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.


Lady's finger is growing good..



After the rain there is lot of grass growing, cut and is easier work in farming. After that place also looks neat...


Lady's finger plants started yielding..this is very tasty traditional variety called 'Anakomban' in malayalam, meaning elephant tusks, fully grown vegetable looks like that.Thanks to Gopu Kodungallur who gave these seeds. The leaves are eaten by some insects, didn't do anything for that, plants are yielding and looks healthy and they will take care.

Some more beds are getting ready...


Workers kept trunks/leaves very loose, so need some rework to pack them.


Two more beds are completed..for this I had dug 0.75 feet under the ground and put logs..and piled logs around 0.75 feet above ground. But while putting soil from both side, it looked to me the soil is not sufficient. The total height of the bed comes around 1.5 feet above ground. When the height of the bed increases, it takes a conical shape and covering the sides is difficult. Thinking best way is to dig more, probably around 2 feet and fill it with logs and then cover it so that just bed height from ground is just 0.75 feet.


Lady's finger on rain for close to a month, still they are surviving and producing some vegetables...have to establish all the beds fully now..watering may be required, initially was thinking about sprinkler or drip, later Jacob sir on last visit suggested to irrigate between beds, thought that will be more practical.


This lady's finger is growing well...even though kept a tank ready for watering, but not used so far..


After the lady's finger a few tapioca cuttings were planted and harvested. When it is left fallow, grass takes over and also mud was moving to sides since there was not enough mulch. Just cut the grass and piling up some more soil and planning to mulch again. In one bed, lady's finger seeds were put. This time rain is very poor, but in southern parts of  Kerala it is raining well.

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.


Received a report which came through WhatsApp group called 'JaivaKeralam' about the legal battle between a farmer Abraham (Athikkal house, Vettilappara, Athirappilly Panchayat) and Kerala agriculture university.

Abraham also called as 'Kunjukunju' claims that he had developed this varirty by crossing IR8 and Thavalakannan in 1967 when he was farming in Karimannur, Thodupuzha.

In 1997-1998 period Univerity had developed two varieties called 'Kunjukunju Varna' and Kunjukunju Priya', they say it was developed from the local variety obtained from Palakkad. Whether the variety available in Palakkad is same as the one developed by Abraham to be found out. To my conclusion,, it should be same, otherwise it is not possible to have the same name. Full article in Malayalam..

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