My primary objective in coming to India was to volunteer at the ashram’s ecovillage. I spent my first two months here working in the ashram’s composting facility. I’m now in the middle of a two month stint working on “the farm”, which is really a collection of separate plots of land, owned by the ashram, and spread all over the village of Vallikavu. The plot of land I happened to end up working on is the tulasi tea garden. I want to spend the next few posts talking specifically about the work I’ve been doing in the ashram’s tea garden.
Above is a photo of the tulasi garden’s “backyard”. Isn’t it beautiful? Behind the garden is a lake. Although you can’t see it in this photo, the sun is rising over the water.
We’ve also got a side yard and front yard that are roughly the same size as the back. They’re not quite as aesthetically pleasing but the tulasi don’t seem to mind.
Anyway, I’ve quickly learned that growing tea can be a roller coaster ride. There are the highs–as small as the garden is, when it has a good year, it can produce one to several million dollars worth of tea leaves. Some of the tea is used for ceremonial purposes or brewed in the coffee shop at the ashram. The rest is sold to fund the ashram, the ecovillage, and humanitarian efforts like the Amrita Self-Reliant Village Program (more about this program to come).
But there is also the painstaking work involved in growing tulasi tea. On a weekly basis, each individual plant will be fertilized with a cow dung/urine mixture. We’ll wash it’s leaves in neem oil to prevent aphid infestations, and we’ll also cover the plant in ash to discourage other pests. Finally, each plant is individually watered using a method where we poke holes in the soil around the plant and fill the holes with water. We do this because tulasi thrives in sandy conditions, and so water tends to run off the soil’s surface unless it’s directed right to the roots.
Finally, there are the lows. If you look back at the garden photo, you’ll notice it doesn’t look like there’s a million dollars worth of tea sprouting up. This is because an infestation of insects (we refer to to them simply as “the black bugs”. I wish I had something a little more biologically precise than that) recently came and decimated our entire crop over a period of several weeks. While this has been a huge bummer for the crew working in the garden, it’s also provided us with an opportunity to research and explore new approaches. As we plant a new crop, we’re experimenting with several different types of soil environments and beds. I’ll try to share something about soil environments at some point in this series of posts. I’ll also share some other gardening techniques I’ve learned, and maybe even a few funny stories from the garden will make their way in.