Sun farm is a community in the making for people on a spiritual pursuit. Ranga and Crystal own the land and are the pioneers of this community. Their vision is to build small cottages for a few families and design the land in a way that it can nourish the community in several ways while creating a sustainable economy for the project primarily based on the land.
The land is 11 acres in size and is located in Kodaikanal (Tamil Nadu) at 1800 m on the north-facing slope in the Palani hills of the Western Ghats. The vertical drop from the highest point in the land to the lowest point is about 130 m. More than half of the land was a red eucalyptus forest planted a few decades ago by the ex-owners of the land (these trees are slowly being cut and replaced with different fruit trees).
The land had been taken care of by Saraswati, Raju and their children who stayed on the land for about 8 years and left to go back to their home in Nepal in April 2015. They took care of the land, the cows, the two hundred odd trees of pear, plum and peach and planted seasonal crops in small patches for personal consumption.
Ranga and Crystal asked us to join them after a Permaculture Design Course in Auroville. The course was taught by Rico Zook and assisted by Martine Bastide and Roman Eisenkölbl. Rico and Martin were brought in the project to develop a Permaculture design based on the clients’ vision.
Our role on the land was to look after the land, observe its ecological relationships, build a home for ten cows (there were already seven cows), take care of the animals on the land (many dogs and cats) and start making the land a farm. We were also to help create a team of people from the closest village, Vilpatti, who would be the core working team for the farm and possibly pioneers in their village for alternate methods of farming and economics.
We were involved in the project from January 2015 to June 2016.
The soil on the farm was clayey with a limited amount of organic matter. The farm would create a lot of biomass from hundreds of trees, shrubs, and grasses every year. A lot of the biomass was used to feed the cows. The remaining biomass was added to the soil directly under the trees or used in the vegetable gardens after composting. Since we had a lot of cow dung from the five cows, we used the cowdung in different ways:
- Dry cowdung or any cowdung which was more than six months old was added directly to the soil under the mulch.
- Fresh cowdung was piled up to dry for a few days and then used as:
- Jeevamrit preparation to inoculate high carbon biomass like leaves, twigs, bark.
- Pachagavya preparation for foliar application on existing fruit trees
- layered between soil and carbon-rich biomass in piles for composting
We continued doing this for the time we were there. The farm produced lot of carbon-rich biomass from trees, shrubs, and grasses every year. A big part of this was used as fodder for the cows. The rest was inoculated with liquid manures and used as mulch for the fruit trees. The cow dung from the five cows was either added to the soil or composted with diverse biomass rich in carbon to be used for the vegetable gardens.
Within a few months, we could see the organic matter in the soil increasing and we could see a diversity of insects and ants and an increase in the number of worms.
Read more about raised beds.
Soil after 6 months of Jeevamrit application and green manure added back into the soil
Based on Rico Zook’s recipe, we were able to harvest the local microbiology from different soils on the land. We were growing these different bacteria and fungi on natural sugars like jaggery and fruit pulp to inoculate the fallow terraces. Cows were left to graze on these terraces.
(With our experience and understanding in Bir, we know that only inoculation cannot help restore soil biology. There needs to be food for these microbes to grow and multiply- from a diversity of plants and mulch. This is also a brilliant way of assessing soil biology. You can clearly identify different colors, patterns and the difference in bacteria and fungi- the diversity of the soil life and its fungal-bacterial relationship. This can help in designing appropriately for farms and forests.)
High fungal soil from the eucalyptus forest
The first plantings were on the raised beds with seeds like mustard, coriander, beans, and radish. These crops were cut while they were growing and the biomass was added as mulch. They were left to decay in the soil while the new crop was planted.
The parts where we did not make raised beds, we grew root crops to break the soil and legumes to condition it.
A planting and harvesting chart for Sun farm based on experimentation and local experience
The material for the entire structure except the roof sheets was sourced from the farm. Redgum eucalyptus trees were cut and the wood was seasoned for a year before it was sawn into rafters. For columns, the entire trunk was used.
Read more about rainwater harvesting
The space between the horizontal wood sticks in the varchee frames were filled in with a mix of mud, cow dung and eucalyptus bark fibre for strength. The plaster was done with clay alone applied by hand in several layers and finished with cowdung mixed in water applied with a cloth.
Sun farm is endowed with several natural springs and its landform gives rise to beautiful natural ponds and waterfalls. As part of the design, several ponds were to be dug at key points to store water and recharge underground aquifers. These ponds were lined with clay found naturally at the base of the ponds.
This pond is fed by run-off and underground water channels. Steps and walkway inside the pond help to access water when it is low. The insides are lined with clay.
The kitchen grey water was collected in a mulch pit.
Read more about greywater.