Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Starting an orchard - from Masanobu Fukuoka's Natural way of farming

Lot of people think that natural farming is about just cut and mulch with the grass growing in your farm and fertility of the land will improve. I was also doing that but as the fertility was not improving fast and also discussions with many people led me to the conclusion that, natural farming is not just cutting and mulching what naturally grows. I have the habit of referring 'One straw revolution' and 'The natural way of farming' again and again, and I get more clear picture.

Here are some details from page 114 of 'The Natural Way of farming' written by Masanobu Fukuoka.

"When starting an orchard, the main goals initially should be prevention of weed emergence and maturation of soil. These can be accomplished by growing buckwheat during first summer, and sowing rapeseed and Indian mustard that same winter. The following summer, one may plant adzuki bean and mung bean and in winter hairy vetch and other hardy leguminous plants that grow well without fertilizers. The only problem with these is that they tend to inundate the young fruit tree saplings. As the garden matures, it will support any type of crop."

Page 158 - Establishing an Orchard talks about -

"Rather than carting the trunks, branches, and leaves of felled trees off a contour-cleared orchard site, it makes more sense to arrange this material along contour lines and wait for it to decompose naturally. The branches, leaves, and roots of the trees decompose after several years, becoming a source of organic fertilizer that supplies nutrients to the growing fruit trees. At the same time, a cover of organic matter helps to curb weed growth, prevents soil washout, stimulates the proliferation of microorganisms, and serves to enrich and otherwise improve the soil."

"After preparing the orchard soil, the next concern is planting. Fruit saplings should be planted at equal intervals along hill contours. Dig a fairly deep hole, fill it with coarse organic matter, and plant the sapling over this."
"Upto ten of black wattle leguminous trees should be planted per quarter acre among fruit trees. After five or six years of growth, I felled these and buried trunks and tops in trenches within the orchard"

Fukuoka san also talks about growing a permanent ground cover in the orchard, and he was growing clover which reseeds and is leguminous. So all these things are required as part of natural farming.

Along with growing cover crops, I started early on to dig trenches and fill them with organic matter to speed up the process of soil enrichment. I tried using a variety of organic materials such as straw,hay,twigs and small branches,ferns,wood and bark chips and lumber. After comparing the results, I found that hay,straw and ferns, which I would have expected to be least expensive,were in fact costly, while wood chips were not.The only problem was hauling this material in. As it turned out, the best material was lumber,which was relatively inexpensive but this too was at times, difficult to carry in. That is when I decided to produce lumber right there in my orchard. Figuring that the easiest and most beneficial way was to return the orchard what had been growing there, I tied planting various types of trees and found black watlle to be the best for the purpose.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Dibbling stick for rice transplanting through mulch

I was trying rice transplanting into the cut grass mulch for 2nd crop cultivation of rice in Nov 2011. Then I realized it is difficult to plant through mulch when Palani and his wife started the planting. Using spade through mulch was difficult and also soil was disturbed and I feared that this might bring more weeds. Also it was taking long time, and it was boring to do the work since it was difficult to work through mulch.

Later my helper Palani went and brought a dibbling stick and he started making holes through mulch just pressing it and his wife was planting the rice seedlings. All of us felt happy that the method was working very well. But one thing to remember is that the mulch should be in decomposed state otherwise planting is difficult since finding mud to fill the hole created using dibbling stick becomes tricky.

One thing which went wrong with this is that the hole was deeper and hence plants didn't develop much since nutrients are less at deeper levels. Normally while transplanting plants are planted at a lesser depth. Jacob Nellithanan sir told me about this later and advised a depth of 1-2 cm. One reason why in SRI plants develop more is that it is planted at a lesser depth. Also planting deeper causes the water requirement to be more. They say transplanted rice needs less water compared to broadcasted since depth is less in transplanting.

Here are some pictures  ..

Saturday, November 19, 2011

No-till rice farming in Alappuzha,Kerala

Yesterday talked to Jacob Sebastian of Kuttanad,Alappuzha,Kerala, after coming to know that he has been doing no-till rice farming. Traditionally in Kuttanad, rice field is submerged in water and they do one crop of rice in October-November time, after pumping out water. Lot of people do tilling and do normal cultivation in the land. Jacob Sebastian allows drains out water and then allow the weeds to grow, which comes out in 1 week time. Once weeds come out, he again allow standing water and all weeds are killed, by allowing water for 2-3 weeks and after that rice is sown in the field. He uses Uma and Jyothi varieties. Earlier he used chemical fertilisers and pesticides but now he uses only organic fertiliser, especially using 'Kadala pinnakku (ground nut waste after taking oil) ' mixed with compost. He knows Fukuoka's method and asked me to grow cow pea along with rice and later allow standing water to weaken cowpea.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Weed control in natural rice farming

These are the important aspects in weed control in natural rice farming. This is the summary taken from 'One straw revolution' and some from others experience and some taken from my own experience. I haven't mastered these techniques yet, but think these are the things to be taken care of.

1. No-tilling - Tilling brings out the buried seeds back to surface and this has better germination capacity. So without tilling, seed resources on the field will be exhausted and hence weed population will decrease eventually. But there are other sources of seeds like rain water, wind etc. Flooding of rain water from other fields has to be prevented for better weed control.

2. Mulching - Mulching with remains of previous crop reduces weed, since mulching does not provide sunlight and hence the weed population decreases. Considerable amount of mulching will be required for better weed control. So when you are staring, mulch with as much as you can. Twigs, branches etc..provide good mulch and weed control.

3. Leguminous cover crop before - Have a leguminous cover crop in the field before planting grain and it is said that grass varieties does good in leguminous cover crop. If the grain is sown in leguminous cover crop, and then cover crop is cut and mulched, good weed control can be assured.

4. Leguminous cover crop along with rice - If there is another cover crop which grows along with grain, it is the best. Like Fukuoka san used clover along with rice. Clover does not interfere with rice, and if it takes control flooding the field weakens the clover and once the rice takes over, clover will grow beneath the rice. Once the clover is weakened and rice comes out, he later Fukuoka drains water so that clover again establishes underneath. This kind of water control is required to control the cover crop. Clover does not grow well in all the climates, so for each region a suitable cover crop has to be found out.

5. Rice that can compete with weeds - Rice also was a wild growing variety in the past, but after cultivating in controlled environment with all the extra care, they are no longer wild. But while selecting the rice, if we can use the variety which is not hybrid, rather local variety they will compete with weeds more effectively. See the video - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LdYAS_OPhJA where Thiru. Karikalan explains his rice cultivation using local variety called 'Kattuyanam'. This takes 6 months to mature and grows 7 feet tall. It is pest resistant and gives good yields without applying any manure. Till 1 feet there will be weeds, afterwards the rice still grows tall and weeds loose the competition. This variety is supposed to be drought tollerant as well as flood tolerant and has medicinal values.

Fukuoka san used a variety which he had developed called Happy Hill. According to his words in Natural farming book.

"I have created, together with the insects in my fields, a new strain of rice I call
"Happy Hill." This is a hardy strain with the blood of wild variants in it, yet it is also one of the highest yielding strains of rice in the world. If a single head of Happy Hill were sent across the sea to a country where food is scarce and there sown over a ten- square-yard area, a single grain would yield 5,000 grains in one year's time.". Not able to find the source of its seeds, so if anyone knows please report back.

http://ro119.com/archive/osaka.cool.ne.jp/shojaku/ - According to the following source..these are the variants of the Happy Hill rice..

Fukuoka invented and registered three varieties of rice.
Fukuoka 1 gou(Fukuoka No.1)-fast growing,
Fukuoka 2 gou(No.2)-late growing,
Fukuoka mochi 3 gou(glutinous No.3).
There are not much information available on this, but it is said to have wild strains in it.

6. Timing of crops - Depending on the season, the crop should be sown, so that it emerges first before the weeds. For e.g in kerala, weeds will start emerging heavily as the rain starts. Before the weeds start germination, rice should be sown and established. Once the crop is established, later weeds won't come that easily. A few sentences from 'One Straw Revolution' - Coping with Weeds - If seeds are sown while the preceeding crop is still ripening in the field, those seeds germinate ahead of weeds. Winter weeds sprout only after the rice has been harvested, but by that time winter grain already has a head start. Summer weeds sprouts right after the harvest of barley and rye, but the rice is already growing strongly. Timing the seedling in such a way that there is no interval between succeeding crops gives the grain great advantage over the weeds.

7. Continous coverage - Once the field is left uncultivated after a season, weeds take over. It is better that field is continously used for one crop or other. When there is no crop, better to use a cover crop so that there is no chance for weeds to emerge. Again, depending on climates, the cover crop for that region has to be selected.

8. Crowding out weeds - The crop should be planted dense so that it can crowd out the weeds. In my first rice planting experiment, I maintained 1 feet distance between seedlings and weeds came up strongly in the vacant spaces. This kind of distance may be OK for SRI rice, since there field is completely ploughed and seasoned so that weeds are not given a chance at all. But in natural farming, we have to crowd out weeds using crops.

9. Allow weeds to germinate in summer - In one of the book Fukuoka san mentioned to water the area in the summer so that weeds germinate and then stop the watering, and weed seeds gets destroyed.

10. Weeder Ducks. Fukuoka used ducks to control weeds in his rice paddy in the initial days. http://www5b.biglobe.ne.jp/~Aigamo21/Furuno%20book/Book1.html The following link also talks about this. Ducks don't eat rice, but young weeds, may be this is applicable in transplanted fields where the rice plants are more mature.  Links - http://www.detourjapan.com/furuno.htmlhttp://permaculturenews.org/2009/03/07/the-one-duck-revolution/

11. Consideration for weeds - As some body told, weeds are sown by god and crops by man. Control weeds only when it tries to control your crop, otherwise allow it to grow, change your attitude towards weeds.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Rice cultivation update - 2nd Crop 2011

This is the update about my rice cultivation and planning to update it as and when some events occur in this activity.

October 28,2011
Yesterday night there was rain and land was reasonably wet. This is called 'Thulamazha' or North east monsoon. Typically it will be there in October and November. Cut the paddy field 2 using Honda brush cutter with blade attachment. One session in the morning and another session in afternoon each around 2.5 hours. My mother had accompanied me to farm this time, so gave the broadcasting paddy seeds and horse gram work to her and she was happy to do that. As and when I cut the field she broadcasted the seeds and when I complete that area, she will again broadcast the seeds. Used around 2Kgs of 'Poonkar seed' with 700gms of horse gram, but it was not sufficient for the complete area. The rest of the area will be transplanted.

Paddy field 3 has some grasses already grown, but since Honda cutter is there, one more round of cutting can be done very quickly. This is the advantage of the cutter, manual cutting is just impossible. The places where mulching was done with sunhemp only a few creepers were seen and grass was under control as of now.

This time I am planning to get rice seedlings from the organic farm of Thanal in Erimayoor, Palakkad. The person in charge, Illias has promised to give enough rice seedling, to be seen.

November 05,2011
Yesterday collected 20 bundles of rice seedlings from Illias of Thanal. They have a farm in Padayatti, Erimayoor. They were transplanting seedlings and they don't get canal irrigation water and depends on rain for the 2nd crop also. They have at well and they will pump water from it, if there is a need at the end. Illias told about an interesting thing about fertilizing the rice fields. There are people who has got big number of goats and if asked they will keep the goats in your field for a night providing a temperory fencing. By morning the field will have pellets and their urine and it is a good fertilizer. These people charge the owner of the field at 50 paise per goat. Illias is an active person, I asked him how does he spends his evening in the village and he says he is too busy with reports, organising meetings, travelling etc..

When I visited, previously sown rice and horse gram had germinated in some
 areas well and in some areas it was not seen at all. But in some places it
  is grass which is dominating !!!
Today plan was to transplant the rice seedlings, in remaining area. I had my helper and his wife working along with me. We were using spade to put the seedlings and found that this was disturbing the soil and effort was too much. My helper friend went and made a dibbling stick and using that he made holes and started transplaning the seedlings and work was completed quite faster. This is a really good tool for transplanting without disturbing the soil. The depth of the hole has to be controlled by controlling the size of the sharp end. Also it is better that the stick is little thicker so that we get a wider hole.

  In one portion where I had cut the grass/sunhemp 2 weeks back, grass had
  grown back, after getting some good rains.So I cut this grass once again
  with brush cutter, otherwise there is no chance that rice will survive the
  grass. Here the timing is very critical..if I had sown a week or
  immediately along with cutting, then this problem wouldn't have beenn
  there. But if I miss the window, then to recover in NF, it is a problem.

  In one portion of the field I have broadcasted rice + horse grams and here
  there is standing water, so not sure what will happen and it is raining
  heavily. May have to make provisions for draining water from field by
  tomorrow. Last time when I tried broadcasting seeds after ploughing,
  peacocks ate most of the seeds, but this time since seeds are put in the
  mulch, it may not be completely visible to them. Earlier I was thinking
  sunhemp mulch will be too thick to handle, but after 2 weeks of drying, it
  was nothing in the field..

Another 2 fields are still left out, will be doing some thing soon on