Rules of Farming — Part 1

Shankar Venkataraman
11 min readJun 26, 2020
Big Purple Brinjal showing explosive growth and production result in Greenhouse number 4.

In the many years of struggles and ups and downs in farming, I learned a lot of rules. Sometimes I learned them quite painfully. Here are some I cover in the first of the series of blogs titled “rules of farming”

Rule 1. Do not just dream about farming. Do something about your dream.

A lot of people keep carrying a dream in their heads to do farming and live in nature. You must put aside money(savings) and work with your family to get the freedom you need to explore farming. You must travel to farms and see how farming is done.

You must write down success criteria for farming and then meet those farmers who you think are successful and try to understand how you can do work similar to what they have done. You must have a practical plan in place to exit your current position and move to farm work.

Without these efforts, reading books endlessly will make farming a paper dream for you. The most important rules in farming for this day and age are below.

How much nutrition and tonnage does a farm generates per acre while improving soil fertility every year?. How much biodiversity is present at the farm above and below the soil? How many varieties of products are churned out by the farm each year? How much climate-resilient (drought, heavy rain, and weather extremes resilient) a farm is? How happy and well paid are the people who work on the farm? How many customers vouch for the products grown at the farm? How nutrition-dense is the product of the farm? These can be your evaluation criteria for choosing farmers you can learn from.

Rule 2. Completely Understand Soil.

You want to understand what is Soil utterly and completely. Physical properties of soil, Its structure. Chemical Properties of Soil, It's Content. Biological properties of soil, The organisms that live in Soil. Soil houses trillions and trillions of micro-organisms and there is also a whole soil food web.

1. Soil Physics

The soil has structure and structure is extremely critical for plants to live and thrive. The very reason to not plow the soil is simple. Plowing destroys soil structure. So once you made your garden bed (typical 4ftx20ft) or farm beds (4ftx100ft), GET RID of that rototiller and soil disc.

Shown below is what makes the structure of the soil. Bacteria in the soil produce glues that hold Sand, silt, clay, organic matter together to form micro-aggregates and macro-aggregates are formed by fungal networks in the soil binding micro-aggregates together. When aggregates form, you can picture it like irregularly shaped objects held in a Glass Jar. There will be a lot of space in between these objects. So micro and macro-aggregates help move the water in the soil up as well as down. Also, water stores very well in those pore spaces created by aggregates. So the water holding capacity of the soil increases rapidly as aggregates are formed in the soil You can encourage aggregates formation by ensuring all of these actions below.

  1. Do not plow the soil and destroy the aggregates. plowing also creates hardpan. plowing also kills microbes and destroys the soil food web. plowing also oxidizes carbon and nitrogen in the soil to release carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide into the air and both of them are greenhouse gases. plowing all over the world today contributes to more than 25 percentage of greenhouse gas generation. people blame fuel emissions only. farming is quite destructive in terms of the way it's practiced today. So JUST DON’T Plow at all. No-plowing leads to rapid carbon sequestration by soil. Humans produce 9 gigatons of carbon annually. The ocean can recycle an extra 3 gigatons of carbon, the soils of the Earth, on the other hand, can hold more than 2000 gigatons of carbon. The steady rise of CO2 in our atmosphere is less due to overproduction, and much more the result of the killing of our soils and water systems with chemical agriculture and plowing. For thousands of years, a diverse spectrum of cultures has been looking to plants for the medicine that would heal us. But what if there is a more profound medicine for health in the soil? And how could it be any other way? Really, if you look at the way that biology happens, the soil is the crossroads of freshwater and microbiome-delivered nutrient delivery that is the foundation for all multi-cellular life. We have destroyed an estimated 97% of native agricultural soils around the world in the last 50 years. To regenerate the soil is to regenerate human life and reverse our self-engineered earth extinction.
  2. Add organic matter to the soil in the form of well-aged organic compost.
  3. Keep adding native soil organisms to the soil and increase the biodiversity of the soil.
  4. Mulch the soil always and prevent Sun and rain damage to the soil.
  5. Do not pull plants from the soil. Instead cut the plants at soil level and allow roots to rot beneath the soil and become food for the soil food web.

Once you follow the above rules carefully, you will notice that nature simply takes over soil and makes it richer and richer with time. So you can now get a clue here on why soils in forests are rich and support a lot of animals birds and insects and plenty of organisms in the forest. We do not use a tractor inside the forest. That is why.

At Mapletree farms, we follow all the 5 rules above. We add 80 tons of compost a year in the first two years because we have to bring the soil back from its depleted state to the original pristine state quickly for the soil to become productive. A forest takes 100 years to make 1 inch of new topsoil. At Mapletree we make 5 inches of topsoil in two years by accelerating mulching of soil with well-made compost. Once the soil reaches its peak conditions, there is really no need to keep adding much to it. We just need to test the soil every year and make a few adjustments to maintain ideal growing conditions for plants.

Pictorial representation of Micro-aggregate with Sand Silt Clay Organic Matter all bound by glues secreted by Bacteria
Pictorial view of Multiple micro-aggregates creating pore spaces between each other as aggregates are formed
Pictorial view of Fungal networks (mycelium) binding micro-aggregates to form macro-aggregates
The root zone of plant increases and water holding capacity of the soil improves as structure improves
Pictorial view showing compaction layers (hardpan caused by rototiller) preventing both root and water to penetrate the compaction layer and the roots grow sideways and give poor yields.

2. Soil Chemistry

You must have learned that the list below is needed to grow plants. I want you to question this deeply.

Micro and Macronutrients needed by plants as per theories.

If you agree “we are what we eat” then read this below to start questioning the theory that the above nutrients are sufficient for plants.

Cobalt is missing in the above theory used by water-based growing systems like hydroponics and aquaponics.

Cobalt is the trace element co-factor in vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin), its only known use in humans. Cobalt is only needed at parts per million — a tiny speck that fits on a pinhead. Yet, without cobalt in B12, your body can’t make adequate red blood cells, and red cells it makes are swollen, enlarged, and weakly attract oxygen. Without B12, nerves have less ability to transmit energy, causing numbness. Without a microgram of cobalt, DNA replication into messenger RNA slows, and key protein synthesis can slow, even halt. Without a speck of one element, key pineal and pituitary hormones aren’t made. Without a few micrograms of cobalt, you’re a corpse.

The medical reality of one Trace Element nutrient is so well known that all table salt (except sea salt) is “iodized.” Iodine is added to commercial salt because it is documented science that iodine deficiency results in birth defects affecting the brain, mental development, and the thyroid. Inadequate iodine is a proven cause of thyroid hormone deficiency. Iodine deficiency disrupts neurologic and endocrine hormones, while excess is still a common medical disinfectant.

Iodine, Cobalt, Silicon, Selenium, Fluorine, Chromium, Vanadium, Germanium, Tin, and Lithium are all trace elements that are part of the soil and in some way has some importance in the functioning of the human body. There may be more in the soil. How the plants utilize them and how microbes feed these minerals to the plants is part of the secrets of the soil that has evolved over billions of years. Plants, animals, mammals have all evolved with the Soil and the bond cannot be broken with growing food in the water.

Also, please note that soil is the delivery system for constant supply of microbes to our gut microbiome. Our gut microbiome and soil microbiome have evolved together. We must eat from soil to retain our gut health because lack of gut health is clearly linked to auto-immune diseases, depression, cancer, autism and inflammation response in the body. Our gut is also called the second brain of the human body and its called the enteric nervous system. Soil microbiome and gut microbiome are deeply correlated. So do not eat water grown product. Nobody knows what such food will do to you.

AZOMITE is a natural mineral substance that is mined directly from its Utah desert source. OMRI-Listed for organic production, AZOMITE can be used as an agricultural fertilizer and/or soil amendment product, It is easy and safe to use and good for the environment. Please see an example analysis of what it contains. Soil organisms consume these ingredients and feed it to plants growing in soil.

Plants, through their roots, take in water and minerals from the soil to transform into protoplasm and cells. The mineral elements must be in the soil for plants to get them. And the minerals must be in plants for animals to get them. If any essential element isn’t in the soil, then it must be imported from elsewhere and added to the soil, or else biology suffers a deficit.

So, these elements and minerals are gotten from the rocks of the planet — geology of the Earth. Varied chemical and biological processes transform an inert rock into living biology. Most minerals are digested by microbes, which nurse the roots of plants, which become food for animals. Thus, a stone becomes bone, flesh, and skin of animals.

Most of the biology depends on this disassembly, dissolution, and decay of rocks into soil. Most of all, it is bacteria and fungi that digest minerals in cellular protoplasm, and thus build the fundamental molecules of life. It begins with water, heat, and cold etching and weathering the bare rocks. Eventually, lichen, moss and tiny, simple life forms encrust the stones to slowing dissolve and digest the minerals into replicas of themselves. In their death, their bodies become food for the next cycle of the soil food web that sustains most of the life on Earth. So, the soil is a living matrix to turn minerals into organisms.

3. Soil Biology

The biology in the soil can be understood by going deeper into the soil food web. The pictures below illustrate the soil food web.

Soil organisms population per gram of soil and per square feet of soil

Countless research has been done to make good compost and so many great farmers and soil scientists including the recent World Food Price winner, Dr. Rattan Lal has highlighted the need to build soils and restore out soils to restore the health of society. You can read that paper here. He won the World Food Price for developing and mainstreaming a soil-centric approach to increasing food production that conserves natural resources and mitigates climate change. His research diverged from the conventional 1970s soil fertility strategy of heavy reliance on commercial fertilizers. His research led a better understanding of how no-till farming, cover crops, crop residues, mulching, and agroforestry can restore degraded soils, increasing organic matter by sequestering atmospheric carbon in the soil, and help combat rising carbon dioxide levels in the air.

Without the above healthy population of soil life in our agricultural soils, we are at the risk of eating nutrition depleted food growing in poor soils. Although this food is called organic and you pay high prices for that food, you will still have hidden hunger for nutrients, and that in turn makes the body sick and vulnerable to disease. Soils must have a minimum of 2% Soil Organic Carbon and minimum 4% Soil Organic Matter to be called healthy. Soil Organic Carbon is 58% of Soil Organic Matter.

Today in Southern India, the soil organic carbon measurements clearly show deteriorating soil conditions, and it's very hard to grow nutrition-rich organic food in such soil and such soils require a lot of investments per acre to recover their lost fertility. The following pictures show the soil condition in Ramnagara and Tumkur districts as just an example of the state of soils in India (as measured by the Indian Institute of soil science, Bhopal) recently.

In this blog, we covered the need to learn practical farming from successful practitioners and how to evaluate farms. Also, we covered the understanding of Soils in terms of Physics, Chemistry, and Biology. In the next blog, I will cover more on the rules of farming.

  • Shankar, Lead Farmer, and CEO at Mapletree farms.

Credits for this Blog go to

Dr. Rattan Lal, Professor of soil sciences, Ohio State University, World Food Prize winner.

Eliot Coleman, Farmer author, and teacher. Farming Elder.

John Jeavons, GrowBiointensive.

Dr. Elaine Ingham, World famous Soil Biologist.

Matthew Engelhart, Farmer, Farming Elder, BeLove farm, Founder Cafe Gratitude and Gracias Madre (Plant-based vegan restaurants) & My early mentor.

Dr. Zach Bush, MD. Triple Board certified. Internationally recognized educator and thought leader on the microbiome as it relates to health, disease, and food systems.



Shankar Venkataraman

Farmer, author, farming teacher, public speaker. Areas of Agriculture and technology in Agriculture.