For more than a decade, Laxmi Nadendla was fond of the vegetables she grew in her own garden in Hyderabad. Being a nutritionist, she knew the importance of consuming home grown healthy food.
In 2013, when Laxmi got to know about a local non-profit, Aranya Agricultural Alternatives (AAA), she enrolled for a permaculture design course and learnt how to apply permaculture practices in urban spaces, such as a home garden (about 280 sq yards). She soon stopped using pesticides and depended heavily on organic compost. Today, her family gets 60-70 per cent of their vegetables from the garden in winters. In fact, last summers, some days the output was about 17 kilos of fruits and vegetables per day.
Permaculture, a concept which emerged in the 70s in Australia has three key concepts- Earth care, fair share and people care. While it was started by ecologists, it gradually found acceptance among both rural and urban dwellers. In India, permaculture is a rapidly growing movement and can be a huge benefit to most farmers.
When I visited Laxmi's home, I saw an allée near the entrance lush with trees, including silver oak. Trees are intrinsic to permaculture design (see links below). Apart from providing shade, they are a source of biomass as well. While the bamboo patch near the entrance has never been watered, it is always heavily mulched. This helps retain moisture in the soil. I also saw begonia, and hibiscus.
Medicinal plants such as, tulsi, aloe vera and lettuce are also grown. The front yard has pollinators, vegetables, herbs and spices, such as tapioca, sweet potatoes, string beans, tulsi, peppermint, green chillies, sorrel and two papaya trees.
The kitchen garden also grows ridge gourd, various types of spinach, turmeric, mint, moringa, potatoes, garlic, chives, and spring onions. There was a single harvest of Brussel sprouts. A varieties of tomatoes, ranging from wild to cherry are also grown in the middle of the garden. Papaya, mango, lime, custard apple and pomegranate trees too thrive here. In fact, the lime tree grew on its own. The huge banana plant, barely three-years, are fed by the recycled greywater from her kitchen. The centre of the banana tree has been mulched with coconut fibre.
Every 20 days, Laxmi usually adds compost and mulch around all the plants. Light mulching during monsoons and heavy mulching the rest of year is followed to preserve moisture in the ground. She waters the tree entrance allée every alternate day through drip irrigation and uses only 25 litres of water or one big bucket of water. She maintains two compost pits and a small drum of vermicompost.
Animals are also integrated on her property. At one point, she had 8 rabbits and 40 chickens. She fed the chickens millets, broken rice, flaxseeds and greens grown in the garden. To improve the food and health of the chickens, she applied Lactic Acid bacteria, a Korean natural farming method. The anaerobic microorganisms (obtained by washing rice with water and milk) help prevent diseases and also reduces smell. She would distribute the 20 eggs produced per day among her relatives, neighbours and friends. The birds and animals have passed on and now she plans to integrate new ones.
As a lead up to the 13th International Permaculture Convergence (IPC), Down To Earth presents a series of blogs on permaculture in India. Organised by Aranya Agricultural Alternatives, the IPC will be held in November 2017.