A Pongamia trove

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One of the early lessons in permaculture bids you to look at the landscape all around the property you are developing and explore the resources. The idea is to observe natural selection. If you mimic nature you should be well on your way to success.

In 2006, I had fallen in love with the bare ground that I bought to develop as pointReturn. Between the road where I had parked the car and the half kilometer that I had to walk to get to the desolate canvas, lay paddy fields, casuarina groves and wild growth. Within a few feet of where I had parked stood a splendid Pongamia tree. As I walked I noticed a couple more. One of them was markedly profuse with pods. It was June after all. I had registered that in my mind with satisfaction.

Or, had I, really? One of the missions of pointReturn is to become self-sufficient in energy and my master plan has assigned that a stand of 1,000 Pongamia pinnata will contribute liquid fuel. When at the end of 2007, I was ready to plant the first 200 trees, I had reflexively turned to a nursery run by tribal women, about 50 kM away. 60 of that first stand were Pongamia. I went to the same nursery again in 2008. Being a hardy species, and quite well domiciled all over India, the trees have done well. So far there are about 160 trees in place.

How I do I ramp up to a 1,000? At that level, the price pinches- Rs.15 per sapling. And then there are issues of transport, timing and so on. That’s when we were led to to discover the treasure trove in our front yard. One morning as I drove past *the* tree, I saw it weighed down with pods. I told Chellamma and Annamalai to go gather the seeds so we can start raising the saplings right on the project. They were to collect only from the high yielding tree. Off they went.

When they got back with a basketful of seeds, Chellamma said with a smile she could barely suppress: “We can do it easier than starting with seeds. Come I will show you what I mean”.

About 100 yards out of the gate stood the tree. Only the crown was visible. The understory was overgrown with bushes, vines and thorns. We hacked a small way through. Once past that we were under the canopy of the mother tree. The leaf litter was at least 4 inches thick. In a 15 feet radius stood hundreds of saplings sprouted from fallen pods. In many cases we saw the pods not quite sloughed off, the oil bean had opened up and pushed up a plant.It was still connected, pumping up nourishment to the plant. The place felt and smelt divine.

We have since been lifting up saplings and pocketing them in bags. The mother tree’s babies are in a nursery at pointReturn now. They will be there, cared for till August, when they will be planted out within nodding distance of their mother.

One thought on “A Pongamia trove

  1. I have just been reading about pointReturn and feel overwhelmed. I have a few friends who think in a similar way, and all of us feel that we should move away from the concrete jungles and live in close harmony with the mother earth. On my way to the bus-stop today morning, I spotted the Pungamia tree, with lots of pods strewn around the base of the tree, just the thought crossed my mind, how many people know that the Pungamia can be used to extract bio-fuel? Where and when can we start educating people and how long will it take.

    Things apart, my friends and I would love to visit pointReturn, first for a short stay to learn how we can contribute towards the activities that have been taken up there. Hope we do it soon.
    Best wishes towards this green cause !!

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