Planting a Vertical Orchard

Transforming a Landslide into a Garden of Fruity Delights

This week, during our first service retreat program on the Dharmalaya Institute‘s new Himalayan eco-campus, we had a precious opportunity: our friends at SanghaSeva brought sixteen wonderful, hard-working volunteers from all over the globe to work with us, so we figured this was the time to take on a couple of major projects that could only be done with that kind of person power.

The March 2011 retreat family

The March 2011 retreat family

 

The first endeavor was digging and planting the first organic herb and veggie beds at the site of the Institute, which was a lot of fun. Everyone got to contribute their ideas and inspirations, and the final result was a great blend of all the various elements drawn from each of the participants’ unique experiences and creative ingenuity.

Sowing the first herb and veggie seeds

Sowing the first herb and veggie seeds

 

But the next project was a monster challenge: As some of you who have been following the Dharmalaya news page may recall, we were dealt a surprise from Mama Nature during the summer 2010 monsoon rains, in the form of a landslide that knocked out two large sections of the access road to our construction site and left a steep, jagged slope of loose scree, barren of life, that threatened to tumble even further in the next rains. We’d had to make quick repairs to the road in order to resume construction, but it was clear that if we didn’t find a way to landscape the landslide and repopulate it with plants with strong root systems to prevent further erosion, we would surely lose a lot more of the hillside (and, with it, our road, again) in the next monsoon rains. It was a daunting prospect, and one of our hardy volunteers later confessed, with good humor, that when i first mentioned the plan to landscape this rockslide to create an orchard (as a part of our new Earthville Orchards project), he thought i was “completely mad.” If so, the results we’ve achieved so far would seem to argue in favor of a touch of madness now and then. 😉

The first step was to venture out onto the loose scree of the slope to dig a network of footholds and eventually paths so that we could traverse the whole landslide area and stand securely enough to dig deeper holes for planting. These were developed into a series of microterraces covered with bits of turf transplanted from nearby.

Carving footholds & microterraces

Carving footholds & microterraces

 

On the 3rd day, the new saplings arrived: about 12 varieties, including pomegranate, guava, lemon, and grapefruit. A few dozen rosebushes, too.

Saplings

Saplings

 

Hmm… which of these babies wants to go where? The pomegranates like drier, sandier soil, but otherwise let’s mix it up…

Planning the plantings

Planning the plantings

 

It took a day and a half of resourceful teamwork to dig the holes, fill them with a mixture of dung, compost, soil, and sand, then carry the saplings out onto the slope…

Planting Brigade

Planting Brigade

 

And finally, the saplings began to find their homes in the ground. As we planted the trees, we filled in the surrounding areas with patches of turf transplanted from nearby.

Into the Ground

Into the Ground

 

Most of the volunteers had never planted trees before, and they took great care to give each sapling a happy home.

Happy Sapling

Happy Sapling

 

A nearly-vertical orchard, beginning to take shape…

Reaching Skyward

Reaching Skyward

 

We’re off to a great start, thanks to the generous hard work of our volunteers and our local crew, but there’s a lot of work left to be done. Many more trees, flowers, grass patches, and bamboo shoots must be planted before the monsoon rains begin in June.

Would you like to help? Here are a few ways you can participate:

  • VOLUNTEER: Come to Bir (in northern India) this spring (or next fall, or spring 2012) to volunteer.    › details
  • DONATE: Make a charitable donation to support our eco-construction and the green jobs it creates (tax-deductible in the US and India).  › details
  • SPONSOR TREES: Offset your carbon emissions for the year, while creating more green jobs, by sponsoring tree plantings in the Earthville Orchards at just $2 US per tree (also tax-deductible).    › details
  • SPREAD THE WORD: Forward this story to your friends, post it on your blog, share this story on Facebook and “like” the Earthville and Dharmalaya FB pages, send forth a mighty tweet, or, you know, talk to people. :-)

For more information about the Dharmalaya Institute and how you can get involved, see the Dharmalaya website.

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3 Responses to “Planting a Vertical Orchard”

  1. Jaymie (didi) May 6, 2011 at 8:01 am Reply

    Well done brother from a different mother! Read about your important and joyful work in the Pitzer alumni pages. Since that profound time in Nepal I’ve been working, learning and participating in permaculture design through agriculture, seed saving, rainwater catchment, et cetera…Focused in the Americas, emphases on indigenous communities with consideration given to food security/ human rights issues. Had the opportunity to address the creeps at the State Dept in Bolivia and Mexico. Would love to volunteer at one of your sites, though I rarely fly anymore. (Been driving my hybrid to Oaxaca for the last couple of years). I will happily sponsor some trees – so affordable for us. I have a friend working with Helena Norberg Hodge in Ladakh, doing some similar monsoon recovery work (among other things like promoting the Economics of Happiness). Grateful to contribute in a small way to your cause. There is much work to do. Thank you, Mark for being you. metta, Jaymie, Pitzer ‘93

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