Natural times
What’s the ideal time for planting a tree? Aditha Dissanayake finds out
Wednesday is Open-Day at the Tea Research Institute (TRI) in Talawakelle. Anybody can walk in and meet the officers there, in search of information they need about tea or agriculture, in general. Anybody means laypersons like me, too. So, one Wednesday I head towards the TRI, with the aim of seeking out a certain 'Doctor', there.

I had been told that this Doctor is "into traditional methods of farming. He has a farm where trees have been planted according to auspicious times, or when the moon or Jupiter is in a certain position in the night sky".

After a great deal of walking, I reach Dr. Keerthi Mohotti's office. The room is spacious and cluttered, but looks cheerful and comfortable. The immaculately dressed person seated at the desk looks no more than 40. He greets me with a smile. "I was about to go to the farm. But the security guards said you were coming. I have been waiting for you."

I join a group of university students who are waiting for Dr. Mohotti to take them around the farming research and demonstration area, which he simply calls the 'Nature Farm'.

The atmosphere with its giant ferns, cinnamon groves, and boundaries of swarna pitcha (yellow jasmines), is balm to the weary mind. Watching a leaf fall to the ground, caressing the petals of a red hibiscus, listening to the chatter of squirrels, it is easy to forget the outside world, easy to step into a world where nothing exists except the calming, soothing presence of nature.

But I'm here to find out about traditional farming practices, about the loss of biodiversity and how chemical agriculture affects crop production. While the undergrads scribble what Dr. Mohotti says into their notebooks, I listen, really really hard, and learn a lot of useful facts.

I learn about how leaves turn into compost (biocomposting procedure), how ferns and creepers are planted on slopes to prevent erosion, (slopeland conservation) and how 'indigenous' and 'local' practices have scientific explanations.

According to Dr. Mohotti, in the past, fishermen would not go fishing on days they heard the call of a certain bird. They believed that if they went fishing on that day, they would catch only fingerlings (baby fish), which was considered a crime. The temperature of the water would have made the bird cry in that particular manner. By not fishing on those days, the fishermen would have struck a balance between nature and their livelihood.

A scarecrow erected on the side of a plot of tea catches my eye. Dr. Mohotti says, "He is a mistake. I did not know until a few weeks ago that according to traditional farming scarecrows are not erected in an arbitrary manner. I learnt while talking to a vedamahattaya that scarecrows have to be stuffed with kalka and that they too have to be erected at an auspicious time."

When Dr. Mohotti had asked how he could make the kalka for his scarecrow the vedamahattaya had refused to divulge the information, saying it was a secret, but that he would gladly make a scarecrow for him in his farm at the TRI.

I learn by listening to Dr. Mohotti that the best time to observe earthworms is at 10.20 in the night. And if you want to collect them, like a boy giving chocolates to win the heart of a girl, you have to give them sugar. The trick is to leave a piece of cloth soaked in sugar syrup overnight in the garden. In the morning the cloth will be covered with earthworms.

What does he do with the earthworms? The answer is simple: They are used to convert heaps of rubbish into compost. "Wormy tech methods," I tell myself. Then, to my surprise I hear Dr. Mohotti say the same words. But when he, dressed in well-tailored trouser, long-sleeved shirt and polished shoes, unhesitatingly searches a heap of rotting leaves and grass for earthworms and comes up with half-a-dozen crawling over his palm, I can't help but see them as pieces of noodles come alive. As if on cue Dr. Mohotti asks, "They look like noodles, don't they?"

I leave the TRI with a calendar which gives the auspicious days on which certain plants should be planted. The technical terms in it are beyond my comprehension. But I read the booklet and figure out the right day and time to plant a mango tree.
September 29, at 10.29 a.m. I plant the tree in our garden. If the nekath time is right, we shall soon be having Karthakolomban for dessert.

Back to Top  Back to Plus  

Copyright © 2001 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved.