Hakka Farming: Natural Pest Control and Fertilisation of the Land


Original Chinese Language Article By: http://www.mz186.com

(Translated by Adrian Chan-Wyles PhD)

After the autumn harvest, the rural Hakka farming people allow the irrigated fields to be exposed to the autumn sunshine.  This serves two distinct purposes 1) the sun scorches the dead roots of the rice plants, and in so doing, clears the area of vermin and pests, and 2) as the earth is dried by the sun, it cracks and loosens.   The Hakka farmers then wait until the passing of autumn and the arrival of early winter, when the fields become exposed to frost.  At this time, the Hakka farmers irrigate the fields with a relatively small volume of water, so that the top soil is moistened.  This is preparation for the old Hakka farming methods of ploughing the frosty fields and then burning specially constructed grass-kilns across the land.

At this time, the Hakka farmers use the oxen to plough the field and turn the top soil.  This is called ‘ploughing the frosty field’, but it is not a haphazard affair, but rather the application of a specific ploughing technique.  This ploughing process begins two meters in from the edge of the field (to create walkways), and a furrow is made (travelling in the same direction) following the line of the edge of the field.  As the earth is churned-up and turned inside out, the furrow resembles the shape of the Chinese ideogram ‘八’ (Ba), or ‘eight’.  This is why this process is referred to as ‘opening the eight ideogram’ (开八字 – Kai Ba Zi).  When the end of the field is reached, the plough and oxen are turned around and are headed back in the opposite direction, opening a new furrow.  This process continues until all the field is ploughed, despite the fact that the oxen become very tired through the exertion needed for this labour-intensive process.  The ground is hard and difficult to plough the required ‘eight ideogram’ shaped furrows, as the oxen have to first ‘break’ the ground, and then ‘turn’ the ground properly.  This means that each furrow may well have to be ploughed more than once, until the entire field is fully cultivated (and all the footprints of the oxen and human are covered over).

Ploughing frost-covered fields is a great undertaking because the ground is hard and uneven.  This requires great mastery on behalf of the Hakka farmer who intuitively knows how to lead and guide the oxen through this difficult task, as it is important to understand that the oxen cannot be ‘forced’ in anyway.  Using unwarranted force would waste the available energy for this difficult task of both human and ox.  This means that the entire human – ox interaction, and the ploughing process itself, must be of a ‘naturally’ relaxed and co-ordinated manner.  The oxen will walk in a straight line just as long as the Hakka farmer keeps his hands on the plough-handles (as this reassures and guides the ox).  When uneven mounds of earth are encountered, the Hakka farmer assists the ox by pushing the plough (with the hands and occasionally with a foot) into the contours of the land.  As the ox understands this process, it is willing to pull the plough up and down the field until all the uneven mounds are fully ‘turned’.  At the end of one furrow, the Hakka farmer lifts-up (and carries) the plough while the ox turns around, and only lowers it back on the ground once the ox is in place.  This helps the ox conserve valuable energy.

Ploughing frost covered fields is known in rural China as ‘fighting with the earth’.  It is also referred to as using a ‘double surface of frost’ for eradicating harmful insects from attacking any future crops.  This is achieved by turning the frozen top-soil so that it is driven into the lower levels of the earth (effectively creating ‘two’ levels of frosted earth – that which is still exposed to the sky – and that which is now hidden under the surface) – where insects lay their eggs.  The presence of frost under the ground kills-off these eggs and limits or prevents the danger of any future infestation.  It also allows for the earth to become loosened.  For these reasons, there is a rural saying in China which states ‘By fighting the earth and turning the frost, a full warehouse of grain is guaranteed next year!’

After ploughing the frost-covered fields, the land is left to be exposed to sunlight.  This process dries-out the area, making it unattractive to pests and vermin.  After this, people gather and dry bundles of grass from the mountains.  These are used to build kiln-like structures placed regularly across the open field.  Often they are filled with all kinds of organic (dried) material.  The dried grass is spread all over the field with the use of a five-prong, iron rake.  This also mixes the grass with the top-soil.  However, a large mound of grass is also maintained about every two meters around the field – which serve as rudimentary field kilns.

The kilns are arranged in rows across the field, and in the evening they are lit and continue to burn (from the inside out) throughout the night and into the next day (eventually burning all the grass across the entire top-soil).  The following morning, smoke can still be seen all over the field.  The objectives of this method are as follows:

1) The burnt grass serves as an organic fertiliser.

2) The burning process ‘loosens’ the soil.

3) The burning process eradicates any pests that may have survived the ploughing of the frosted-field.

These methods are preserved within traditional Hakka farming methods that can still be seen in some remote, and mountainous areas of rural China today, despite the fact that many farmers now make use of modern technology.  Without a doubt these techniques described above, may be rightly considered natural methods for pest control and eradication, and for fertilising the soil to ensure good crop yield.

©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2016.

Original Chinese Language Source Article:









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