The joy of eating home-grown fresh vegetables and fruits is something else. I still remember eating simple sabzi my grandma would make using beans, lady fingers and brinjal from her backyard garden. The beautiful cherry tomatoes she grew – I would eat them as soon as they were plucked! The whole idea of growing veggies at home was to bring vegetables to the table that were free from any kind of pesticide.
For Amritsar-based Mehakdeep Singh too, family’s health came first! Three years back, the 30-year-old learnt that he was soon going to become a father. Once the initial joy subsided, he grew concerned over the diet and health of his wife and baby.
“Having worked as a staff nurse in Rajindra Hospital, I was used to hearing instances of women giving birth to premature babies,” says Mehakdeep.
He then read and found out that the mother’s diet indeed plays a very important role in pregnancy ensuring good health of the baby. Mehakdeep realised that growing his own food is the only way he could ensure that it was pure. Thus, he made a big lifestyle change.
He started growing fruits and vegetables at home by practicing natural farming in mid 2017. He started farming on a two-acre ancestral farmland and began providing the veggies and fruits to his family. Soon, his wife gave birth to a healthy baby. Mehakdeep informs that the overall health of the family has improved, including his diabetic mother’s.
“I haven’t bought any vegetables from the market in the last two years and I can see this reflect in my family’s health. My mother has been able to maintain a healthy lifestyle despite her diabetes with a good mix of naturally grown food and exercise. Even my three-year-old is such a happy and thriving child,” he smiles. .
It has been three years since and Mehakdeep now grows 30 types of vegetables along with grains and pulses on a two acre farm land!
Also, there are 15 kinds of fruit trees which he has been tending to through natural farming methods that does not involve any kind of chemicals.
He quit his job a year after his daughter was born and has been doing this full time eversince. “I look after eight acres of ancestral farmland in Amritsar where we grow rice and wheat. I hope to practice natural farming here as well once I am fully confident,” says Mehakdeep
Let nature do all the work
Whatever Mahekdeep knew of farming, he knew it from his family. However, natural farming was an uncharted territory for the expectant father. And this was also the biggest challenge for him, he says.
To help with this problem, social media came to his rescue. “I would constantly research online and watch videos on YouTube to find out what practices people were adopting on natural farming for a successful harvest,” informs Mehakdeep.
Youtube videos by local NGOs like Kheti Virasat Mission were extremely helpful, informs Mehakdeep.
Through these videos and by speaking to farmers who had been practising natural farming, Mehakdeep learnt valuable farming techniques that he shares with TBI.
“The most important factor is to sow the crops in the right season. For example, tomatoes should be sown in between March to June, while potatoes in Punjab are grown in the first week of October,” he says.
Other than that, the crops should be grown in rows pointing towards the north and south direction. Also, each row must have a distance of two feet. “This ensures that every row receives the same sunlight throughout the day and provides air circulation,” he explains.
In this farming method, a mix of cow dung, cow urine and decomposed soil components are used to enrich the soil. The aerobic and anaerobic bacteria present in the mix helps in nitrogen fixation. He also prepares natural mulching using dried leaves, cut grass and straws that preserves soil humidity, moisture and prevents weeds among other benefits.
Getting Rid of Pesky Pests
Natural Farming is an agricultural technique that does not involve any kind of chemical fertilisers or pesticides. “Every farmer thinks how will I grow crops without pesticides? And that was also my first thought,” admits Mehakdeep.
But, through research, he found that it wasn’t really that difficult to achieve and some simple, natural methods reduce the chances of pest attacks by 50 per cent.
“Practicing monoculture can make plants more susceptible to pest attacks. Therefore, I grow a variety of crops on a patch of land,” he says. What Mehakdeep is practising is known as the ‘companion planting’ method, where plants support each other’s growth while protecting each other from pests.
Some examples of this include growing spinach and chilli, beans with corn, and carrot with tomatoes.
“Pests also attack plants that are weak or grown in soil with poor health. It is important to ensure that the soil is moist, has beneficial bacteria and other nutrients,” he says. He adds that nature has beautiful ways in controlling pests and for promoting growth.
Birds are not only good pollinators but also pick up caterpillars or other insects when they spot it. Another example that he gives is of the ladybird beetle which feeds on pests like aphids which attack wheat.
Although these measures are usually enough, Mehakdeep informs that between April to July, the breeding season for pests, crops need protection. “These pests look forward to the monsoons where nutrition intake for crops is high. It is like an invitation for them,” he says.
To tackle this, he sprays neem oil on the crops. Mehakdeep has now grown vegetables and fruits like beans, potatoes, cucumber, bitter gourd, carrots, onions, garlic, watermelon, cucumbers using these natural techniques.
He has also grown wheat, rice and seven types of pulses like moong, gram, rajma among others. Mehakdeep himself has a Youtube channel by the name of, ‘Balhari Kudrat’ and has 7000+ followers.
So, what lay ahead for the passionate farmer?
Mehakdeep says that there is a lot of misconception among farmers about natural farming methods. “A farmer who doesn’t know about natural techniques will think conventional farming using pesticides is the only way to go,” he says.
He has already worked towards changing the status quo. Every five months or so, he holds free seminars at his home for local farmers where he shares his farming know-how. Other than that, he also hopes to spread the message far and wide through the videos on his YouTube handle as this is how he learnt first.
He is also working towards creating a native seed bank for farmers who want to adopt natural farming.
“I started out with the will to provide my family with pure food. Now, I aspire to open my own shop one day where I can sell my naturally grown products. This way I will not only be catering to my family but an entire community,” he signs off.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)