“Many are of the opinion that farming is a very difficult vocation. but for us, it is a very easy occupation. It is enough to understand the fundamentals of farming, with an aptitude of being intimate with the soil, relate closely to the plants and avoid hurting the nature, so that we can succeed in farming. Further, it is important to choose right kind of crop and then follow appropriate methods of farming conducive to the crop. With the available volume of 2000 litres of water daily, we are able to earn considerably out of the forty cent of land”, says Maruthamuthu, from Thavasimadai region, Dindigul district. His words are truly encouraging, infusing confidence.
Maruthamuthu-Vasuki couple is already well known to the readers of Pasumai Vikatan through Champanki cultivation. As their venture of organic cultivation of Champanki was successful, their technique of its cultivation providing considerable yield, there have been many farmers at the state level, visiting his farm and learning its cultivation method and trying to implement it in their own farms. We have been publishing in Pasumai Vikatan, the success stories of those who followed their method of cultivation.
But with an advent of severe drought in recent times, Maruthamuthu has minimized the farming area for Champanki cultivation. Due to chronic and severe drought, he was forced to abandon the cultivation of Champanki, the occupation that is close to his heart. However, not yielding to the environmental pressures, he was able to find out an alternative crop that could endure the drought and at the end proved that the new venture could also be a success.
“I had a very fertile land. We have learnt the fundamentals of agriculture during these ten years. However, the only challenge was water resource. But we cannot afford to sit idle. So, we visited many farms where Pandhal (kind of scaffold made of sticks, especially for climber crops) cultivation is carried out successfully. Based on our experience in farming and the knowledge gained from visiting those farms where climbers are cultivated, we followed their techniques of cultivation and have started cultivation of climber crops.
There is another reason for us to venture on climber cultivation. During Champanki cultivation, we needed to wake up early morning three o’ clock to pick up flowers. Though it is a very profitable venture, aged farmers found it difficult to wake up in the early hours of the day. Some of them who have been finding it difficult due to that reason approached me to find alternative crops of cultivation. We came to know that they can be supported through the cultivation of climbers. But we did not wish to recommend them to venture it without we ourselves try that method.
Last year, my wife Vasuki was honoured as ‘one of the best woman farmers’ by Aval Vikatan magazine for her effort in teaching other upcoming farmers about Champanki cultivation. As farmers we were very much overwhelmed by that occasion of honour. We become desirous of teaching more number of farmers about various other crop cultivation methods in order to prove our worth for the trust shown on us by Vikatan. But, we were so determined that unless we train ourselves in the new methods of crop cultivation we would not venture to teach others. Thus, we decided to try climber cultivation in our own piece of land.
However, water scarcity was an imposing issue during that period. So, we decided to face the challenge of making considerable yield from whatever meagre volume of water available for cultivation. At that time, we could gain only 2000 litres of water in a day from our bore well. We were prepared to make use of the available water to maximise the yield through climber cultivation.
It was summer when we began the climber cultivation. Some of the farmers from our place commented that it was a wrong decision and cautioned us not to burn our fingers. But we were so determined that ‘if we fully trust nature, then it will never forsake us’. Followed by Maruthamuthu, Vasuki started explaining about their farming venture.
“There are a few farmers in this region who have been doing climber cultivation. We met with them and learnt from their minor mistakes and were cautious not to commit the same in our farm. Unlike found in other farms, we opted for strong and heavy pillars for constructing the tent for climbers. We paid additional two hundred rupees for each pair of pillars than the usual price. That is the reason for the pillars standing tall at our farm. Similarly, we used good quality and thick strings to tie the pillars across. That is why it could even withstand the harsh effect of Kaja cyclone recently.
It is very usual to make a line of canal along with which the seeds would be sown in climber cultivation. But we followed an old method of digging out pits at the backyard and sowing the seeds. We have commissioned drip irrigation system towards conserving water. Snake gourd was the first crop to try at our farm as a climber crop. We could learn some subtle techniques with the experience gained from its cultivation. After snake gourd we tried with ridge gourd. And it is now ready for harvest. As we had corrected a few minor mistakes from snake gourd cultivation, we are able to gain good yield from ridge gourd. For Champanki cultivation we needed many farm labourers. But climber cultivation does not need much labour. We two are able to manage the complete cultivation of climbers”. She spoke with confidence.
Then Maruthamuthu continued, “When the climbers start spreading, it is usual to use plastic or thread strings to make them climb the tent. But we used only the fibres of banana. We don’t bother much about insects and diseases as we follow organic method of cultivation. Once there were many worms found in the leaves. While we were thinking about how to control them, we witnessed many crows were devouring those worms, sitting on the tent. So, we just left it to the nature to take care of the pests.
The Champanki from our farm was eagerly welcomed by the market as it was grown organically. Therefore, it was sold at once. Similarly, the snake gourds were also sold rapidly. Now, it is so also with ridge gourd. It gets sold at once it reaches the market. Even after a week, the gourds remain fresh. They taste good, as well”. He then spoke about the income aspects of cultivation.
“With snake gourd, it took 55 days to get the gourds grown. We harvested it every alternate day. Yield continued for about sixty days after having started the harvest. Then the yield gradually came down. We had harvested about 8,148 kg of snake gourds. We sold them at a minimum price of Rs 8 per kg and a maximum price of Rs 18 per kg.
With that calculation of 8148 kg of snake gourd, we gained an income of Rs 90,344. We spent about a maximum of Rs 20,000 towards farm in puts, transport and other related expenses. Therefore, the profit is Rs 70,344. We did not include the cost of the tents as they stand to support our cultivation for years”.
As a conclusion, the couple said, “Champanki is a high profit crop for those who have an adequate source of water. And climber cultivation is suitable for those farmers who have lesser water resources. Our goal is ‘monthly one lakh from an acre’.
We faced severe water scarcity, when we were able to gain Rs 80,000 monthly from Champanki in an acre of land. At present, we are able to gain Rs 70,000 from three months in 40 cents of land through climber cultivation. We are very confident that we could gain Rs one lakh per month from an acre of land if we do climber cultivation on a rotational basis. Sure, we will be reaching our goal”. They bid farewell to us with utmost confidence.
For contact, Maruthamuthu, Cell phone: 97876 42613
Lessons we have learnt from climber cultivation
“As we were urged by others that only long snake gourd variety could earn good revenue, we opted for those seeds. But almost half of the seeds we bought had short variety of snake gourd as well. Maintenance methods are similar for both the varieties. However, harvesting, handling and transporting the long variety seemed difficult for us. At the time of gourd sprouting out it should be tied with a string having a stone at the other end, hanging in the air. If the gourd breaks because of its length it cannot have its right price. But most of the households tend to buy only long variety of snake gourd and therefore it is sold at once it enters the market place.
On the other hand, the cultivation of short snake gourd variety is very simple. Harvesting, handling and transporting it to the market, everything is very easy. There is also no need for more labourers during cultivation. Its sale will gain momentum as soon as the long variety is fully sold out.
Gandhi Market in Dindigul is nearer to us. Therefore, we send the gourds only to that market. Demand is more only for long variety of gourd. At the same time, there is good market for short gourd variety at Ottanchanthram, Coimbare and Pollachi markets. But we send the short variety only to the market in Dindigul as other markets are far off. When we enter into vegetable cultivation we should decide which market we are going to send our produce and understand the demand of that market in terms of the crop variety.
At the very first time of sending our vegetables to the market, we enquired with our known circle to whom we should sell the produce. When we take six bunch of gourds to the local market, they verily buy two bunches for higher price. But then they used to make us wait till they get business to buy our produce. So, we were made to wait for long, keeping the remaining bunches of gourds with us.
As the time goes the price of our produce would go down. Therefore, we decided to send the bunches to more than two or three shops. Thus we were able to sell all our produce at the same time. The price was also good. We have learnt from that experience that we should not rely on only one shopper.
As the climber crops can be cultivated in all seasons, we sowed them in summer. Before we could harvest and send our produce to the market, the market price was between Rs 20 and 35. But we could get only a maximum price of Rs 18. Similarly, after the harvest was over, again the price was rising up. Therefore, it is wise to learn when the market price is actually going up and accordingly sow the seeds of gourd, on a rotational basis. These are the learnings we gained from our cultivation of climbers”.
Best method of cultivation!
The lessons of climber cultivation as described by Maruthamuthu are mentioned hereunder:
Plough the chosen land thoroughly and place the pillars with a distance of 10 feet in between. The outer primary support can be erected with stone pillars while inner secondary support can be with hard bamboo sticks. The cost will be more if all pillars are of stone. Then tie the pillars across, using strings. Dig pits of 2’x2’x1’ dimension, with one-foot distance from each pillar. Fill each pit ¾ with farm yard manure and half kg of neem oil cake. Fill the remaining space of the pit with its own soil and irrigate the pits for a week. Then sow four seeds in four corners of each pit, totally four seeds in a pit. Irrigate the pits as needed.
From the 7th day of sowing, irrigate the land for every 15 days, with 400 litres of Amuthakkaraisal for an acre, along with the irrigation water. From the 15th day of sowing, irrigate an acre of land with 400 litres of oil cake formulation, for every 15 days along with the irrigation water (10 kg of ground nut oil cake and 4 kg of neem oil cake soaked in 400 litres of water).
Within a week of sowing the seeds will sprout in to two large leaves and then gradually spread across the land. At that time, tie the tip of each plant with a thread and tie its other end to the strings tied across the pillars at their top. Banana fibres can be used instead of threads or steel strings. When the climber reaches the top of the tent, keep the climbers at the right position so as to enable them to spread evenly on the tent. Between 50 and 55 days, the gourds will be ready for harvest. If it is a long gourd variety, the gourd’s hanging end should be tied with an old cloth tied with a stone so that the gourd will be grow straight.
On rotational basis, harvesting can be done on daily or alternate day basis. After reaching harvest time, the gourds can be harvested till 80 days. If the incidence of pest is to be averted, as a preventive measure, 5% neem seed extract can be sprayed on them with specific periodicity.
(This article written in Tamil by R Kumaresan for Pasumai Vikatan issue dt 25/12/18 has been translated in English by V Amalan Stanley)