Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Sorghum (Jowar) in backyard

One plant looking like maize came up in backyard with start of rain in May and it grew well. Later when it flowered and grain formed in December, one whatsapp group identified it as 'Jowar' or Sorghum. Not sure, how it came up there, may be I had a number of millet seeds from Organic World Congress and it would have been one of it.

It grew very tall, may be around 8-9 feet and with many tillers and many bunches of flowers were seen and grains also are in plenty. It looks to be a good crop for natural farming, not sure how to process it or cook it, anyway will be trying it in one patch in next year.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Making trenches in farm

Summer is very harsh and there won't be enough water for watering all areas. So has been looking for options to fight the drought and one such option was to make trenches. Subash Palekar talks about this in his books and Bhaskar Save also used this in his farm. Fukuoka San suggests to take coutour trenches and fill it with trees cut while starting the orchard. All this motivated me to make trenches and also met couple of farmers who made trenches in their farm - Varghese Tharakan, Trichur, Mathai M Mathews, Nenmara etc..

Basically trenches allows to take rain water to subsoil fast, moisture is retained better in trenches since direct sunlight and wind does not reach here. Also mulches decompose under low temperature to form good humus. In tropical climate humus does not form easily because of high temperature, so once we shade the humus making process, it is formed better.


When any tractor or tools are used that brings out hiding insects and this bird senses it and immediately lands here. Some one was joking, this bird stays close to the tractor driver's house and follows to him to the working site.

Trenches filled with branches

Hitachi machine hired from Perumatty agro service, rentals 800 rupees per hour. Driver Arun did a good job and listens carefully to instructions and do accordingly.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Planting taro in more areas

Some time back collected a few seeds of taro from my native which is very tasty. In my childhood we used to cultivate it on raised bed and used to get good harvest. While at home, we were not having seeds, but one of my cousin used to still cultivate it every year, even though he is not a full time farmer, he kept the seeds. Some people like this left in our villages, are the real seed conservators. 

Last year I planted this taro here and there and resulted in more seeds. Since this is not eaten by wild pigs and rats so far, planning to expand it into more areas. There is also good demand for this and also it has better shelf life so selling is little more easier.

When I enquired about how to keep the seeds for the next rainy season, an old farmer called Manual (we call him Manualettan) from Wayanad who is a tuber expert and keeps many varieties of tubers advised me to keep them in soil and mulch it. So thought of planting them now itself. Cleared some areas by scythe and then made small opening using crowbar and put small seeds and then covered with soil and then applied mulch. I have promised Manualettan to give this seeds when I meet him in December in Vatakara for the annual meeting of Kerala Jaiva Karshaka Samithi.

Since this is being done in more areas, planning to apply some cowdung slurry in the rainy season after they come up.

Mulching after putting seeds

Tools used 

Small pits made and seeds put


Lot of mulch from this tree..


In two more beds taro planted...This bed was prepared earlier and had browntop millet growing earlier.

Inspected some of the seeds planted a month back after pulling mulches, they are doing good. The soil was bit cool under the mulch, hoping that they will survive the summer and will see the rain.


Applied some dried cowdung collected on the cow grazing area nearby, on one bed. This is the advantage of planting along with harvesting since it gives lot of time for these kind of activities.

Kodiyan - Another traditional rice variety

Couple of days back, had to visit Guruvayur area since my wife's uncle had expired. In front of their house there is a marshy land with still some water in it. While chatting with another uncle of my wife, he mentioned that earlier there used to be paddy cultivation in all those areas and a variety called 'Kodiyan' was used for this which is also called as 'Vella Pokkali'.

This comes with long straw and grows in clumps where each group will have many tillers. After harvesting,it again grows back and gives a second harvest after 3-4 months. According to him, that variety is not available now, have to check with some friends over there about this.

Some of this casual talks reveals very interesting information about the past.


Came across this group who cultivates rice organically and one of the variety they use is 'Kodiyan'. Could not get any details of these friends yet.


Sunday, December 2, 2018

Taro harvesting and planting on the same day

For root vegetables, Fukuoka san suggests to leave some tubers at the time of harvesting so that they come up in the next season, so it saves lot of time. At the time of harvesting, you have to dig it up to get all the tubers, so planting makes it easy since soil is already worked up.

I tried this yesterday while harvesting taro. Immediately after harvesting the taro, just put small seeds back and covered it with soil. Since the soil is little moist, sown some alfafa seeds also.Could complete all this work, comfortably by myself so planning to extend this to bigger areas. This small taro is not touched by wild pigs and rats while other root crops bigger taro (kandi chembu) and elephant foot yam is completely eaten by them.


above 2 photos,small seeds can be seen..

After mulching

Typical structure of harvested taro...

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Some interesting points from Fukuoka San's books

Fukuoka san was a complete farmer and he lived like a farmer, his experiences and approach reflect this, so just wanted to bring these points. Lot of people think natural farming is about leave everything to nature, but there is much more than it.

About composting, weeding etc
One straw revolution - Chapter - Humanity Does Not Know Nature

Mr. Fukuoka makes compost of his wood ashes and other organic household wastes. He applies this to his small kitchen garden

One straw revolution - Chapter - Farming Among Weeds

In making the transition to this kind of farming, some weeding, composting or pruning may be necessary at first, but these measures should be gradually reduced each year. Ultimately, it is not the growing technique which is the most important factor, but rather the state of mind of the farmer.

Seeding more pellets
One straw revolution - Farming Among Weeds

Rice is sown 4½ to 9 pounds per quarter acre. Toward the end of April Mr. Fukuoka checks the germination of the fall-sown seed and broadcasts more pellets as needed.

Farming with straw
Mr. Fujii, a teacher at Yasuki Agricultural High School in Shimane Prefecture, wanted to try direct seeding and came to visit my farm. I suggested that he spread uncut straw over his field. He returned the next year and reported that the test had failed. After listening carefully to his account, I found that he had laid the straw down straight and neat like a Japanese backyard garden mulch. If you do it like that, the seeds will not germinate well at all. With the straw of rye and barley, too, if it is spread too neatly the rice sprouts will have a hard time getting through. It is best to toss the straw around every which way, just as though the stalks had fallen naturally.

Straw Helps to Cope with Weeds and Sparrows

I have made a lot of mistakes while experimenting over the years and have experienced failures of all kinds.I probably know more about what can go wrong growing agricultural crops than anyone else in Japan. When I succeeded for the first time in growing rice and winter grain with the non-cultivation method, I felt as joyful as Columbus must have felt when he discovered America

Orchard Earth
This tree was introduced to Japan from Australia some years ago and grows faster than any tree I have ever seen. It sends out a deep root in just a few months and in six or seven years it stands as tall as a telephone pole. In addition, this tree is a nitrogen fixer, so if 6 to 10 trees are planted to the quarter acre, soil improvement can be carried out in the deep soil strata and there is no need to break your back hauling logs down the mountain.

Growing Vegetables Like Wild Plants
The important thing is knowing the right time to plant. For the spring vegetables the right time is when the winter weeds are dying back and just before the summer weeds have sprouted . This method of growing vegetables has been developed by Mr. Fukuoka by trial and experiment in accordance with local conditions. Where he lives there are dependable spring rains, and a climate warm enough to grow vegetables in all seasons. Over the years he has come to know which vegetables can be grown among which weeds and the kind of care each requires.

In most parts of North America the specific method Mr. Fukuoka uses for growing vegetables would be impractical. It is up to each farmer who would grow vegetables in the semi-wild manner to develop a technique appropriate to the land and the natural vegetation.] For the fall sowing, seeds should be tossed out when the summer grasses are fading away and the winter weeds have not yet appeared.

It is best to wait for a rain which is likely to last for several days. Cut a swath in the weed cover and put out the vegetable seeds. There is no need to cover them with soil; just lay the weeds you have cut back over the seeds to act as a mulch and to hide them from the birds
and chickens until they can germinate. Usually the weeds must be cut back two or three times in order to give the vegetable seedlings a head start, but sometimes just once is enough.

Vegetables grown in this way are stronger than most people think. If they sprout up before the weeds, they will not be overgrown later on. There are some vegetables, such as spinach and carrots, which do not germinate easily. Soaking the seeds in water for a day or two, then wrapping them in a little clay pellet, should solve the problem.

Tomatoes and eggplants are not strong enough to compete with the weeds when they are young, and so should be grown in a starter bed and later transplanted

More topics to be covered

Direct-Seeding, No-Tillage Barley/Rice Succession with Green Manure Cover - Natural Farming

Shallow Tillage direct seeding -

Bund preparation....

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Seedball - Soil selection

When the ground is wet, putting the seed inside, makes the seed germinate well. Realized this, when browntop millet was put and tilled using a fork,same thing was done with cowpea and that also came up well.

But sesame seedball was a failure, and was thinking if seeds experience the same atmosphere as that of underneath the soil, then they should germinate. Seedballs sown at surface, dries up faster. One is to use mulching, but heavy mulching will be a problem for small seeds since they can not come up pushing. So it is important that seedballs when wet, retain moisture well so that they can germinate well.

While searching for the soil used for seedball, came to know that clay soil retains water maximum. Some information from the internet.

https://homeguides.sfgate.com/soil-retains-water-best-clay-loam-silt-sand-104730.html -

The ability for a soil to retain water is partly determined by the size of the soil's particles. The smaller a soil's particles are, the greater the soil's surface area is, and so the more water the soil retains. Clay soil has small, fine particles, which is why it retains the most amount of water. Sand, with its larger particles and low nutritional content, retains the least amount of water, although it is easily replenished with water. Silt and loam, with medium-size particles, retain a moderate amount of water.

The amount of organic matter in soil also affects how much water the soil is able to retain. This is because organic matter has a natural attraction to water. So the more organic matter a soil contains, the greater the affinity it has with water. Clay soil is very rich in organic matter while sandy soil has very little.

Another idea is to use charcoal?

http://www.seedballskenya.com/seedballs/4593024001 - This site says, A Seedball is simply that - a seed inside of a ball of charcoal dust mixed with some nutritious binders. Once soaked, the seedball will help retain and prolong a moist environment around the seed to encourage germination.

Tapioca planting

Two days back, there was good rain at farm. When there is good rain, all I want to do is plant some thing, lot of crops grow with less water, but to germinate they would need enough moisture.

So this time, I wanted to plant some tapioca cuttings. Wild pigs and rats eat most of them, so keep moving them to places where they don't attack. Wild pigs does not come to places where there are people, so move such crops towards the boundaries where neighbors are there. Rats attack in places where they have enough hiding places, so this time cleared the grass and didn't bother to mulch, kept the mulch around some banana saplings.

In one place piles the soil and put the sticks, but this was too much work, so in one place just loosened the soil using crowbar and planted the sticks. In both places sown some alfalfa seeds.




So far in this place, wild pigs hasn't touched it and they are growing well

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Seed ball failures

I made seasame seed balls using white ant hill soil and brodcasted them after cutting and keeping the grass aside and then flooded the field which takes around 2 hours of time. I had used around 0.5Kgs of seeds for the area of around 0.15 acres. But I could see only a few seeds germinated. Wanted to find the reason and could see that since seed balls were having very thin coating of soil, after flooding, most of the coating would have gone and seeds would have been eaten by ants.I found out this by putting seedballs in a glass of water for 1.5 hours and seeds just came out. Some learnings..

1. So it looks like, if flooding is used with seed balls, then it is best to flood first then sow the seed balls towards the end, so they don't remain in water for long.

2. Also for various reasons, the germination will be bad, so use more seeds, may be for this area, I can use around 1.5Kgs of seeds.

3. Another important improvement can be using some other clay which sticks to seeds better, so that seeds are not exposed that easily on watering.


For paddy, this time made big seed balls with compost and cowdung so that they get a good boost on germination. This looks to be fine, can see that lot of seeds germinated from seedballs. Basically with rain, seed does not get exposed easily and not eaten by insects or birds. It looks like for seedballs to be successful, it has be reasonably bigger size.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Handling thick mulch

Fukuoka san mentions that the straw should be scattered in all direction instead of neatly mulching. Even though this detail looks to be trivial, but is an important point. Natural farming consists of many such details.

From 'One straw revolution'

"Mr. Fujii, a teacher at Yasuki Agricultural High School in Shimane Prefecture, wanted to try direct seeding and came to visit my farm. I suggested that he spread uncut straw over his field. He returned the next year and reported that the test had failed. After listening carefully to his account, I found that he had laid the straw down straight and neat like a Japanese backyard garden mulch. If you do it like that, the seeds will not germinate well at all. With the straw of rye and barley, too, if it is spread too neatly the rice sprouts will have a hard time getting through. It is best to toss the straw around every which way, just as though the stalks had fallen naturally."

Recently while cutting heavy grass could sense that it is too thick for the seeds to germinate and push. In those cases, I kept the mulch aside and then after sowing cowpea scattered it, and when found to be too thick, left some mulch aside so that it can be used later. 

In US farmers terminate the cover crop and then cut open the mulch using no-till planter and then sow the seeds through the opening. All these are big machines which are not available for small farmers.

Most cases when you stand in the field, put yourself in the seeds position and think and you will get an answer if they can come through the mulch or not.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Some thoughts on natural cultivation

I am just summarizing the current thoughts on Fukuoka natural farming which I am planning to follow.

Starting on a grassy field

On a grass growing field, it is very difficult to get the rice/millet crop established, since grasses are well adapted to the environment will outgrow the rice/millets. It is relatively easy to grow leguminous crops in grass field. So it is necessary to get a legume cover established which can be sunhemp,cowpea, horse gram,green gram etc. Sunhemp is much better, since it grows tall and creates lot of biomass compared to other.

By the time I cleared one area for cultivation, which has not been cultivated with any crops for long time, the strong rains had receded, and there are only occasional rains. The land is moist, but seeds does not surface germinate. So if I leave the area free, weeds will grow again so thought of trying out cowpea. Since moisture was less and rains are not expected and no watering possible, just cleared the area and kept the mulch aside, sown the seeds and slightly tilled it using a fork so that seeds are inside the soil. Found that this gives better results in this kind of environment. Also the grass kept aside can be put over the seeds so that there is enough space for the seeds to poke through. If there is lot of mulch, then should not keep all of it for mulching since there are chances that most of the seeds won't get through it. Also keeping the mulch aside in 3-4 different places gives a clean weed free field and small weeds also can be cut and start on a good field.Another option is to use a brush cutter with wire so that all small weeds can be cleared quickly.

Starting rice/millet

If the field is wet or rain is in picking up stage, broadcast clay pellets of rice/millet one month before cutting the cover crop. This makes sure that the crop is already growing for 3-4 weeks after germination period of 1 week while cutting the cover crop.  If there is enough moisture, pre-germinated rice seeds also can be sown, provided, moisture is retained after this. Basically weeds should not be given any space for growing and there should be crops growing all the time.

If not sure about the rain and we want to complete the sowing while anticipating rain, make seed balls and sow it. If there are termites in the field, it may be better not to put clay balls much in advance since termites may eat the clay balls or some insects which are desperate for food will figure out the seed ball secret. Cut the cover crop and keep it accumulated in 3-4 places in the field and cut and clean all the weeds. Here also even if the main cutting is done by scythe, the cleaning can be done by brush cutter. Then spread the mulch so that there is room for seeds to poke through. Basically standing at the field, you should be able to feel how seeds will get through the mulch. Assume you are the seed and ask yourself, if you can get through the mulch, based on this spread the mulch to the required thickness. If you fail once, next time learn from the failure.


It may be better to spray cowdung/urine mix on thf field so that decomposing mulch will be faster and microbe population will increase in the field. Applying cowdung in large quantities will be costly, just applying filtered slurry/urine mix will be easier and effective. May be 3-4 times applying this will be enough for the crop. If we identify a proper sprayer and filtering mechanism of cowdung slurry/urine mix, this should be doable.


Till a certain maturity level is reached for soil, it will be good to de-weed the field depending on the weed density. It is always better to start weeding at the early stages, definitely weed pressure will be less, but don't go by theories such as weeds are friends, they will assist you etc, in no time, your crop can be over grown by weeds. Fukuoka san also says, initially composting, weeding etc can be done and it can be reduced and later can be managed without any of these. As I see, weeds are the major issues why the crop fails.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Finger Millet Cultivation - 2018 - Season 2

First season rice crop is not harvested, before that, just sow 12Kgs of 'Matta Champavu' another traditional variety of duration 90-100 days duration. Seeds were soaked in water for 24 hours, and sown. It will take another one week for the first season crop to harvest. 

Basically trying to do no-till cultivation for the 2nd crop, but the existing seed which is 'Kunjukunju' also will germinate, so it will be a mix, not sure if things will work out.

Total expenses tracking:

Seed bed preparation -1 hour job by Palani - 150/-
Tractor with rotovator - 2 hour 10 minutes - 2200/
Transplanting 4 womens - 2 days - 2200/-
Watering - 325/-

Total - 4875/-

Harvest of monsoon crop is completed today and could not see any rice germinated which was broadcasted around 10 days before. The reason could be the lack of moisture, since watering had stopped, the field dried up very fast, without giving the soaked rice seeds to germinate. The best option should have been do one more watering on the day of broadcasting and then broadcast pre-germinated seeds, after broadcasting watering is not possible since it may move the seeds here and there and causing distribution issue.

By the time the watering was stopped, the weeds started growing...ideally the rice should have been growing by this time, that is possible only if the pre-germinated seeds are put.

Decided to cultivate finger millet this time as the second crop, planning to crop rotate after rice, but since rice was not meeting the requirements, was forced to try it. Anyway since the sown rice didn't come up, so thought of trying finger millet, which requires less water.

Bought 2 Kgs of finger millet from Palakkad, Organic store called, 'Jaiva Kalavara', and my farm helper Palani tilled one area using spade and fork and put this seed and later watered.


Finger millet germinates quickly in 2-3 days..


It is growing just fine.


Irrigated the whole field and after 3 days rotovated it, took 2 hours to complete it. Moisture was little on the more side and some clumps have formed, may be could have done after 5-6 days.


Transplanting was done after making the field wet. 4 women laborers worked for 2 days. Seedlings was having shortage, a small portion of the field was left free.


Within 2 weeks, it started flowering...not sure why...finally got only a few heads..may be a seed issue, or timing.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Planting saplings among weeds

By the time rain has made the land wet and ready to plant saplings, weeds also would be growing wildly. Some times I plant among weeds, and in no time, the saplings will be surrounded by weeds and later while cutting weeds, saplings also would be cut. When I was using brush cutter, in no time, the saplings will be completely cut, now a days I use only Scythe and it is much better now since the cutting pace is slow compared to brush cutter and also in between we look around, mostly saplings will be noticed.

Recently started putting sunhemp or green gram seeds around the the saplings, so that the patch of sunhemp or green gram plants will remind me of some saplings. Most of the time, when summer approaches, these guard plants can be retained so that they will provide some shade to the saplings,especially if it is sunhemp. Subash Palekar suggests to put pigeon pea while planting coconut saplings, so that they will provide nitrogen and shade in the summer.

Some photos...

Monday, October 1, 2018

Clearing and starting cultivation in a new area

In one area where there is no irrigation facility had been neglected for some time. This time decided to cut the weeds and clean it and make it ready for cultivation in the next monsoon.One possibility is turmeric since it does not need watering. Since some mulch is needed, in one area cowpea is put and another area browntop millet is put, not sure if there will be enough rain for these crops, but giving a try.


After putting cowpea, lightly tilled the area with a fork, so that seeds get into soil and it will germinate with available moisture. That light tilling worked.

brown top millet has started germinating.


Cowpea has established thickly...Browntop millet is also fine,may have to weed that area once



Clearing of weeds and light tillage helped a lot.


Flowered and grains are forming, peacocks and birds are feasting on this, that will be the bigger challenge