In the last episode, we had an elaborate session with Mr Abraham Chacko who follows organic farming methods to successfully grow cardamom in his plot at Udumbanchola. Today he and his wife Chachi teacher talk about certain other subjects, for instance, the Pathila kashaayam [a ten-leaf concoction] and the buttermilk treatment they use in cardamom farming.

Let me say at the very outset that you may notice some contradictions between the last episode and this one. In the last episode, we mentioned how pests and weeds are very good, and how pest control takes place naturally. In this, we talk about sprinkling the ten-leaf concoction. That is because chemical pesticide spray had been used on a massive scale in this plot and the neighbouring ones earlier. It continues to be used in the adjacent plots. Therefore, naturally, there is a possibility that pests from those areas will come over here.

In reality, this is a kind of hormone treatment too. Various kinds of leaves are crushed, ground and mixed, left to ferment and the liquid is sprayed on plants. The result is that plants show good growth, and there is some control over the pests also. Let us listen to what they have to say. Perhaps when you are involved in monocrop cultivation as they are, pest control becomes necessary. Maybe it won’t be needed if you intermix species because, in that case, predator and prey will keep each other in check. Perhaps pesticides are essential here.

Teacher, you mentioned the ten-leaf concoction treatment you follow in order to control pests. Can you tell us in detail how you make the concoction?

It has only been two years since we started spraying the ten-leaf concoction. We did not have the problem of serious pest attack earlier. That was because we have biodiversity here. Besides, many of the species are pest-resistant. As for the concoction, we use ten types of leaves. The alkaloids contained in the leaves do a lot of good to the plants. That was the reason why we started doing it last year. It yielded good results. Plants grew well.

So it was to preserve the health of plants, wasn’t it? And not exactly to control the pests?

There weren’t too many pests here to drive away. The health of the plants improved because of the alkaloids. Of course, pests were controlled too. Everything was taken care of.

What are the ingredients? How did you make it?

We used a 200-litre barrel for the purpose. First, pour 20 litres of cow urine sourced from indigenous species. Then take another vessel and collect 5 litres of water in it. Put 2 kg of dung – taken from indigenous cows – in this water and mix it thoroughly into a consistent solution. Next, mix it well with the 20 litres of cow urine, add 120 litres of water into the barrel, mix the entire solution once again, and close the mouth of the barrel with a jute cloth. The next day, add 500 gm of ginger.

As we source ginger from our own plot, we use only 500 gm. If you’re buying from the market, add 1 kg of ginger. The ginger we grow in our soil is pure and organic. Next, add 500 gm of turmeric. Last year, we grew African bird’s eye chilly in our plot. So we could add 500 gm of that as well. This year, we didn’t get it because of heavy rain. Therefore we bought 500 gm of a very spicy variety of chilly (locally called karanam potti) from the market, ground all the ingredients (ginger, turmeric and chilly) into a paste, and added it to the solution.

Leave the mixture undisturbed for two days so that fermentation takes place. On the third day, add half a kilo of garlic paste to it. Thereafter, add ten types of leaves into it. The leaves should be finely shredded. Two kilos of each kind should be added. Neem [Azadirachta indica], Pongamia [Millettia pinnata], Thorn apple [Datura stramonium], Custard apple [Annona reticulata] and Crown flower [Calotropis gigantea] are mandatory. Also add five types of leaves that cows do not eat: Drumstick [Moringa oleifera], Hoary basil [Ocimum Americanum], Papaya [Carica papaya], Lantana [Lantana camara], Castor [Ricinus communis] and Five-leaved chaste tree [Vitex negundo]. Any five of these, depending on the availability, may be added but Castor is an essential ingredient. Camphor basil [Ocimum kilimandscharicum] may also be added. The tender stems of these leaves may also be shredded and added to the solution. After stirring it, leave the barrel in a shaded place. Neither sunlight nor rain must fall on it. Every day, in the mornings and evenings, stir it for two minutes.

Should we add soil to it?

How many days should we stir the solution?

Forty days.

That is a long period of time.

Yes. After 40 days, strain the solution through a fine spun cloth, and preserve it in a container. Take 4 litres of this solution and mix it with 100 litres of water and spray it. We get about 150 litres from a barrel.

How long should we do this treatment?

Pest attack is generally very intense in Kerala during April-May and September-October. That is when the sun comes very close to the earth. So we should spray this solution two months before and one month after these phases. But if you keenly observe your plants, as soon as you see the eggs, spray the solution. As the solution contains the essence of neem, the eggs will not hatch. The health of the plants will also improve and the leaves will become deep green. In other words, spray it especially on full moon and new moon days because that is when the pests lay eggs. 

Teacher, besides this ten-leaf concoction, what other organic medicinal treatments do you carry out here?

Our farming was a chemical one before we switched over to organic farming. The transition takes time. And a few things had to be done in the initial stages. One of them was the use of buttermilk. Milk from indigenous cow is used to make curd. The curd is churned, the butter removed and the buttermilk is collected in an earthen pot. You get one litre of buttermilk from two litres of curd. After collecting buttermilk every day, leave it to ferment for five days. That improves the hormonal quality of the buttermilk. Subhash Palekar says buttermilk has anti-fungal properties. Besides, it has a hormonal effect too. The flowering capacity of plants increases. Indigenous cows do not yield huge quantities of milk. So we collect whatever we get every day, store it in an earthen pot and aerate it daily. As a result, even after five or ten days, it will not go sour. Even after ten days, the taste of the buttermilk will remain the same. You just need to aerate it. Then spray it over the plants. You will be able to see the difference. The plants will become greener.

What is the ratio? How much water do you add?

Pour 5 litres of buttermilk in 200 litres of water.

That is, one litre of buttermilk in 40 litres of water. You can go up to 5-6 litres. After you spray it, you will see how healthy the plants become.

What else do you do?

Coconut water can also be used. Go to shops that make copra [sun-dried coconut] or to oil mills, and leave your jerry can there. They will fill your can with coconut water. But you should not permit the coconut water to ferment. Use it that very day or the next day, following the same ratio as we do with buttermilk. Five litres of coconut water in 200 litres of water.

Do you spray the solution on the leaves or pour it at the base of the plants?

We spray it all over the plant. When Biju [Abraham Chacko] does it, even the weeds get sprayed on!

As you said earlier, sir, that is to improve the carbon content, isn’t it?

Yes. It improves the photosynthetic efficiency of the plants, and also their hormonal efficiency. When photosynthesis improves, solar energy gets converted to biochemical energy, and it enters the soil in the form of carbon molecules.

Another discovery of ours is the Saptadhaanya angura kashaayam [concoction of seven types of sprouted seeds]. As the name indicates, we take seven types of seeds, allow them to sprout, then grind the mixture to a paste, and make a solution. The major seeds are sesame [Sesamum indicum] (since it takes more time than the other seeds to sprout, soak them a day before you soak the rest in water), chick pea [Cicer arietinum], green gram [Vigna radiata], cow pea [Vigna unguiculata], green pea [Pisum sativum], horse gram [Macrotyloma uniflorum], whole black gram [Vigna mungo], pigeon pea [Cajanus cajan], ragi or finger millet [Eleusine coracana], soy bean [Glycine max] and whatever else you can procure, like wheat and so on. Soak them in water and later tie them up in a towel. They will sprout. Then grind all these sprouted seeds into a paste. Add 100 gm of each of them to 200 litres of water and 10 litres of cow urine. Do not use cow dung. For ionic exchange to take place, leave the solution undisturbed for four hours. We grind all the seeds to a paste in the morning, mix it with water and cow urine, leave it for four hours and then spray it on plants from top to bottom. You can make this solution with Navadhaanya [nine types of seeds] too. We generally prefer that.

This is a very traditional method. And they have explained it in detail. You may follow it if you wish. Please experiment with this method. And when you get good results, please remember to inform us. I have not done such an experiment so far. Since I have a variety of plants and trees in my plot, I have not had the need to do it. But I certainly wish to try it on a cardamom plantation. And if I get positive results, I shall inform you.