Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Controlling weeds - Soorya Narayana's style

Soorya Narayanan is a natural farmer from Ottapalam,Palakkad,Kerala. He has 15 acres of land and grows coconut,banana,paddy and recently rubber. He does not irrigate his farm and also does not apply any animal manure. He had applied some chicken manure earlier, but not now a days. Couple of years back, he had received Kerala government's 'Kera Kesari' award for the best coconut farmer.

He does not grow any legumes between the coconut trees and just allows the grass to grow naturally. Instead of cutting the grass, he thrashes it with a long stick, he says this is more effective/easy than cutting the weeds. This is how he became a natural farmer..

He was a chemical farmer earlier and his own observations made him to a natural farmer. He found that using chemicals yield was not sufficient, land fertility was reducing and also he was under loss. So he left the land without doing anything and he was doing some other job to make a living. After two years, grass was growing tall after the rains. He wanted to cut and clean the grass, but getting labour was difficult he just thought of thrashing it with a stick. He found this useful and grass was not growing back since rain had stopped and summer was approaching. Next summer was a severe one and while the trees in the nearby farms were affected, his trees were still green. The thrashed grass retained moisture well and it was helping the trees. He really understood the importance of mulching and for him this thrashing was quite an easy task. He also left all the coconut leaves in the farm and trees started yielding well and he was chosen as the best coconut farmer for that year.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Paddy farming - Monsoon 2010

I started the paddy in my 0.6 acres of land. For two years nothing was done on this plot and different types of grass was growing thick, I got it cleared and wanted to do tilling to start with. At some points where there was a cover of dried grass not much grass was there. My plan was to start the paddy after tilling and once the paddy is established avoid tilling in the next cycle onwards. But finally I couldn't get a tiller, hence just cleaned the area with women laborers who cut and cleaned the grass. Even the dried grass was completely removed from the site and left on the sides. One area was prepared with a spade and sown the paddy seeds for transplanting.Transplanted 10 days old paddy, transplanting was tried out since grass were growing at fast rate and hence to give paddy some advantage compared to the grass.

By the time of transplanting grass was already thick and hence just cleared the grass where I had to plant the paddy. This was done in straight line and at 1 feet distance,but most of the places it became close to 1.5 feet, which was a mistake. I just cut and mulched the grass surrounding, it was labor intensive. I completed the
transplanting and after 2 weeks when I visited, the grass was too thick and was completely covering the paddy. I was little disappointed but didn't want to leave it at that point. Again cut and mulched the grass and had to spend long hours of effort for this. If I had tilled, I am sure, paddy would have established first and
by the time grass grows back.

Even after cutting and mulching grass grows very quickly back and rate of growth of grass is greater than paddy and grass easily dominate paddy.

As it stands paddy farming in grass is a challenge..obviously if it can be done easily people would have adopted it in large numbers. The total effort of planting the paddy and cutting the grass and mulching was 25 person days (8 hours a day). But if I had tilled and then planted, it would have been over with 7 or 8 person days.

I am not going to leave my no-till paddy at this point, but will continue with my experiments in a small area (0.2 acres) of the land and will go for tilling in the rest of the area as of now. I also wanted to try some tall varieties of paddy which can compete with grass.

Have a look at the pictures..


Here are some inputs from different people..mainly from Fukuoka mailing list


Grass which is growing in the paddy field is of rice family (monocot) only. It will be very difficult to establish the rice in it. Grass is already learned to grow in your field. But not rice. So it dominating. First you establish the cover crop (example: Black eyed pea (Malayalam : Dolichos catjang, Kannada: alasandi, Marati: Chavali, Hindi: Lobia) which is grow by dominating the existing grass. Complete the many cycles of such a cover crop till gross may get week. The selection of cover crop is very imported. It should grow by dominating existing grass and must be friend of rice. Any of locally available legume family will do best for rice and dominate the grass. Once legumes dominates in the field then it's ready for rice sowing. Either by
seed ball or transplanting. At transplanting time strong legume should be old age and week. The cover crop would cut and mulch the field. You can sow rice with any of the mild legume like methi or clover type. I have shared some of the photos which shows the legumes in grass or grass family plant.

Tom Gibson

This is good but if the grass is a type with a running root system you
are going to get much faster results by tilling. Mulch from just growing
a cover crop and mowing it probably wouldn't be an effective method of
suppressing this grass which apparently is very vigorous. You would need
something besides mulch to blanket the ground. If you have access to
large amounts of cardboard that would reduce the mass of organic matter
needed dramatically. Newspaper up to 40 sheets thick would also work.
Need to put the layers down so they are interlocking or the grass will
push up through the cracks.

Friday, November 12, 2010

How I started my experiments?

As the job became boring, thoughts about an early retirement came up. Also thought that there is no point in struggling again to make more money. Buying some land and doing farming became an attraction. May be because of the village background with which I was brought up. Even though we were not farmers, in the village where I was born and brought up, farming was all there, with a river flowing nearby and long stretch of paddy fields. The road to our school had both sides paddy fields,but now it is all gone houses came on both sides.

During one of the discussions, one friend  mentioned about reading an article about organic farming that came in a daily. This article described that farming like a forest approach is the best way to do and forest is the most fertile land. He also mentioned about the name of the author as Dayal. Searched in the internet and got some references about him and left the topic there.

One day reading the malayalam daily manorama came across the book 'Urvarathayude Sangeetham' (Song of Fertility) by K.V.Dayal in 'pusthaka parichayam' section of a malayalam daily. In the next trip to trichur checked this book in DC books, current and another number of books stalls but could not get it, again searched for this book in the next couple of visits without much luck. Once again while searching found out his phone number in one site (think it is OFAI..) and called him. He was happy to hear my interests and asked the address and promised to send one copy and later send the money. This kind of behaviour from one of the author of the book was quite new to me, so felt very happy about it.

Then came the book..and sent him the money by MO. It was an inspiring book and got some good basics of natural/organic farming, read the book again and there was mention of Masanobu Fukuoka, Dhabholkar...etc.. and also the publisher of the book was Altermedia located in trichur. Went to this book stall once and could get One straw revolution (Otta Vaikkol Viplavam)...and the journey was steady now. Subsequently read, Natural Farming - theory and practice, Back to Nature etc...and became a fan of Masanobu Fukuoka. Subscibed yahoo mailing list and got guidance/questions clarified from many people all around the world and it was interesting. Read Dhabolka'r - plenty for all and got very good insight about science behind the natural farming. Came to know about Subash Palekar's zero budget farming and got his three books on the subject and it gave a very good idea about multicropping, mulching and about Jeewamritha and the book was quite inspiring.

There was a list of farmer's in Urvarathayude Sangeetham and visited Iyyunni chettan's farm with father-in-law. Iyynni chettan is in his 70's and came from a big farmer's family. He had done his Bachelor of  Science degree from Christ College Irinjalakuda and he didn't look for any job rather started looking after his family farm. This is a natural farm and does not use any animal manure and the yield of the coconut trees were very good..then onwards it was visiting farms, talking to farmers and then reading farming books..and started looking for the land in Palakkad.

After talking to many people who is on the similar path, two types of people were found. One set of people who is completely into farming and wanted to make a living out of farming and live like farmers, these are people who is very clear in their thinking. Other set of people have some backup income/activities which will substitute  their income from farming. After discussions with many people, general opinion was making a living from farming was difficult, and to completely enjoy farming, we have to live/work like a farmer. I was not confident about this since even my family had adjusted to city life. So decided to do farming as part time and became partner of a design service company with one of my class mate.