Grow food, not lawns

CHENNAI: It was about four years back that Kavitha Ramakrishnan stopped watering her lawn after noticing the amount of water it was taking up. Today, her rooftop garden grows pumpkins, ladies finger, basil, yams and a host of other seasonal vegetables. And she waters the plants only once every two days, even in peak summer. The key? Permaculture a system of agricultural principles based on imitating patterns observed in natural ecosystems.

A permaculture garden aims to create a habitat and not just a garden, which would sustain itself as an ecosystem; each element in the garden plays a role. The term was coined in 1978 by Australian researcher Bill Mollison and the system is now practiced in many places across the world. In Chennai, one such group propagating permaculture is The Magic Bean, co-founded by three women Kavitha Ramakrishnan, Priya Gopalan and Archana Meiyappan. The group conducts workshops on permaculture for children and adults, with the idea of reviving the traditional Indian agriculture systems that always used these principles.

Nature has its own ways of growing and sustaining. For example, forests grow on their own helped by the layer of leaves on the forest ground. This is imitated in permaculture by mulching, where we place a layer of leaves on the soil, says Kavitha. These gardens may not look very pretty, but have a way of changing your lifestyle, say the founders. While permaculture today has certificate courses abroad, most of the learning can also happen from the Internet, books, and observation. It is not a new way, it is about understanding and applying traditional ways, says Archana.

Whatever we take from nature, we have to give it back. Kitchen waste from vegetables is biodegradable and is supposed to go back to the soil. Instead where does it go? Pallikaranai Marsh, which is supposed to be a habitat for migratory birds, rues Kavitha. In permaculture, all the kitchen waste from their homes corn cobs, vegetable peels, leaves, twigs or sugarcane pulp goes into making compost, along with items like panchakavyam (prepared from cow dung and cow urine). Natural pesticides like neem, turmeric and chilli powder are used.