Bringing the “Perma” to MPA Culture

This article was originally published in the Miri Piri Academy newsletter. It was written by Japjeet Kaur Khalsa (Director of Student Life).

Since mid-December we’re fortunate to have the dedicated permaculturalist Luis Aristoy with us on campus. He already visited MPA last year and took a closer look at our garden, and guided us in how to compost correctly. Luis is originally from Mexico where his family has an avocado, peach, bee and blackberry farm. He travels extensively around the world, guiding communities in how to make the most of their gardens while learning new techniques along the way.

He is committed to helping MPA transform how we garden. When he arrived on campus he was happy to see that we were able to follow his instructions throughout the year to produce good compost for our garden. He will continue to improve our process so that we can have the best possible soil.

Our goal for our garden is to grow a wide variety of vegetables in medium-sized quantities throughout the year. Currently, we grow large quantities of a few vegetables that are commonly eaten in the Punjab. As an international community, we enjoy eating a wider variety of fruits and vegetables than are available locally, and we need to produce them consistently throughout the year.

In recent years we have expanded the variety of vegetables, but we can expand that still, as well as produce them over a longer growing season. This will guarantee good quality vegetables for our students and staff and hopefully will insulate us from the rising prices of vegetables locally. By growing our own vegetables we also guarantee our vegetables are organically grown and healthy for our students.

One goal was to teach our gardeners how to take care of our fruit trees. We have many orange, lemon and mango trees on campus and they require certain pruning techniques that will ensure the right amount of water, air and sunlight for the fruit to flourish. Our current maintenance techniques are focused primarily on aesthetics, but Luis’ lessons are helping us transform our understanding. This lesson was very well received by the gardeners, who quickly demonstrated their understanding by pruning our orange trees according to the principles learned.

Our orange trees are approximately 15 years old. As such, they are considered mature and will bear fruit for the next 35 years. Considerable pruning is underway to make sure that each primary branch receives all of the nutrients they need. This year the focus is on the foundation of the tree, making sure we choose the right primary and secondary branches. In a year’s time, when the shape and foundation are set, we can work on the tertiary branches and the finer details.

The same process was undertaken for our lemon trees, that are currently two to three years old. Many branches were pruned to establish a proper foundation for the trees. For our mango trees, we’ve fertilized them with fresh manure to give them maximum nutrition.

In addition to these trees, we have planted new fruit trees, including lychee trees and fig trees to increase the variety of fruit on campus. A few days ago Luis moved on, but fortunately will come back in winter next year to continue to teach our staff and students, and help us develop our organic garden and food production capacities.

Read more about the environmental benefits of gardening (from U.S. Green Technology)

Read more about the environmental benefits of composting (from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) 

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