Monday, April 10, 2017

The “Eighth Sense”

To make natural farming and gardening work, one must turn to the so-called “eighth sense”- the intelligence of naturalism- which, in turn, makes a green thumb.
Dell H Grecia
Reprinted, Women's Journal March 16, 2002
My friend, Dr. Abe V. Rotor of the University of Santo Tomas Graduate School and St. Paul University of Quezon City, is a “gold mine” of tips not only in biology and the arts (music and painting, in particular), but also in a totally different turf: agriculture and gardening.
Natural Farming 
Over lunch at the SPUQC canteen recently, we discussed natural farming and gardening. Abe said this genre of farming and/or gardening is identified with the old school of agriculture, which immediately caught my attention.

According to him, natural farming and/or gardening is described by five principles, to wit:

1. Take advantage of the functions of living things as producers;

2. From a single process, harness two or more products;

3. Use leftovers and wastes as resource for the next process;

4. Remember that the value of a given process can be greater than the sum of its parts; and

5. Capitalize on natural assets of certain organisms and certain environmental factors.

For the first principle, Abe explained that plants grow and produce food by photosynthesis. The efficiency of the process is both genetic and environmental, which means that a potential high yielder is enhanced by favorable agro-climatic conditions. This is the principle of plant breeding and agronomy.

In agronomy, time and space elements are crucial. Proper crop sequence and rotation take advantage of this principle.

In many areas of the country, rice is followed by a cash crop such as corn, legumes and vegetables. When a farmer decides to practice crop rotation, he should identify the proper technology involved and the crops suitable on the farm and saleable in the market.

As producing machines, livestock animals should be maintained only during the most economical period in their life cycle. Abe averred. For example, pigs are kept for six to seven months, attaining around 80 kilos when they are sold. Beyond this period, feed conversion ratio decreases.

This is also true with beef cattle raised and fattened to no more than three years, depending on the breed. For poultry, marketing time is programmed according to the desired size of the broiler.

In illustrating the second principle, Abe explained that in rice milling, rice bran is an important byproduct that is used as a main feed component. This is also true with corn and wheat milling. The idea is that we would utilize efficiently both the principal and byproduct of a process.

In Mindanao, pineapple pulp and peelings from the cannery are fermented into vinegar or used directly as livestock feed for cattle. In the banana industry, rejects are converted into catsup and cattle feed.

Nata de coco production and vinegar making can go together. In the process of wine making, alcohol and acetic acid are products derived from distillation.

The idea behind the third principle, according to Abe, is recycling of waste. The biogas digester processes wastes of piggery and poultry into two products- cooking gas and sludge (the latter is used as organic fertilizer). Corn stover and peanut hay are fed to livestock and supplementary forage. Rice hay after harvest maybe used as mulch, mushroom bed or as summer roughage.

Mushroom culture depends largely on the availability of substrates. The Volvaria species of mushroom requires rice straw or banana leaves to grow on, whereas the abalone mushroom requires sawdust as substrate.

In the fourth principle, Abe explained vividly that the effective but common practice to suppress obnoxious weeds on ranches and orchards is to grow cover crops such as kudzu, Centrosema, and spineless Mimosa. Cover crops, besides being effective in controlling weeds, are also a good forage for cattle and other ruminants; their residues add fertility to the soil. Cover crops also reduce the rate of evaporation of soil moisture and control soil erosion.

Crops protected by cover crops are less vulnerable to the invasion of succeeding weeds through seed dissemination and vegetative reproduction. There are lesser incidents of brush fire.

The idea of burning crop residues after harvest also illustrates this principle, said Abe. This is to get rid of the waste in the quickest way possible. Through burning, the potential nutrient value of hay both as feed and as source of organic matter is lost.

Rice straw is definitely very useful as mulch, explained Abe. Mulch increases production of garlic and onions by as much as 100 percent. With the high price of mushroom, there is money in its production. (A kilo of mushroom in the local market reaches as much as P120.)

On the other hand, the value of composite is not measured by its volume, but on the beneficial effect it contributes to the soil: improving its physical, chemical and biological properties. Crops grown on soil with high organic matter do not only produce higher yields, but have higher food values.

For the fifth principle, Abe illustrates this postulate, thus:

1. Clayish soils have better retention of essential soil nutrients.

2. Closely planted jute and kenaf produce longer and cleaner fibers.

3. Leaves of madre de cacao or kakawate enhance natural ripening of fruits like bananas.

4. Like neem and derris, madre de cacao is a natural pesticide.

5. Chicken dropping has an anti-nematode substance.

Be alert to nature’s warning signals (previously tackled in this column). Yet to be mentioned is the flowering of bamboos, which signals the coming of severe drought. Minor groups called congregans precede migrating locusts.

These are but some examples to show the silent workings of nature that we can tap. These postulates are important reminders for us to exercise our “eight sense”- the intelligence of naturalism- which, in turn, in the words of Dr. Abe Rotor, makes a green thumb. ~

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