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In the past 30 years Indian agriculture has depleted groundwater resources so severely that NASA issues perpetual warnings to the government concerning inherent dangers to the population. The need to cycle water back to depleted aquifers has become a matter of life and death. But India is not alone in committing this error. The same dire situation can now be found in many parts of the world. Driven by a rise in population and irresponsible farming methods across the planet, groundwater depletion is quickly developing into a crisis of epic proportions.
But Permaculture can help...
In the photo above, a farmer from Ettimadai Village in Tamil Nadu walks his field in the dry season. While working here we counted 10 bore wells, each one 300 + meters deep...and all dry.
Morning on the farm
Farm Design in India
In 2013 the organization that John was working for at the time requested that he design and realize a demonstration farm in the Wet Tropics of south India.
The purpose of the site was threefold:
a) to function as a classroom for visiting farmers from rural villages
b) to help students from the local university discover agriculture
c) to demonstrate what was possible, on land located within a floodplain, when Natural Farming and Permaculture principles are applied
John holding a giant-sized banana "pup" ready for planting
At the beginning of the project the site was completely covered by thorny weeds which, using a Natural Farming technique, were almost entirely eliminated over the development of the farm.
Site covered by 'touch me not' prickly weeds
Cutting the weeds with a hand tool
Before and After
This video shows how we eliminated 90% of the prickly weeds
Everything demonstrated on the site needed to be easily reproducible in isolated villages where resources were very limited. For this reason, only hand tools were used and only materials readily available onsite or close by were employed in the building of soil and soil fertility. Water was pulled by a pump from the pond onsite.
Farming in a Floodplain
Shaping the site with hand tools
As the site was prone to flooding, the concept at the heart of all earthworks and water management became "dig down to build up". Practically speaking, this meant that, rather than importing loads of material from outside in order to build the site up, we simply dug down into the ground and used what was pulled out. In this way a series of paths, canals and raised beds were formed in the sand, shaped around two circular mandala gardens. These earth structures ensured that the crops would survive - slightly above the water line - in spite of the yearly flooding brought on by the monsoons.
Canals, paths and later the raised beds were mulched and planted with beans to build fertility
Baby ponds like this one helped to stretch water from the monsoon season to the dry season
The fastest way to get nutrient into the soil, without the use of chemicals and in the absence of compost, is to bury it. We call this 'lasagna' gardening, because of its layered composition. Beds in the mandala were opened, layers of green and brown material were placed inside, and then the beds were closed and planted.
This material breaks down within the soil and becomes food for the garden above
Mandala garden comprised of double-reach 'lasagna' raised beds
If the gardens had not been prepared in this way, it would have been impossible for these bottle gourds to reach maturity and develop properly. Sand alone does not contain enough nutrient to achieve this.
Soon after the plants took hold and yielded a very nice harvest. In spite of the inherent obstacles on this site, we had climate on our side. If you can set up the right situation, things grow very quickly and easily in the Tropics.
Another simple and cost-free method of amending poor soil quickly is a strategy called 'pit gardening'.
This video can teach you how to make a Banana Circle
Pit gardening finds its origins on the Canary Islands. In poor soils, rather than expending large quantities of material and energy in order to amend the soil within an entire area, pit gardening seeks to amend only the soil located at the central point of a circular planting.
John standing next to his first (small) banana circle
Same banana circle 9 months later
In addition to banana circles, it is possible to create papaya, coconut and bamboo circles. All benefit from the central pit, which serves as a source of compost as well as a water harvesting system.
Central pit of a bamboo circle after a strong rain. Mosquitoes are not a problem as the water in this pit will only stay for a day or two before being absorbed into the soil.
From India to Sicily
At the end of 2015, John met his wife while working at the site you see described above.
It was then that they decided to move to Sicily and create the demonstration site where they are currently located. But India will always hold a special place in their hearts. ❤️...
Do you live in the Tropics? Or in a floodplain?
Would you like John to design your land, or support you as a consultant?
Fill out the email here and he'll be happy to get back to you...
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