As they say, if you are enthusiastic about something, you will find a way to do it. Pune resident, Sujata Naphade did just that. Her enthusiasm and interest in gardening and the natural way of living drew her into organic farming.
Sujata Naphade converted a 3,500 square feet plot into a sprawling garden wherein she grows a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. The produce is sufficient for feeding three families comprising of about 10-12 people.
The Logical Indian spoke to Sujata Naphade, who took us through her journey.
How did the idea of cultivating a farm in a city come about?
Sujata: It is not exactly a farm, it’s a residential plot which we have converted into a garden. We did not want to construct on the plot, which belonged to my brother-in-Law, so with his permission we converted it into the garden as it was lying idle. We always wanted to grow plants using only organic and natural method. We are also maintaining a terrace garden for last 6-7 years, but it has its own limitation of space. This problem was solved by the garden.
What kind of fruits and vegetables do you grow?
Sujata: In vegetables, we grow ladies finger, sponge gourd, bottle gourd, bitter gourd, cow beans, chillies, lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, malabar spinach, sweet potato, brinjal (three different varieties), cherry tomato, local tomato, radish, castor. We even grow wide variety of herbs like Basil (three varieties), oregano, thyme, chives, lemongrass, peppermint leaves. In fruits, we grow banana, passion fruit, dragon fruit, mulberry, strawberry, plum cherry, orange, papaya, gooseberry, grapes, guava, mango, lemon, coconut, java apple, pomegranate, custard apple, etc. We also grow tulsi, haldi, ginger and desi cotton.
How much time do you spend working in the plot?
Sujata: I spend about one hour daily on the plot and about 20 minutes on the terrace garden. There are three families – mine, my brother’s and my brother-in-law’s. We all stay in close vicinity. Everybody enjoys gardening and hence there is very enthusiastic participation. Since we consume the produce of this garden, it is also a necessity that we all work together to maintain it. My husband and I go daily, we have been doing it for quite a few years and I enjoy it. The three families in total have about 10-12 members, so as and when required we all come together to work on this.
Since you mentioned all your family members consume the produce of the farm, so to what extent are you dependent on the farm for your daily food needs?
Sujata: Although we are pretty self-sufficient because of the farm, but for many other things like onion and ginger, we still go to market. This is because we have just started. Growing crops like this would require fertilizers and we don’t really want to use any artificial fertilizer here. For example, if I want to grow Methi, I would require fertilizer and cow dung, which would for sure improve the growth. But we are strictly following the natural way of farming. Even when we started, the soil in the plot was full of weed and small stones. We improved the quality of the soil by using brown leafs as a manure. We also use parts of plants for improving the quality of the soil.
You avoid using even cow dung as a fertilizer, why is that?
Sujata: The main reason for that is availability. Even the farmers, they are not able to procure the required amount fertilizer. During my research on the subject of natural farming, we came across many farmers, who said getting cow dung in such a great amount will be difficult. Only growing crops is not the aim, we also want to be more sustainable. I follow Subhash Palekar’s (prominent agriculturist who practiced Zero Budget Natural Farming) method of using “Jeevamruth”. “Jeevamruth” is a mixture of cow dung, cow urine, jaggery, buttermilk and any flour, which is further diluted and used only once in a month. The amount of cow dung we use in this very less. The speciality of using Jeevamruth is that we don’t have to use it for long durations. After using it for 6-7 years, the quality of soil sees a great improvement. It is also very diluted, upto 1:20 proportion. It has 1 kg cow dung, 1 litres cow urine and 10 litres of water. This mixture is further diluted.
What inspired you towards gardening and natural farming?
Sujata: The main motivation of taking up natural farming was to avoid food and vegetables grown with the help of pesticides. I hold a BTech degree in Agriculture and come from a family of farmers. My grandparents are farmers and even my mother-in-law is into farming. We are always discussing about the side effects of chemicals infested food – this among other things inspired me to take up natural farming.
What were the challenges you faced when started? And what are the challenges you face even now?
Sujata: Not a difficulty per se, but I would say lack of knowledge is surely a roadblock. Also it is quite a task obtaining local variety over the hybrid variety. The local variety of vegetables/ fruits are found very less nowadays. For example, I was trying to find local variety of sponge gourd, but I was unsuccessful. So I have been reusing the seeds of vegetables of my own farm for the last 6-7 years. I have also read that if we reuse seeds of the plants for 12 years, we might be able to arrive at the original variety. I maintain a seed bank, this year itself, I could procure 300-400 seeds from as single Sponge Gourd, which I distributed among other gardening enthusiasts. Apart from this, knowing which season is best suited for growing which vegetable. Like, when I planted Bottle Gourd during off season, it gave almost nil produce. However post September, it started giving a lot of produce. So, it is a learning process. We cannot completely rely on one person’s knowledge or experience, we have to use the available knowledge in accordance to our own farm and kind of vegetables and fruits we want to grow.
What would you like to suggest those who want to take up natural farming?
Sujata: Firstly, I think farming should be done in accordance with the rules of nature. We should understand environment and should not disturb nature during the whole process. Local variety should be given preference over the hybrid variety, it is a lot healthier. Growing plants as per the season is also important.
What are your future plans regarding natural and organic farming?
The final destination is living in harmony with nature. Also assisting farmers with the ways of natural farming. Since we are not using any kind of pesticide and artificial fertilizers, the cost comes down drastically. This would make the farmers a lot less dependent on external agency. We also plan to conduct workshops on natural farming. I have been doing this on smaller scale, but I would like to further expand the reach of it.
Your suggestions to The Logical Indian community?
Sujata: I would like to say that we have to live in harmony with nature. Respecting nature and its rules are very important. I would also urge people to demand for local variety of vegetables and fruits. According to Ayurveda, consuming seasonal food is very beneficial to health, so it would be great if all of us eat healthy and seasonal food. We should strive to live in coherence with nature. All of this can be summed up in two words- “Go Natural”.
Written By – Shraddha Goled