Some papers, even though they are torn & in shreds will always be treasured.
I mean the one’s which are hand written, like the letters during the age of letter writing. I have tonnes of them stored away, love letters (from partner), letters from friends, from cousins, from parents, letters from teachers, and also letters & even post cards from Dabholkar. They are all in a box lying some where, one shall check them all out when the time comes. Sometimes i feel lucky & privileged to have lived my youth during the pre internet times.
Dabholkar gave this paper to me & believe me; it was hand written by him. Do i need to say that it is & it will always remain special. Do i need to say that things on our (previous) farm suddenly just picked up after studying it.
But ladies & gentle-men, i have a question before you read this Dabholkar treatise…….
Do we need to unnecessarily mystify & complicate matters by insisting on one particular method as the one & only sustainable method of farming ??
Is this the only one way in creating Nursery Soil ??
Anyway…….. read on
1. Nature’s Soil Building.
1.1) Nature has built, various types of soil, for various types of plants, our farm soil is one of it. Mangrove plants grow even in salty seawater, near the seashore. Even dirty gutter & pond soil, has wild mixed greenery, growing in it.
1.2) The green patches on both sides of the tarred city roads, or the greenery that appears, on vast waste lands, after the first rains, or the wild weeds growing in our farms, or on the untilled land on, both the compound sides, of our farm, all invite us to observe, to understand, & to follow these nature’s schemes of building soils.
1.3) The first step in nature’s soil building is greening, with whatever mix of seeds, or spores of algae’s, mosses & weeds that germinate and get hold of the soil and create a cover by holding the soil beneath & creating micro climate near its spread as well as preventing rain water erosion & run off flow.
1.4) If we begin to observe the whole process, the growth of these patches of new soil on the road side, is season wise, when weeds, grasses, bushes etc, grow, mature, produce seeds & die. Some parts of these are from fibrous stems, when they are fully mature. Some have shallow rooting, whereas some have deep roots. In the next rains, these organic things that are trampled get decomposed & semi powdered.
More over it is interesting to observe, when rains comes out of season, occasionally some seeds germinate & grow for some time & as these rains cannot provide water for full growth, the plants of different stages of growth die & gradually, a new type of soil mix, of well composted organic material, grows above the original layer of soil. If we scrape such soil or pull out some half dead grassy clumps, when the soil is wet, we can see this, above & under ground a layer of newly formed soil, as well as the soil crumbs selected by the roots of the grasses and other weeds growing at that place.
1.5) The other way, nature builds the soil is to carry by rain water topsoil from the hills & grounds to riverbeds & deposit it there.
1.6) All types of animal wastes, that gets decomposed (in full oxygen supply) or rotten (in complete oxygen supply) ultimately adds to the composition of the new soil.
1.7) Winds, rains, temperature, light, constant water flow etc create very small mineral particles from various rocks that we call dust, or clayey components & these particles have a very high surface, so even a handful of such soil can have thousands of sq. ft. of area. We can show mathematically that even one cubic feet of soil of such micro, micro size can have more than six acres of area between the particles. More over many rocks also gets decomposed & in the end break into powder.
1.8) Though, there are plants that can grow in salty soils, or in soils having very low level of moisture in it, as also in stagnant waters, or even in polluted pond waters, most of the green vegetation prefer soil that we call farm soil, or garden soil, or better still nursery soil.
Let us study next, what are the components of a good nursery soil, we will then study, how to build such soils, from our neighbourhood resources, only by following nature’s schemes of building new soils.
2. Components of good Nursery Soil.
2.3) The measure of soil is made in volume (buckets, baskets etc) & not by weight. Good nursery soil has equal part by volume, one the mineral part of the soil & two the organic part of the soil.
The mineral part comes from the rock particles, while the organic part comes from well composted fibres of any plant material (grain covers, pod covers, stem fibres, dried thick leaves, petioles, straw, veins in leaves, fibrous mature roots of all plants, especially of grasses & grain plants, bagasse of sugar canes, rasped wood flakes, leaflets of Coconut & other similar trees, all types of straws, Jowar & Maize stalks etc, fibres of Coconut fruits, husks of tender Coconut fruits etc).
2.4) The fibres of plant materials, are made of lignin. And when these are soaked in water & have 90% humidity these are decomposed by the micro flora in the air & their dead bodies that remain afterwards is called lignoprotiens. When the fibres in animal dung get fully decomposed it is called humus. These are also the dead bodies of the micro flora that consume the dung. The dead bodies of micro flora are made up mostly of their cell walls. These are semi-celluletic & protenious compound called “Chiten” & and are semi-mucous in material.
2.5) Humus & Lignoprotiens is the part of the nursery soil that builds stable productivity of any soil. Different types of fibres require different treatments, to get them decomposed. Some get decomposed in a short span of 3 to 6 weeks, while others take even years to get fully decomposed. But these give a longer stable form, to the nursery soil, than those materials, which get easily decomposed.
To build good nursery soil, one must get well acquainted with all this insight, as well with proper skill, to achieve the desired productivity in the soil.
2.6) The second component of nursery soil is its fertility level or the plant nutrient status. One must understand first, that most of the plant parts are made up of carbohydrates. These carbohydrates are made of Carbon & Water molecules.
This carbon comes from the Carbon dioxide in the air & the Water comes from the soil water. Thus most of the dry weight, of any plant material has very little of the nutrient parts of the soil. If we burn any plant material completely, the white ash that remains contains compounds of various nutrients taken from the soil (except nitrogen taken from the soil). Generally this white ash is only 6% to 10% of the dry weight burnt. Moreover half of this weight is of Silica & Calcium. So, to grow healthy vigorous plants in any nursery soil, only a very small fraction of these active nutrients are needed. These come from the activated mineral parts of the soil.
2.7) The Humus & the Ligno-protein part of nursery soil helps to preserve these nutrients readily available to plant roots by buffer action. So that these are not leached or get fixed.
There are about 20 nutrient elements the plant needs of which some are taken from air & water molecules & the rest from the soil, by ion exchange method. We will learn these details in our venture notes on nutrient needs of the plants.
2.8) It is known that the tender parts of any growing plant contains Boron, Zinc & Phosphorous, while green mature leaves provide Nitrogen, Magnesium, Copper, Iron, Sulphur & large amounts of Potash, while dried & then fallen leaves of any plant gives Calcium, Silica, Boron & Manganese. Thus by making ligno-protein of dried leaves & dried other parts of plants, we can give these nutrients to the soil. But if we compost the tender, mature & old parts of any green vegetation, we will be providing proper nutrient levels to our nursery soil, by greening the soil repeatedly & returning these parts, by composting or by making slurry, or by making dry powder, or by steaming these and adding these for early composting etc.
2.9) One interesting thing to note is most of the seeds contain all the nutrients including such as Molybdenum, Cobalt etc that are needed only in very small quantities. This is the reason why oil cakes from oil seeds as also poultry dropping from grain mash etc contain all nutrients in very concentrated proportions.
2.10) Above all the top layer of any soil crushed under heavy traffic as also top soil kept open to high temperature of the sun in Summer time is activated mineral soil. The sweepings from our house hold and from animal sheds contain all our daily wear & tear of our enormous skin area, even our hair are also very good sources of nutrients for nursery soils.
It can be shown that in one tier system of plant growth, very good nursery soil can produce at the most 2 kg of dry matter in 10 sq. ft. (one sq. metre) area in 100 hundred days for C3 group of plants & 3kg for C4 group of plants. So accordingly 10 sq. ft area of soil will need nutrient level of about the ash component of this matter. We can provided these by various means of greening & ashing methods from various types of plants growing in the compound or near by, or by various processes of mixed greening & recycling of the wastes of the biomass actually growing in the soil.
But the real source of such constant nutrient level maintenance is to make the soil “living soil”.
2.11) The third important component of good nursery soil is that it should be: living soil.
In that soil various types of micro flora must get established. This can be done by having a mixed sowing of grain seeds, oil seeds, pulse seeds as well as weeds and seeds of such plants as marigold etc. Even Parthenium weed is a great asset to provide a proper living space/place for the micro flora, near the root zone of these plants or on the nodules growing on the roots etc. They then extract other nutrients for their growth from the mineral soil in the root zone. In one day many colonies grow & die & release enough nutrients.
2.12) One more point which one will learn is what we call pH or the type of soil pH tells us whether the soil is acidic, neutral, alkaline or salty. If we build our soil with care & proper mix-up & processes of greening the pH will always be near neutral or slightly acidic or alkaline. We can shift this pH by adding humus of lignoprotein towards the acidic side & by adding ash towards alkaline side.
After following the above notes, let us now see how we can build our nursery soil from our neighbourhood resources & keep it living so that it will go on increasing in quality & quantity day by day.
A living fertile productive soil, if at all we want to build is to be build once & then not only maintained but gradually increase as is done y nature on our road sides or since nature has started building Garden soils or Nursery soils four hundred crores of years back. We can build the necessary volume per area of cultivation within 2 to 6 months period.
3. The Organic part of Nursery Soil & how to built it.
3.1) The well composted organic part of the nursery soil is called Humus of ligno-protein. It is black, light, easily friable material that can be easily broken into small fragments or crumbs. It has a very good water holding capacity, twice its own weight. Generally the weight of such material per litre of its volume in fine crumb form is about 400 gms. It has a peculiar black lustre & we can see the dead colonies of the micro flora one over the other especially in the well-composted (humified) animal dung. We call this grade the best grade or A grade lignoprotein or humus made from the fibrous organic part. The B grade or good material can be easily broken into crumbs, but it has not got the lustre & lightness of A grade. The C grade or average lignoprotein material is that that can absorb & hold water but it is not easy to break it into crumbs.D grade is the fibrous material that can keep some water has given up the fresh yellow & waxy colour of the material. The E grade is the worst stage material that has kept its polish etc. intact & cannot hold water even after soaking for one night. It needs trampling/ beating after wetting it 4 or 5 times and then it changes to D grade, then to C grade, then to B grade & ultimately to A grade organic part of nursery soil.
3.2) It is very interesting to see how E grade biomass gets converted by stages to grade D, C, B, A. In early monsoon rains where these organic E grade materials get fully wet & when the moisture level in the air is about 90%, within a fortnight we can see tender dried leaves & straws rapidly converted to A grade type lignoprotein. But these will vanish in the next one month & therefore should be sown with some growing grass cover or grain seeds to get these established & preserved till the roots and the above part of these seeds or grasses build new fibrous materials again in it.
3.3) The best parts that decomposed to A grade type slowly in one & a half months are the petioles, the veins of leaves, dried leaves with tough structures (mango/ banyan leaves) or stalks of Jowar/ Maize plants, if they are slightly trampled & made soft. Sugar cane bagasse or the husk of tender coconut cover or banana plant wastes, papaya plant wastes, various types of small sticks & twigs, the dried waste of various types of fast growing vines also come under this group.
3.4) It is very interesting to go & collect the trampled well softened remains of last year grasses on fallow waste lands in the very first week of monsoon rain, which rapidly changes into humus. It is easy to collect these by scrapping & sweeping the top 1 to 2 cms of soil mix.
3.5) Similarly by looking for green patches that grow by the road sides or both sides of the compound or under a big tree near its root collar area in early rains, we can easily collect a lot of good soil mix in equal proportion of its organic part & mineral part too. But one must not dig the soil, but scrape it & collect it by sweeping.
3.6) The real job for lignoprotein & humus formation starts with straws of wheat, or covers of paddy seeds. These have good covers that do not yield to change (golden yellow shining covers as well as some oil coating on it). Most of the dried organic matter has covers of brown or matty nature. But these covers easily yield & the materials can become wet by one or two tramplings or beatings. For wheat grass or similar organic matter, unless the cover is repeatedly beaten & trampled these cannot get easily decomposed. So people use these things for thatching the roofs, as these last for 3 or 4 years also in heavy rains. So to convert E Grade material of this type, the initial process of making these materials absorb & retain water for some days requires careful planning when the organic fibre type material can absorb & retain it, the E Grade material becomes D Grade material & when the fibres begin to soften & break it becomes C Grade, then the colour changes towards black, it becomes B Grade and in the end the fine black lustre in full crumb form is A Grade lignoprotein & humus form.
3.7) It is usual practice to use organic dried wastes for mulching to prevent water transpiration from the soil. But E Grade biomass for mulching is harmful to good flush of roots under the mulch. The covering material on most organic mulching material is of the Phenol group, that prevents the micro flora to attack the mulch, but along side these phenols also prevent root flush.
But if the mulch is half way from C Grade to A Grade, the mulch not only stops transpiration but also absorb moisture from the air in the cool hours of the night, so if one puts one’s hand under such A or B Grade mulch we can feel the heaviness & moisture content in it. These C to A Grade mulch also helps to build new root flushes under it, as the micro flora that is rapidly decaying the material to humus & lignoprotein produce hormones of Indol group that give a good flush of roots.
3.8) It is to be well observed & understood that generally such organic materials in E Grade are of very light weight. Generally a bucket or basketful (size 10 litres) of such material if fully dry is of the weight of ½ kg to 1 kg at the most. When it changes to C Grade the volume generally becomes half & at the end when it is converted to A Grade the volume gets reduced to 1 litre, weighing 400 grams or 2 litres weighing 800 grams as against the original weight of ½ kg to 1 kg of E Grade material.
3.9) To build good nursery soil from within neighbourhood resources one must make second habit of reading any biomass as E Grade, D Grade, C Grade, B Grade or A Grade also how to help these grades to accelerate their conversion from C to A Grade as well as how to stabilise these products & use these for optimum root growth & moisture provision to roots from the increase in relative humidity of the atmospheric moisture at night time.
3.10) Some fibres as coconut husk fibres of jute fibres are tough to change to A Grade materials. Cotton waste fibres are also better type of fibres that also take average good time to change to A Grade material. The A Grade lignoprotein & humus material ultimately gets fully degraded back to CO2 in about the same time as the time it takes to get converted to A Grade from E Grade. Naturally if the process of humification is slow as in coconut husk, wood, dust, thin wood strips or paddy seed coats, leaflets of coconut leaf, wheat straw or any such slow decomposing fibres. These lignoproteins provide more stable body to nursery sol than easily degraded leaf mould type lignoproteins. The humus component in the compost of animal dung has a three-year stability in the soil. It gets reduced to 33 % each year. One additional care that should be observed is that humus & lignoprotein get burned in hot sun so these should never be turned up & exposed to the heat of the sun.
3.11) In any good type of nursery soil different grades of A type lignoproteins of different life spans from 2 months to 3 years etc must be present simultaneously.
4.1) Never collect, the mineral part of the soil, by digging the soil, but by scrapping the layers of any unturned soil on the wasteland. Even 1 cm. of soil from 1 sq. ft. is of volume of 1 litre. If the soil is loose as dust on the countryside roads that dust too is good activated soil.
4.2) In the early rains thin layers of clay soil collects at various points at various nooks & corners of the path of flowing run off water. When this soil is semi dry or dry we can collect it.
4.3) It is usual practice, to bring soil from riverbed soil, or from dried pond beds, or even from some near by farmlands. But this is possible at high transport and other costs. More over it is impossible, to take soil from one farm land to another farmland as it is the natural wealth of that farm. So one must learn that, the mineral part, of our farm soil must be maintained, by as little turnings as also if practiced by very shallow turnings, than deep turnings.
4.4) If at all, one has to collect mineral soil from our own farm, one must collect it only from the 1-cm. topsoil. In turning the farm soil, we allow the top mineral soil to get activated by the summer heat of the sun. But in that process, the organic component of the soil gets destroyed. If we will observe the turned up soil closely, we will observe that the crumbs of turned of turned soil, get slowly turned to powder form as the binding organic material gets burned by the heat of the sun.
4.5) One should also remember, while digging & filling any pit traditionally it is advised to keep the top soil layer, separate to use again to fill in the pit. This is the only fertile, nursery, (organic + mineral) soil part of the farm soil.
4.6) One must also understand, that the fragments of any hard or soft stones, (except Calcium stones) or small size stones or rocks are also assets in providing mineral nutrients to the plant, through the activation of these, by the secretions of the roots of the plant.
4.7) Some crops & plants grow well in sandy soils. The size of the particles of such sand must be smaller than mustard seeds. One can get as much sand as one needs by stirring up the topsoils in water. The heavy particles of the sand collect at the bottom while, light organic clay soil rests on the top, when water evaporates, we get these parts, layer by layer, the heaviest remains at the bottom & the lightest at the top.
4.8) To build the body, or total volume of the soil, we must have half the volume of the soil of organic part (lignoprotein & humus) & the other half of the volume of top soil collected or a mix up made up of clay light soil, with sandy particles in 3 to 1 parts. So that the weight 1 litre of dry soil, of this type is about 700 to 750 gms. The average weight of 1 litre of dry topsoil is about 1 kg, while the weight of a litre of dry crumb form of lingo protein or humus is about 400 gms.
Naturally when these are mixed in equal proportion by volume so the weight of good nursery dry soil is about 700 gms per litre.
5.1) One can easily see, how much soil a plant uses in the prime of its growth, by properly lifting it at this stage from the soil, it its semi – dry condition. Such soil generally remains fully attached to the root zone without falling. We can then relate the volume of the soil with the area of the plant leaves. It is generally about one half to one litre of soil, per sq. ft. of leaves.
5.2) Secondly most of the vegetable crops have their feeder roots in about the 9 inches zone, while other crops too have their feeder roots mostly in this depth & anchoring roots in this or below this zone.
5.3) Naturally one can use pits, pots or containers of any type (plastic bags, polythene bags) or heaps of soil in brick pits or only open heaps can serve the same purpose to establish the root – soil volume ratio. The only considerations are the mobility of the plants or the ease of soil operations or the problem of protecting soil from heavy rains or winds etc.
5.4) The traditional way, of deciding the pit size & the plantation distance amongst the plants in lines & rows also gives us the wisdom of ages. Thus to have a banana plantation spacing 5” x 5” the pit size recommended is about 2’ x 2’ 1’ i.e. is 4 Cu. Ft. (one cubic feet is about 27 litres) or we can take for the simplicity of calculations as 25 litres, so per sq. ft. area of banana plant the soil provided is 4 x 25 by 25 Sq. Ft. = 4 litres by 1 Sq. Ft.
If the plantation distance of guava or pomegranate is 14’ x 14’ the size of the pit selected is 3’ x 3’ x 2’, i.e. about 18 cubic feet. It comes approximately to about 2.5 litres/ per Sq. ft spread of these plants. So one can reduce the volume as spacing per plants increases.
For Coconut plantation with spacing of 20’ x 20’ the fully, grown coconut tree will need soil of about 1,600 litres. That is a size of 64 cubic feet, i.e. 4’x 4’ x 4’ size, but even the size of 4’ x 4’ x 3’ is also good.
One should note, while growing plants like lemon, mangoes or coconut, the soil need in their early years of growth is less. Thus the mango plants can grow only in 1 sq. ft in the first year, 10 sq. ft. in the second year, 60 sq. ft in the third year & 240 sq. ft in the fourth year, then for the spacing of 15’ x 15’ of mango plant, in the first year, only 4 litres of nursery soil is optimum & accordingly lastly 960 litres in the last year.
5.5) So, by knowing the root – soil relation perfectly well, we can plan mobile plantation techniques, one year advance ring systems, of soil building, in circular pit methods, of fruit & other tree plantations.
5.6) This insight into root – soil relation is very important. By calculating the present canopy of the tree, we can decide how much nursery soil; the plant must get replaced, to have its good fruitful growth. (One litre soil per Sq. area of the plant or 4 litres of soil) By judging the spread in length & breadth of the plant. (By standing in front & by the side of the plant we can decide its length & breadth by spreading our hands on both sides & taking that measure in feet & multiplying length & breadth, to note its present spread.
5.7) If the plant is allowed to continue its growth in spread, in early period of its full growth, that much nursery soil must be provided in advance to the plant.
5.8) The calculation for the spread of the plant are per sq. ft. 4 litre, while for leaf area it is above 1 litre per sq. ft. i.e. a good plant must have at least 4 sq. ft. area of leaves. Strictly, these should be 5 to 9 sq. ft. of leaf area per sq. ft. of area of the spread of the plant.
5.9) Let us take some examples to understand what we have noted in 5.8. A good Sugarcane plant grows in an area of 1 sq. ft. But the leaf area of all the fifteen leaves of the plant, if calculated is about 8 sq. ft. So Sugarcane plant grows in 4 litres of nursery soil, but this soil if calculated from the leaf area will be about ½ kg of soil per sq. foot growth of its area.
In sprawling vines, like Bottle gourd or Red pumpkin, we easily judge the growth rate of the canopy, in the next 10 days. If it is about sat 3 sq. ft. then we must see that the spreading vine gets at least 1½ or at the most 3 litres of nursery soil, 10 days earlier to help the proper growth of the vine.
5.10) We will learn more details, about the root – soil relation in our studies of various crops. Vegetable crops, root crops, vine crops as well as various horticultural fruit crops.
6.1) The easiest way to make the soil fertile is to build a heap, layer by layer of three components of the soil. (The mineral component, the lignoprotein component of the body of the soil & the fertility component through the cuttings of the greens).
6.2) Any green biomass, such as the entire green plant of flowering weeds or any tree, or any tree or bush top, tender growth of all types of green leaves of all age groups (tender, young, mature, old living leaves) from any green vegetation, all of these will provide various fertility (nutrient) components needed by the that will later grow in that soil. One must understand the definition of leaf. It is that part of the plant that is attached to the shoot or the stem of the plant. Many leaves are made up of small leaflets (Drumstick, Groundnut, Tamarind, Subabul, Gyricidia). So the leaflets should not be confused with the leaves. Some leaves need cutting (Mango leaves, Banyan leaves, Banana leaves, Papaya leaves) to make them into a cut of one half to one cm size in length & breadth.
6.3) Generally make a heap, by spreading the moist mineral part paper thick. Then on it put the green cuttings of fresh material paper thick. Then, again on it layer the moist lignoprotein material paper thick. Never make the heap more than 9” to 12” high.
6.4) After making the heap, sow thickly on it a mixture of small seeds; Grain group – Bajra, Jowar, Wheat, Pulses group – Black gram, Green gram etc, some Oil seeds like Sun Flower, Ground nut seeds, Mustard seeds, some weed seeds & other group like Marigold seeds that are generally present in the mineral part of the soil.
6.5) When these seeds germinate & grow for 3 to 4 weeks, pull out one half of the growth to allow spacing for the rest & turn these plants back in soil. Now sow more seeds to grow in it, while the other growing plants are competing with the new growth. Again pull out ¼ of the plants which are growing, when these are 6 to 8 weeks old & turn it back to the soil & sow the seeds in it, next pull out all the growth, when the original growth is about to flower & turn it back into the soil. This is what we may call imitating nature’s way of building fertility in the soil.
6.6) The other way is to sow the heap as above & pull all the plants & return to the soil after 3 to 4 weeks of germination, then sow again & pull out all the plants after 6 to 8 weeks of growth & return back to the soil. Finally allow the plants to grow till flowering stage & pull & return these back to the soil.
6.7) Really speaking, this process is a new method of green manuring. In the usual method, we sow some leguminous plants (bean) only to increase the nutrient level of the soil, after turning it back when it is in the flowering stage, because at this stage, the fibrous part of the stems also begins to form. But if we add to this group grain crops, then the fibrous part is more in quantity, at the time of its flowering. So the lignoprotein & humus raw material part is also added. Thus the new process of green manuring, by a mixture of all types of plants together is a better way of improving any soil, stage by stage, by repeated sowing & returning the greens till optimum fertility, as well as the productivity is established.
6.8) So, it is very easy to improve our farm soil, by keeping one tenth of its area for repeated biomass, mix production & using it to improve the soil, in that area as well as in other areas It is found that in green manuring generally the biomass produced by the plants in about 60 to 80 days, when it comes to flowering is about 1½ kg. So repeated sowing & heap method of producing ample reproductive fertile soil for any size of farmland is a sure way to make the soil of A Grade in 6 months to 1-year time.
6.9) We must always have in our mind a clear estimation of the volume of the soil, that will be required to build on our totally unfertile land or to improve & recharge the original farm soil, if it has some level of productivity & fertility in it. The maximum time duration after proper planning should not be more than 6 months & 2 months minimum.
6.10) In our early discussions, we have seen that an area of 1 sq. ft. spacing in plants at the most needs 4 litres of fully productive fertile soil and more over even 2 litre soil per sq. ft. is enough when the spacing between plants is more than 100 sq. ft. So for 1 Guntha (one fourth of an acre) it is about 4,000 litres or about 400 basket full (one basket of 10 litres) of soil that has an equal proportion of organic & mineral components in it as discussed earlier.
We shall see later why we will be required to build this much soil, only once for all in the entire lifetime of our farmland. So if at all, one has to improve the soil, it mostly from the biomass component fresh or dead. We have to balance it & one can do it in less than a period of 6 months starting from whatever grade of farmland soil or garden soil that one has.
Prof. Dabhaolkar had always emphasised us to ask Why ?Why ? At each & every step. He himself will be disappointed if he knows that we are trying to follow things blindly as told by him.
He would much appreciate if we in our own farm build the soil in the way we think is right. All of us are different; each one of us will farm in a different way. But the aim will remain the same… i.e to create LIVING SOIL.
Dabholkar always tells us to think like the last farmer, like the farmer without any resources, so that we inculcate the discipline/habit of finding answers within our land & not by spending money for external inputs. He also says there is never failure in farming, because whichever way we look, in farming if we are out to create living soils, then we are actually taking a step ahead every day. There may be “failures” in getting assured yields, but unlike conventional farming where the soil depletes in fertility after each crop, her in Natu-eco farming the soil improves after each crop. This is a fact. What takes almost 500 years in nature to raise the top soil by 1″, here in Natu-eco we recreate those steps but we do it in 3 months time.
That’s the challenge in front of us………..
7.1) The whole success of biomass growth of any plant depends on the productivity & fertility of the soil. The soil that will be productive & fertile for weeds such as Parthenium, or grasses may not be at all productive & fertile to other types of plants. We must remember that the fertility of any land is first built by nature, through marshy plants, algae mosses, weeds, grasses & bushes that grow there first. We must respect & use this ecological heritage of our neighbourhood flora to build up our soil.
7.3) So, when you build some soil as explained earlier or bring some soil scratching it from under the tree, or from the fallow grass land, or from nearby farm soil.
7.4) When we build or bring some soil, we can test its productivity, by sowing some big seeds, such as Ground nuts, or Bean seeds or some seeds, or Red pumpkin or Cucumber, or Bottle gourd, as well as some seeds of Maize or Jowar seeds. Maize & Jowar seeds take more time to have its root flush about 30 days, but Groundnuts & Bean seeds can give us a full flush of roots in about 15 days after germination. So if we have a plastic bag of 1 ½ litre or the 1 litre milk bags (breadth about 14 cms & height about 15 to 24 cms) & fill it tightly with the soil making it open both ways, we will see that in fully lignoprotein/ humus type soil, the spread of roots will be such that, if we by gently pressing the bag, pull the bag out, we will see roots & roots & the network of roots, in the whole ball of soil.
Thus one can easily test, the productivity or the form, structure & texture of the soil. We have already seen that such soils are always light in weight when dry or moist & this is another way to decide, whether we must mix again enough A or B Grade lignoprotein in the soil.
7.5) It must be noted that the soil may have vigorous root growth even in sandy moist soil, for a time being. As the seed we sow will have all the necessary nutrients (fertility factors) already provided by the parent plant, to help it to grow & get established. The seeds grow even over rocks or on heaps of small stones in moist condition, till half of its period of its first phase of growth. The plant begins to use, the fertility of the soil, from its second or third true leaf. The size of the leaves especially in vine crops (Cucumber, Red pumpkin) generally doubles at each successive leaf growth & the 5th or 6th leaf is of the usual full size of the mature leaf. It must be observed that the leaf takes about 5 days to achieve its full growth after it starts spreading. Then the spread of the leaf remains the same till it dies.
So, observing the size of each successive leaf growth, one can see if the soil is taking nutrients, or if the soil is fertile, but lacking root growth, due to water stress, or the soil is not suitable to give a good flush of root growth. Because of various conditions for e.g. like half composted material in the soil, excess fertility, unbalanced fertility, less aeration, cold temperature, or pH of the soil not suitable to the plant.
7.6) If the soil has a fair root growth, then we can read the plants growth as lacking nutrient balance. Then we can again take the soil for greening & returning these & other greens from other plants & weeds to the soil, stage by stage. Or we can add a spoonful of ash of dried tender parts of the trees & bushes or the ash of burnt animal dung.
7.7) Many times the trees grow, but not in full vigour. Then by comparing the actual vigour & growth to the vigour & growth of any standard average plant, we decide the comparative grades E, D, C, B, A.
7.8) The other way to judge the productivity & fertility of the soil is to make a heap of 2 baskets (20 litres) to 4 baskets (40 litres) of soil & sow all type of mixed seeds, mostly grain seeds, spreading beans or pulses & spreading vines (Cucumber, Red Pumpkin) or vines of Sweet potato or planting some Marigold or Parthenium weed type of plants.
The heaps should be sloping, circular and to the height of 9” to 12” & before the heap gets settled, by the roots of growing plants, stone mulch, or any other cover may be used, or a polythene bag of the size of 18” may be suited to hold 20 litres of soil.
If in this soil one can get a yield of 1 kg of dry mass in 100 days, in thick canopy growth, then we can say that the soil is A Grade soil.
The details of making our soil a living soil is not difficult to understand or grasp, but unless we make & keep our soil living we will be required to add each new season, new productivity & fertility building components as external inputs. Living soil goes on maintaining & also increasing its volume & grade in each successive season.