Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Melia Dubia : At 5 months and many more to go...

Finally, monsoons are over(fortunately it was not as heavy as last year) and the weather is fantastic. On the low end at 17C and at maximum of 29C, it is almost too good to be true for this part of the country. As promised, here is an update on Melia Dubia and the progress thus far.

If you recall, we planted Melia Dubia saplings during first week of August, right at the onset of pre-monsoon showers. In case you missed the blog, you can check it out at

So far the plants have demonstrated robust growth. At almost 5 months, some of our 'star' trees stand tall at 12 feet, though the average height would be about 5-6 feet. We have witnessed patchy growth in a few areas so it is evident that the growth is dependent on soil quality, moisture (excessive moisture is detrimental) and soil loosening. There were a couple of lines that we added later on but the pits were dug by hand (and not deep enough by a JCB). The plants in these pits have not grown as well as the others - in other words, loosening of soil to about 2 ft is essential for a good growth.

We have not applied any chemical additives so far and plan to minimize their use as much as possible (may be 3-4 times a year). It is said that the compactness of timber is reduced on using fertilizers.

To give you a reference, our worker is about 5 ft 7 inches tall.

Although the overall growth is encouraging and finally one part of the farm is lush and green, we had a little firefighting to do during monsoons ( that's an agri-oxymoron!). Our Melia Dubia plots are close to a couple of large village water tanks. During monsoons, the ground water in these plots rose leading to excessive underground moisture. We had about 40-50 plants that succumbed to root rot.

Root rot is a condition when the roots decay due to excessive moisture. Wilting of leaves is a symptom and fruity smell from the roots confirms the condition. We contained the problem by applying Bavistin (fungicide) 2gm/L on the plants.

Drooping branches and wilting leaves are typical symptoms of root rot. A red ribbon was tied to ascertain if the condition is infectious. Although it is said that root rot can spread to other healthy plants by water and soil, we did not notice it on our farm.

Plant afflicted with severe root rot.

In the first couple of months, we witnessed yellowing of leaves in large numbers. One of our consultants suggested applying Ferrous Sulphate mixed with Neemcake (for iron deficiency). The blunder we made was applying the mixture right at the base of the stem. For all the new agri-preneurs out there, it is almost never a good idea to apply any kind of manure or additive at the based of the plant. You should always maintain a little distance from the stem. General rule of thumb is to apply the mixture at the circumference of the canopy.
Though there were a few casualties that could not be recovered, we were able to salvage most of them. Now, a number of these plants have a black ring around the stem (Neemcake is hot and should not be used in excessive amounts).

A decimated stem due to improper application of neemcake.

This should be the last post for 2011 unless I suddenly feel the urge to post an update on watermelons on new years' eve. Watermelon seeds have shown good sprouting in 7 days.

Thanks to all the readers for following our activities and developments. Wishing everyone a happy and prosperous year ahead!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Watermelon: Short term crop # 2

We have accomplished sowing our second short term crop for this year. Rains receded by second week December, which allowed us to sow by third week.
Watermelon can be sowed anytime between November and January but care should be taken that there is no water stagnation at the time of planting.

This time we were a little more ambitious and sowed 2 acres. Spacing is 2 ft by 5 ft and only 1 seed was placed in a pit (compared to traditional method of sowing 2-3 seeds per pit)

Basal dose included 1 bag of DAP and Potash each (50 Kg) per acre in addition to 1 mug of FYM and coir pith compost each per pit.

16 packets(50g each) Seminis seeds (hybrid) were used for 2 acres.

A total of 4 male and 6 female labourers were needed to sow 2 acres in one day.

Come late February, we should have an update for all of you on some nice juicy, red watermelons!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Season's Greetings!

Hope this holiday season brings joy to everyone!

Our maiden year has been full of adventures, successes and learnings. We have enjoyed each step along the way which made 2011 a very fulfilling year. Looking forward to the coming year since we have much more to accomplish.

Wishing abundant success, prosperity and happiness to our readers!
Season Greetings & Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Drop by drip!

A couple of you had requested to post a blog on drip installation, so here are my initial thoughts and learnings. At the outset, designing and installing drip may seem to be a daunting task but once you have gone through the process, the science and technique can be mastered. Firstly, let me break down the essential components of a drip system -

1) Head Unit: This connects the water source (borewell) to water carrier system (PVC pipes). Depending on the quality of water, it may contain a hydro-cylonic filter and a disc filter to remove sand particles and impurities.

This is our head unit. Blue tank contains heavier impurities which need to be cleaned periodically. Finer impurities are filtered by disc filter (black)

Three control valves that control the water in each direction. This is IMPERATIVE (for big farms) and will save you a lot of walking.

2) Water carrier system: There is mainline that connects the head unit to the end of the plot. Typically, perpendicular to mainline are sub-main lines. The pipe size of sub-mains are smaller than main line. At the junction of main and sub-main lines is a valve to control the flow of water for a particular section of the plot.

Two valves for mango and vegetables. It is a good idea to have separate valves for each to control irrigation and fertigation.

It is always a good idea to have a bypass pipe (the one leading into the tank) to avoid high pressure and potentially bursting of pipes.
We used this while irrigating Brinjal. Area under irrigation was much smaller compared to the outflow of pump, hence water had to be pumped back into the tank (yes, not the most efficient method! )

3) Laterals: This is the pipe that actually delivers the water to the plant. There are two types of laterals - Inline and Online.
  • The former is used typically for vegetables, bananas where continuous wetting is required or roots grow laterally or the spacing between plants is close (in cm). There are built-in drippers inside the lateral pipe. 
  • The latter is used for orchard crops where the distance between two trees may be large (in meters). In online laterals, external drippers need to be attached to the lateral. The holes in laterals come in multiple spacings (30 cm, 45cm, 60 cm etc). Like wise, the drippers come in different water discharge rates - 4 Liters per hour (lph), 8lph etc. Depending on the crop, water requirement, operating time, your drip installer should be able to tell you which one is suitable.

Online dripper

Inline dripper


Some DOs and DON'Ts
  1. When you are dealing in big acreages (10 acre +), it is advisable to use a JCB to dig out the trenches. Digging manually is not only inefficient but very time consuming. 
  2. When reviewing a drip design, ensure you have the ability to control water to all sections of the farm in a centralized manner. In other words, it is a good idea to have 4 'control valves' for the four directions. Closing one of them should completely shut off the water for that part of the farm irrespective of 'local valves' position. This will save you a lot of walking.
  3. You should perform 'flushing' of drip lines (both PVC pipes and laterals) periodically (once in 15 days) to avoid clogging of pipes.
  4. If you plan on inter-cropping between orchard crops, make sure there are separate pvc pipes/valves for both for fertigation purpose else you will end up fertigating both the crops at the same time. In other words, you will end up fertigating Urea on Mango and Brinjal when it is only needed for Mango. It seems common sense but a leading drip irrigation provider did not figure this before we pointed this out.
  5. Use pressure compensated drippers if your land has a gradient.
  6. At the time of irrigation, make sure the pressure valve reading does not exceed 2 kg/cm^2. Higher pressure can lead to bursting of PVC pipes.
  7. If your drip irrigation schedule involves multiple sessions (typical in bigger farms), always open the second section's valves first and then close the first section's valves. Again pressure build up can damage the pipes.
  8. It is a good idea to have a bypass valve at the water source to create multiple water sources for shadenet or labour quarter etc.
  9. If you plan on having avenue trees or trees not irrigated by drip, it is again a good idea to have water outlet points that can tapped from PVC pipes that lead to a central tank. So every time you run the borewell to fill up the tank, you can irrigate trees that are not irrigated by drip.
  10. Ensure that the laterals are not very long. More the distance from submain, lesser will be the pressure at the last dripper. Installation folks should be able to tell you what is the maximum length one can go without realizing drastic pressure loss. In our case, it was 40m. This will vary depending on the outlet pressure, topography of land, water requirement of crop etc. 
Hopefully some of these suggestions will save you time and effort. Feel free to respond with additional suggestions for other readers.

Monday, December 5, 2011

1 year of blogging..and finally some cash in pocket !

It was exactly one year ago when we started blogging about our activities at Savera Farms. The journey so far has been truly thrilling. As we venture into new activities, technologies and experiences into the second year, we hope that the readers find this blog informative and interesting. I appreciate the inputs, questions and queries from all of keep posting!!

Lastly, all this would not have been possible without the support and encouragement from my parents and my brother - our NRI think tank from the US. Given that he has so much time to think about our activities, future initiatives and overall road map of Savera Farms, I suspect US economy must be really slowing down :)

Coincidentally, today is also the day when we had our first sales..Well, you can call it a sample/prototype sale (It turns out that even village folks need a sample..).

This was the first fruit that was spotted at 80 days - seeds are Kiran by Ankur company.

This was at 90 days (today) and is almost 1.5 times the size of an turns out that this is overripe and the buyer rejected it.. I shall be consuming for dinner in a few minutes from now :)

Karnan, one of the people we hire rotavator from, demanded a sample of 1 Kg before 'sealing the deal'. On an average, one fruit weighed around 80-100 grams.

Although all of us are thrilled with the inception of harvest, we had our own set of battles to fight..against the shoot and fruit borers.

Shoot borer is a common pest and we had a bunch of them to eliminate. Typical symptom is wilting of leaves above a shoot. If you break open that shoot, sure enough you will find one these bugs.

The remedy is to mix Carbaryl (Sevin brand) and Wettable Sulphur (Sulfix), 2 gm/L each and spray on the veggies. 5ml/L Neemoil (Nimecidine from T.E. Stanes company) is also being sprayed every 3 days - this is organic..

A fruit affected by a borer.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Farmer Profile : V. Veeraraghavan (Watermelon)

Mr. V. Veeraraghavan from Mudaiyur village,Tamil Nadu, is a good example of how a farmer with only 2-3 acres of ancestral property to his name successfully grew his watermelon cultivation to over 120 acres.

"From childhood I wanted to achieve something big. After my diploma in mechanical engineering I decided to do farming. I knew that farming in 2-3 acres would not help. Luckily, I came into contact with a private agricultural consultant who advised me to take up large lands on lease and cultivate short-term crops which fetch a good price.After some initial hunting for lands, Mr. Veeraraghavan took 120 acres on lease for cultivation and started growing watermelon.

Why did he choose watermelon when there are hundreds of other crops? “Watermelon is a short term crop (60 days) and if done in large acreage a farmer can earn a good profit,” he says. Unlike the regular (red flesh) watermelon variety, this farmer is growing the yellow (mythila) variety, also called next generation or ice pack variety and orange (devyani) varieties as well.“There is very good demand for the yellow and orange varieties, especially from star hotels, as the supply of these two varieties is low,” he says.The most distinguishing feature of these varieties is that they grow all through the year, unlike the red ones which are available only during summer.

Chemical fertilizers are applied in 100 acres and Humic acid used in the remaining 20 acres to grow the watermelons.“Mr. Raja, the private consultant, initiated me into the beneficial effects of using Humic acid. I decided to experiment in 20 acres and surprisingly found the yield increased from 10 tonnes to 12 tonnes per acre after using the acid. I soon plan to cultivate all the 120 acres using Humic acid alone,” he says.

But what about the cost of cultivation using this acid?“If a farmer cultivates a crop in 20 acres, the expense for buying the fertilizers and sprays comes to about Rs. 10,000. But if he uses Humic acid, then he needs to spend only about Rs. 1,000.“My expenditure in 20 acres after using the acid has drastically come down. Other farmers should also start using this acid and realize its benefit,” he emphasizes.

In the last one year Mr. Veeraraghavan has sold nearly 10,000 tonnes of fruits and has made a net profit of more than Rs.50 lakhs. For details readers can contact Mr. V.Veeraraghavan at his mobile : 9894145143.