From barren land to rich forest
Poornima Kandi visits Vanashree, a farm located at Maralawadi in Bangalore, and is impressed by the rich biodiversity there.Away from the maddening traffic, a 50-km drive from Bangalore City on Kanakapura highway, leads to a serene organic farm, Vanashree. Located at Maralawadi, this farm is surrounded by gently wooded hills, overlooking the Bannerghatta forest range.
This eight-acre farm has been nurtured by Priti and Srikanth, a young urban couple, for the last six years with primary focus being eco-sustainability. Once a barren land, today Vanashree boasts of rich biodiversity.
Vanashree resembles a mini forest with nearly 4,500 trees comprising 160 species. Out of the eight acres, nearly six acres are dotted with trees. The species are chosen based on economic and ecological value. Three rows of trees surround the perimeter of the farm, which runs for nearly 800 metres.
The farm has a good mix of fruit trees that can generate income over the long run (coconut, mango, sapota) and timber trees too (teak, silver oak, acacia, rosewood). Jamun (syzygium cumini), banyan, peepal and Indian fig trees are also planted with the intention of increasing the biodiversity on the farm. Srikanth informs, “Today we have nearly 70 varieties of birds and 20 varieties of butterflies on our farm.
Thanks to the birds and insects, nearly 300 to 400 neem trees have grown naturally without our intervention.” The farm boasts of melingtonia, Barbados cherry, sandalwood, wood apple, Ashoka, cashew, red sanders (raktachandana) and many more varieties. In an area where normally four-five trees are grown by other farmers, Prithi and Srikanth have demonstrated that 15 trees can be grown successfully. The tree species are carefully chosen so that they do not compete with each other for sunlight and nutrients.
The distance between the trees is nearly four-five feet. The coconut trees are interlaid with mango trees, while the chickoo trees are grown between the mango trees. These are interspaced with timber trees, which act as wind barriers while the wild varieties attract birds and insects.
Essential vegetables, greens and cereals are grown in this farm along with fodder crop. Amaranth greens (locally known as dantu) interposed with bright pink and orange hibiscus plants adorn the pathway to this farm.
Cereals such as ragi, paddy, maize and pulses such as tur dal, Bengal gram and flat beans (avarekai) have been successfully grown in the farm. In less than 1/10th of an acre, vegetables such as tomatoes, brinjal, lady’s finger, radish and chillies are being cultivated. This patch also has greens such as spinach, dil and coriander.
Integrated farming system
The farm is not just about trees. Prithi and Srikanth have incorporated livestock, poultry and apiculture in their land. There are Malnad gidda and Hallikar cow breeds along with poultry, ducks and guinea fowl.
The milk and eggs are being used by the caretaker, Shanmukha and his family, who reside on the farm. In addition, carp fish was introduced by the couple on an experimental basis in a rainwater harvesting tank, dug up in the farm. Bee-keeping is also being done on the farm and on an average, two kg of honey is being extracted from a single box of bees.
One ecological step at a time
Simple techniques such as growing pulses to fix nitrogen in the soil have led to great improvement in the soil quality and fertility. This has led to increase in the organic matter of the soil too. Prithi says, “we tried to follow one of the vermicomposting methods from a book and found it laborious. We once forgot to transfer the worms to the organic waste heap and to our surprise, the worms had moved on their own.
This was a eureka moment for us! We decided to do vermicompsoting in a simple way and this has worked well for us. Today, if we dig up any part of the land, we see earth worms everywhere.” The land is now fertile and does not need additional inputs. Wash from the cowshed serves as good manure to the fodder crops, which are grown abundantly adjacent to it. Zero tillage is being followed for the banana plantation. The side foliage of the plantation is not removed for natural mulching.
Crops such as coffee and arecanut are grown in the abundant shade, which is ideal for their growth.
The couple have efficiently made use of natural resources available on the farm. Solar energy has been harnessed and used to power the house of the caretaker located on the farm. A gobar gas plant located close to the cow shed provides fuel to the kitchen.
Efforts have been made to conserve water by harvesting rain. An artificial reservoir was constructed across a slope to collect and store rain water by taking advantage of local mounds and depressions. The main purpose of this tank is to recharge ground water and act as an emergency reservoir for cattle.
Mulching undertaken in the farm helps in conservation of soil moisture thus reducing the dependency on additional water. The soil is covered by crops which reduce and slow down surface water run off, leading to lower evaporation loss. The tree cover on the edge of the field slows down the wind speed and reduces evaporation.
Efficient watering systems such as drip irrigation and sprinklers have reduced the water consumption by plants. What was just a barren piece of undulating land six years ago is now a treat to the eyes.