In our acre and half medicinal garden at Sambhavna the three gardeners: Ratna, Manmohan and Mukesh grow more than 100 kinds of medicinal plants. The garden provides about 60 percent of the requirements for our in-house herbal medicine manufacturing unit. A large number of people also use many of the plants directly by making decoctions or extracting their juices.
Everything grown in the Sambhavna garden is grown without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Our gardeners produce four different kinds of fertilisers using earthworms, cow dung, alfalfa and other plants and ash.
This kind of fertiliser is made made by earthworms from kitchen and garden waste mixed with cow dung. It’s made in four interconnected concrete tanks, each of which is 8 feet long, 2½ feet wide and a foot deep. Most of the work of converting the bio-waste to fertiliser is done by earthworms who need a little help once in a while. They need to be protected from ants and rodents and this is done by ensuring that the channel built around the tanks (left) is always full of water. Also the waste needs to be sprinkled with water so that the worms can go deep. Once the worms are done with eating and digesting the organic waste in one tank they move to the next through small channels made at the bottom. Earthworms weighing about five kilos convert the waste in four tanks into high-quality fertiliser in two months.
Vermicompost improves soil porosity which contributes to the infiltration and retention of water as well as root development. It also improves the biological properties of the soil through enrichment of micro-organisms, addition of growth hormones, and addition of enzymes. (Left: Ratna and Manmohan tend to the earthworms).
Cow dung manure
In this, we use fresh cow dung mixed with garden waste in a 15-feet long, 8-feet wide and 1½ feet deep hole in one shady corner of the garden (left). Waste from the medicine manufacturing unit is also mixed in this. Fresh cow dung, while rich in minerals beneficial for the plants, also contains harmful ammonia gas and weed seeds and occasionally harmful microbes. Composting the dung takes care of these problems and promotes growth of beneficial bacteria, which converts nutrients into easily accessible forms so they can be slowly released. Other than spraying water once a week, cow dung compost does not require much work.
To produce green manure we grow quick-growing plants such as alfalfa (Medicago sativa), urad (Phaseolus mungo) and jowar (Sorghum bicolor). When the plants are two to three foot long, which takes four to six weeks, they are either ploughed under the soil or cut and composted separately.
Leguminous green manures such as alfalfa and urad contain nitrogen-fixing symbiotic bacteria in root nodules that fix atmospheric nitrogen in a form that plants can use. Green manure increases the percentage of organic matter in the soil, thereby improving water retention, aeration, and other soil characteristics.
Ash as a fertiliser
While leaves and other waste generated in the garden are good for making vermicompost and cow dung manure, hard stems and stalk do not degrade so easily. These are dried and used as fuel in the preparation of Ayurvedic medicines. The ash produced by this burning is then used as a fertiliser by mixing small quantities of this in the soil.
This ash (left) contains many major and minor elements needed by the plants for growth. Ash is a good source of potassium, phosphorus and magnesium, and aluminum. Ash is also a good source of many micro-nutrients that are needed in trace amounts for adequate plant growth.
In addition to these four kinds of fertilisers, we prepare a kind of tonic for plants that need supplementary nutrition. This is made by mixing a kilo of molasses, a kilo of cow dung and a litre of cow’s urine in 100 litres of water, this is then fermented for a week. The fermented liquid is diluted about 20 times before applying it to the plants.
Protecting our garden from insects
To protect our garden from insects we do not use poisonous pesticides. In fact we use nothing that kills insects. Instead we use insect repellents made from such plants as Neem (Azadirachta Indica), Aak (Calotropis), Vasa (Adhatoda Vasica), Dhatura (Datura Stramonium), Sitafal (Annona Squamosa), Karanj (Pongamia Pinnata) and Vidang (Embelia Ribes).
Preparation of the repellent solution does not take much. We take two kilos of fresh leaves from each of the plants named above in drums that contain 10 litres of water. Then the drums (left) are covered and allowed to ferment for a week in summer and for two weeks in other seasons. The leaves are then separated and the liquids from different drums are mixed together to produce about 70 litres of solution. This solution is diluted by mixing 10 times of water by volume and is applied to the plants with a sprayer.
Depending on the season and the kind of insects, any one or more of the following are added to the solution mentioned above: Vidang seed (Embelia ribes), stale buttermilk, tobacco leaves (Nicotiana rustica), garlic (Allium sativum), molasses, green chilli (Capsicum annum), Besharam (Ipomoea carnea) and cow’s urine.
Ratna is very encouraged by the growing interest of the people visiting the clinic towards the use of organic fertilisers and insect repellents:
More and more people are getting inspired by our gardening methods and coming to learn. We train people about organic gardening techniques, educate community members about making and using natural fertilisers, and demonstrate a home-made alternative to expensive, chemical fertilisers and pesticides.