We feel fortunate that we have, although very few in number, a team of long-time dedicated volunteers who we could allow to participate in orchard seva (selfless service), as long as they social distance and wear masks. And now as more of our semi-regular and occasional volunteers become vaccinated, we will be able to allow them on-site, still following the same safety parameters…hopefully within the next couple of months.
Because of the reduced number of seva volunteers, we have been forced to take a closer look at our priorities and do only what is most urgent.
However, one thing about farming, there is always something urgent that needs doing. Our list has included fixing a broken irrigation line, capturing bees swarming around the hive boxes, wild pigs breaking through the fencing, gopher and rodent damage prevention, not to mention harvesting and storing fruit, preparing it for selling, pruning and thinning 1000 fruit trees, and preparing them for the long hot dry summer!
Somehow, because of Grace, along with a lot of effort by a small number of volunteers, these were all accomplished.
We have 3 bee hives so far, which are lovingly watched over by a team of 5 dedicated devotees. During the fire season of 2020, many of them perished from the heavy toxic smoke that drifted into the Bay Area. Today 2 hives have come back strong, and 1 hive had to be replaced entirely with a new queen and her entire humming entourage.
At one point wild pigs started tearing up the entire orchard, damaging irrigation lines, etc. Even after the fence line was mended, evidence of pig activity was still found inside the Maha orchard. It was a mystery that lasted some days. Finally they were discovered hiding during the daytime in a gully within the orchard grounds. All hands on deck! Everyone around the ashram at the time was called to bring pots and pans. The gulley was surrounded on 3 sides by us and from the racket we made, they all ran out of the open gate at the bottom of the orchard slope.
Devotee families were invited to build bird houses to attract more song birds to the ashram grounds. They let loose their creative talents. Beautiful to our eyes, we await the first signs of nesting and the flitter flutter of new birdies.
IRRIGATING DURING DROUGHT YEARS
The drought forced us to seek water saving ways to irrigate the 1000 trees.
We experimented with Hugelkultur, olla pots, and deep stake watering.
The Hugelkultur will take some time to know if it is a way to go. It involves burying dead oak limbs in the soil around each tree, after soaking the logs well with water. It is rather labor intensive to install however.
We completely eliminated the ollas pots for the orchard, since they did not work well in the clay soil. They are much better suited to the much finer soil of a vegetable garden, where they are being used successfully. See this article in the Spring 2020 GreenFriends North America newsletter: http://greenfriendsna.org/gfnewsletters.html.
The winner for the orchard is the deep stake watering.
EXPERIMENTING WITH DEEP STAKE WATERING OF THE FRUIT TREES
24-inch and 36-inch long stakes were first installed around a few trees, depending upon whether it is a semi-dwarf tree or a standard size tree. The stakes are hollow with holes all along the length. A devotee uses an auger to drill 2 deep holes into the ground around each tree, either 24 inches or 36 inches deep.
The holes are filled with gypsum and compost mixed with the clay soil. The stakes are pounded into that.
They were then irrigated with .5 gallon emitters over 11.5 hours. So each stake gave approximately 6 gallons of water
The stakes were dug up after a couple of days and it was discovered that the water from each stake had soaked through the soil 16 inches of even moisture around each stake. The top 12 inches of soil was dry so this will greatly reduce the amount of evaporation of the water and reserve the vast amount of irrigation for the tree roots. The top 12 inches of soil eventually soaked up some of the moisture as well.
Now deep stake irrigation is slowly being installed for all the orchard trees. 100 trees now have been completed. We aim to have them installed by the time the heat of the summer becomes too intense.
Organic fertilizer can also be added to the irrigation water that goes into each stake.
to ensure that the moisture level is maintained in the soil during the intense heat of summer, a thick layer of bark chips is being placed around each tree. Along with keeping moisture in, bark helps to keep the fungal matter in the soil, which helps the trees to thrive.
With only a couple of on-site devotee volunteers to oversee the farm, we have had to look for labor-saving composting techniques.
We are currently experimenting with bioreactor compost using wire mesh, landscape fabric, and 6-inch perforated drain pipe.
VEGETABLE MARKET GARDEN STARTED IN 2019
2021 brings big changes for the MA Center Vegetable Gardens, with the addition of organic heirloom seedlings available for sale to the community!
Amma advised the garden team to let the gardens rest this year due to the impending water crisis and drought, so the team quickly pivoted to the seedling project in a new greenhouse built in March. Swamini Ambikamrita Prana performed a blessing ceremony in the greenhouse to bless the seedlings and the efforts of garden Sevites.
The team has been successfully growing many beautiful heirloom plants from certified organic seeds, and the sales to the community have been going very well. After all, Amma always asks Her children to try to grow some organic food, even if we only have a little space. So although there won’t be a vegetable garden this year at the MA Center, the community has been quite enthused about growing their own food, planning to grow in pots on balconies, in community gardens and in their own backyards!
May Amma’s grace bless everyone’s efforts for a beautiful and bountiful harvest!