‘The Problem is the Solution’ is one of Bill Mollison’s original Principles of Permaculture.
One of the biggest challenges confronting many of us running orchards along the Konkan coast has been large swaths of laterite and very little soil. A quick drive across the region will show you acres and acres of mango orchards with trees literally built on circular raised bed like structures with not much else growing around.
The key to running a cost effective farm is reducing the input cost and finding ways to have multiple harvests across seasons. Cashew plants take a good 4-5 years before growing big enough to bear fruit, while alphonso mangoes can take upwards of 7 years. The wait is long and has often driven many to give up mid-way.
The question of what else could I possibly grow cost effectively in these conditions always hit the road block of good quality soil and the expense in sourcing it.
During my Permaculture Design Certification, I convinced my group to work on my orchard as our presentation project. Spread over three days we evaluated various options, applied permaculture principles while simultaneously looking for out of the box solutions. A listing of existing resources highlighted that we had 700+ mango trees, each with a raised soil bed of about 2-3 feet in height and an average 20 feet diameter. A quick back of the hand calculation showed us that there was at least a few thousand square feet of land with soil available. The solution to our biggest hurdle was right under these mango trees in plain sight.
After much deliberation, we choose to sow some turmeric under the trees. It ticked off quite a few parameters on my list.
- Easy to source
- Low maintenance and minimal intervention
- Feeds off rain water
- Yields in a relatively short span of time (under a year)
- Has a fair commercial value
Our first experiment with introducing diversity will soon bear fruit (in this case some spice). Pratibha is a relatively new variety of turmeric developed by the Indian Institute of Spice Research (IISR) has a curcumin value of 6 percent. The harvest, due towards the end of February will help us understand the soil and output quality better and give us the confidence to move ahead with exploring new possibilities. And all it took was to change our perspective about a problem.