Less water, less labor, less weeding and considerable income are some of the features that encourage many farmers to build a pandhal, a kind of shade, and cultivate bitter gourd, snake gourd and ridge gourd.
Many farmers opt for bitter gourd cultivation as there is an everlasting market need for it all the time. Among them is Balakrishnan, an organic farmer from Tutitorin district who has been cultivating white bitter gourd in his 15 cents of land by natural farming methods.
His bitter gourd farm is situated in Naduvakkurichi village, 8 km away from Sathankulam. We started interacting with Balakrishnan while he was collecting the hanging gourds in his palm leaf box.
Loss due to banana cultivation
This is my native. We are farmers by lineage. We had 10 acres of family land. We cultivated banana and coconut. My father used only chemical fertilizers for cultivation. I completed my eighth standard and went to work in a provision store at Chennai. When I returned to my native after ten years I was given a family share of 2 acres of land for me to own. I started farming along with textile and photography business. When I was cultivating red banana using chemical fertilizers, I lost half of the yield due to water scarcity, at the prime time of fruition. I abandoned farming for sometime since then.
I have a habit of reading books while traveling by bus. In 2011 I went to bus terminus to go for a travel outside my place. When I approached a local bookshop at the bus terminus I saw a magazine cover showing a bunch of red banana. I immediately bought that magazine. That was ‘Pasumai Vikatan’. I read about an article that described about red banana and the success story of it through organic farming methods. Since then I have started reading the magazine without fail.
Through that I learnt a lot about organic farming and I again entered to farming. In ¼ acre land I added cow dung and agri-waste as base manure and cultivated ‘Delhi kanakambaram’. There was a huge return and the flowers were fabulous. But I could not get labor for harvesting. So, I abandoned Kanakambaram and opted for short variety of Murungai in ¼ acre and lemon in ½ acre of land. I got a huge return in short Murungai. He continued after the preamble.
Gourd cultivation by cross shading
Currently, lemon is at harvesting stage. I have planted white gourd in 15 cents under shade. That too is ready for harvesting. Lemon yield is moderate. Now, I have sown ladies finger in 30 cents. The remaining land space of 80 cents is ploughed and kept ready. The soil is red with sand. It appears to be coarse as if sieved sand. Therefore bitter gourd grows well. This white gourd is given by my friend. He told me that the seeds can be gathered from a matured plant and can be sown again. Instead of building the shade over the ceiling I made the shading cross over on the sides so that the plants grow on the sides. They are able to get adequate sun and ventilation. They were sown during Karthigai (Nov-Dec) and there is smooth harvesting continuously due to organic farming”. He continued to describe about the returns.
Fifty days after planting, gourds can be plucked till day 150. It’s totally 100 collections. But I gather once in two days only, as I have cultivated them in a small piece of land. I don’t use any farm laborers and I do it on my own. Till now, there are 18 collections, as on 10.02.2016 and it is 430 kg as of now. I sell one kg of bitter gourd for about rupees 35-50 and I have earned rupees 18,000 till now. Excluding drip irrigation, shading cost, so far I have spent rupees 10,000 for sowing, inputs and weeding. Gradually yield will increase. Price will also go up by the month of Maasi (Feb-Mar). At times it is possible to even sell a kg of gourds for rupees 70 too.
There are 32 collections remaining. If we calculate an average of 50 kg gourds in a collection, I expect 1600 kg of gourds in future. If we fix its rate as rupees 40 on an average, I will get rupees 64,000. In total, I will get rupees 70,000 in 150 days from 15 cents of land. Balakrishnan concluded in contentment.
“Now, I keep sending the gourds to Kaavalkinaru market. I am sending the harvest to my relative’s shop in Kerala as there is a huge market for bitter gourds there. I am planning to cultivate white bitter gourd in an acre of my land as my relative insisted me to send him more gourds in future”. Glowing with full confidence he started transferring the gourds from palm basket to a bag.
100 gram of seeds for 15 cents of land
Below is the lesson shared by Balakrishnan about the cultivation of white bitter gourds.
Keep the land air dried for two days after ploughing the 15 cents of land using rotavator. Then, with 5 feet gap dig a pit of one square foot deep. In each pit fill one pot of goat manure and keep it undisturbed for two days. Then fill the pit with top soil and sow three seeds in each pit with a gap of ten inches and irrigate the pits. For 15 cents of land 100 gram of seeds are required.
In each row of sowing plant three Murungai stems of 10 feet height with a spacing of 4 feet. Tie those stems with a coir thread like fencing around the plot. The gourds will sprout after day 6 of planting. Each plant will reach a foot on day 15. Weeding should be carried out on day 15 and 30. From day 20, the climber should be made to spread on the coir threads. The plant will bud out on day 30 and bloom on day 40. From 45 days, a few gourds will appear.
Oil cake formulation as nutrition
“Take a plastic drum of 50 liter capacity. Add to it 2 kg of need oil cake, groundnut cake 1 kg, sesame cake 2 kg and cow dung 5 kg and mix them together. To it, add cow milk 2 liters, cow urine 5 liters and fill the drum full with water. Mix the content thoroughly once in the morning and in the evening, for four days. Then filter the content and take one liter of the extract in 10 liters of water and spray it on the plants. They will grow well.
Balakrishnan sprays this extract once in a week on the gourd plants. He sheds the solid waste of the extract on the base of the gourd plants.
Grind ginger 250 grams, garlic 250 grams and chilies 250 grams together using mortar. Soak it in 2 liters of cow urine for two days. Extract it out and ginger-garlic extract is ready now. Take 300 ml of the extract mixed with 10 liters of water and can be used.
High yield with red soil
There is no specific season for white gourd. It can be sown throughout the year. Though it can grow in all types of soil the yield will be more in red soil.
Prevention is better
Always prevention is better than cure especially with regard to organic farming. Pest attack can be completely averted if the ginger-garlic extract is sprayed on the plants every week, from the 25th day of sowing till harvesting. And that’s the practical lesson of Balakrishnan.
Bitter gourd against diabetes
The medicinal properties of bitter gourd are described hereunder as explained by Dr Michael Jeyaraj, a Siddha practitioner from Papanasam, Thirunelveli district. “Mimordica charantia is its botanical name. There are many varieties of paagal (bitter gourd) such as Pazhupaagal, Midhipaagal, Kombupaagal, Naaipaagal, Paeipaagal and Naripaagal. Bitter gourd is good for those who are suffering from lack of insulin secretion and those who wish to reduce body weight. Liver related problems will be cured if bitter gourd juice is consumed daily. One of its active ingredient acts like insulin and helps reduce blood glucose level. Medical research mentions that it prevents growth of cancer cells.