Sunday, June 19, 2016

Growing a grain - paddy

Though we acquired our farm last year, it was too late to start the activity of sowing. Therefore we left the paddy fields fallow. Being the fertile land it is, it has given an opportunity for all sorts of weeds to grow. This year we decided to grow paddy in a part of the field. It was not possible to plough the field using animals because of thick weed cover. Therefore we decided to use a tractor to plough the land deep and keep it ready before it starts raining heavily. I will document the subsequent process here. Don't go away, keep coming back to this post :-)

Paddy field ploughed and ready to go to next step
Next step is preparing the seedlings to be transplanted in the field when they grow for around 20 days. This is how we did it:
  • Select good quality rice seeds. We decided to take some seed (saved from the rice he had grown in last season) from our neighbor Mr. Bangarappa.
  • Ensure good quality using salt water: Mix salt in water until uncooked hen's egg put in the water floats. Put the rice seeds in that water and mix it. Good quality seeds sink to the bottom. Bad quality ones float on top. Remove the floating seeds. Drain out water. Rinse in fresh water and dry the seeds in shade.
    • We did not do salt water test because the seeds were good and germination rate was also very good. We knew it because Mr. Bangarappa had sowed the seeds in his field before us.
  • Soak the seeds in fresh water for 24 hours.
  • Take the seeds out of water. Wrap them in gunny bags and keep aside for germination. Another practice is spreading the seeds on wet floor and covering with gunny bags. Basically water soaked seeds should be kept wrapped with a wet cloth/bag to avoid water loss and be allowed to germinate.
  • In 3-4 days rice seeds start growing roots and a small spec of green shoot.
  • Make seedling beds in the field and sow them. Seedling bed making and sowing procedure is explained next.
We had decided to grow rice in approximately 3/4th of acre land. For that we need around 15kg seeds. For that much seed approximately 50ft X 50ft area of field is needed for making seedling beds. You will see Mr. Bangarappa mixing in the soil preparing to make the seedling beds.

Sorry, I don't have video or pictures of in-progress process as I had thick layer of mud on my hand. What is the point in being arm chair farmer? I better get into the mud and actively work. Therefore muddy hands did not allow me to shoot the process :-)

Sowing work in progress
After the beds are made we walk in the trenches between the beds and sow the seeds thinly and uniformly over the beds. We should be careful to avoid seeds falling into the trenches to reduce wastage.

You can notice first 2 beds towards left side are smoother and uniform. Those are prepared beds on which we were sowing at that time. You can notice there are no pockets of water on these beds. 2 beds towards right are not yet completely ready for sowing. They are uneven and have water pockets.

3 of us are sowing (for the first time I am showing up in my blog pictures and videos; thanks to my friend Rajesh for being cameraman). After few seconds you see Mr. Bangarappa smoothing next bed for sowing.

After one day
Seeds are doing fine one day after sowing. Birds are the challenge at this stage - they come in big groups and finish off the seeds. Luckily for us there were only two birds in the field for first day. Therefore no damage to the seedling beds. May be they have eaten some, but insignificant damage.

You see some green shoots at this stage.

After 2 days

Green shoots are clearly visible now. Still there is a chance of bird damage. We were lucky to have no birds around on 2nd day too. Other animals also did not damage them.

After 5 days

After 3 days when the shoots grow up we hold water in the seedling beds - only enough to submerge the seeds, but not the growing up shoots. Birds and other animals don't like to get into water. Therefore holding water at this stage is for protecting the seedlings from animal/bird damage.

However, this protection technique should be applied only during day time. We drain the water in the evening for the roots to get some air. Otherwise roots rot and the whole bed can die.

Out of sowing experience - a word of advise for people going to attempt farming newly: I had gone to the paddy field with gumboots to avoid stepping into mud. It does not work, boots get stuck in the mud and it becomes a hassle to drag them around. I finally threw them aside and stepped into the mud bare footed. It has one problem though. Mud can get into the gaps between toe nails and cause infection. Wash your feet cleanly with soap. Use old toothbrush to clean around toe nails. Then disinfect your toe nails with diluted hydrogen peroxide.

Now we have to wait for the seedlings to grow for around 20-25 days. After that we pull them out and transplant them in prepared paddy field. Wait ... wait ... that is why I have heard someone saying - If you want to get the patience of a saint you should become a farmer!

Today is 14-July. Transplantation is going to happen around 05-Aug.

We prepare the paddy field for transplanting when the seedlings are growing. Bunds between the terraces are tidied up and prepared to hold water (water is held on need basis).

Here you see 3 farm helpers working to tidy up the bunds.

Seedlings ready for transplant

One day before transplant seedlings are pulled out, bundled and kept ready for transplant.

Using a power tiller we stir up the soil and prepare it for transplanting. This is done on the day of transplanting so that soil is little sticky and soft for transplant.

After this we hire a team of workers to transplant the seedlings. 2-3 seedlings are put together as one group with 8-10 inch distance between them (just guess work - they may fall little closer or farther).

As planned we did transplantation 20 days after sowing the seeds; on 05-Aug.

Immediately after transplant
We hold at least 4 inches of water in the paddy field after transplant. 2 problems come up if we don't hold water: (a) weeds start growing vigorously if there is no water. Being submerged in water kills the weeds and does not give them a chance to come up. (b) Buoyancy of water lifts up the seedlings little bit and allows them to get upright and grow. Without water they are knocked off by the breeze  and die.

This is how the field looks little more than a month after transplant:

Little more than a month after transplant
There should have been some standing water in the field. Unfortunately we had close to 40% rain shortage. So much for excess rain forecast from all weather agencies. If situation continues like this for some more days I may have to switch on irrigation pump to water growing rice plants.

3 weeks after transplant rice crop was attacked by some insects. They did some damage by cutting the leaves. Soon after that some birds showed up in the field and ate the insects. Damage control happened naturally.

7 weeks after transplant I see some symptoms of rice blast disease (a fungal disease). Neighboring fields have major damage. I am hoping this disease also is controlled naturally somehow. Have to wait and watch what happens.

Update: 26-Sep-2016

Some plants affected by rice blast disease (I believe it is rice blast, please comment if you are sure it is not rice blast). Some traditional farmers suggested me to spray chemicals for treating the disease. I decided not to spray and let the nature take care of it.

In hind sight certain environment friendly seed treatments could have avoided it or reduced it considerably. I will try it for the next crop (if I grow rice again).

Update: 12-Oct-2016

Nature did its job. Blast disease went away without doing anything :-) Conventional farmers don't have the patience to wait and also they have lost faith in nature. They start throwing chemicals at the slightest indication of a disease - thereby polluting the environment and poisoning their food.

Update: 23-Oct-2016

Rice grains - baby steps
It is great feeling when I see the rice grains on the plants in the field. Finally we are not depending on others for food - talk about "food security" ;-)

Harvesting is another month and half away. I have to wait .. wait .. wait!

Update: 14-Nov-2016

Growing rice grains
Grains are growing well. In the beginning grain sacs have milky substance inside - which grows and hardens to become rice grain. Now they have hardened and look like rice when we open the husk. Harvesting is another month away.

Update: 07-Dec-2016
Cut paddy kept in the field for drying

Finally harvest day arrives. Mr. Bangarappa (our farm helper) and team came to the field, cut the paddy grass and laid it on the ground to dry. It will be in the field for few days. After that we will move the stuff to flat clean ground for threshing and winnowing. Keep tuned for the last stage ...

I am few days away from eating 100% naturally grown food, grown by myself!

Paddy tied up for carrying to threshing yard
Update: 12-Dec-2016

Mr. Bangarappa moved harvested paddy to threshing yard today. Threshing is done in 2 different ways: (a) holding the base of the cut straw bunch and hitting the grain side against a hard surface. Grains fall down leaving only the straw in hand. (b) spreading the paddy in the threshing yard and running bullocks/cattle/tractor on them for some time. This separates grains from the straw. We took easy path of using a tractor to separate the grains from straw.

Update: 14-Dec-2016

Unfortunately a cyclonic storm named Varda threw major challenge for harvesting work. This cyclone hit Tamilnadu coast and became a depression causing continuous drizzle for a day in our area. We had just separated the grains from the straw. We could not carry them to a place safe from rain. We covered paddy in the threshing yard with plastic sheets. Straw was left in the open to soak up the rain! Hopefully very soon sun will show up and dry them before they rot down because of wet conditions. We need this straw for our cattle - it is their main food.

Such unpredictable weather is a major challenge for farmers. A farmer depending only on crops for the livelihood of whole year will be in major problem when such unfavorable weather events occur. Luckily for me I can tide through such situations even when there is 100% crop loss. Farmers have to change their farming practices to include some crops which are not so much dependent on weather or impacted so much by weather.

Update: 18-Dec-2016

Luckily there was no crop loss or damage because of un-seasonal/un-expected rains. Our farm help Mr. Bangarappa covered the crop with plastic sheets to protect them from rain. Today I received almost a tonne of paddy and a big pile of hay. This much paddy is enough for several years for my family of 3. Therefore I have decided to share it with friends and family so that people around me can taste pesticide free and chemical free food.

With total expenditure of approximately 8,000 Rs. I got paddy worth at least 12,000 Rs. and hay worth at least 3,000 Rs. Almost 100% profit margin - for those who look at everything from ROI perspective. However, chemical free food for us (and also for my cows) is invaluable. Health benefits of such chemical free food is worth lot more than straight forward ROI can calculate. Therefore look at it from any angle - farming is really worth the time, effort and money one spends on it :-)

1 comment:

  1. You have captured all the details very nicely. Thanks for sharing.