Wednesday, 31 October 2012

How to improve / sustain the Soil

In our Agriculture for Everybody blog series, we are going to see how to improve/sustain the soil.

Continuing with where we left in the last blog, we will discuss more ways to improve as well as sustain the soil.

As a rule of thumb, please remember "The Soil need not be exposed to direct sunlight and the sunlight is required only for the plants and that too by the leaves of the plants"

Don't expose the soil to direct sunlight

  1. Most of the land is occupied by Trees, Crops etc and only the minimal area is not occupied by any crop.  In this situation, we can go for Live (or) Green Mulch, Dead Mulch.
  2. In case of traditional crops like Paddy, Sugarcane etc, the unwanted roots or branches should not be burnt and left as is to decompose in the very soil.
  3. Live Mulch can be even weeds as well as any legume crops or grasses as well.
  4. Dead Mulch can be plantains, dead leaves, twigs, broken branches etc.  The Dead Mulch need to be spread in those areas where the soil is exposed to the sunlight and this will reduce the soil getting hot and also will reduce the evaporation in the process.
The Soil can be improved further if we allow the earthworms to live there.  The earthworms cannot tolerate direct sunlight and hence will not be coming to the top of the soil if there is direct sunlight.  As we all know, the more the earthworms, it is better for the soil as well as for the farmer.  The earthworms improve the air passage, water seepage and provide nutrients to the roots of the crops.

We can also improve the soil by making the dead mulch decompose faster by sprinkling (cow dung + cow urine) mixture whenever there is heavy dead mulch available.

Traditionally, the goats / sheeps are allowed to stay overnight in the land so that the excreta that falls from them will improve the soil and this method is employed even today.

Soil carried by Wind
  1. We need to implement Wind Breakers to control this and this has to be done in a V shape model.
  2. The plants selected should have many branches and it should be thick (like Glyricidia) and should not have only one stem like coconut.
  3. During the summer, we can go for short term crops to ensure that the top soil is covered and hence cannot be carried by wind.
Soil carried by Water
  1. Water should not flow very fast and this is also one of the reasons for losing the top soil and the nutrients along with it.
  2. Where water flows very fast, it should be made to walk. Create trenches along the gradient of the slope or every 25 or 50 feet to ensure that the speed of the water is reduced considerably.
  3. Where water walks, it should be made to crawl.  If the land is occupied by grasses or other crops, it will make the water slow down to a considerable extent.
  4. Where water crawls, it should be made to stop.  This can be a storage pit or tank or pond.
Compactness or Hardness
  1. The Compactness or Hardness of the soil is done by humans by walking, heavy cattle grazing, heavy machinery, long term non-usage of the land etc.
  2. Heavy machinery should never be used when the land is very wet. By Heavy Machinery, I mean tractors, harvesting machines etc.
The above are some of the ways we can sustain or improve the soil.

Friday, 26 October 2012

How to improve the Soil

In our Agriculture for Everybody blog series, we are going to see the ways to improve the soil.

As we all know, the Soil is the base for any agricultural activity.  In this blog, we will discuss ways and means to improve the soil.

The details given below are for both "unused barren land" and "land in use" as well as for land which needs to be moved from chemical farming to organic farming.

Land Improvement - Method 1

The following 5 types of Seeds are required and their quantities are mentioned as well for 1 Acre.  Overall, you require 4+4+4+4.25+1.75 = 22 Kgs of seeds per acre.
  1.  Pasunthaal (Green Manure Seeds) - 4 Kgs
    1. Sanappu (Sunhemp) - 1Kg
    2. Thakkaipoondu (Daincha) - 1 Kg
    3. Avuri (Indigo) - 1 Kg
    4. Sesbania (Sesbania) - 1 Kg
  2. Siruthaaniam (Millet Seeds) - 4 Kgs
    1. Cholam (Cholam) - 1 Kg
    2. Cumbu (Spiked Millet) - 1 Kg
    3. Kelvaragu (Ragi) - 1 Kg
    4. Samai (Samai) - 1 Kg
  3. Payaru (Cereal Seeds) - 4 Kgs
    1. Ulundu (Blackgram) - 1 Kg
    2. Pacchapayaru (Greengram) - 1 Kg
    3. Karamani (Cowpea) - 1 Kg
    4. Thuvarai (Redgram) - 1 Kg
  4. Ennai (Oil Seeds) - 4.25 Kgs
    1. Verkkadalai (Groundnut) - 2 Kg
    2. Ell (Gingely) - 0.25 Kg
    3. Amanakku (Castor) - 1 Kg
    4. Soya Mochai (Soya Beans) - 1 Kg
  5. Vaasanai (Perfume Seeds) - 1.75 Kgs
    1. Thaniya (Coriander) - 1 Kg
    2. Kadukku (Mustard) - 0.25 Kg
    3. Venthayam (Fenugreek) - 0.25 Kg
    4. Sombhu (Jeera) - 0.25 Kg

  1. The land has to be tilled for 1 or 2 times before the seeds are broadcasted.
  2. The above 20 seeds mentioned need to be mixed thoroughly and broadcasted by hand.
  3. Just before flowering of the crops(in 3 months time), the crops need to be dealt in two different ways.
  4. If the land is slushy, the entire crops need to be tilled again so that the crops as well as the soil are mixed throughly and allowed to decompose.
  5. If the land is not slusy, the entire crops need to be cut at the base and allowed to decompose in the soil.
  6. Mostly these needs to be done before the main crop is grown or if you are not growing any main crop and just for soil improvement, it is better to do this during the rainy season.
Land Improvement - Method 2
  1. Normally, most of the villages will have temples / mosques  and along with them they will have ponds, tanks etc which stores water and which is used for the temple as well as for the common use.  Even if there are not any temples around, definitely there will be ponds, tanks or other sources of water storage.  This is an excellent source of nutrient rich soil as most of the water that arrives in this place carry with them the top soil from many places and depoit them here.
  2. With the permission from the temple or local body, collected not more than 15-30 cms of top soil from the pond, tank etc.  By doing this, you will allow the water storage structure to retain more water.
  3. Spread the top soil collected from the ponds, tanks etc in your farm to improve your soil.
  4. The top soil need to be taken out only after sufficient amount of top soil has been collected in the ponds, tanks etc.
Land Improvement - Method 3
  1. Spread 4 inches of dry leaves or dead mulch on the soil.  This will decompose and improve the soil.
  2. A little bit of cow dung with urine can be sprayed on top of this to improve faster decomposition.
Land Improvement - Method 4
  1. Beans can be grown all over the place with little effort and they produce huge amounts of leaves which can be "chopped & dropped" and this improve the soil as well.
  2. A little bit of cow dung with urine can be sprayed on top of this to improve faster decomposition. 
Land Improvement - Method 5 (Green Manures List)
  1. The following Green Manures can be applied to the soil to improve the soil.
    1. Agathi - Sesbania grandiflora
    2. Avuri - Indofera tinctoria
    3. Adhatoda - Adhatoda zeylanica Medicus
    4. Avaram - Cassia auriculate
    5. Otiyan - Lannea coromandelica
    6. Erukku - Calotropis gigantean
    7. Kattukottai - Jatropha curcase
    8. Kattukolunchi - Tephrosia purpurea
    9. Sanaappu - Crotalaria juncea
    10. Seemai Agathi - Cassia alata
    11. Toyya-k-kirai - Digera muricata
    12. Cen-kitai or Malai Murungai - Sesbania bispinosa
    13. Thumbai - Leucas aspera
    14. Nalvelai - Cleome gynandra
    15. Naivelai - Cleome viscosa
    16. Nattu Cavundal - Leucaena leucocephala
    17. Nochi - Vitex negundo
    18. Nuna - Morinda coreia
    19. Pannaipoo - Celosia argentea
    20. Peyavirai - Cassia occidentalis
    21. Pungam - Pongamia pinnata
    22. Poovarasu - Thespesia populnea
    23. Nilavirai - Cassia senna
    24. Malai Vembu - Melia azedarach
    25. Murungai - Moringa oleifera
    26. Rail Poondu - Croton bonplandianus Baillon
    27. Vaagai - Alibizia lebbeck
    28. Vadanarayanan - Delonix elata
    29. Vembu - Azadirachta indica
Chemical Farming to Organic Farming

  1. The method mentioned above is also applicable for moving from Chemical Farming to Organic Farming.
  2. The catch here is that this needs to be done atleast for a continuous period of three years to notice the soil improvement.
  3. Once you plan to move from Chemical Farming to Organic Farming, it is advisable to stop using Chemical Farming altogether from the first year.
  4. The farmer may notice dip in their production during the transition period.  In case this is an issue, plan the transition in a phased manner like transitioning only 25% of the land every year.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Monoculture v/s Polyculture

In our Agriculture for Everybody blog series,  we will understand the difference between Monoculture and Polyculture and what they mean and what benefits each entails.

Monoculture - A single species of plants (I am using the word plants generically and it will also refer to animals as well)

  1. A classical example is Paddy cultivation
  2. Another example is Coconut Groove
  3. One more example is Mango Orchard
In Monoculture, there are some advantages as well as disadvantages.  But mostly, the disadvantages overweigh the advantages.

  1. Any person involved in Monoculture will have to gain knowledge only for that particular plants
  2. Marketing will be easy
  1. May result in complete crop failure due to homogenous plants and hence pests may have a field day
  2. Results in over production (Over Production can be from your own field or because of similar farms)
  3. Results in profit hit (Those who are in the know how will know how much is the cost per coconut)

Polyculture - At least more than One species of plants

  1. An example would be Coconut Groove with Cocoa Plants
  2. Paddy Cultivation with fish integration
  3. Paddy cultivation + Vegetables on the bunds + Fish Integration + Duck Farming
In Polyculture, normally the advantages overweigh the disadvantages and hence polyculture is recommended.


  1. Risk spead is there (Even if one crop is failing, the other crops will sustain you)
  2. Market risk is minimized (Since you are having multiple crops, even if there is crash in the profit of one crop, the other crops will average it out)
  3. Diseases can be managed as the pests will not be able to attack every single plants. (While this is true, we need to consider different families of plants rather than the same family of plants)
  1. You may have to gain knowledge on multiple plants
  2. Marketing will be a little bit difficult but you can use it to your advantage
My definition of Polyculture is one which does not have the same family of plants next to each other.  While this is very difficult to achieve, we can try our best and compromise very little.