Organic Farming at Savista
At Savista, we are just entering our kharif agricultural season.
The Indian kharif agricultural season coincides with the monsoons. It spans the months starting from late June / mid-July when the rains start ( depending on the region concerned), and ends in mid-September when the harvest takes place. The crops sown in this season are generally those that naturally harness the power of the rains to nourish growth, and generally do not require the additional support of irrigation. Thus, in Rajasthan, kharif crops are generally millets and pulses (legumes), and oil seeds such as sesame.
Bajra (pearl millet), gavaar (cluster beans), chauli (amaranth) and til (sesame) are what we have recently sown in our fields at Savista. In keeping with our organic farming practices of crop rotation and diversity, these have been planted to rotate with the wheat, mustard, fenugreek and quinoa that we had planted as our winter crop (in October/November)and harvested in the late spring (end-March/early April). This rotation has its own synergy in terms of yield, soil enrichment and soil conservation (the relatively shallow roots of millets and legumes create sufficient soil porosity for the rain water to seep from the surface deep down into the soil).
During the summer months, our fields lay fallow, while birds fed on the remainder of the grains hidden in the stubble after the threshing, winnowing and bagging.
In the heat of June we treated our fields, i.e. harrowing and ploughing by tractor and infusing the soil with organic fertiliser (farmyard manure), in preparation for the onset of the rains and the kharif sowing.
With the arrival of the first thundershowers, the seeds were sown. This is how the fields looked within a week of sowing.
Now, a little more than a fortnight later with the monsoon having finally set in with a few heavy intermittent showers, weeding is underway.
Interestingly, the “weeds” are a variety of wild amaranth. Amaranth is a highly nutritious spinach-substitute leafy green. In its tender stage, even the wild amaranth is considered to be very nutritious. The leaves of the amaranth are reputedly even more nutritious than spinach and are rich in iron, protein, magnesium and several other minerals. When amaranth is cultivated, it is primarily for its seeds which, too, are very nutritious. In fact, amaranth was prized by the ancient Aztecs as a wonder seed. But the wild variety that grows in our region does not yield any seeds. It merely matures rapidly and greedily into a tall tough plant that, traditional local farming wisdom believes, ought to be weeded out before it chokes off the nutrients of the planted crops that tend to grow more slowly. Further, if left in the fields for too long, the leaves of the wild amaranth become coarse and inedible, besides also losing much of their own nutritive value.
So, over the last two days, we have been weeding out great mountains of the wild amaranth plant. We are placing them in a pit where, once decomposed, they will be mixed with other compost and spread over the soil to enrich it.
Another traditional organic soil treatment technique in this region is to use ash from burning dry crop residues or twigs from pruned trees as a pesticide-cum-fertiliser. Pruning of our Khejri trees is currently underway; this is an essential traditional practice that keeps these trees in good health. We have nearly eighty Khejri trees on the property, and our slackness over the last couple of years in seeing to their regular pruning has caused some of them to degenerate. The leaves from the pruned branches are eaten by goats, and the branches then become available for burning. We have begun practising this technique of creating ash, and will watch for results. The ash from burnt wood – bio-carbon – was apparently similarly used to enrich agricultural land in the ancient Americas, making for incredibly fertile soil that could could sustain crops capable of feeding large populations (recent soil analysis of croplands along the Amazon basin shows mind-boggling levels of fertility that new age organic farmers in north America are taking a lesson or two from).