We were introduced to Subash Palekar’s Zero Budget Farming (which is a catchy name for Natural Farming) by friends at Siruthuli, a local eco non-profit,. In this, we found a ready-to-walk bridge between Fukuoka’s spirit, Permaculture guidelines and the specific needs of our farm. Subash Palekar has documented his intensive experiments over a span of 8 years in a series of books. And we really like his definition of Natural Farming which is “to use or activate that which is already in natural existence”.
The soil was dry and hard from grazing, the motor attached to the bore well that irrigates the farm doesn’t work (someone stole the wire that powers the motor!), the first phase of south-west monsoon had failed and there is a scarcity for farm laborers. So most local farmers advised us against multi-cropping that natural farming embraces. We thought we’ll wait for some rain.
Being rookies, we decided to learn by experimenting on a part of our farm. We chose country varieties and locally produced seeds of Corn, Ulundu (Black Gram or Urad Dal), Payaru (Mung Bean) and Thovarai (Red Lentils or Toor Dal). These crops do not need much water to grow and are great for mulching and nitrogen fixation.
A friend, Mr.Prabhuram who practices Natural Farming gave us dung and urine of a country cow, five kilos and liters each, to prepare a concoction known as Bhijamruta (transliterated as Nectar for Seed), to be used to treat the seeds before sowing. It is sad that we could not find a country cow in our own backyard.
We carried these gifts in a scooter for 30 kms and when we got home, it was a relief to find them intact! We tied the dung in a cotton cloth (dhoti or veshti) and immersed it in twenty liters of water. And 5 litres of cow urine and a handful of soil from our farm were added to this solution. Separately, 50 grams of limestone powder was immersed in a litre of water. Both the solutions were left to sit overnight for 12 hours. The next morning, the dung’s essence was squeezed into the solution by pressing on the cloth. The limestone solution was also thrown in and stirred but not shaken 🙂 Voila, Bhijamruta was ready! We were ready to lace the seeds with it and shoot them into the soil for which we have the license to till (couldn’t help 🙂
Soon Rangan, the sowing expert came by. He soaked all the seeds in water for 10 minutes. Then he gave the protective coat by dipping handfuls of seeds for a minute or two in Bhijamruta solution and dried them by spreading on a sack. At the farm, Rangan walked up and down the land with a large bowl full of seeds in his hand. He would take a handful, throw them against the bowl and they’d scatter in a beautiful pattern on the land.
- Corn 65 Kilo Grams: Rs.1300 (Rs.20/KG)
- Black Gram (Urad Dal): 10KG: Rs.350 (Rs.35/KG)
- Mung Bean 10KG: Rs.370 (Rs.37/KG)
- Thovarai 10KG: Rs.300 (Rs.30/KG)
Total for seeds: Rs.2320
After much deliberation, we decided to plough the hardened soil, just this time. In total, the land was ploughed five times: Twice (criss-cross)before sowing and after two days gap, once before sowing and twice after sowing. In all, the tractor was run for 7.5 hours with a 5 hook plug-in and 9.5 hours with a 9 hook plug-in at an average cost of Rs 375 per hour.
The Total cost for ploughing 3.5 acres is Rs.6500. The grand total is Rs.8820.
This does not include the motor fixing cost that is yet to come which we expect to be around Rs. 18,000.
We can see green leaves of different shapes sprouting up here and there and it all looks magical. May be after harvest, we can break even. And from the next season, without any motor and ploughing expenses, it should be easier on the land and our check book.