Sunday, May 19, 2013

Fiji Prabhupadanugas program report

By Nityananda Das
May 19, 2013, Fiji Islands — Almost three years ago, as soon as the farm was under contract and even before the deal was closed, we began planting fruit trees. After all, they take years to start bearing and the sooner planted, the sooner the fruits would be coming… The property had been vacated in the 1950’s and had grown up into wild dense bush.
Some squatter farmers had made a thin track down the river to the beach, but otherwise there was no way to penetrate the jungle with such vines and thickets (viliawa and vau). We had brought from Suva about 500 potted plants (fruit trees mostly) that we had been able to find from various sources. Loading potted fruit trees onto a boat a few miles down the road, we motored down the Dogoro River past huge mangrove trees and out to the seacoast.  
Rounding Katianga Point, we ferried our cargo up our own small river at high tide, reaching a mile upstream to a tiny clearing where we had decided to start our orchard.

As the workers’ machetes flew and chain saws buzzed, as we cleared the bush, that little opening grew into several acres. In one place the vines were four feet thick, something like the network of material desires in the conditioned soul’s heart. The sad part though was felling the huge majestic raintrees- the earth shook as one by one, all seven came down and daylight reached the soil once more. Fruit trees cannot grow in the shade of these spreading raintrees which are almost like giant weeds. The raintree trunks were sawed up for wallboards later on- beautiful golden semi-hardwood with the look of African wavy-grain mahogany. Every 8 paces a fruit tree was planted, in rows, and water tolerant species allocated to the wetter areas.
Two fields were planted, maybe a total of seven acres. Avocado, kumquat, lemons, limes, grapefruit, oranges, mandarines, rambutan, lychee, mangosteen, langsat, cinnamon, sapadillo (chico), macadamia, star fruit, star apple, soursop, custard apple, abui, rose apple, mountain apple (locally called kavika), jackfruit, pomegranate, bael, guava, cocoa, longon, tamarind, sweet carambola, and more were planted in the rich reddish-brown soil. Today our orchards are immature as yet but thriving, as many citrus and avocado are already 12-16 feet high. This year we picked many crates of lemons, limes, kumquats from the first harvest, and also a few abui (delicious yellow fruit from Brazil).
As soon as the ashram grounds were cleared and the first roads completed, we planted lines of bananas and plantains (vundi) interspersed with papayas. These have been bearing year-round, and the extras we take into town and sell in the market to help cover fuel costs. One big Fijian lady sits under a tree outside the town market and sells iced papaya juice- she gets all our extra papayas for FJ$1 each. We put three thousand pineapples in two rows to help with erosion control on the steep slopes around the ashram headland, and in a few more months we should have lots of first crop pineapples (sweet since they are in full sun).
Two days ago a worker brought up a huge bunch of apple bananas (manzana bananas in Central America), those short fat ones with the taste of vanilla ice cream. It was hosed down, offered to a picture of Prabhupada, hung on the porch beam, and everyone availed themselves of plenty of these tropical delights.
As the bananas multiply, we thin them out and plant more rows. They and the papayas produce year-round, although in one season they are a little scarce, therefore the more the better. (Seasons- warmer and cooler, or wetter and wet seasons). Wherever we see fresh papaya seedlings coming up, we know one of the workers snuck one down and spit out the seeds… Someone brought some papaya seeds from St Croix, those big red fleshed ones, but they haven’t matured just yet. Although Fiji can flourish with all the wondrous fruits of the world’s tropics, the bio-variety here is very limited because the people are basically scavengers and don’t plant much besides cassava, taro, and maybe some sweet potatoes. They subsist on whatever volunteers on its own, and they have little ambition to grow anything except their basic root crops…
Veronica at the Spice Farm, on the main island of Viti Levu, had given us a few strawberry plants, which multiplied and two weeks ago we finally made a raised bed box and planted 30 of them with sawdust mulch. Of course we put them close to the ashram so they could be watched and thus there is hope they will make it onto Sri Sri Radha Govinda’s plates! We also made a rack for 6 or 7 passion fruit vines, and the juice is frequently offered at Their Lordship’s lunchtime. However, the rack was not properly built, part of it has collapsed and will need to be redone soon. Hopefully soon we can walk under the overhanging vines and pick passion fruits from the “juice tunnel” instead of crawling underneath. Kumquats, limes, and lemons also make delightful juices that really quench the thirst.
After the rush of construction on the main ashram building was completed and we moved out of our rental in town to the farm in February this year, we finally got down to starting a little vegetable garden. We are not experienced gardeners, but have a little history of it, and now aim to get serious. It is 90% weeding, of course; fortunately we dumped ten loads of sawdust from the construction work at the garden’s edge, and spreading sawdust between the rows helps control the grass and weeds. So far we have 7 rows of longbeans, French beans, pak choy, mustard greens, snap peas, lettuce, and 12 zucchini plants that are now flowering. We look forward to fresh vegetables soon, depending on what will do well. Bele (a bush with leaves that can be cooked) and a dozen young eggplants (perennial) are also producing.
But maybe the best feature of this property is the water cress patch that grows in a very unique spot, just downstream from a spring that bubbles up from below. In this stream of natural, pure mineral water, water cress thrives in the gravel-bottomed, 3 to 5 inch deep water. There are only a few places on this island where water cress can grow. The spicy taste of water cress (karessi as it called locally) is unique, and it is very high in vitamins and nutrients. For raw salads and in rotis, it is excellent, very healthy. It can also be sauted- fresh greens from the stream !  Every Sunday we go and pick a few bags for the coming week, and it is fun wading in the water and thumb-snapping the thicker stems off, letting the rest grow until we return for more…when there is enough, we have a dozen regular customers in town that wait anxiously for our delivery.
The excavator took several months cleaning up the swamp below the ashram and between the hillside and beach. Drains were dug like little canals, and twice the excavator sunk six feet into the mud, requiring  mud technology with poles and shovels to gradually crawl the digger back up to hard ground. We decided that this first year we would let the swamp drain and settle, as all the vines and bush had been buried underneath and everything was very spongy. Even bullocks would get trapped, what to speak of tractor or rotovator. So… we chose a strip of solid bottom land next to the swamp and plowed it with tractor and disc-harrow. It took Bill a week to learn the tricks of the tractor hydraulics and plow adjustments, but in early March he broadcast by hand the Chorta-Mortka (short and fat) variety of rice seeds that Jaja (retired Indian California Mercedes mechanic from Dreketi side of this island) had found and supplied us. It is a 6 month variety, and has grown up strong and healthy. The soil is fertile- we used no fertilizer. Already some seed heads are appearing, the area is about an acre or more. Estimated rice will be 300 kilos, enough for a year. Srila Prabhupada had written me when I was in New Talavan: “annad bavanti butani”- quoting from the Gita, we should just produce food grains. It is amazing to think that after almost 40 years, I am finally executing his instructions. Growing rice! (Although we did grow a very small plot of wheat in New Talavan in 1978.)
This key and integral aspect of a self sufficiency village project is actually being realized. At harvest time, we will use little sickles to cut bunches of stalks and pile them in rain-shedding mounds. Then we drive the tractor over the stalks, back and forth, with a tarp underneath, to separate the seeds from the stalks (threshing). The seeds are bagged and brought to Labasa where several households will husk the rice with their tractor powered mill for a small fee within an hour. We could then mill it into white polished rice, but we suspect a better tasting, healthier rice will be our choice instead, a somewhat browner rice. We’ll see… Many Indian farmers in Fiji grow their own rice, one family is just a few miles away, but it is pioneering and new to us! Often in Fiji we see yoked bullocks, used by Indians for plowing their fields, and by Fijians for pulling firewood logs from forest to village.
Well, that’s a little snapshot of our life in a tropical paradise… Krishna has been so very kind to us, why? Must be causeless mercy…
Yours in Prabhupada’s service,
Nityananda das
New Jayapur, Vanua Levu, Fiji Islands
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