My trip yesterday to my village Mathuramangalam, a really small hamlet some 50 Kms outside of Chennai, was to attend a family function.
As with many Indian villages, mine is also centered around a temple – in this case, a 1000-year old Vaishnavite temple. The village is the birthplace of Embar, a cousin of the revered Saint Ramanuja (who was born at Sriperumbudur, about 15 Kms from my village).
I visit my village a couple of times every year though each time I would tell myself I would visit more frequently. Last year during my visit, the person running the temple mentioned during a casual discussion that he needed some financial assistance to create a nice garden in a fairly large space right next to the temple. I immediately agreed to provide some help, as gardens are something I have always liked. What better way to strengthen the bonds with my village than to be a part of a nice garden being grown there!
As an aside, I am not exactly religious. I rather follow the practical advice by the celebrated Blaise Pascal who said it was better to believe in God even if it turns out after our death that He does not exist, rather than the converse – you don’t believe in Him, but after you die, you realize to your horror that He acually exists! So, let’s just say I’m a practical believer.
Turning back to the core stuff I was trying to tell you, I provided some money to start the garden. And so, every time I visited my village from then on, I made it a point to check out how the garden project was coming up.
Yesterday too, I spent some time out there. There was not much, actually. Things were just about beginning to grow – essentially, the gardener had planted a good number of flowering plants, a few herbs such as Tulsi (Holy basil, Ocimum sanctum) and also a few vegetable plants such as the pumpkin. The garden would cater to all the flowers and herbs that the temple needed. In addition, the vegetables would also cater to all the needs of the gardener’s family.
But what was nicer was what followed.
I was asking the gardener about the various inputs for the garden.
Water was no problem.
The village pond was right next and anyway, we had a nice pump set installed and the gardener had done a good job of laying water pipes all over the garden. When he was bored, he just walked down about 20 meters to the pond (dedicated to the temple, as usual) and just carried water from the pond to the garden.
I turned my questions to fertilizers and pesticides.
This was when the discussion turned super interesting.
You see, I forgot to mention another set of inhabitants of the garden, in addition to the flower and vegetable plants – a cow and a calf. A nice cow shed accommodated them.
Once I saw the cow and the calf, I knew that part of the fertlizers would be the cow dung. Part of it? The gardener seemed disappointed with my observation. Not part of it, he said, he uses only cow dung as fertilizer. Haven’t I heard about stuff about organic farming, he asked me.
Sure. I told him, I knew something about organic farming, but if he were using no synthetic fertilizer, wouldn’t the growth likely be slow?
He agreed. Yes, the yields were not going to be fantastic, but he said the land was going to be a lot more safe for the future. Besides, he said, it was holy land – why would he want to pollute it with chemicals?
Anyway, he estimates that the yields would be good enough for the temple’s needs.
But then I asked him about pesticides. Surely, those stuff were chemicals. Wouldn’t that pollute the sacred land?
No, he said.
No? So what was he using for pesticides, or was he using no pesticides?
Or was he using neem oil kind of thing? He definitely had some running around to do if he were using neem oil or other parts of the neem tree, for I have not seen a single neem tree in my village.
No sir, he said. I don’t use neem. I use cow urine.
Now, that was what he said. Cow urine.
Seriously? I asked him.
Of course, I had heard about cow urine being used for all sorts of things. Many Indians would have heard about Panchagavya, a combo of cow urine, milk and dung – this stuff is mentioned to have many medicinal properties.
I had also known that urine by itself had some medicinal properties. The former Indian Prime Minister Morarji Desai had mentioned he drank a small amount of his own urine every day to keep fit. As a kid when I heard this, I used to think he was a weird man. Now I know I was just ignorant!
Anyway, this business of cow urine as pesticide was new, at least to me. So I started quizzing the gardener more about it. Where did he learn all this, and how long has he been using it?
Apparently, they just learn these things on their job and from meeting interesting people. No, he had never used the Internet in his life.
He has been using cow urine as pesticide for the past three months, and it seemed to be working OK.
After I came back home, I got kind of super curious on this cow urine thing. I googled up, and the gardener was right pretty much in all aspects. He has likely never heard of Bloomberg, but Bloomberg surely has heard of cow urine’s property as a weed killer – read this June 2016 report in Bloomberg, a good many Sikkim farmers already are using cow urine as an organic pesticide.
By the way, this does not seem to be exactly a super new idea, as in just 6 months old. Deccan Chronicle has written about it 2014, claiming Cow Urine is New Organic Pesticide. Some blokes in Madhya Pradesh had done research studies on a combo of neem and cow urine for pesticide back in 2005. An eco-village has been using this for sometime, along with other natural pesticides. Finally, to just hammer home the point that I way behind times when it comes to knowledge of organic farming, here’s a company that sells cow urine online.
Boy, that gardener, he knows a thing or two.
For those who are curious about other sources of organic pesticides, here’s a nice list from World Agro Forestry.