Monday, March 25, 2019

Inga Alley Cropping

I first heard about Inga Alley Cropping in 19th Organic World Congress (OWC) held in New Delhi in November 2017. There Mike Hands was honored with the 3rd Organic Farming Innovation Award (OFIA) for the Inga Alley Cropping system he had developed. The OWC highlighted Inga alley cropping as an innovative, real-world solution to promote sustainable agricultural practices and end slash and burn. I didn't pay much attention to it at that time, recently while reading some article saw some reference about this and read more about it.


Slash and burn is a farming method where the families cut down and burn patches of forest and do farming. Since the fertility is high initially they get good yields and 2nd year it reduces and by 3rd year it normally fails and families leaves this farming area and move to the next area. Hence Slash and burn is a big threat with increasing deforestation and pollution.

Inga Alley cropping is a sustainable farming system, based on nitrogen fixing tree Inga and this is a solution to slash and burn. Inga Alley cropping maintains fertility of soil year after year, there by slash and burn becomes unnecessary.

In this system of deep mulching using pruned green leaves from the trees which are contour-planted in hedgerows. It is capable of achieving food-security in basic-grains for the family, upon a permanent plot which can be located near their dwelling. The system produces firewood for the kitchen and virtually eliminates the need for weed-control.

Weed-control is achieved, firstly, by shading as the growing trees develop a dense canopy; and secondly, by smothering under the deep, tough mulch following the first pruning of the trees.  Once the crop has grown (3 months for maize and beans), the trees are left to reform their canopy until the whole process is repeated the following year.

The trees are pruned to chest height, the branches are stripped of foliage for the mulch; the finer branches are placed on the upslope side of the trees to help prevent soil movement, and the larger stems and branches are removed as a favourite domestic firewood. This tackles another important cause of deforestation.

Plant Inga trees in rows. Trees should be planted 1.5ft apart (18 inches) along the row, and rows should be 10ft apart. The rows should be oriented in east-west direction, if possible so that crops gets more sunlight. We can grow corn, beans, pepper, squash and other crops while the Inga trees are growing. When the Inga is around 12-15ft high (which takes 2-3 years) and its canopy is shading the whole field, cut the tree trunk at around 5ft from the ground. This releases the nitrogen accumulated in the tree’s roots into the soil, making it available for crops.

It takes only two to three years to establish an Inga alley plantation, and thereafter it functions year after year. That is acceptable.

Is this applicable in Kerala climate? Not very sure, we don't have Inga tree here, so possible leguminous trees are Subabul and Glyrecedia. Also there are reports that the root competition may be there between crops and hedgerow trees and width is an important factor considering this. I am planning to try this in one area where I am planting turmeric, worst case, after a period all these trees can be cut and mulched.



A friend called Suresh wrote to Mike Hands asking his suggestions as replacement for inga trees and here is his response.

"I woud have suggested Pongamia spp. as worth a trial, but neither Gliricidia nor Sesbania.  The reason is that they have small leaves that do not persist as mulch.  One of the characters if Inga is its tough foliage which protects the soil surface layers and suppresses weed germination.  

Pithecellobium spp. might work, but you would need a species with as big and tough a foliage as possible; it is botanically related to Inga.

Another genus which looks more promising and which is also closely related to Inga is Archidendron. There are many species across SE Asia and probably N. India.  I have seen it in Borneo and it looked very like some of the Inga spp. of which I have experience.  I strongly recommend this genus.

Another promising-looking species, widely used and coppiced as shade in Malaysia is Pterocarpus indica.  I have no experience of managing any of these"

I wrote an article about Inga alley cropping in a Kerala magazine called 'Ore bhoomi Ore jeevan'.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Climate Summary - 2019

Temperature touched 40 in February in Palakkad


 First rain of 2019..summer rain, not heavy but reasonable. Rained at home.


Temperature is reaching 41 degree in Palakkad


Good rain, land is really wet.


One more good rain.

One more reasonably good rain..


There are drizzling and one good rain before 3 days, but no heavy rain. In Trichur area, it is raining heavily, here it hasn't picked up. Water from dam has been released, and farmers started preparing fields and making nursery ready for paddy sowing.


Now it has been raining well, yesterday night there was multiple heavy rains


Thiruvathira njattuvela started on June 22nd, but no rains now. Its cloudy and some time it feels like, it will rain, but no rain. It looks like it is same in Trichur also.

Farm visitors can stay now

Farm house has water connection now, staying there is possible, but no electricity connection or solar lighting. If there are people who can cook their own food and adjust with the limited facilities, then then can come and stay for short periods from 1 week to 1 month. 

Terms and conditions

1. Staying at the farm is free and at the same time there won't be any payments for the work
    you do
2. Maximum 2 people can stay at any time, friends or couple
3. No smoking,drugs and alcohol
4. Date of arrival and leaving should be informed in advance of 1 week
5. Since I don't stay in the farm, you should reach farm between 9 AM and 5 PM. If you land
    Palakkad at odd time, you have to stay at the hotel at your own expenses
6. You have to work for around 4 hours per day - 5 days per week, groceries for cooking will be
   provided. But it can not be guaranteed to be organic, whatever provided from farm will be 
   organic anyway
7. There is a wooden stove and you have to get used to this style of cooking
8. There is attached bathroom with an Indian style closet
9. We can not take care of the treatments if you happen to have any medical issues, so it is 
    better to have a medical insurance
10. If you are from outside India, your details has to be registered with Bureau of 
   Immigration ( with form-C and you should provide Passport and VISA         details on arrival
11. Your stay also will be reported at the nearest police station, so you have to accompany 
    me to the police station when you arrive

Things to carry

Mosquito net, gun boot, torch


Kappayan Kulumbu,
Via Vandithavalam
Phone - 8089639261 (WhatsApp also),8089625667
email -

If you come by train, get down at Palakkad Junction and get bus to Palakkad Town and come to stadium bus stand. From here, get bus which goes towards Meenakshipuram via Vandithavalam, get down at Pattikulam junction and get an auto to Nandan's farm.

A brief description of organic activities

We grow coconut, mango, banana,paddy,turmeric,taro,elephant foot yam etc..following Fukuoka's natural farming principle. Planting, harvesting and some amount of weed control will be the basis of all farming activities.


Charles from Canada originally from Trinidad and Tobago helping me in planting greater yam. He has spent 3 weeks in farm house with no electricity and cooking using wooden stove. But he also depended on the hotels nearby.


Right now this staying facility is not given to visitors since I started staying there for some time to complete some pending works

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Making nursery for 2019 June planting

Like every year, this year also started making a nursery of trees for planting in the monsoon. If the trees are established, then planting at the start of the monsoon will make them growing very well.


Put the seeds around one month back and some have germinated and growing.


At a new place, seeds were sown and coir compost was put above this.


Seeds from lemon which was bought for home consumption is used for planting. Some grow bags were put with seeds a month back and now they are germinating


Few yellow bamboo sticks are planted in grow bags, no germination seen yet, even after a month. A few were planted 2 days after full moon in February to see if they germinate better.


Around 38 coconut seeds collected from farm has been planted and watered when I visit the place.

Planting Vietnam Super Early Jackfruit

Bought 2 Vietnam Super Early Jackfruit from HomeGrown when there was an exhibition in Palakkad. Each was costing 200 rupees and they have promised it will bear fruit in 1-1.5 years.

Planted this by making a pit of 1.5 ftx1.5 ftx1.5ft and then mixing this soil with dried cowdung and filling it back. After this a small pit was made at the centre and planted the saplings. Charles from Canada is staying in the farm currently, so he helped with planting.



In the rainy season, it has grown well.


This one was under shade and didn't grow well...and some how it lost its leaves also...

This is growing well..keeps mulching at the base..

No-till experiment 2019

Measured this area once again, it is 0.1acre. Preparing the filed for rice cultivation in the monsoon. Wanted to establish a leguminous cover before rice.

4- March-2019

After the sesame crops, there are weeds growing in the field. Sown Alfalfa seeds and cut and mulched the weeds using Scythe, after this field was irrigated. 


Could see many of the alfalfa seeds germinated and growing, it is quite fast, just in 2 days.


Since alfalfa is not establishing uniformly all around, thought of controlling strong grass with other cover crop, so also putting Desmodium Scorpiurus here and there.Collected some seeds of this and made seed balls. This time used clay soil from paddy field and also mixed cowdung, but the clay soil makes it very hard, after drying. Any way put it and will be irrigating it soon. In places where one particular cover crop does not work, it may be worth trying out multiple cover crops and that also perenials so even if it is not established in single round, after a while a thick stand will be established.


Cut the grass in the entire field using brush cutter, took around 6 hours, done in 2 days. Used string as well as metal blade. But the grass is growing again, may have to cut again and mulch it with mango leaves which is present nearby. If there is strong grass growing,cutting and controlling them is difficult, after cutting them heavy mulching may help.

Meanwhile made seed balls of a traditional variety rice called 'Kuruva'. This time fertilised big seed balls were made on inspiration from 'Kettinatti' of Aji Thomas. Could not follow the method he follows, since the hollow rubber mat, does not give well formed seed pellets. May be some mixing combination.

Total requirement for 1 acre is 64000 seed balls, so 0.1 acre needs 6400 seedballs. Took rice seeds in a bottle cap and it is around 200 numbers, put 3 such caps so totally around 600 seeds, and a small bowl was taken which contains 17 bottle caps. For 3 bottle caps, 10 bowls of soil, compost, coir compost and cowdung was used. Soil,compost and coir compost is well mixed with seeds and then fresh cowdung is added and mixed with water and a solid form is made. This is spread in a platform with around 0.5cm thick and cut into pieces of around 2 cm sizes. May be I can make a small holder to hold this mixture, so that it can be spread at a uniform thickness and then some mechanism to cut into 2 cm size.


A week back field was cut using honda brush cutter, and seed balls were sown and watered it on the same day. The field still has some crab grass and similar strong grasses which grows back even after multiple cutting, but still wanted to try out no-till. Now the only option to control heavy grass seems to be cover crop or tree.

Even though field looks nice after cutting, still there are strong grass which is ready for growing when wet

seeds germinating from seedballs. Big fertilised seed balls are good, even after getting wet from rain, seeds are not exposed and not eaten by ants or rodents, so provides maximum protection.


Since in some areas, there are no rice seedlings seen,germinated some seeds and broadcasted them. Seeds were kept in water for 24 hours and then kept in wet cloth and they germinated readily. At times, feels, broadcasting germinated seeds is better, once land is reasonably wet. But have to watch for birds. Conventionally farmers sow germinated seeds while planting nursery. 


Seedlings coming out from seed balls.


Seedlings germination were not uniform and grasses has taken over. It is always a problem ,by the time seeds germinate and establish, grasses would grow. One solution for this looks to be using pre-germinated seeds, but the land should be wet enough for the roots to take, so either we have to irrigate or sow after a good heavy rain so that moisture remain in the field for a week.


Rice plants flowered, in majority places, weeds took over.