WWOOF-ing India Week 3: Growing Friendships & Plants

Photo by Mahek Shringhey
Papaya tree (Photo Mahek Shringhey)

Under a moody weather — mostly characterized by intense heat during the day followed by stormy rainfall at sunset — our days WWOOF-ing began earlier at 8am to avoid the scorching heat and to make the most of the day. Fellow volunteers got comfortable with one another and an exchange of exciting stories about their travels ensued over lunch and dinner giving more food for thought, making our meals more appetizing.

Samjohn and Melanie Ramdsen are a young couple from South Africa in their 30s who have been traversing the northern stretch of India since January 2014. Having spent time in McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala with the Dalai Lama, volunteering at an ashram in Kumaon, and traveling to Rishikesh and Varanasi, the duo enthusiastically shared their experiences and how their sojourn and practice of yoga throughout has given them a different, more blossomed perspective on life. A wonderful photographer, Sam gave us copies of some pictures he clicked. Free-spirited and compassionate, Mel and I have become great friends and I feel so blessed and fortunate to have met her.

Being able to cook in a kitchen again after so long, Sam and Mel make the most of the opportunity by cooking fantastic meals while the rest of us help with mise en place (setting up) and cleaning the dishes, guilty of not cooking enough but gluttonously satisfied.

While some supplies in the pantry come from the market, we also cook with the beautiful produce that the garden yields. Fresh basil, eggplants, and lemongrass have generously gone into flavoring stir fries and Thai curries. Bananas have gone into sandwiches with peanut butter and even made for the most memorable dessert deep fried and tossed in cinnamon, brown sugar, and nutmeg! SO GOOD! Papayas are cut open for a quick fruit salad, and I even made a delicious pumpkin pie (the process of which resulted in a very bad burn on my thumb but I’m not complaining, the gorgeous pie was worth all the pain).

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Eggplants (Photo Mahek Shringhey)

With more hands to help on the farm, our tasks range from planting seeds in the nursery, preparing the beds for transplanting (by separating the mulch, digging holes and filling it with compost), and transplanting saplings into the prepared beds.

The most interesting — and borderline gross — activity was working with the organic fertilizer that Jonathan had arranged. As we walked to the garden one morning, three large sacks lay on the ground, ready to be cut open. Jonathan gave us an introduction to the contents of these sacks: fish meal, vermicompost, and neem cake. They not only serve as fertilizers that result in increased pest resistance, but also in greater growth with the minerals and nutrients inherently present.

While most of us are aware of vermicompost, fish meal and neem cake are unfamiliar. Made from the bones and leftovers of fish, fish meal — sometimes also referred to as blood and bones — is a grayish, pulverized manure that is an excellent source of nitrogen for the soil. Neem cake is a by-product of neem (or Indian lilac) and acts as a natural fertilizer and a very effective natural pesticide. Given that it thrives in tropical climate and is a native to this land, it is widely used across India to improve soil fertility.

A handful or two of these solid manures was followed by a heavy splash of Panchakavya to finish the process. It lay in a large drum by the nursery, fermented and ready to use. A sweetish, slightly offensive and rancid smelling liquid fertilizer made of water, sugar, and cow waste, Panchkavya is said to have many feathers in its hat as an organic fertilizer and for many other uses. After using the fish meal, neem cake, vermicompost, and Panchakavya on the banana and papaya trees, we were advised to thoroughly wash our hands.

This organic fertilizer is proof of how the solutions to all our problems lays in nature. There is so much to learn from what and who’s around us, it’s just a matter of seeking that knowledge. The result — whether tangible like manure and other sustainable eco-organic products, or intangible like the unity of ants gathering food, the giving nature of a mother bulbul bird feeding its chick, or the camaraderie that develops as people grow together  — will always present foolproof solutions. Nature teaches best.

Signing off,
City Girl

Follow the rest of Mahek’s adventure:

Week 1: City Girl in a Farm World
Week 2: Bugs, Dung, and Darkness
Week 4: Life Lessons
Week 5: Saying Good Bye

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About the Author

A 23 year-old city girl who wants nothing more than being able to eat without getting fatter, world peace and a pet pig. She is now on a mission to explore the depth of food in its full potential.