Eating is an agricultural act - Wendell Berry

Monday, December 31, 2012

Aadi 2012 - agriculture update

we have been recording updates on our activities and observations on paper rather than online as its a lot easier. here is the synopsis for Aadi season...

the summer notwithstanding, we started preparations for the important Aadi season (July-Aug) in right earnest. the earnestness was buoyed by some rains in early july (Our first rain for the year). what was till then a limited agricultural area, just exploded into a large scale (2.5 acre) rainfed attempt. (actually since we had been twiddling our thumbs most of this super hot summer, the first rain unleashed the 'lets scale up beast' in us).

we got the area ploughed using a tractor a couple of times, divided into plots and hired labour to put up varappu (bunds) around the plots - clean and pretty. while all this was being done we were reports on reading deficient rainfall in the SW monsoon, unprecedented dry weather etc in the rest of the country. we still hoped we would get regular showers.
this jump from 0.5 acre to 2.5 acre (1 acre inside our fenced area and 1.5 acre non-fenced) can be simply termed as bravado. without the necessary experience, fertility, soil preparation, it rolled out as an inspired rush job. using two runs of tractor based ploughing solved the soil preparation issue and importing farm yard
manure solved the fertility issue. also we were relying entirely on rain for irrigation and did not have any other option to irrigate.

anyway we bought seeds and waited for the sky to open up and it did. as luck would have it we got 11cm overnight on the 8th of Aug 2012.

here is the list of crops we sowed.


Ragi (first attempt in Aug ) in 60 cents. failed - very poor germination and the ones that did, did not survive the long dry spells in between the rains.
Ragi (second attempt in sept). in 25 cents. good germinaiton and received follow up rains. 15 cents inside fenced area survived and is coming up for harvest in about 10 days. 10 cents outside got grazed by cattle.

being our most consumed millet, we wanted to scale up Ragi. our earlier experiments with mulched and SRI Ragi yielded well but cannot be scaled up beyond 5-7 cents. we had to get the broadcasted-rainfed method to work. Ragi is not a common crop around here and the few who grow use transplant-irrigated method. It is not possible to plan for transplanting under rainfed conditions as rains are unpredictable and with no option to irrigate we could just end up with the seedlings maturing in the nursery. Hence the direct sowing.
with no real experience in the neighbourhood on  broadcasting, it was done the way other broadcast based crops like green gram, black gram are done - throw the seeds around and plough the field to cover them. we realised lated that this may not be the best method as it might have sent the seeds too deep.
they did not germinate the first time. we got the farmer to do a very  shallow ploughing the second time and that worked.

Varagu (kodo millet) & other millets. 

sowed in 50 cents - failed - poor germination due to no follow up rain and the ones that did got grazed by cattle. we sowed them in the non-fenced area.

Assorted millets - kudiraivalli (banyard millet) & samai (kodo millet) in 17 cents did not germinate - no follow up rain.

Kambu (Pearl Millet) in about 15 cents, germinated and grew very well but got rain during flowering and ear maturing stage. this spoiled most of the ears. we got about 5kgs of kambu.


our earlier attempt at irrigated groundnut in Dec-March 2012 season yielded poorly due to insufficient fertility and irrigation. we sowed about 15 kgs of groundnuts in about 25 cents and used the sprinkler for irrigation as our solar based power can only run a quarter hp motor. as the days grew hotter we could not keep up sufficient moisture levels. as field preparation we had just ploughed an area that was under broom grass and thought it might have some fertility for it had never been cutivated over the last 30 years. as it turned out, it had none. the tough broom grass was an indication that nothing else could grow. we got about 15kgs of nuts. about 20% of a decent yield expected for the area. the nuts were of very good quality though and so we milled a part them for oil.

we figured that we are not going to be able to scale up irrigated peanuts with our well-motor combination. and so this time we scaled up rainfed peanuts. sowed 30kgs in 65 cents. (20cents outside and 45cents inside out fenced area). this was another calculated risk. instances of rainfed groundnut are getting scarce in the locality. we sourced local seeds from a village market near gingee and sowed with reasonable precision on timing on the 10th of Aug. they sprouted beautifully and grew well. we had added farm yard manure and organic matter from nearby neem trees and that worked in improving the fertility from last time. however rainfall was deficient and they went through prolonged dry patches with severe heat in september. they also got infected with some pest that was supposed to go away with rain and that rain took too long to come. so the crop did take a beating but turned out ok in the end.  harvest was due end oct - early nov. with strong NE monsoon starting mid october and with Nilam cyclone dumping some 15cm of rain during maturing phase (when the soil is supposed to be dry to aid in maturing) we thought we had lost this one too. but a month of dry-hot spell that followed Nilam helped the crop immensely and we could harvest, dry and bag the nuts to safety before the next rain. we got 5 bags (100kgs of nuts) from 45 cents (the 20cents sowed outside did not do well due to lack of fertility like our earlier crop). the productivity this time was 3 times better than our last irrigated attempt on the same field. we now need not worry about cooking oil for the next two years :-)

we sowed assorted carbonaceous and green manure crop in the rest of the 45 cents & they were ok.

so we got some and lost some. overall good learning from this season. we still need to figure out scaling up of ragi & kambu.