In the beginning when we started growing vegetables in Buddha Garden, we planted seeds straight into the beds. Very soon we realised that this was not going to work. Often the germination rate was very low and those plants that did start to grow were soon attacked by insects and animals attracted by the young leaves of the seedlings. It was clear that the seedlings needed more protection in the beginning and so we started the nursery. The story of how our nursery has grown and developed is very much like the story of how, by trial and error, we have learnt to do many things here.
OUR FIRST NURSERY UNDER PRIYA’S CAPSULE
When Buddha Garden was set up in July 2000 the pre monsoon rains had started. We planned to grow, amongst other things, tomatoes and brinjal (egg plant/aubergine) and knew that we needed somewhere protected to grow the seedlings. Under my capsule (a hut made of natural materials placed on granite pillars) seemed like a good place. It was covered and protected from dogs and other animals by a fence. I also liked the idea of my protected plants being under the place where I slept.
We planted out tomato and brinjal seeds, firstly in trays and transplanting the seedlings when they were large enough into plastic pots. At first we were excited with the idea of recycling old pots that had been used for tea at a local tea stall. Unfortunately this was not possible as the plastic was of very poor quality and would fall to pieces when we put a hole in the bottom and filled it with a mixture of compost and soil. We therefore used new tea cups and with careful handling were able to use them two or three times before having to discard them.
Quite soon, however, we found that under the capsule was not a good place for a nursery. There was not enough light and in the monsoon rain it was rather damp. Many of the plants got a fungus and died. One morning we came in to find that all the tomato plants had been eaten, probably by insects. Despite this we managed to salvage some plants and although they were rather small when planted out, some of them survived and the brinjal plants in particular gave us vegetables for many months.
OUR SECOND NURSERY NEXT TO THE FENCE
We therefore decided to move the nursery to where there was more light. Alongside the fence on the left hand side of the garden seemed like a good place. The fence was composed of palmyra trees (a kind of palm) planted close together which gave good protection from the wind, rain and – we thought – the sun. In the beginning (December/January) this was so, but as the sun got higher in the sky and hotter towards March and April, we found that the fence did not give enough protection. Around midday it was in fact a very hot spot even although we rigged up pieces of cloth for shade. It was during this time that we began to grow many more varieties of plants in the nursery.
The reason for this was because we had realised that almost all plants needed to be started off in the protection of the nursery. Seeds put onto the beds did not germinate well, the seedlings were eaten by pests and by the time the plants came to produce there were large gaps on the beds. We found that growing all the seeds in the nursery worked much better especially when we used nets to protect seedlings in the nursery and then covered the beds with nets after we had transplanted the seedlings. This kept the predators off long enough for the plants to get established so that when we did take the nets off they were large and healthy enough to resist pest attacks. It made more work but when we saw the beds completely full of producing plants we felt it was definitely worthwhile.
OUR THIRD NURSERY NEXT TO THE WATER TANK
Our next move for the nursery was to a cooler spot at the side of one of the houses which was also near the water tank – very useful for watering. This gave the plants more protection from the sun and we spent many mornings during the hot season in the relative cool of this area filling up plastic bags with our special soil mixture for growing seedlings. This consisted largely of compost mixed with soil and coir dust (the remains from making coconut fibre rope) which helps to retain moisture. We started to grow seedlings in plastic bags rather than pots as we found they grew better in the larger amount of soil mixture and the bags also lasted much longer than the pots.
OUR FOURTH NURSERY NEAR THE TREES
Once the hot season was over, however, we found that this area was too protected and shady and the plants grew too long and ‘leggy’ as they searched for light. As a resultthey did not transplant well. So once more we moved the nursery to where there was more light yet protected by trees. Here we built a covered area with a plastic roof. We thought this would let in light so we could grow protected seedlings under it as well as it being a good place to sit and do nursery work during the monsoon rain. We didn’t realise that most plastic doesn’t let through the ultra violet light so that plants do not grow well under it. We therefore had to continue to grow the seedlings outside, covering them with plastic whenever it rained. Fortunately we did not have a really destructive rain that year so they all survived.
OUR FIFTH NURSERY IN THE OLD CHICKEN YARD
When we eventually moved all the chickens to the new chicken house we decided to use the old one as a new nursery. It had the advantage of having a wire roof over which we could put a shade net or plastic depending on the time of year. The soil there made a marvellous medium for growing small plants. Having the seedlings in a place with a door was also good for keeping all the dogs and cats off.
The nursery was here for several years and during that time we bought a large piece of ‘greenhouse plastic’ (that lets in the ultraviolet light) to keep off the heavy rain of the monsoon. Unfortunately, during one monsoon the plastic started to sag during very heavy rain and eventually pulled down the structure. The original metal pieces (that had initially only had to hold up net to keep the chickens in) had worn out with the extra weight of the plastic and the shade net.
We therefore decided that we would build another nursery using proper galvanized pipes capable of taking the weight of the plastic and the net. Over time we realised that the design of this nursery was not suitable for all the climatic challenges that we have to face. The worst time is the monsoon as the rain comes down to the plastic and into the nursery all around the sides, severely restricting the usable space within. We put extra plastic around the sides but when it doesn’t rain this makes the place too hot.
During the big cyclone of 2013 the nursery was one again damaged. We decided it was time to completely rebuild. We designed the new nursery to be strong enough to resist damage by wind and rain and designed to not get too hot in summer and keep all the monsoon rain off.
Nearly all plants in Buddha Garden continue to begin their life in this nursery.We use plastic trays, made in India of recycled plastic, because they can be filled quickly, cleaned, and transported more easily. When necessary we use baby nets to cover the seedlings and protect them from flying and jumping insects.
We make our own nursery mixture consisting of one third compost, one third soil and one third coconut fibre all mixed together.
Most of our seeds are saved from plants grown in our Seed Garden. Our goal is to eventually produce all of our own seed, but some plants like roccolla and lettuce do not produce seeds easily in this climate.