I remember the first time I tried to grow something. Sitting on the floor with a newspaper laid out, on top of which lay fresh soil. Touching the moist soil with my bare hands was therapeutic, calming my mind and soul.
Saniha Harish experienced the joy of gardening when she was only 14.
“I was visiting my grandfather, a farmer, and I asked him how he practiced farming. He then told me that my generation was not resilient enough to practice farming. But, once he said that, I took it up as a challenge,” smiles the 25-year-old.
Fueled by her will, Saniha got two pots and planted them with chillies and tomatoes. She would collect her kitchen waste, grind it in the mixer, and use a diluted portion as manure for her plants.
“When I saw the first few tomatoes and chillies, I was so happy. This motivated me to explore the world of farming,” recalls Saniha.
For the past five years, the 25-year-old has been growing about 100+ different crops on 11 acres of land. Her crop also includes mushrooms, which can be grown in 45 days, earning profits of Rs 40,000. She uses different organic fertilisers that have also helped her increase productivity.
Through her farming practice, Saniha earns a yearly profit of almost Rs 10 lakh! Additionally, she has a 1,500 sq ft terrace garden where she grows 60+ vegetables, fruits, and herbs!
The young farmer shares the different fertilisers used in her organic practice and how farming is her one true passion!
Acquiring the right skills
Once Saniha finished school, she was sure about doing something in agriculture. For this, she pursued a BSc degree from JSS College in Mysuru. Here, she took up a bunch of courses on agricultural topics like hydroponics, apiculture, and vermicompost, among others. She also signed up for independent short term courses where she learnt how to practice mushroom farming.
So far, she has completed over 30 of these courses that helped build her expertise.
After completing college five years ago, she decided to make use of her father’s agricultural land, which was lying unused. “My father was growing some coconuts there. Since he was an engineer, he was busy and couldn’t take up farming actively, I took control,” she says.
On 11 acres of land, Saniha now grows 100+ crops like bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, cocoa, vanilla, beans, corn, ginger, cabbage, cauliflower. Because the land is vast, she has installed specific irrigation systems (sprinklers) for different crops.
For example, for ginger, she’s used plastic jets that can sprinkle water up to five feet, while Dolphin jets have been used to water corn and have a capacity of 25 feet. Flower jets have been used to water greens like coriander, methi, and palak because they are delicate. She grows greens at a large scale and harvests them every day to sell in the mandi.
To ensure the fertility of the soil, Saniha grows a mix of crops on a plot of land. For instance, if ginger was grown on a plot of land, after its harvest the following year, she will not grow ginger there again, because it could affect the PH levels of the soil and strip it of its fertility.
Instead, that plot of land will be used to grow milder crops like corn, sweet beans, cabbage, that can be harvested in a few months.
Similarly, she avoids growing sugarcane, turmeric, and bananas on the same plot, because they take a longer time to harvest.
Using Organic fertilisers
Saniha says that her healthy and high yield can be attributed to her nutrient-rich organic fertilisers like vermicompost, Jeevamrutha, and mushroom manure.
There are about five cows on her farm (organically bred), and she uses cow dung to prepare vermicompost, which she also sells for Rs 10 per kg. She explains how she prepares it.
She has over ten rectangular vermicompost beds which have been dug 3 ft deep into the ground. If one doesn’t have a lot of space, it is also possible to buy vermicompost bags which cost between Rs 800-1,000.
While filling up the pits, Saniha first collects agricultural waste like banana stems, coconut leaves, and straws, chops it and adds it to the pit. She then adds cow dung slurry made from one part cow dung and two parts of water. She then layers the pit with ten inches of agri waste and two inches of cow dung slurry.
Once it is almost full, she adds two inches of mud before covering the pit with a tarpaulin or coconut leaves.
“This pit should be in the shade, away from direct sunlight. For 15 days, you have to rotate and mix the waste while adding a bucket of cow dung slurry every day. After that, I add one kg of earthworms in the pit. In the center of the pit, I insert a PVC pipe so that the earthworms can breathe; I also use it to add water daily to keep the mixture moist. In two months, this compost is ready,” she explains.
Additionally, Saniha also uses cow dung from her farm to make Jeevamrutha.
In an 800-litre drum, she adds 200 litres of water, 10-12 kg of cow dung, 10 litres of cow urine, and 3-4 kg of jaggery. Before mixing this, she adds two kilos of rice or wheat flour and covers the drum with a lid. This mixture is stirred for 3-4 days. Saniha suggests that it be used within 10-15 days of preparation so that the nutrient level in the manure does not go down.
There are also 150 organically-bred country chickens on her farm. Their poop is collected and directly put into the soil.
“The best part is that you don’t need to prepare this before using it for your crops. About one tonne is enough for one acre of your field, and it gives an excellent harvest. You can also add this into your vermicompost pits/beds,” she informs.
An avid mushroom cultivator, Saniha has been practising it for the past couple of years. “Although I do not like mushrooms, my husband and family love it. Hence, I decided to undergo training for one week at Mysore University, and that’s how I began growing them,” she says.
Once the mushrooms are harvested, Saniha is left with rice straws which are the growing medium. Instead of throwing this away, the young farmer uses it in her vermicompost beds. One may or may not add worms in the vermicompost pits (with the slurry and agri waste) when this is being prepared. The daily stirring needs to continue, and in 20-30 days, this compost is ready to use.
“I learnt this when I went for training to grow mushrooms. This compost is white and is extremely rich in protein. Using it gives the most bountiful harvest, and yields are higher by almost 10-15 per cent!” she adds.
An avid terrace gardener
Although Saniha started organic farming commercially about five years ago, she started terrace gardening actively only about three and a half years ago.
“Our earlier residence was a rented apartment, and we weren’t allowed to use the terrace space for gardening. But since we moved to a new home, I have been maintaining a terrace garden, where I grow over 60 fruits, veggies, and herbs,” she explains.
For the terrace garden, she uses kitchen waste from the home to make compost. To keep pests at bay, she makes a mixture of sour buttermilk and water (in high quantities) to spray on the plants. She also informs that growing marigolds in the garden is an effective way of pest control.
So, what does she grow at the terrace garden?
“Three types of pumpkins, sweet potatoes, baby potatoes, regular potatoes, methi, palak, Ivy gourd, bottle gourd, three types of brinjal, organic cabbage, red cabbage, bell peppers and chillies, corns, snow pea, cowpea, peanuts, watermelon, muskmelon, yellow and green zucchini, pineapples. The list is long,” she smiles.
Starting organic farming to make pure and healthy food available to people, Saniha’s passion brings her immense joy.
“This job gives me peace of mind. It is important to grow food organically at a time when most of what we buy from the market is pumped with chemicals. Although organic practices take some effort and time, it makes me happy that I am not serving poisonous produce to others, nor am I consuming it myself. If we do not go back to natural and organic methods, our children will never know pure food. It is now or never,” she says, signing off.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)