Friday, July 29, 2016

The Mahua Yatra comes to Native Place

A while ago i was talking to my friend Samiksha Agarwal who lives in the buffer zone of the Kanha National Park and she mentioned to me that she had a visitor over who was on a trip around the country visiting places where mahua grew, interacting with the local people sharing recipes on cooking mahua flowers and fruit in an attempt to revive the wild food foraging habits that are fast dwindling.

I was instantly intrigued -  Mahua is one of my favourite trees and although i was aware that alcohol was distilled from the flower  and until not long ago the villagers collected the seeds and expressed oil to use for cooking purposes,   I was not aware of it being used as food in our area.

A series of coincidences led to Aparna visiting us and putting Native Place and Kamshet on the Mahua Yatra Map  - but that’s a long story.

What I’d like to share with you here is that  we discovered that in one village in our area the tradition of  storing the fruit and eating it as a vegetable still persisted albeit by a few.

We had a wonderful two days of sharing recipes – Aparna introduced us to the art of cooking with Mahua and guided by Pasaba we showed her a few wild edible traditions in our area.

A wonderful time it was! The beginning of new food traditions,  a celebration of the forests and the abundance of nature.

The Mahua Yatra travels through 10 states  interacting  with farmers and tribal communities to learn and share and celebrate Mahua (Madhuca longifolia),the tree of life.

For more info on the Mahua tree click here 
For more pictures check out this the Native Place facebook album

Astrid Rao

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Palikade Permaculture Project – Water Harvesting & Soil Conservation (WH & SC)

 The Native Place guesthouse and garden is a labor of love that we have tended to since early 2000.  Today the garden comprises a delightfully diverse group of flora and fauna. a paradise for tree lovers and birders and everyone who loves  nature and gardening. It is exactly what we had envisioned it to be and more but being just an acre and a half in area we soon ran out of place to accommodate the plant palette (our wish list of trees).  Palikade, (an 18-acre plot of land in Thoran Village) that we acquired for this express purpose, is where we intend to manifest this dream. The vision is to develop Palikade as a self-sustaining farm & tropical food forest aimed at facilitating harmony amongst all stakeholders in the habitat (the birds, insects, microorganisms and other animals as well as us humans).

We were aware that it was very important to work on Water Harvesting & Soil Conservation (WH & SC) structures as a priority before planting trees on a large scale. These are also called ‘landforms’.  The land at ‘Palikade’ comprises two fairly flat areas of land divided by a huge gully running in between. The slopes and high rainfall combination in this region meant that significant soil and water was running off the land every monsoon. Also, rain is the only source of water on this land, so, the sooner we undertook the work on landforms, the lesser would be the loss of precious soil and greater the gains of water retention.

The Permaculture Design Course (PDC) that we attended in March 2016 gave us significant confidence with respect to the understanding of WH & SC. We undertook practical work at the PDC, designing and creating WH & SC structures like contour trenches, percolation tank, gully plugs and brushwood. Our two gardeners at Native Place, Anil & Eknath, attended two days of Water Harvesting sessions at the PDC and  thankfully they too learnt the basics and were able to support us in this effort.

Our journey of implementation started with inviting Narsanna to Palikade when he gave us some crucial inputs regarding WH & SC work. Thereafter, we invited Osman Baig, a watershed expert who we met during the PDC, to guide us with the location for different WH & SC structures. Osmanji, came in April for two days and helped us mark the area for a percolation tank, a pond, trenches & bunds and some gully plugs. We asked him plenty of questions so that we understood the logic of all his inputs.

Thereafter, we got down to detailed marking of all the structures on the land. We then did rough measurements around the entire land & drew out the plan and designs on paper. This helped us get greater clarity of the overall picture. The next step was actually making these structures with the help of a JCB and manual labor.

We also figured the details from local sources that annual rainfall in this area was about 2,500mm, number of rainy days was 82 and the highest rainfall in 24 hours was 176 mm. This helped us decide factors like the depth of the trenches to be dug and the distance at which contour trenches needed to be dug.

Some details about the structures are provided along with the individual pictures in this album. Need to specially mention here about the Percolation tank (PT) and pond. Part of this property (about 1 acre) is on the other side of a road, towards the South. It has high slope. At the bottom of this sub-plot, there is the possibility of accumulating water from a catchment of about 7 hectares. Hence a PT was created right there. The water that is likely to accumulate there is being routed to another pond on the farm, through a pipe running across & under the road. 

On his subsequent visit, Osmanji also identified the scope to route more water to the pond by creating a rainwater diversion trench. He also suggested developing a micro-pond in the Western side of the plot – this area was quite rocky and was sloping towards a small gully, which further met the main gully.

By end of May, we had completed all the landforms work. The structures we created have the capacity of holding about 34 lac liters of water at one time.

Capacity - Volume
About 1,200 running metres of deep trenches and bunds
1200 m3
12 lac litres
Percolation tank
350 m3
  3.5 lac litres
1700 m3
17 lac litres
Micro pond
100 m3
  1 lac litres
Staggered trench
14 m3
14,000 litres
Capacity / Volume(approx.)
33.64 lac litres

Simultaneously, in April & May, we were working on designing the plantation on these WH & SC structures, collecting seeds directly from trees & from friends & networks, growing saplings in our own nursery at the Native Place guesthouse & also scouting nurseries for plants that we were not growing ourselves. By second week of June, we were all equipped to start planting - the story of which you may have read in our previous post regarding the plantation J

This has been the first phase of WH & SC and plantation. We intend to take this forward step by step and attempt more intricate permaculture applications. The aim is to conserve & impound rainwater, raise aquifer levels, enhance soil health, create micro climates and an abundant habitat!

We’ve never felt we had completed anything very significant until now. But the amount of inquiries we received from our farmer friends for a detailed account of the work pushed us to do this write up. Feeling humbled & grateful.

In Solidarity,

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Palikade Permaculture Project – Phase 1 plantation

In March 2016, we (Astrid Rao and Sneha Shetty) attended a Permaculture Design Course (PDC) organised by Academy for Earth Sustainability and conducted by Narsanna Koppula , where we were introduced to the intricacies of water harvesting and soil conservation (WH & SC) among many other themes of permaculture.

In WH & SC, we learnt about “vegetative consolidation” of water harvesting structures i.e. consciously designed multi-level planting of trees, shrubs and ground cover on the water harvesting structures. The purpose is to strengthen the structures, increase biomass, enhance soil health, create micro-climates and many others. The loose soil of the newly created bunds also provide a good base for new saplings to grow in.

At our 18-acre farm in Kamshet, which we call ‘Palikade’, we decided to start with designing the land forms for WH & SC. We have only the rains as a source of water here, so we decided to grow indigenous/ native, hardy, rain fed trees as well as quick growing leguminous shrubs that would fix nitrogen into the soil, provide us loads of biomass and create microclimate. We started growing saplings of the latter in our nursery in April. Then we made a plant palette of what would grow well in our area, choosing species that would serve many functions. It would be a tropical food forest that would provide for food, clothing, shelter and other needs of not just the human residents but all the stake holders including the birds, insects and micro organisms (in Narsanna’s words). This was a great opportunity to grow native trees that have been on my wish list for years (yes, i am a serious tree lover).

We began the water harvesting structures in April - boundary trenches, contour trenches, a couple of ponds and a percolation tank at the highest point in the property with the hope that they will hold the water and let it percolate into the subsoil, thereby using the soil itself to hold water. We also intend to grow a mix of cereals, millets, pulses, oilseeds and green manure on the land meant for growing annual crops & orchards in future. This is to regenerate the soil (‘make the entire land a compost pit’ – Narsanna’s words). In the coming months, we will continue to plant a live fence on the boundary, comprising of various plants serving multiple functions.
Permaculture has the answers people – and Narsanna Koppula (founder of Aranya Agricultural Alternatives, Hyderabad) is a leading light of our times.

In the last one week, we have planted more than 2200 saplings and cuttings (of about 90 species), sowed hundreds of seeds and will continue to populate the bunds with ground cover (grasses, climbers and shrubs) of various types that will all do their bit to contribute to the fertility of soil and up our sustainability quotient.

Wishing you a very Happy Van Mahotsav – we at Native Place and Nirvana Adventures are happy to contribute to the mammoth task that the Maharashtra govt has undertaken to plant 2 crore trees by the 1st of July 2016. We are grateful that we could source about 1,000 plants from Government nurseries (Forest Dept- Shirota, Social Forestry - Pune & PWD- Pune) at very affordable rates. Thanks a ton, guys!

Peace Bliss & Happy Landings
Astrid Rao & Sneha Shetty
From Native Place and team & Nirvana Adventures  , Kamshet , India
Plantation Photo Album: