Once the decision to transform a conventional mono-cropping mango orchard to a permaculture based food forest was made, the first step was to work on a detailed design plan. We identified the challenges at hand – post monsoon heat and water challenges, soil quality, labour etc and what we had going – a functioning income generating orchard, raised beds under trees, offering a few lakh sq. feet of growing soil.
I had to decide what we could grow at different parts of the orchards – a split between annuals and perennials, plants we which would grow under the current conditions and for which saplings could be sourced locally e.g. mango varieties, moringa, jackfruit, teak, cashews, coconuts and things that we wanted to experiment with (not grown or available locally), like passion fruit, rambutan, dragon fruit, avocado etc.
I had been saving seeds from visits to different farms as well as some desperate methods like using tweezers to pull out dragon fruit seeds from the fruit. My early experiments with sowing seeds directly into the ground met with failure. Most didn’t germinate, the others barely survived or were extremely weak.
Key learning – the soil was not nutritionally rich to support them. The process was time consuming and filled with uncertainty. Instead, I wondered – why not grow seedlings in a nursery or seed trays?
A seedling is a seed that has just sprouted i.e. an infant plant that grows from a seed, rather than from a cutting. They can be planted in soil when they have at least 2 sets of true leaves.
Seedlings give you a sense of the percentage of seeds that sprout and survive to ensure that you have an even start. Besides the basics medium, exposure to light, protection from pests and regular watering can also be controlled.
My early naïve enthusiasm led me planting passion fruit seedlings under different trees instead of creating a space with a trellis. Its only post monsoon did I realise what a nightmare it would be to go watering them across a large landscape. But that’s for another day!