Hands on Permaculture

Dryland farming with microbe innoculation, no-till and multicropping to restore ecosystems.

Month: July 2014

Amla orchard and the goats.

Baby John is the farmer who owns 100 acres of land about 70 of which is already in various orchards.  they have a sustainable agriculture history here in India which they have mainly abandoned in favor of the green revolution , monoculture and chemicals.   On this farm all the orchards are monocropped trees, with some other fruit and neem and teak trees. 
He wants me to help him turn them into food forests — what they call plantations hereabouts — meaning to interplant with other trees, especially nitrogen fixing trees and trees that like some shade, like pomegranite and limes, along with fruit, vegetables and medicinal herbs.  when it is all done there will be no need for fertilizer and with less watering and not watering inside the drip line hopefully no more disease and insects.  such a blessed responsibility for me to take this on.  i will also get the right to use this as my demonstration site, profit sharing and he will even build huts for folks to come and study here.
The family has quite a high end house, which like  all houses that i have seen in india are open to the surroundings.  i believe the idea is that the lizards on the walls eat the mosquitos and such like, also good for ventilation to have things open.  i have been living here for almost a month.  my room overlooks coconut trees and a about an acre field of grapes as well as flowering trees. i hear bird sounds all day long.
The night before i arrived, a mother goat who had just birthed 2 babies died.  the baby goats have been under my care as well as a mother goat and the goat herd.    they are just darling, they are small size goats will probably only grow to 2 feet tall, now they are one foot tall. i get to feed them a bottle of milk morning and evening.
Gere is a story about the amla orchard and the goats.
There are maybe 1000 omla trees here.  Omla trees are also called Indian gooseberry.  the only resemblance to our gooseberries that i can see is that they look like a gooseberry.   Baby John  and i have discussed planting limes and moringa, a nitrogen fixing tree (with amazing healing properties, as in cures aids), vegetables, fruits and medicinals in amongst them to create what i call a food forest and plantation seems to be the name for this kind of thing here.
i wanted to measure the distance between the trees to see how much room i had for new items and figure out a pattern of how to plant them.  i decided to take the baby goats along with me. every morning a goat herd takes the big goats somewhere for a walkabout. this morning they were out in the omla orchard.  so i let the babies go play with them, something i had been wanting to do as i thought they needed goats to show them how to eat real food.  they are about 15 days old now and it is time for learning to graze. 
on the way out to the omla orchard the baby goats were very happy leaping up on all fours, dancing and prancing. 
sure enough the mama goat who has been sleeping with them took them over and they spent maybe an hour foraging.  she was a little upset with me for taking them away from her, but the goat herd was not happy with them being there, have to find out what was going on about that.
he had a knife with him, so maybe there is a snake threat.
i had a concern afterwards that me taking them out so far away was not a good idea as small young animals are the perfect prey.  and i did some wariness about how to protect them from snakes.  i have only seen 2 snakes here but they were both 3 inches thick and although i could see 3 feet of length, i could not see the end of the snake.   today i figured out that maybe i could take some of the dogs with me so they would scare off the snakes.
something sweet  happened this morning.  after that excursion the girl baby goat has not been drinking her milk and is sickly.  i had her on my lap giving her a healing when she turned her head up and put it  on my belly and gave me a soulful look.   i was already in love. . . . they are so cute.  this are just about one foot high and tiny everything.
there are lots of lovely bird sounds and mountains in the distance everywhere i look. the down side is it is too hot for me except in the very early mornings and so i am not very motivated to work outside.
i am trying to work with myself, checking in with my inner linnette (a good friend) who tells me it is okay to not push myself. the inner charlotte says that if i push myself i will get used to it, but the body just says no.
the good news is that once the monsoon comes the temperature will be 10-15 degrees cooler than the current 100 degrees and hopefully that  will work for me. It is fortunately not usually humid.
i want to recommend this video about a wife and husband team that planted 4000 acres of trees in sand dunes over 28 years.  quite moving.

Breakthroughs, Santhom Farm, Shileigh School

Finally a break through
I have found 2 serious farming people who want to play with me.  What do I mean by play.  Well we can share ideas and energize each other.  We can discuss things in ways that are playful and meaningful at once, etc.   One is a farmer who has more than 100 acres of land and wants my help to turn it into an organic paradise (food forest).  He already has acres of mango, cashew, coconut, omla, guava, and sapota trees and is interested in adding  medicinal herbs,  other trees especially nitrogen fixing ones, as well as vegetables and fruits to all of these orchards.  He like almost everyone else has limited water and mostly very sandy soil which does not hold water well so he is excited about doing anything where can have increased yields without increased water demand.   With all of these fully developed trees, we should have vibrant food forests within 2 years.   I also want to start on some of his empty farm land to do some reclamation work for the soil as a demonstration of what can be done.
The other person, Mohan, has a  government grant and has actually done water conservation on more than 15,000 acres.   He says they are getting more like 10 inches of rain a year here.   Up until 2 years ago they were getting 30 inches of rain a year.    His project has included  dry land farming with many, many  villages, thousands and thousands of people in the  areas and community projects with the farmers, and  the women in the area.  Total water shed water conservation for 4 different water sheds.  He has a farmer training school and is about 60 km from my farmers, so this means I can bring my farmers up here to see what he is doing.   I get a tour tomorrow of some of the villages and the water conservation projects.  There is a 35 year old water conservation project up in  Maharashtra  another Indian state which I have been trying to contact for months and he went up and studied with them and applied a lot of the techniques in my back yard. 
I am finally finding folks with nonhybrid seeds, for the trees and  vegetables.  hybrid here  means possible molecular gene splicing.    Most of the people with the old seeds are saving them themselves so it has been hard for me to find the farmers who are growing in the old ways.  Mainly the problem has been that I want to find seed companies to buy seeds from and in india you buy seed directly from the farmer.  With Mohan, (see below) I will have access to thousands of folks with small amounts of seeds.
Speaking of rain fall, I was reading about a wheat farmer in Eastern Washington who is doing dry land winter wheat with rain fall being down to 6 inches a year where he is.   He is one of many farmers doing this.  When he started he was getting 12 inches of rain a year.  Desertification is alive and well and permaculture is much needed.
I have a story about Pandi, my first farmer.  There was a stretch of time where the tree seeds he planted would have died and he did not choose to water them.  His version of watering is flood irrigation and he did not feel he had the water to spare to do that.  I went out and took ½ cup of water for each plant and watered the whole 2 acres in about 2 hours.  When several days later it had not rained, I went and did it again.   He was sure it would not work.  3 days later it rained and most of the trees made it. 
I have this belief that if you do everything that can be done, even when the situation looks undoable, the universe fills in the rest, as in this instance, raining.  One time when there was a drought in New Hampshire we sprayed 15 acres of vegetables with a back pack sprayer.  We sprayed about 2 gallons  per acre, once a week for the 2 month period when there was no rain.   The crops all did well, where as most of the farmers in the area lost their crops.  We did walk with consciousness as we sprayed and told the plants this was the best we could do for them.
Mohan for his demonstration farm here uses drip irrigation for his young trees.  He uses ½ hour of water 2 times a month, through a tiny drip tube, just enough to keep the trees alive.  The dry season where he is near Vethalagunda is more like 8-10 months.  They do not have the June, July monsoon that while is a lot less in Theni district than other parts of India is still some rain.   I think there is probably not a lot of difference between the water his trees get from his drip irrigation and my method of using the back pack sprayer and one does not have to buy and install all that plastic.
He has gotten some of the new hybrid trees from nurseries and seeds from the horticulture folks so does not have the water resilience that I expect to have from planting only from nonhybrid seed.  Now my idea is to plant mangoes and sapotas which are complicated genetic material trees (meaning  they have been messed with a lot by plant breeders).  I will plant hardy old variety seeds, especially trees known to do well in dry land situations, and then field graft them for the larger, tastier eating varieties.  This way I get the hardiness to dry land as I see it that the seeds getting direct connection to the land from birth will give us. 
I went off several days ago to visit an organic high school.  I thought they had 100 acres in crops which was not the case.  They may have 1/2 acre, I guess depending on how you count the tree crops.  They connected me with Mohan and the head of the Indian biodynamic association which I have been trying to contact for months.   The principal of the school also owns 60 acres of coconuts and mangoes not too far from Mohan’s place so am eager to learn what he is doing there.   It is all organic.
Connecting with folks in this local area is very valuable to me, because seeds here can be used by me and if anything where I am in Theni district is a less harsh climate so hope that seeds will do better there, of course I still need to check out soil types, alkaline, vs acid etc. all of which are mitigated by organic matter in the soil.
The school was in the most beautiful place I have visited in India.  The whole area   was really clean, no trash anywhere.   It is a lot cooler than Kumily, 70 during the day, maybe going to 60 at night.  Much better temperature for me.  Too cool for coconuts so very few growing there.  Kumily is actually too cool for coconuts but still ¼-1/5 of the  plantations have  coconuts.  The food forests looked empty to me without the coconuts.   One of my first views of the valley where the school is was a  plateau  down  below the trees, with a lot of vegetable farming going on similar to  what I have seen in the mountainous areas of Virginia.  The difference in India was that all the slopes going down to the valley and back up into the upper hills were covered with plantations.  These plantations had teak, jack fruit, eucalyptus and other forest trees for the necessary shade for the pepper and cardamom and medicinal herbs. There is a large organic  plantation about ½ way between the high lands where the school was and the lowlands where Mohan’s place is.  I hope to visit there next time I am in the area.
The school was off the grid, all solar panels and microhydro.  Lovely stone buildings everywhere.  They must have a good stone quarry nearby.  There were building a new auditorium when I was there and the stone builders were local Indians.
I do not know if I have mentioned that I will be doing permaculture tours of this area, (yes in my spare time).   I have been looking for organic spice plantations in Kumily and then will bring folks down to visit the farmers in Theni district and now to Mohan’s place.   There are a lot of foreign and Indian tourists in Kumily and I and Mohan as well are excited about folks seeing real food growing.  And of course my version of these eco tours will have a hands on component which Mohan agrees is the way to really learn something.
Another great image:  When I came off the high lands, I could see hills with scrub plants on it behind the coconut and other farm lands.  These hills looked just like Utah, barren.  And backing up to them all these luscious farm lands.   I had my camera but still do not know how to work it.  Will learn tomorrow for my watershed tour how to work my camera.
Related to all these breakthroughs:  Everyone tells me that things take time.   I do not think it is a matter of time.  Something releases and the desired shift can happen instantly, in this instance me and India meeting a bit.  I can often get this to happen almost instantly.  It seems when it takes time, there is something in me getting in the way, perhaps a believe of how things work.  When that finally softens, then the shift can happen. 



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