Transform barren land to high-quality soil using permaculture. Priya Gopalen tells you how
The recently launched Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has caught everyone’s attention and neighborhood clean-ups are a common phenomenon today. We sweep up the leaves along with the other garbage, tie them tight in plastic sacks and put them in the garbage bins. But what happens to the leaf litter that you dump in dustbins after you clean the road? It ends up in a landfill. And 80 per cent of the waste that ends up in landfills is organic waste that can be composted and recycled.
The word permaculture means 'permanent agriculture'. Permaculture absorbs all the nutrients locked up in organic matter and returns it to the land. All the nutrients in leaves are meant for land and should be stocked in land while the waters (seas, lakes and rivers) require a nutrient-free environment.
Permaculture is as old as time itself. Forests have been practising it forever, as leaves fall from the trees and are returned to earth to create thick forest floors rich in nutrients. Many centers of excellence in permaculture thrive in India, notably pioneering efforts by Shripad Dabholkar who founded the Natu-eco farming community in Maharashtra, Deepak Suchde in Madhya Pradesh, and the many community farms in Auroville.
The Magic Bean, a group of Chennai-based gardening enthusiasts, is using urban permaculture to develop the edible garden at Cancer Institute, Chennai, but with a twist. Started in February 2013, they have so far used 100 large sacks of sugarcane bagasse (the waste after the cane juice has been extracted from cane), 500 large sacks of fallen leaves collected from streets, apartment buildings and houses, 50 sacks of discarded tender coconut shells, 30 sacks of dead flowers from marriage halls, besides corn husk and cobs from the beach.
This was made the bedrock for transforming a hard, barren piece of land into a high yielding, biodiversity rich landscape. The method to convert this biomass to soil uses the help of microbes. A patch is lined with tender coconut, sugarcane baggasse, leaves, flowers and compost. This area, called the raised bed, is inoculated with cow dung slurry or panchakavyam (a mix of cow dung, urine, milk, curd, and ghee). The microbes do an excellent job of decomposing the biomass into rich black soil in three to six months, and then the raised bed is ready for planting. It’s as easy as that.
Put your organic waste to use and create that garden patch you have longed for.