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....


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.


Friday, August 15, 2014

Farewell to my dog friends

I had three dogs in the farm, all looked after my worker Palani. They were Julie, Rugmani and Kuttus. When ever I go to the farm, Julie will be there, most of the time around me, and will definitely will have a portion of my lunch. She is very punctual at it, some time she goes away, but at the lunch time she will be there. Some times, they accompany me and they will just relax some where when I do my work. The fact that they are there, makes me more comfortable, since they sense snakes or any other creature much ahead.

Rugmani is Julies's mother and is more matured. Kuttus is Rugmani's son is very mischievous. Unfortunately all of them had eaten some poison which some nearby farmers had put in their ginger farms for killing rats. Julie and Rugmani was seen dead in the farm and Kuttus was not traced at all.  Recently Rugmani had given birth to 4 puppies and they are searching for their mother. Palani is taking care of them, by feeding with baby bottles, hope they survive.

Farewell to my friends .......





Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Cover crop update

I have been experimenting with a few cover crops..recently added Desmodium Scorpiurus and Araches Pintoi. Desmodium Scorpiurus was spotted on the road sides and could see that they are establishing nicely in some areas and even though it is a creeper does not climb on to other plants. So thought this will be a good cover crop for rice and also at the coconut, banana area. If there is no competition they creep along the ground, but if there are other plants and if there is a competition for sunlight, they rise to around 1 to 1.5 feet. Its seeds are sticky and gets transported to other areas. Here is one photo where it is establishing in one area of the farm. I haven't seen this being used as a cover crop, but hoping it will do the purpose. If any one knows about this plant, please get back.

Another one is Arachis Pintoi and this one was seen in the lawn of some houses and later found that it is actually used as a cover crop. I could find it in local nursery and last year put 3 plants in the farm in the rainy season and all had survived the peak summer. This year cut some of them and propagated it and they are coming up. Not sure, if they compete well with local grass, they are less than one feet height. If successful will use this as a cover crop for my no-till rice experiment and hence establishing this in one small area of the farm. It looks similar to peanut plant and has 4 leaves in one stem.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Rice cultivation - Monsoon season - 2014

I am starting with rice cultivation in the monsoon season. I couldn't make the no-till method working, so moved to organic rice cultivation with tilling. I used a rotovator attachment with tractor and all the grass also was powdered in the process. I could use rotovator since there was not much water in the field, even though it is peak of rainy season. The field was not completely levelled and ideally should have used a tiller after watering the field to puddle the field. Since tiller was not available at proper time, one person was assigned to puddle the field with his legs and I also helped him in the process.

The rice used is Vysakh, an upland rice which does well in the muddy field also. I had kept some seeds from my last harvest. The seedlings were around 35 days old, while transplanted. I had applied some dried cowdung in the field to make it more fertile. Now planning to use cowdung slurry to promote the growth. The challenge is to control the weeds, have to keep the field in water so that weeds does not come up.

For last two days not much rain, field has grown dry.


Rain is back and field has enough water. Weeds were more and hence weeding was done with 3 women labourers.


Applied cowdung slurry, one women labourer was employed for 2 days. Small grasses are seen, probably to be deweeded once again.


Paddy has grown more thick and covered the field and started flowering. We have received good amount of rain, this time, there is standing rain water in the field now.

Flowering is complete now..climate has become windy and rain have receded.


Getting ready for harvest...some insect attack was there, but just neglected and it didn't cause any problem. Peacocks and birds has to be watched, they are getting ready for harvest.


Finally harvest is over..yield is not so good, got 217 kgs (31 para in local language). But it gives good feelings..have enough food for 5-6 months. There was no insect attack and peacocks also was not a problem, climate was good for harvest. Now starting the next season paddy. Yield was not so good since there were not many tillers and also seedlings were 35 days old when transplanted. May have to put more cowdung during land preparation for better yield.