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Three days ago, I wrote a post about my visit to Kuzhitura Farm. In it, I showed some tubs that were buried in the ground. I said they were being used to collect water. A friend of mine from Seattle asked me to give her more information about the new water catchment method. When I thought about it some more, I realized I had made an assumption that was probably wrong; while the tubs could hold rain-water, they weren’t big enough to provide much of a water source for a farm that size.
Yesterday, I had a chance to talk to an Amritapuri friend who works at that farm. She told me that the water catching system they have used for the last few years didn’t work well. The old system looked like this:
While the plastic did catch some water, it turned into a pond for turtles instead of a way to store water. The devotees who take care of this farm often found turtle eggs in it.
It was not a suitable home for the turtles or their eggs, however. It is hot here and many months there is little to no rain. During those times, the pond dries up. The staff decided to build homes for the turtles that would be more sustainable. Soon they will live in the tubs!
On Wednesday, I went to Kuzhitura Farm. The farm is a 20 to 30 minute walk south of the ashram. I think I have visited it for five years straight.
When I walked onto the land, I saw two friends weeding a tulasi and basil field.
My attention was then pulled to a form of “spinach” I was introduced to last December. It is so tender and can be eaten either raw or cooked. I loved it so much that I found some seeds in the U.S. and planted them, but they didn’t sprout. I’m going to try again this year even though it probably doesn’t get hot enough in Seattle to grow that type of spinach.
Over the years, the devotees who have worked at this farm have tried various ways of catching and storing water. They had a new method this year. [Note: I was wrong about these tubs being used to catch water. Read I Was Wrong for an update!]
I saw so many beautiful flowers. (Click on any of the galleries to enlarge the photos.)
In the middle of the property, there was an Amma altar…
… and many other beautiful and interesting sights. Everything grows so fast in the tropics. Some plants that were a foot tall last year or the year before have grown to a height of five feet.
I saw butterflies, birds, and a dragonfly. I tried to take photos to show you but they all moved too fast, so I gave up and looked at them for myself. When I took the time to observe them, I noticed there were at least a dozen types of butterflies. The colors and markings on their bodies were exquisite. Maybe some day you will come here and see them for yourselves!
To read the previous posts in this series click here.
On January 8th, I visited one of the oldest gardens in Amritapuri. While it is known as Amma’s Vrindavan Tulasi Field, it has become so much more.
In the early years, growing tulasi was the main focus. Then, the volunteers who worked at the farm discovered that Rudraksha trees were scattered around the property. Rudraksha seeds are considered sacred in India so they started harvesting the seeds and planting more of the trees. They also began growing vegetables and other plants.
Farming on that property has been such a struggle over the years. Among the problems they faced were lack of water, poor soil, and bugs. When I visited the farm last year, what I saw took my breath away. It had turned into paradise. (To see photos of last year’s visit, click here.)
When I went there this year, I was amazed by all the new projects that were underway. The first thing I noticed was an irrigation system that was under construction. I thought about all the years they have watered using small hoses. What a difference the irrigation system will make.
Then I noticed all of the raised beds. I was told that when there are heavy rains, the farm floods. With raised beds, the plants will be higher than the water. Several swales have been constructed to drain off the flood waters, but the photos I took of those ended up looking like flat ground, so I didn’t use them.
There is a big pond on the property. The plants that are growing in the pond are used for mulching. I saw, and talked to, volunteers who were constructing stairs that will go into the pond to make harvesting those plants easier.
There are rudraksha trees on several parts of the property. They are easy to spot because their trunks have all been painted white. Next year I will ask why they do that!
The numerous tulasi fields are thriving.
Many fruits and vegetables grow on the property.
I was surprised by the many varieties of eggplant. Later, I saw a bright yellow eggplant at Saraswati Garden but it was on the phone I lost on my last day at the ashram so you will have to use your imagination to see that one. I was particularly fascinated by the eggplant that looked like an egg!
The plant below is called Lakshmi Taru, The Paradise Tree, The Tree of Heaven, Simarouba or Simaroubaceae. It is a medicinal tree that has been used to treat dysentery, malaria, cardiac palpitations, asthma and epilepsy. It may have a role in cancer treatment.
I was intrigued by this flower.
Later, I learned it is a Sita Ashoka flower. Ashoka means “without sorrow”. Hindus believe that Sita, wife of Lord Rama, sat in a grove of Ashoka trees after she was abducted by the evil Ravana. Buddhists believe that Lord Buddha was born under an Ashoka tree.
I found this photo of an Ashoka tree on Wikimedia.
I will leave you with some final images of Amma’s wonderful Vrindavan Tulasi Field.
Two weeks ago I took photos of a garden in Maltby, a town northeast of Seattle. I had seen the garden soon after it was started in May and the transformation is remarkable. Seeing and walking through it has certainly inspired me.
(Click gallery to enlarge photos)
One of my goals for the last week of my trip was to visit the garden/farm south of the ashram as well as the one across the bridge near Amma’s Amrita School of Ayurveda. The land in both places is very dry, and water is scarce, so developing the gardens has been a process of trial and error over many years. This year the change was mind-boggling. In both places, I felt like I was walking into paradise. This post will be dedicated to the garden south of the ashram which is now called Kuzhitura Farm.
When I visited this farm last year, I had learned that they were focusing on using permaculture techniques. One of those techniques was the banana circle. I still remember how shocked I was when I researched bananas and banana circles later and learned that banana palms are not trees, they are actually considered a grass! (Banana Circles in Amritapuri).
When Premarupa and I arrived at the farm this year, I was struck by how different it looked. It is amazing how fast trees and plants grow in the tropics. While there are vegetables growing throughout the area, the big vegetable garden I remembered from the previous year wasn’t even in the same place. My guess is the trees and banana palms had grown so big that there was no longer enough sunlight in the original area. There is now a garden that is about triple the size of the previous one a distance away.
Here are pictures of the farm this year.
(Click to enlarge pictures)
This property is also now home to Amritapuri’s food composting and vermi-composting (worm composting) centers. I will share more about those projects in the next post.
When I visited Amma’s ashram in Amritapuri, India in December 2014/January 2015, I was fascinated by the banana circles that were located in one of the ashram gardens. Banana circles are a permaculture technique that is most often used in tropical and subtropical regions. They help create humus and water retention where soils are either sandy or heavy clay.
I found this description of banana circles:
“Papaya, banana and coconut circles are developed by digging pits up to two meters in diameter (for papaya and banana – 3 m for coconut) and approximately 1 meter deep. They are then filled with dampened, compacted organic material to a height of 1 meter above ground. Up to seven plants of the appropriate type are then grown on the rim of the pit. Taro or other moisture loving plants may be grown in the inside edge, as sweet potato along the outside edge to provide a living ground cover and mulch, as well as additional food production.”
Banana circles also are a way to compost organic materials, produce food, and utilize grey water. They are filled with microorganisms.
I learned something else in researching this topic. I always thought bananas grew on trees. It turns out that banana palms aren’t trees, they are plants. I was even more surprised when I read the following information from The Permaculture Research Institute:
Did you know that banana palms are actually a grass? Also, each plant only gives fruit once, so after you have cut the bunch of bananas down you can remove the whole plant at ground level. By this time, there should be new suckers coming up — only allow a couple of these to grow, as too many will make your bananas overcrowded and they won’t fruit well.
When I first looked at the banana palms in Amritapuri, I was astounded by how fast they grow. The first picture below was taken on the day the palm was planted. The second and third pictures are of banana palms three or four days after they were planted.
Here are some other pictures of the Amritapuri Banana Circles.
For more information:
Originally written for PNW Green Friends Newsletter, Issue 44, March 2015
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