Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Gardening in Rajhol

It’s only right to start this blog post by thanking the neighbors that made my farm possible. In our small village of Rajol, Himachal Pradesh, farming is the only way of life. There are a few shop owners and restaurant owners, but even they tend their farms after work. The day I started working in my field, all the neighbors came over to see what I was doing and to offer advice and assistance. The neighbor to the back of our house, Ramchander, helped me rent a hand tractor to till the field and sent his son, Teju, to teach me how to use it. The neighbor next door gave me a lesson in Indian fertilizers (khad) used to grow corn (makki). Finally, even the restaurant (dhaba) owner down the street weighed in saying that okra (bhindi) would be my best bet for vegetables to grow in monsoon season. The outcome of all this support: bhindi is my best vegetable crop and the makki I planted continues to grow at a steady rate.
While the growing okra is mutually appreciated crop between my neighbors and myself, the corn is a different story. The debate surrounding khad seems to be unending. My current understanding of this word, “khad,” is that it is the Hindi word for manure or compost. Where my knowledge is lacking is in the chemical make-up of this compost and whether there are artificial and chemical additives in it. My neighbors clearly think that my corn will fail without the khad and I am worried that might be true. However, this is an organic initiative and the benefits of fully organic farming may not be seen in this first experimental phase. The bottom line is, we need to investigate different varieties of khad, see what organic and chemical khad is available and probably apply organic khad in the cornfield.

Moving on from manure, the most interesting part of Indian monsoon farming for me has been the initial field preparation. In monsoon season in India, which generally lasts the months of June, July, and August, heavy rain is a daily expectation. In response to these conditions, farmers employ strategies for diverting water to and from different fields. Corn needs relatively dry soil, whereas rice needs to be submerged in water. Both of these crops are monsoon crops and grow simultaneously. To make this unlikely combination possible, rainwater is diverted from the cornfields through channels and is sent to the tiered rice paddies. These intricately contoured fields hold a consistent depth of one to three inches of water behind short walls surrounding the individual fields. This makes sure that the rice get plenty of water, and that the corn doesn’t drown. Similarly, the vegetables need to be protected by channels. These channels, when dug, elevate the soil level in the planting area slightly above the water level in the channels. Additionally, the soil dug from the channels is put on top of the area to be planted in. Since there is so much rain, the plants still get plenty of water but the roots are protected from being flooded out. Most importantly, however, the channels help to add a cool aesthetic element (water feature) to the garden separating each planting and each individual vegetable.
By Owen Jollie