Introduction to Organic Ashwagandha Farming, cultivation practices
Ashwagandha is an ancient medicinal herb and it belongs to the Solanaceae or nightshade family. Ashwagandha is also known as poison gooseberry, Indian ginseng. Ashwagandha is also known as wonder herbs as it has several medicinal properties.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Organic Ashwagandha Farming, Cultivation Practices.
According to Ayurveda, it is a very useful plant. The regular use of Ashwagandha improves vigour and immune power. Ashwagandha is a hardy and drought-tolerant plant that grows well in dry regions.
Principles of Organic Ashwagandha Production
The general principles of organic production include;
- Organic farming protects the environment, minimizes soil degradation and soil erosion, optimize biological productivity, and promotes a sound state of health.
- Organic farming maintains long-term soil fertility by optimizing conditions for biological activity within the soil.
- Organic farming provides attentive care that promotes health and meets the behavioral needs of livestock.
- Organic farming maintains biological diversity within the system.
- Organic farming based on the living ecological systems and cycles, work with them, emulate them, and help sustain them.
- Organic agriculture builds on relationships that ensure fairness about the common environment and life processes.
Ashwagandha is an annual to perennial, branched, undershrub to the herb of about 30 to 120 cm height. Roots are fleshy, tapering, whitish brown. The leaves are ovate and the flowers are greenish. As in simple terms, organic farming entails the use of cover crops, organic manures and crop rotation to maintain long-term soil health. Organic farmers around the world take organic farming as working closely with the environment and maintaining the balance of the ecosystem. Most herbs prefer well-drained and friable soil to grow. This helps the plants to receive the nutrients, water and can develop a strong root system. Before farming, the soil must be prepared by analyzing the pH level and amount of organic required for proper growing conditions.
Herbs are easy to grow and tolerate a wide range of soils and climatic conditions. But they most prefer a warm and sunny site with good soil drainage and fewer weed problems. Tillage is an effective way to suppress the growth of common weeds. Other methods including mowing and cutting. Better weed management can reduce the risk of attacks from pests. And using herbal pesticides is also an effective method to kill all sorts of pests and insects. However, herbal pest control methods need laborious preparation, unlike chemical pesticides which are harsh to other living beings.
Major Production Areas of Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha is usually grown in dry parts of subtropical regions. Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh are major Ashwagandha growing states in India.
Soil and Climate Requirement for Organic Ashwagandha Farming
Ashwagandha gives the best result when it was grown in sandy loam or mild red soil with good drainage having pH in the range of 7.5 to 8.0. Growing Ashwagandha is impossible in soil that holds moisture and remains waterlogged. The soil must be loose, deep, and well-drained. Black or heavy soils having better drainage are also suitable for Ashwagandha cultivation.
In Ashwagandha, roots are the main economic part. Therefore, soil preparation plays a key role in Ashwagandha cultivation. Generally, 2 to 3 ploughing and disking and harrowing must be done before rains for bringing the soil to a fine tilth. Nourish the soil with plenty of organic matter at the time of land preparation for Ashwagandha farming. Furthermore, you will need to apply and mix the farmyard manure. And then level the field.
It is grown as of late rainy season crop. The semi-tropical areas receiving 500 to 750 mm rainfall are suitable for its cultivation as a rain-fed crop. If 1 or 2 winter spots of rain are received, the root development improves. The crop needs a relatively dry season during its growing period. Ashwagandha can tolerate a temperature range of 20 to 38°C and even low temperatures as low as 10°C. The plant grows from sea level to an altitude of around 1500 meters above sea level being a hardy and drought-tolerant crop.
Land Preparation for Organic Ashwagandha Farming
For the cultivation of organic Ashwagandha, the soil of the field should be well pulverized by ploughing or harrowing. Before the rainy season, 2 or 3 ploughed should be given to the soil to bring it to a fine tilth stage. Nourish the soil with organic matter at the time of land preparation. The composts or manure should be well decomposed. Mixed about 10 to 20 tonnes of farmyard manure per hectare into the soil at the time of the last ploughing.
Seed Rate and Method of Sowing in Organic Ashwagandha Farming
A seed rate of 10 to 12 kg per ha is enough for the broadcasting method. They can be sown in lines also. The line to line method is chosen as it increases root production and helps in performing intercultural operations easily. The seeds are generally sown about 1 to 3 cm deep. Seeds must be covered with light soil in both the methods. Plant to plant distance of 8 to 10 cm and line to line distance of 20 to 25 cm should be maintained. The distance/spacing can be altered according to soil fertility. In marginal soils, usually, the population maintained is high.
Broadcasting with higher seed rates at 20 to 35 kg per hectare is the most common method for the sowing of Ashwagandha in rainfed areas. Though, line sowing and raised bed sowing are also gaining importance in recent times and have been reported to yield a higher quantity of roots. In some areas, transplanting is also in practice. The seedling of 25 to 35 days old can be transplanted in the main field at the recommended spacing. The seeds are sown in lines at 1 to 3 cm deep in the soil.
Ashwagandha Plant Spacing
Depending upon the growth habit and germination percentage, use a spacing of 20 to 25 cm line to line distance 10cm plant to plant distance.
Seed Germination Process in Organic Ashwagandha Farming
Before sowing seeds, the first step is to dig out the soil and add organic fertilizer and manure in the proportion of 50% soil, 20% peat moss, or 30% vermicompost and mix the mixture well. Once the above-mentioned step is done, please moisturize the soil.
Sprinkle the seeds and little water and cover the seeds with soil/ wet newspaper/ tissue. Keep on checking the soil after every two days and if you feel that the soil is getting dry then keep sprinkling water. After a week or 10 days, seeds will start germinating.
Propagation and Planting Procedure in Organic Ashwagandha Farming
Usually, Ashwagandha propagates from seeds. So, you need to provide the nursery bed for sowing seed. Though, you must sow the seeds at right time to harvest the maximum yield of good quality produce. It may be noted that Ashwagandha is a late Kharif season crop; the time of sowing is decided by the date of arrival of monsoon in that area. Early sowing may cause seedling mortality due to heavy rains. The optimum time for seed sowing is 2nd to 3rd week of August. Broadcasting with higher seed rates at 20 to 35 kg per hectare is the most common method for the sowing of Ashwagandha in rain-fed areas. However, line sowing and raised bed sowing are also gaining importance in recent times and have been reported to yield a higher quantity of roots. Apply a light shower after the sowing of seeds to confirm good germination.
Ashwagandha is propagated by seeds and fresh seeds are sown in well-prepared nursery beds. Even though Ashwagandha can be sown by the broadcast method in the main field, the transplanting method is preferred for better quality and exports. It is propagated through seeds. Disease-free seeds should be selected and sown in nursery beds. We can directly sow the seeds by the broadcast method in the main field. One-hectare land of the main field requires about 5kg seeds for planting. The nursery should be raised in June and July and sown the seeds just before the onset of monsoon and covered it thinly with sand. After 6 to 7 days the seeds generally germinate and transplanted 30 to 40 days old seedlings into the main field.
For export, a well-maintained nursery is a prerequisite. The nursery bed generally raised from ground level is prepared by thorough mixing with compost and sand. Around 5 kg of seeds is essential for planting in 1 hectare of the main field. The nursery is raised in India, in June or July. Ashwagandha seeds are treated in carbendazim to control wilt and seed-borne diseases. Seeds are sown just before the onset of monsoon and covered lightly using sand. The seeds germinate in 5 to 7 days. You can transplant the seedling of 25 to 35 days old can in the main field at the recommended spacing. Also, you can sow the seedlings in lines at 1 to 3 cm deep in the soil.
Organic Manures and Fertilizers for Ashwagandha
Making fertilizer is one of the most important aspects of farming organically. This process includes using the optimal nutrients to enhance plant growth. Organic methods like composting, mulching, and using bio-fertilizers will help promote healthy crop growth. Vermicomposting is also an excellent method of introducing important nutrients into the soil naturally.
The crop doesn’t need heavy doses of manures and fertilizers. Use of organic manures preferred over inorganic sources of nutrients for Ashwagandha farming. Organic manures like farmyard manure, vermicompost, and green manure, etc may be used as per the requirement of the crop. A fertilizer dose of about 15 kg nitrogen and 25 kg phosphorus along with 10 to 15-tonne organic manures per hectare should be applied to harvest good yield.
The medicinal plants have to be grown without the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Organic manures like Vermi-Compost, Farm Yard Manure (FYM), and Green Manure, etc. can be used based on the requirement of the species. To prevent diseases, bio-pesticides could be prepared from Neem, Dhatura, Chitrakmool, and Cow’s urine, etc.
Irrigation Requirement for Organic Ashwagandha Farming
Ashwagandha is generally grown as a rain-fed crop where irrigation facilities are not available. However, for the irrigated crop, there should be access to a clean and reliable source of good quality irrigation water. Excessive rainfall or water is harmful to this crop and not require irrigation if the monsoon is well distributed throughout the growing season. However, one or two lifesaving irrigations can be given if required. Under irrigated conditions, the Ashwagandha crop can be irrigated once in 15 days depending on soil type. Organic mulches like Ashwagandha straw or wheat straw of the previous crop must be spread in between the rows to conserve the soil moisture, facilitate better water infiltration during excess rains, and control weed.
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Organic Pests and Diseases Control in Ashwagandha
No serious pest is reported in this crop. Whenever the crop is damaged by insects, two or three sprays Neem Astra as a foliar spray at 10 days interval was found highly useful against aphids, mites, and insect attack.
Diseases like seedling rot and blight are observed. Seedling mortality becomes severe under high humidity and temperature conditions. The incidence of the disease can be minimized by the use of disease-free seeds and by giving proper seed treatment before sowing as stated earlier. Neem cake also can be applied. It will save the root damage caused by nematodes and insects. Moreover, the adoption of crop rotation, timely sowing, and maintaining proper soil drainage will also protect the crop.
Preparation of Neem Astra – Please take 25 Kg of Neem green leaves, Fresh cow dung 5 Kg, cow urine fresh 25 liters, soak in 400 liters of water for 48 hours without top closing. It should be opened. Stir well clockwise and anti-clockwise. Filtrate the mixture. This is a powerful Neem Astra. It is generally used for all insects as a spray with 10 days interval.
Mites, aphids, and insect attacks, seedling rot, and blight are some common diseases and pests found in Ashwagandha cultivation. Though, no serious pests are found in Ashwagandha crops. Selecting disease-free seeds before sown is necessary to decrease these incidents. Bio-pesticides could be prepared from Datura, Neem, Cow’s urine, Chitrakmool, to prevent Ashwagandha from diseases. Apart from this, having proper soil drainage and adopting Crop rotation can reduce the impact of any diseases.
When and How to Harvest Ashwagandha
Harvesting is done in the dry weather when leaves are drying and berries change its color into red-orange. Harvesting is done by hands by uprooting the whole plant or through machines such as power tiller or country plough without damaging the roots.
Ashwagandha is ready to harvest in 150 to 180 days when flowers and berries start to form and leaves begin to dry out. Be careful not to damage the plant when digging up and make sure soil has some moisture while doing this. After harvesting, roots, and berries are separated from the plant. Roots are washed and cleaned and cut into small pieces of 7 to 10 cm and dried in sun or shade. Berries are also separated from the plant, dried, and crushed to take out seeds.
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