Our regular viewers may be wondering: Who’s this grey-haired man? It’s me. I had given word to my daughter that I would stop dyeing my hair, on turning 60. That explains my new look!
Today we are going to meet a man you know already. He is Ajithkumar from Kilimanoor. I have found his farming methods very unique. Everyone who is involved in farming speaks of losses. The reasons are largely labour issues and expenses. However, when a trained engineer, expertly manages farming with his practical wisdom and scientific knowledge, I feel slightly envious. I cannot replicate his model. But let us find out from him the techniques he employs.
I had introduced Ajithkumar sir earlier, and spoken to you about his technical expertise. Many viewers have shown interest in learning more about his farming methods. Right now, his farming has reached its peak. Next month, you will be retiring, isn’t it?
Thereafter, he’ll become a full-time farmer. He has shifted from engineering to farming. His expertise lies in integrating new technology with farming. In this plot, he had implemented a few lessons he learned from personal experience. In helping the growth of the root systems of plants and in manuring the soil, he follows the Miyawaki Model. In following a kind of multi-crop farming method too, he has adopted the Miyawaki principles. He has various types of plants and trees growing in close proximity in this plot, in tune with high-density farming method. He has incorporated a few of his own ideas too. He does farming in many acres of land. This particular plot covers one acre, and we are standing right in the middle of it. Common people may wonder how he is able to do it; how mango trees, planted so close to each other, produce fruit; how his two-and-a-half-year-old coconut palms yield coconuts and so on. Let us find out more about his methods.
Sir, can you tell us about the crops you grow in this plot?
This is a one-acre plot. I’ve put up a wire fence all around it that is ten feet tall, and trained passion fruit creepers all over it. The entire length of the fence will come to 250 metres. Multiply it with ten feet. That will give us 7,500 sq. feet as total area. This is a vertical garden, which doesn’t use up the surface area of the earth. The fence reduces the possibility of creatures coming in, and gives us some privacy too.
It is covered with passion fruit creepers all over?
Yes, passion fruit. If the plant grows well, you’ll get nearly 10-20 kilos of passion fruit every week.
Farmers who own one acre of land generally say that they cannot eke out a living from farming alone. This is to prove them wrong. Those who are interested can try this out. I did not copy this from anywhere. Usually, it is said that we can grow only 70 coconut trees in one acre of plot. They have to be spaced out, leaving seven to nine metres between two palms. The usual method is to plant them in a line. Instead of that, I’ve adopted the zig-zag method.
Normally farmers plant the coconut trees in a line. You do it diagonally.
Yes. As a result, there is a distance of 14-16 metres between two palms. Even if the palms grow up to 10 metres in height, their shadows won’t overlap.
That is, one coconut tree will not cast its shade on another.
Yes. As a result, the coconut trees will not grow very tall. It is in search of sunlight that these trees grow to such heights. If you plant a coconut tree in the middle of a ground or a field, even after 25 years, that palm will remain at the same height. There will be only a minor difference. The leaves will be bunched close to one another.
What about the next crop?
I have planted mango trees. A total of 500 trees in one acre, planted in rows. The distance between the rows is three metres, and the distance between the trees is two metres. After the trees grow to a height of one-and-a-half metres, we crop 90 cm of their height. Then, after five or six branches sprout, we cut 45 cm of the height. As a result, the leaf cover of each mango tree will be like an umbrella with a diameter of one metre. The lateral tips of the trees, planted in one line, will just touch one another but they will not touch across the rows. We will be able to walk between the rows.
In other words, the mango trees will cover the entire line but there will be space between the rows of mango trees so that we can walk beneath them. That is why you keep the rows three metres apart. Not only for that. The space between the rows can be utilized for growing other crops. I allow the mango trees to flower only after three years.
Let me seek your clarification. The distance between this mango tree and the other is two metres. The distance between a mango tree in one row and a mango tree in the next row is three metres.
Only if you space them like that will you be able to plant 690 trees in one acre. If I kept only two- metre distance between the rows, I could plant 1,000 mango trees. One acre of land comes to nearly 4,000 sq. m. Hence, you will have one mango tree in every four metres of land, if you grow only mango trees.
You have reduced the number to 500. And planted 30 coconut trees. And you have peanut butter fruit plant too?
Yes, small, fruit-bearing plants like that.
Do you have a count of that?
No. I planted one quite by accident. It was later that I started cultivating them at four levels.
One was by accident. But when you saw that it yielded income, you planted more?
Yes. It has a good market overseas. A kilo costs about Rs 300 or Rs 400. Our people have not developed a taste for it. The mango trees should be permitted to fruit only after three years. So, if each mango tree has 60 branches, we get around 60 bunches of mangoes.
That is, until the tree has around 60 branches, you keep pruning them. As we do with rose shrubs. Yes. The 60 branches will hold 60 bunches of fruit. Each branch will be permitted to hold only one fruit. So, one mango tree will produce 60 fruits. Each mango will have an impressive size. The tree will be only seven feet tall, and when the mangoes ripen, they will come down.
With 500 mango trees, you will get 30,000 mangoes.
Yes. Three mangoes weigh up to one kilo, on an average. This is the local variety called “Kottukonam”. And it has a local market. It is very popular in Thiruvananthapuram. Maybe because of its taste.
In other words, you 1,000 kilos of mango.
Yes. We can protect each mango with a cover. Nearly 95 % of the yield can be saved in that manner, and marketed without any damage.
It is easy to pluck too, using a hook and net, without allowing them to fall on the ground.
We need not use a hook. We can pluck using our bare hands. After the harvest, all the branches should be cut.
Yes, leaving only the bare tree to stand. Then, give the tree six months to grow new branches. In that time interval, we can grow amaranthus.
Sir, what you’re saying is that after the mango harvest, the tree should be pruned so that it looks like a bare shrub?
Yes. Now, there is plenty of space, and vegetables can be grown here. All the organic manure and water we give the vegetable plants will benefit the mango trees also. As for the coconut trees, I’ve had to spend Rs 5,000 on them. That’s because, I had to get a JCB to dig one-and-a-half-metre-deep holes at regular intervals of two metres, remove the surface soil and sub-surface soil into two different heaps, and fill three-fourths of each hole with a mixture of organic manure. The manure mixture had to be prepared in advance, using the husk of tender coconut, cow dung, hen poop and leaves, made through composting, that is, through WDC (Waste Decomposer for Compost-making). It had to be mixed thoroughly with the soil before I planted the coconut palms. That much manure will take the palms through the next five to six years. As the roots grow, the tree will become healthy. I’ve planted indigenous coconut trees. They have not fruited even after two-and-a-half years.
Indigenous coconut trees take seven to eight years to yield fruits.
Yes. Now, we have cut the spathes. Or else, you could have seen them. That is a very positive thing.
Have you given this manure to the mango trees too?
Yes, organic manure is given to all plants here.
You spread all that manure at the time of planting?
Yes, after digging deep holes.
And you have planted banana plants in between.
You can plant banana plants in the first three years, if you’re interested in it. Otherwise, you can think of any other vegetable plant. I’ve planted 1,000 banana plants here in = one row between the rows of mango trees. They are bunched close to one another, with only one metre distance between two plants within the three-metre gap separating the rows of mango trees. The two banana plants, planted side by side, produce the bunches of fruits on opposite sides!
How does that happen?
After the bunches of bananas from the mother plant are chopped, new shoots will appear close to the mother plant. If you observe closely, all of them will lean outwards and, after six months, produce bunches towards the outer side. This is known to old-time farmers. The problem is that this is not shared with everyone. That is the reason why many people are unaware of this phenomenon. The advantage is that if we plant banana plants on either side of the road leading to our house, they will produce fruits that will overhang the path. The banana plants here have begun to put out fruits. If you watch keenly, you’ll be able to understand my point.
Is there anything else to consider while planting the corms of the banana plants?
We should not dig deep holes for planting banana plants.
But won’t they topple over?
No. Use a shovel to make a hole and keep the corm slanting, as you plant it. We usually keep it upright.
That is, we should not keep it vertically?
No. It should slant slightly.
As it grows, the plant will right itself, isn’t it so?
Yes. All these plants you see here were planted in that manner. The advantage is that they will not fall over, in the wind. That is because the roots have grown sideways too. If you plant the corm vertically, the roots will go down vertically, and there are greater chances of the plant toppling. Besides, every time you add organic manure, the soil should be mixed thoroughly. We don’t have to add any other matter. Newer and newer layers of roots will form and move outwards.
You don’t plant banana plants in the first three years?
No. That is because I don’t want the mango trees to be stunted.
After that, we can do whatever we want.
You can plant any type of vegetable plant among the mango trees. But during the first three years, you can think of growing flowering plants, like Yellow Chrysanthemum . . .
Yes, there is Yellow Chrysanthemum here. And also basil, lady’s finger, brinjal . . .
You can grow all kinds of vegetables, wherever there is a gap. As the soil is fertile, we need to allow the roots to grow, not the plants. If we create a favourable environment for the roots to grow, they will permit the plants to grow too. We saw that in the case of coconut trees. The same is true of the mango trees. Generally, people plant banana plants far apart in order to get huge bunches of fruit. That is not required. If we plant them far apart, instead of 1,000, we may have only 300 or 500 plants. If a bunch of bananas weighs 10 kilos, we get a total of 5,000 kilos.
Yes, five tons.
But in this case, where the plants are planted close to one another, each bunch of fruits will be smaller and may weigh only eight kilos. Even then, we get 8,000 kilos.
In place of five tons, we get eight tons.
Moreover, shopkeepers find it easier to sell smaller bunches. Additionally, the farmer gets to work all 365 days of the year in his own plot of land. He can sell passion fruits, Yellow Chrysanthemums, basil . . .
The banana stem is also valuable. We get 20 or 30 kilos of it.
Indeed. It can be used as organic manure. Another advantage is that wherever its roots go, air holes appear in the soil . . .
So, there is aeration too . . .
Yes, aeration of the soil. That is a good thing. It will hold all the water the banana plant requires throughout the year. Thus, there are many advantages. If you plant Yellow Chrysanthemums, the chances of pest attack get reduced considerably.
Sir, you’ve place rain hose here?
Yes, at a distance of six metres. So, water gets sprinkled on both sides to a distance of three metres. If we employ labourers to do it, their constant walking can damage the base of the plants. The hose will be dragged here and there . . .
That is avoided here . . .
Not only that. The gentle spray of water from the sprinkler will ensure the flowers do not fall and the plants are not damaged. The water falls evenly and even the roots get wet. Instead, if I use the drip irrigation system, some places will get more water and some spots will not get any. If we do rubber cultivation in one acre of land, we will never get above Rs 50,000.
We can do tapioca cultivation in between too, can’t we?
It’s better not to go for tapioca farming. It will leave the soil dry. Besides, it will attract mice and rats.
What about vegetables?
Yes, you can grow them continuously . . .
African bird’s eye chilly and curry leaf plants do not require a lot of sunlight, do they?
African bird’s eye chilly will fetch you up to Rs 2,000 in the market. But that will cover only the labour cost. If we want only to work, we can opt for that variety. Otherwise, it is better to go for the large chilly. Harvesting the African bird’s eye chilly will take the entire day, and the returns will cover only the labour cost.
So, this is your integrated farming method, isn’t it, sir?
It requires some substantial investment. There is some bit of calculation that goes into farming. The profit that we get from 70 coconut trees can be made from 32, if we get 200 coconuts on an average. Besides, we get 10,000 kilos of mangoes (from 30,000 mangoes at the rate of three mangoes per kilo).
So, my earlier calculation was wrong! That translates to Rs 15 lakhs already.
Let us concentrate on the minimum returns. Instead of Rs 200 per kilo, let’s calculate with Rs 50 per kilo. That means, Rs 5 lakhs. There is profit from coconuts, passion fruits, flowers and vegetables. But we have to invest heavily in the beginning. For example, if we buy one acre of land in a remote area at the rate of 30,000 rupees. We may have to spend an additional amount of Rs 5,000 or Rs 10,000 per cent as investment. In such a case, we can earn profit within our own lifetime.
I understand. After the first three years, we will begin to get profit.
Yes. Rubber will fetch returns only after eight or nine years. Here, on the other hand, we will begin to get money after 30 days. As soon as the soil is prepared, we can plant amaranthus because the land is lying vacant. You can see that there is no forest here. That’s because sunlight does not fall here much. If we plant trees in this fashion, there won’t be much sunlight on the ground.
When we sow amaranthus seeds, we have to take care . . .
not to sow them all in one single day.
Yes, spread it over several days, one day after another.
Do you use a small tiller?
How much does it cost?
There is subsidy available for it. The cost comes to Rs 48,000. There is subsidy but I’ve not availed of it. After the mango harvest, the entire soil has to be tilled. I use this machine for it. The small roots will break. But new ones will form. If we till the land slightly away from the trees, we can plant other vegetable saplings there. Another point to remember is that we should plant them in rows according to the path of the sun. The sun starts from the east and goes to the west, via the south. As a result, the shadow will not fall from the north. Thus, when we do farming, we should plant the saplings of tall plants at the northern end, never at the southern end. You must pay attention to it in putting up your Miyawaki forests too.
This is applicable to the raising of all kinds of crops.
Yes. Farmers who grow betel leaves know that. Since it is vertical farming, the farmers calculate the path of the sun.
Tall plants should not be planted to the south. Always select the north.
The north-south line will be the best. The reason is that there will be a lot of sunlight coming from the east and from the west. At noon, all the plants will get the full effect of sunlight. Such factors have to be taken into consideration.
We should pay attention to many such aspects of farming that come from close observation. He is not merely telling this to us, but showing it by example.
What I say is roughly demonstrated here.
Those of you who have doubts may come here, and see things for yourself.
We’ll learn more about it during the next mango harvesting season.
What you saw in these last few minutes was the farming method adopted by Mr Ajithkumar, and its special features. He spoke about it in a simple style. All of us can follow his method. He showed us how we can make a profit of Rs 10 lakhs from farming in a one-acre plot. The one shortcoming is that it calls for heavy initial investment. But that is not entirely a shortcoming. Every business requires initial investment. All of us in Kerala should follow this method.
Nearly 40 years back, Dr K. N. Raj, who was an eminent economist, Vice Chancellor of several universities and Director of CDS, said that every inch of our land in Kerala should be used for farming. He himself followed that dictum, growing cloves by allowing waste water from the bathroom to flow along a ditch to his garden. I remember him saying that he grew everything except paddy on his 80- cent-hilly plot at Kumarapuram. He called on everyone to follow that method but nobody paid any serious attention to it. But it is not too late, even now.
In the past 40-odd years, the vegetables that we purchase from our markets have been contaminated with the use of fertilizers and pesticides. It is possible to avoid it completely and change our lifestyle by adopting this farming method. Let us all try to follow in his footsteps.