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How to grow a forest in your backyard | Shubhendu Sharma

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09:12   |   Aug 22, 2016

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How to grow a forest in your backyard | Shubhendu Sharma
How to grow a forest in your backyard | Shubhendu Sharma thumb How to grow a forest in your backyard | Shubhendu Sharma thumb How to grow a forest in your backyard | Shubhendu Sharma thumb

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  • This is a man-made forest.
  • It can spread over acres and acres of area,
  • or it could fit in a small space --
  • as small as your house garden.
  • Age of this forest is just two years old.
  • I have a forest in the backyard of my own house.
  • It attracts a lot of biodiversity.
  • (Bird call)
  • I wake up to this every morning,
  • like a Disney princess.
  • (Laughter)
  • I am an entrepreneur
  • who facilitates the making of these forests professionally.
  • We have helped factories,
  • farms,
  • schools,
  • homes,
  • resorts,
  • apartment buildings,
  • public parks
  • and even a zoo
  • to have one of such forests.
  • A forest is not an isolated piece of land where animals live together.
  • A forest can be an integral part of our urban existence.
  • A forest, for me,
  • is a place so dense with trees that you just can't walk into it.
  • It doesn't matter how big or small they are.
  • Most of the world we live in today was forest.
  • This was before human intervention.
  • Then we built up our cities on those forests,
  • like São Paulo,
  • forgetting that we belong to nature as well,
  • as much as 8.4 million other species on the planet.
  • Our habitat stopped being our natural habitat.
  • But not anymore for some of us.
  • A few others and I today make these forests professionally --
  • anywhere and everywhere.
  • I'm an industrial engineer.
  • I specialize in making cars.
  • In my previous job at Toyota,
  • I learned how to convert natural resources into products.
  • To give you an example,
  • we would drip the sap out of a rubber tree,
  • convert it into raw rubber
  • and make a tire out of it -- the product.
  • But these products can never become a natural resource again.
  • We separate the elements from nature
  • and convert them into an irreversible state.
  • That's industrial production.
  • Nature, on the other hand, works in a totally opposite way.
  • The natural system produces by bringing elements together,
  • atom by atom.
  • All the natural products become a natural resource again.
  • This is something which I learned
  • when I made a forest in the backyard of my own house.
  • And this was the first time I worked with nature,
  • rather than against it.
  • Since then,
  • we have made 75 such forests in 25 cities across the world.
  • Every time we work at a new place,
  • we find that every single element needed to make a forest
  • is available right around us.
  • All we have to do is to bring these elements together
  • and let nature take over.
  • To make a forest we start with soil.
  • We touch, feel and even taste it
  • to identify what properties it lacks.
  • If the soil is made up of small particles it becomes compact --
  • so compact, that water cannot seep in.
  • We mix some local biomass available around,
  • which can help soil become more porous.
  • Water can now seep in.
  • If the soil doesn't have the capacity to hold water,
  • we will mix some more biomass --
  • some water-absorbent material like peat or bagasse,
  • so soil can hold this water and it stays moist.
  • To grow, plants need water, sunlight and nutrition.
  • What if the soil doesn't have any nutrition in it?
  • We don't just add nutrition directly to the soil.
  • That would be the industrial way.
  • It goes against nature.
  • We instead add microorganisms to the soil.
  • They produce the nutrients in the soil naturally.
  • They feed on the biomass we have mixed in the soil,
  • so all they have to do is eat and multiply.
  • And as their number grows,
  • the soil starts breathing again.
  • It becomes alive.
  • We survey the native tree species of the place.
  • How do we decide what's native or not?
  • Well, whatever existed before human intervention is native.
  • That's the simple rule.
  • We survey a national park
  • to find the last remains of a natural forest.
  • We survey the sacred groves,
  • or sacred forests around old temples.
  • And if we don't find anything at all,
  • we go to museums
  • to see the seeds or wood of trees existing there a long time ago.
  • We research old paintings, poems and literature from the place,
  • to identify the tree species belonging there.
  • Once we know our trees,
  • we divide them in four different layers:
  • shrub layer, sub-tree layer, tree layer and canopy layer.
  • We fix the ratios of each layer,
  • and then we decide the percentage of each tree species in the mix.
  • If we are making a fruit forest,
  • we increase the percentage of fruit-bearing trees.
  • It could be a flowering forest,
  • a forest that attracts a lot of birds or bees,
  • or it could simply be a native, wild evergreen forest.
  • We collect the seeds and germinate saplings out of them.
  • We make sure that trees belonging to the same layer
  • are not planted next to each other,
  • or they will fight for the same vertical space when they grow tall.
  • We plant the saplings close to each other.
  • On the surface, we spread a thick layer of mulch,
  • so when it's hot outside the soil stays moist.
  • When it's cold,
  • frost formation happens only on the mulch,
  • so soil can still breathe while it's freezing outside.
  • The soil is very soft --
  • so soft, that roots can penetrate into it easily,
  • rapidly.
  • Initially, the forest doesn't seem like it's growing,
  • but it's growing under the surface.
  • In the first three months,
  • roots reach a depth of one meter.
  • These roots form a mesh,
  • tightly holding the soil.
  • Microbes and fungi live throughout this network of roots.
  • So if some nutrition is not available in the vicinity of a tree,
  • these microbes are going to get the nutrition to the tree.
  • Whenever it rains,
  • magically,
  • mushrooms appear overnight.
  • And this means the soil below has a healthy fungal network.
  • Once these roots are established,
  • forest starts growing on the surface.
  • As the forest grows we keep watering it --
  • for the next two to three years, we water the forest.
  • We want to keep all the water and soil nutrition only for our trees,
  • so we remove the weeds growing on the ground.
  • As this forest grows, it blocks the sunlight.
  • Eventually, the forest becomes so dense
  • that sunlight can't reach the ground anymore.
  • Weeds cannot grow now, because they need sunlight as well.
  • At this stage,
  • every single drop of water that falls into the forest
  • doesn't evaporate back into the atmosphere.
  • This dense forest condenses the moist air
  • and retains its moisture.
  • We gradually reduce and eventually stop watering the forest.
  • And even without watering,
  • the forest floor stays moist and sometimes even dark.
  • Now, when a single leaf falls on this forest floor,
  • it immediately starts decaying.
  • This decayed biomass forms humus,
  • which is food for the forest.
  • As the forest grows,
  • more leaves fall on the surface --
  • it means more humus is produced,
  • it means more food so the forest can grow still bigger.
  • And this forest keeps growing exponentially.
  • Once established,
  • these forests are going to regenerate themselves again and again --
  • probably forever.
  • In a natural forest like this,
  • no management is the best management.
  • It's a tiny jungle party.
  • (Laughter)
  • This forest grows as a collective.
  • If the same trees --
  • same species --
  • would have been planted independently,
  • it wouldn't grow so fast.
  • And this is how we create a 100-year-old forest
  • in just 10 years.
  • Thank you very much.
  • (Applause)

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Description

Forests don't have to be far-flung nature reserves, isolated from human life. Instead, we can grow them right where we are -- even in cities. Eco-entrepreneur and TED Fellow Shubhendu Sharma grows ultra-dense, biodiverse mini-forests of native species in urban areas by engineering soil, microbes and biomass to kickstart natural growth processes. Follow along as he describes how to grow a 100-year-old forest in just 10 years, and learn how you can get in on this tiny jungle party.

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