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Bhaskar Save, acclaimed ‘Gandhi of Natural Farming’, turned 92 on 27 January 2014, having inspired and mentored 3 generations of organic farmers. Masanobu Fukuoka, the legendary Japanese natural farmer, visited Save’s farm in 1996, and described it as “the best in the world”, ahead of his own farm.
“The four fundamental principles of natural farming are quite simple!” declares Bhaskar Save. “The first is, ‘all living creatures have an equal right to live’. To respect such right, farming must be non-violent. The second principle recognizes that ‘everything in Nature is useful and serves a purpose in the web of life’.
“The third principle is: farming is a dharma, a sacred path of serving Nature and fellow creatures; it must not degenerate into a pure dhandha or money-oriented business. Short-sighted greed to earn more – ignoring Nature’s laws – is the root of the ever-mounting problems we face.
“Fourth is the principle of perennial fertility regeneration. It observes that we humans have a right only to the fruits and seeds of the crops we grow. These constitute 5 to 15 % of the plants’ biomass yield. The balance 85 to 95 % of the biomass, the crop residue, must go back to the soil to renew its fertility, either directly as mulch, or as the manure of farm animals. If this is religiously followed, nothing is needed from outside; the fertility of the land will not decline.”
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i had been speaking with farmers all over India and they were all telling me of the severe water problems they are having, needing new bore wells every 2 years. I had been studying permaculture water solutions for years but going to B. Save's farm and reading the book with the pan india explantions of the water situation gave me the final pieces i needed to feel confidient in my ability to solve these problems here in India, thus leading me to start this project in Tamil Nadu India called the Mother Who Plants Trees. The project is based on showing individual farmers how to do water conservation (they use this term for anything that raises the water table) and make more money for doing it. see our web site www.handsonpermaculture1.org for more information about our methods.
This was taken from Visions of Natural Farming, by Bharat Monsata about Bhaskar Save, the Indian Fukuoka, (also called the Ghandi of agriculture) a must read for any serious permaculture or natural farmer.
In agricultural circles we talk about green manuring to increase soil fertility. The idea that plants growing together for harvest without being plowed under can also increase fertility is not discussed. Mr. Save believes that light tilling with bullocks is okay for the soil so he is not a total no till guy. i would say that after the final crops are harvested in this system, you could also press the vegetation down for mulch and plant in that easily without tilling. You could even drill into it with your hand seeding tools or as in conservation agriculture with your fancy tractor.
i am incorporating this system between the trees in my project to reverse desertification one farmer at a time here in India. I am showing farmers how they can make more money for themselves by planting trees with interplants and intercrops along with some minor terraforming. Many farmers can no longer irrigate because of decreasing water tables, so they are not able to make any money without changing to dry land methods. i am also adding medicinal herbs. i will probably plant the medicinal herbs in blocks according to what needs sun and shade and then have a 6 foot section of the plants discussed below (or comparable plants as I do not want to plant cotton) with a 6 foot section of medicinal herbs. The medicinal herbs i am planting are perennial, so i do not want to mix them.
In some of the driest districts, receiving 10-20 inches of rain a year (250 mm to 500 mm) farmers following traditional mixed cropping systems were able to get good continuing yield year around to meet their needs. This they managed year after year without any decline in yield and without any external imputs or irrigation whatsoever using just their own seed saved from the previous years crops. (The fact that modern day India is going down the road of chemicals with all its concommitant problems does not negate the fact that they have a 10,000 year history of sustainable agriculture which we can learn from.)
One farmer had 6 different crops that had been sown together.
1) cotton 330 to 350 day variety
2) pigeon peas (tuvar) 320 to 330 day variety
3) sorgham (jovar)
4) gavar - cluster bean 130-145 day variety
5) pearl millet, ( bajri) 120-135 day variety
6)moong, green gram, a 65-70 day variety
Every alternate row of crops in this polyculture is a legume. providing nitrogen to its neighbors. Complete ground cover of vegetation is establshed soon after the rains start which continues until the farmer plants again at the beginning of the next monsoon, (one year away).
Make plots not exceeding 1 or 1.25 acres in size. Plough the entire land at the start of the rains. Plough with bullocks. Around the edge keep a strip 3-4 feet unplanted for self-seeded uncultivated plants. Let all such plants (weeds) grow without uprooting them. These serve as a habitat for predator species for damaging insects. They also serve to moderate the micro-climate of the plot, heat, cold and wind.
In the central ploughed area, first plant alternate lines of cotton and pigeon peas, leaving a gap of 6 feet between the two, thus covering the whole plot.
1. At a gap of 9 inches from the line of cotton and pigeon peas plant lines of moong on either side, thus for each line of cotton and pigeon peas there will be 2 lines of moong on either side.
2. At a gap of 9 inches from every line of mong plant a line pearl millet.
3. At a gap of 9 inches from every line of pearl millet plant a line of cluster bean. .
4. At a gap of 9 inches from every line of cluster bean plant a line of sorghum.
Apart from the seeds of the above crops, and of course the farmers labor for ploughing, sowing, harvesting and mulching, nothing is needed, no watering, no manuring, no weeding.
The above gap of 6 feet between the lines of cotton and pigeon peas is recommended for medium soils. It may be increased for fertile soils to 7 feet. If land is degraded gap can be reduced to 5 feet. Thus you should sow less seed on fertile land.
The underlying principle is: Shade the entire land with vegetation as rapidly as possible. This will regenerate the organic life of the soil providing a high output of self generated biomass for mulching to improve the fertility of the soil while simultaneously providing the farmer yield from even poor soil receiving little rain.
Once the sowing is completed at the start of the rains, it takes 18-22 days for the entire land to be completely shaded with vegetative growth when the alternate rows touch each other. Once this happens no sunlight falls on the soil. Evaporation loss of moisture is greatly reduced and even 10-15 inches of rainfall maintains the dampness of the soil providing fair yield. With the entire land rapidly shaded there is hardly any weed growth. If some weeds do spring up in the first 2 weeks these may be cut and mulched in place. Under such conditions the regeneration of humus in the soil enables it to absorb atmospheric humidity. This does not happen if chemicals are added, thereby dessicating the humus formed and consequently diminishing the soil's capacity to absorb atmospheric humidity.
In 65 to 70 days the pods of moong are ready to harvest. once these pods are harvested the remaining vegetative growth of the moong plant should be pressed down and mulched right there where it grew. Meanwhile the adjoining lines of cotton, pigeon peas and pearl millet grow and spread their canopy to shade the soil covered by moong plants. Abundant nitrogen comes from the moong plant nodules.
All this is not a new untested, experimental idea. It has been traditionally practiced for generations.
This is from charlotte -- if we want to change the plants, of course we can as long as we can include the legumes and figure out how the days to maturity work (meaning the size of the plants getting bigger coincides in this model with some of them being removed because they are mature. I have heard so many people say that Fukuoka's methods will not work in the U.S. but i think it is just a matter of working with the plants, until we get it.
At the moment of commitment the entire universe conspires to assist you. Whatever you can do or dream you can do begin it now. Boldness has genius, magic and power in it. Goethe
Charlotte +91 9715699289 india
Pictures on all this will be coming soon.
KKpatti, Tamilnadu, India.
Until 3 days ago we had mainly drizzle for ½ hour to 1 hour, maybe once a week. Then finally 3 days ago we had drizzle all night and then drizzle ½ the day and finally a real rain for 45 minutes and a lot more drizzling. During the dry period, I was visiting a friend up in Kumily, Kerala, where they have a lot more rain than we do. It was raining (slightly more than a drizzle) and she kept trying to cover me with an umbrella. I kept telling her no, I wanted to experience the rain. It seemed my body wanted to get the water that the plants needed.
The other great news -- with the rain has come 70 degree weather (as opposed to 90 and 100) so it is much easier to work.
Without rain we could not start the interplants in the coconuts and other orchards designated for conversion.. The wells were just able to provide water for the existing plantings. Before the rains the backhoe started the trenches (one version of a swale). These are not contour or keyline swales as this is an established orchard -- the trenches are across the flow of water. Baby John (owner and this is from Kerala, India where baby is like our junior) wanted to redig all the existing trenches (there were trenches between every other row of coconuts). Trenches are a long standing tradition. Trenches is not really accurate, maybe mulch heaps over trenches would be more accurate. After the trenches are filled, then the mulch is stacked up another 3 feet at least. It has a lot of the good qualities of hugelkultur. I was advocating for putting the prunings right into the mulch heap but he wants to sell the wood. It is amazing that the same people who put in trenches chose to put in monoculture, although there are other trees on the border and here and there in the monoculture, Baby John has owned the farm for 4 years. He has not been adding mulch material to the trenches. He had the idea that the trenches needed to be clean of plants on the sides and bottoms. He saw what the backhoe pulled up when redigging a trench -- great topsoil, a lot of digesting plant debris, as well as a huge number of coconut roots trying to get to the trench. He then looked up and saw that those coconuts were doing considerably better than the coconuts without trenches and decided not to redig the old trenches. He also observed that where he has hard soil, he has the least coconuts. He got even more excited about putting trenches in all the tree rows, which would make them every 24 feet. It is good he got excited because the backhoe is costing a lot of money and tomorrow will be the 6th day. The final count for the backhoe was 11 days and this is only for 2/3 of his orchards, many thousands of dollars (in this case rupees)
Since digging the trenches, we are spreading the mounds of earth to make 4-10 foot wide beds on either side. Stacking functions, we are getting trenches and a place to plant corn, moringas, pigeon peas, medicinal herbs. We are putting moringas (nitrogen fixing tree and pigeon peas right next to the trench to hold the walls.
I had an aha experience while smoothing out the piles from the trenches preparing to plant. I was spending a lot of time making sure I had top soil with the subsoil for planting. I had recently seen a video from Michael Pollan where beans were growing toward a pole. It was clear that they knew right where the pole was and were not discovering the pole by accident. The scientific name for this is trophism. The upshot is that plants do not need to have everything done for them by humans. They are quite intelligent in their own way. So I figured they could find the good soil and quit trying to explain what I was doing to the Indian ladies helping me. We are also adding a small amount of compost as a side dressing. (Redundancy)
Trenches are 2.5 feet wide by 2 feet deep. Baby John is putting a layer of coire on the bottom of the trenches to hold water. He brought in 34 truckloads 2 days ago, which he found for free. He is going to flood the trenches. As a test he flooded just part of a trench and was happy to see the water wicking up from the bottom where the coire held it in the trench. He is also buying old banana leaves. He is making vermicompost and this will be added to the trenches. There is a popular Indian farmer here named S, Paleker, who teaches and writes about Zero Budget Farming. He believes that feeding the plants processed vermicompost is not healthy. He believes the most relevant nutrients are for the microbes and fully digested plant food does not help the microbes. Baby John believes that these plants are used to being spoon fed (read are addicted to instant plant food) and he wants to wean them off gradually. Then we will fill in and heap up 3 feet above ground with our own coconut fronds as well as a mixture of weeds and greens from around the 100 acre farm. The first watering will be via flood irrigation directed to the trenches to get the mulch wet. . Then follow up irrigation will be with drip irrigation on top of the mulch heaps.
Planting: On the left hand side a tractor will have access so we will plant with deep rooted tough grass, hoping to get a harvest for the cows before the tractors move in every 45 days to collect the coconuts. The soil here is very sandy, so the water just goes down to the rocks. On the right side we are planting corn for animal food, Moringa trees every 4 feet with the idea of using them for chop and drop and also animal feed. Every 12 feet we will allow the Moringa trees to grow up. Moringa trees are a wonderful tree, even said to cure aids. Also used for nutritional supplements especially in African villages were hunger is a problem. We are also planting pigeon peas which grow down 4 feet and will hold the sides of the trenches. We are planting vegetables next to the corn. I also am lobbying to plant pomegranates alternating with the moringas, in other words every 12 feet a moringa and another 12 feet a pomegranate. With this heat, sun, and sand to hold the heat, pomegranates like some shade. We are planting 3 rows of corn after the moringas, pomegranates and pigeon peas. We will also intersperse some other nitrogen fixing fodder trees on this line. On the far right hand side of the right hand trench we will plant medicinal herbs as well as leaving the herbs already growing in place. I was excited to plant elephant yams in the coconuts but we have a wild boar problem and Baby John believes they will be attracted to the yams in their territory, under the soil. They are already taking 50 coconuts a day, so he does not want anything else attractive to them. We are right at the edge of a forest, so where are the boar predators? Baby John is growing his dog pack and hopes that they will become a way to keep the boars out.
Story of coconuts. They are the king tree here in India. Mangoes are the queen tree. The coconuts here are mainly what is called country coconuts. There is a new hybrid called tender coconuts. These are used for coconut water for export mainly. The coconuts grow in layers, so they are continuously starting new nuts going higher and higher up the tree. Coconut harvesters who are wiry young men, climb the trees and cut off a section of leaves and then the mature nuts which grow on stalks, starting out with maybe 100 nuts and then dropping many of them developing maybe 6 or 12 in a healthy yielding tree. There are ridges on the coconut trees about ½ inch thick, which when barefooted the young men use to shimmy up the trees. They just chop and drop the fronds and coconut stalks with nuts attached.. A couple cuts per tree and they climb back down. There will be some damage to the interplanted crops. I am amazed at how resilient plants are so we shall see how much damage they actually cause. I have packed tender nursery plants 4 flats high to go to a victory garden planting, stepped on them and mainly they bounce right back. The ground is then covered with fronds and nuts. After the mature nuts are cut down you can still see the layers above growing away. Now that I know what to look for, when I see coconuts growing, I am surprised that most of the coconuts I see have nowhere near the coconuts that Baby John is getting. Coconuts seem to be his pride and joy.
The coconut fronds are usually sold for roofing, etc -- coconut fronds are waterproof. From now on we will use what fronds we can to fill the trenches rather than selling them. Workers collect all the nuts from the ground A company is hired to come in and takes the coconuts away. They come with a huge number of young men and a huge truck and dehusk the coconuts.
The other thing we are doing in the trenches is a traditional Indian practice. This is akin to my practice of adding EM and mycorrhizal fungi more . It is a traditional method. We are spraying geevamritham. It is made from cow dung, cow urine, molasses, a small amount of soil and fermented for 3 day. In Biodynamics this a version of compost tea, a good way to spread nutrition as well as microbes. We will run the drip irrigation down the mulch heaps and put on geevamritham maybe for 6 months every 30 days. Baby John feels he wants to take the coconuts off their concentrated feed slowly to allow the trees to adapt to feeding from the soil and to allow the soil to grow the microbes it needs to feed them.
Bhaskar Save does not have a lot of interplants. He has betel nuts, mangos, sapotas etc with his coconuts but there are no weeds growing. He does not weed his ground, he says there is not enough sun to bring in the weeds. I assume that since there is not enough sun for weeds, that his soil microbes are also not damaged by his bare soil (meaning no damage to bare soil from the sun). He has trenches filled with 3 feet of mulch heaped over the trenches. These are the same trenches he uses to water his coconuts. He has not fed his adult coconuts in many years. He says that feeding adult trees is akin to feeding adult children.. It came to me that his diversity is more in the form of microbes in the mulch heaps, rather than the 20 plants I am trying to plant to make sure I have the kind of poly culture that will be regenerative. He uses a minimum amount of water. Another person here in India is getting much better yields from coconuts using a lot less water than what is recommended. Putting water in the trenches rather than directly to the trees lets the trees figure out how much water they want. Bhaskar Save uses indicator plants, plants that will show the need for water. The coconuts may not show water deprivation for months and by then it would affect his yield.a year later. This is probably the case for most trees. Bhaskar Save says that extra water, along with food for adult trees will cause the cells to expand, leaving them vulnerable to attack from disease, fungus and pests, as well as lower yields.
We kept a significant number of the husks from the coconuts to put in the trenches. The rest of the material for the trenches is coming from the farm. He harvested several weeks ago 30,000 coconuts. It is quite a process. He had weeds growing in the coconuts this time and he was not happy to have missed coconuts because they were hiding in the weeds. People here are accustomed to cultivate under the trees because they believe the weeds rob the coconuts of fertilizer and water. Someone did go around a little slower than the original large group and found a lot more of the coconuts. So all of these plants under the coconuts will take some getting used to for him and the workers.
There is a difference that I see in Baby John and myself and leads to different styles of permaculture. Once Baby John decides what is the best way to do something, trenches being an example, he wants to do it the right way, gathering every bit of information and doing it the best way he can imagine. I find that I am more likely to want to do the job with materials on the farm or with little money outlay. In my experience what I call punting or doing the best with what you have, actually often works better than the right way and in any case leads to innovation. And it often means doing the job this year instead of in 2-5 years in the future. One experiment I am doing in the amla orchard is to put trenches in 1/3 of the orchard every other aisle. The other 2/3 of the amla, there will be mulch heaps with no backhoe. The amla are doing well with just the 10 inches of rain we get here. We are planting custard apples and acid lime trees where the trenches are in the amlas as well as vegetables, etc.
Polyculture: there is a mixed crop planting schedule for dry land farming from Vision of Natural Farming, a book about Bhaskar Save. I posted it under Bhaskar Save, artisan permaculturist, on permies.com. With this particular group of plants, they can plant every year without adding fertilizing agents. Where they have grown these crops, one of which is cotton, for many generations, the soil gets more and more fertile. There are only 6 plants, several of which are nitrogen fixing. I believe this book is one of the best permaculture books I have read. You can get it from Earth Care Books. Earthcarebooks.com
Regenerative effect: I came up with the 20 plants theory: if you have at least 20 plants and at least 1/2 of them are nitrogen fixing, you can have the regenerative effect (next level past sustainable). I should add that the mixed dry land crop schedule uses legumes every other row. You say if they did it with 6 plants why are you saying 20. One of the advantages of using a system that has worked for generations is that you know it works. If we try any 6 plants it might or might not work. And there is a very slight chance that the 20 you select might not do it, but I believe by adding weeds already growing there I am improving the odds. Then like I said above, with Bhaskar Save’s land he is having the regenerative effect with only 5 or 6 tree on his land and annual field crops. I call this regeneration by poly microbes as well as established polyculture.
The idea of hedgerows is all over traditional Indian plantings, as well as Europe as well as many places on the East Coast of the U.S., and of course in permaculture. In India they will often surround 1-2 acre fields with hedgerows, so this is a good way to get the variety you need. And it is part of the process for the mixed dry land culture regime to have hedgerows.
How do the plants transfer the goodies from one plant to another. I believe it is mycorhizzals. When you see a forest growing, you will see lots of baby trees starting up even in the dry season. The mycorhizzals transfer water and minerals and whatever else the plants need. When I told a scientist friend of mine this she was skeptical. She said that contradicts Darwin – survival of the fittest. If cooperation is the basis of the plant world and as we cannot exist without the bacteria in our cells and guts, then. . . .
She later found a scientific reference to how mycorhizzals transfer nutrients among plants and I will get that reference from her.
This is our list of 20: With the coconut interplants, we are adding in medicinal herbs and if we leave some of our favorite weeds to bring the total over 20. Right now we have
1) Coconuts 2) Pomegranate 3) Moringa 4) Corn 5) Pigeon peas
6) Kiri (a nitrogen fixing plant they use for animal fodder and spinach)
7) 9) 10) 11) 12 medicinal herbs
13) Deep rooted grases, 14) There are already some teaks growing in the coconuts
15)) 16) 17) 1There are also a lot of fruits growing along one border, including jamun, bread fruit, jack fruit, guava;. 19) We will also plant indicator plants along the trenches 20) 21), 22) There are several low growing weeds and several volunteer medicinal herbs bringing us up to more than 20.
I am working on my web site which is
It also has the blog of my Indian adventure with lots of stories about the land and soon lots of pictures. I will soon be able to post on the blog so entries should come more often.
At the moment of commitment the entire universe conspires to assist you. Whatever you can do or dream you can do begin it now. Boldness has genius, magic and power in it. Goethe
Charlotte +91 9715699289 india