For many years, the advocates of organic farming have been assuring that the crops grown organically tend to develop resistance against diseases due to natural way of cultivating them. This has been proven true by two brothers, Mr KR Sadasivam and KR Maran, in Kuppanur village near Madhampatti, Coimbatore district. They are pioneers in growing Panneer grapes organically.
In one of the pleasant evenings with the cold breeze embracing us from Siruvani along the Western Ghats we entered into the grapes farm of the siblings. Up to the horizon there are stone posts with wire support that shelter innumerable bunches of black marble like grapes. A few women were harvesting grapes deftly using a handy scissors. There were others who carefully holding the ripe bunches, weighing and staking in carton boxes. We met the brothers while they were overseeing the whole farm activities.
Ailment through achievement
Sadasivam started describing about the farm activities. “We are farmers by tradition. We have more than 60 acres of land. We depend on well irrigation only. There are more of cash crops like banana, tomato, onion and grapes in the farm. About 40 acres are allotted for grapevines and it is done on rotation so that throughout the year we can harvest grapes and the shelters are made accordingly. Hence every day there will be harvesting. There are about fifty permanent workers exclusively for making grapevine shelters.
It’s thirty years since we have started grape cultivation. We were once extensively using chemicals. Our farm was once used by the chemical fertilizer and pesticide companies as trial farm.
For almost thirty years we were using extremely poisonous pesticides in thousands of liters and potent chemical fertilizers in tons on grapevines. We were even awarded by those companies as the ‘best achievers’. But later we learnt from Nammazhvar Ayya and Pasumai Vikatan that it was not achievement but rather ailment for the society. Through regular reading of Pasumai Vikatan and also meeting with many organic farmers we finally became organic farmers ourselves.
“We have been cultivating grapes organically for the past seven years”. By saying so he thrust a bunch of ripe grapes in our palms urging us to taste it. He said, “Relish the Panchakaavya grown grapes, they will taste like Panchamirtham”. Our tongues felt true about his statement.
Enhanced yield by sheep manure
His younger brother continued. “Grapes grow well in all types of soils except alkaline and acidic soils. Their growth will be excellent in red soils. The soil in our region is fully red. Added to it is the climatic conditions that are well suited for grapevines in this region and therefore the yield is greater than other regions. Despite many varieties of grapes we grow only Panneer grapes of country variety.
“Other than cows and calves we have 250 sheep and they are sent for grazing around the hillocks during the day. They will be sheltered in the farm at night. As their dung is present in the soil for months all over the farm the grapevines get rich nutrients throughout. It’s a blessing to have a suitable environment to rear sheep in this region. It’s a combination of farm yard and sheep manure as base fertilizer that is doing miracle in the farm. While it helps in reducing input costs it brings in bounty of high yield”.
The details of growing grapes organically are given below as shared by Sadasivam.
Drip irrigation is the best
Plough the land thoroughly after sheltering the sheep in the farm for months. Then make shelters usually done for grapevines. Allot 14 feet between the rows and 4 feet between the vines and make a pit of 1 ½ feet depth. Fill each pit with 50 g of neem oil cake, 3 kg of sheep dung, and 1 kg of chicken waste. Choose a fully grown grapevine stem and cut it into pieces. Soak the stems in Panchakavya and Pseudomonas and plant them in the pit followed by irrigation. Continue irrigating the farm weekly once. Drip irrigation is best for grapevines. There are many benefits like, saving of water, weed control and utilization of liquid manure through drip irrigation.
Panchkavya once in fifteen days
Once in fifteen days 750 ml of Panchkavya should be directly given to each vine. After a year of planting take the vines and spread them on the stone shelters. Continuously prune the branches and then they will flower and bunches will have tender marbles of grape. At this juncture grape bunches should be made to hang under the shelter. In the meantime, for every 15 days, spray 150 ml of Panchkavya mixed in 10 liters of water using hand sprayer in such a way that the whole plant is soaked fully with the extract. This is highly essential for the flowers to become fruits. This will also help in controlling loss due to decaying of fruits.
Neem seed and lime extract against ash disease
Grapes are mostly affected by ash diseases(POWDERY MILDEW), a kind of fungal attack. There are two kinds of it, base ash and top ash diseases. These diseases will spread through leaves and fruits affecting the growth. The farmers using chemicals will spray highly potent fungicides frequently. But organically they can be controlled by using neem extract mixed with lime or zinc and lime mix. With natural farming methods they can be easily controlled if acted upon as soon as the signs of disease are found.
Take one kg of dry neem seeds. Grind the seeds into powder and soak it in 2 liters of water with 400 g of shell lime for 24 hours. After filtering it, take 200 ml of extract and mix it with 10 liters of water. Spray it on the vines as if smothering them fully using hand sprayer, in the early mornings and evenings. It will also repel fruit flies and golden beetles that swarm the fruits. If the disease is still not controlled, use zinc extract. Keep a bag of one kg zinc soaked in 200 liters of water immersed fully for 24 hours. Similarly take 400 g of shell lime soaked in water. Filter it and mix it with zinc soaked water. Now this extract can be sprayed on the vines and the disease will be completely under control.
Harvesting once in every 90 days
Harvest begins sixteen months after planting, harvesting once in every 90 days. It is five times in two years. First time there will be 5 tons of yield per acre. After harvesting, weed out the place using power tiller and fill with sheep waste in the field. Add 5 kg of enriched farm yard manure to each plant. If the field is continuously irrigated and maintained properly, next harvest can be made within 90 days. This time there will be 4 tons of yield per acre and also for the next harvest. If the field is enriched every time after harvest, the yield will continue for 15 years. Then the vineyard should be completely cleared off followed by planting new vines.
No saturation for satisfaction
Sadasivam shared the details about yield. “On an average, we get 10 tons of yield from an acre in a year. At present, it is lesser than what we could get from using chemical inputs. But we are sure about getting more than that within two or three years of cultivation. We have already received the participatory certificate. We get Rs 45 per kg as we sell them directly in the market. By this calculation, from an acre we earn Rs 4,50,000 in a year. Deducting the expenditure of 2 lakhs we could finally earn a profit of about Rs 2,50,000. We have profited more than that as we are able to regain the fertility of our soil after having been destroyed by the chemical inputs. Above all, there is boundless feeling of contentment and satisfaction as we are able to provide poison-free and nutrition rich fruits to the public”. He overwhelmingly concluded.
KR Sadasivam, Mobile: 97866-44424
List to make vine shelters
Rs 1.5 lakh is required to make a shelter(pandal) in an acre. About 280 stone pillars are required with a height of 8 feet. To provide support to the pillars in the corner 20 additional pillars are required. So, totally 300 pillars are required for an acre of land. With a gap of 15 feet between the pillars, fix them in the soil, 5 ½ feet above the ground with 2 ½ feet within the soil. In order to make a grid in one acre, 750 kg of steel strings are required. The grid should remain taut while fixing. Once established this shelter will stand for another 25 years.
Mantra of value addition
Rajamani, wife of Sadasivam and Thulasimani, wife of Maran, work together, making grape juice and jam using the yield from the farm. Rajamani shared about the details of their joint venture. “We learnt about value addition process through Trumpet section of Pasumai Vikatan and so we underwent a training course on grape juice making by the Tamil Nadu Agriculture University. Followed by that, we send our products to departmental stores and organic shoppers in Coimbatore. We can sell about 100 bottles of grape juice every week”. She concluded happily.
“Renal stone will get dissolved if one drinks grape juice mixed with carrot juice. Paralytic stroke could be mellowed down if the grapes are consumed along with seeds. It will also prevent cancer. Blood cells will grow if grape juice is consumed with honey”. She shared the medicinal value of grapes with us.
Sadasivam sells the grape products directly in the market. “The grapes we grow in our farm are packed in 2 kg carton boxes with an imprint of our farm name on them and sent to organic food product shops in Chennai, Coimbatore and Bangalore. Besides, we make use of the business opportunities available on the Siruvani main road, where there are many modern flats, temples, meditation halls, schools and colleges.
We have established a grape outlet on the road to fulfill local demands. We also sell them directly to the farmers’ market in Coimbatore. Therefore there is no loss due to intermediaries”.
(This article written in Tamil by G Palanisamy for Pasumai Vikatan in July 2014 has been reproduced in English by V Amalan Stanley)