WHERE WE STARTED
The site was a three acre severely eroded patch of land overlooking the backwaters of a dam. There was a lone, almost leaf less Neem tree and one good looking wild date palm. The site had a south facing aspect which meant that the tropical sun beat down on the land all of the day hours. The area received an average rainfall of 700-720 mm and the surface runoff quickly flowed directly off the site. The top soil had eroded away leaving exposed very sandy subsoil with plenty of rock (muroom). However, the view was what we fell in love with and in spite of having no experience whatsoever, we decided to jump in and start to build it up to be a thriving ecosystem that it is today.
Chaitraban, today, is a living ecosystem with abundance of food, medicine, timber, and peace of mind for the stewards, while providing a safe retreat for all the creatures that make home at the homestead.
The Permaculture design of Chaitraban ensures that all the necessary individual elements are placed in such a way that the output of one element becomes the input of another. For instance, chickens kept in the compost area ensure that the chickens will turn over the compost pile. Another batch of chickens free range in the food forest, enriching the soil while working on pest control by clearing the infested fallen fruit and breaking the pest cycle. Similarly, the outlet of the duck pond feeds enriched water, by gravity, to the banana circle designed on a lower slope, reducing the effort of irrigating the water-loving bananas. The main crop beds on contour serve as a water harvesting feature while growing staples for the family and more.
While Chaitraban still has a long way to go, it already can boast about growing most of the food required for the family. This includes fruits, vegetables, medicines, meat and eggs. The site also grows almost all the biomass required to prepare compost for the annuals while also providing the much needed mulch and organic matter for all other zones. In addition, material required for trellises, arbours, stakes is grown on site. The coconut palms and the tiger grass is used to make brooms for the home. Most of the times, we have plenty to share with family and friends.
Though each detail of the design is well-thought of, there are instances where nature plays her tricks. However, because the system is designed and minor changes can be easily made in the mind map, it affects the site only positively.
As the years go by, the design has to be tweaked to work with Nature, in case She decides to change her ways in a particular situation. Still, since the design always works hand in hand with Nature, the relationships between elements in the system becomes more complex making the system at Chaitraban more and more stable and hence, sustainable.
OUR MAIN PERMACULTURE ELEMENTS
Water harvesting on site
We ensure that we catch all the rain that falls on the site and use and store as much as we possibly can before letting the excess flow off the site. The rain is harvested by appropriate strategies so that a major portion is caught high up in the landscape and spread through the site by a series of swales and trenches built on contour where it slowly sinks in the soil and is stored in the organic matter either incorporated in the soil or in the heavy mulch that always covers the whole of the three acres. The root network of trees and plants, tightly packed acts like a sponge and soaks it in to store it in their foliage, keeping the temperature low in the summer. The excess water then is passed through small dry laid bunds. This enables to stop the soil from leaving the landscape.
In addition, a fairly large percolation pit and a series of raised beds constructed on contour drink in huge quantity of water on the highest point on the landscape and keep the landscape hydrated over most of the dry months of the hot summer.
The open well and a bore well store and supply perfectly clean water for drinking and irrigation during the drier months of the year.
We owe a large portion of the abundance at Chaitraban to the animals and birds, wild and otherwise. They are an inevitable part of the ecosystem and play a key role in the Permaculture design.
This means that we rely on our animals to mow, weed, prune, fertilize, scratch, remove pests, lightly aerate soil and help build new top soil. They help us with all these tasks while providing us with nutritious and clean meat and eggs and other products like honey.
We treat our animals with lot of love and care. Currently, we have chickens and ducks, dogs and fish. Plus, we also have plenty of frogs, lizards, snakes, mongoose, hares, birds, bees and butterflies and other creatures big and small living in all of the three acres. The latest additions are owls, bats and a python!
The plant palette
Chaitraban aims at being a forest garden. Though we have a patch to grow annual vegetables, the three acres has a mix of all layers of a food forest…
The site has a diversity of more than 270 species of plants that we planted (still more are volunteers!) in the three acres. These include nitrogen fixing plants, plants for food, fodder, flowers and timber. Many companions are planted to attract the birds, bees and butterflies. Some also provide habitat for predators like lizards, snakes and frogs. All these working together provide a habitat for the residents of Chaitraban.