Lessons Learned: Making the Most of Water-Logged Fields

The Charis Teaching Farm’s goals are to provide food for at-risk families, heal the land, provide jobs and serve as a learning resource to local farmers.  Sometimes, the topography of our farm lends itself to these goals, and sometimes it doesn’t.

During wet season, the land we are situated on is the perfect spot to demonstrate organic SRI rice farming.  The land is flat and retains water to a fault.  The grade level of our farm is very low.  This means that the height difference from field to field is subtle, to the point that it is difficult to drain any one field.

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Notice the poorly developed tails: signs of incomplete fertilization.

One example of difficulty from this year is our cucumber crop.  While cucumbers can handle higher levels of water than other plants, the amount of water in our land is too much for them.  They are situated on raised beds, a few inches above the troughs, but this increase in elevation isn’t enough.  Our crop has been unable to fully fertilize due to the water saturating their roots.

 

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This row of yard long bean was planted along our kanaas last week.  They will have ample water supply for the next 4 months.

Our response to this flooding of our vegetable fields is two-fold.

The first response is the easiest.  We have been implementing this practice for the past couple years.  Over the past two weeks, our team has been transplanting and sowing onto our kanaas (the raised areas between the paddies).  We now have long rows of Manipur Ghost Pepper and Round Eggplant.

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Our eggplants

They also planted a couple rows of Yard Long Bean.  In this first example, we are working with the topography that we already have.  What is unique to our farm is that our kanaas are wider than the average Thai farm, making them serve the purpose of crop cultivation as well as field divider.

 

20160817_101037The second way that we have responded is to change the topography itself.  Thanks to a fellow natural farmer on youtube, we have started to employ the method of Banana Circles into one of our less successful fields.  The premise is simple: (a) dig a big hole that will store water and compost in dry season, (b) make a raised ring around the hole, and (c) plant banana pups on the ring.  We are particularly excited about this model because it serves many purposes:

  1. It is a low-energy method for altering topography. It serves us in wet season (drains the land for bananas to grow in) and dry season (acts as a reservoir when water is scarce).
  2. It presents a prime opportunity for inter-cropping.  Bananas respond well to legume inter-cropping and the banana circles (which will be spaced in the formation of the ‘5’ on a playing-die) are spaced far enough apart to allow for other shrubs and plants to be grown between them.
  3. This method is easily replicated.  This is a farming methodology that anyone can understand and implement in their own fields, making it the perfect implementation for our farm.

Our fields weren’t as well suited for vegetable production during wet season as much we had hoped.  This doesn’t mean that we give up though.  We researched and found some very simple solutions.  As a result, we have more to offer to our visitors in the way of farming methodologies.  Failure, if you allow it, can give way to learning, and hopefully, success.

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