Nitrogen comes from the air we breathe. Our atmosphere is composed of 78% of nitrogen, 20% oxygen and 2% of other gases. Nitrogen plays a very important role in the growth of a plant. The leaves of a plant with lesser nitrogen content will be usually smaller and yellow in colour. Whereas a plant leaves having sufficient nitrogen will be green in colour.
It is said that the air above each acre of land contains about 36000 tonnes of nitrogen by volume, yet for plant growth a nitrogen boost is usually needed through fertilizers because the atmospheric nitrogen is inert in nature (unstable) and it cannot be used by the plant. Thus, for it to be available in plant eating form or to be of nutritional value for plant, it has to converted into a usable form like nitrate and this is achieved by commercial fertilizer companies through a process of ammonia production called Haber process.
How did commercial fertilizers get into Indian market?
Rewinding back to the early 1910, this form of production of ammonia found its application in production of explosives and ammunition during World War II. With the end of the world war, the massive plants manufacturing ammonia for production of weapons and petrochemicals had to find out a way to use up the tonnes of ammonia manufactured and thus, these plants switched over from manufacturing explosives to commercial fertilizers. And, thanks to the growing population and famine crisis prevalent in most parts of India at that time, these synthetic farming MNCs easily made their way to India through intensive political lobbying to make profits. The number of farmers who were practicing systematic inter-cropping with legumes, using compost and animal waste to add nutrients to their soil started dwindling after this period as they fell into a trap of mono-cropping high yielding water greedy crops to solve the famine crisis of India.
A conspiracy called Urea
Urea is usually promoted as a nitrogen fertilizer and the regular 50kg gunny bag of urea bought through subsidy is said to contain 46% nitrogen. As per INSPIRE Revathi, for a synthetic fertilizer like urea to be absorbed by the plants, it has to be mixed with 7 times of regular water usage i.e each of one urea molecule needs to be supplemented with 7 water molecules. This increases the water requirements for plant growth and poses a huge problem for farmers facing drought and water shortages. This has also been a major reason for ground water scarcity across India upon dawn of synthetic farming in 1970s. As urea is highly soluble in water, the nitrogen losses are even more upon addition of water in urea and only a small percentage of nitrogen goes into the growth of a plant.
How urea stops water percolation and natural Capillary action
Subash Palekar ji (an expert in zero budget & natural farming) explains in his book “Principles of Spiritual farming – Part 2” how soil deep down at 10-15 feet below top soil is nutrition rich and how nutrients are naturally made available to plants by capillary force. As per Palekar ji, because of the hot weather that starts after monsoons, the upper soil surface gets hot and cracks appear (pores in soil layers) and the moisture in the upper soil surface evaporates through these cracks. As a result, a depression is created in lower soil surface and through capillary action, water moves up from lower soil surface to upper soil surface making water available for the roots. This is how the trees in forest areas survive without any human action and if capillary action can be made feasible in farmland, watering and bio inputs are not needed. A 50kg urea bag bough on subsidy shows 46% nitrogen as a constituent and the remaining 54% constitutes the salts. Thus, the application of urea would mean that the soil pores would be blocked by salts and water percolation be interrupted during monsoons. As a result, water is unavailable in deep soil layers and hence post monsoon, there is no capillary water flow available from lower soil surface to upper soil surface. The below video (courtesy: Groasis.com) will help explain the concept of capillary water for plants.
From the facts shared by INSPIRE Revathi & Palekar ji, it is evident that urea business is a very huge conspiracy and every day, farmers in India are fighting a war in their own farms with the application of urea and ammonium products, which were initially intended for preparing explosives. Below recommendations are usually suggested by experts for enriching the soil.
1) Planting legumes – the natural nitrogen fixers
Since we have nitrogen all around us, a much systematic approach for fixing nitrogen into soil would be through plantation of legumes around the plants. Due to the presence of rhizobium bacteria in the root nodules of legumes, atmospheric nitrogen is fixed into the soil. This was a traditionally followed practice, however due to lack of awareness, this practice has been less popular despite it’s low investment.
Legume crops – Black gram, green gram, bengal gram, horse gram, cowpea, chickpea, common bean, broad bean, soybean, groundnut and other pulses/bean varieties.
Legume trees – Gliricidia (சீமை அகத்தி/गिरिपुष्प) , Pongamia pinnata (புங்கை), Indian Coral Tree/ Tiger claw (கல்யாண முருங்கை/ पंगार), Humming bird tree/ Agathi (அகத்தி/अगस्ति), Lebbek tree (வாகை/ सरस ), Subabul (சௌண்டல்/ सुबबूल )
At a time when soil degradation is being observed due to uncontrolled usage of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, plating legume trees and crops around the farms and gardens could ensure a good supply of nitrogen and magically boost the fertility of the soil.
2) Desi Cow – A mobile fertilizer factory
The desi cows/ native breeds has been a part of Indian lifestyle since ages. Though the milk yield of native breeds is very less compared to jersey cows, the nutrition and medicinal properties of the desi cow’s milk, dung and urine is nowhere close to that of jerseys. These native breeds are pretty much a mobile fertilizer factory and the waste generated from them could be used in a resourceful way in the farms. As per INSPIRE Revathi, desi cow’s urine is a highly nutritive solution and a natural form of urea. When we mix urea with water, we get uric acid. We could get the same uric acid by mixing cow’s urine with water. Somehow the benefits of cow’s urine have been ignored or forgotten once the synthetic fertilizers made it to the market.
Desi cow dung is another rich resource of microbes that play an active role in enhancing the fertility of the soil. Thus the use of dung and urine of a native cow breeds; preferably lactating cow (as it has rich hormones) could make an unbelievable difference to your soil. Refer below for direct application of urine/dung for your farm:
a) Cow urine could be used a pesticide and growth promoter. Recommended dilution for application is 1:10 (i.e 1 lit of cow urine in 10 lit of water).
b) Cow dung could be mixed with compost soil and sand and applied on top soil. It can also be added to compost bin for enhancing the composting process and enriching the compost.
Considering the cost and maintenance, farmers would often be tempted to choose for high yielding cows, however the choice of high milk yield vs low milk yield cows would be rather a choice between quantity and quality. Choosing a desi cow, using its waste for farming, practicing agri-allied activities, planting fodder crops in farms alongside other crops could guarantee a yield with good profit margins.
Jeevaamrit is a rich microbial solution and regenerates the life of the soil and the biological properties of the soil in a magical way. For a person switching over from pesticide to organic farming and possessing a cow, this is the simplest and best recommended formulation to revive the farmland soil/ improve the soil fertility as it can be prepared in 2 days to 4 days.
Ingredients (for 1 acre):
10 kg fresh cow dung (pref. from lactating cow)
10 litres of cow urine (The older the cow urine, the better it is, as it has more nutrition)
Powdered legume seed (2kg) – besan/ green gram flour /any other legume seed flour
Top soil from the best portion of field (a handful)
Jaggery 2 kgs
200 litres water
Preparation: Mix cow dung, urine, jaggery and legume together in a container and finally add this stirred mixture to 200 litres of water and seal the container for 3 to 4 days. After 3 days, the microbial population in the handful of top soil added will multiple abundantly in this solution.
Application: Root application or foilar spray and suitable for all crops.
Shelf life: Fresh application recommended. Can store for one week.
4) Fish Tonic / Amino / Gunapam
Disposal or management of fish waste/ chicken waste / animal waste leftovers usually becomes a very big problem for urban population. There is hardly any awareness given to this issue and this waste gets mixed with other urban and non-biodegradable waste to form a toxic leachate. During my visit to INSPIRE Nagapattinam in Sep 2017, Revathi mam showed me how they prepare a bio input that has been derived from Vrisksha Ayurveda of Rig Veda and relating to effective usage of animal waste. Gunapacchalam or Gunapam as it has been mentioned in Rig veda is a protein and amino acid rich formulation.
Powdered Jaggery 2 kg
Fish waste / any other animal waste cut into small bits (preferably without smell) – 2kg
(or) equal proportion of chopped animal waste and
Preparation: Mix equal portions of jaggery and small pieces of animal waste in layers as shown in video and keep in a sealed container for 20 to 25 days. If the animal parts aren’t finely chopped, the conversion to liquid may take a longer time period. Jaggery or country sugar acts a preservative here and due to its presence, water is shed out from the fish skin and thus, the amino solution is formed after 20-25 days and special care should be taken to ensure that once fish waste is added on day 1 and container is sealed, no more fish waste should be added later.
Application: Mixing 500ml of Amino with 10 litres water is recommened for application in one acre of land.
Shelf life: 5 to 6 months
5) Effective Microorganism Tonic (EM Tonic):
This is one easy to prepare organic formulation that I came across in INSPIRE Nagapattinam while visiting Revathi mam and is said to enhance the microbial activity in the soil and improve the flowering in plants.
Ingredients (Recommendations for 1 acre):
3 kg chopped papaya
3 kg chopped banana
3 kg chopped yellow pumpkin
3 kg powdered jaggery / country sugar
Note: For smaller preparations, all these ingredients could be added in equal proportions.
Preparation: Mix all the ingredients together as shown in below video and keep the solution in a sealed container for 25 to 30 days. When I prepared this the first time, the yellow pumpkin alone hadn’t changed to liquid completely so I added some more jaggery and sealed for 10 more days. To avoid this issue, all three fruits should be finely chopped for quicker conversion to liquid.
Application: Dilution of 1 litre EM Tonic with 10 litres water is recommended for foliar spray in vegetable/fruit crops.
Shelf life: 2 to 3 months
Before the dawn of the synthetic fertilizers, farmers used to compost waste and practice inter-cropping with legumes/other beneficial companions for their farming. Due to the opportunism of few money making MNCs and lobbyists, elderly wisdom on sustainable farming has somehow been lost. The above listed time-tested techniques will help revive the microbial content of the soil and increase the population of earthworms and other beneficial insects in your farm.
More formulations to be continued in part 2…
Click here to read my blog on bio pest control formulations
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