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Permaculture in Kerala - My Quest to create an Edible Forest Garden

 
Posts: 4
Location: Kerala, India
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Greetings to all the wonderful Permies in this forum. This is my first post.

I am a recent convert to Permaculture. 3 months back I hadn't even heard of this word. Since September 2019, I have been gradually drawn into gardening and subsequently into farming. I started with a single rose plant purchased from a local nursery. When the rose plant didn't do well, I used the internet and YouTube to gather information on rose plant care. One thing led to another and before long I got to know about container gardening, no-till farming, permaculture, and natural farming.

My family consisted of farmers till about 2 generations back. My father was a government employee and dabbled in Farming post his retirement. I worked for 10 years in a bank and the next 15 years in an IT firm. I live and work in Kochi in a small home in 3.4 cents of land.

I have 1.1 acres of farmland in Narakathany, Pathanamthitta, Kerala, India. This plot is about 100 km from Kochi, which is a major city in the southern state of Kerala. The climate is tropical and it's hot and humid most of the time. The annual highlight related to climate is the monsoon for 3 months when it is cool and wet.

I plan to create an edible forest garden on the farm, using permaculture principles.  The farm is terraced along contour lines. As far backward in time, that I can remember, we had rubber trees on our farm and rubber latex tapping was the prime income. That must be at least 50 years of rubber as a crop. Since rubber prices were unremunerative for the past few years, we hadn't been actively harvesting the latex. We haven't applied fertilizers of any sort for the past 10 years or so. In March 2019 we harvested all the rubber trees and haven't replanted anything. Over the last 10 months, weeds and brush have taken over the farm and stand at a height of 8 to 10 feet.

I have started out clearing the brush in 3 terraces. I haven't measured the area, but I estimate this to be about 0.15 acres. I have spread the cleared brush as mulch. It will be hot with intermittent showers till the end of May. In June the glorious monsoon will arrive. I plan to plant pigeon pea as a pioneer crop around June. My constraint is that I will be able to visit the far only twice in a month. The other constraint is money. I am tightfisted and do not like the idea of spending too much money as an initial investment.

My objective is to build up the soil over the next 2 years by continuous mulching, using nitrogen-fixing legumes as a cover crop. I do not intend to set up irrigation systems. By adding organic material over a period of time and by digging ponds, I aim to increase the water-retentive capacity of the farm.

My objectives in joining this forum are:

1. Use the incredible experience of all the permies in this forum as a great learning resource.
2. I will appreciate any guidance customized for the climate of Kerala.
3. To log and record my experiments, so that others can learn from my successes and failures.
4. To connect with a wonderful set of people and be a part of this exciting movement


 
gardener
Posts: 1202
Location: South of Capricorn
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Welcome to Permies, Biju.
Do you have any interesting weeds that are already growing that could be used? And what kind of nitrogen fixers do you have access to?
 
Biju Bhaskar
Posts: 4
Location: Kerala, India
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Tereza Okava wrote:Welcome to Permies, Biju.
Do you have any interesting weeds that are already growing that could be used? And what kind of nitrogen fixers do you have access to?



Thanks, Tereza for the warm welcome!

I have used weeds that are growing in situ. The weeds I have used in chop and drop manner are Soapbush / Koster's curse (Clidemia hirta), Siam weed (Chromolaena odorata) and other assorted small plants that I haven't cataloged yet. Siam weed is known as "Communist Pacha" in Malayalam which is the language used in Kerala. "Pacha" means green in malayalam.

Commonly growing nitrogen fixing trees that would be easy to propogate in my locale are Gliricidia sepium and Erythrina indica. However these are not food growing trees. For edible purposes, I plan to use pigeon pea and other beans.
 
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Hello Biju,

There is not much I know about permaculture in your climate, but two years ago I visited a permaculture farm in Mandrem Goa, with Vijay, a friend from Kerala. An old Goan man showed us around, he was very friendly and kind, like so many people in your wonderful country. It was a nice experience to walk into that food forest, and be suddenly away from all the people and noise. The forest canopy was mostly coconut palm, there were a lot of casew trees, with pepper plants as climbers, ananas, turmeric and many other things as herb layer. For sure there were many other species, they also have some animals.

After the walk, the man invited us into his house, and offered us some sweet rice. There is a little shop where they sell some of their produce. I bought a kg dried black pepper, nutmeg and turmeric, all for very reasonable prices. I am still enjoying those spices daily in my kitchen.

I really hope permaculture will be discovered by many more people in India. It would make such a difference. The very bad air quality in Delhi recently, according to the newspapers it was the farmers to blame, because they use to burn the fields after harvest. Like that there is no mulch left! Everywhere bare dry soil.. Or well, plastic mulch (rubbish).. I had the impression the awareness about environmental issues is growing in India, but maybe the amount of organic shops is an reflection of the growing middle class, in India, I dont know.

 
Biju Bhaskar
Posts: 4
Location: Kerala, India
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I don't think awareness about permaculture is growing fast enough in India. Every year farmers in Punjab and Haryana burn their stubble after harvesting, leading to heavy pollution in Delhi. Reading the discourse in the media it seems there is no solution to this.

I wasn't aware about no-till farming or mulching the soil with organic matter till about 2 months ago, and that too because I was actively hunting for information. Agriculture has moved away from mainstream discourse in the print, visual or social media and the only time the mainstream pays attention is when pollution peaks in Delhi or when the count of suicides by farmers breaches a new record.

It seems we need to see the bottom of the trough, before better sense prevails and we return to sustainable forms of living.

Thanks for your mention of Goa. Goa crops up in my search for Permaculture in India.

However, I am sure there are many farmers in Kerala who practice natural farming without even being aware of Permaculture as a practice. I will keep my eyes open and as and when I locate them, I will try to incorporate their experiences and learnings here.


 
pollinator
Posts: 172
Location: Pyrenees Mountains, South of France
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Hi Biju,

Welcome to permies. I don't know if that would be of any use to you, but the founder of the website (see the link below) has been campaigning against Monsanto and trying to teach Indian farmers to grow organically.  She's established 112 seed banks in 18 states of India and I think one of those is in Kerala.  At any rate, it makes for interesting reading.


http://www.navdanya.org/news/180-vandana-shiva-on-seed-saving
 
Biju Bhaskar
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Location: Kerala, India
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Thanks for the welcome Olga. Let me check out your suggestion
 
What's brown and sticky? ... a stick. Or a tiny ad.
Permaculture Voices 1, 2 and 3 - all 117 hours of video!
https://permies.com/t/voices123
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