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Friday, July 21, 2017

Soapnuts - the magic super cleaner every household must have!!

The humble Soapnut (also called Reetha /Boondikottai /Kumkudukaya /Antuvalakay) can be one of your most useful and go-to natural ingredients in your household cleaning mission. Growing abundantly in the Himalayas (and Nepal) and some parts of South India/Karnataka, it is easy enough to source these days given the increase in interest around chemical-free living. Typically retailing at INR 100 - 150 (wholesale prices fluctuate from INR 40 - 60 - 80) (in Bangalore/Chennai), it can really replace most, if not all, chemicals at your home, especially if used in combination with Bio Enzymes. Let me quickly outline how you can use these magic super cleaners for your everyday household cleaning requirements along with few other questions you may have on this nut.

1. What exactly are Soapnuts?
They are the fruits of the Sapindus tree (Sap meaning Soap in Latin and Indus referring to their native India). There are multiple species/sub-species of this tree. In India itself, there are two different species/sub-species that produce two different looking fruits.

2. How are they useful in cleaning?
Soapnuts have a high amount of "surfactants" (the chemical compound good at removing dirt) in the form of naturally occurring saponins in their fruit pulp. If you are familiar with the structure of soaps, you will know that a soap compound has two ends - one tail end that repels water (and attracts dirt) and one head end that attracts water (making them water soluble). Soapnuts have these compounds naturally. So it is this property of them that makes them great for removing dirt. Plus, they are all natural to boot - meaning they decompose back into the soil quickly leaving minimal environmental impact unlike chemicals produced in laboratories such as detergents and shampoos.

3. How do Soapnuts look?

A freshly harvest Soapnut - Observe how they are clumped up

Two different types of Soapnuts found in India (after drying) - the one on right is the South Indian variety and the one on my left hand is the Himalayan variety
4. Is there a difference between the quality/effectiveness of these two varieties?
In my experience, absolutely not. The Himalayan ones look better and are bigger and are more appealing to our senses. The South Indian ones don't look so neat but they pack quite a punch in their cleaning abilities. While the Himalayan ones are bit costly this side of the Vindhyas (considering they have to be transported so far from their origin), the South Indian ones are available at a bit lesser price here making them economically more feasible. Also, the South Indian ones are easier to soak and smash - the Himalayan ones take a bit longer to get soaked.

5. Why should I use Soapnuts and why not my detergents?
Good question! Your detergents and most other cleaning products that you have at home are made of synthetic chemical compounds that have a high amount of toxins along with all the good things they promise you that gives them the cleaning power you need (and let's not forget the wonderful oh-so-clean fragrance). These synthetic compounds, in addition to being harmful to you personally in terms of the ill-health and side effects they cause, are also damaging to the environment and the water bodies and the living beings present in the water bodies. Some of these toxins could be formaldehyde, diethanolamine, alkyl benzene sulfonates, ethylene oxide, Sodium hypochlorite, 1-4-dioxane, Benzoxazolyl, Phosphates and so on and so forth. Really, you don't need to kill a lake full of fishes to get the dirt-free clothes or home you desire. When there is an all natural alternate way, which is also harmless to our fellow living things (not to mention to us as well), why not adopt that method? Soapnuts are the wonderful things God created to give you this option.

6. Okay, great! But how do I use Soapnuts???
That's an easy one. There are so many different ways you can use Soapnuts depending on the amount of time and energy you have to spend on your cleaning mission. Here are a few ways to use Soapnuts:

Option 1: - Using Soapnuts as-is - The easiest and quickest way
  • Take about 10-12 whole Soapnuts (can be deseeded or with seeds; this measurement is for 6-8 kgs of clothes)
  • Put them inside an old sock and tie the mouth of the socks tightly such that no Soapnuts can escape
  • Simple throw in this sock along with your wash load and run the machine on full soak cycle. Pls put it along with the clothes and not in the place provided for detergents. It's not a problem if the sock stays till the drying cycle is complete. 
  • Optionally, please add 100 ml of Bio Enzyme for disinfecting and softening the fabrics. Especially, when you have a lot of whites, Bio Enzyme is good to include. 
  • After removing the clothes, remove the sock with the Soapnuts as well and keep it out to dry. 
  • You can use it for one more time before opening up the sock and discarding the used Soapnuts. The Soapnut peels can be thrown into your compost bin while you can save the seeds for making seed bombs or other activities or simply throw them into an empty plot. Alternatively, you can use the Soapnut peels to wash your vessels as well. 
  • Please note that when using Soapnuts, you should not overload your machine. Also, when you have really dirty clothes, please pre-soak the Soapnut sock in hot/warm water for 15 minutes and then add the tea of Soapnut along with the Soapnut sock into the machine.
Option 2: - Soapnuts Liquid
  • Take about a 100 grams to a quarter kilo of Soapnuts. Soak it in 1 litre water for 30 minutes.
  • Heat up the water for 10-15 minutes till the water turns completely dark and the Soapnuts release all their surfactants. 
  • After the solution cools down, smash the Soapnuts in hand and ensure all the juices are extracted
  • Let it sit overnight
  • Next day morning, filter out all the solids. The resulting liquid is your All natural laundry liquid.
  • You will need to use it up in 1-2 days. Or simply refrigerate it and use it as and when you need it. You may also prepare a large batch and freeze it. 
  • For about 6 kgs of laundry, you will need 100-150 ml of Soapnut liquid. 
  • The filtered out pulp can be used once or twice more to extract more Soapnut liquid. Once completely used up, they go to your compost bin.
Option 3: - Soapnut powder
  • Buy Soapnut powder. It's not very easy to powder them yourself at home so pls don't try. 
  • Take about 2-3 spoons of Soapnut powder for about 6-8 kgs of laundry. Put the powder inside a thick cotton cloth/bag (NOT SOCKS) and tie the mouth tightly 
  • Simple throw in this sock along with your wash load and run the machine on full soak cycle. Pls put it along with the clothes and not in the place provided for detergent. It's not a problem if the sock stays till the drying cycle is complete. 
  • Optionally, please add 100 ml of Bio Enzyme for disinfecting and softening the fabrics. Especially, when you have a lot of whites, Bio Enzyme is good to include. 
  • After removing the clothes, remove the sock with the Soapnuts and discard the Soapnut powder into your compost bin. 
  • Beware of the cloth bag coming apart and the powder spreading across all your clothes. It's extremely difficult to clean up. 
  • Also, the powder MAY dull your whites over time. If that happens, you can wash the Whites in hot water and Soapnuts.
7. How do I use Soapnuts for my hair?

There are again two ways to use Soapnuts for your hair.

Option 1:
  • Simply boil (after de-seeding) about 15 Soapnuts for 15 or so minutes till the water turns dark and starts foaming.
  • Cool the liquid.
  • Smash all the Soapnut pulp by hand and let it sit overnight.
  • Next day, filter out the thick Soapnut liquid and use in place of your Shampoo. It will lather well but if you have oiled your hair, it may take 1-2 attempts before you get the lather.
  • If the Soapnuts leave your hair too dry or frizzy, use it in combination with Albizia Amara powder for conditioning (called Arappu in Tamil or Chigare in Kannada)
  • You will need to refrigerate the remaining liquid as they can start fermenting in 2-3 days. Else, use them all up in the next 2-3 days.
Option 2:

  • Soak the whole /de-seeded Soapnut pods in a 10-25% Bio Enzyme solution (with water) for 1-2 weeks
  • Smash 1the pods well one day before harvest and let sit overnight.
  • Next day, filter out all big solids and seeds from pods
  • The Pulpy liquid is the shampoo. Store and use within six months. No need to refrigerate. 
8. Can I use Soapnuts for other household cleaning purposes?

Oh yes, you can make an All Purpose Cleaner with Soapnuts. Here's how:
  • Take 1 litre of plain water. Add about 25% of Bio Enzyme (after it becomes ready) and 25% of Soapnut (whole Soapnut with the seeds taken out). Let it soak for 1 – 2 weeks. Depending on the quality of the Soapnuts you have used and its freshness (year of harvest), your All-purpose cleaner will get ready in 1 or 2 weeks. Leaving it to soak for more weeks is also fine. After this period, smash the by now soaked to pieces soapnut and extract out all the pulp into the Bio Enzyme liquid. Remove all the seeds and solid particles and filter out the liquid. You will get a dense, opaque looking liquid with a clear liquid on top once it stands for some time.
  • 1. You can pour out the clear liquid and use as a laundry detergent for your washing machine as well as traditional bucket soaks. You can use this as a floor/bathroom cleaner as well for a quick wash. Do not use on marble though as Bio Enzyme might cause Marble to leave color/yellow. For Marbles, you can use a plain Soapnut liquid to wash floors (at high dilution with water as you don't want your floor lathering!!)
  • 2. You can use the dense part of the liquid as a Shampoo (we saw that above)
  • 3. The dense part is also a vessel cleaner. For cleaning vessels, you can dilute 1:5 or 1:10 ratio – or check what works best for you. Intense foaming is not an indication of cleaning – so don’t worry if it doesn’t foam too much though it will.
  • 4. The semi-clear liquid with a bit of pulp can be used as a hand wash. Remember that the Bio Enzyme is a mild antiseptic/anti-bacterial.
  • 5. For toilets, use the dense liquid – pour a sizable quantity (undiluted) all over the toilet surface and let it sit for 15-30 minutes. Scrub and wash.

9. Wow, so I can use it for washing vessels too?
Yes, you can (both the powder form as well as liquid form as well as the Bio-Enzyme combination). You can also make a dish wash powder with Soapnuts, Shikakai, Wood Ash, Salt and Albizia Amara.

10. Okay, I am a convert! What else should I know about this wonder nut?
Cool, that's awesome. I am happy! Here are a few things I can think of:

  1. Always try to buy that year's harvest for more effectiveness
  2. Store them airtight and dry.
  3. If you find the Soapnuts you have bought are still too fresh and sticky, please ensure you sundry them well for 2 - 3 days. Otherwise, they will tend to catch fungus/green mold and the whole thing will get ruined quickly.
  4. If you are a power user of Soapnuts, you will end up with a lot of Soapnut seeds. You can put them in your compost bin - so save them for your children to make seed bombs or to play with.
  5. You can reuse the grey water from your floor wash/laundry/dish wash after using Soapnuts as it is all natural and will not harm your plants.
  6. Soapnuts also make great pest control. So instead of using synthetic soap in your pest control measures for your plants where you are required to emulsify neem oil, you can use Soapnuts and neem oil. Just a Soapnut water soak once a week will also help you keep out mosquitoes and other insects from your lawns and gardens. 
I will update the above Q & A whenever I discover more uses for Soapnuts. Meanwhile, I truly hope you are able to make the switch to a chemical-free life as I have! 

Friday, February 24, 2017

How to make Bio Enzyme or Garbage Enzyme for household cleaning purposes (and its many uses)

Here's a very detailed FAQ on What are Bio Enzymes, how to make them and how to use them that I came up with* for the coaching sessions I run on Sustainable Living. Please do go through and let me know if you have more questions I can add to the list.

The questions are divided into three parts so that it’s easier for you to assimilate the information as and when you need it:

  1. before, when you need know what are Bio Enzymes and how exactly to make them 
  2. during, when you might come across issues or doubts about whether it is progressing well for you and
  3. after, when you might want to explore the many different uses of the Bio Enzyme
Do go through this list to get a good understanding about Bio Enzymes and get armed with the necessary information to make it really work for you.

Part 1:

Here are the Q & As you will need to go through BEFORE you make the Bio Enzyme

1. What are Bio Enzymes?
Bio Enzyme (also referred to as Garbage Enzyme or Fruit Enzyme) is a multi-purpose, natural cleaner produced from vegetable/fruit peels (usually citrus) or waste. It is an effective alternative to harsh chemicals such as bleach, phenyl, and other chemical solutions we typically use in households to wash our bathrooms, clean toilets, wipe our floors, tiles and other surfaces. Chemically, the Bio Enzymes are a mixture of complex organic substances such as proteins, salts and other materials that are by-products of the bacteria/yeast (naturally occurring) that we will use to make the Bio Enzyme. These organic substances which are in the Bio Enzyme are capable of breaking down chemical and other organic waste thus helping us in removing stains, odor, getting rid of other harmful microbes, etc. They also greatly neutralize toxins and pollutants. In short, they are the next best thing to be discovered by man after a ripe and sweet Mango!

2. Why do we need to use Bio Enzyme instead of chemicals and solutions like Harpic, Mr. Muscle, Phenyl, etc.?
You might have read all the recent news about lakes frothing, lakes catching fire, sewage contaminating water bodies and so on and so forth. As human population grows and our lifestyles becomes increasingly convenience driven, we are polluting our living environment more and more. A polluted environment is in no way conducive to a healthy living – causing us disease, disturbance and distress. As people who are conscious of our footprint on the environment, we must do all that we can to not just stop adding to the pollution but also to prevent it actively. One of the most important and easy way to do that is to completely eliminate all chemicals from your household and replace them with Bio Enzyme and its variations.

Moreover, it is in our personal best interest as well to switch to the Bio Enzymes! Chemical cleaners, in addition to polluting the environment, also leave chemical residues in your household – potential and slowly accumulating toxins that can cause great harm to children, pets and adults as well. A recent news article I read cited the residue of dishwash bars on vessels as one of the major causes of cancer (as they can turn carcinogenic)!! While we do not know the scientific validity of such claims, it is always easier to be safer than sorry. It’s even more safer to go green completely!

3. What are the uses of Bio Enzyme?
Bio Enzymes has a veritable list of uses – I keep discovering more and more uses to it!

Let me try to bracket them for you:
1. As a surface cleaner: Floor Cleaner, Tile Cleaner, Toilet Cleaner, Stove/Chimney Cleaner (concentrated version or the pulpy residue), Window Cleaner, Car wash, etc.
2. As a dirt remover: Laundry liquid (with or without other additions such as soapnut), Vessel Cleaner (with or without other additions such as soapnut), stain remover, etc.
3. As a personal care product (to be used after individual testing ONLY): Body wash, Shampoo, Hair conditioner, Shoe odor remover
4. As an anti-bacterial and anti-viral: Refrigerator cleaner, Cabinet cleaner, Unclogging drains
5. Washing Vegetables and Fruits to neutralize harmful fertilizers/pesticide residues on them
6. Pest Control: Continued use of Bio Enzyme have been known to repel small insects, ants, cockroaches at home (though it doesn't kill them). Also, Bio Enzyme is being used extremely effectively in fumigation along with Soapnuts and Neem Oil.
7. Plant Care: It is a wonderful bloom nutrient. Also helps in managing plant pests like white flies, mealy bugs and spider mites.There may be many more uses that may just need to be discovered!

4. Who invented the Bio Enzyme?
Bio Enzyme is developed by Dr Rosukun Poompanvong from Thailand. However, although called an Enzyme, it is not an enzyme in technical sense. Also, the term Garbage Enzyme (another name by which it is called) can also be misleading! Some call it as Fruit enzyme... but Fruit Enzyme and Garbage Enzyme are different; Fruit Enzymes are editable while Bio enzymes are not.

5. How do we exactly make Bio Enzymes?
Very simple. Remember the ratio 1:3:10 – Jaggery to Citrus Peels to Water. That is take one part of Jaggery, 3 parts of Citrus peels and 10 parts of Water. If you use one cup of Jaggery, use the same cup to measure the other two ingredients as well. But you need not be 100% accurate to the last dot – the Bio enzyme is forgiving if you add a bit more of this or that (not too much or too less though!). Take a big enough and air tight container with a lid which can accommodate this solution + still have a 10 – 15 % space left empty. Mix these three ingredients in that container, put the lid on, label it with the date of creation and leave it in a dark place (such as inside your kitchen cupboard or under the sink).

Once the solution starts fermenting (will be explained in a bit), it will start releasing some gases that will get built up in the empty space in the container. Before this gas becomes too much and “pops” outside, you will need to release them. Hence, you will need to open the lid once in a day (for first one week at least), air it out for a minute or so (no need to stir or do anything else!), put the lid back on, keep it back in the dark place and again forget it for another day. From second week onwards, the gas activity will reduce a bit and you need not open every day - you can open every other day.

6. Can I use a metal or glass container instead of plastic?
No, not advisable as metal and glass will not be able to expand. There are gases that will get released during the process of production – so plastic is a better option. You can use any old plastic container lying around.

7. Why is an airtight container required?
The airtight container is necessary to promote fermentation (minimize oxygen) and to also avoid flies from getting in.

8. How long before my Bio Enzyme will be ready?
Usually, it will take three months for the Bio Enzyme to be produced if you do not use any other additional ingredient other than that which are mentioned above (Jaggery, Citrus Peels and Water). That is why it is important that you label the container with the date of creation. This way, you can start multiple batches and stagger them so that you can get a continuous supply.

9. What is the rationale for the stipulated 3 months’ period?
During the first month of the fermentation, alcohol will be released, so you will smell alcohol when you open the container. In the second month, you will smell an acidic smell, which is the smell of acetic acid. With many compounds such as minerals and vitamins, it will continue breaking down and naturally form the enzyme. Hence, the minimum duration suggested is 3 months.

10. Does the Bio Enzyme have an expiry date?
No, you can use the Bio Enzyme lifelong! They do not get spoilt, go bad or anything like that. Of course, you need to ensure you keep them safely closed away from pests and flies.

11. What are the fruit peels I can use to make Bio Enzyme? Can I use Banana and Mango?
While the Bio Enzyme can be made with all the Fruits peels, for greater household cleaning abilities, it is usually recommended only to use Citrus Fruit peels – i.e. Lemon, Orange, Lime and Pineapple. You can either use all four of them separately in different batches to test which is more effective or combine them into one. As mentioned, you can use Banana and Mango – but they won’t be as effective as Citrus.  Plus, they may not smell as great as citrus!

12. Can I use the entire fruit instead of just the peels?
Yes, you can but why would you want to “waste” the whole fruit instead of consuming it? But if the fruit is rotten or spoilt, you can put it in whole or cut up, not a problem.

13. Should I wash the peels before I use them to make Bio Enzymes?
No, not required. During the process of creating the Bio Enzyme, all chemical residues, if any, will get neutralized completely.

14. Does the fruits/peels I must use to make the Bio Enzymes be organic?
Again, same answer as above. All chemical residues will get neutralized during the process – so it doesn’t matter if it is organic or not.

15. Why is regular opening and closing of the container needed? 
Biogases will be produced as by-products of the anaerobic breakdown of the sugars (usually hydrogen, CO2, and less likely methane). Thus, releasing the gases produced, especially during the initial stages, is essential.

16. Do I really need to open the Bio Enzyme every day? What will happen if I forget to stir for a few days?
No, not every day but every other day definitely – at least for the first 3 – 4 weeks when the bacterial activity will be at its peak. Slowly, the speed of the process will decrease and the amount of gases that will get produced will also decrease – so you can increase the gap between the time you go and check out your Enzyme from 2 days (for fist 3-4 weeks) to 4 days (for next 3-4 days) and then to once a week.

17. What is the purpose of brown sugar or Jaggery in the process?
The purpose of Jaggery or molasses or brown sugar is to provide “simple” carbon source or energy for the microorganisms to first feed and grow. When growth is sizeable, the microbes may then turn their attention to the additional food source (the waste materials or peels) that is harder to digest due to the complexity in their molecular structures. This process is usually energy consuming for the microorganisms, and the added sugar may provide them the extra energy needed for this.

18. Can I use White Sugar instead of Jaggery or Brown Sugar?
No, you can’t.

19. Can I use dried peels instead of fresh ones?
No, it’s preferable that you use fresh peels as much as possible

20. Can I use Frozen and Thawed peels?
Well, if you can’t get access to fresh peels, you may use frozen and thawed ones.

21. What do I do after three months?
Take another container (such a big enough vessel or bucket), filter out the liquid from the Bio Enzyme container using a fine mesh cloth or filter, squeeze the pulp to take out remaining liquid and voila – the Bio Enzyme is ready! The liquid (which should be clear and orange to brownish in color) you have collected in the other container is the Bio Enzyme – it might still have some very fine residue which will settle down once you keep it undisturbed for some time – you can use along with the residue, not a problem. You can retain the pulp to start another batch (along with fresh peels of course) or to use as a concentrated cleaner. Store both the liquid and the pulp safely in closed containers for everyday use.

22. Is there a way to make the Bio Enzymes that is quicker?
Yes! There are two ways you can make this process faster.
Option 1: You can add yeast (the regular Baker’s yeast you will get in Departmental stores). This will make the Bio Enzyme ready in just 20 days.
Option 2: You can add the leftover pulp of a previous batch. This will make the Bio Enzyme ready in 30 days.

23. So why can’t we just do the quicker option?
Because the main method taught here works with three ingredients (jiggery, citrus peels, and water) that are readily available in every kitchen. Many of us are not aware of yeast or do not know where to source it from or we do not want to spend on them. Moreover, the traditional method is going to take three months only for the first time. For your next batch onwards, you can use the left over pulp after filtering the Bio Enzyme as a starter and produce it in just 30 days without any yeast.

24. I want to use Yeast. Will there be a difference in the quality of the Bio Enzyme produced if I use Yeast?
No, the quality of Bio Enzyme produced seems to have no difference at all if you use Yeast OR not. So, if you can source Yeast, go right ahead and use it. But don’t forget to save the pulp once your 20 days are up and you filter out the Bio Enzyme – as you need not buy Yeast and incur that additional cost every time – you can use the pulp to speeden up the next batch. But adding  Yeast by ourselves (as they are will naturally occur in your Enzyme anyway over the three month process) does produce more gas – so you might need to open your container every day against the every other day we will follow in the other method.

25. Where can I get Yeast? What do I ask for in the shop?
Yeast is easily available (known as Active Dry Yeast) in any big departmental stores in the likes of MORE, Big Bazaar, Nilgiris, MK Ahmed, etc. Just buy one small packet (should not cost more than Rs. 50 if I remember correctly). Ants are crazily attracted to Yeast so don’t leave it a container with a loose lid or don’t leave it open (as that can dull the effectiveness of Yeast). Also, before you buy, check the expiry date on the packet – as we don’t want to be left with a dead packet!

26. What is the quantity of Yeast to be used?
Just a mere small teaspoon or even lesser is fine. Active Dry Yeast will be like mini globules – so you can use just 3-4 globules actually! If you are using Yeast, just mix/stir the Enzyme-in-production for the first few days (you don’t need to stir if you are not using Yeast).

27. I use an herbal floor cleaner and find it extremely effective. Why should I shift to Bio Enzyme?
Can you be 100% certain that the “herbal” cleaner you use does not have any chemical whatsoever? And that it contains only totally natural substances? Please verify that. Clever marketing and use of words such a “herbal”, “organic”, “all natural” are becoming more and more commonplace by companies that are out to fool customers. Please do not fall pray to such tactics. Once you have verified the authenticity of your herbal cleaner, check whether they are safe to use and the residues they leave are safe to use. If you are fully satisfied, you may continue to use your herbal cleaner – but at a cost! But I wonder why you would do that when you can make your own cleaner with the least and minimum cost which will be equally effective if not more? What’s more, you can be super proud as well.

Part 2: During the process of making the Bio Enzyme

28. I’m curious to know the scientific principle behind Bio Enzyme. Can you explain?
Chemically, Bio Enzymes are a mixture of concentrated Vinegar or Alcohol (or a mixture/blend of both, along with other organic compounds) produced by microorganisms which are naturally occurring in the environment that were a part of the solution you prepared. It is a simple fermentation process where the food waste is broken down into smaller compounds along with the release of gases. Once all the food (Jaggery and what is in Citrus that you added) is digested by the microbes, they will have nothing to eat and will die naturally. But what they leave behind (as their waste product so to speak) is precious - the Bio Enzyme. As they say, one man's waste is another man's gold. In this case, the microbes do all the hard work and we get to enjoy their labour!

29. I see a white layer, like Fungus, forming on top of the peels! What do I do?
This is a good indication. Simply ignore the layer and keep airing out the Enzyme-in-process. The white layer is nothing but naturally occurring yeast that has come up for air. Do open it more frequently and stir in the white mixture every once in a while.

30. I have got worms in my Bio-Enzyme! Help me!
Uh-uh, someone has not been careful in keeping the lid tightly closed! So the flies have come in and laid their eggs! Well, not to worry, add some more Jaggery, put the lid back on and keep it very tight. Open and close once in 2-3 days (beware of the wriggly worms though harmless they are!). The worms will go away by themselves. Don’t ask where!

31. Is my Bio Enzyme supposed to smell a certain way?  How do we get to know if the process is completed?
Not really, since we will be using only citrus, they will only smell nicely citrusy.

As for how to know when it is ready:
Three factors.
1. Time  - As mentioned, it takes 3 months to make the Bio Enzyme without any yeast. If one adds yeast, it can get done in 20-25 days (provided right environment is maintained for the microbes to flourish). This has been calculated based on lot of people's experience and research.
2. Stopping of Gas production - As the fermentation slows down, so will the production of gases from the solution. At the end of the time period, most of the food materials, if not all, would have been converted by the microbes into Vinegar or Alchohol and there wont be anything left for them to munch. So they will start to de-activate or die. This signals that solution is ready. However, one needs to use this indicator along with the time as sometimes fermentation might slow down in between also due to unfavorable conditions (we will see more details of this below).
3. Peels settling down - the Peels we used to make the Enzyme - as they get processed by the micorbes (in essence, eaten up) - will start to settle down to the bottom of the container. This is a good indicator - sometimes, some peels will continue to float while most settle down. That is okay.

32. What If your enzyme becomes very smelly like the smell of rotten eggs or feces? 
Just add one portion of brown sugar. For instance, this bottle contains one liter of water. Then you need to quickly add 100 grams of brown sugar to it. Stir it thoroughly and then cover the cap tightly. After you seal it, do not open it again. One month later, you will find that it’s good again when you open it.

33. What are the Gases that will get released when we make the Bio Enzymes?
Some of the gases that will be produced by Bio Enzymes are CO2, O3, NO3, CO3, etc. None of these gases are toxic or unsafe. Moreover, only negligible quantities of these gases will be produced during the process.

33a. So what are some of the "unfavorable" things that can happen that can slow down or affect the Bio Enzyme production process?
1. Leaving your container open and letting in too much oxygen - As mentioned, fermentation releases carbon di oxide along with minor quantities of other gases. This CO2 needs to be let out while letting in bit of Oxygen. However, if we completely leave the container open, too much aerobic condition will affect the final quality of the Enzyme produced.
2. Worms and Flies in your Bio Enzyme container - this will also occur only if you had NOT been careful about your container and left it open at some point inviting flies to come in and breed. This can slow down fermentation to a great extent and take away the food meant for microbes. We can try to correct when worms occur (we need to add extra jaggery and by closing container in air tight manner for 1 week - hopefully, the worms will die. Otherwise, one just needs to abandon and start again.
3. Temperature - Microbes like a temperature that is close to our body temperature. So if we are able to maintain that in the solution, then the fermentation will happen pretty fast. But if we create extreme temperature fluctuations or worse make it too hot or too cold, fermentation will get affected. For example, keeping the Enzyme inside your fridge - thats a big NO. Keeping your Enzyme in direct sunlight - that's a big NO. Shifting your container continuously from place to place causing lot of temperature fluctuations - that's a BIG No. Tip: Try to keep the Enzyme under the sink in your kitchen (relatively warm place in your house) or even on top of your fridge (where heat is generated) protected by a cloth underneath.

4. Forgetting to open for months and months - Now, just the way leaving your container totally open is also a problem, not opening at all can also be a disaster. The built up gas, for one, can cause an explosion! Two - the accumulated CO2 will end up killing the microbes as well. Hence, the suggestion to open it once a week initially (when fermentation rate if at its highest). After that, when fermentation slows down and gas production slows down, you can open it once in two or three days.

Part 3: AFTER your Bio Enzyme is ready

34. My Bio Enzyme is ready. Do I need to use it right away? 
When you are done making the enzyme, you don’t need to use it right away. You can keep it for years - one year, two years, three years, even 10 or 20 years. The longer the period is, the smaller the molecules become, as the mixture continues to ferment and decompose. When the molecules get smaller, it will have a better penetration. Definitely, longer durations would be more ideal to ensure a more complete fermentation process where there will be no (or little) sugars left, and higher concentrations of products could be achieved. Also, the lack of food and the low pH levels would most likely kill/deactivate the microorganisms present (safer for handling).

35. Is the Bio Enzyme alive? In other words, does it by itself contain microorganism?
No, by the time the Bio Enzyme is ready at the end of three months (in the 100% natural way of producing with just the three ingredients mentioned), all the bacteria/yeast that were working super hard to produce the Enzyme for you would have died leaving just the organic compounds and proteins behind. There might be very minor traces of them if you take them to a microscope but you don’t need to be concerned about it.

36. Is the Bio Enzyme same as Fermented Fruit Juice?
No, not at all though the FFJ is made pretty much the same way but with a different ratio and different duration. FFJ is predominantly for gardening use to aid greater flowering and fruiting in your plant. You can use the Bio Enzyme as well in your garden (in 1: 1000 dilution, mind you) as a pest control or general well-being tonic for your plants.

37. Can I use the Bio Enzymes in my garden/for my plants?
Yes, you can but in very high dilution. Also refer the question on fermented fruit juice above.

38. Can I use the Bio Enzymes in my composting?
Generally, in composting, we do not add any liquid as much as preventable – so while Bio Enzyme might help in the composting process, it would not be advisable to use it any great quantity. You can use the pulp though – just add the leftovers to your compost bin to speeden up the compost!

39. How come a single product has such multiple benefits in different areas?
The high acetic acid concentration and low pH could be the main reasons for the many purposes of GE, as vinegar is well known to be used a cleaning agent, odor removal, preventing drain blockages, etc. Ethanol is known to have antiseptic properties, while propionic acid is used in food preservation. These substances may allow Bio Enzyme to act as an anti-microbial agent, insecticide and pesticide. When diluted, it could provide nutrients to plants due to the “growth hormones”, minerals, enzymes and/or other organic compounds extracted directly or converted from the waste materials. The highlight of Bio Enzyme is that it is organic and can be homemade at low costs, as compared to other products that contain synthetic chemicals (may be toxic to human health or environment) and consume high energy in their production.

40. Is Bio Enzyme scientifically analyzed and proven?
No, the scientific community has not come out with claims either for or against the Bio Enzyme though there are a lot of critics that call the Bio Enzyme nothing more than a glorified homemade vinegar. While some tall claims like "It reduces global warming" are scoffed at, it has definitely been found effective in household cleaning to a great extent.

In essence, Bio Enzymes can help you save yourself from harsh chemicals, save money, save waste, save the clutter of multiple cleaning liquids in your house, and finally save the Earth from pollutants and restore back the balance.

Many thanks to my WhatsApp coaching students and Mrs. Meena Krishnamurthy for their questions and many suggestions to make this FAQ more effectively presented. 

Uses of Bio Enzyme

As with anything else, if the use of something is clearly defined, it will find better and easier adoption with everyone - same is the case with Bio Enzyme. While the Internet abounds with a huge list of how the Bio Enzyme can be used, there seems to be no single resource that goes in depth along with the dilution ratio for each usage type. So here's a humble attempt to do that (as I find more uses/corrections to the notes here on dilution or other aspects, I will keep modifying this section).

Cleaning Purpose
Bio Enzyme/Variant
Surface Cleaner/ Dirt Remover
Bio Enzyme
1 small cup of Bio Enzyme (about 100-150 ml) to half a bucket of water. DO NOT USE on Marble Flooring as it is known to cause discoloration to marble. Can be comfortably used on Granite/Tiles.
Bio Enzyme
50 ml in one mug of water. Apply directly and wipe/scrub clean. If it doesn't seem to be effective, use undiltuted.
Bio Enzyme OR Bio Enzyme Pu
Use undiluted to cover the entire surface, let it sit for 15 – 30 minutes, scrub and clean as usual. However, the pulpy part is more effective here than just the clear liquid. 
Bio Enzyme + Shikakai Concentrate

OR Bio Enzyme Pulp
Soak Shikakai in Bio Enzyme for a few days. The Shikakai pods would reduce to pulp state. Use as-is (without filtering) for Chimney/Other highly dirty and greasy surfaces along with warm water for quicker cleaning.

Alternatively, use the Bio Enzyme pulp as-is to clean Chimney and greasy surfaces.
Laundry (Hand/Washing Machine)
Bio Enzyme + Soapnut Pods in Sock (OR Soapnut Powder in Sock)
1. Use about 100 ml of Bio Enzyme for one load of Laundry in Washing Machine or one bucket of Water. Soak for 15 minutes along with water as required and then wash as usual. But this might work only for clothing that are not very dirty.
2. For very dirty clothes, use along with Soapnut. Take about 10 pods of Soapnut, tie in a sock, and put it along with the rest of the laundry and 100-150 ml of Bio Enzyme. For Collars and Cuffs, you will need to scrub as with any other cleaning agent.
3. You can also soak the Soapnuts in Bio Enzyme overnight (or prepare a solution for 10 days at one shot) and use a little every day.
Test what works best for your load of laundry.
Bio Enzyme + Soapnut PODS (OR Soapnut Powder)
Soak Soapnut overnight in Bio Enzyme. If you are using Soapnut powder, you can mix and use immediately. Please note that foam is not a great indication of cleaning so don’t be put off if you don’t get too much foam. Experiment with different dilution proportions (with water) and see what works best for you. Else, you can use without any dilution.
Personal Care
Face Cleanser/Toner (ALWAYS DO A PATCH TEST)
Bio Enzyme
Mix Bio Enzyme in Water in the ratio of 1:2 (1 part of Bio Enzyme to 2 parts of Water), dab on face, leave for a minute or two and wash off with water.
Bio Enzyme
50-100 ml of Bio Enzyme in one bucket of water.
Bio Enzyme + Shikakai + Soapnut (Pods or Powder)
Soak Shikakai and Soapnut overnight in Bio Enzyme and use next day. Additionally, you may want to cook the Soapnut before soaking. You can also mix your regular Shikakai+Soapnut herbal hair wash in Bio Enzyme instead of water and use that.
Hand Wash
Bio Enzyme + Soapnut
Soak Soapnut in Water (about 10 pods in 1 litre). If very dry, you may want to pressure cook the Soapnut. Mix into a pulp. Filter and use the resultant liquid as hand wash.
Bio Enzyme
Wipe surfaces with Bio Enzyme (1:10 dilution with water) directly first and then wipe clean with water
First dry dust the car. Then take a clean cloth, soak up the Bio Enzyme (diluted with water @1:20 dilution), wipe the car surface clean once, and then wipe once more with just water
Unclogging Drains
Pour a cup of undiluted Bio Enzyme after removing all visible clogging substances from the drain. Leave it overnight before use.
Washing Vegetables/Fruits
Soak Vegetables/Fruits in Bio Enzyme and Water
(1:10 Dilution) for 15 minutes and use.
Taps/Faucets (For descaling as well as general cleaning)
Wipe faucets with Bio Enzyme (1:5 or 1:10 dilution), leave on for 15 – 30 minutes, scrub if required and then wipe clean with water.
Washing Machine with hard water/lime deposits
For descaling the deposits in your washing machine, you can use 10-20 ml of Bio Enzyme and run an empty cycle of load (once or twice a month or lesser depending on the intensity/hardiness of the water you use).
Bio Enzyme
Dilute 1:100 (or 1:500/1000) with water and apply to soil  (do a test patch to check if your plants are okay with the dilution else increase the dilution – this is important as high concentration can burn your plants)

Pest Control
Dilute 1: 100) with water and spray on infected areas

Friday, January 6, 2017

An all natural Body Butter

The moment I first tried the skin butter made by Smita, I knew I was a goner! It felt and smelled absolutely divine, totally natural and what's more, it left my skin feeling very soft and smooth. I knew I had to learn to make it on my own. And from scratch at that. As luck would have it, I came across some leftover hive post a honey harvest at my workplace and before I knew it, I was back home learning to make Beeswax the hard way (filter and double filter!). The next logical step? I just couldn't wait to make the actual body butter. And it turned out amazingly wonderful - no accidents, no wrong measurements, no mess! The end product is smelling fantastic as well while the whole process has left the house with a beautiful lingering fragrance. Bliss!

Here, let me share how to make this all natural Body Butter quickly before you come after me for an overload of adjectives :P.

This recipe calls for just three ingredients - Cold pressed or Virgin Coconut Oil, Beeswax and Frankinscense (Sambrani).

As you will know, there's nothing more soothing to your skin than Coconut oil, especially in this part of the world. It's a wonder oil that has a wide variety of use right from skin care to cooking. It is antimicrobial, antifungal and is a good moisturizer that prevents excessive skin dryness. It has amazing healing properties as well. And it removes tan to boot! What's not to like?! The Beeswax is also a wonderbox that packs quiet a punch - being antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial!! And it's supposed to reduce age spots too! As for Frankinscense, it should come as no surprise to you to know that it is an astringent that comes with it's own benefits for the skin including helping reduce acne, wrinkles and pores! The divine fragrance also brings a soothing effect on the senses. This Body Butter can't get more natural or healing!

Now, let's look at the proportions:
  • 250 ml of Virgin Coconut Oil or Cold Pressed Coconut Oil (that's about 1 standard cup)
  • About 100-200 gms of Beeswax (I took about half a cup or a bit less)
  • A teaspoon of Frankinscense
The making procedure:

1. Take a wide mouthed vessel with some water in it and put it to heat. Take another smaller vessel (which can accommodate the quantities we will be working with), and pour the Coconut Oil into it. If you are doing this in winter as I did now, the Coconut Oil might have frozen to a solid or semi-solid state. So this heating process is to bring that into a liquid state so that we can combine it well with the Beeswax. Now, using the double boiler method (i.e. you need to put the smaller vessel with Oil that you took into the bigger vessel with water), heat up the Coconut oil.

2. Once the oil has completely turned liquid, add the grated Beeswax and wait for that to melt as well. Please ensure the flame is kept to low or medium low. You don't want the water in the outer vessel boiling up.
3. Stir the Oil and Beeswax well and mix them up nicely. Switch off the flame and take out the vessel with the mix.
4. Let it cool a bit. You might want to stir occasionally.
5. Now, add the Frankinscense powder and give it a good stir so that it dissolves into the Oil mix. Chances are, you might be left with some powder that doesn't really dissolve fully (as it happened with me). The original recipe by Smitha calls for dissolving the Frankinscense powder in the Coconut oil naturally by letting it soak in the Oil for two weeks. But I had no patience to wait for two weeks for that to happen. So I have taken my chances in adding the powder directly to the warm Oil.
6. After 5-10 minutes, give it a good stir again and transfer the mix quickly to your preferred storage container (Please ensure its Metal or Glass as you will pouring it while still hot). Beeswax has a habit of solidifying very quickly so you got to be quick about transferring the contents!
7. Let the mixture set overnight in the storage container.

Your luxurious, divine, healing Body Butter is now ready to use!

So how all can you use it, you ask?

You can use it as a body moisturizer, face cream (if you like the slightly shiny look and you don't have problem with that!), lip balm (yes!) AND as a foot cream at night to get a beautiful looking extremes! You can also use it over dry areas in your body that need a bit of attention and pampering!

I just made the first batch tonight and I can't wait to start using it from tomorrow. I already have few friends who have asked me to bring it over for them to try as well. Hopefully, they will fall in love with it as much as I did with the skin butter Smitha makes. Why don't you try it and let me know how it works for you? I would love to hear from you :)

Meanwhile, I am already looking forward to making my next batch - I am going to use some essential Oil like Calendula (aka Pot Marigold - that has loaaaaaaads of benefits for the skin/health too!) and see how that will turn out. I can't wait!

A few notes you should read:
1. This is a body butter so the consistency of the end product, when  you use it, will definitely feel a bit oily or buttery. However, it will get absorbed into your skin quickly enough leaving a smooth finish behind. So first use it on your body and then, if you like, on your face.
2. You don't slather on this butter :) You should apply just a tiny bit gently and if you like it, you can go after more.
3. Working with Beeswax can be highly tricky. The vessels you use, the spoon or fork you might use to stir and everything else that the Beeswax will get in touch with, will get a nice coating of the same! And that can be pretty tough to clean up. I am now left with two big vessels which I dont know how to clean! scrubbing doesn't seem to be getting the wax off and heating is just melting and cooling it! I am afraid to throw the water in the drain too as it might solidiy and mess the pipes up! So careful there.
4. Obviously, this body butter is not vegan as the Beeswax definitely is not made from naturally abandoned hives. I need to check if there's a better source of Beeswax which is extracted without harming the Bees - perhaps from a professional Beekeeper. Will update when I find one. Meanwhile, am going to make a vegan Body Butter next. Stay tuned in!
5. Lastly, but very importantly, first do a patch test on your arms or something before you try it on your body/face. Of course, there are no allergy causing agents here but you never know. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Making Beeswax

I have been wanting to make my own body/face cream ever since Ms. Smitha Kamath spoke about it during one of our Gardening meets. I had the chance to try it (the cream that Smitha makes with Beeswax and Virgin Coconut oil) during the visit to Smitha's Sacred Farm and found it absolutely amazing - it made the skin very supple, soft and felt totally natural. Definitely a must have cream in one's list of natural cosmetics. While buying it from Smitha was an option, I also felt the urge to try making it on my own since Smitha very generously shared the recipe and the procedure to make it in her blog/talks.

One of the main components of this cream, apart from the Coconut Oil, was Beeswax. So, when I happened by a honey harvest and sales counter at my office premises, while everyone else was busy bargaining and buying the "pure" honey, I shocked the salesguy (the work is outsourced to some small vendor!) by requesting for the wax instead. BTW, I had no clue what the wax actually looked like or what is a Beeswax even - whether it is the leftover hive, or some kind of liquid other than honey that we collect from the hive or something else altogether! So I just took my chances and asked for "wax" and got the pieced up hive in return! Incidentally, the salesguy actually charged me for it saying the "wax" or the "hive" is actually more worthy and costly than the honey itself - as the Beeswax has a wide range of application including in creams, as an adhesive in industrial range ropes and also gets sold in bulk to Temples (for sticking the ornaments to the Idol - as per what the Salesguy told me!). I of course had to bite my pride and ask the Salesguy how to convert this "hive" into actual Beeswax before I remembered that I could have Googled it!

Within moments of buying the "hive" that I need to convert to "Beeswax", I was assaulted with a huge feeling of guilt and despair - so many Bees made homeless, so many killed and so many young ones and eggs destroyed even before they could see the outside world. There were still some half dead bees clinging to the hive I had got - apparently, though they can very well fly away without getting hurt (not the young ones though), the older ones kind of try to keep entering the hive (though it has been taken apart) and eventually drown in the honey that start oozing out of the hive. Either they drown or their wings get stuck in the gooey liquid rendering them flightless. A very sad sight that was - to see the helpless bees swarming around their once-beautiful home. Sigh!

Apathy to the rescue! As with all emotions, I accepted my guilt and decided to move on - as I could not now throw away the hive as the deed has already been done so to speak!

Okay, now let's get down to how we actually make the Beeswax from the "hive" that is harvested from the honeycomb. After extracting all the honey (either by simply letting the honey drain out through gravity or by squeezing the hive), you will be left with the "leftovers" of the hive ranging from white, yellow and dark yellow colors (like the picture below). The lighter colored one will yield more wax apparently so that is preferred though of course the dark one will yield wax as well along with a lot of "debris".

Image result for honey bee hive taken apart

Steps to make Beeswax from the collected hive parts:
  1. As the first step, ensure that all honey has been drained out of the hive. Though this step is not mandatory, the next few steps will make any honey that may come out unusable as we will be taking this through a heating process and honey is not supposed to be heated. You can of course opt to "sacrifice" the honey (if any left) and proceed to next step directly.
  2. Cut the hive into manageable pieces and put them into a vessel filled with water (not more than half the vessel).
  3. Bring the water to a boil - ensure you monitor this continuously as the wax is supposed to be highly inflammable. Do not leave it unattended at any cost.
  4. You will see the hive melting and the wax coming out (along with few other debris including the bodies of bees which may have been inside! Gross, I know!)
  5. Once all the hive is completely melted and there are no more solid pieces left, switch off the heat.
  6. Take another vessel with some cold water and line with a fine cotton cloth - we will use this cloth to filter out the debris.
  7. Pour the hot water + wax + debris mix through this fine cotton cloth into the cold water.
  8. Throw away the debris collected on the cloth - or simply compost them! Also, do this process a bit quickly as the wax will tend to solidify quickly and may leave a layer wherever the mixed water spills.
  9. Now, leave the wax and the water overnight to cool down.
  10. Voila, you will be gifted with a nice solid piece of Beeswax the next day - all the wax will separate out from the water and form a solid block that will be floating on top of the water. Simply take out the wax or drain the water. You might also want to check for any debris that might have accidentally got in inspite of the filtering. If there is debris, you can simpy repeat the process - bring to boil, filter out through a fine (finer) cloth into cold water, leave overnight, collect the Beeswax next day.
So, there easy peasy, isn't it? There is also another method where you put the hive into a cloth, tie the cloth and put into the vessel with boiling water - the wax will melt out of the cloth into the water leaving the debris inside the cloth. I tried this method first - but I found that this process makes the cloth unusable after this exercise as a fine layer of wax will collect around it and it is very cumbersome to try to get them all off the cloth. 

The solid block of Beeswax I collected - using the method 2 I have mentioned above. 

Heating the "hive" inside a tied cotton cloth in water - this leaves out all the wax into the water while collecting all the debris inside the cloth - filtering as you melt the wax. But then, as you will see, in spite of this "filtering as you go", there is still some debris that leaked out into the wax and solidified along with it. So now, I have to melt the wax again!

The next step is to figure out how to use this Beeswax and make that body cream! Await my next blog for the same!

Weekend Farming!

A year or so back, I felt the need to take the plunge and see if I have it in me to do full time farming - the logical step obviously was to lease a small plot of land, work on it and see if I can sustain with it. Well, as luck would have it, we found a nice community farm (some 30 or odd kilometres from our home) that offered about 1000 sq ft of space along with a watchman who also took care of the watering and deweeding if required. There was no hesitation - we signed up right away.

We worked on that land for about 6 - 8 months earnestly (working on every other weekend as that was the only time we could actually travel that distance and visit and spend time at the land).

1. We prepared the land using the Natural farming methods of Leaf Litter, applying Jeevamrutha on them to create a living mulched bed/soil, then growing Nitrogen fixing crops and chopping and dropping them, etc. This took about 1.5 months.

2. The next step was to sow the saplings and seeds. Fortunately, I had started the Tomato and Brinjal saplings (and got few of them from a Gardening event too) - so they got transplanted straight away. Then sowed carrots, corn, potato, some greens, etc. I guess I kind of went overboard on the mixed cropping - everything seemed to be growing everywhere - this caused some problems later on.

3. Then the regular maintenance - which in my book actually reads no maintenance sans regular application of Jeevamrutham. I don't believe in Pesticides or other crop protection mechanisms (Live and let live!).

4. And after a waiting period of about six months, we harvested our first crop - about 12-15 kilograms of Tomato. All the brinjal were eaten by worms, the corn wilted due to lack of watering, the potato crop did not produce as much as expected. We of course got loads of greens every visit starting our second month itself (Amaranthus and Hona Gone to the rescue!).

5. Finally, in December (about 8 months after we took the farm), we decided to throw the spade in so to speak. We just could not manage the hectic schedule anymore - maintaining this land, our home garden, paying attention to kids, giving our week-long worked body some rest, etc, etc was getting a bit too much to handle. Plus, we felt the distance we were travelling to the land (about 1 - 1.5 hours of commute) was also not worth it.

Though I enjoyed this exercise immensely, I also understood that farming (at least the way I see it) cannot be a weekend job! Especially if you are NOT living in the farm!

Here are some pictures that will take you through our journey over those eight months:

The first survey (View from right) - 28th March

The state of the plot when we took over was semi-arid with minimal vegatation. The land has been mono-cropped with Sweet Potato for more than a year(sparsely in some areas) and the soil seemed stripped of much of its biology and life. There were some trees providing some much needed shade to the exposed soil including Mango and Guava. The same shade also acts as a deterrent to the growth of sun-loving plants (a problem we will need to handle much later; falling leaves, fruits and branches will need to be taken care of).

The landscape is also not very even - with hilly mounds here and there and of course the underground tunnels created by Bandicoots (another threat we will need to deal with once harvesting time nears).

The first survey (View from left)

The first treatment - 29th March

In keeping with the principles of no/minimal digging, PC and ZNBF, the most important thing we needed to was obviously to treat the soil and bring back it's life. So that's what we did. A barrel of Jeevamrutham (a concoction of cow dung, urine, among other things) was prepared and spread on the preliminary beds we created for convenience along with the fallen Honge leaves we gathered from the streets (sweeping the neighborhood much to the dismay of the hubby!). We prepared six horizontal beds of about 6 * 2.5 ft. A batch of cover crops will now predominate this area until soil fertility is regained at least a bit (though the full process will take about a year). A mix of mustard, fenugreek, cowpeas, sesame, beans, and Mung bean seeds were broadcast across the six beds with no rhyme or reason! There were ants and termites abound alll over - but we left it nature to decide if the seeds will survive their sight - somehow, seed starting and working with seed trays is not my cup of
thing! I prefer direct sowing.

Application of JM and Honge mulching

Broadcasting seeds on the beds were sub-contracted to the kids!

First signs of life - 12th April

Life seems to be trickling back when we visit after a gap of two weeks. In the interim, minimal watering must have been taken care by the farm keeper (perhaps once in three days). You can see sprouts of beans, mustard, and cow peas. The dormant and left over sweet potatoes in the ground from the previous year's crop had sprouted profusely as well. We decided to create two more beds - this time on the raised mound in the corner and reserve it for creepers. But this time, no cover crop for this area - just a treatment with JM and light mulching. In the other vertical bed, we broadcast radish, red and green amaranthus. Unfortunately, both these beds are completely under the shades of the mango and guava tree. Let's see how the greens and creepers are going to perform.

Cow Peas/Bean germinating

Establishing ourselves - 25th April

Surprise awaited us as we went to the plot another 12 days later. The beds were covered thickly with saplings of the seeds we had broadcast as well as with all kinds of weeds, especially weeds that foretell the fertility of the land. We were happy. The Saplings seems to be well-established though Methi was nowhere to be seen! Probably the seeds got eaten

Dense, dense, denser!

Bring it on - we are on our way to become wild - 5th May

This visit was very short - couldn't do much except a brief survey. The ground appeared more greener and denser. Holes on many leaves, especially mustard, indicating presence of caterpillars and worms. Yay! Food to the ecosystem! However, a slight fear of what is to come once the real crops start making their way!!

Wilderness! Nature is on her way back - 16th May

Oh, the glory of returning mother nature. If you look at the plot now, you wouldn't believe a human being worked on it! Such is the density and wild growth. By now, distinguishing between any recognizable variety of plant we sowed is almost impossible except in the two beds where we planted greens and creepers - the weeds and sweet potato have taken over in all the other beds. Added to that, seeds from the JM (from cow dung) and Tomatoes! Delightful!

Creepers established as well

Weeds galore amidst the cover crops

Raised Beds, Cover Crop and Biomass - 23rd May

After abt 4 - 5 weeks of intense growth of the cover crops, it was time for cleaning them up to make way for the veggie crops we wanted to plant. With a small prayer, we cut them all (without disturbing the roots as much as possible so that aeration pathways in the soil bed remains intact though there's the risk of having them regrow) and mixed them back in the beds we had made. Additionally, we used the soil we dug up from the walking pathway to create a raised bed with the now rich biomass of the cover crop beneath them. Now the waiting begins for our saplings to become a bit more strong in their traybeds before we transfer them to the raised beds here at the farm

Raised beds, Cover crops and Biomass - 23rd May

6 beds created! We let the other wilderness around stay - partly because we were super tired after 3 hours of continuous bending and digging, and partly because we didn't have anything planned to plant in those areas!

Planting Tomatoes, Beans, Corn, Chillies, Brinjals, and sowing Potatoes, Carrots and Marigolds - 13th June

When we went back after a gap of about 20 days, the beds almost looked like "revenge of the cover crops"! Most of them had put out new shoots over the covered biomass and the weeds seemed to be happily thriving further. The leftover sweet potato stems from last year seemed to be in a never say die mode putting out new growth all over. Another three hours of back breaking work later, the beds were ready post further cleanup and raised lines for planting the saplings we had got.

Ha! Finally done after multiple mistakes

Mistake 1 - Surface level planting of saplings that was pointed out by our farm keeper. We had just made abt 1.5 inches depth holes and inserted the saplings - but our farm hero came along and told us our saplings will not survive the week (with impending rains!) So we had to re do all the plantings - pull out, remake more deep holes, and replant.

Mistake 2 - Planting on top of the raised lines and not on the sides as required. Again pointed out by the farm keeper. His logic being better access to watering from the side of the line mound than top of the mound. But we didn't have the patience or energy to correct this one. So we let it stay!

Mistake 3 - Not enough saplings for six beds. We underestimated how many saplings we really needed. We were only able to fill two beds completely and the third one partially. We compensated by directly sowing beans and corns (and potatoes (sprouted ones left in the fridge!) which anyway need to be direct sowing) in the fourth bed. Two beds stayed empty! The cover crops and weeds are sure going to take over again!

Mistake 4 - Not planning for trap crops or pest repelling crops. There are plants like marigold, cosmos, amaranthus that act to repel or attract common pests to themselves so that they give the real crops a miss. We didn't send start them in the trays at home. We compensated by just broadcasting the seeds on the beds! Hope they take root and survive!

Mistake 5 - Not researching enough abt companion plants. Though we made sure we didn't mono crop and planted sets (tomato, chilly, carrot), (beans, corn, potato), (brinjal, tomato) - we could have done better.

And with that, we stopped documenting our work on the farm! Unfortunately, we had to stop in September as the commute, decision to give more time to kids, and daily commitments were conflicting with our desire to grow our own food on a land.

But it was few of the most awesome months of our life for sure - from preparing the land, going all against the advice of the farm hand (in letting the weeds grow, chopping and dropping, mixed cropping, and what not!), waiting eagerly for the first flowers of the tomato, weighing and finding we harvested about 15 kgs of tomato (only to realize that tomato prices were at the lowest in the market in the year - it was retailing at Rs. 5 per kg or less!), loosing all our Brinjals to the worms (yep! no pesticide in our plot - natural or chemical!), loosing all carrots, potato and corn to drought (the borewell motor became nonoperational for about 10 days with not a single drop of water coming forth from the sky either!)...and then to top it all off loosing all the tomato plants to heavy rain (yes, what irony isn't it?).... Wow, that was one roller coaster of learning and understanding the farmers' plights first hand.

That was just on a rented 1000 sq ft land with bare minimum investments - now imagine the same thing happening in acres and the farmer who invests his entire life savings. Sigh!

Coaching on Sustainable Living

Hello there! If you would like to join my coaching sessions on Bio Enzyme, Natural Cleaners, DIY Chemical free living, Plant Care, etc do head over to my course list here and sign up. Alternatively, you can email me on adropofwisdom at gmail along with the course you are interested in.

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A wannabe minimalist trying to make it all natural! Let's see how it works.

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