Lush greens on bare rocks

If you follow the rule of nature and grow plants that suit the ecology of the place… Nandhini Sundar steps into a paradise

For any sort of greenery to prevail, the least expectation is for the land to be cultivable with a reasonably fertile top soil. Bald rocky surfaces sans top soil are certainly not in the order list and most definitely not one on which such green experiments would be ventured. Yet, Binay Kumar Singh certainly did so, on 6 acres of totally barren land that was bereft of even a blade of grass, the terrain rocky, the surface bald, swept clean of any remnants of soil that may have prevailed.

A software engineer by profession, Singh took it up as a challenge in 2013 and volunteered to work on the terrain and bring in the greens using the technique of permaculture on the rocky expanse of land belonging to the Art of Living on the outskirts of Bengaluru. What then ensued in the next six years, ‘after letting nature takeover’ as Singh would like to call it, were thick greens housing fauna of all kinds, be it the creepy crawlies, mammals, reptiles or the winged type.

As for the variety of flora, the list is expansive, starting from fruit trees to vegetables, herbs and flowers. A charming lily pond prevails amidst the thickset greens where many exotic winged friends visit unfailingly every morning. “The site was earlier a dump yard for vegetable peels from the kitchen and garden waste for conversion into compost”, says Singh, pointing to the now thick woods that nestle amongst the surrounding agricultural lands, standing testimony to what permaculture can do to even the most hostile landscape.

“When it comes to vegetation, the fundamental requirement is water, not soil; how much of water you have collected, conserved and managed to percolate deep into the earth. Instead of sucking our groundwater dry, we need to focus on harnessing rain and surface water”, states Singh. “When the groundwater table is addressed, nature takes over and vegetation automatically happens, whatever be the topography.”

To explain his point, he refers to the mountain slopes thick with vegetation. “Groundwater is high here, permitting vegetation to grow naturally, without human intervention, on what essentially is a rocky terrain beneath the top soil nurturing this growth.”

For effective percolation of rainwater, Singh insists on the water spreading over a larger area and sinking into the ground slowly. “The catchment area should be large, the percolation slow to permit the ground to absorb and not let the rainwater gush out along with the fertile top soil.”

On the 6 acres of hilly barren land, Singh addressed this requirement of water by digging trenches in strategic spots, enabling the rainwater to percolate slowly into the ground. “This pushed up the water table gradually to a level where at one point of time a lovely natural spring came up from the saturated water table.”

Greened with compost

Singh decided to layer the land with six inches of rich compost. “The compost was made from kitchen waste, dead leaves and branches, mixed with copious amounts of cow dung from the goshala here and this became a rich top soil from which a range of flora grew unassisted. There was minimal sowing of seeds and saplings, with many fruit trees and vegetables coming up on their own from the seeds thrown in the kitchen waste”, he adds.

Given the objective of having minimal human intervention, the average number of workers taking care of the 6 acres of vegetation is less than two per day across the year. “Keeping human intervention minimal takes care of the ecology better just as it does in the thick wilderness of hills and forests”, states Singh. With thick vegetation covering the once bare rocks, Singh set about planting fruit trees, multiple varieties of herbs and vegetables amidst the lush greens. “The shorter varieties of plants were planted on the peaks of the hill and taller varieties in the valleys to bring in a semblance of order to the wilderness”, he adds. Zonal categorisation was also done in the planting, with varieties requiring maximum attention planted in easier-to-reach sections.

The 6 acres are now home to over 60 varieties of fruits, herbs, vegetables and flowers that include bananas, almonds, pomegranate, papaya, mangoes, guavas, and chickooamongst the fruits trees; turmeric, ginger, chillies, palak, coriander, lemon, drumstick, tomatoes, potatoes, and pumpkin among the vegetables; amruthavalli, tulasi, aloe vera, vettiver and many more among the herbs.

Singh has one strong advice: “It is important to keep it simple, follow the rule of nature in terms of water flow and grow plants that suit the ecology of the place, the season, type of soil and availability of water.”

(Binay Kumar Singh holds training sessions for those eager to learn more about the science of permaculture. He can be reached at [email protected] or [email protected] )

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