It has been over 6 months since we turned farmers. Though we have been logging all goings-on in a ledger, a blog-post was overdue.
The family unanimously agreed on ‘Navilu Kaadu’ as a suitable name for the farm after the numerous Indian Peafowl that inhabit the surrounding region. ‘Navilu’ and ‘Kaadu’ are peafowl and forest in Kannada, in that order.
Finishing-up the swimming camps, the children and I, together with Zoey, spent a better part of the summer school break staying at Navilu Kaadu and trying to get a handle over farm management, while Sandeep split time between work commitments in Bengaluru and the farm.
Our tiny farmhouse faces north and we get to witness beautiful sunrises and sunsets on either sides of our bedroom each day.
At dawn, the Sun floats up above the horizon beyond a neighbour’s maize and cotton fields, and glides down in an orange ball behind our banana plantation at dusk, leaving behind a pink and purple sky.
Three towering banyan trees stand guard like sentinels, just outside our fence in three directions. They appear to watch over Navilu Kaadu like wise old beings.
There is no dearth of delightful surprises on the farm, and we eagerly await each visit for exciting encounters with fellow residents of the wild variety!
We often see a beautiful Black Naped Hare, a Peter Rabbit look alike, hopping towards the fence in a hurry. On one of the days, our farm hand discovered a young hare in a clump of grass that probably concealed the burrow.
The little one stole our hearts with its gentle eyes and long dainty ears. The young hare rewarded us with another visit during one of our ensuing trips to Navilu Kaadu. If it was indeed the same little hare, it seemed less apprehensive of us than earlier, though we were careful not to handle it, wild and free as it was.
Ground nests of the Rufous-Tailed Lark lay cleverly concealed under clumps of grass in one of the plots. We spotted at least five nests scattered around in the nooks and crannies of the uneven ground. The little brown eggs with chocolate freckles were in clusters of three and four in each of the nests.
We decided to put-off our plans for that plot till after the nesting period. Unfortunately, we never did see any nestlings. While we couldn’t trace a few of the nests, two of them appeared abandoned.
We wake up to myriad bird songs at Navilu Kaadu each morning, that of the peafowl predictably being the most ubiquitous. A pair of Indian Grey Hornbills calls on us most early mornings. They squeal out loud greetings before perching meditatively on the boughs of the tall Hebbevu (Malabar Neem tree or Melia Dubia) in front of the house.
Groups of Jungle Babblers flit about all over, keeping up their constant chatter. An afternoon nap can be a challenge in the midst of their din!
When at Navilu Kaadu, the boys prefer outdoor baths with a hose pipe under the large Banni Mara (Shami tree or Prosopis Cineraria) next to the house. The bath water then trickles towards the adjoining banana plantation.
It is mid-September now, and we recently harvested our first crop of naturally farmed Yelakki Baale (bananas of the Yelakki variety), free of any kind of chemical fertilizers, pesticides or artificial ripeners.
Over the last few months, we have been directing efforts at nurturing crops that missed out on nourishment during the period of the sale and handover, and planning for the long-drawn overhaul to the natural farming model made popular by farmer-scientist Padma Shri Sri Subhash Palekar.
Simply put, natural farming or zero-budget natural farming recommends a chemical-free approach with mixed cropping of complimentary crops, minimal or zero external inputs and comparatively lesser water needs.
Sri Palekar proposes the use of Jeevamrutha, a fermented concoction made from the dung and urine of the native or desi Indian cow, jaggery and gram flour. Beneficial microbes found exclusively in the dung and urine of native Indian cows multiply during the fermentation process, and when applied to the soil, facilitate nutrient transfer from the soil to the plant roots. I will save the details for another post for those interested in the methodology.
We worked out a simple set-up with three drums of 200 litre capacity each, to concoct Jeevamrutha (JM) on the farm, and manually feed it to all crops. Our next project is to mechanize the supply of JM through our existing drip irrigation system and scale down labour dependencies.
The banana crop was lagging when we took over the reins of Navilu Kaadu. While we lost a few of the plants, a mix of cow manure and JM helped salvage some of the yield.
As natural farmers, to us the dung and urine of the desi cow are now worth their weight in gold! We’ve befriended a few native cow owners in a neighbouring village who supply the precious ingredients.
We have been grappling with our share of challenges too. Parthenium, the noxious and invasive weed, the bane of most Indian farmers, thrives on our farm too. While fellow-farmers in the region use toxic weed-killers, we try to control it with a mix of manual and mechanical means. It is an ongoing battle.
Tossing-out the can of ‘Roundup’ (glyphosate), a commonly used herbicide or weed-killer left behind by the previous owner was the first thing we did when we arrived at Navilu Kaadu. Many scientific studies link glyphosate exposure to increased risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, or blood cancer.
Discovering nature’s ways and working in tandem with her forces is alien to many of us used to the notion of control in our urban existence.
In choosing to stay clear of chemical pesticides, weed-killers or chemical fertilizers, we are trying to make Navilu Kaadu a safe haven for all living beings that have made it their home.
We are gradually learning not to stress ourselves about issues beyond our control.
For one, natural farming is an exercise in patience and perseverance. The rewards are bountiful and go beyond just monetary gains if only we place our trust in nature’s wisdom, and let go of this illusion of control.