EXPERIENCE OF RICE GROWING
we had to clear the land and burn a lot of the debris from casuarinas which had been left there. After it had rained three times and the soil was soft enough the land was ploughed using the tractor from Annapurna Farm in Auroville. We then put compost on the field using an organic compost that we brought in sacks from a nearby farm supplies shop. This is where we needed, and were fortunate to have, the help of a lot of volunteers who also helped with the seeding. To put the seed on the land we all walked in a line down the field scattering seed of red rice in one section, varaigu in another and kumbu in the third. Then John went out with Herbert’s tractor to plough again and cover the seeds with soil.
A week or so later the first small green shoots came up. We found that it was very patchy, maybe because it had been spread that way. We were also told, however, that we had sowed the seed a bit late for a really good harvest. We realised that we needed to strengthen the fence to keep out the cows and other animals and asked two experienced people to come and help us as this was beyond the capabilities of our volunteers.
Later when the seedlings were tall enough the fields had to be weeded and this was all done by hand. Twelve women came from the village and it took three weeks to complete the job. Just as the rice was coming on the stalks a group from the village came and pushed down the fence. This was because they had some dispute with the Auroville Land Service (not with us) about the ownership of the land. Unfortunately the cows got in and ate some of the growing rice. For a week, while the fence was being mended, we had to pay a watchman to watch that more cows did not spoil the plants again. Not surprisingly the resultant harvest was not very good.
This experience taught us that it takes a huge amount of time and energy to grow these crops and that things must be set up in such a way as to minimize disasters. A better fence was needed to keep out predators and irrigation was needed in case the rains either failed or came at the wrong time. It was also clear that the soil needed much work to make it more productive.
We managed to put up a new and more secure fence but did not have the necessary investment to put in an irrigation system. Several years we tried to grow casuarinas. These are a kind of pine tree and their wood can be harvested in five to seven years. We thought they would provide an income for the farm (maybe enough to put an irrigation system in on this land) as well as bringing nitrogen to the soil. They would also not require a lot of work like weeding which volunteers would find too hard to do.
Planting the seedlings is quite tricky and the whole process has to be carefully orchestrated. The land has to be ploughed three times (as for rice) according to when it rains and the soil is soft. The land then has to be composted and the seedlings have to be planted preferably while it is raining. Again, this job would be very difficult for volunteers and so we hired a group from the village to do it, making sure that we had ordered the right number of seedlings. It started to rain and the seedlings were planted, but then it didn’t stop raining! A cyclone came and the fields flooded and all the seedlings were lost.