Friday, February 27, 2015

Hugelkulture beds

I have been hearing about Hugelkulture, recently I constructed couple of beds by burying wood, husk and wood clips, yet to be seen its effectiveness. According to sources, if it is built properly with enough wood logs, then no need of watering. Some information compiled from internet.

Hugelkultur” is a German word and means hill culture. It’s an ancient practice of creating raised garden beds by covering wood with soil. Hugelkultur has been practiced by permaculture practioner Sepp Holzer for many years.Masanobu Fukuoka also talks about burying wood to increase fertility
while establishing orchard.

Hugelkultur has been practiced in Europe for a long time and it is considered to be a very sustainable method of gardening. The buried wood acts like a sponge capturing water and produces lots of nutrients. As it decomposes, the wood draws in beneficial fungi and quickly turns into rich soil. As a result of this decomposition it creates the most amazing,fertile, and self-hydrating raised beds.

A hugelkultur bed imitates a forest floor.When trees and branches fall to the floor of a forest, they act like a sponge as they decay. By covering wood with sod, soil, and/or compost, you create a moist environment perfect for fungi to colonize. It’s a permanent bed and gets better with age.

Simply mound logs, branches, leaves, grass clippings, straw, cardboard, petroleum-free newspaper, manure, compost or whatever other biomass you have available, top with soil and plant your veggies. Some sources says they only have to water established beds a couple times per summer. Soil aeration increases as those branches  and logs break down... meaning the bed will be no till, long term.

The logs and branches act like a sponge. Rainwater is stored and then released during drier times. Actually you may never need to water your hugel bed again after the first year (except during long term droughts).

Building a hugelkultur bed can be as simple or as involved as you want. You can make small, 60cm mounds of rotting wood right on the ground. Place the wood like a puzzle, allowing as few gaps as possible. Add grass clippings and other finer nitrogen-rich organic matter to fill the gaps left
between the logs. Lastly cover the whole heap with 5cm of top soil and plant on and around it.

A 60cm tall,above ground, hugelkultur bed can maintain a usable level of moisture for about 3 weeks after it is saturated. Larger beds of 1.8m can hold enough  water for an entire growing season.

Some photos of my beds...


Lady's finger on Hugelkulture bed, with watering on weekly once/twice.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Rats, Peacocks and Gandhi Bug

I had planted 6 tapioca plants, around 6-7 months back. I had piled soil on its base and also applied some dried cowdung and mulched the base. I used to visit some times and was happy that there were no rat holes on the top. When I harvested it on last week, surprised to see holes underneath the ground to each of tapioca plants base !!! Some of the tapioca was eaten by rats..but it was not that bad, may be they had eaten 10% of the total, that also probably which had matured some time back and it was due for harvest, tender ones were spared by rat. I got around 6Kgs and felt happy about that, even though it is not much. I planted some of the cuttings in that place itself and piled some soil around it. While piling there were lot of loose soils which rats had made and that made by job little bit easier, rats do some good things also.

Peacocks are supposed to be a great problem for rice since they eat matured rice. In my experience, they don't enter the field, if there is enough water and they just eat the rice from plants which is on the edge of the field. But some cases, if the density of plants is very poor and there is no water in the field, they enter the field and harvest it before me.

Gandhi bug (not sure why it is named after Gandhi?) is a foul smelling insect which used to be a big problem in the paddy cultivation. Not sure, if it is by mere luck, so far it was not a problem for me, to that extend no insects attacked the rice in the last 2 season.

To conclude, so far all the so called pests and other enemies of farming, are manageable.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Kunjukunju - A traditional rice variety

Recently a malayalam magazine called Harithabhoomi gave details of some traditional varieties and one of it was 'Kunjukunju' cultivated in some parts of Idukki district and earlier it was cultivated in Palakkad district also. I mentioned this name to some of the elders in my area, they remember this rice being cultivated and it was very tasty rice with 90 days of duration and yield also was good.

Like many other varieties, it also disappeared when local agriculture offices started distributing the seeds of HYVs and farmers stopped keeping the seeds. But for some farmers like Soman of Kaliyar, Muvattupuzha, no other rice could give the same taste and they keep cultivating this rice for many years. It is resistant to diseases, and if it rains during flowering, causes no problem. 

Visited this farmer and collected 3Kgs of seeds from him, to try it out in our area.His paddy fields are beautiful at the foot hills of a mountain. It seems earlier this mountain had many tall trees and people cut all the trees and started cultivating rubber, coconut and other crops. Earlier the forest had elephant, tiger and many other animals, with the deforestation now all these animals receded to other forests. 

My attraction for this variety is its taste, short duration, good tillering, resistance to diseases and climate. The magazine mentions that according to old people, it was developed by some farmer, by using two varieties. This indicates may be this is not a very old variety. 

My tributes to the great unknown farmer who had developed this tasty variety.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Watering in summer

Even though I am not interested in watering plants, not able to avoid it since summer is very severe. Some coconut plants gets affected very badly if watering is delayed. Generally all trees have good mulch around the base and once watered moisture will be there for 4-5 days, beyond that it becomes dry again. Once organic contents in the soil increases, I am hoping that watering can be reduced drastically. Also there should be good shade all over the farm, but again crops should not shade each other, otherwise yield will be affected. It is about right balance

In areas where there is heavy mulch, there is a spongy affect while walking, earthworms make lots of holes and water goes through them and it behaves like a sponge. Those areas water retention is much better and I planted two coffee plants and three banana suckers and mulched with straw, hoping that they will survive.

There are 5 pepper plants in front of the house, they were dying out, mulched them with straw and water them once in a week just to see if they can be saved. They looks to be OK, straw mulching is helping to retain water at their base. 

I keep hearing Hugelkultur (raised beds with wood) is good for no-irrigation agriculture, planning to try it for vegetable area..even it drastically reduce the water requirement, it will be good.

Coffee plant

I was little late to start watering for this

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



In this area, I had broadcasted sunhemp and it grew well and could see plants are healthy in this area. Cut and mulched one area.


Sunhemp cover cut and mulched using CEC Scythe, it is becoming immensely useful.

Pureria Javanica growing in some areas...hopefully should give a good cover


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 - ,
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..


Plants are recovering from the initial shock of transplanting.


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

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


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.


Azolla was put in one area, it is spreading slowly...

Weed has taken over this broadcasted area, left this, no more weeding will be done here. I think if weeds are controlled, you can get a decent yield.


Paddy started flowering..during my last visit saw some birds trying to catch some insects, so put some support for them in the field. This is a normal practice to control the insects, but my assistant Palani has not seen this before, so he didn't do it as expected.

1st Feb-2015
Myself with paddy


Broadcasted area, grains have formed..rat attack in some places..

The taller ones are plants which came from last season's cultivation, they grew taller and already matured. This is a variety called Vysakh - an upland high yielding variety. Generally it is believed that plants which come from last season's crop will be weak, but it does not look like..even if left overs of last season may be enough for next season !!! to be seen.

In some areas..sunlight is blocked by nearby trees, there it takes time to mature..this has to be taken care in the next crop.

Crop slowly turning golden is a delightful sight to see this.


Almost ready for harvest, another 1 week to go..

9th March, 2015

Harvest is over..was done in 2 steps, there was some water in the field so it could not be completed on first day. Totally 11 women labourer's work was needed to harvest and process it and put it in sacks. Totally 54 para (in local kerala language, may be around 8Kgs) paddy was there. Totally 20,000/- was spent on this and 432kgs was got, so will get about 280Kgs of rice, enough food !!!

Number of tillers is between 10-15, had put only 2-3 plants in one place.

Some learnings
Broadcasting needs more skill to make plants uniform
Yield is less compared to other organic farmers since no manuring was done
Little more early weeding would have made it more efficient
May be case for SRI since watering is done from well and it becomes costly to flood also weeding cost can be saved and yield can be improved