The celebration of Easter marks the end of Lent and the beginning of the wedding season. Easter is actually a spring festival of fertility that has been adapted and co-opted into Christianity. The Sonvsar Paddvo, Gudi Padwa or Ugadi that we celebrated earlier last month also signifies the renewal with a new year from the Konkan to the Andhra Pradesh on the East Coast. The Marigold or hRosamR are the most important flowers for wedding décor in this region.
The Marigold or Tagetes erecta, as it is known by Botanists, originated in South America but is known as ‘African Marigold’. Its common name is a corruption of the term ‘Mary’s gold’, because these flowers with golden petals were offered in plenty at the shrines of Mary across the tomato growing belt of Mediterranean Europe. In a state that is gradually moving towards organic agriculture, the marigold plant has multiple roles to play, not just in tomato cultivation. Incidentally, the marigold can be a symbol for the war against cancer-causing agro-chemicals, which are actually disguised war chemicals based on phosphorus and manufactured by the same set of companies.
The root exudates of marigold plants are most effective against the root-knot nematode Meloidogyne incognita and the root lesion nematode Pratylenchus penetrans. Just grow marigolds; they do the rest. The farmers will often treat their soil with various pesticides, called nematicides, in an attempt to eliminate the damage caused by an infestation. In doing this, farmers will also kill many of the beneficial soil fauna like earthworms, which in turn leads to degradation of soil quality. Growing marigolds has been shown to reduce nematode numbers by 90 per cent in the field and produce flowers that have other uses. The flowers are used in garlands, in aroma therapy, to produce apple flavour and yellow colour for food and drinks, and fed to hens to get deep orange egg yolks.
Root-knot nematode affected tomato, cucumber, brinjal (eggplant), bhendi (okra or Lady’s Finger), pumpkin (squash), and other susceptible crops will have very conspicuous root galls or knotty swellings on the roots. Lesion nematode, on the other hand, causes the roots to disintegrate in patches which may later join together. Root lesion nematode has a wide host range, including hosts like roses, banana, tomato, potato, maize, onion, field bean, cowpea, and chickpea. The nematode lays two eggs per day and completes its life cycle in just 22 days at 30 degrees Celsius temperature. Marigold can put a full stop to nematodes in the field, naturally.
Marigold flowers come in bright colours that attract butterflies and moths. Fruit and shoot-borer and leaf-miner caterpillars will thus find themselves cradled on marigold leaves and will not be able to do damage to brinjal, tomato, okra and other vegetable plants and fruits. It is so simple that one wonders why we did not think of it earlier. I felt that way when about two decades ago Gregorio Afonso, the grand old man of Goa Agri Horti Centre, Margao, guided me on how to use chuna of lime powder used by our forefathers to white wash rafters and false ceilings, to control termites in lawns and gardens. These solutions work wonders!