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Birdseye view

Welcome to our Natural Farm. We are attempting to grow fruit, grains, vegetables, herbs, and other plants without use of chemical pesticides and in harmony with nature.

River, looking north

The farm is located in the foothills of the Himalaya, at an elevation of 800m, near Dharamshala, in Northwest India. Alongside the farm runs the Gagj river, which brings pure water down from the snowy peaks seen in the distance. The hills around the farm are thick with lush vegetation.

Farm close up

We have created this blog in order to document our attempts to remain a high-yield, 100% organic farm following a variety of respected philosophies and methods, including those of Masanobu Fukuoka (see Masanobu Fukuoka: Natural Farming). We hope that you find it interesting, and ultimately, we hope that the idea of farming and consuming in harmony with nature spreads far and wide.

Wednesday 10 march 3 10 /03 /Mar 13:54

I arrived early morning March 4 on an overnight bus from Delhi. Despite bus-lag, the rain, the low, grey skies, and bone-chilling cold (just the previous morning I’d been basking in the Karnatakan sun), I could still tell how beautiful the grounds were and what a special location this is (yellow, blue, white, purple flowers dot the edges of the walk, stepped fields of wheat reach up to the elements, aging Japanese-inspired stone work peeks out from many bends in the path, a stream rushes past rocks and boulders north to south along the eastern edge of the property, and handsome, green Himalayan foothills hover on all sides). Still, this is no resort or museum...there are clearly some works in progress: empty beds awaiting seeds and transplants, an open, stony area where something (a new building?) will go, some wooden arches in need of mending. But my overall impression was: wow, it feels good to be here.


Ramesh and I talked and planned (and ate!) most of Thursday while the rain continued, but by the brilliant, sunny morning that followed we had a game plan for my month on The Natural Farm. I would help him catalog and map out the crops currently being grown on the property (including a more detailed sowing/harvesting calendar), and I would help him design and create a small ayurvedic garden on the north end of the property. Among the herbs we plan to plant (or at least obtain seeds for while I’m here) are dandelion, ginger, chamomile, coriander, sage, flax seed, liquorice, aloe. We also hope to include the following (all of which are new to this American):  shatavari, safed musali, kaunch, kaupvat, ashva-gandha, akarkara, sarp-gandha, vanaksha, sugandhbala, and stevia.  We may even work in a road trip to a university southwest of us in Himachal Pradesh where we can get some of these seeds and maybe some advice on how best to care for the plants.


What I am struck most by here (other than the natural beauty of the place) is Ramesh’s commitment to pursuing as natural a lifestyle as possible, and to experimenting with a variety of farming methods (including those of Japanese farming trailblazer Masanobu Fukuoka) in the name of keeping his farm 100% organic.


The cottages on the property were constructed from natural materials and have traditional earthen flooring. Water is conserved throughout the property and is heated in the cottages only on command (and after an hour-or-so wait). All water comes from the spring rushing down from the mountains and is collected each morning for drinking water and set out for us in varying sizes of copper pots.  Meals consist almost entirely of food grown on the farm (the incredible cook, Prekash, makes his own bread from the wheat on the farm, makes his own paneer and yogurt from the cow’s milk, creates excellent subji and chapatis and poppodoms and parathas and teas from homegrown sweet peas, turmeric, chili,  broccoli, coriander, chamomile, etc).  We chew on slender, minty-tasting branches as a natural refreshment after meals. The gardening team sprays “green manure” (organic compost) on crops with a hand-pumped spray gun. There is a wonderful lack of machine noise here (well...save for the clatter of old engines and drilling coming from the construction of a hydro power plant across the river and north of the farm).



Ramesh comes not from generations of farmers but from -  as I understand it - a Hyderbad business family. He has a long background in engineering and energy research in the United States. I asked him what brought him here, and what his ultimate goal for the farm was. Did he seek to build The Natural Farm into a commercial venture? Was he trying to completely convert it to Fukuoka’s methods?


He told me that he came to this four-acre farm five or six years ago after his thirty-five-year stint on the fast track in the United States, hoping to establish an organic farm in a relatively pristine part of northwestern India. While he dreams of eventually running the farm entirely on Fukuoka’s methodology, which includes no weeding, composting or tilling, Ramesh admits to having the luxury of time to move in that direction bit by bit, all the while experimenting with the farming wisdom of locals, and of other experts around the world (some of whom have visited the farm themselves).  In other words, the farm need not be commercially viable (while surplus is welcomed, Ramesh is content if the farm succeeds in feeding only himself and guests/team) and though of course not interested in wasting time or repeating mistakes, he is able to focus on finding the most productive ways to keep the farm organic and need not skip steps while advancing towards the Fukuokan ideal (a state that - even Fukuoka admits several times  in his books - can take years and years of soil cultivation to reach).


This commitment to experimentation in the name of organic farming seems to me a great gift. Ramesh welcomes the genuinely interested guest and volunteer and hosts the farmers of the area frequently, trading experiences and advice.  This is an ideal place to (I hope) contribute in a small way as a WWOOFer but also to learn a great deal about sustainable farming. Ramesh seems to encourage learning by doing, and isn’t afraid of the novice’s errors. When I ask him about a detail in Fukuoka's argument he responds, "yes, ponder that a while and see if you can come up with a solution." In other words, all ideas are welcome here. He freely admits mistakes he’s made and how he's learned from those as well as his successes, and appears to remain curious and adventurous and eager to try new things. So I suspect this will be a true education in farming, all the more worthwhile because my host appears unjaded and just about as excited as I am to be here.


I'll sign off with a question...


It’s hard to argue with the philosophy behind Fukuokan farming, but can the average farmer really afford to lose a season’s crop while he waits for the soil to improve, or due to an irritating pest that Fukuoka’s methods prohibit him doing anything about? Is it realistic to think that the farms of the country, or the world, can convert to 100% organic with no tilling or weeding given the world’s insatiable desire for fast and cheap food? Reading Fukuoka’s literature (radical and groundbreaking and incredibly inspiring….I feel like I’m reading the late-night, excited scribbles of Thoreau or Gandhi on man’s true relationship with nature), one wants to believe that this change can happen. As Ramesh says, maybe the average farmer can’t afford to make this change quickly, but that is precisely why it is “up to us” to experiment and try first so that we learn from mistakes and later try to lead the way.

By Ramesh - Posted in: WWOOFer Comments
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Sunday 7 june 7 07 /06 /Jun 07:25

Ayurveda doctors have prescribed Black Rice (which we grow here on the farm) as treatment for the baby daughter of a lady who lives locally.

The lady was married, and the couple had a daughter. Soon after the birth the baby developed Jaundice. The father was unwilling to allow the baby to have treatment for the disease. The Jaundice developed and affected the child's brain, leaving her handicapped. The mother left her husband and took her daughter to go and live with her parents.


She sought help from Ayurveda doctors. They prescribed an oil massage, followed by the application of a paste containing Black Rice, raw cow's milk, and 'Khoa', for about an hour. Before the treatment the child had no movement in her neck and left leg, and she didn't respond to gestures. There has now been significant improvement





By Ramesh - Posted in: Ayurvedic Plants - Community: Natural Farming
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Sunday 7 june 7 07 /06 /Jun 05:29

I'm very sad to be leaving the farm. My five week stay here has been a great experience. The farm itself is incredibly beautiful, set in a valley of jungled hills, a river running by, snowy peaks in the distance.

The local workers, too, are extremely nice people, very friendly. Maddhan has a huge knowledge of plants and farming, and is constantly amusing with his sense of humour as well. Prakash - simply the best cook I have ever encountered, and very nice as well. The younger guys on the farm, Ramlal etc, are great fun and hard workers, and it's been interesting trying to communicate with them using my almost non-existant Hindi and their much better English.

I have learnt a huge amount about plants and farming, this being my first stay on a farm. I was especially attracted to this farm because of the fact that it was turning into a Natural Farm, as per the teachings of Masanobu Fukuoka. And here was my only disappointment: because of a lack of clover seeds, and access to in-tact straw for mulching, the farm is as yet unable to use Fukuoka methods. Further, there is no sign that practices such as weeding are being reduced, although the wheat/rice fields have not been tilled, and the rice was sown among the standing wheat crop. On a positive note, a lot of alfalfa has been planted around the farm. But I am concerned that only a little of the 'Fukuoka Method' is being employed, with much of the farm under the sway of the traditional methods. I believe that it's 'all or nothing' with regards to Fukuoka.

That said, Rameshji is very open minded, as is of course doing what thinks best for the farm. He has been extremely generous to us workers on the farm, and a great companion aswell. I wish all the best for Rameshji and the farm, and extremely grateful for being allowed this experience. 

By Ramesh - Posted in: WWOOFer Comments - Community: Natural Farming
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Monday 25 may 1 25 /05 /May 09:01

We are pleased to announce the arrival of a new brood of chicks. We will raise these here at the farm, and let them wander around the fields and vegetable patches, eating pests and delivering good manure!


By Ramesh - Posted in: Animals - Community: Natural Farming
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Monday 25 may 1 25 /05 /May 07:27


The caterpillars are back.

For the last three years, the tomatoes we nurse in the greenhouse have been subject to attention by a specific caterpillar. Just when the tomatoes have reached ripeness, this caterpillar bores a hole in the fruit and enters in. The fruit then rots and falls to the ground, ruining the crop. It has been a real problem, and we've been unsure as to what to do. Moreover, this problem has not been restricted to our farm: the same drama has been playing out in the village, and probably all over the district.

But we've noticed something very interesting. One specific plant, a variety native to the area, has this year developed some kind of resistance. Over the previous two years, this plant was attacked along with the others. But this year the plant is tall and strong, and the caterpillars haven't been interested in it:

Incidentally, this variety has also been displaying another strange characteristic: when the fruit is entering ripening phase, the centre of the tomato begins to soften and rot, and then the tomato explodes. The investigation is on-going, and we'll be sure to keep you up to date.

By Ramesh - Posted in: Vegetables - Community: Natural Farming
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