Growing Paddy Part 2 - The science and art of chapeneji (ಚಾಪೆನೇಜಿ)

The biggest of the trees start their life with minute seeds. Grasses and hence rice, can’t be an exception.

Keep the seedlings (ನೇಜಿ) ready before planting on the field
Planting or seeding paddy needs to be done after the final round of tilling, once the rainy season arrives and the field is completely wet. Traditionally there have been 2 ways to plant:

  • Method 1 - Pre-germinate the seeds by soaking and throw them on prepared field (a rough approach, rather, but however used widely across the world)
  • Method 2 - Keep the seedlings ready densely in a dummy plot and then hand-transplant them on the field, evenly

Method 2 has now been upgraded(?) to mechanized transplantation due to increased soil-un-touchability of land owners and workers and resulting lack of workforce. Any new grower has to invariably think of Method 2, he likes it or not. However, the new mechanical approach has brought some benefit since it plants evenly, with lesser harm to the plants and in a way that is beneficial to the plant.

Preparing seedling bed – chapeneji (ಚಾಪೆನೇಜಿ)

This is a fine tuned method needing much attention, care and precision for machine planting.

Here is what I followed in simple steps:

  • First get the seeds from your last year’s stock or a neighbor or relative. My Father-in-law (my actual FIL’s younger brother) Shri A.P.Sadashiva, a paddy grower for generations, gave me seeds of ‘gandhasaale’ (ಗಂಧಸಾಲೆ) variety.

The next steps don’t look easy for a new grower. My neighbor-relative at Kaje and an adventurous farmer Mr. Rama Kishore, a new paddy farmer who re-continued the broken paddy tradition, taught me the next steps.

  • The transplanter machine needs a uniform bed with no stones/pebbles in the soil. Simple solution is to sieve the soil using the old and time-tested way. Luckily we could manage some dry soil, even after the initial rains; otherwise I would have been in a problem!

The good old way of removing pebbles from soil/sand
  • The soil bed has to be 1 inch uniform thickness, ‘topped’ with a thin layer of sieved sand. To maintain the thickness, Krishna prepared reapers using fallen areca nut tree. These could well be dried and preserved for next crop.
Soil - mother to all life

  • Ananda, Raju and Padma filled up the rectangular frames with stone-free soil. The big laterite blocks, 16 in number, were kept to hold the frame in place and shape. The soil bed was made even in level using smaller pieces of areca tree.
  • We sprinkled the sand over the soil layer as a very thin layer. I am not too sure about why this step is needed. May be this can be omitted next time.

The total length of seedbed was 30 feet (for 1/4th acre of field) and a constant 1 meter width.

Preparing the seed, a parallel task

  • This is rather a traditional method. Soak the seed in water for 24 hours. For 25 cents of field (1/4th of an acre), 5 kg seed is sufficient for machine planting (more efficient than hand planting).
  • Take out from water, drain for next 12-24 hours (tied in a cloth sac, in shade, without spreading)
  • Mix with a lump of fresh cow-dung. This gives higher vigor to seeds and possibly increases seed viability and resistance to diseases. Put it in a basket covered both ways with ‘ittovu’ leaves (Clerodendrum infortunatum). Keep some weight on the basket (gently) for next 12-24 hours. The leaves and cowdung help raise the temperature inside and aid germination. When we open, swollen germ would start peeping out from most of the seeds.
My hands after cow dung treatment to seeds

ittovu seeds to heat up the sprouting paddy grains

  • Throw them uniformly and densely over the soil bed, prepared in parallel (explained above).
Laying seeds as a dense layer

  • Cover with hay (dry rice straws) to protect from direct rain. Astonishing to see previous crop of rice, helping the next crop to sprout, completing a cycle.

Breathe easy. Next steps are to wait and watch the seedlings grow happily! See the lush green wonder come out of the dead looking seeds. Those little seedlings are clever enough to ‘peg’ themselves on soil first, using the first root and then give out the first leaf – for better stability. So much so, a few stray grains of rice that were still stuck to the covered rice straws also sprouted and held to the ground causing irritation while removing the cover after 4-5 days.
Stray sprouts that came out from left over grains that remained
the covered hay

Day by day they grow and turn greener. My uncle, Sri Rama Kishore inspected in the first week and suggested to spray liquefied cow dung as manure, which I did. Result is showing up clearly.

Young seedlings ejecting the extra water through leaf tips (as I understand)

Occasional absence of chlorophyll in some seedlings - a genetic aberration generally causing the plant to die slowly. This plant might last longer due to a thin line of chlorophyll (a variegated leaf as its generally called).

Cricket pitch like paddy nursery in front of the house - much too rewarding than the useless game!
I need to keep these little paddy plants in nursery for 15 days. By then, they are ready for planting. With no further job training they will start growing thereafter. They are yet to reach 15th day and I am waiting with a mix of anticipation and apprehension for the crucial days to come….

What I am left with now is an uneven field that is not according to water level, with a lot of stones still left, busy tractor operators who are not picking up calls, the paddy nursery that is crossing it's suitable age for transplantation - all of which I expected very well in advance. Hopes are on.

Vasantha Kaje.


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