Monday, November 5, 2012

Organic farming @Yogi Farms

Strawberry in Karan Manral's palm. Part of Yogi Farm's Top 50 produce from last year
There is little that tastes better than fresh seasonal organic produce.. After moving to Goa, I was excited about having access to fresh local produce but it was fairly clear that this produce was far from being organic. While shopping at local markets, I was also determined to grow vegetables in my own garden. All I wanted was some eggplant, some okra, herbs, lemons and bright red tomatoes... But maybe because our east-facing garden gets little sun, or the sub-soil is rocky, or maybe I just didn't talk to the plants enough.. all my attempts have been so far unsuccessful. To remedy this, I have attended gardening workshops, bought seeds from several sources and taken tips from a neighbor who has converted his garden into a mini-farm…but nothing has worked...

I had almost given up when on a recent visit to California, driving through the countryside with endless farms producing lovely sweet organic produce gave me an extra push to pursue this passion. I realized that if I can't grow in Goa then it is definitely not going to happen anywhere else.. So I reached out to the local experts, Karan Manral and Yogita Mehra, who together have been experimenting with organic farming in Goa for the last 3 years. Last year, the couple started Yogi Farms at a 800 sq.m. plot where they experimented with growing various types of vegetables organically. The plan for me is to visit their farm this season at key stages so I can pick up a little on farming techniques, ask questions, stay inspired and absorb all the positive energy from organic farming on their farm !

Succulent tomatoes, part of Yogi Farm's Top 50 produce from last year
My first visit was in early October, when they were getting ready for the season's planting. This year, Yogi Farm is working on a large farm in Taleigao near Panjim in Goa. One half of it is like an open field where they had grown vegetables last year (we will call it 'vegetable farm A'), whereas the second part of the farm is actually a coconut farm where they are now experimenting with various plantation crops depending on the amount of sun received on various patches (we will call it 'plantation farm B').

Beds being prepared for this season's planting among the coconut plantation
When they started last year, the plantation farm B was in a sorry state. For years, the soil had not been ploughed or used for any vegetation. What was worse was that mixed organic waste had been dumped on the soil following some bad advice. Yogi farmers chose to work the soil using a technique called 'Green manuring'. This process involved growing a couple of cycles of a combination of legumes and non-legume crops. They started with strewing seeds before the monsoon and then after allowing them to grow they ploughed the plants and seeds back into the earth. After a few cycles of this exercise, they have managed to improve the soil quality considerably and have also succeeded in bringing back the earthworms (farmer's little friends that help aerate the soil) !! More on Green Manuring on Yogi Farms website.

Turmeric plants
Galangal ! ready for harvest
Among other experiments, they will be doing a lot of cross-planting where different types of plants are grown  in close proximity to compliment each other. They are also experimenting with high-density farming, which is a way to plant a few samplings of fruit trees in close proximity. These trees are then regularly pruned to keep them shorter in height but still productive. They explained to me that this works well in urban areas where space is limited and also solves the practical problem of harvesting produce from very large and spread out trees. They explained to me that they don't really actively do any pest-control other than employing natural means. For example, I was told that planting marigolds keep a certain type of pest away (can't remember the name but will return to that in a later post).. More on pest control the organic way, read here.

What I loved were their efforts to make the farm self-sufficient. They have planted the boundary with bamboo so they can meet their bamboo needs (to build framework for creepers and fragile plants). They are even planning to get their own cows and chicken to get fresh dump that new plants thrive on.

I loved how effortlessly they plan planting cycles. They grew some plants before the monsoon to harvest seeds for the coming season. I watched with a huge smile, as Yogita and Karan walked around the farm early in morning mapping how much sun is received at various parts so they can decide what to plant where. Reminded me of architects conducting first site visits :) They have also planted some shade loving palms at the farm's boundary with roots that can be eaten such as Colocassia and Elephant's foot.

Below are some more photos from Yogi Farm's 'Top 50' produce from last year. This year promises to be even more exciting and I can't wait to be an observer absorbing as much as I can...

Find Yogi Farms on the web and on Facebook.

Photos courtesy Yogi Farms.

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