Sunday, November 30, 2008

Agricultural ruins and new beginnings

I’ve spent the last couple weeks visiting local farms, large and small, trying to learn as much as possible about how people farm in these hills. I’ve walked through acres of meticulously weeded and trellised tomatoes, admired neat rows of turmeric, and stopped to watch the beginning of the finger millet harvest. I think the strangest visit was this semi-abandoned cut-flower farm near Kamagiri. Though the shadehouses and hoophouses are now just empty frames, the fruit tree orchards are still thriving; the papayas and bananas are loaded with fruit, and the mangoes and citrus are glossy and bright with fresh growth. Back on the other side of the forest hills, near the bottom of the valley, we visited these farmers who are preparing their fields for an irrigated winter finger millet crop. They’ve already turned the soil and leveled the fields, and started transplant beds of finger millet seedlings. That unmistakable neon green of fresh growth is amazing. These farmers will also be growing winter cash crops in a few of their small field sections—chilies, flowers, and green beans. Several of them are interested in trying out our drip irrigation in a section or two; the sandy soil in this part of the valley makes it difficult to irrigate by the conventional flooded furrow or basin system.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Krishi Mela

Ravi said… there’s an agricultural exhibit; you might want to attend. I pictured research posters on improved cotton varieties and perhaps a powerpoint presentation or two. Nope—this event, hosted by G.K.V.K. University, Bangalore—lives up to its name: Farmer’s Exhibition. Part trade show, part county fair, the hundreds of booths drew huge crowds of farmers, schoolkids, university staff, and general gawkers. I’m not sure how aquariums fit into this event—perhaps they just snuck in on the coattails of the aquaculture promoters? But the ornamental fish displays and quintessential fairground fish-in-a-bag giveaways drew a throng of gleeful kids; I think the fish were more popular than even the emu exhibits. My favorite booths were the seed variety displays, beautifully garlanded not only with flowers and sparkles, but also with intricately braided bouquets and pillars of grains. Fighting the distractions of tractor implement demonstrations and a man dressed as an orange paper mache horse, I spent quite a while in the irrigation section, scoping out our competition—and asking them for help finding some plastic fittings. Next year, perhaps driptech will our own booth at the Krishi Mela—I should probably start braiding some drip tape garlands now.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Planting our first demonstration plot in India

The first seeds are in the ground! We’ve worked up a 10 x 10 meter section (30 by 30 feet), added manure, shaped some nice beds, and laid out the drip tape. After admiring the little jets of water for a while (Shane from Hatsun Dairies agrees we need a lighted drip tape for ornamental installations), we decided the ground was wet enough to start planting. This first plot will have a wide variety of vegetables, to show what’s possible with drip irrigation. Some of the veggies we’re growing, like tomatoes and green beans, will be familiar to our blog followers back in the U.S.; others, like ridged gourd and ladyfingers (okra) may be more exotic. Murgesh, the farm manager, got quite an array of vegetable seeds in Denkanikottai; most of them I can identify, but there’s a few that have defied all our efforts at cross-cultural understanding, even with our nice thick English-Tamil dictionary. Murgesh promises he’ll find me some pictures.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Let the drip taping begin!

We're beginning our pilot study here in Tamil Nadu, near Denkanikottai. The rain has stopped, the thick red soils are beginning to dry out, and we're picking out vegetable crops to plant once we get our fields prepared.

Most of the fields in this area are still in rain-fed crops; the ragi (finger millet) harvest won’t be for another month yet. We’re hoping to have our demonstration plots up and running by the time farmers are ready to make dry-season cropping plans. In the mean time, we’ve been meeting with plastics manufacturers, farmers, and agriculture professors. Now, Peter and Nick have returned to California, and I’m out at the farm, getting the plots ready. We’re hoping to get some transplants in the ground and lay out the drip lines this Saturday—stay tuned for updates.