Lemon is one of the fruits that provides immediate energy to the body and also being used extensively to prepare pickles, mixed rice, juice and sharbath. It is also the most widely used fruit in day to day life so that it becomes one of the income generating crops for the farmers. Those who realized the significance and every day demand for the fruit have invested in lemon cultivation and have been earning appreciably. One among those farmers is Mr Natarajan from Thirunelveli district.
Once served as a Headmaster and got retired he is now a full time organic farmer. His lemon grove is situated in Madhapuram village, 3 km away from Kadayam. In this rocky terrain he is able to grow lemon trees successfully. He started describing about his experience as an organic farmer growing lemon trees.
“I am familiar with farming since my childhood. After completing my old SSLC exams and teachers training, I got a posting temporarily replacing a teacher on long leave. With those earnings I was able to buy 4 acres. Then I got a government job as a teacher and I was able to do farming for the past 23 years while continuing my teaching job.
I got retired from my service as a Headmaster in 2007. Since then I have been a full time farmer”. He continued to share his experience after a while of lingering in his past memories.
“This region is full of rocks and gravels. Even with a foot deep there will be rock one could see. I found it difficult to change it to a cultivable land. At the beginning I planted tamarind saplings and also wild cotton variety. With pots I used to fetch water for the plants from the nearby sources found in between the rocks and aquifers. In 1990s there was no facility for drip irrigation. But I used my own technique to have drip irrigation by using hose pipes and saline tubes.
I have also cultivated vegetables in this land. It was difficult to do vegetable farming while going for regular work as a teacher. So I decided to opt for lemon trees in my farm and hence planted 100 lemon saplings. Though I used compost as base manure in my farm I was still using chemical fertilizers and pesticides for cultivation. I was able to earn a living despite low profit through my agriculture activities.
At the time of retirement I happened to see ‘Pasumai Vikatan’ in one of the local shops. Immediately I bought it and read through. As I liked the concepts recommended in its content I continued to read it regularly. Then only I was able to appreciate organic methods and therefore switched to natural farming. Through Pasumai Vikatan I could learn about Anthonysamy from Puliyangudi. I met him personally after that and learnt more about lemon cultivation through organic methods. Then I planted more lemon trees in my farm. I have been following organic farming for the past eight years”. He continued his sharing while taking us around the farm.
“There are 300 lemon trees in three acres of land. For household needs I have also planted hundred varieties of medicinal herbs, moringa, guava, mango and amla in half an acre and another half an acre for paddy cultivation. Among these crops only lemon fetches me good income. If lemon is planted we can accrue benefits within two years.
One and half year after planting the lemon trees we can allow the flowers to come up as fruits then we can harvest lemons in two years. In the first year we can get a minimum of 300 lemons from a tree. If the trees are maintained properly we can get almost 600 lemons per tree.
Three years after planting one can see flowers, young ones, unripe and ripe lemons all in the same tree. Therefore we can harvest lemons throughout the year. From third year we can harvest 1,200 lemons from a tree. If appropriate nutrients are supplied and protected from pests and diseases we can even get 1,500 lemons from a tree. Once a lemon sapling is planted it will provide lemons for about 14 years. It is profit if it continues to give fruits beyond it. I have been harvesting lemons for the past six years.
I sell the harvest lemons at the market in Kadayam for retail price. There is no additional price as it is organically grown. I get only the market price which keeps changing on day to day basis. During Coutralam season the price will come down in this region. Its price will be very low if it rains. But it will soar high during summer, temple festivals and wedding times”. He started sharing about the income and expenditure in lemon cultivation.
“The yield will increase in a year and will go down the next year. It will depend on the agro-climatic conditions. Last year I could get 3 lakh fruits with considerable selling quality from 300 trees and I was able to sell them for Rs 1- 4 per fruit. On some days I could even earn Rs 7 per fruit. Based on the calculations I could earn Rs 9 lakhs from 3 lakhs of fruits. Deducting Rs 1,30,000 towards expenses on farm yard manure, maintenance, fruit collection charges and transport. There is a balance of Rs 7,70,000 as profit. Every year I am able to get that extent of profit”.
“Lemon is called as golden fruit in our place. It is a crop that makes us earn a reasonable income daily. Even with less water availability we could earn a profit”. Thus he concluded by happily showing handful of lemons.
We can generate lemon saplings on our own
He described about raining our own lemon saplings in the farm. “Collect fully ripe fruits directly from the good quality trees. Immediately after collecting quality fruits, using a knife cut the fruits around without damaging the seeds and press them out. Gather the seeds flushed out along with lemon juice and plant them in pots filled with soil and farm yard manure. Using a flower pot, sprinkle water on the pots with seeds daily. Sprouts will come out five days after planting. Once they reach half a foot height they can be transplanted in polythene bags.
110 trees in an acre with 20 feet gap
The lessons about lemon cultivation as shared by Mr Natarajan:
Aadi and Purattasi (July-Sep) months are suitable for lemon planting. Plough the chosen land thrice with 10 days rest in between and allow the soil to be coarse. Then dig pits of 3x3 feet dimension with a gap of 20 feet in between. With this gap in between at least 100 – 110 pits can be laid in an acre of land. Allow the pits to get air dried for 5 days, followed by filling each pit with 60 coconut bat (coir)waste.
Next is to choose four herbs among Kozhinji, Erukkum Vembu, Vaadhamadakki and Vaagai and fill the pits with 2 kg of leaves from those four plants. Cover the leaves with soil above and allow the pits to air dry for 20 days. Within 20 days there will be rapid increase in microorganisms from the coconut waste. They also help in retaining moisture. Now in the middle of the pit the lemon saplings can be planted, followed by irrigation. It is better to plant saplings that are at least 2 feet in height.
Irrigation should be done daily for the first three months after planting. After that irrigate the farm, based on the moisture content of the soil. Drip irrigation is the best practice. If it is a grafted sapling it is better to remove the tender leaves sprouting below the grafted joint. Black haired worms will emerge during the sprouting of leaves and they are common during rainy seasons. They eat up the leaves damaging the plant. If these worms are seen immediately spray Ginger, Garlic and Green chilly mix on them.
Manually weed out the premises on day 20, 40 and 60. If it is required it can be done even after those specified days. Three months after planting, add 2 kg of farm yard manure around the base of each plant. Up to two years after planting repeat this thrice in a year. From third year onwards add a pot of farm yard manure around the base of each plant twice a year. If the plants are found to be unhealthy it is better to add vermicompost along with the farm yard manure. The quantity of farm yard manure can be raised as per the growth of each plant.
There will be flowering from the second month of planting. But till one and half years those flowers should be shed off not allowing them to mature as lemon. Then only the girth of the plant will increase. If the flowers are allowed to mature after one and half years, then harvest can be started from the second year.
Growth promoters on rotation
From day 20 after planting, for an acre of land mix 200 liters of filtered Jeevamirtham formulation and 300 ml of filtered Panchakavya and pass it through drip irrigation every twenty days thereafter, alternatively. Add 300 ml of Panchakavya in 10 liters of water and pass it through drip irrigation channels so that all plants will receive the nutriments uniformly.
One month after planting, spray a mix of 300 ml of Panchakavya and 100 ml of fish amino acid in 10 liters of water on a monthly basis. Forty five days after planting, spray a mix of 100 ml EM formulation in 10 liters of water, on a monthly basis.
Goat penning makes the trees fertile
Keep a goat penning under those trees that are wilted and stunted in growth. By keeping them under the trees the goats will be able to eat away the leaves of the trees and give away the dung at the base. At that juncture irrigate those plants, followed by spraying a mix of 100 ml EM liquid in 10 liters of water. This will facilitate the trees to grow new leaves. Similarly, when there are no new leaves sprouting after rains spray EM liquid so that new leaves will be able to emerge.
Sowing of Navadhanyam before rains
During the first three years after planting lemon trees, sow Navadhanyam (Nine types of grains) throughout the farm before rainy season. When those grains sprout and mature enough to show flowers they should be harvested and spread around the base of each tree as mulch. This will help the trees get nitrogen.
Biofertilizer to kill leaf rolling worms
When the leaves of lemon trees are found to be rolled it means that they are attacked by leaf rolling worms. It can be controlled by spraying a mix of 50 g of Trichogramma viridi or Pseudomonas in ten liters of water. These worms can be avoided by spraying the mixture on a monthly basis before the rainy season and continued till it ends.
Ginger, garlic and green chilly formulation
Mix ¼ kg of ginger, and garlic and half kg of green chilly and grind them together. Put the ground paste in a container and add 7 liters of cow urine and boil it for some time. Then cool it for some time and again boil the same. Repeat this process thrice so as to make the liquid become 5 liters in volume. Allow it undisturbed for two days. Then filter it and store the same in a bottle. Mix 300 ml of the formulation in 10 liters of water to spray it on the plants using manual sprayer.
(This article written in Tamil by E Karthikeyan for Pasumai Vikatan magazine dt 25th Aug 2017 has been reproduced in English by V Amalan Stanley)