In 2001 a fruit orchard was set up with a variety of fruit trees which included chiku, guava and avocado. Unfortunately, the summer after they were planted we had water problems and because we were unable to water them regularly most of them died. Since then we have grown a variety of fruit some of which is grown with other plants.
We started growing bananas a few years ago and our present ‘fruit patch’ in Le Jardin contains many bushes. We used to have a 'banana patch' consisting only of bananas in the same place but found that we had to grow them very carefully. Bananas need a lot of water and a lot of feeding so we planted them further apart than in conventional plantations and conserved water by putting four drippers around each plant. On the whole, because the plants were healthy, we did not suffer from too many diseases, and if we did, the disease did not spread. Diseased plants were dug out and the soil exposed to the sun to sterilise it.
On this area we now have a 'mixed fruit patch' where we grow papaya with the bananas. This also includes four fig trees which have been bred to produce in the Indian climate and which we are growing as an experiment. By having a mixture of trees we invite a diversity of insect species which helps to keep insect pests in check.
We have to compost and mulch banan plants very well and dig out the small suckers that grow around the base of the plant so that all the energy goes to the main stem. We grow glyricidea between the plants which brings nitrogen to the soil as well as providing very nutritious leaves which can be used for mulching around the plant roots.
Once the flower comes it will be followed by the small bananas. At this point we allow one of the suckers to start growing.
Over the course of a few months the bananas get larger and the weight of the stem is such that it often has to shored up with bamboo poles. When one of the bananas on the stem is ripe then the whole stem can be cut and put into the store room for further ripening.
We can’t allow the bananas to ripen on the stem as they would all get eaten by the birds. Once the bananas have been cut the stem on which they have grown dies and the new sucker takes its place.
Bananas are incredibly productive plants and produce bananas every nine months or so.
We have a number of papaya trees which, as well as being in the mixed fruit patch, are planted near the vegetable beds. Like bananas they are very productive trees which need a lot of feeding to produce well. As they grow taller they often get top heavy and need to be propped up. Even so, we usually lose some trees during the monsoon especially if there is a cyclone with strong winds. We therefore are constantly planting new trees knowing that they will be producing within two years of being planted.
Kumquats are small oranges which are much prized in Auroville for making marmalade and for juice as they are not too sweet. We have planted kumquats in a number of places in Buddha Garden. There is a line of trees on both sides of the Souryan garden and we have interspersed them with teak trees (grown for their wood) in an area close to the cottage.
While the kumquat trees are very small they need to be covered completely to protect them from grass hoppers who will eat all the leaves and kill the plant. Once they get to a certain size, however, the grass hoppers cannot eat all the leaves and the trees will then grow well on their own. They do not need very much water and seem to do well in this climate.
Our first trees planted about five years ago are starting to produce and we have to think how we are going to harvest them more easily. They have thorns and each kumquat has to be cut off the tree. We are thinking we may have to purchase a large step ladder.
AMLA OR INDIAN GOOSEBERRY
We planted one of these trees just outside the kitchen and miraculously, despite being climbed on by cats and often breaking, has now grown into a large and productive tree. The amla is an important fruit used a lot in Ayurvedic medicine and in a special local pickle so there is a good market for it.
They are also easy to harvest as it is all done on one day, unlike cashews that take two months.
First someone has to go up the tree and shake it so the amlas fall off the tree. Then everyone else gathers them up onto a mat that is put around the tree.
In 2011 we planted 50 amla trees on the back land and carried out a lot of earth works to lessen the flooding which happened there during most monsoons. 46 trees survived the reduced monsoon flooding, but unfortunately the cyclone of 2011 killed all of them.
Our guavas are grown on what we call the ‘chinna field’ just inside the gate on the left had side as you come into Buddha Garden. We used to have raised vegetable beds in this area but as it flooded every monsoon we decided to grow something else. Despite putting in drains we couldn’t stop the area flooding completely so decided to plant guavas that can cope with this.
We planted the trees four years ago and they are now starting to produce small amounts of delicious fruit. They really do seem to like the conditions there and apart from composting and mulching them from time to time they do not need a lot of care.
As its name suggests, this tree comes from Indonesia and we grew one or two trees in the kitchen garden as an experiment. The trees did well and now we want to plant some more.
The problem is that the fruit, which has quite a tart taste, does not last and for the best eating experience they need to be eaten straight from the tree.
We are exploring ways of using them in one of Pierre's compotes
Another tree which we have been growing successfully in the kitchen garden and might grow more depending on the demand.