Before Omana, my nearest neighbour, bought her cows, she asked me whether she could gather fodder from our land. On her seven cents, she could just about house the cows, not graze them. She also asked whether she could pour out the cows’ urine, which amounted to several bucketfuls a day, on our side of the fence. Yes, I cried, looking ahead to bubbling compost pits and bumper coconut yields. Best of all, I could go halves with the Pauloses on Omana’s cow dung.
Cow dung is reserved on the basis of long-term agreements between families hereabouts, and newcomers have to schmooze new buyers of cattle.
Then, Omana sold her cows and moved away. This year, I tried to buy cow dung from the milk seller Kanaka, who had one tractor-load to spare. Kanaka’s plot has no access to a road. A tractor cannot get anywhere near it without going through a neighbour’s land. The neighbour, who has a long-standing beef with Kanaka’s family, said no. Hauling it home by hand would have made the dung too expensive.
When Ambika and Srini moved in across the road, I was delighted to find they owned two cows. I zealously made nice with gifts of drumstick and jackfruit and offers of free firewood. They promised to sell us whatever cow dung they didn’t need for their own coconut trees, but it would not suffice for our rubber, pepper, coconut, cashew and mango. Not to mention our ornamental plants which, for three years, had lived on nothing but tough love. Raman, auto driver and mechanic-in-a-pinch, usually brokers some cow dung for us, but this year, he said, “men from Thrissur” took away the whole lot in lorries. Srini’s friend had reserved two loads for us, but either he had workers and no tractor, or a tractor and no workers, or his daughter was having a baby.
I had a brainwave and went back to Kanaka to negotiate for her goat dung. Kanaka keeps five goats and this season, amassed several sackfuls of this compact and rich fertilizer. In the past, she had no idea it fetched a better price than cow dung and just mixed it all together, so there were no prior claimants for the goat dung. We closed our deal, and we loaded the sacks into the back of our WagonR.
Then, one day, Raman came by and asked for Rs300, saying Saar on his evening walk had told him to get as much chicken manure as possible from the government’s poultry farm. By tomorrow, he warned, it would all be gone. The next morning, he unloaded eight noisome sacks out under the rubber trees. For two days, Srini sniffed the air and wondered whose septic tank might be filling up, and then he thought to ask what we had in those sacks.
Saar and I scrambled to get it all dug into the soil, and just in time, too, before the pre-monsoon showers. Rain-drenched chicken manure, our neighbours tell us, has an unforgettable stench.
All set to feed my flowers, I next broke out the goat dung. Not so fast, advised my neighbours. Goat dung has to be pounded into powder, they said, otherwise it doesn’t release its nutrients.
Next morning, I found a flat piece of granite and a large pebble and started pounding. Certainly, it satisfied my inner Neanderthal, but the pellets were as hard as rocks. After an hour, I had semi-powdered half a small bucketful.
Two things next occurred to me. One, that I should Google this to make sure it’s not the kind of light-hearted trick villagers might play on an urban transplant. Two, that I should check with our close friend and agricultural expert GV in Chennai whether there was an easier way. GV came through. He said to simply mix up the goat dung with leaf mould and water the soil well.
The same week, two tractor-loads of cow dung, long despaired of, arrived at the gate. We are now, happily, in deep sh*t.
(This is part of a continuing series on life in Akathethara in Kerala.)
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