Soil improvement, organic matter, no till ideas

hi, one way to do away with tractor nonsense is not to use them! For upto ten acres a person can manage without one. Let me tell you how. You use no till farming. In this way what you do is place card boards (without any tape etc, used boxes) on the growing bed area. Then put compost or compost + potting mix or any other combination. Only compost (if it is actually composted and NOT some decomposed organic material sold as compost) of about 4-6 inches height is good. The cardboard will not let the weeds come up. And will disintegrate over time. By then the weed will not have much space to grow as your crop of veggies would have grown. In this way, you don’t destroy the soil and work less as well as it is cheaper in many instances.
And yes you could use a tractor for the first time if you need to. If you want to use a tractor or need to then i suggest a walk-behind- tractor/tiller. They are cheaper and work well in small spaces for maneuvering.

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I have used Kubota power tiller since I was 9 years old in 1969. Since that time I have studied plant physiology and cell biology, in the USA, including at Yale and Utah State, and reside here now.

I have a lifelong interest in addition of value to agricultural labor in our Motherland and act as science advisor to the Palm Research Foundation based out of Hyderabad under Arun Pandy,

My native home is in North 24 Parganas and Nadia districts of West Bengal, where the soil is ‘cracking clays’ as hard as stone all year save during the rains.

Have been trying hard to improve the cultivation of the Sugar Date Palm, Phoenix sylvestris all my life, despite many reverses to date in the field. I am also familiar with the issues of coconut, having had more than 300 tall types on our 22 acres of land, now lost.

I sympathize deeply with your problem and would like to venture a few thoughts, and urge you to critique them.

  1. A rotavator like the Kubota, which I like a lot, will hardly bite more than an inch or 2 on really hard soil, and cannot be useful if an impervious soil pan layer has formed over the years. You can ask the dealers for an on-farm demonstration on your farm to prove what each of their brands can really do under the conditions you need the tillers to perform.

  2. My very humble suggestion to you re: soil surface is that this type of rotavation destroys soil structure, as do most types of machinery, including disc ploughs, and rotary ploughs, which last are my favorite for very hard soils simply because I feel a sense of victory when they conquer the hard soil with more effect than most! But they also destroy soil structure.

  3. Please look here; manufacturer at Dharwad :

(1) Rotary Plough - YouTube

(2) Nageshwar Angadi - YouTube

  1. If I were you, this is what I would do, and you may disagree.

Your coconut trees need exactly what, is what you need to determine.

Do you irrigate your coconuts?

There is a circle about 5-6 feet from the trunk that contains most of the roots, and this circular area is the one most likely to be ‘mined’ by the roots.

The depth of coconut in such soils is not great; it has evolved on very sandy soils, e.g. at sea beaches.

How many ripe coconuts are you getting per year, and of what size and quantity of copra?

The lowest acceptable level would be 28-30 ripe fruit per year, and >50-60 would be more acceptable.

I assume that your coconuts are the tall, local type.

I would like to change soil structure first in the effective circle around each tree. You should probably mark out which of your trees are returning the best harvest and which the poorest, so that have siome way of estimating before and after results.

I would assume that your area has light showers during its rainy season, and that a series of light showers would make the ground easier to till, be it by hand or by machine.

I would love to build a big pile of organic material in the critical circle of each plant, and continue to add to it over several years, and focus irrigation on that circle.

Organic matter is hard to come by, especially herbicide-free plant residues from grain or other crops. The Swaccha Bharat Abhiyan has eliminated a very important source of organic matter, i.e. humanure suitably treated with wood ashes.

What types of green manure are you best able to grow during the rainy season? Can you find a university near you whose plant physiology or horticulture department has a ‘light meter’ that will measure the amount of photosynthetically significant light available at your orchard floor PLUS their spectral quality.

How much sunlight is reaching your orchard floor over the year, including during the peak rainy season?

There are many choices for green manure, both seasonal and semi-permanent.

Cowpea, guar, adapted forms of Lablab purpureus [ including cultivars developed at IIHR 9Byre Gowda, retd.) and TANU, Coimbatore.

Pillipesara, Vigna trilobata, can be useful in certain cases, since it self-sows. How much biomass it contributes, or how much nitrogen it can usefully fix, is another matter, needing experiment at your site.

We need improvement of the soil structure over the first 8-12 inches on your critical circle around each coconut, be it of radius 4, or 5 or even 6 feet of radius, depending on how much you are able to provide.

Can you find dry straw of any type, including the wild grass Heteropogon contortus? Being a farmer myslef, I know how very difficult it is to find much organic matter in our land.

Is there any possibility for getting spent chicken or mushroom manure at your place? Depending on the local circumstances, some of these may be useful if ameliorated with other locally available materials.

I am assuming that cattle manure [ be wary of herbicides that persist even after excretion], horse manure or many types crop ‘straws’ are either unavailable or very expensive in your area? Any millet stalks, passed through a shredder?

If you can rent a shredder cheaply enough, then during particular seasons you can lay your hands on more organic matter, including small tree branches, Cajanus cajan stalks, and more.

The point is to forget about the total orchard floor in the beginning and focus your attention to the critical circle for nutrition and water uptake for each coconut palm.

Even hand digging during the rains, especially with a pickaxe, can help loosen the soil, provided you follow up with as much organic waste immediately after.

You should keep building the ring of organic matter around each palm, and over years, there will be enough biological activity that you will notice the change. The soil structure will change, and some of your greatest friends are earthworms and even some types of termites. the amount of organic matter they remove from the surface and carry down to active roots can be more than 3-4 Mg/ha/year in our climates.

Are you able to collect wastes from your village, like fresh vegetable waste, and even cardboard? This can be decomposed by adding water, and NPK plus some ash.

Get that ring around each tree started, and keep on site composting and adding available organic substances, and help them decompose in situ.

Are you able to get any rock dust from quarries at economical prices to your orchard? This can be a most valuable source of nutrients.

Coconut shell charcoal. shrimp and crab meal, and coir waste aged over 2-3 years at least are available in Kerala, but the costs of transporting such to your orchard may not be economical.

But if you are willing to spend Rs.6 lakhs on a machine that will be sitting around most of the years, and will be of limited advantage to your orchard health and improved yields, then sit down with an accountant and ask help to figure out how much cash you can usefully spen per year to achieve better results.

Your goal is improved tree health, improved yield, and conserving irrigation water, rather than the indirect way of tilling the whole orchard floor. What will that achieve for the active root zone?

Please look to direct all your resources and attention to the indiviual coconut palm, starting with the high value onces. How many coconut palms do you have? We are used to dealing with 500-700 sugar date palms.ha, but our coconuts and palmyra palms are more widely scattered.

Sorry to be so long -winded, but I should be very honored to be of any real help to you in practical ways. No obligations ever.

Please describe to me the types of organic wastes available near your orchard, the possibility of renting a shredder for short periods, and the ability to work by pickaxe to loosen soil during the rainy season for the critical circle around each tree.

There is some leaf.bracts falling from both the coconut and area palms, but these need to be shredded, and then applied to the circles, along with irrigation and nutritive wastes. Human manure is entirely safe when mixed in with wood ashes, and this important source of plant-available nutrients should not be ignored.

Is it possible to have sheep herders or pig herders graze their animals for a few days each year on your orchard floor? Desi pigs do a lot of rooting about and can usefully affect soil structure.


Vamadeva Bhattacharya

Ithaca, NY

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@naeem @treeleaf2016
Welcome on board, it’s been a while! Thanks for bringing up wider discussion points that affect a lot of us farmers. As organic farmers ourselves, while we look to improve soil structure, organic matter content and apply practices such as no till, we battle through several constraints that need called out.

Ideas and experiences most welcome.

  1. Manure availability and costs are prohibitive. We buy a tractor load of cattle manure at about Rs. 5,800 per 3600kg and this does not include cost of our own farm labour. Managing cattle for manure is far more expensive.
  2. Green manure cultivation needs a 2 month window on the calendar and sufficient moisture, whose availability is increasingly erratic.
  3. An interesting issue we face is that green manure crops such as Jeeluga quickly end up as abodes of reptiles and wild boar :scream:
  4. No till and mulching material is increasingly hard to find, especially over larger acreages.

Do you see this being beneficial over rotavating?
It appears that this will take 5-6x more time to cover the land given the smaller furrow width?

Hi, it seems you need a new plan and a new feasibility report after your experiences.
You need to reassess whether this farm and its management are productive or not. Whether you have viable solutions or not. The value of the land and the expenses of making it productive have to make sense in the end. Or one should find another way of living.
Thats all there is to it really.

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A very good idea of no tillage in Agricultural practices.
No-tillage is not popular and accepted by very few farmers. So there is a need to introduce the practices for a wide spread it can be defined as the introduction of seed into non ploughed soil in narrow minimum slots, trenches or bands of only sufficient width and depth for seed coverage and soil contact. Thus a new and exciting concept emerges, eliminating the usual traditional ploughing related operations for preparation of soil for crop production.

Ratilal Sudani (PGDEE)
Bhoojalshree Geotech Consultant-Gujarat
Groundwater Exploration, Development and Management.
( Empanelled in MGNREGA & Kisan Call Center for Dug Well /Bore Well Siting in Gujarat State) ]
PO Box No. 55, Vidya Dairy Road,
ANAND – Gujarat, India
E-mail :
Cellphone: 94273 82368, 9978115968

Hello friends I wanted to know if there is humid conditions. Is there any effect on this soil for cultivation?