Working in Buddha Garden
We all work together starting at 6.15am every morning and finishing at 9.00am although this can change according to the heat and how many volunteers there are. Sometimes there are extra sessions on Saturday morning or on some afternoons. When it is hot it is good to start work as early as possible when it is cooler and therefore more comfortable to move around.
This work is the focus of our community and it is important that everyone participates. Please try not to arrange to do other things during this time although obviously there may be occasions when you have to miss some hours. If you need to take some time off work, for whatever reason, please let Priya or Vivek know so that we can plan the work accordingly.
The practical work is on the whole not difficult although some of it may be physically tiring. In the beginning especially, you will not be left to work on your own but will be working with someone who knows what to do. Watch and join in when you can and don’t worry if you feel you don’t know or understand very much – we were all beginners once. There is a rhythm to the work which you will soon pick up with some jobs being done every day, others weekly etc. Breakfast time is a good occasion to ask questions about the work you have been doing.
We want you to enjoy the work as it not only benefits you but also the plants. Many people feel that the work is some kind of meditation, others feel it is a good start to the day to do something practical for the community. We want to work in a way that builds up a positive energy field. We want to enjoy working together and produce food for the community, which is nutritious on every level. For this reason and since the work hours are relatively short please try to work with as much focus and concentration as possible.
If you are having problems with any of the jobs then please let us know and we will see how we can help you.
To give you some idea about working in Buddha Garden the following is about the tools we use and the work we do.
Our tools enable us to do the work in Buddha Garden and so we try to take care of them properly. Once a year there is a festival called Saraswati devi puja when all the tools that we use for our work are taken out, cleaned and blessed with prayers.
We have two store rooms behind the area where we get vegetables ready to go to Foodlink the Farmgroup distribution centre at the Solar Kitchen.
The small store room is used for storing cashews while the large store room is used to store all the tools you will need for your work.
Here are some of the tools that we use:
This is the local all purpose basic tool used for working with the soil.
Various sorts of small tools to help you get the weeds out. Different people like different sorts of tool.
Traditionally in thispart of India these are not used very much and so it is very difficult to find good quality ones.
They are useful for certain jobs like spreading out compost on beds.
TWO PRONG FORK
We had these specially made as they are very useful for loosening piles of leaves that we use either for mulching or for making compost.
Known as ’catties’ there are very many different sorts of knives that are used here for various jobs.
We have two main ones - a grass knife - which as its name suggests is used for cutting grass. This has a serrated edge and is best used with a sawing motion.
We also have a ’chopper’ which as its name suggests is used for chopping things like branches.
PLEASE TAKE CARE OF THE TOOLS
At the end of the work time make sure that you gather up ALL the tools you have been using. Don’t leave them to get rusty in the grass or elsewhere. If you happen to see tools lying around, pick them up, clean them and put them back in the store room.
At the end of work time we wash all the tools we have used - which includes the baskets and buckets. We put them out in the sun to dry as this helps to sterilise them and thus minimise soil born diseases.
From time to time tools do get broken. If this happens to you please let us know immediately so that we can start (the sometimes slow process!) of getting it mended.
THE WATER SYSTEMIn Buddha Garden all our electricity comes from solar power with the water pump being powered by 24 solar panels. The water comes from the well shared with Siddhartha farm which is next door to Buddha Garden.
When the panels are not being used for pumping water then they are filling up the batteries of the electricity system which is in the dormitory situated behind the community kitchen.
While not a complicated task, watering needs to be done with care. Knowledge of the system is necessary to make sure that you do not break either the solar pump or the irrigation system, both of which are very expensive to replace. For this reason we ask:
DO NOT TRY TO DO ANYTHING WITH THE WATER SYSTEM ON YOUR OWN UNTIL YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY SURE THAT YOU UNDERSTAND THE SYSTEM AND KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING.
To do the watering you have to know how to turn on the solar pump, and which valves to turn on to fill up both the tanks, and turn on water to the various parts of the garden. You can learn how to do this by watching Vivek, Pierre or myself go through the watering process. In the meantime if you see a tank overflowing or something happening that you think is not quite right you must find one of us to take a look and see what needs to be done.
This is where we sow seeds and look after the small seedlings in a protected environment. Nearly all the plants we grow in Buddha Garden start their life here where they are sheltered from cats and dogs, various pests and the extremes of the weather. In the summer the nursery is covered with a shade net to protect plants from the sun as well as the special polythene which allows the full spectrum of light to come through.
The seeds are sown in a special planting mixture consisting of one third sand, compost and coconut fibre which is mixed together. The mixture is then put in trays or pots depending on the size of the seeds. Very small seeds such as tomato, chillie, brinjal, lettuce and basil are first planted in flat trays. Seeds are sprinkled thinly over the top of the soil and then covered with a small layer of mixture. They are kept damp using a water spray at regular intervals until the seeds germinate and start to grow. When the plants have grown 2 – 3 leaves they are carefully transplanted into the larger plastic pots, disturbing the roots as little as possible.
Larger seeds can be sown directly into pots. We use plastic trays which hold 40 small pots, both of which are made out of recycled plastic. Nursery mixture can be put in the pots a tray load at a time making this a very fast process. The pots need to be filled to the top with the planting mixture and then pressed down firmly, but don’t press too hard as the small roots need to be able to grow easily. When planting seeds put one seed on top of the soil in all the pots in which seeds are to be planted. Then go and bury each one just under the surface of the soil – it is said that to bury them one and half times the diameter of the seed under the soil is the optimum place. We put all the seeds out before burying them otherwise it is very easy to lose your place and then pots can be missed or have two seeds planted in them by mistake.
Once the seedling are large enough they are planted onto the beds.WEEDING
This is a never ending job which we takes up a lot of our time. We have found that having the brick raised beds makes the job easier as the brick makes a separation between path and bed so that the weeds on the path don’t creep up onto the bed. Doing the weeding at the right time also helps as if the weeds are taken out while they and the vegetable plants are small, this enables the vegetable plants to get a head start and shade the bed which discourages further weed growth.
You will find that the soil on the beds has more moisture in it, but you need to dig, rather than just pull, the weeds out so that the roots come out as well. This is particularly important for any kind of grass which needs to be dug out as much as possible.
The grass in the picture is a particularly persistent grass called ’nut grass’ which as you can see has long roots which also need to be removed. We have a number of small tools for doing this job and you will find what suits you best. When tools are in short supply we have found that a pointed digging stick made out of a piece of wood also works quite well for this job.
We take the weeds away from the beds as we have found that if we use them for mulch they re-root themselves and start growing again. The weeds are either used directly in the compost heap or, more usually, given to the chickens who eat what they can and turn the rest into compost.
When you take weeds to the chickens be careful that you do not let the chickens come out - it can take a long time to get them back in the pen again.
As soon as you have taken the weeds into the chicken pen CLOSE THE GATE BEHIND YOU
so the chickens can’t run out.
Take the weeds right into the chicken pen and then spread them around for the chickens to find what they want to eat.
PREPARING BEDS FOR PLANTING
If you work with us for some time you will soon get used to the rhythm of this work as there are always beds being cleared and replanted in some part of Buddha Garden.
Once we have harvested a crop of vegetables we start clearing the bed ready for preparing the bed for replanting. Everything green on the bed has to be removed and if they are climbing plants like beans or snake gourd then the plants have to be unwound from the string on which they have climbed.
Once all the green material has been removed any remaining mulch has to be put on one side of the bed and the bed composted. Compost is obtained from one of the compost bins and you will have to ask about which one is in use.
The amount of compost used depends on the plants which are to be grown and the quality of the compost. It is important that the compost is not left uncovered so that it gets dried out in the sun so it must immediately be covered with mulch. The mulch we use consists of leaves brought in from other Auroville communities.
In the summer time and during the monsoon it is important that the mulch is as thick as possible to protect against hot sun or heavy rain. Sometimes, however, we are unable to get as many leaves as we would like and therefore have to use less mulch.
The irrigation pipes are laid out on top of the mulch and the last job is to check all the drippers. This is most easily done with four people, one person to check each line on the bed. The water has to be switched on and then each dripper has to be checked to see that it is dripping properly. If a dripper is not dripping then the top has to be unscrewed and the little filter taken out and washed.
We now have a new design of dripper which does not require that you take it apart to make it drip. It has a plastic piece at the top which has to be turned until the dripper starts to drip again.
The bed is now ready to be planted.
PLANTING OUT SEEDLINGS
We have planting frames for each vegetable and you will need to find out from Vivek, Priya or Pierre, which is the correct planting frame for the vegetable that you are going to plant. Each frame has been carefully calculated by Vivek to provide the correct space that the plant needs to grow to its optimum size and production.
The frame is layed out on the bed and the plants in their pots are put out in the spaces on the frame.
It is easier if two people (one on each side of the bed) lay out the frame and put the seedlings in the correct place who are then followed by two or more people coming behind to plant the seedling.
First dig a hole for the plant and then take the plant out of the pot. This is done by turning the pot over and giving it a sharp tap on the bottom. The root and soil should then come out of the pot.
Turn the plant over being careful not to touch the delicate root system and put it in the hole. Then press down firmly around the plant with both hands and put the mulch around the plant.
Once all the plants have been planted on the bed the last job is to water them in. Each plant is watered using either a watering can or a gentle hose. This helps to wash the soil onto the roots and helps the plant get over the shock of being transplanted.
FRUIT TREES AND CASHEWS
The work on fruit trees and cashews is much less intense than for the vegetables with different sorts of work being carried out at different times of the year. At least once a year we aim to clear the area around the bottom of each tree, put compost around it and on top of which we put a thick layer of mulch.
We aim to do this for all trees during the period of the summer rains (July, August, September), especially for the cashews which are not irrigated.
The cashew harvest takes place during the hot months of May and June and maybe starting for some trees in the middle of April. It means going out every morning with a stick to knock down the ripe cashews which are then picked up and the nut separated from the fruit.
Harvesting vegetables is a job where you need to know when the plant is ready for harvesting and sometimes the best way of picking so that the plant goes on producing. This varies depending on the type of vegetable and takes time and experience to learn. For this reason there maybe some parts of the harvesting process that you will not be able to do unless you work for some time in Buddha Garden.
All our vegetables are distributed through ’Foodlink’ which is the distribution centre for Farmgroup produce. There are different requirements on what is accepted which means that we sometimes spend quite a lot of time preparing vegetables for distribution. Only the leaves of bassella spinach are needed, for example, so once the spinach has been cut we will work together to take the leaves off ready for distribution. Similarly with basil.