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Saturday, April 4, 2015

A few videos that you must watch

Establishing Forest Gardens or Forests:

Obviously, food is the most important thing for our living. How do we ensure that there is a continous supply of it? How do we ensure there is an abundance of it for us and everyone around us? How do we prevent wars and famines that are going to come in the future over food and water? Permaculture provides a way - more specifically, going back to nature, letting the forests re-establish themselves and stopping the mindless destruction of the environment that we are doing now will provide the answer. The following Webinar/Video by Dwarakanath and Sai is an amazing overview of exactly this - how to establish Food Forests, what are food forests, and why do we need them. Do watch.

Permanent & Sustainable Cultivation aka Permaculture (as practiced by Dr. Nammalvar):

Dr. Nammalvar was an agriculturist and an activist from the Tanjavulr district of Tamilnadu. He pioneered sustainable farming and permaculture in Tamil Nadu and fought against the evils bought in by commercial farming and the ill effects of the Green Revolution. In this short film by Vinodh Baluchmay, Nammalvar shares his thoughts on the Indian farming scene, the importance of setting up food forests and working with nature vis a vis working against nature. I came to know about Nammalvar a few years back when my interest in farming for re-kindled and had really wanted to meet him and attend the Permaculture course run by at this organic farm Vanagam - unfortunately, that was not to be. He died in December 2013 - this will be one of the regrets of my life.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Gentle parenting your plants

If you have been Gardening or Farming for sometime, you must have realized that it is really akin to parenting. When you sow a seed and watch them sprout, when you watch as they hold themselves up to grow, when you worry if they don't get enough water or sunlight, when you observe as they flower and fruit and watch out for those pests...... those are the moments you realize the plants are like your children. You want the best for them. 

As with human parenting styles, there are many when it comes to gardening as well. There are those that obsess and get the best for their kids while there are those that mostly let nature take its course. I belong to the latter. While I do ensure my plants get the nutrients they need, I don't really go out of my way to protect them from every single thing that affects them. It could be a mealy bug, it could be aphids, it could be ants - I just let them be for a while, observing their antics and hoping my plants can fight them back themselves while sending out signals to attract the beneficial insect and the pest predators. It does get out of hand sometimes though - when a particular plant is not too disposed to fight back, when the weather doesn't really cooperate, or when I don't have much time to pay attention and give my daily dose of love to them. 

Those are the moments I panic, when the parenting guilt bites and I go behind those pests with a vengeance - but the tools I use are not deadly by any measure :) It will be usually a lead/Tobacoo based pest control liquid, neem based preparations or even panchagavya. 

So what kind of parenting style do you follow in your garden? 

A depiction of  "My Garden" by Tot 1

A new born at my Balcony (Malabar Spinach)

Friday, March 27, 2015

Preparing Jeevamrutham and the fun that followed!

Though we had known about Panchagavya for quiet sometime and have even got it for our little green ones few times in the past, we never thought of preparing it ourselves. It always seemed either way too complicated OR way too time consuming OR way too space consuming (considering we live in an apartment) OR it required us to go to multiple places to source the raw materials. Add to that the fear of cultivating maggots, we never considered doing it ourselves. Until recently that is. RR came across Jeevamrutham preparation in one of the many FB groups we follow and he thought its a really simple thing to do. Just 5 ingredients, 3 days, 1 drum and voila, our plants will be in for a treat. It was too tempting a thought to ignore and fortunately, we had access to all the materials that went into it so lo, we had to do it right then and there.

So What goes into Jeevamrutham you ask? Here it is, the typical recipe that most everyone seems to recommend:

  1. About 1 kg of Cow Dung (if it is from a Desi, Indian Native Cow all the better otherwise it's fine too)
  2. About 1 litre Cow Urine (same as above)
  3. 250 gms Gram Flour (or the flour of any bi-cot gram)
  4. 250 gms Jaggery (if it is organic, better)
  5. A handful of nice, living soil (meaning soil that has been nurtured, where things have/are growing, where there's an abundance of microbes and Earthworms, and of course where no chemicals have been added)
  6. And about 20 litres of water to soak all the above in

Along with the above, you will need a nice big drum or even a big bucket, a stick to mix it all together, and a cotton cloth that can breathe which can be used to cover the bucket during the fermentation process.

Once you have all the ingredients sourced (the cow dung and urine better be fresh or not more than a day old please), mix them all in together ensuring there is no lumps or solids whatsoever. Use your hands - that's the only way to ensure this. After a thorough mixing, add the required amount of water, give it another mix and cover the drum/bucket with the cotton cloth. Ensure to mix the composition every few hours for the next three days.

Your microbes will now do the rest of the work for you, working every minute for the next three days to breakdown the nutrients in the dung and flour while using the jaggery as their sustenance. At the end of it, you will get a rich, living liquid manure that your soil and plants will soak it in like amrita (the elixir of life, hence the name Jeevaamrutham).

Dilute this liquid manure in the proposition that feels comfortable to you so as in order not to burn your plants (or make it too diluted to be of any real use). Usually, they say 1:10 ratio - 1 part of Jeevamrutham to 10 parts of water. Use it fresh and feed your plants the manure as soon as possible. Do ensure that you feed it to the soil and not use it as a foliar spray (that would be Panchagavya).

Now, for some of the typical questions you may have:

1. Does it smell?
Yes, of course! What do you expect? Every living being smells and here we are actually growing millions and millions of them. Well, kidding aside, it does smell but not badly. It smells only of the dung and the urine initially but by the end of three days, the smell is almost heavenly - either that or you just get so used to it from all the 6 hourly mixing that you don't really mind it.

2. Do I need all these ingredients or can I skip any of them?
You must use all of them as each of them have a role to play. The dung is the nutrients for your plants and the starter kit of your microbe culture, the urine your PH regulator, the jaggery your microbe's food, the flour your PH regulator/microbe food again, and the soil again your starter kit of microbe culture. The water makes them all come together so you can't skip that either. However, I guess if you can't really get hold of Cow urine, you can give that a miss though not advisable.

3. Once I mix all these in, when is it ready to be fed to my plants?
Usually three days. Three days because that's when the microbes have nicely got themselves into a reproduction frenzy and are all worked up and ready to enliven your soil further. You delay any further and the microbes are going to get exhausted and most will die (they do have a short life, you know - perhaps just a few hours some of them). You use it sooner - and they wouldn't have done a good enough job of the nutrient breakdown. So three days it is give or take a few hours here and there.

4. Do I really need to mix it morning, noon and night?
Yes, Yes, Yes. You better. Though we try to ensure there are no solids, they do tend to collect and settle at the base - that's one reason. The other more compelling reason is to ensure the microbes get access to the nooks and crannies of your bucket, wherever the nutrient and food might be, to ensure they can completely and evenly break everything down. And most most importantly, you don't want the liquid to overflow, do you?

5. Oh no! Is it going to overflow?
Well - only if you don't mix it! Or if you become over enthusiastic like me and add a lot more quantity of the ingredients than your holding bucket can handle. You see, this entire process is based on Fermentation - just like your idly batter. The microbes come, eat, multiple, make merry and release a lot of gas while at that (not sure which gas though!) - so you need to ensure those trapped gas molecules find a way out to the atmosphere. Else, it will double, triple, quadrapple your liquid volume ultimately overflowing from its container (especailly if its a small container). So you need to mix and release the gas - simple nothing sinister.

6. Are the Quantities mentioned fixed?
Yes and no. The propotion is fixed and this particular quantity is recommended based on everyone's experience and of course my own experience of burning my fingers (not literally). If your holding container can hold it, why not more I say. Just ensure there is enough space for the liquid to swell up. The fermentation rate will typically be really high the first two days so be prepared.

7. Sounds difficult! Is it?
No, not at all! Other than the initial mixing where you need to use your hand and the regular 6-hourly (or whatever interval you choose - can be three times a day too) mixing, you don't need to do anything at all.

8. Can I store it?
No please - just use it immediately - or if you really want to store, add some jaggery to keep those microbes alive and kicking - else, what's the point if they all die on you!  Maximum time to keep is not more than a week please.

9. One last question - what is the fun you mentioned?
Aha! Thought you will never ask! You see I got greedy. In my happiness at getting a regular source of dung and urine (I have a cow lady (for want of a better term!) living near my house who has about 5 - 6 cows), I ordered (ya, right as if I can order her - request her more like!) for all the dung and urine she can spare. She was only too happy to comply as she didn't want to waste them either. So she gave me heaps and heaps of dung while not that much of urine. Plus I used a regular big bucket - and less of water. What followed was a liquid that doubled every four hours - I guess either the soil was jam packed with microbes that were just waiting for a chance to procreate more or the dung was too good for them to resist. My bucket just couldn't hold it in - so I divided the content equally into two buckets at the end of day 1. The next day morning? Both were overflowing. Oof - the cleanup! And the thought of wasting those precious spillovers! Luckily for me, I did all this in my bathroom so saved - else imagine my fate if it had happened in my kitchen!

10. One more question and we are done. Maggots?
No - no maggots at all. Remember you are going to keep it covered except for the time you are mixing it. And three days is too short a time for the flies to come, mate, lay eggs and for them to hatch to scare the hell out of you. So no maggots, nope! You can rest easy on that front.

So - question from my side. When are you going to prepare your own Jeevamrutham? Let me know :)

BTW, here's a chart of all the nutrients in Jeevamrutham (along with others) that I found in a FB group

Image credit: Adviteeya

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Welcome to Farming in the Garden City

Hello there! Thank you for stopping by our blog.

Join us on our journey while we learn all things farming, nurturing and living a magical life of creation.Our goal in this life is simple - be happy, content and make do with whatever we get while striving for abundance and perfection. We are working to ensure we leave a joyful legacy behind for our future generations while making as little positive difference as we can to the society we live in. We practice it in small measures and we are happy if we can keep that up :)

Farming, Growing Food, Amazing at the cycle of life, Living our passion - Call it what you will but this is where our hearts are today and we are happy to follow. We practice farming at two places - at the tiny 1000 Sq Ft plot we have leased at a Community Garden in the outskirts of the city and the 3 little balconies in the apartment where we live. We are never satisfied with what we have at both these places - we just keep adding plants and sowing seeds every weekend and yet we don't think they are green enough!

The methods we follow predominantly are based on Permaculture (as that's what closely resonates with us) while incorporating a bit of organized design. We are trying to keep away from any conventional methods including mono-cropping though we may still plant like species on the same bed. We are thinking hugelkulture, raised beds, biofarming, feeding the soil, etc, etc. We spend a few minutes every week sitting next to our pots fascinated by the micro-forests that are in the making while I (VJ) pretend to channel some Reiki for their well-being and RR scans for pests. We mostly let them live except when we grow too attached to a plant and we feel they are suffering in any way from the critters - then comes our astras - a concoction of all the things we can get our hands at!

In the months to come, we hope to document our experiences and share our many joys and sorrows with you all - not just with farming & gardening but also of the sustainable life that goes along. We will probably fail many times but we just don't recognize them as failures :) We keep moving on.

So, stay connected with us and let us grow those beanstalks together to reach for the skies!

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About Us

We are a happy go lucky couple who want to give the best life has to offer to our children. We are also wannabe minimalists who if you let can live in the jungle with just each other for company. Above all, we are like everyone else looking for the grand meaning behind it all. Meanwhile, while we are figuring that out, we thought we might as well put all the energy that we've got (what is left of it after a full working day toiling for the IT industry that is) into our passions. And our passion at the moment is creating and nurturing life and doing all that we can to leave the Earth a happy place to live in. Want to know more? Leave a comment :)

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