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Edible Pathways a project of Feeding Landscapes, greenfield, ma, usa • winter 2014 design & installation prepared for Sadhana Forest auroville, tamil nadu, india

Edible Pathways project sponsored by The Conway School’s David Bird Fellowship, under the direction of Fellow and Project Manager, Abrah Jordan Dresdale, M.A.L.D. in collaboration with Living Routes J-Term 2014, with contributions from Kelly Slutz, Kesley Lyon, Megan Runge, and Jacey Taft.

[a copy of this report can be downloaded at]


PROJECT GOALS & OBJECTIVES GOAL 1: Edible pathways at Sadhana Forest educate thousands of visitors about landscaping strategies for increase food security in the arid tropics of southeast India.

Sadhana Forest is a volunteer-run, off-the grid community of the ecovillage Auroville, in Tamil Nadu, India. Sadhana Forest was founded by an Aurovillian family, Aviram, Yorit, and Osher Rozin, in 2003, when they were gifted 28 hectares (70 acres) of land owned by Auroville to re-forest with the indigenous Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest (TDEF) species. Today, there are between 5,000 and 10,000 visitors annually to Sadhana, with approximately 1,000 volunteers a year living at this vegan community that prides itself on radical simplicity and a gift economy. Sadhana is now one of the largest volunteer communities in the world, and has expanded to create a Sadhana Forest Haiti and a Sadhana Forest Kenya. Sadhana focuses on water conservation and re-forestation techniques in ‘wastelands’ much like Tamil Nadu, and elects to work only with local peoples who are financially resource poor.

Objectives - the edible pathways are centrally located and accessible to visitors - simple and replicable designs provide demonstrations for visitors to easily mimic at home - clear signage describes the multiple functions of plants in the design - for volunteers and guests alike, the edible landscape transforms a space into a welcoming place for all to walk, sit, and enjoy the abundance of food GOAL 2: By design, the landscape of food crops is low-maintenance and re-uses on-site resources. Objectives - the edible landscape utilizes perennial crops, requiring less maintenance than annual vegetables - the needs of the plants match the growing conditions in which they are installed - the perennial beds incorporate the grey waste water for irrigation from three nearby sources: 1. kitchen mop and rinse water, 2. compost bucket rinse water and 3. toothbrushing - composted food scraps and humanure build and amend the soil - on-site mulching materials add carbon to the soil while minimizing water evaporation GOAL 3: The Sadhana Forest kitchen easily utilizes the food grown in the edible pathways.

water conservation & re-forestation techniques

bamboo & teak-thatched residential hut

CLIMATE & PRECIPITATION Auroville lies in the sub-humid tropics, 32 meters (105 feet) above seal level, and only 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the Bay of Bengal. Auroville’s plant hardiness zone is 11-12, with an average low temperature of 24 degrees Celsius (75 degrees Fahrenheit) during January and an average high of 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit) during May. Annually, Auroville receives approximately 90 cm (35 inches) of rainfall with two seasonal monsoons; the first monsoon comes from the southwest from June to September, but rarely reaches Auroville. The second monsoon comes from the northeast, and in good years, provides rain October through December. March is the driest month and November sees up to 27 centimeters (10.6 inches) of precipitation).

Objectives - the design is located in close proximity to the kitchen - the garden team is knowledgeable about how to care for and harvest from the edible plants - a small palette of edible perennials yields foods appropriate for an organic, vegan diet - the kitchen staff is educated about how to incorporate the new produce into community meals and save seeds to propagate new plants GOAL 4: The implementation of the edible pathways project is designed for long-term success at Sadhana Forest. Objectives - the stewardship plan for this low-maintenace, yet productive landscape is a living document that is user-friendly for the community - the seeds and plants come from local sources so that replicating the design or replacing failed crops can happen easily - the kitchen, gardening, and composting teams communicate and coordinate efforts to make the edible pathways project a long-term success





Sadhana Forest: 28 hectares (70 acres) of Forest, Central Campus, and Residential Area, and 8 kilometers (5 miles) from Auroville center

The .2 hectare (½ acre) project site includes the Morning Circle gathering area and the pathway that abuts the Sunrise Dorm and leads to the back of the kitchen. This primary pathway connects the central hearth of the residential area (including kitchen and Main Hut) to the living quarters just to the north, and is the route that the regular Friday tours take. The project site was selected due to its highly visible and accessible location, and the relative abundance of waste water streams emptied here, including kitchen grey water and compost rinse water.



OPPORTUNITIES • Greywater capture from kitchen floor mop water and vegetable rinse • Compost rinse water overflow • Highly visible and accessible part of campus; on tour route • Proximity to the kitchen for crop tending, harvesting, and incorporating into meals • Excellent solar access • Existing edible trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants • Pre-composted food scraps and humanure nearby • Trellis and fences as infrastructure for climbing edible vines • Social capital with neighboring farms and nurseries

CONSTRAINTS • Desiccated, compacted soil without organic matter • A diminishing monsoon season; rains limited to 2-3 months per year • Project installation is not during the rainy season when it’s best to transplant; transplant shock may occur with sensitive plants • Lack of shade for shade-loving plants • Areas adjacent to pathways cannot be planted with sensitive plants • Unclear and partially obstructed paths into Morning Circle area • Trees over 12’ cannot be planted—to mitigate termite habitat and blow downs near buildings • Frequent turn over with transient volunteer staff— necessitates a low-maintenance landscape • Financial capital to buy plants, signs, etc.




Guiding Principles for Permaculture in Tamil Nadu: WATER o o o o

Capture and divert grey water (hand washing, shower water, kitchen drain, etc.) for irrigation Group plants together by irrigation needs Implement wick irrigation for first year of tree establishment during dry season Apply brown leaves (ideally soak in water overnight) for mulching around the base of plants to reduce water evaporation

SOIL o o o

Mound up organic material and plant into mound rather than digging into the parent soil (when dry, hard, and/or rocky) Incorporate nitrogen-fixing groundcovers Identify and use on-site resources for soil building, e.g. leaves, termite droppings, charcoal, and/or composted food and human excrement

PLANTS o o o o o o

Observe what is already growing well and increase in numbers Incorporate existing ‘useful’ vegetation into design Make the landscape legible to discern the ‘useful’ plants through paths, signs, clearing adjacent overgrown vegetation, etc. Best time to transplant is early morning, late in the day, and/or during the monsoon season Utilize scarce resource of shade as much as possible Source plants at local nurseries so plants demonstrated are accessible for others to replicate strategies easily

In addition to the landscape transformation, the Kitchen Manager, Garden Manager, and Compost Manager coordinate and stay informed of their role and contribution to the edible pathways. Next steps include a coordination meeting with new Edible Pathways Manger, Or Leelo. Living Routes students & Sadhana Forest volunteers on day of Community Input Session


FINAL DESIGN The final design transforms a space into a place. By removing barriers to access—both visually and physically—the overall circulation and use of the focus site increases. Overgrown vegetation is cleared from around and on top of the archway, the falling down fence lining the north side is disassembled, and new pathways enable residents to enjoy a walk through the morning circle area from the Training Dorm to the kitchen. Benches are strategically placed on the edges and in the shade, inviting people to take a well-deserved rest and enjoy the edible landscape.

keyholes w. benches

improved access with new paths & north fence removal

To meet the primary goal of educational demonstration for visitors, plantings are organized by two levels of function: 1) soil building strategies, and 2) irrigation techniques (see sheet 6 for details). To increase visitors’ memories of the Edible Pathways, there are also catchy names for distinct patches of perennial crops such as ‘Tea Garden’ or ‘Salad Bar,’ boasting edible raw greens like chicken spinach and costus.

trellising for perennial beans

tea garden

‘salad bar’ dilapidated western fence rebuilt for trellising edible vines

banana circle

The existing edible vegetation—the guava, chayas, bananas, amaranth, rosella, etc.—are now more legible after thinning out their herbaceous neighbors. Nearby tulsi, pineapples, and lemongrass are transplanted to the focus area as a demonstration of using on-site and nonmonetary forms of resources. Another readily available on-site resource, the grey water from the kitchen, is transformed into an input for the banana circle with sponge. Existing infrastructure such as the side of the wood storage area, archway, and re-habilitated western fence get incorporated to provide climbing support for edible vines such as purple winged bean and black lima. Any bare earth is seeded with cowpea, a local nitrogen-fixing edible pea, or re-vegetated with small divisions of mimosa or toothache plant to hold soil in place, suppress ‘weeds’, and help build organic matter.


Plantings are organized by 1) soil building strategies, and 2) irrigation techniques that demonstrate best small-scale, ecological growing practices in Tamil Nadu.


Plantings are organized by 1) soil building strategies, and 2) irrigation techniques that demonstrate best small-scale, ecological growing practices in Tamil Nadu.



With the land-use history of widespread deforestation begetting the loss of fertile top soil, permaculture in practice offers an opportunity to look to ecosystem intelligence for ways to regenerate degraded landscapes.

Water is a scarce resource in Tamil Nadu, a state that only sees precipitation 3-4 months out of the year. Water storage in the top layers of soil is nearly impossible due to the severe erosion of organic matter that followed the massive deforestation.

Here, in the Edible Pathways design, four soil-building strategies demonstrate analogs to patterns and processes found in nature: 1) lasagna layering (see sheet 7) with soaked acacia leaves, termite droppings, and charcoal into which seeds are directly sown, 2) composted food scraps mixed into the parent soil, prepared for herbaceous transplants, 3) the use of humanure (see sheet 8)—human solid excrement that has been composted for 6-12 months, and used on woody plants only (here, used with cuttings of moringa and chaya), and 4) the sponge technique (see sheet 9)—where carbon-based biomass such as sticks and brown leaves are piled up in a dug out basin (2 meters wide by 60 cm deep) that is regularly flushed with grey water.

This site is one of the few areas in Sadhana Forest that is water-rich. The area just north of the kitchen receives grey water from floor mopping and veggie rinsing—an excellent opportunity for passive irrigation to the banana circle with sponge. Daily, volunteers rinse compost barrels in the southeast quadrant, which frequently causes surface flooding. The new design requests barrel rinsing occur in areas A and B on alternate days to spread the water wealth. The borders of moringa and chaya will now rely on wick irrigation paired with humanure mounds. The wick irrigation is a simple technology that repurposes 2 liter water bottles with a small poxy-sealed hole in the bottom out of which a cotton rope protrudes. The cotton wick slowly provides drip irrigation to the cuttings. With this system, the water bottles only need be filled once a week. Lastly, when the biodegradable toothpaste provided to volunteers is used, toothbrushing from Sunrise Dorm dwellers can be directed to the plants just outside of the entrance.



lasagna gardening: acacia leaves, termite droppings, & charcoal







wick irrigation with humanure



banana circle with sponge





Common Name________ TREES



Moringa (drumstick tree)*




Wild Date*

Cape Gooseberry

Latin name

Azadirachta indica

Cnidoscolus chayamansa

Moringa oleifera

Musa x paradisica

Psidium guajava

Hibiscus sabdariffa

Phoenix sylvestris

Physalis peruviana




edible flower fruit leaves; increases metabolism, antinflamatory, may help reduce effects of Up to about 15-20 meters Varies place to diabetes tall place


Bark, flowers, and fruit can all be used for various things like timber, antibacterial meds, malaria meds, cosmetics and more; the use depends on the preparation on-site


Leaves are delicious; very nutritious; full of vitamin C

Leaves can be great for cooking because of the texture; must be cooked year round; 50% of for at least 3 minutes to turn the poison into gas; leaves can be harvested at once never eat raw


20-45' tall; but can be pruned into a bush for easy harvesting; prune btw 3-6' tall for harvesting; allow a few branches to edible leaves, pods and reach largeer size for flowers; roots of young pods; plant 15-20 apart or late spring/early plants lke horseradish; 3-4 feet if coppieced summer








edible fruits

Height x Width

Up to 6 meters tall

6-30' tall; leaves up to 8' long and 2' wide

edible fruit for humans, caterpillars mainly of the Ello Sphinx moth, leaves may be good for bacterial infections, diarrhea and inflammation 15'x15'

Edible leaves.

Edible fruit and palm heart.

Edible fruit.

1.5 m x 2-3cm

Flowering Period

Blooms all year, repeatedly

late spring/early summer

after 4 or 5 years, February-March, June-July, October



leaves can be used raw or cooked; flowers are edible when cooked; young pods are used like green beans; dried mature seeds can be used for cooking oil on-site

Fruits only once, but propogates new producng plants Edible fruits

July-September, November-January (best fruits), February-April

raw, used to make juice, used in sauces, dried, made into candies, jams or jellies

Mid summer

1.6-0.9 m tall

Late Spring/Early Summer Mid Summer Late Summer/Early the main crop Fall extends from Mid Fall January to May




Fast growing; can reach a height of 1520m; leaves used for skin diseases; natural pesticide; do not over water because roots can used for shade; seeds may be hard drought resistant; easily get root rot; to germinate; take compst is greay for neem gum is rich in root cuttings in late fall or early winter sun or partial shade neem trees protein

easily propogated by cuttings

shady to sunny

drought tolerant; full sun, with some shade, well-drained can propagate from soils; OM and N2 are helpful seeds or cuttings

can tolerate a wide range of environments from wet to arid

usually pruned at 2 meters; little insect damage; somewhat drought tolerance; tolerant of heavy rains

will produce shoots, cut back; coppice whole tree; allow a not a legumunious few large branches plant; few pests and dieseases; can be for pods


can transplant "suckers" to grow new trees

Heavy feeders. Subtropical heat lovers. Nitrogen and potassium needed. Require lots of water and welldrained soil.

prune to allow only one pseudo stem at a time to produce maxiumum yeilds


Seeds germinate in as little as 2 weeks up to 8 weeks. Seedlings are transplanted when 1 or 2 years old. Pruned branches can also be used as propagation.

both humid and dry climates, up to 1,000m elevation, grows well in variety of soils generally with good drainage, needs full sun

irrigation, fertilization, weed and grass control, should be planted at only prune dead or least 33 ft from damaged branches other guava trees

Prefer tropical conditions where the soil can get warm.

few pest problems, hardy and productive. Most soil types are suitable, provided they are rich and well-drained. Plenty of water is needed to maintain growth, flowering and fruit development, mulching is beneficial.

Plant several seeds 50 cm apart and thin seedlings to the strongest.

Water regularly, do not over water

Drought tolerant

Plants normally begin to crop when about 3 months old and cropping may continue for 9 The fruit is ready to used in teas, can be eaten months or until the pick about 3 weeks raw and put in salads and first frost after flowering. jellies. on-site

2.5 to 4.5 m x 0.75 m

Propagation &


May be eaten raw or Pebble made into jams and jellies. Garden

Sow in early spring in tropical areas, rosellas need at least 5 months frostfree to bear. Rosellas need a very warm soil to germinate, preferably over 25째C.

from sea level to 3000 m, in rain forest clearings, From seed; germinate in vitro in monsoonal forests and rocky gelatin, agar or other medium mountainsides. dispersal of seeds in soil will cause propogation. Sandy or gravely soil preferred, but will grow on well drained soils. Full sun

May be a noxious weed or invasive Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater

PLANT DATABASE Common Name________ (* Latin name PLANTS



Alternanthera sissoo

Zingiber officinale





edible groundcover

edible underground stem

Height x Width

1-6cm x 0.5-2.6cm

24-36 in.

Flowering Period

Mid summer

Late Winter/Early Spring


Ocimum teniflorum


edible leaves

30–60 cm

Blooms all year, repeatedly


Ananas comosus


edible fruit

1.0-1.5 m x .9-1.2 m

Mid summer/late summer




Colocasia esculenta

Chicken Spinach (purslane) Portulaca oleracea

Fiery Costus-Kostum (insulin plant)


Costus igneus

Curcuma longa


rhizome starchy

2–3 m tall


edible corms when cooked and edible leaves

1-6 ft tall



edible leaves

edible leaves


edible rhizomes


edible seeds, flowers and young pods also edible

Summer, fall

Fruiting/harvest perPreparation


Late summer/early fall


Pick out the underground Anytime after bloom stem, wash and cut up

Sapney Farm & onsite



Easy to propogate from cuttings

Prefers partial shade

Water regularly; do not overwater Requires consistently moist soil; do not let dry out between waterings Self-sows freely; deadhead if you do not want volunteer seedlings next season

This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds Drought-tolerant; suitable for xeriscaping

Full sun to partial shade

Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater

Drought-tolerant; suitable for xeriscaping

Easy to propogate from rhizome

sow in rich soil in full sun location; easy Late Spring/Early to propogate Summer

This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds Average water, simple maintenance Flowers are fragrant


Divide rhizomes

Partial shade

Do not over water


Sapney Farm & onsite

when the leaves die, remove the rhizomes from the ground.

grow best in full sun with moderate water Needs consitent in well-drained rich moist soil, do not let soil dry out or sandy soil

when leaves start to cook corms to eliminate die toxictity.

Sapney Farm

can grow in flooded conditions

leaves used in tea or used Shortly after flowers as a seasoning in food bloom preparation. on-site

Flower is used to eat

small groundcover

Sapney Farm

2' tall, 1.5'' in diameter

Sapney Farm

warm months harvest 9-10 months after planting

Up to 1 meter

Propagation & Plan Conditions

Flowers are fragrant

Read more: http://davesgarden. com/guides/pf/go/16 6581/#ixzz2qSsNfo uh vegetative by rhizome and seeds dispersed by birds Needs warm weather to go, nothing under 20 degrees C

Sapney Farm


Black Hyacinth Bean

Dochos lablab

dried mature seeds can be used as good proten source

Black Lima Bean

Phaseoulus lunatus


edible seeds

~ 15' long

Purple Winged Bean

Psophocarpus tetragonolobus


edible bean pods

12' tall

"Avarekkai" Hyacinth Bean (slim green)

Dolichos lab lab


tender beans edible


groundcover, nitrogen fixer

dried mature seeds can be used as good proten source edible tender pods, flowers (mushromrequire 180 frostfree days to mature flavored), cooked leaves edible tender pods

Edible protein-rich seeds

Pebble Farm

Pebble Farm Pebble Garden

grown from seed

hardy until zone 9 hot, humid tropics; drought-resistant, grow in full sun

Pebble Garden

Mimosa pudica

1.5 m tall


Vigna unguiculata


supress weeds, nitrogen source, build soil, prevent erosion, edible 30-60 in tall





Toothache Plant

Acmella oleracea


medicinal, antibacterial

Still need; follow up w Sapny

mid summer


seed matures in 90140 days

Coot Road Market

~ 6.5 ft


1-1.5 ft tall

Sapney Farm


Fleshy vegetable pod Fleshy vegetable pod



Edible protein-rich seeds

full sun to partial shade, rich soil

NOTE: Numbers correspond to numbers given to plants in the ground for future sign placement.


10. Cape Goose Berry- Physalis peruviana 2. Canna- Canna L. 9. Black Hyacinth Bean- Dochos lablab • •

Edible seeds and flowers Dried mature seeds can be used as a good protein source

• • •

Starchy rhizomes When leaves die, remove from the ground Needs full sun with moderate water in well-drained rich or sandy soil

• • •

Edible fruit May be eaten raw or made into jams and jellies Prefers sandy or gravely soil but can grow in well drained soils

8. Chaya- Cnidoscolus chayamansa • • • •

Leaves are very delicious but must be cooked for at least 3 minutes Never eat raw leaves; contain cyanide Needs shade and/or sun Often pruned at 2 meters

7. Cow Pea- Vigna unguiculata • • •

Great nitrogen-fixing groundcover Prevents erosion Edible protein-rich seeds


NOTE: Numbers correspond to numbers given to plants in the ground for future sign placement.


6. Moringa (Drumstick Tree) - Moringa oleifera 4. Ginger- Zingiber officianale • • • •

Edible rhizome Many medicinal values Great taste

• • •

1. Taro- Colocasia esculenta

Edible leaves, pods, and flowers Leaves can be eaten raw in a salad or cooked Dried mature seeds can be used for cooking oil Needs full sun with some sun and well drained soil

• • •

Edible corms when cooked (must be cooked to eliminate toxicity) Edible leaves Can grow in flooded conditions

Needs tropical climate to grow

3. Tulsi (Holy Basil) - Ocimum teniflorum • • • •

Tulsi is a great medicinal herb Although the leaves are edible, they are traditionally used to make tea Used as seasoning in food preparation Needs rich soil and full sun

5. Turmeric- Curcuma longa • • • •

Major part of Ayurvedic medicine Used to dye clothing Adds great flavor Likes well drained soil with light shade


Profile for Abrah Dresdale Consulting

Edible Pathways for Sadhana Forest, India  

A permaculture project designing and implementing perennial edible plants in Tamil Nadu, India. Soil building and water harvesting technique...

Edible Pathways for Sadhana Forest, India  

A permaculture project designing and implementing perennial edible plants in Tamil Nadu, India. Soil building and water harvesting technique...