Today I wish to speak about the quality of soil. I shall share with you information that I have gathered over a long time, seeing and reading about how to improve the quality of soil and its fertility. You may know much of what I say but I request you to share this video with friends who are interested in farming or even those who are farmers. That is because I believe the points I mention on this subject are of great importance.
I grew up in the outskirts of Kottayam town. We had an extensive garden plot and plenty of trees in them. Although our house had toilet facilities, most men of the family chose to urinate in the plot. If the urine fell on earthworms, it caused them a lot of discomfort. They would wriggle. I remember a type of earthworm we used to call Nilampulappan. It was blue in colour. When urine fell on it, it wriggled as if caught in a life-or-death struggle - like fish struggling for breath when taken out of water. But is urine so dangerous?
Earlier, in pre-diaper days, when babies whom we held on our hips peed on us, their mothers would console us, saying babies peed on people they loved! We didn’t mind it either. We either washed ourselves or simply let the area dry on its own, and returned the baby to its mother. With the use of the diaper becoming popular, baby urine no longer leaked onto bed sheets. Instead, now babies lie in their urine. Much of our modern-day life is like this.
If urine causes so much trouble to earthworms, imagine the damage that the other materials we add to the soil would do to them? But before we go into that, let’s find out what earthworms do, and why we need them in the soil. Most often, most of us consider them and their castings as dirty things. The castings are damp soil that gets squashed when stamped upon. They are sticky too, and we think they make the ground dirty.
The average length of the earthworm is 15 cm. It is pipe-like in structure that twists, turns and wriggles as it burrows into soil without damaging even a single plant- or tree root. The earthworms eat the soil below the surface and also the micro-organisms contained there. The castings contain a lot of basic minerals that plants require. For instance, nitrogen,phosphorous and potassium (NPK) that we add to the soil as fertilizer increases the growth of plants. Potassium even increases the number and size of the fruits.
But these are minerals that the earthworms add to the soil in a natural manner. Besides, their burrows provide aeration without destroying the roots. Very often, when we use iron gardening forks to loosen the sand in our flower pots, we end up snapping all the roots except the tap root. Personally speaking, whenever I attempt this job, I do it rashly and carelessly, and by the time I am done, the plant is damaged. But the earthworms chew into the soil without hurting the roots, and add more nutrients before bringing the subsoil to the surface, thus enriching the top soil that is so important to farming. We describe that topsoil as fertile earth, in which leaves and other substances have dissolved. But it takes a lot of time for the leaves to dissolve naturally into the soil. The process is actually hastened by millipedes and earthworms.
We see large and black millipedes at the base of trees and on forest floors. They are harmless creatures, and whatever they eat, get mixed with the soil. Numerous studies have been done on this subject, and they indicate that the castings of these earthworms contain four times more phosphate than normal soil. Earthworms are seen more in untilled land. They get killed during ploughing whereas in untilled soil rich in organic matter, earthworms multiply and add soil up to half a centimetre in thickness in one year. It has been found that they bring up 50 tons of soil into one hectare of land. If we spread that quantity over one hectare of land, it will add an average thickness of half a centimetre to the topsoil.
This is the humongous service they render very silently. Studies have shown that a layer of top soil, up to 18 centimetres thick, gets added by earthworm activity in a land that remains untilled for 30 years. That is a mind-boggling figure indeed! Just imagine the kind of farming we can do in such a plot of land. But, unfortunately, we do not permit earthworms to live. We add stuff like lime paste and chemical fertilizers, and also urine as I said earlier, with little thought about the harm it does to these creatures.
Speaking of lime paste, I am reminded of an incident that took place during Vaikom Satyagraha. It seems those who opposed the satyagraha caught a participant named Subramaniam Namboodiri, and applied lime paste in his eyes. As a result, he went totally blind. Similarly, at Bhagalpur prison in Bihar, the police applied green chilly in the eyes of a group of habitual offenders, and made them blind. This incident was brought to light either at a public interest litigation at the Supreme Court, when Justice Bhagavati or someone else was presiding; or it was exposed by some journalist. This was in 1978-80. Such being the power of chilly, we add it with certain other substances like garlic, call it organic pesticideand sprinkle it on the soil. Not only earthworms but crores of micro-organisms and small insects also help in the growth of plants.
The very word “organic pesticide” is a wrong usage. “Organic” denotes life and “pesticides” implies killing. We often say that Bordeaux mixture is not very harmful. It may not be harmful to us but the mixture of copper sulphate and lime will certainly destroy micro-organisms. As a result, fungi will die. In this manner, we destroy a natural ecosystem and replace it with an artificial one. We see everything as pests, unnecessary entities and spend all our energy destroying them.
This is a flowering forest. If you go to any serpent grove near your locality, you will see huge trees growing there. Here too they grow, even without anyone giving them a drop of water, chemical fertilizer, organic or any other kind of manure. Even neem cakes are harmful to micro-organisms. Here insects eat the leaves. That is only natural. They will not be able to grow if they do not get butterfly larvae to eat. So the plant does not get destroyed. Hence there is a kind of balance in which all creatures can survive. If that balance is preserved, everything in Nature will proceed smoothly. But when that harmony is disturbed, problems arise.
Let me come back to our subject – soil. I am going to show you an experiment we conducted. You may do it too. Or choose not to do it even. This is not my own idea but one that was inspired by Manoj of Edavanakkad. He works sincerely in this field. I could see what he has done in his garden plot, and shared that experience in an earlier video. This is what he said: if you have an acre of land, set aside 10 cents exclusively for this experiment; or if you have only 10 cents, set aside one cent; or if you have only five cents, set aside half a cent. If your land is smaller, it may not be possible. Yet the experiment can still be done because every household will produce some waste anyway. Instead of burning the waste or throwing it by the wayside, leave it at a spot in your plot and leave it undisturbed. It will dissolve into the soil, provided you don’t pour kerosene over it, set it on fire, or add chemical pesticides into it, and earthworms will appear naturally and consume it. Gradually plants will begin to sprout at that spot. Or, you can raise whichever plant you want in that place.
Please remember that big trees might surely have grown in your plot in the past. They are no longer present. We see mango trees on roadside, though it is rare these days. Earlier, the mango and jack trees in our garden plots were very huge. So too the trees in the serpent groves in our localities. We had shown you a video earlier about Ponnakudam Bhagavathy Temple Trust and how it has an eight-acre plot designated exclusively for a forest. Commercially, the land is worth Rs 50 crores but the family has retained the forest and the sacred grove so that it spreads pure air in the region and ensures good water supply too.
Besides, there are several things we can learn from there. After trees grow to maturity, fungi grow on them. Sometimes, their formations change. Occasionally, the roots grow sideways. Such trees grew in our garden plots a long time back but they are not found anymore. The reasons are: we have chopped them off, our concept of farming has changed, we raise only those plants or trees that we like, and give them an artificial environment to grow in as is generally done in polyhouses. But, actually speaking, we avoid all organic objects and procedures in poly houses. These are problematic issues.
Those of you who belong to my age group will understand this. During my childhood, at home, there was a spot in our ten-cent plot where waste water, ash and other materials collected after the dishe were cleaned. All the dry leaves and rubbish was also heaped there, and they were not burnt. That suited my personal interest too because all that matter would rot, and I could collect a lot of earthworms from there when I went fishing. Plenty of ivy gourd vines grew there and climbed over the sheet overhanging this area. I have never seen such plentiful quantities of fruit anywhere else. Once every two or three days, I used a ladder to pluck the ivy gourds, and brought down basketfuls of them. Nobody ever bothered to manure the vine. Tomato plants also grew there, besides other shrubs.
Here, we have converted this plot into a laboratory. We are told that the pH value has to be 7, and we change the constitution of the soil to agree with that requirement. This is like the Procrustean bed. We should rather do farming that is suited to the soil that is available. There is no point in changing our garden plot radically in order to create a whole new world. It may be possible but the results may not match our expectations. The fruits we harvest from such methods may not agree with our body constitution. All the chemical fertilizers that we put at the base of the plants we raise will eventually enter our system.
This organic experiment can be done even in small spaces. We will be able to retain the plot in an organic manner. We won’t add neem cake because it is made of organic substances because Nature is able to create fertilizers that are better. But for that to happen, we should have micro-organisms and insects. Let me give you one more example. Many people from Europe migrated to Australia. Since cattle raising is very prominent in Europe, they took their huge cows to Australia where smaller animals like the kangaroo thrived. There are certain beetles that recycle kangaroo dung. They come under the category of decomposers.
Miyawaki says there are three types of living beings in Nature. Producers, like plants, that create food by using sunlight; consumers, like the rest of us; and decomposers, that break down whatever is discarded. What happened in Australia was that big cows arrived from Europe but there were no beetles that could decompose their dung. As a result, the dung heaps began to grow larger and larger. At first, that is, when the immigration took place in 1700 or thereabouts, it was not a problem. But by 1950, Australia was inundated by mountains of dung. Each cow dropped nearly 10-12 lumps of turd every day, and they remained there itself. A scientist who studied this problem, discovered that although there were more than 200 beetles in Australia, none of them could digest this cow dung. Thereafter, a project was launched to import beetles from Europe. More than 25 different species of beetles were released in various countries, including those in Africa and Asia. A few among them could decompose this dung, and that was how Australia found a solution to the problem.
In this manner, each micro-organism in our soil has its own special role to play. We use chemicals to remove them, add chemical fertilizers to the soil, and manage our agricultural affairs smoothly. With a little bit of patience, it is possible for us avoid such dangers and permit organic processes to progress unhindered in our plots. We won’t have long to wait. If we follow the Miyawaki Model, two or three years should suffice for the soil to regain its former state. You can see that here. There are groups of earthworms at various spots. We have laid plenty of coir all over in order to let them eat all they can. Here you see tender coconut husks that are getting decomposed and becoming part of the soil. The organic quality of the soil is changing and the plants are growing well.
It is possible for you too to conduct such natural experiments. I don’t suggest that you use up the entire plot for it. But you can set apart a small portion, as much as you can afford, without nursing any fear about snakes. Not everyone who is interested in agriculture can do it freely because the consent of the other members of the family has to be sought. There are other practical problems as well. But I request that you set aside a small portion of your land for such a kind of farming.