Friday, March 16, 2012

Vegetable growing in the desert.


Vegetable growing in the desert  By Sandy Grimwade

Greetings from Rajasthan in northwest India. We have been here for about a month and have pretty much forgotten what clouds look like, let alone rain. In the village of Chandelao, where we are staying, there are fewer that 2000 residents. The major occupation is herding -- goats, sheep, water buffalo and cows. Because water is in such short supply, and everyone is so busy with their animals, they do not have much time or interest in gardening, or growing vegetables for their own consumption. Most people are vegetarians, however and there are excellent small market gardens which supply local needs.
Lin and Sandy from their blog post


I visited a small market garden recently and it was instructive how productive such a small operation can be. The 2-acre farm was divided into roughly 20' x 20' plots each surrounded by a small earth wall about 6 inches high. Prior to planting the plot is dug over and copious amounts of matured cow manure, or, better, goat manure is incorporated. Goat manure is highly prized and fetches a good price in the market. Cow manure is very widely available, and is used for fuel and for plastering walls and floors, as well as for enriching the soil. After digging, the plot is flooded with water, and the reason for the small walls becomes evident as they retain the water in a small area. Seeding of all crops, including tomatoes and peppers, is done by hand broadcasting directly onto the fertilized plot, each of which contains only one type of crop. The farmer is so expert at hand broadcasting that he seldom needs to thin out the plants once they have germinated. 

Seed usually comes from the previous season's crop and the farmer selects the best plants for seed. This means that there are no hybrid seeds used, but he is constantly selecting the plants that are most suitable for his particular soil type and microclimate. Farmers occasionally swap seeds with their colleagues, and occasionally have to buy in the market.

Because of high fertility, constant sunlight and careful watering, the farmer can produce 4 (four!!) crops from each plot in a year, However, they always have a quarter of their plots lying fallow, and they practice strict crop rotation.

In late February when we visited, it was the end of the winter season and they were harvesting spinach, cilantro, fenugreek, cauliflower and scallions. They were planted densely so that most of the soil was shaded to avoid evaporation.

They were planting tomatoes, eggplant and sweet and hot peppers for harvest in April. By May the weather is very hot (110 - 120 every day) and they have some sort of heat resistant greens that they grow -- I could not find out what. In fall, when it is still hot and they have the only rain of the year, they plant more tomatoes, and also grow various root vegetables like carrots, ginger and turmeric.

All this is only possible with an abundant supply of water, and this farm was lucky to have a productive tube well which produces good water with no salt in it. The farmer had an interesting sideline business. When the weather is hot, he pumps the water into a swimming pool, which he charges the locals to use. At night he runs the water into the plots where it is needed and refills the pool.
We have written much more about our experiences in Rajasthan on our blog at http;//sgrimwade.blogspot.com.

(Picture attached: Woman harvesting cilantro displays her cutting tool)

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