The traditional proverb ‘Sow meticulously in the month of Aadi’ has its own reason. This will help the young plants get mild rain suitable for their growth during Aavani (Aug-Sep) and the intermittent sun and rain during Purattasi (Sep-Oct) that will further facilitate plant growth. For rainfed crops, Aadi (Jul-Aug) is the best month for sowing. That is the reason many farmers choose that month for sowing. Based on this, there are many farmers earning rich yield by sowing small onion, which is also called as ‘Sambar onion’ during Aadi, from the districts of Coimbatore, Tirupur, Erode, Namakkal, Perambalur and Dindigul.
It cannot be cultivated in all agroclimatic areas. It can give the best yield only where there is considerable humidity in the atmosphere and mild agroclimatic conditions. Though the price of it, sometimes, will fetch heavy loss, most of the time it’s a jackpot crop for the farmers who continued to cultivate it. That is the reason many farmers stick to its cultivation relentlessly. One among the farmers traditionally growing small onions is Maran. He is also very successful in growing grapes.
The farm of Maran is situated in Kuppanur village, on the Coimbatore-Siruvani road. He started describing about his farming practices while the South-West monsoon is drizzling mildly in the farm and the young onion plants are growing with the season joyfully.
No seed cost
“This climatic condition of this area is well suited for the cultivation of small onion. Without excess heat or cold this environment is suitable for the growth of onions. There are many high yielding varieties in onion too. There is no specific season for them. What we cultivate is a traditional variety. It will give the best yield if sown during Aadi. Small onion is the best cash crop that can fetch much profit within a short span.
With onion cultivation the expensive part is spending on onion seedlings. At least Rs 15000 – 20000 is spent on seedlings. Most of the farmers will save the best onions from the previous season for planting in the next season. We too are using the seedlings of the previous crop for the next cropping. For an acre, 700 kg of seedlings are required. Only if 1000 kg of raw onions are saved from the previous cropping we could get 700 kg of quality seedlings for the next crop. To plant for the whole of 10 acres I am saving 7000 kg of seedlings from the previous cropping of my own farm. If one kg of onion seedling is Rs 25, then I am saving about Rs 1,75,000 towards buying onion seedlings”. He continued.
7000 kg yield from an acre
“It will cost a maximum of Rs 50,000 to cultivate small onion in an acre of land. As far as the price of onion is concerned it will reach a summit at one time and go to abyss at other times. During the last season it was Rs 70 per kg. It is only Rs 30 per kg this year on an average. The yield in an acre will be 7000 kg. Keeping 1000 kg as seedling for next season, with the 6000 kg of onion the income will be Rs 1,80,000. If we deduct the maintenance cost the net profit from an acre will be Rs. 1,30,000. It is a magic bowl for us to have a profit of more than a lakh within 60 days”. He bid farewell to us.
Onions that are robust and fully grown should be selected for planting for the next season. The harvested onion to become seedling onions will require three months time. The selected onions should be cleaned and stored in a well ventilated storehouse will have a better sprout rate.
What Maran described about the method of cultivation of onion is given hereunder as a lesson.
In the month of Chithirai (Apr-May) plough the chosen land twice and prepare the land. Before the second ploughing, add 5 tons each of goat manure and farm yard manure to the soil. Base manure is important for the short-term crops like onions. After ploughing the soil to make it course, make bars on the field. Keep a gap of 45 cm (1.5 foot) between the bars. Lay the drip irrigation pipelines in the middle portion of the bars. After making the soil wet, sow the onion seedlings with a gap of 10 cm between the plants. By sowing with this calculation 700 kg of seedlings will be required in an acre of land. Three days after planting provide life saving water. Irrigate the farm thrice weekly.
Weed out and add manure
As far as the small onions are concerned it is important to control weeds. When goat manure is used in the farm it is inevitable not to have weeds. But they should be immediately removed. Otherwise, the nutrients that should go to the plants will be consumed by the weeds. Therefore weeding should be done on day 25 and 40. Immediately after weeding, provide 50 kg nitrogen manure as topping followed by irrigating the farm.
On day 35, the onion plants will show green leaves out. During this period onion flies and cutworms may attack the plants. Besides, leaf dot disease may also emerge. Spray herbal insect repellent weekly twice till the plants get soaked so as to minimize disease attacks.
From 50 – 60 days the green leaves of onion will turn into yellow and die off. At this juncture, we should pluck out an onion plant and check it. If the onions look reddish with clear separation and robustness they can be harvested. They can be harvested along with the dry leaves and allowed to air dry for two days on a raised floor, clarifying them regularly, will make the root portions get dried and also the soils get dried up and fall down. The dry sheaths can be cut off and now they are ready for the market.
The simplest way to store onions is to have a storehouse. Like rail coaches make a store house using bamboo boards longitudinally. Fill the onions in it and cover them with corn stems on the top as a ceiling. Lay a brick wall of 4 feet from the ground on which the storehouse should be laid and there should be a bamboo mat to cover the floor so as to avoid termite attack at the base. This is what is termed as ‘Onion storehouse’. The onions can be stored there for 90 days after which if we check the onions they will remain moisture-free and the skin will shine lightly and dry. They can be swayed in air so as to remove damaged onions and also remove wastes. The cleaned onions can be bagged for about three months.
Minimize loss by drip irrigation
One can’t be successful in onion cultivation by remaining complacent after planting and watering the plants. One should remain very active and scrupulous as if one is in an ICU, going around the farm throughout the 60 days of cultivation of onions. Onion is a very subtle plant. There is a high probability of pest attacks to destroy them fully, like lice, Aswini and sucking pests. Similarly, there is a high need for water supply. The farm should be irrigated in alternate days not allowing the soil to get dried out. Drip irrigation is suitable for them. The amount of water directly supplied to the farm from canal for an acre can be used for three acres if we follow drip irrigation.
Gifts from goat shed
There are many goat herders in our neighborhood. They will arrange a goat shed in my farm once in a year spreading all over the farm. For so many years our soil is used to have goat wastes so that the soil remains very fertile. Therefore there is no need to have chemical fertilizers in my farm. So irrigation should be precise so that the onions will shine like copper balls. Instead of planting within farm bunds it is better to grow them on bars so that the roots can spread to bunds that are coarse and lose, facilitating faster growth of the plants”.
Should be sold immediately
Those who store onions for long should cover the heaps of onions with tarpaulin sheets, especially during rains, to avoid moisture content. Similarly, they should not remain fully covered all the time because without proper aeration the onions will tend to decay due to heat. At the maximum, they can be stored for 70 days. The weight we get immediately after harvesting will be lost when stored for long. There will be 30% weight loss due to drying of their moisture content. This can be compensated only when there is higher selling price. So, it is better to have them sold immediately”.
(This article written in Tamil by G Palanisamy in July 2015 for Pasumai Vikatan has been reproduced in English by V Amalan Stanley)