Free From School
By Rahul Alvares
Public Domain Books
Chapter 3: Plant Festivals
The rainy season brings out the average Goan’s passion ate love for plants and some of this fervour and enthusiasm finds its way into plant exhibitions and plant festivals. I would like to recount my experiences with two of them-at Saligao and at Siolim-two villages close to where I live. At the first I was a mere spectator but played a more active role in the second.
Saligao Sunday, the 1st of July, was an unusually bright day for the normally dull, wet, cloudy rainy season. I was looking forward to going to Saligao to see an exhibition of plants and was glad for the dry weather as I pedalled the 20 minutes it took to reach Lourdes Convent, the well known school in the village where the exhibition was being held. I reached around 10.30 in the morning. The exhibition had already been inaugurated and the place was crowded with people all trying to enter the main hall where the exhibits were kept. I too did likewise.
The main exhibition hall was quite big and the plants were exhibited in pots in the centre of the hall. Many of the plants were for sale. They had been brought there by different people and most of the pots had the names of their owners on them. The cacti were grouped together on a table on one side of the hall and the prize winning exhibits of the flower arrangement competition on another. I noticed that the first prize had been given to a flower arrangement done inside a painted scooter tyre. I thought this a really unusual idea. The two most attractive and unusual cacti were ones on exhibit: while one had a thin green base and a bright red lumpy top the other was like a cotton puff.
Besides the plants in the hall some classrooms alongside were also occupied with plants and other items for sale. There were food plants like coriander and coconut seedlings, ornamental plants such as money plants, creepers, and indoor decorative plants. There were also garden implements including spraying tools, cutters, flowerpots, seed packets and organic manures.
At eleven o’clock there was an announcement that there would be a talk given by Mr Francis Borges, the topic being `Organic Farming’. Francis Borges is a college lecturer but is better known for his experience and knowledge of plants. He practises organic farming and has a nursery called Apurbai. He used to write a weekly column in a Goan paper the “Weekender”. My dad had already told me about him so I was eager to hear what he had to say.
His talk dealt with the consequences of using chemicals (pesticides, insecticides, fertilizers) which he said was a recent happening in the world. He stressed the need to return to organic farming which he said was the only sensible way of farming. He also spoke about the role of earthworms as friends of the farmer.
Many questions followed. Most of these dealt with problems people faced while gardening at home. Mr Borges in his reply offered practical solutions which he himself had tried out successfully. For example, to the query, “Why does a papaya plant die after flowering?” he suggested building a bund round the base of the plant because water collecting there rots the papaya base stem. In this connection he also spoke of a medicine which he and his colleagues had invented to drastically reduce the diseases which attack papaya. He markets this as “Papaya Cure”. By around noon the talk ended and I left for home.
Siolim The plant exhibition at Saligao had given me an idea of what to expect at the next plant festival I attended, which was at Siolim. Here I took an active part thanks to the invitation I received from Alexyz, the well known Goan cartoonist, who was in charge of the Siolim Plant Festival called “Green Heritage”. Green Heritage was started by Alexyz and his friends a few years ago and it has proved to be an enormous success with people eagerly awaiting the event each year.
I woke up early on the morning of August 11th, 1995 and pedalled away to Siolim, which is a picturesque village across the hill from Parra. I found myself sitting at Alexyz’s doorstep much earlier than expected. Alexyz and his wife Tecla arrived home in time for lunch. After lunch, I hopped on the back of Alexyz’s Kinetic Honda and we set off to visit the homes of all those participating in the exhibition, informing them to keep their exhibits ready for us to collect the next day.
I woke up on the 12th morning to the sound of Alexyz’s gibberish much like scatman’s scat. “Come on man, let’s get going”, he yelled. He was a college friend of my parents and he is one of the funniest people I know. Just being in his company is one big laugh!
Our task that morning was to collect the plant exhibits from the homes of all those on our list. The tempo arrived at 9.30 a.m. We covered the base of the tempo with shrubs to act as cushions for the potted plants. We had a long list of homes to visit. Each time we picked up an item for the exhibition we tagged and numbered it so we would know the correct house to return the pot to later. We had to be careful at some houses otherwise we might have ended with torn pants ripped up by the huge Dobermans people owned.
When the tempo could carry no more we would return to SFX school where the exhibition was to be held in order to unload the pots and start out again. Each round was an experience of new people, new homes, new gardens. On one round we visited the famous pop singer Remo’s house. His mother was taking part in the exhibition.
It took us all day to complete the list and we eventually made three trips round the village. We then arranged the pots on the benches in the school hall. Miguel Braganza (an agricultural officer of the Government who at that time was posted to the Indian Council of Agricultural Research in Old Goa) and Francis Borges (the same person who gave the talk on organic farming at the Saligao Plant Exhibition) were also there along with several other village boys and girls all helping in various ways to set up the show which was to begin the next morning. In fact by the time we finished it was already one a.m. of the 13th. We would have only a few hours of sleep before we would all be on duty again at 9 a.m. to complete the last minute jobs before the festival got started.
The Green Heritage Plant Festival lasted three days. The Director of the Agricultural Department, Mr P.K. Desai, inaugurated it at 11 a.m (instead of a ribbon to be cut between the doors of the exhibition, there was a creeper). He also released a book titled, Green Aid III-Total Gardening that the Green Heritage had published. The book was wrapped up in a large money plant leaf instead of wrapping paper. I thought this an unusual and apt idea. After the inauguration and the release of the book, the official made his speech which was followed by a funny speech made by Alexyz.
The Green Heritage programme had several aspects: (i) the exhibition, (ii) lectures and talks on different subjects and (iii) competitions of different kinds-all related to the green world.
The main exhibition hall was very big and it was filled with all kinds of plants, arranged in such a manner that people could move around easily and view the plants without too much difficulty. Altogether there must have been about two hundred pots. There were vegetable plants such as chillies and brinjals. There were flowering plants, cacti, creepers, ferns, bonsai of Banyan trees, peepal trees, etc. There were also lime trees, orange trees and chickoo trees all growing in pots.
On the stage in the hall, competition exhibits-vegetable-carving crafts and flower-making crafts of students from different schools-were kept.
Outside the hall there were two corridors. In one corridor the government nursery was stationed, where neem, mango, coconut, chickoo, tamarind, cashew and some other kinds of trees were being sold. Along the other corridor a variety of other items were kept on sale: a small table held copies of the book, Total Gardening as well as the previous two volumes released at the earlier exhibitions by the Green Heritage; another table held beautiful coconut handicrafts for sale. There was an elephant head, a table lamp, a skull, all made out of different parts of a coconut. Next to this, The Other India Bookstore had set up a stall with a large variety of environment titles. Further down was the Garden Glory stall selling various types of garden implements such as lawn movers, cutters, sprayers and other accessories. Apurbhai had a variety of organic manures like leaf mould, Karanji and bone meal besides ornamental plants, palms and creepers. There were pickles, squashes and medicine for papaya plants also on sale.
At the far end of the corridor was the canteen. Here, whenever we were thirsty or hungry, we went and had a cold drink or some snacks. I didn’t have to worry about my bill, because it was taken care of by the Green Heritage group.
Next to the canteen, there was a small table, a blackboard, some chalk and some benches. This was where the programme of lectures and talks was held. Altogether there were four talks given during the Green Heritage Programme: on vegetable carving, jams and squashes, wine-making, and cacti.
I decided to attend the talk given on cacti by a person who grew cacti in his flat. His talk was extremely interesting and full of practical information and handy hints on how to grow cacti. Although I have not tried my hand at growing cacti, yet I took down detailed notes which I shared with my mother, who as I correctly thought was very happy to get the information as it helped her in her little cacti rock garden. And it certainly was a very educative talk for me.
All through the three days I was assigned simple jobs like watching over the plants in the main hall, watering the plants, carrying pots and furniture around, handling the sales of the Green Heritage booklets, and so on. And with Alexyz around each task was great fun.
On the last day, there was the prize distribution ceremony. I was proud and happy to receive a special certificate for having assisted in the Green Heritage Festival. As the fair came to an end the organisers all felt that it was yet another successful event. I was happy to have been a part of it. But the fun was not yet over for we all had a barbecue dinner that evening that lasted well into the early hours of the morning. We slept only briefly for there remained the final task of returning the pot exhibits to their respective owners. This we commenced early next morning.
I had enjoyed my work at the Green Heritage and my stay at Alexyz’s house. I was indeed sad when it all ended. I rested the next day at Alexyz’s house and on the 18th morning, left for home.
Field Work Notes:
Growing Cacti At Home
Cacti are plants suited to the desert and we must keep this factor in mind always when growing ornamental cacti in our gardens, for it helps in the survival of the plant. For example, a cactus should never be watered over its body as it will start to rot. This is because it is covered with a waxy coating which prevents water loss through evaporation. When one waters the cactus over its body, the waxy coating is washed away and the plant begins to rot. The amount of water that you must supply to the cactus is very much dependent upon the season and upon the climate of the place. During the summer season one should water cacti every four days whereas in the rainy season once every fifteen days is quite enough.
Cacti need a minimum of two and a half hours of sunlight per day. However they should not be kept all day in the sun because they may wrinkle in too much of bright sunlight. Unlike other plants cacti produce carbon dioxide during the day and oxygen during the night. Hence, they are ideal plants to be kept in bedrooms to freshen up the air at night.
If the cactus plant is to thrive and prosper, the size of the pot in which it is grown has to be carefully monitored. The pot should always be a little smaller than the plant itself because it is only when the plant has to struggle to survive that it will thrive. If the pot is too spacious the struggle element is removed and the chances are that the cactus will die. Cacti are like human beings. When they suffer they will grow. Similarly if a cactus shows no signs of growth, stop the watering. It should be resumed only when the plant resumes growth.
The substrata of a cactus pot is ideally composed of pieces of broken bricks at the bottom, charcoal above it, then coarse sand and pebbles above it. Leaf mould is the best manure.
Grafting of cacti is very simple. A very small piece of the cactus plant should be stuck with cellotape to the plant that needs grafting. The smaller the piece the easier it is to graft. To reproduce cacti, one has to simply cut off a piece of the cactus, allow it to dry for a few days and then just place it over the cacti substrate. It will automatically develop roots.
To differentiate between cacti and other plants that look like cacti is very easy. All cacti have fine hair at the base of each thorn. The so-called thorns are in fact highly modified leaves which prevent loss of water through transpiration. If one ever gets pricked by cacti thorns, one should take cellotape, place it over the area where the thorns have penetrated the skin and then peel it off. All the thorns will get stuck to the cellotape and will be removed.