No-till 2022 – an update

I’m happy to report that our no-till avare is coming along nicely. It’s a six month crop, so we’ll hopefully start harvesting in December.

In addition, I’ve planted five little paddy fields here and there. And when I say little, I mean tiny. Like 100 or 150 sq ft each. They’re little because each is hand dug, planted, weeded and maintained by one inept farmer – you know who! They’re scattered to fool the pigs and elephants. One patch even occupies a raised bed. And we have the enthusiastic cooperation of Indra or Parjanya or whoever is up there turning on the taps, abetted by a kindly La Nina. Without this unexpectedly terrific monsoon, we wouldn’t have anything to write about. The variety we’re growing is Gandhasale, a fragrant rice that needs a lot of water.

Just weeded
More paddy in a raised bed

Then, we’re also experimenting with chia, which is supposed to be an easy crop, not fussy as to soil and water, and apparently not attractive to rats, pigs and elephants. On the other hand, the lazy cook in me loves the quick, no-cook delicacies you can make with this nutritious millet. Two-minute choco-chia pudding, for instance. Whisk 3 tbsps chia into 1 cup sweetened cocoa. Soak for a few hours in a cool place till it sets. Drool, eat.

I found this article on how chia cultivation has taken off in Karnataka very exciting. And there are several Kannada videos on chia cultivation on YouTube that I’m sharing with our neighbouring farmers. I have also been distributing (or trying to distribute – there are not too many takers) small packets of chia seeds for them to experiment with, Γ  la the CFTRI.

Raju and I are using the cycle hoe to make the furrows. We’ve found it takes two, one to push and one to pull, for this to work. The end result isn’t as good as the cow-made furrows, mainly because the mango orchard that we’re planting chia in right now is thick with deep rooted wild grass. So it remains to be seen what, if anything, will come of this experiment. (In a raised bed, and in Raju’s tractor-tilled field, the crop looks promising.) We’re cautiously optimistic and having fun.

He may not look much like it, but Raju is actually enjoying himself
A small patch of chia that’s three months old now, just coming into flower

A vote of thanks to our Honda brush cutter, now three years old and going strong. No-till would be so much more difficult without it to, literally, smooth the way. It uses a minute fraction of the fuel of a tractor, doesn’t disturb the soil, or exploit any animal. So I’m sticking with it until we have all our fields full of deep, dark, rich weedless soil… Well, one can dream!

A friend recently asked me: what’s the benefit of no-till farming? Answer: Soil conservation, mainly. Holds more water, does not erode, and the soil structure, biology and chemistry are left intact. Next to climate change, loss of arable soil is the biggest threat facing us in the near future.


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