Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Handling mulch

Recently I am finding that some times, the mulch at the surface becomes too thick and planting through it is difficult. If the mulch is too thick, seeds does not push through it and number of plants per unit area becomes small and it becomes a problem in uniformly establishing the crop. In that case, after cutting the grass using brush cutter or scythe, I move the excess grass to one side of the farm using a rake tool which has many teeth. I make sure that mulch is uniform and planning to move back the mulch back to the field probably after the crop is harvested and the land is left uncultivated.

Birds fighting against snake

Last summer was very harsh and after that when rain started, we started getting good rains. I started planting mango trees on this season, bought around 70 mango grafted saplings. I was planting these saplings with the helper 'Palani' and heard some birds making lot of noise at one part of the farm. This bird is called 'Poothan keeri' in Malayalam, has to find the English name. It has got a brown color feather and they move in groups and some time can seen them lifting the leaves and looking for worms.

I thought of inspecting what is happening and why they are making so much noise. When I approached I could see the two dogs 'Julie and Rugmani' also watching the scene with lot of interest, but they were not barking. These dogs follow me some time and I give one part of my lunch with them.

I could see a big rat snake on a small subabul tree and birds very upset with it. I could see a nest on the tree, but couldn't see anything there. After seeing me, the snake left the scene and I continued with my work. After some time, again the same kind of noise was there, this time at a slightly different place. I again went there and the same snake was moving there, and birds were sitting here and there making noise and snake was chasing away birds. After some chasing a way, snake quickly moved to one direction where there was a small bird lying and just caught it. It was a small bird so it was almost completely inside its mouth and after some time, it went away with its prey.

I just watched it and didn't interfere with it.


One more encounter with rat snake...I was waiting for the auto at the farm, on the way back. Saw a big rat snake crawling into a pile of wood near the house. Just watched it, then heard a small bird crying and could see a small jungle babbler looking at me. It looks like, rat snake left it after seeing me. I tried to catch the bird and it got shelter inside the wood pile, got a stick and caught it and left it at a tree, but it again flew back to the ground, again caught it and left on another tree branch, and its parents were making sound and following it, hope it will survive the snake attack. Auto had come and I had to leave the farm.

Holding back weeds

When tilling is stopped number of weeds decreases considerably especially when there is enough decomposed mulch on the surface. I had seen this after growing sunhemp in one part of the farm and after summer, all the cover crop and grass had dried and surface was clean. This happens especially after summer with no artificial irrigation given, if irrigation was given in the summer, grass will be there all around and starting cultivation in the next rainy season is difficult.

We should start putting the seeds before the grass starts coming after the rains. If seeds are put and if they over crowd, then weeds will be held back. But if we the process of putting seeds is delayed, then grass take over and cultivation becomes difficult.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Some thoughts on natural tuber cultivation

Two years back, I got around 10Kgs of turmeric seeds from our friends Raghu/Nisha of http://www.greenlocal.org/. That time I arranged two farm laborers and got around 6 raised beds and put the turmeric. When there was heavy grass later in the raised bed, weeded once. Later in the summer harvested and yield was OK, even though no input was given. During harvesting, I wanted to retain the raised bed, but this didn't happen. It was all dismantled. Some of the turmeric was powdered in the mill and sold and some was given to friends and relatives. Feedback was good and felt very happy about it.

In the next season, I wanted to do turmeric, but after calculating the labor cost, thought of doing it without using much effort. That time, I had got that area tilled. So instead of putting in raised bed, I just put the seeds in directly in the soil and then sunhemp was sown all around. Sunhemp grew well and in between turmeric also had come up. But later in the summer I was not able to locate the turmeric plants since it had already dried and there was mulch all over and land was too dry to harvest.

This year after rains, turmeric plants came up and I picked up most of them and I could see that yield was very poor. But I wanted to atleast save the seeds, so planted in area through mulch. But all these plants are kept together so that harvesting is easy. Later put one raised bed and planted some turmeric and applied some dried cowdung over this. But the raised bed creating was back breaking, it is lot of effort, so decided that at any cost will retain that raised bed to reduce the effort.

Some time back an article came about one Mr. Pappachan in Kannur who cultivates ginger without using any manuring. He has mainly pepper and ginger and he uses Mucuna as cover crop. When the ginger is harvested, he leaves one portion there so that in the next season it comes up. This looks to be a real natural farming sequence for tubers. He is a national innovation award winner and this details can be seen here - http://nif.org.in/upload/innovation/4th/329-papachchan-style-of-pepper.pdf

For an initial boost, raised bed may be OK, but later I am planning to retain it and reuse for tuber cultivation and in between planning to grow some green manure for keeping the fertility. Some pictures of my raised beds

Photo of Pappachan whose article came out in Karshakashree

Now a days, it became the norm, I don't make raised beds, rather keep them and plants turmeric at the start of the rainy season. Recently while harvesting taro, I kept 12 of them back with mulch applied and could see that they are coming up well. So this makes me think, during harvesting itself, it can be planted back and saves the effort. 

These are the lines from Natural Farming Source book by Masanobu Fukuoka - "As for potatoes,once these are planted in the orchard, they will grow each year from the same pot, crawling vigorously along the ground to lengths of five feet or more and never giving into weeds. If just small potatoes are dug up for food and some tubers always left behind, there will never be any want of seed potatoes"


Today there was a call from Francis (Pappachan) asking how is my ginger cultivation going on. I told him, I just cultivate only turmeric, so he wanted me to try ginger in the following way.. Place the ginger pieces after cutting the weeds and put some dried cowdung over it and cover it with mulch not very thickly. Now as the mulch decomposes, keep adding new mulch and continue this for 3 times. No need to apply any manure, he says without applying any manure, the crops has better disease resistance. I have promised him, will do a trial plot for ginger in this way.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Scythe - Tool for cutting grass

Recently purchased a tool called Scythe for cutting grass. First heard about this tool from the Fukuoka farming yahoo group friends. Ordered this from Canada from www.scytheworks.ca and the total cost was 150 CAD (8680 INR), payment was done through Paypal. It took around 4 months for the scythe to reach my home, but tracking was available upto Bombay. Cochin customs fined 1500 INR for importing it without a license and another 3000 INR was the customs duty charges. So total cost was 13000 INR (240 USD).

Finally fitted a snath which I had cut from my farm and fitted it, there was no handles attached. Could see that it is able to cut large area, but not getting the swing given in the videos, probably will need more practice. Able to sharpen the Scythe using the sharpening stones provided, we are supposed to peen the blade edge using a hammer to take care of the bends, this is not tried yet. If it works as per the videos shown in kerala conditions, it will be a real good tool to use. I can see that the tool has the capacity for that, since it is razor sharp and lengthy edge cuts lot of grass in one go.

Here are some videos available in the net about the scythe.

Paddy harvesting using scythe

02 December 2015

Myself and friend Anil met Alexander Vido and his son Gabriel at Vallikavu, Amruthanandamayi Ashramam for a scythe training.The meeting was co-ordinated by Jagannath and his friend David. Alexander gave a detailed lecture about blades, snath making, blade fitting, peening, sharpening and finally sessions on cutting grass where all of us tried it. Earlier while using, I never fitted snath properly and major issue was grips were not there at all. Alexander gave me a grip and a screw for fitting it to the snath. He gave me a blade free of cost, for cutting bushes and also fixed by blade filing and making it's edge clean. The session was immensely useful and I hope Scythe willl be part of the farming activities. One issue was with stones in the field, so we discussed about this and only solution was to be careful and also pick and keep it aside.

Here are some photos with him.

Clearing touch-me-not grass...