- Manisha Lath Gupta
Permaculture Design: Fields in a Forest
Updated: Apr 12, 2021
In permaculture, there is a lot of emphasis on planting trees. In fact, we have planted 300-500 trees per acre at Aanandaa. So the main question we are asked is that if you plant trees everywhere, where will you grow your crops (de kheti)? Well, most people do not know that other than grasses like wheat, paddy, millets and corn, all other crops can be grown in clearings under the forest. But the advantage of growing a forest in the first place is that it reclaims the earth, gives back a lot of biomass, helps hold the moisture in the soil, fixes nitrogen and builds back its fertility.
For the last many years, we have left a lot of area at Aanandaa as a wild zone, with only fruit and native trees planted on it. We have practiced chop & drop and allowed all the biomass to return back to the soil. Now, after so many years, thanks to the lockdown we are finding the time to clear our these forests, design the gardens and bring them into managed cultivation. Here we give you a glimpse into two of the gardens we recently created, and perhaps you can take a clue from these and design some gardens of your own.
We had planted a grove of guavas in about 1/8th of an acre area. The area also has pears, lemons, bay leaf and jackfruit, in addition to the heritage date palms. In 2011, we had planted all these trees and pretty much forgotten about the area. When we decided to clear up the forest and plant some crops here, it took us a few days to clear up the grass manually. Then we marked out the various terraced plots based on the slopes of the land, and marked out 6 papaya circles on the periphery. We also identified empty spaces where we could plant more trees, and added 2 Mango and 2 Moringa trees to the mix. Finally, we sowed a mix of Sesame (Til) and Horse gram (Kulthi) in the terraced plots. This guava orchard is now a pleasure to walk through.
2. Frangipani Terrace
Just behind our Frangipani pond, is a reclaimed piece of land. This land was reclaimed by filling up a ravine with the soil excavated during the pond digging in 2012. After reclaiming it, we had planted over 75 native & flowering trees on this area like frangipani, banyan, bottlebrush, Gulmohar, oleander and many more. Over the years we have trimmed the trees, but nothing else. 8 years later, we decided to take it into managed cultivation, and started by clearing out the land of its grass. Once the land was cleared we could immediately see the slopes, and with the help of some wooden pegs and ropes, we marked out the natural terraces emerging from the landscape. We also left a walking path adjacent to the chicken coop, and kept the heavily shaded area out of this plan. Within a few days, we had manually made the new terraces, add some moringa trees to the empty spaces, and planted Blak gram (Urad dal) and Cotton (Kapaas) in the newly minted terraces! Look how beautiful this area is looking now!
So the next time someone tells you that nothing can grow under trees, please ask them to visit Aanandaa and see for themselves!