Ideal Hole for Plants

This morning, I felt lazy and did not feel like making my breakfast. I went for a coffee with my neighbours. They are good people. More than the laziness, it is the longing for human interaction once in a while, that I visit my neighbours. As such, I am more of a loner and happy in my own company. Later in the day, I had planned on planting some fruit trees today. Our discussion went to this topic and then I realised that very few people actually give a serious thought about how a hole for planting a tree should be dug. So, these are my thoughts for my lovely neighbours to help them in future and for anyone starting to lead a slow life.

This is just about how the hole for planting a tree should be. First of all, it should be dug out of a slightly larger size than you feel is sufficient. There is a method for digging. I first mark the area to be dug, usually a square (and not a round hole). Next, when I start digging, the top soil is gathered on one side of the hole and then the soil from deep down on the other side. Usually, I prefer double the depth of holes than the longest roots visible. The width also is usually equal to the depth but then again it depends on trees being planted. For shallow root trees, the hole should be much broader than deep. It also depends on soil. In a ground full of clay or large rocks, I prefer to dig a large hole. The hole has to be cuboidal. This prevents the roots from going round and round as happens in a usual planter or pot.

Once the planting hole is dug, I do a quick test by filling it with water and seeing how fast or slow the water gets absorbed. Slow absorption means a compacted soil, maybe full of clay. Fast absorption happens in loose soil or sandy soil. Once the water disappears from the hole, I plant the tree.

While filling the planting hole back, the soil from deep down the hole goes in first. The top soil gets filled back on the top. This ensures that the soil structure remains almost as it was before and this also helps in faster establishment of fungal networks in the soil. Even the soil microorganisms and worms, get to stay in their original position. Also shake the plant a little while filling back if it is a bare root one. This will enable an ample amount of soil to get between the roots.

There is yet another thought that has the gardening society divided. Whether to mix compost / manure, in the soil that is being put back in the hole. The ‘for group’ says that it helps in the initial growth of the tree. The ‘against group’ says that it may harm the tender roots and in the long term restrict the root growth to within the hole. I belong to both the groups. I vary my opinion from hole to hole depending on the soil conditions inside and the kind of fruit tree being planted. As a rule, it is better to err on the lower side of addition of soil enrichments than going overboard with this.

And now the last part. For ground that is compacted or clay soil, the planting hole should be filled back completely and then a small conical mound created around the plant. The highest point being around the stem of the plant and then slanting out to almost the ground level near the edge of the original hole that was dug. This prevents rain water from seeping in excessively. It’s the opposite of what people usually do. The hole in such a soil that was dug, acts as a planter without any drainage. So, creating a depression around the tree actually ends up damaging the tree by leading to waterlogging in the hole. Most trees hate wet feet.

On the other hand, if the soil is loamy, soft, or sandy, the hole should be filled back to a slightly lower level than the surrounding ground. Even making a central depression and a small circular mound around the hole helps. This helps collect water from rain or irrigation.

I think this is all there is to digging a hole for planting and filling it back. Maybe, I might have missed something. I will read the steps after I finish planting some trees today and add if I missed anything.

Pruning Time

It is said that, how good a garden or orchard is in summers, depends on the hard work done during winters. I do not completely agree with it, but still some work needs to be done at times.

The sun is starting to shift north and the birds are starting to show signs that spring is not far away. Soon, the trees will start to wake up. This is the time when some pruning has to be done.

Pruning is a very simple thing to do. First, the dead and diseased branches are removed. Next the suckers and water-sprouts are removed. These two are very interestingly named. I can’t help but chuckle whenever I prune these away. After this comes the pruning that some horticulturists swear by. Cutting the branches to have fruits within easy reach, and to have more healthy growth. For apples, the fruiting happens on old wood, so pruning usually is done to remove this new wood and to promote more branching. Peaches on the other hand are pruned so as to remove old wood and promote the growth of new wood.

For apricots, I prefer not to prune at all. In fact, I don’t like pruning to begin with. If nature intended a plant or a tree to grow in a particular manner, who are we to interfere and change that. From what I have gathered, the trees, including the fruit trees should never be pruned. But, if they have been pruned once, then they have to be pruned always. And so, I am stuck with pruning some apple, plum, and peach trees, year after year.

Pruning also seems to give a boost to the ego of many horticulturists and farmers that I know. The knowledge that they can trim a branch just above a bud and then predict how the branch is going to sprout, makes them feel really special.

I, on the other hand, can never feel that ego boost. I always feel humbled by the fact that these trees and their leaves are the only beings in this world that can make their own food. Rest all the animal kingdom is dependent on these original makers of food or other animals for their diet. These trees have been here long before humans even existed. They have seen centuries pass by. The trees have provided fruits since ancient times and no one pruned them then. They have grown and sustained. Who are we to interfere and feel that we can do better than nature ?

A gray winged blackbird hops around on a tree nearby, breaking my flow of thoughts. Well, it’s time for me to pick up the secateurs and get down to pruning, something about whose, long term advantages are still not clear to me.

Reducing Carbon Footprint

I had just now finished my lunch, sitting under the sun, while a group of tiny birds hopped on a nearby apple tree. Simply steamed porridge with a fresh salad made up of local vegetables, tossed in oil and lemon juice. Salads are delicious. They are also comfort food. Good to look at, delicious, healthy, and easy to prepare.

So far, we have had a dry spell in the winter. Not at all good. The climate crisis is taking its toll everywhere and people are turning a blind eye to it. Reminds me of the proverbial frog in boiling water. The trees may be asleep but their roots need water. Even some amount of chilling hours is needed by some trees to produce a good amount of fruits. The groundwater also needs to be replenished. Rain and snow are essential. And, on the other hand, nowadays in the rainy season, when it usually rains, it pours down cats and dogs. That also is not good.

I have been trying to reduce our carbon footprint as much as possible. This year, I challenged myself to layering up with clothes and not using the heaters or fire for warmth as long into the winter as I could manage. I am proud to say that even in sub-zero temperature, I have had nice restful sleeps, with a double layer of quilts over me, and a rubber bottle filled with hot water near my feet. Sometimes, in the middle of night, I have had to remove one of the quilts.

I am also against plastic. Yesterday, I went to a local market. They were selling chikki (some roasted peanuts and sesame seeds in jaggery). There was one from my favorite sweets-seller but was packaged in a plastic container. Another fellow was packaging in a simple brown paper envelope. I opted for the one who was not using plastic even though I know that his chikki is not as delicious as the one packed in plastic.

Each and every bit counts. From packets of chips to plastic bags, from leading a minimalistic life to reducing overall consumption of goods. Even food for that matter. Simple things like the lunch that I had, have a much smaller carbon footprint than maybe something like a piece of cake (baked for hours). And no, I am not going into the vegetarian or meat debate.

(There are a lot more things to write on carbon-footprint. Maybe the same title will appear again in more of my journal entries in future.)

No Weeding, No-Till

Why don’t I till the soil or turn it over? Why are there weeds growing around in my garden? These and many similar questions keep coming to me and it is hard to convince people with my answers.

Soil is a very complex structure. It’s full of life. Everything is important. Even the so called weeds. They hold the soil together. Their roots make an extensive network in the soil which also works to absorb rainwater. Some of these roots die and add organic matter to the soil. Even the leaves that fall from these so called leaves add to humus. White Dutch Clover is a star in my garden. It helps fix nitrogen, provides home to ladybirds, flowers attract pollinators, and helps in absorption of water. This is just one of the so-called weeds.

Try comparing a patch of land that has been cleaned, the weeds pulled out and the soil left exposed, to another patch of land with weeds all over. Winds will not blow the soil away from the uncleared soil. Water will not erode. In fact, more rain water will reach the depths where there are weeds. On the other hand, just walking around on a cleared up land will compact the soil and make it still poorer.

The fungus that is present in the soil makes a widespread web. The trees, the bushes, and even the low grass are connected to each other. They convey vital information and take care of their lot. A single stroke of spade into the soil breaks all the connections in its path. Imagine what running a tiller or a tractor does to the soil.

There is life in the soil. Apart from the fungal networks, various bacteria work hard to enrich the soil. Tiny creatures like earthworms churn the soil and help in decomposition. Various organisms work at different stages and different levels to bring about the soil that we see around us.

For me, soil is a sacred thing in my garden and orchard. The less I disturb it, the better it is. Chemicals like pesticides, weedicides, antibacterial sprays, etc. are poisons that have been slowly and slowly killing the soil. The nutritional value of produce from commercial farming is going down. Every year more and more chemical fertilizer is needed to get the same produce. This is disheartening. Maybe people will start waking up to this and start respecting soil.

I will start this new year by planting some acorns (that I found on a rock) near a pathway so that some centuries later, someone like me, may sit down under the oak and be impressed by the wonders of nature.

A Lazy Day

Usually, I am an early riser. Today, just before the dawn, a drizzle started. The pitter-patter of the rain was so hypnotizing that even after waking up, I once again slept off for about an hour. Later our resident blue-whistling thrush, who has the nest just outside our window, started to sing. It was then when I got up. No fancy alarms can compare with the voice of this bird.

Everyone else is also asleep, so slowly I crept into the kitchen and put the kettle to boil. I am not a tea or coffee connoisseur but on rare occasions, I do enjoy an early morning cup of good tea. With the tea in my hand, I stepped out. The wind was chilling, and the rain that fell had already frozen to ice. Still, standing here, with tea in my hand, and a view to admire, makes it worth the effort.

Today, I have a list of chores to do. First and foremost, stack some wood in case the temperature falls further and I am unable to manage without heating. This is a challenge I give to myself. How far into the winter can I manage without lighting a fire ! It is good for the environment and good for my own resilience. Next chore is to spread some compost over the new planter beds. With drizzles like today and the upcoming snow season, the compost spread now gets time to work its magic in spring. Someone has rightly said, how beautiful a garden or orchard looks in the season, depends on how much hard work has gone into it during the winters.

Slow living also requires some work to be done. The best part comes after sweating out a little. That afternoon nap, that book in the evening, with the soft music in the background, or a chit-chat over some drink.

Tree Plantation goes on …

Waking up to a white frosted landscape, and then observing how slowly and slowly the areas where the sun touches start to turn colorful again, is an experience in itself. Standing outside while the sun starts to kiss the parts of our garden is a lovely feeling. I adjust my location as the spots getting the sun change. Every few minutes, I am forced to move. Every morning, standing around in the sun, and just observing nature, is a blessing that slow living has taught me to admire.

Today, once the landscape was bright and a little warm, I planted some fruit trees. It seems like I am busy planting trees whenever I get a chance. Apples, pears, plums, apricots, and some persimmons. These will take a long time to grow and give fruits. I like the huge trees of heirloom varieties/cultivars. The saplings were bare-root, so these had to be planted while they were still asleep, and without exposing them to open for long. I got them yesterday, so today this had to be done. Even with slow living, at times, things have to be done as a priority.

Saplings or plants sold in pots, with soil around their roots, can be planted whenever one feels like. There is no urgency or a strict time window for them, but bare-root plants adapt better to the new place where they are planted.

The planting took some time and effort. I call it hard work, maybe just to justify to myself the lazying around for the rest of the day. So, after planting, I again found a nice sunny spot, to warm myself up, and admire the clouds floating by. Somehow, in the afternoon the spots getting sun don’t change as frequently as in the morning. Good for me.

Watering my Garden in Winter

The weather is quite dry nowadays. No clouds to be seen anywhere. There has been no rain all through the autumn and now we are into winter.

Today, I watered some of my young trees and the lawn. Extensive frost is yet to set in. The deciduous trees have already shed their leaves. A passerby asked me, why was I watering the young plants that had already shed leaves. He was not interested in listening to my reasons but just wanted to comment. I replied that maybe I had hit my head somewhere and lost my marbles. I want to water them and so I am doing that. He was almost convinced that I had really lost it, or maybe he didn’t hear what I said. Quietly, he went away.

The plants may be sleeping but their roots still need water. The same goes with grass too. Deep irrigation also prevents some frost damage. So, yes, everyone should water their garden even when the plants seem to be sleeping and winter is starting to knock on the door. Just ensure that you water in the first half of the day, when the temperature is a little above freezing point, and when there is little to no wind. Instead of sprinklers that wet the leaves, use a garden hose that waters the soil and roots.

Birds seem to understand my thoughts. A group of sparrows and tits settled down on an old apricot tree. They were cheerfully chirping and somehow seemed to say that I was doing the right thing for my garden.

Leaving the garden to grow as nature intended, without any intervention, is the best way. ‘Rewilding’ is the way to go, but till the time nature starts to work its own magic, some corrections by us humans, are needed to make up for the damages that we have done to the gardens and orchards over the last few centuries.

My Journal

Today, I have started writing a small diary here. No photographs, no videos, but just simple thoughts that flow.

It seems like just yesterday that my friend and I were sitting in one corner of the deck, late in the evening, sipping our drinks and brooding over the simmering lights on the distant hill across the valley. A moment to savor. The cool breeze and a ‘who-who’ of an owl somewhere nearby. We talked about how villages do give peace of mind, but at a cost. The finances go for a toss. Job opportunities and businesses usually don’t do so well in such faraway places. But, at least, there is some amount of happiness. I can sit quietly and think over things, read a book, and chat with a friend without bothering with the internet or phone.

Such moments are priceless. Even though this was many months ago, I can still remember those lovely moments and live them again. The discussion seems lively and recent. The time was early autumn and the evening wind was starting to develop a pleasant winter nip. After a warm day, such an evening was well awaited.

This is what slow life is and this is what he told me to start journaling.

Aedi Devta Temple

Located about 20 KM from our place is a temple dedicated to Aedi Raja Barsi Gaja (ऐड़ी राजा बरसी गाजा), a demigod who appears in local folk tales. Villagers name the temple simply ‘Aedi Devta Temple’ (also spelled Ari, Aeri, Aidi). The temple is on a hilltop with valleys all around.

Ari Devta Temple
Aedi Devta Temple
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Fruit Orchard at Maini’s Hill Cottages

From late spring to autumn, our region is blessed with a bounty of fruits. Wild Fruits can be found all around. From road-sides to deep inside forests. Apart from these delicious wild fruits, we maintain a fruit orchard too. Every day, we harvest these fruits. Fresh from the farm to the plate!

Apricots, wild or hybrid… all of them are a delicacy to enjoy.
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Jageshwar Dham

Just about 50 KM from our cottages are the famous temples of Jageshwar Dham. These temples were built between the 7th and 12th centuries, by the Katyuri dynasty and later Chand dynasty kings. These temples therefore show different architectural styles. The temples are clustered in two large groups.

Jageshwar Temple
Jageshwar Temple in the background with some small temples in front.
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White Clovers and Ladybirds

White Dutch Clover is a wonderful cover crop that we use in our orchard. Apart from making the ground look green and beautiful, it has its benefits. Ladybirds, which are also some of the most beautiful insects in nature also love to make these clover patches their homes. Various other insects also love these patches of white clover.

Ladybird trying to avoid a fall from a clover leaf

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Glimpse of the Peaks

The Himalayas consist of various ranges. Students of geography divide them into three major ranges. The lowest range is the one that is present in the Kumaon region. For many others, Himalayas is synonymous with snow-covered peaks of the other two ranges in the north. On a clear day, these snow-covered peaks can be viewed from our cottages itself.

Himalayan Peaks
Uncropped view from a 135mm lens on a full frame camera. The far left is Trishul and the peak on the right side is Nanda-Devi

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Saim Devta Temple

A short walk away from the cottages, there is a small temple. Nested on a hilltop, the temple is dedicated to Saim Devta. Worshiped as one of the guardians of the village, Saim Devta provides prosperity. Some of the local folk consider Saim to be an incarnation of Lord Shiva. The temple is highly revered and is said to have been initially established by Saim Devta himself.

Early morning view of the hills from the temple
Early morning view of the hills from the temple

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