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Crop Rotations for Dry Land Farming

charlotte anthony
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this was taken from visions of natural farming, by bharat monsata about Bhaskar Save, the indian fukuoka, the book is a must read for any serious permaculture or natural farmer.

In permaculture and like other agriculture we talk about green manuring to increase soil fertility. the idea that plants growing together for yield without being plowed under can also increase fertility is not discussed. The result of this crop pattern after centuries of being used every year is better soil fertility each year. 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.

i am incorporating this system between the trees in one of my projects 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 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 mediciinal 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 concomitant problems does not negate the fact that they have a 10,000 year history of sustainable agriculture which we can learn from. - charlote)

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.


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 weeks 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. but not 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 harvesting 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 work and the plant size needs to be considered as well of course. 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 us figuring it out.

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
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