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How to Be a Successful Organic Farmer, Part 2

Updated on September 12, 2018
Deepa damodaran profile image

Deepa is a freelance researcher and journalist. She writes and makes documentaries and videos.

Organically Cultivated Paddy Field

Organic Farming is a Way of Life

In organic farming, if you want to be effective, you need to adopt a life style that is integrally linked with the philosophy of farming and organic practices. Patience is the basic premise in which you will have to operate, generally in farming and particularly in organic farming. You must not expect changes to happen overnight but have to ensure there is gradual development.

Mostly, you are not working on the plant but on the soil. There is no need of frequent tilling of the land but it is important to make sure the soil is loose and aerated. Smaller hand tools can be used to stir the soil just below the crop and the unplanted areas can be left with a manageable weed cover to avoid direct sunlight falling on the soil. Remember you have to keep the weeds trimmed so that they do not grow out of control. Earthworm sightings can tell a lot about the health of the soil. Paying attention is the key, to see if a plant bed is looking dry and life less or if it looks healthy and rich. The soil should feel in your hand crusty and yet having a trace of moisture. You should be able to squeeze and pound it into smaller particles in your palm with the least effort.

You Can Get Good Harvest Without Using Chemical Fertilizers and Pesticides

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Fertilizer Application

Manure application is one important part of cultivation but equally important is the way you apply organic manure. Putting some manure at the base of the plant is not an effective method. You have to remove some top soil from around the plant, without disturbing the main shoot, apply manure keeping a distance of one inch or so from the main shoot, and then cover it with the top soil that was earlier removed. Try this, and you can see the difference in a few days. The science of this practice is that if the carbon in the organic matter comes into contact with the atmospheric oxygen, the microbes in the soil turn it into carbon dioxide. Thus if applied on surface, oxidation happens to the carbon in the manure quickly and most of the carbon escapes to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. So the plant gets nothing and you are adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, which in turn helps only global warming and climate change, if you look at the wider picture. Another easy way to avert this and to apply manure in the right way is to dig a small shallow pit near the plant and put the manure inside it and cover it with soil. Be aware that the feeder roots of the plants are in the top soil. So there is no need to make the pit deep.

As you try to increase the organic matter content of the soil, as discussed earlier, there is another problem that arises out of it. The acidity of the soil will increase. To balance the PH of the soil, adding lime is an effective practice. However the best time to add lime is before planting, when you are preparing the soil and the plant beds. The soil PH balance can really give you a good crop and yield. However there are organic practitioners who are against using lime, thinking it is a chemical input.

Mulching Using Dry Leaves

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Mulching

Mulching is a practice that can save your time and water in summer. Mulching is basically the covering of soil around the plant with dry leaves or artificial mulching sheets available in the market. Here I am talking about natural mulching using dry leaves. In summer, especially if you are in a tropical climate, you will see that even if you water the plants daily, by the evening, the leaves will be dehydrated and drooping. Try putting some dry leaves to cover the soil at the foot of the plant and then water it. You will see you can keep the plant fresh as long as for a week after irrigating once. The dry leaves will gradually decompose and will also provide extra nutrition to the plant. Then you can add some more leaves. There will also be a visible change in the color and texture of the soil around the plant as this practice continues. The soil will become darker in shade indicating the presence of organic matter, it will be more aerated and the moisture holding capacity is increased. The plant will look extra fresh.

However this practice can cause fungus growth at the base of the plant if the soil has excess moisture. So it is advisable doing this in summer alone and in places where there is good drainage.

Dry Leaves at the Base of the Crop, and Weeds Growing in Uncultivated Zone

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Weeding

Weeds are good soil cover, can be turned into good fertilizing material, prevent soil erosion, enable ground water enrichment when their root systems create water flow networks way down, weeds can sometimes attract the pests to themselves from a crop of a related species and thus save the crop and also some weeds are edible and have medicinal use. In spite of all these benefits, weeds can be a problem. If you are afraid the weeds were going to suffocate your crop, try removing them when they are just very small. You can do the weeding with the least effort at this time as the roots will get easily uprooted when they are young. If you are late with weeding, at least don’t let the weeds flower. You have to remove them before that or it will be difficult to control their propagation and that will create a worse weed problem next time. Mulching can be used to remove weeds as well. Just cover the patch of land that has a lot of weeds with a non-transparent plastic sheet and keep it there for a few days. When you remove the sheet, say after 10 days, you can see all the weeds are either dead or withering. Now you can remove them easily. If you are ready to invest some more time, you can uproot different weeds, put them all in a container, add some water, close the container with a lid and then stir it daily to make some liquid fertilizer/supplement for the plant. This will take just two weeks of keeping. Then mix the liquid thus obtained with equal quantity of water and apply to the crop. You can also mix this liquid after straining it, into your irrigation tank.

Turmeric with Mulch Cover

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Mixed Cropping

Don’t rely on any single crop too much. Crop diversity is what helps an organic farmer to sustain a decent income even as the yield is sometimes low as compared to chemical farming. Crop diversity ensures pests do not stick to a single crop. Mono-cropping attracts swarms of pests to the spot as they get their food in plenty and in one place. Mixed cropping on the other hand will camouflage crops from pests. Try to make your farm as close to a natural eco system as possible through mixed cropping and then nature will take care of many things- plant symbiosis, pest control, and nutrient-diversity and so on.

Improvise and Build on Experience

There was a rich compilation of farming knowledge handed over from generation to generation in the information sphere of the farmers who lived and cultivated before chemical farming set it. Once agricultural modernization took over traditional farming, there was no attempt to preserve that knowledge and it was completely replaced. Hence when we try to return to organic farming from chemical-based farming, apart from learning from books and other farmers and experts, there is little local knowledge one can use. However local adaptations to general practices are what counts in the end. For example, some farmers in India recently found out that by spreading some dry soil over the irrigated soil can help reduce water loss through evaporation in hot areas and thus reduce the frequency of irrigation considerably. Some others have been spraying butter milk to their crop as a growth booster and a control measure for certain viral infections. Proper institutional documentation of farmer’s empirical knowledge in this realm is long due.

© 2018 Deepa

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