I was traveling in Yunnan in April earlier this year. Yunnan is in Southwest China and borders Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar. It is one of the most mountainous regions in China and boasts a large plant variety due to the varying climates.
While strolling along the roadside to a nearby mountain, I saw many small-time farmers working the field. The villagers in this region are typically of the Bai ethnic minority group, one of the many within Yunnan province. I was curious with the way they are farming and decided to venture into the terraced fields to speak to them. Somehow I ended up helping them farm. This amused them greatly and drew many stares.
I realized that the majority of them use plastic sheet to mulch. I see it everywhere for hundreds of kilometers as I travel on the bus. Plastic sheet mulch is actually a big money-making industry in China. I have no experience farming in Yunnan and I’m sure things are very different from here in the humid tropics. However, I wonder if there are other methods that could work better. Why don’t they mulch with organic waste? Plastic sheet mulching fulfills one function of water retention. Mulching with organic matter does that and more – breaking down into fertilizer, boosting soil life, habitat for predatory insects, etc. With plastic sheet mulch, they now have to deal with two kinds of waste: organic matter from the previous harvest and the plastic sheet at the end of this harvest.
I first tried to speak to this farmer lady but we couldn’t communicate as she was speaking some local dialect. She was however very kind and gave me the stalk of this vegetable. I eventually took it to a local eatery and got them to prepare it. They chopped into slices and served it raw with vinegar. Yummy!
You can notice from this and the previous photo that the vegetables are growing out of a plastic sheet. You can also notice that the bare soil is parched by the intense sun at high altitude. The rainfall is nothing compared to the tropics. Even when it rains, it’s gentle unlike the big smashing drops in the tropics. In some sense, they are not punished for bare soil cultivation as heavily as compared to doing the same in the tropics. There is less leaching, erosion, and compaction.
The farmers burn their organic waste from the previous harvest. Biomass is already hard to come by in their climate and they could do much more with this than burning. The burning of agricultural waste is a big source of air pollution in China and it is so bad sometimes that airports have to shut down.
They create straight rows of mounds and then dig a small hole at the peak. Next, they water into the holes using water irrigated from the nearby stream. We had to pour quite a bit as the soil is so dry and the water is soaked up very quickly.
Seedlings or seeds are then planted into this watered hole.
Plastic sheet mulch is then used to cover the entire mound. This helps to retain moisture in the soil. After a week or two, the farmers will cut a hole for the seedlings to pop out.
This farming couple are planting corn. The red coloring on the yellow corn kernels is fungicide. The corn seeds that I buy in Singapore have them as well but I guess in much lower concentration since they are a light pink.
I’m not sure what this is but I am guessing it is buckwheat or wheat. The local eatery has a crepe made from buckwheat.
Bee hives spotted! The hives are huge compared to the ones in tropical Asia. It gets very cold during the winters up here and the colonies tend to be bigger to tide through the tough times. It’s flowering season and you can observe the air traffic at the hive entrance is extremely busy.
A special kind of weed – marijuana. When I spoke to some locals, they say that humans don’t eat it as it is fed to the pigs.