Sunday, December 14, 2014

Banana Cultivation

I planted about 1000 Njali poovan (Elakki) banana suckers in Aug 2013.Most of the suckers were bought from a near by farm and some where from the farm itself. Planting was done by just making a pit and putting the suckers and covering with soil, no manure was given. Typically people put cow dung, compost or mulching in the pit. I didn't want to invest more money into farming, so thought of taking a minimal expenditure path. Watering was given once in a week and around 750 survived the peak summer but growth was not very good. Typically after 9-10 months I should have be able to harvest them,

During the rainy season, I put some dried cowdung to 10 of them just to see the effect and those were growing some more healthy compared to the other. I employed labor to cut the grasses and but they were not mulching it around the plants.

Later using Scythe I started cutting and mulching and it was a tough job since lot of grass had grown after the rains. But once it was done, maintaining them at the summer was much easier.

Seeing the growth of grass, broadcasted sunhemp through out this area, in some areas, they had established well, but not every where. Later thought of establishing an invasive leguminous cover crop and bought seeds of Pueraria Javanica and broadcasted it some part. But it didn't germinate well or it was covered by grass, so planted them in grow bags and transplanted a few plants and they are coming up well. Hopefully they will establish well in an year throughout this area. Some photos..


April - 2014 - In summer





Dec-2014









Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Scythe from CEC Hyderabad

Cutting and controlling weed is an important activity in natural farming. I had seen Masanobu Fukuoka carrying a weed cutting tool with a long handle and thought such a long handled tool will be useful for cutting weeds. Fukuoka san carries two such tools, one short handled and one long handled. That tool was called Japanese Kama and later found that a tool called scythe exists which will be useful. See a picture of that tool.






I couldn't find any source in India to buy a scythe so contacted Alexander Vido of scythe works and got one scythe,it works well, but has some problems. It is very sharp and light weight but blade gets damaged when hit a stone or a hard branch which is there here and there through out the farm. Blade was bent,cut and I keep peening, sharpening but thought a bush scythe will be useful in these cases. Importing scythe was costly so finally came across CEC Hyderabad which makes scythes.Thanks to Balaji who gave this information on finding my previous blog post on scythe.

CEC (Centre for Environmental Concern) Hyderabad had imported scythes from Europe and studied it and they make it locally. Contacted Gopal of CEC Hyderabad and he spent the specification as

Stainless steel pipe welded to high quality hardened spring steel cutting blade. The Pipe is 4 ft with 16 mm diameter. The blade is 1.5 mm thickness, 90 mm width and 360 mm in length.

They make it to make the work of women laborers easy since benting and cutting weeds causes health problems (back ache etc) and allergic problems while coming in contact with some weeds.

I transferred 1200/- for this scythe and Mr. Gopal sent it to me. I fitted the scythe and started using it. It was not that smooth since it was little heavier than earlier scythe and also the snath was just 4 feet. According to the scythe experts it should be as tall as the person cuts. So I just put my earlier scythes wooden handle to this scythe and it works well now, even though it is little bit heavy compared to my imported scythe.

I am quite happy with this scythe's edge which is very strong steel and sharp. Hitting branches and small stones are all fine. I still haven't fitted handles for the snath and not really using it the way scythe is being used, since most of the cases there will be in between plants and there is no complete grass area to cut.

So anyone who buys this scythe should experiment a little bit and also fit a new snath. I use the same sharpening stones for making it sharp.

Anyone interested in buying this scythe can contact Mr.Gopal. Total cost is rupees 1200/- + shipping charges (in my case it was 400/-).

email - cechyd@eth.net ,cecgopal@yahoo.com
Phone - +91-9848127794

Here are some pictures: The one with steel handle is the scythe from CEC.





Saturday, November 1, 2014

Paddy crop season 2 - 2014

Season 2 paddy crop has started. Field was ploughed, using tractor with gauge wheel, this is the first time I am trying this. Need good amount of water in the field only then gauge wheel ploughing can be done. One good thing is that, any amount of green biomass can be put in the field, including branches, and all get incorporated in to the soil and finally levelling was done so that water does not get stagnated in one place. Totally around 70 cents ploughing was done in 3 hours and costed around 3000/-.

7Kgs of seeds were put in the puddled field by October 13th and on November 1st transplanting was done. Seed used is called Gopika developed by Sasidharan of Pulamanthol, Calicut, Kerala. Sasidharan developed this field by sowing Aiswarya and Jyothi together and it took around 9 years to develop this. He claims that 10 ton yield was obtained from 1 hectre using SRI method. Bunches of 3 seedlings were put and still seedlings were not sufficient for the 0.7 acre. In some area, seeds were broadcasted.

Here are some photos..








7-Nov-2014

Plants are recovering from the initial shock of transplanting.




21-November-2014

Plants are turning more green and weeds are also doing very well !!!. Since field was not flooded completely, weeds has come up and overtook the paddy. 5-6 women labourers were put for 3 days to completely deweed and field looks clean now. Weeds are a major issue, if we don't know how to handle them..after a period, once the rice has grown and covered the field, weeds are not an issue.

To make weeding easier, planning to plant them in line at 25cms distance as in SRI method. Also wanted to try azolla, but not sure if we always has to keep the field flooded.




weed infested area before deweeding

26-Nov-2014
It is becoming a challenge to control the weeds. After deweeding, water was kept reasonably well, but still weeds are coming. Started another round of deweeding, this makes my next plan very clear, at any cost it will be SRI at least for the 2nd season. It looks like density is a problem, in broadcasted area, there is more dense plants and hence weeds are less.







Broadcasted area, weeds are less.


Broadcasted area, weeds are less


6-Dec-2014

After weeding, now plants looks more healthier. As of now weeding cost is 40% of the total money spent, so definitely this can be reduced with line planting.





Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Misconceptions about Natural farming

Typically people think 'Natural farming' as leaving everything to nature and take what ever we get from crops. This is not how Masanobu Fukuoka had practised natural farming. First of all he was a true farmer and had been living from the income from farming. So he had genuine attitude towards farming. His rice fields were better than conventionally farmed rice fields and yield was comparable and some times better. His mandarin orange orchards had lot of fruits on them and is an amazing sight to see that.





Masanobu Fukuoka had deep understanding of weeds and its cycles and used clover to suppress weeds. He sowed wheat seeds and clover before the paddy was harvested so that wheat establishes before the weeds. Clover suppress grass and provides nitrogen to crops. He also applied 900 pounds of chicken manure on 0.25 acre of paddy field. Generally people think that in Natural Farming, there is no need to apply any fertilizer.

While planting fruit saplings, he suggests to fill coarse organic content in to the pit. He also suggests to bury wood to the orchards in trenches, all these will help to develop the land. He also grows 16 acasia trees per acre for green manuring along with complete cover of clover.

So all these suggests that it was not just leaving everything to nature and take what ever nature gives. There is much more intelligent intervention in Natural farming.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Invasive cover crops - Pueraria Javanica and Mucuna Bracteta

Leguminous cover crops are said to be superior to growing a ground cover of grass.  According to experts, making land fertile with just growing grass take many more years. I don't learn too much of theory which is difficult to understand, but they say Carbon to Nitrogen ratio is important in the mulch, in grass Carbon content is more Nitrogen is less, and in leguminous crop, this is much better. Nitrogen being an important content for healthy crops, leguminous cover crops helps to make crops healthier.

I tried Sunhemp and Velvet beans in coconut area, they are OK, but some time, they don't establish very well. I may have to reseed them again, if germination is bad. As I heard, cover crops like Pueraria Javanica (Tropical Kudzu) and Mucuna Bracteta has to be just established once and after that they will remain for many years, but the problem will be in controlling.

This made me to think about invasive cover crops like - Pueraria Javanica (Tropical Kudzu) and Mucuna Bracteta. Mucuna was seen in rubber plantations in Kerala and they keep a ground cover green even during peak summer. I searched to check if anyone is using in orchards and found two farmers in Kerala. One was a farmer from Kannur, Kerala named Francis and he used Mucuna as cover crop in his pepper crop - www.nif.org.in/upload/pdf_file/francis_pa.pdf. Talked to him and he was recommending Mucuna and even though it is invasive, it can be easily controlled. Another farmer was Jayadevan, Alanellur, Kerala and he was not completely for it, since it just takes over and spreads to different places and it can not be used as fodder. He had used it in one area of coconut farm and that area didn't require any watering, he was planning to replace it. Since there were plenty of red ants, there was no threat of snakes. I talked to Kailashamurthy of Mysore and he suggested to use Pueraria. Pueraria also is used in rubber plantations widely. Later found one farmer in Palakkad who had used Pueraria Javanica in his coconut farm. His name is Anilkumar and he was OK with it, but again it climbs onto everything and even though no snakes are found, it is scary for the laborers to walk through it. He is phasing it out and try to grow other legumes. Some photos of Anil Kumar's farm ..





I found some recommendations in Masanobu Fukuoka's natural farming book, about tropical kudzu, so thought of trying it out in one area where I have planted banana. Probably after some 3-4 years, I will also phase it out using grazing or cutting it.








 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Germinating red custard apple seeds

On this summer we got some red custard apples from neighbor, which were big and extremely tasty. I was happy to see many seeds inside that and kept around 75 of them so that I can germinate and plant them in farm. By May middle, I planted them in plastic bags and started watering.

To my surprise, just only 2 had germinated. I thought hardy seeds may need some treatments and could find some information about hot water treatment, mechanical treatments etc on the web.

After rain had started, I was going under this tree since this is the walking path to my new house construction site. I could see many seedlings of red custard apple germinating under it. So probably these seeds underwent severe temperature stress in the open field and that is the natural condition for it to germinate. I had kept my seeds properly covered in the house and probably that does not work.

Recently while searching for Pueraria Javanica for using as a covrcrop, I found one website has given these seeds has to be treated with sulphuric acid, hot water or abrasion treatment. They also mentioned that seeds can be sown directly much prior to the rain and some percentage of the seeds will germinate. Nature has its own ways without special treatments....

http://www.appuagro.com/pueraria-phaseoloides-pueraria-javanica.html

Friday, August 22, 2014

Nature's Cultivation

These are some questions which keep coming to my mind, I don't have answers..

Recently I was seeing rice plants on the roadsides which has come up on its own, but with many tillers and they were really healthy plants. Some of them stands where there is not much visibly fertile soils and still looks healthy. No body has tilled the land, no fertilizer and no watering (all rain fed), how can it be that these plants are so healthy? It is not that all the seedlings are growing well, so may be it is dependent on the seeds also?






Near my house construction area there was a pumpkin plant which came up on its own and spread on the bricks and workers found that, it has many big sized pumpkins. One was harvested, 4-5 people shared it. No body planted it, fertilized it, watered it, how can it grow so healthy and produce such big sized pumpkin?

On this season, I planted turmeric on raised bed and applied some cowdung slurry and dried cowdung. I am not really happy with the growth. One reason was that, after one or two rains there was a long gap and rain started again, so planting was delayed close to a month. In banana area, earlier there was turmeric cultivation and still some plants come up their own. To my surprise most of such plants are taller and healthier than the plants grown in the raised bed with so much care. How is this possible?

I don't have a final answer and may never find it, it looks like nature has its own ways and we can not fully understand it.

One thing I felt is that it since all these plants germinate at the most right time mostly with the first rain and during those conditions, competitions from nearby grass will be minimum and they establish well. I had seen this during my experiments with paddy, we have to put the seeds at the first rain or before that so that it gets an upper edge compared to grass. Once grass is established it is really difficult to compete with them. This is why Fukuoka makes seed balls and scatter them much ahead, so that they germinate at the right time.

Masanobu Fukuoka had mastered natural farming, by observing nature. I am following his teachings and see if I can learn from nature, so these are some steps towards it.