A writer of Three Seasons watches the natural world as she experiments with organic farming. An excerpt:
We visited the organic produce seller Sarvanan’s own farm in a place called Kotta. (The area is named Kotta or “fort”, he said, because Tipu Sultan had first tried to build his fort there.) He has planted coconut trees, areca, durian, pepper, and strange varieties of jackfruit. He gave us some cuttings, papaya seeds, and ideas. When I saw his well and his borewell, I felt rather happy about our own water conservation habits. We have good rain-fed planting and I haven’t seen other farms cultivating without irrigation. On the other hand, we never harvest much. We were there for much of the morning in a dry wind that reminded me that I should be laying down mulch at home.
As we left the farm I saw some spiral ginger on the roadside and asked our host whether he knew a use or market for it. No, he said, pull it out if you have it, it doesn’t have a market.
But that’s not how we do things on our parcel. We keep the spiral ginger for its eerie beauty and, besides, that afternoon Saar spotted a treepie pecking at the remains of the flower head, so the plant either produces edible seeds or harbours insects that attract birds. Old George would have given a very different answer to our question.
In the evening we cut down Gliricidia shoots and laid them on the ginger and turmeric beds as mulch and green manure. Tomorrow we’ll do the same for the new trees. I saw a bird’s nest on one Gliricidia so we didn’t strip that one.
The water in the pond is still at its highest level, so we will have water for the vegetable beds. A single bitter gourd has formed, and there are more flowers on the vines. The tomato plants look good, the Italian as well as the naadan or indigenous tomatoes. Saar planted them in cement sacks and lined them up on the terrace for the sun. The zucchini plants on the terrace, also from seeds bought in Italy, are flowering. Last year we sowed tomato near the pond, the only other sunny spot we have, and the peacocks snapped the tips off every single plant.
At the farm, Saravanan recommended, apropos of nothing, a meal of one grated coconut with a chunk of jaggery first thing in the morning. And the same at midday. And again at night, in all seriousness. He also said that the touch-me-not in our own land will not wilt if we touch it, because it had become familiar with us. I asked about the thorns, then, and he said they wouldn’t bother us either. Perhaps I should tell this to our touch-me-nots, which wilt whenever we brush past them and embed thorns deep in our skin. But Saar often comes home from the organic farmer meetings with a little nugget like this: never use soap, clean your teeth with your finger instead of a brush and toothpaste, and don’t drink milk. Are these truths revealed to them in dreams? I don’t know what to think, so I just write it all down.
Just outside the kitchen door I saw a small wild hen of some kind. It looks like a moorhen but it is henna-brown, with a darker head. It is not afraid of us, just cautious. I had seen it before from a distance.
Saar was off at seven this morning to make farm visits with the organic farmer’s group. Among the other farmers we are known as the couple who can’t speak Malayalam. I can speak only a sentence and a half before my accent sags, and Saar is outed as soon as he agrees with someone. There must be a dozen inflections for the affirmative “Oh” in Palakkad District alone, but evidently his inflections don’t match any of them. Still, we manage to understand most of what is said at the meetings. I have had enough of meetings for the present so I stayed home to gather green manure and tidy the hedge. I found a chameleon on one stem – a sleek, smooth, green one with a curled-under tail and a swiveling eye. We saw one last year around the same time and my little nephew named it Nicolas. This one, Nicolas II, scrambled in slow motion to recover its grip and sat there the entire time I was meddling with the hedge. While I was down there I saw a purple sunbird, barbets, a magpie robin, and a black-headed oriole. Also the little ocher and black hairy caterpillars and one large black one, so fierce it cried out to be killed. Still, I stayed my hand and reminded myself that the caterpillars are the property of the birds.
Follow @htlifeandstyle for more.