My Organic Farming Practices Part 2
Organic Farming is a Way of Life
Organic farming is a way of life rather than a set of farming practices; a life-changing journey that will lead you to a new philosophy of existence. Farming itself is a domain of patience, where you do things to the best of your knowledge and then wait for nature to give results. Organic farming will not yield a good outcome overnight but gradually you learn to see the signs of progress, nurture them, and reap the benefits.
Mostly, I am not working on the plant but on the soil. There is no need for frequent tilling of the land but it is important to make sure the soil is loose and aerated. I use small hand tools to stir the soil at the base of the plants regularly and leave the uncultivated areas with a manageable weed cover. The weed cover upon the soil helps avoid direct sunlight falling on the soil. When sunlight falls directly on the soil, carbon in the soil turns into carbon dioxide and escapes to the atmosphere leaving the soil impoverished. I am careful to keep the weeded area trimmed so that it does not grow out of control. I put the cut parts of the weeds in empty plant pots and put some soil over them. In a few days, this will decompose into good compost that I use as fertiliser.
Earthworms can tell a lot about the health of the soil. If they are present in plenty, I am assured that my treatment of the soil is quite right. Paying attention is the key to developing the soil of any farm- to see if a plant bed is looking dry and lifeless or if it looks healthy and rich with the required level of moisture content. The soil should feel crusty when taken in your palm, forming loose lumps. The moisture content must stay below a level where it makes the soil sticky.
You Can Get Good Harvest Without Using Chemical Fertilizers and Pesticides
Manure application is one important part of cultivation but equally important is the way I apply organic manure. Putting some manure at the base of the plant is not an effective method. I remove some topsoil 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 topsoil that was earlier removed. The science behind 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 the 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 I am adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, which in turn helps only global warming and climate change if one looks at the larger 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, put the manure inside it, and cover it with soil. Be aware that the feeder roots of the plants are in the topsoil. So there is no need to make the pit deep.
As I try to increase the organic matter content of the soil, as discussed earlier, there is another problem that arises. 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. After tilling, I apply lime and leave it for 3-4 days before I begin planting. I know that the right soil pH balance alone can give me a good crop. Some organic practitioners are against using lime, thinking that it is a chemical input while others see it as an organic ingredient of cultivation.
Mulching Using Dry Leaves
Mulching is a practice that can save me a lot of time, effort, and water in summer. Mulching is the covering of soil around the base of the plant with dry leaves or mulching sheets available on the market. I use natural mulching using dry leaves. In summer, as I am in a tropical climate, even if water the plants daily, by the evening, the leaves will be dehydrated and drooping. Hence, I put some dry leaves to cover the soil at the foot of the plant and then water it. I can keep the plants fresh for as long as a week after irrigating once when there is mulch. The dry leaves will gradually decompose and will also provide extra nutrition to the plant. Then I add some more leaves. There is a visible and healthy change in the colour 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 to do 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
Weeds are good soil cover, can be turned into good fertilizing material, prevent soil erosion, and enable groundwater enrichment as 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. Also, some weeds are edible and have medicinal use. Despite all these benefits, weeds can be a problem. If the weeds outgrow the crop fast and I think they are going to suffocate my crop, I try removing them when they are just very small. My weed removal practice thus amounts to the least effort at this time as the roots will get easily uprooted when they are young. If I am late with weed removal, I try to ensure that I don’t let the weeds flower. I have to remove them before that or it will be difficult to control their propagation and that will create a worse weed problem for me next time. Mulching can also be used to remove weeds. Instead of removing weeds, sometimes I 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 I remove the sheet, say after 10 days, the weeds are either decomposed or withering. Now I can remove them easily. Then I uproot them, 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 I mix the liquid thus obtained with an equal quantity of water and apply it to the crop. Sometimes I also mix this liquid after straining it, into my irrigation tank.
Turmeric with Mulch Cover
I do not rely much on any single crop. I have learned that 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 that pests do not find it easy to crowd into one place and destroy the entire 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 to a certain extent. I try to make my farm resemble a natural ecosystem as possibly it can be through mixed cropping because I know that then nature will take care of many things- plant symbiosis, pest control, nutrient diversity and so on.
Improvise and Build on Experience
There was a rich compilation of farming tips handed over from generation to generation in the in situ knowledge domain of the farmers who lived and cultivated our land through centuries. Once agricultural modernization took over and traditional farming was discarded, there was little effort to preserve that knowledge. Instead, it was completely replaced. Hence when we try to return to organic farming from chemical-based farming, there is little local knowledge one can use. However local adaptations added to expert-advised standard practices are what do the magic in the end. For example, some farmers in India recently found out that 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 buttermilk on their crop as a growth booster and a control measure for certain viral infections. I think proper institutional documentation of farmers’ empirical knowledge in this realm is long due.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 Deepa