Zach O'Brien
Zach O'Brien
India 2013-2014
Namaste! I am a native Californian with a love for new experiences, meditation, and asking questions. I'm traveling to an Indian ashram called Amritapuri to join an environmental conservation project and study Sanskrit and yoga. Read More About Zach →

Gardening, part 4: soil experiment

As I mentioned in my first post, Black Bug Invasion, the recent destruction of our tea crop has given us the opportunity to reassess the gardening techniques we use and to experiment with new approaches.

One way we’re doing this is by planting our new crop of tea plants in three distinct types of soil environments. As our tea matures, we’ve been gaining valuable information on what helps and what hinders the growth of a healthy tea bush.


Above is a photo of the first type of bed we planted.  It’s the same type of bed we’ve been using all along, so nothing too exciting is happening.  Basically, we mixed red sand, white sand, and compost in equal parts and laid it down roughly 6 inches deep. Beneath that is pure white sand which is natural to the area because we’re planting next to a beach (luckily tulasi thrive in sandy conditions).  Finally, we create holes 6 inches in depth and diameter and fill them with “amendments”– a mixture of vermicompost, dried cow dung, and effective microorganism powder.  Oh, and we also outfitted the beds with drip watering systems. 😉 We then plant the baby tulasi bushes in these holes.


This next photo is of one of the “raised beds” we have planted.  These raised beds are filled with rotting wood for the first 1 to 2 feet.  After that we lay down 6 inches of brown leafy material, a few inches of green leafy material, then sand.  The top six inches of the soil in the raised beds are dealt with in exactly the same way as in the unraised bed.


We’re only just now getting around to planting this last type of tea bed.  It’s probably our most experimental.  To create the bed, we laid down cardboard at ground level.  On top of the cardboard we put effective microorganism powder, and on top of this we laid down 4 to 6 inches of pure fresh cow dung.  On top of this we put down a few inches of completed compost, and at the very top we put a little bit of still-composting material.  In the case of this bed we weren’t able to plant right away–we had to wait for the dung and compost to fully decompose.  (we only put down unfinished compost because we didn’t have access to sufficient finished compost at the time). Luckily we were able to obtain some fully composted dung, and we recently planted a few trial tulasi in these areas as you can see in the photo above.

So you’re probably wondering–which beds turned out the best??

As of right now, the tulasi plants in the raised beds are clearly the healthiest.  Raised beds seem to be better able to retain water–we don’t have to turn the drip system on nearly as frequently as in the flat beds, and the soil is much more consistently moist.  Moreover, when the monsoon season comes in a few months, the tea will also be protected from any standing water that may form during particularly torrential phases.

Although it may be too early to tell with the dung beds, it seems a lot of the tulasi in these beds are turning out sickly and weak.  Dung may be quite nutrient rich, but I think the tulasi feel much more at home in their native environment–sand!

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