Venturing into fields less explored

Venturing into fields less explored

Ashwini with cabbage

For years, it was believed that winter vegetables would not grow in this region because of the warm climate. But if you happen to visit the farms of Ashwini Krishnamoorthy, Bhagyalakshmi Bhide, Geethalakshmi and Annapoorneshwari in Dakshina Kannada and Kasargod districts, you will be surprised to find cabbage, cauliflower and radish welcoming you to the fields.

The experimental spirit among farmers to try out new crops has made winter vegetables a hit among around 400 farmers in Dakshina Kannada and the neighbouring Kasargod district, with women leading from the front.

These women are gradually creating a niche for themselves and scripting success stories by introducing non-traditional, especially cool-season vegetables, in the region. Though not grown for commercial purpose, their success has motivated others to experiment with new types of vegetables.

The experiments to grow winter vegetables in warm weather conditions were initiated with support from Kerala Agricultural University and C Narayana Kutty, a professor at Mannuthy Agriculture Research Station in Thrissur.

Another noticeable aspect is that all these women are totally into organic farming and are promoting it as a gateway to healthy living.

“For the last one month, cauliflower and cabbage are a regular in the kitchen. Be it palya, sambar, gobi manchurian or salad, we have been able to relish them all. It is a nice feeling to grow a new crop. I enjoyed each stage of the cultivation and was thrilled to harvest the first crop. Further, these vegetables taste so good when they are fresh from the farm,” says Ashwini Krishnamoorthy from Adyanadka in Dakshina Kannada district.

Recalling her tryst with cauliflower and cabbage, she says, “We had actually stopped eating cauliflower and cabbage after seeing pesticides and insecticides sprayed over acres of farmland in Ooty around 25 years ago. Though I had heard of a farmer successfully cultivating cabbage for the past four years, I had not actually ventured into it till last year. A progressive farmer from Mysuru lent me cabbage plants in October 2017. I planted them in a raised bed and covered it with plastic, applied cow dung manure and was successful in getting a good harvest. This season, seedlings of cauliflower and cabbage were transplanted in November 2018 and the crop is ready for harvest.”

This year, she has planted 60 cabbage and cauliflower saplings each. Though caterpillar is a major pest, it can be controlled through biocontrol methods. The harvest was good. My friends and relatives wait for homegrown cabbage and cauliflowers,” she says. Radish, which was introduced here a couple of years ago, is a familiar crop now.

Bhagyalakshmi Bhide in Mangaluru, says, “I began experimenting with cabbage and cauliflower after attending a workshop on winter crops organised by Savayava Krishikara Balaga in the city last December. Of the five plants, only one survived and I could harvest one cabbage. This time, I purchased seeds online and grew seedlings on pro trays. I have given the seedlings to my neighbours to try in their kitchen garden. It felt good to experiment with winter vegetables in Mangaluru. In addition, I grow vegetables such as palak, pudina, coriander leaves, tomato on my small patch of land organically for household consumption.”

It was farmer and journalist Shree Padre who introduced these winter vegetables to Geethalakshmi from Padre village in Kasargod.

“I planted in rows by giving enough space for cabbage and cauliflower — both have grown well. We could cultivate it without any chemical pesticides. The taste of the vegetables is much better than what is available in the market. In spite of pests attacking cauliflower and cabbage, we strived to succeed in its cultivation. My daughter Pranjali and other family members also supported me. We have planted around 20 to 30 seedlings of cauliflower and the same number of cabbage plants. I have also grown around 25 radish plants. I have
decided to grow cauliflower and cabbage next year too.”

Providing a lead

Dr Annapoorneshwari, an Ayurvedic practitioner who has successfully grown these vegetables in Kasargod, says, “Children are happy with cabbage and cauliflower as they get gobi manchurian and other delicacies during the harvest season. As these crops are new to our soil and weather conditions, it may take time to zero in on a cultivation practice and we are slowly learning from our own experiences and also share our experiences with others through a WhatsApp group.”

She has observed that unlike other
conventionally grown vegetables, peacocks have not caused damage to winter crops. Further, cauliflowers grown here are generally worm-free. Last year, one piece weighed around 1.50 kg and this year, 1.25 kg. These crops can be made commercially viable as the farmer gets the harvest in short duration and there is a market for it. “I not only planted in my farmland but also shared a few plants with my neighbours. Compared to other vegetables, I feel these winter crops are much easy to cultivate.”

Out of a dozen winter vegetables, cabbage and cauliflower have emerged as the representative crops and are popular. There are also efforts to sell these vegetables whenever there is a good harvest.

If these winter vegetables are grown on a large scale by several farmers and households in small patches of land, the district will become self-sufficient and people can consume healthy food, hope these women farmers.