikh  

The Ajitgarh cauliflower variety can be grown round-the- year, according to plant breeder and farmer Sundaram Varma, famed for developing a novel variety of chilli, called Danta which is grown in the arid region.

Parikh uses organic manure for his cauliflower crop which he makes it on his own.  Having made a pit measuring of 10x7x3 cu ft he spreads a 10cm thick layer of grass stubbles, leftover animal fodder and 25 cm thick layer of cow dung. It is followed by a layer of around 10 cm of finely-cut neem and ‘aakdo’ (Calotropis gigantean) leaves. Further, layers of cow dung and neem leaves are repeated and when the pit looks full 40lts of tap water is poured. Every fortnight the pit is stirred and its contents are turned upside down. After three months the manure is ready.

How does one grow Ajitgrah Cauliflowers?

  • Saplings at least three inches in height are ready for the fields after 20-22 days in the nursery
  • Avoid planting the long-stemmed one for they are unable to take the flower’s weight.
  • Care need to be taken regarding plant spacing.
  • Watering to be done every third day before transferring from nursery and thereafter every fifth day. Water the plants only when leaves show sign of dryness.
  • Cauliflower is infested with mosaic virus, which severely affects leaves of the cauliflower. To control the virus use 100g copper sulphate, 400g ash and 100g lime and spread it on the field by a blow pipe. About 1.5kg of this mixture is sufficient for dusting over a hectare of crop.
  • Formation of black spots on the flowers due to cloudy weather and dew can be avoided by covering the fruit by using its leaves.

You can contact Jagdish Parikh at 91-9950323338

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.

 

 

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.