Gardening the Bhutanese Way

Friday, June 17, 2016

Nursery Raising in the Cold December Month-the Magical Spark of Poly-tunnels (Part 1)

Have you ever wondered how farmers of certain pockets do well in farming? Did you have had the slightest of idea as to when they actually start toiling hard on the hardy encrustation of earth to make their produce fetch premium price? Did a question sweep across your mind as to who were the persons actually tilling the land in bringing the fresh vegetables at your visual display at the Yusipang market shed beneath the roadside?
The query would have probably rung your curious mind if you were someone to frequent the Thimphu-Wangdue highway. I assume that many would have cursed the vendors for the produce being overpriced. It was also disheartening at the same that some simply left the place with a display of dejection on their face, unable to digest the fact that heir auditory canal perceived about the price.
Well, if you have been the one to wonder or else ambitious enough to start your own kitchen garden, let me unleash some points here. Don't be deterred by your opinion that winter is too cold for everything to surface out from soil. It isn't for Yusipang residents, elevated at 2700m above sea level, with severe frost almost every night, has already taken a step forward.
The residents, despite the shrill chillness; the icy water; the frost-glistened ground & dusty arid gust have been busy for the weeks of the cold December month. They first dug out a small portion of their garden designated for nursery raising. The area for cole crops nursery shall be an area that wasn't grown with any Brassica crops in the preceding season. 
Usually, the site planted with potato (Solanaceous crop) ranked first in its picking. This is to avoid the occurrence of any pests or diseases in the nursery seedlings from its previous crop (same host).
The dug earth should be brought to a fine tilth by breaking the clods. A nursery bed of 1m width & convenient length shall be raised to a height of about 30-45 cm. All the sticks, pebbles & the like shall be removed to render the soil porous & fine for the easy emergence of the seedlings. 
Prepared nursery; soil brought to a fine tilth
Then, the nursery bed is sterilized by means of igniting the raised bed stacked with piles of dried bamboo sticks, woods & or dried weeds. This is an act to sterilize the soil so as to render it free of any pathogenic spores (resting spores) or resting stages of pests (pupal stages).
The sterilization was just done a day or two before the actual day of sowing. The raised, sterilized bed is drenched with water. A fine flow out of the nozzles of rose can is recommended so as to avoid soil being eroded. This is probably done in the morning. In the late afternoon or before sunset, make even furrows of 2-3 cm depth at an interval of 10cm.
Furrows for seed sowing
The seeds are then evenly dibbled along the lines. The sparser the seed count, the better the growth & vice-versa. However, it should not be too sparse as it will consume space. The optimum stand would yield more vigorous seedlings. This will also be a check against the rapid spread of disease (damping off which is very common in nurseries). A 10g seed may be filled along 14 lines of each 1m length.Gently sweep across your fingers in filling the soil in the indented furrows over the seeds. If the seed size is too small, mix it with fine sand or soil and then dibble along.
Optimum density of seeds
Ensure to moisten the soil well before sowing, for liberal watering after seed sowing will wash away your light & tiny seeds. For the subsequent watering, add a layer of mulch material. It can be anything from a jute bag or a thin spread of any organic matter like saw dust, artemisia leaves, chopped paddy straw or husks. This layer will be of utmost advantage in ensuring the safe deposit of your seeds in soil. So you don't have to worry about the seeds being splashed away by water. It also improves the micro-climate of the soil- retain moisture, heat & help in weed control.  
Watering over the mulch of jute bag
However, don't forget to remove heavy covering like jute material after the emergence of seeds as it might hamper its growth & access to sunlight.
Now the task of tilling the soil & depositing your seeds in the soil has been done. Now what next to guard it from the ritual of white frosty encrustation almost every night? Well, there is nothing extraordinary to do than what we humans do to keep ourselves warm. And here comes the trick played by the polyethylene (plastic tunnels). 
Bamboo sticks shall be erected at one side of the bed at an interval of 20-30 cm. The other end shall be pegged into ground on the other side of the bed. This will form a dome-shaped supportive framework for the polyethylene sheet. Also place an additional bamboo piece on the top of the dome-structure & tie it firmly at regular interval.
Bamboo sticks
Pegging down of Bamboo Sticks
Place the polyethylene sheet over the supportive frame-work. Stretch it gently & cautiously to avoid any tear. If the sheet happens to be torn, better have it replaced, else the defect will duly reduce temperature (through the escape of long wave radiation) as well as act as a suture for the entry of frost or rain droplets if any. To avoid such undesirable circumstances, have all the sharp edges or spikes protruding from the supporting framework removed or subdued beneath rubber tubes.
Completed Supportive Framework of Bamboo
Bury the plastic sheet well into the soil on all its side leaving no loose ends. Our work is not yet done even with poly-tunnels set up to perfection. The seedlings would still succumb to chilling injury if we leave it to the mercy of the protection provided by the plastic sheets. Their shed needs to be augmented with layers of jute bags & blankets. Just as we humans lay buried under piles of blanket, so is their stance during such freezing period of the year.
This external covering of blanket needs frequent supervision-its removal every morning upon the descend of sunny rays & back to place when the rays bid good bye for the day. This routine continues until one is confident of not being greeted by frost, & subsequently, the seedlings are transplanted.
Poly-tunnel with extraneous cladding of blankets/ clothes.
When almost everyone remains hibernated under the warmth of their blankets and or sits ideally around electric or kerosene hearters & bukharis, the residents here are out, meddling hard with the arid ground. They are involved in a continuous cycle of activities with the soil. The cold weather-bitten skins; the frayed garments with discoloration & the crack-laden fingers are indicative of their daily association with the earth.
We would have never imagined how difficult it is to produce a kilogram of fresh onion or tomato or cauliflower & so forth. And I bet we won't unless we step our own feet into the soil. On account of these reasons, I feel the need to applaud the farming community for putting in strenuous efforts to earn their living as well as bringing at our doorsteps fresh & healthy vegetables.
This is an account of what the farming community at Yusipang area are up during the cold December month.This activity usually starts in December & continues till February. So if anyone elsewhere aspires to reap a bit early crop than the preceding years, why not try this? You have ample time till February after which you can resort to sowing under normal conditions. Anyways, I will keep you updated on the succeeding activities. I just wanted to stir the people in other parts of the country to attune themselves with nursery raising under poly-tunnels.