The seeds we started last time was not doing well due to a couple of reasons: ant damage, not enough seed-soil contact, lack of sunlight, etc., so we restarted a nursery, with the same two varieties: TCS10 and Leonard.
This time, we hung up a metal frame with mesh outside of our compost shed in the office complex, in order to avoid ant or bird, as suggested by Magnus, the director here. We laid some cardboard on the mesh and watered it to wet. Then we put a 3 cm thick layer of seed-starting mix, which contained soil, fine sand, vermicompost, ash, and fine sawdust, and was watered thoroughly. The seeds were sown on the top of this and then covered with another thin layer of the mix. After watering the nursery again, it was covered with wet plantain leaves.
The seeds germinated during the weekend of 6/21-6/22, 1-2 days after setting up the nursery, with over 90% germination rate. And there was no ant or bird damage at all!! We removed the plantain leaf cover to allow sunlight shedding on the nursery. It was watered twice a day to maintain the moisture. To avoid possible damage from too-strong direct sunlight in the early afternoon, we put up a west-oriented shade for the nursery. This is the most beautiful nursery we have ever had. The seedlings grew fast and evenly, which was super exciting. I felt that they became taller every coupld of hours.
(Left: the new nursery; Right: Magnus watering the nursery)
(Left: Seedlings have healthy and nice root systems; Right: Moved into a bamboo tray the evening before transplanting)
Soil in the new plots were puddled, leveled, and drained early this week. The leveling tool and effect are shown in photos below. We have 10 plots, 5 for each variety. For each variety, we have 2 plots fertilized with vermicompost, 2 with 20-20-10 synthesized fertilizer, and 1 without any nutrient amendment. Since farmers here do not have the habit of fertilizing their fields, neither access to large amount of fertilizer or compost, we wonder how SRI would work for them without much input. Fertilizers were placed into the plots the day before transplanting. The seedlings were moved as a sheet from the nursery to bamboo trays. We started before 7 am this morning transplanting, and finished at noon. It was a 12-people team, 3 of us uprooting seedlings and the others planting. We still used the rope system this time: 2 longitude ropes along 2 parallel sides, and 1 latitude rope perpendicular to them. All of them have marks at 25 cm intervals. People stand behind this rope, planting according to the marks, and the 2 people at the 2 ends will move the rope along the 2 side ropes, till the latitude rope meets a mark on the longitude ropes.
(Left: leveling the soil; Right: after leveling)
From land preparation, nursery, to transplanting, everything was done nicely and quickly this time, which is not only attributed to previous experience, but also, to a large degree, to Magnus’ contribution of many good ideas and thoughtful suggestions.