Introduction: Multi-layer farming means growing and cultivating compatible plants of different heights on the same field and at the same time. It is generally practiced in orchards and plantation crops for the utmost use of solar energy even under high planting density.
A step by step guide to multi-layer farming, benefits
Multi-layer farming is mostly cash crop-based and it includes a combination of vegetables and fruits that can be grown together. In Multi-layer farming, the crops are grown at different heights on the same land. This farming cannot be done in open fields as shade is required.
Multi-layer farming is also called multistoried cropping and multi-tire farming. It is one type of intercropping. Growing plants of different height in the same field at the same time is termed as Multi-layer cropping. It is generally practiced in orchards and plantation crops for maximum use of solar energy even under high planting density. It is the practice of several crops of varying heights, rooting pattern and duration to cultivate together. The objective of this Multi-layer system of cropping is to utilize vertical space more effectively. In this Multi-layer system, the tallest components have foliage of strong light and high evaporative demand and shorter components with foliage requiring shade and high humidity.
In agriculture, Multi-layer farming is the practice of growing two or more crops in the same piece of land during a single growing season. It is some form of polyculture. It can get the form of double-cropping, in which a second crop is planted after the first has been harvested in which the second crop is started amidst the first crop before it has been harvested. A related practice, companion planting, is sometimes used in gardening and intensive cultivation of several vegetables and fruits. One example of Multi-layer farming is tomatoes + onions + marigold; the marigolds repel some tomato pests.
This Multi-layer cropping technique allows the farmers to get a good result of harvest and more earning on the same piece of land by using available sources such as fertilizers, water, seeds, etc. Multi-layer farming also solves the problem of the feeding of the large size of the population due to the shortage of cultivated land
Growing crops in Multi-layer farming
Multilayer farming is a modern integrated farming system in which 4 to 5 different crops are cultivated in the same crop-field in a specific time. In this farming technique, farmers come up with multilayer seed sowing in which different vegetable and fruit crops are being sown in deep, middle, top, topmost layers of soil, according to their respective root zone, simultaneously in a single crop field.
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Seeds of vegetables for example bottle gourd, pumpkin, ash gourd, ridge gourd, bitter gourd, and Dolichos bean are sown in small pits filled with well-rotted organic manure and soil mixture to facilitate the germination of seeds. After the seeds have sprouted, weak seeds are carefully removed. The grown-up seedlings are staked to allow their normal branching over the home-made trellis and the trellis allow the area underneath to be planted.
Using this Multi-layer farming, farmers produce vegetables (like bottle gourd in trelly, below this bhendi, chili, turmeric, ginger and then amaranthus, spinach) under creeper vegetables during their early growth period and plant shade-loving crops such as turmeric and ginger. Seeds of creeping plants such as dioscoria or Dolichos bean are normally sown in underneath other mature plants or trees which facilitate the growth of the sapling on those trees as a supportive stake. Integrated pest methods are applied in different forms.
To improve the productivity and soil nutrition for plant intake, liquid farmyard manure, leaf-based liquid manure or compost can be applied gradually. In homestead gardens, it should be practiced with some principles, for example- legume crops must be mixed with non-legume crops, deep-rooted crops (garden pea, Dolichos bean, and cucurbits) should be mixed with shallow-rooted crops like onion, garlic, cabbage, cauliflower, etc. Root crops (elephant foot yam, arum, sweet potato) must be mixed with leafy vegetables (amaranthus, ipomoea), growing of tree crops at the boundary like drumstick, subabul as feed for cattle, goat, etc.
In the rest of the vegetable crop fields, which are commonly small and not cultivated through multilayer seed sowing techniques, a diverse range of seasonal vegetables are grown all over the year. The vegetables either sold directly by the farmers in the nearby markets or purchased by a village member who then sells vegetables in the nearby markets.
Growing three crops in place of one naturally affects competition among crops for water and nutrients. Also, farmers (based on a consensus) have developed a rotational system of land irrigation. In this farming, a whole day is allotted to a farmer to irrigate the land using the water stored in the tanks. Through this farming, each farmer gets his chance to irrigate the land at regular intervals.
To overcome the problem of nutrient competition in the Multilayer crop fields, farmers can apply a huge quantity of FYM during December (before sowing seeds or seed tubers of colocasia, potato, and green leafy vegetables) in each of crop field. The land cultivated through multilayer farming is generally close to the farmer’s household and therefore there is no difficulty in manuring these crop fields.
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In Multilayer farming, the cost of cultivation is 4 times lower, whereas the advantage is eight times higher than another farming system. If we take many crops together in a single crop field at the same time, after that one crop gets nutrients from other crops and due to lack of free space, the weed does not come out. In the Multilayer farming process, the total amount of fertilizer and water for cultivating four crops is as much as the cultivation of one crop. Due to different layers (pavilion) in the crop field, there is no outbreak of pests in the crop field and prevents water loss through evaporation.
Basic principles of multi-layer farming
Basic principles of Multilayer farming system include;
Multilayer farming is also integrated farming which depends on the principle of total utilization of water, manure, and land and to obtain more production per unit area. This farming technique needs less cost of cultivation whereas the provide much more benefit compared to another farming system. In multilayer farming, four or five crops can have cultivated in as much as the amount of fertilizer and water required for one crop, which leads the farmer’s income.
Multilayer farming system is a perspective modern approach for sustainable productivity in horticulture crops in general and plantation crops especially in Coconut, Areca nut, and Coffee in particular. The farming system is more adaptable in tall-growing perennials with compatible semi-perennial and annual crops. The practice of Multilayer farming is highly successful in plantation crops especially in Coconut, Areca nut, Coffee and Cashew for enhancing sustainable productivity and realizing higher income per unit area.
The basic principles of Multilayer farming include
- Opportunities for crop diversification on scientific, ecological and economic principles;
- Maximize system productivity;
- Utilization of resources with higher efficiency;
- Intensive input use and
- Sustainability of farm resources and environment on long term perspective. This system mostly comprises an overstory of trees or shrubs with an understory of economic or forage crops. Tree-to-tree distance can be wide enough to let sufficient light through to understory crops.
Benefits of the multi-layer system
Multi-layer farming incentivized them to switch to a more sustainable type of farming and simultaneously meet the food and nutrition requirements of the entire household, while also generating income from cash crop production.
Some of the benefits of Multilayer farming can be given below;
- Good utilization of soil, water, and other resources.
- Reduces whether the effect on the crop field and improves the soil characteristics.
- Keep ecological balance in the environment.
- Prevent water evaporation from the soil; as an effect, 70% of water is saved.
- The income per unit area increases substantially with this system and ensures a more evenly distribution of income and employment throughout the year from harvesting several crops in a different season.
- Minimize risks of crop yield loss and this system enables a steady supply of farm products the whole round the year.
- Generates jobs and provides better labor use pattern.
- Reduces the impacts of hazards such as high-intensity rainfall, soil erosion, and landslides.
- Well utilizes the soil moisture at different depths of soil and catches solar energy at different heights.
- Natural resources are utilized accurately.
- Improve the soil characteristics and adds organic matter to the soil.
- Effective utilization of leaching materials and helps in effective weed control.
- It provides partial guaranty against the market glut of the single commodity and the efficient cultivation of a range of products is possible. Crops can be developed according to market preference.
- Higher production as the cultivation procedure is accelerated.
- Reduces some pests and diseases, and weed does not come out. Increase biodiversity which can reduce pest and disease pressure.
- Provide micro-climate conditions that advantage crops underneath.
The process of Multi-layer farming
A 36 x 36 square foot plot of land was recognized in each household. Crops were chosen based on their height and duration of growth to ensure adequate sunlight and different harvesting periods. So, that household has continued access to different kinds of products throughout the year. Sowing was done strategically so that multiple crops including fruits, vegetables, and flower crops could be grown together in the small plot of land. The rain gun (micro-irrigation) process, which uses less water, and organic farming practices were adopted.
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Apart from these, there is a lot more science that goes behind the practice and activities that are part of the Multilayer farming system. It needs to ensure that the method is sustainable, organic, and productive in the face of climate change and that family nutrition needs are eventually met. The excess generate was sold every week, thus some additional profit was also obtained from this process.
Multilayer cropping system
The crop used in this Multilayer farming system depends on the sequence of sowing, root zone and harvesting time of crops. Farmers have sown Turmeric, Ginger, Colocasia crop which having deep root zone (about 20- 25 cm soil depth) as soul crop in January. The Colocasia takes 60 to 70 days to germinate. Until the sown crop (i.e. Colocasia) germinated above the soil, farmers started cultivating short durational crops in topmost layer (about 5-10 cm soil depth) such as green leafy vegetables (Coriander, Spinach, Bhaji, etc.) as the second crop in the field. These crops are proceeding as mulching on the surface of the soil. It prevents water evaporation from soil and control weed. These top layer crops are harvested within 25 to 30 days.
During harvesting time with it lose the upper surface of the soil and help in aeration. Since Colocasia is a late germinating crop and its crop cycle is 6 to 7 months, farmers made further experiments in the crop fields. As the third crop, made vertical space in the soil for sowing potato or sweet potato simultaneously above the Colocasia in the middle layer of soil (about 10-15 cm Soil depth). It emerges just above the ground after harvesting of green leafy vegetable. It weeded twice and lastly harvested in May Month. Farmers make pavilion on the top of crop field by the help bamboo, steel wires, and grasses to cultivate creeper crops like Ivy gourd, pointed gourd or bitter gourd as uppermost layer crop. The pavilion structure of creeper plants helps to decrease transpiration loss from the crop field, which saves 70 % of the water in farming. It protects the bottom layer crops from sunlight, heavy rainfall and outbreak of insects. While the cultivation of four to five crops in the same field, we need to apply a large amount of FYM in the soil at the end of December before sowing.
Examples of some Multi-layer farming
Coconut+ coffee+ black pepper
Coconut+ banana+ coffee
Coconut+ banana+ black pepper
Coconut+ banana + pineapple
Coconut+ black pepper+ cacao+ pineapple
Coconut+ papaya+ pineapple
Mango+ papaya+ pineapple
Pigeon pea+ sesame+ ground nut
Coconut+ papaya+ pineapple+ peanut
Coconut+ banana+ Taro
Coconut+ banana+ ginger
Amaranth+ lady’s finger+ colocasia
Spinach+ radish+ onion
Brinjal+ lady’s finger+ basella+ colocasia
Eucalyptus+ papaya+ berseem
Sugarcane+ potato+ onion (seed crop)
Sugarcane + mustard+ potato.
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