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Nurturing Tulasi Devi in the western climate

From: Jai Simman s/o R. Rangasamy (rjsimman_at_magix.com.sg)
Date: Tue Jul 18 2000 - 01:04:11 PDT

Dear Vaishnavas,

Hare Krishna.
Please accept my humble dandavat pranams.

I came across a very useful website
http://seva.iskcon.net/vrnda/handbook.htm on the nurturing of Tulasi devi in
North America.

Since many of you are residing in these areas and may face difficulty in
cultivating
Tulasi Maharani for the service of the Lord, I am sending the following
excerpt
written by a devotee mataji about nurturing her in the non-tropical weather
conditions
of the western world. I hope that these tips would aid some of us in
performing
nice service to Vrnda devi.

This posting is not directly related to Sri Vaishnava siddhantam but the
worship of
Tulasi and her nurturing is very important to all Vaishnavas and some of us
may be struggling
with this especially in difficult climates.

I hope that the following posting would help.

Hare Krishna.


Your servant,
Vaishnava dasanudasan,
R.Jai Simman
Singapore

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The Tulasi Handbook Including:
How to start a Tulasi seedling and care for Her in North America

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Quotes from Srila Prabhupada;

"Please take care of the Tulasi plants in the following way. This is the
best season for growing Tulasi plants. From 15th April to 15th June is the
best season for growing this plant. Now I understand that the seedlings are
coming out, so the whole spot if possible may be covered by some net because
the seedling stage creepers are sometimes eaten up by the sparrows.
All the devotees should pour water at least once in the morning before
taking prasadam. The watering should not be very much large in quantity, but
it should be poured just to keep the ground soft and moist. Sunlight also
should be allowed.
When the creepers are grown at last 7 inches high, then you can take them
out from the planting soil and transplant them in a row in a different place
.. Then go on watering and they will grow like anything. I think this plant
cannot grow in cold countries, but if the planets are dispatched from your
place and if the devotees take care of the plant with a little care in a
flower pot, then it may grow."


GENERAL INSTRUCTIONS

The most important and fundamental principle of Tulasi care is regular and
perpetual care. She is a pure devotee, and Her requirements are few and
simple. She simply requires Her own quarters with direct sunlight, where She
can grow without disturbances and interruptions. She should be watered at
approximately the same time and Her leaves should also be collected at a
regular time. Mornings between 7:30 and 9:00 are the best for both purposes.

The most essential ingredient is one individual devotee to take the
responsibility of tending Her. This means that this devotee is conscious of
Tulasi throughout the day-- checking that Her door is shut, that She has
sufficient water, that Her fan is on, that Her leaves are being offered
regularly and fresh. In this way She is nursed through the day and night. It
is not so much time consuming-- but rather 1/2 hour to 40 minutes (depending
on the number of Tulasis) in the morning and then utilizing the few spare
moments throughout the day. If this is done regularly and in an orderly
fashion She will bloom and flourish.

Housing-- It has been found that She pines for sun-- Tulasi grown indoors
after 8 or 10 months do not fair as well as those given real sunlight.
(Krishna says, "I am the light of the sun and the moon.") Greenhouse are not
all that expensive to build. $60 (Keep in mind this was written in 1970) can
build a really first-class house that can accommodate up to 60 2-foot
Tulasis, and adaptations can always be made as to weather, climate, building
materials on hand, and the number of Tulasi's involved. Porches, arbors,
fire escapes, and roof tops can all be modified to fit the need.
If indoor lighting is unavoidable (actually some arrangement can always be
made), then fluorescent tubes and fixtures (each holding at least 2 bulbs)
can be suspended over and around Her. The lights must be special indoor full
spectrum plant tubes, not your ordinary white fluorescent tube. The plant
lights are effective only within a 6" radius, after which they drop to a
potency of 0. Because of this, Tulasi s grown indoors become "leggy, " that
is to say, long stems with thin stalks and only a few leaves, and a clump of
leaves at the top, near the light. Because the lights have such a short
range of feet, the leaves receive no real juice, and therefore fade and fall
off. The result is a weak and top heavy Tulasi.

To alleviate the situation, place one set of fixtures over Her (as close as
possible as She will not be burnt unless actually touching for a period of
time), and then bank two more fixtures, one on each side, giving you a total
of 3 fixtures, totaling at least 6 tubes If done in this way, there will be
a complete aura of light around Her. Foil can then be used to provide a
hood, catching all the reflected light and focusing it on Her. Set the
lights on some sort of pulley or adjustable chain affair, and in this way
the lights can be raised as She grows.Please, no sun lamps.

Water-- Proper watering has to be adjusted according to weather, climate,
size, soil and the particular nature of the individual Tulasi. (There is no
mechanical arrangement as She is a person). She would rather be just a
little bit dry than too wet, but don' t let Her soil become hard with a
crust and have Her become limp. It is best to water in the morning-- around
8 or 9 o' clock-- as She uses the water for photosynthesis all day long. Her
leaves should also be picked at this time as will be especially explained
later. Get a small tea pot, kettle, or anything clean with a spout, and use
to water Her as it is easier to control the flow and also easier to
maneuver. City water is full of chemicals, but if drawn in a bucket and let
sit over night, the chemicals will evaporate out-- be sure the bucket is not
a corrosive metal (no aluminum vessel should be used) as that would permeate
the water. After the bucket has sat over night, aerate it, which is to
say-pour it from one bucket to another allowing it to free fall through the
air for a distance. This process gets more of the chlorine out and also
allows air into the water. Taste the water the evening before and in the
morning after and you will be convinced.

If you can water her with filtered water this is best. By using the teapot
method you can avoid the danger of over watering, exposing Her roots by
washing soil away, and knocking branches trying to water Her. As was said
earlier, the watering of Srimati Tulasi-devi is not a mechanical process and
will come with practice. Feel the soil by pushing your finger in Her pot. Is
She dried out? Then pour slowly, seeing how must She will absorb in just a
few seconds. Never leave a puddle of water still above the soil, this means
that She is saturated and can not accept more. Balance it so She is just dry
on top by the next morning, not still soggy or so dry that She has drooped.
If the sun is out, and it is going to be a hot day, She will need more
water, and the converse is, if it is a cloudy day She will not need much.
Afternoon sun is very intense and taxing, so always check Her again around
2-3 p.m. Every afternoon we spray Her off as explained in the diseases
section.

At least once a week water Her until the water drains out the bottom.
Over-watering causes diseases in the soil, mold, faded and curled leaves,
rots the soil, and causes root diseases. A sign or over watering is when She
turns a pale green and apparently perfectly healthy leaves drop. She will go
limp, if under watered. She breathes through the soil and over the process
of time the soil tends to become packed. This causes uneven water absorption
and poor ventilation. The cure is to break up the soil with a fork or a
spoon handle. Dig down about 1/2 of an Inch, breaking up and turning over
the soil in small clods. This can be done as needed in accordance with the
rate it becomes packed. Be cautious of Her roots.

Soil Combinations-- The best soil is homemade, that is to say not some
combination purchased in a store but mixed from local ingredients. A symptom
of good soil is dark color, another is rich smell. (I am the original
fragrance of the earth). It should hold its shape somewhat if pressed into a
clod in the fist. Earth worms are another good sign. Obtain some cow manure
and allow it to set for 2 weeks, the reason being that it is very strong
when fresh. The nitrogen content is so strong that it would burn the tender
roots, so best to let it age. Spread it out and water thoroughly. Every few
days turn it over so that the manure underneath the pile is exposed to the
sun. Better to buy already composted cow manure than to chance a bad root
burn-- unless one is experienced at composting, etc.

Earth worms can be purchased also. (Krishna is like the sun, pure and
antiseptic.) Earth worms are for gardens; when put in pots they may damage
roots. For your basic humus or plain old soil, find a garden that is
producing profuse flowers and ask to borrow a quantity of soil. A little
sand (never salty sand; salt kills plants, practically of any kind; wash the
sand if beach sand/ thoroughly before using') should be added and also a
small quantity of vermiculite, or perlite.

Potting-- Most of this is elaborately explained by Govinda dasi in the
preceding pages, so the remains are just a few notes. By transplanting Her
there is always the danger of exposing Her roots to the air. This causes
them to dry and wilt. The answer is to always keep sufficient dirt around
the roots. They will form what is known as a root ball. Also there is one
root, called the tap root which descends straight down from the stalk and is
the longest and most important. If this root is broken there is a good
chance the Tulasi will depart, so always be sure to dig down far enough.
(That will usually be the same distance as the height of the tree from the
soil.) It is best to transplant in the afternoon, after 4 p.m. or on a
cloudy day that is not very hot. Never transplant in heat of day.

As She grows, Her roots will fill the pot, and at that point She will have
to be transplanted again. This will be a perpetual duty, and as She grows
you will have the blissful opportunity to move Her. The new pots should be 2
to 2 1\2 times the size of the root ball (cluster of roots). Take the chance
to straighten Her if She is growing crooked, but be careful not to plant Her
lower or higher than She was situated early as this will cause disease. Too
high will mold Her stem, lower will cause Her to be unstable and to expose
Her roots to rot and mold. No matter how careful you are, there's always
some shock and transplant setback. Thus, why transplant repeatedly??
If you put the tiny 6" or 7" plant in a giant pot full of good soil, it may
look funny for awhile, but She'll appreciate the leg room and grow much more
rapidly and be a healthier plant than if you repeatedly disturb her root
systems by numerous periodic transplants. (Note: From experience I found
that if you put Tulasi in too large a pot, Her roots will slot down their
growth and root disease may set in. I've been told by several botanists that
it is best to transplant gradually. New Orleans had this problem with Tulasi
also.)

Feeding-- There is really no need for artificial feedings, in fact some
foods (certain mixtures of 20-20-20) will actually build up toxin in Her
soil and cause great damage. Stick with a little cow manure every 3 or 4
weeks, and once a month feeding of iron. This combined with the perpetual
replanting in fresh soil are enough to keep Her in fine health. Try a
powdered iron solution; ours is 1 tsp.--2 gallons water; 1/4 cup--1 every 2
weeks. Stay away from chemical fertilizers. They do build up toxins in the
soil, and make it sterile of certain elements eventually . Use cow manure,
and a good brand of organic compost is essential . The compost should be
cultivated into the soil every few weeks, along with a little manure. Watch
out for bone material in the compost though (some brands have ground-up
animal bones).

Seeds-- Tulasi has at least two flowering periods. Because of the variance
factors of climate, age, and other conditions it is impossible to predict
the times, but I can relate the symptoms and results. Some will produce seed
pods, shaped like a small temple and containing four little seeds and the
other season produces smaller pods or fruits that also look like a temple
but contain no seeds. As will be explained later, it is not advisable to let
Her go to seed unless She is several years old, and in best of health. Even
then, let only a few of the manjaris go to seed. If you contact me, I will
be more than happy to supply you with seeds, both Krishna and Rama Tulasis.
The process is to let the stalks stay on past the flower-seed pod stage .
Watch as the pods drop the flowers and become firm and darker golden. When
you look inside the pod and see that the four little seeds are a dark brown,
then you know that it is time to pick the seeds.

If you observe how She grows, you will see that at every intersection
between a leaf and the main stem, there is a small bud developing. Follow
the seed stalk down until the next pair of developing buds. The first set of
leaves below the seed stalk and the buds sprouting from there are most
always going to develop into another pair of manjaris, so rather than drain
Her energy it is best to skip down one more joint to the next set of leaves
and buds. Nip here, saying the mantra for picking leaves, chanting Hare
Krishna, and using sharp surgical scissors.
Best to pick the flowers when they bloom, because letting them go to seed
does very much weaken the plant. Once the seeds are gathered, let them dry a
short week or so. Be very careful when handling the seed pods, even when
they are on the mother plant as they are arranged in such a way as to spring
out of the pods when shaken. So far as seeding seasons, I haven't observed
any in our Tulasis in Hawaii. They flower constantly, perpetually-- all the
time, year round, but more intensely when there's lots of sunshine .


Diseases-- Generally speaking, if She is receiving correct water and
sufficient sunlight, in a pot of the correct size and type of dirt suitable,
She will flourish. The only necessity is to be sure to protect Her from
wandering insects and the most lethal-- red spider mites. Always keep Her in
an area that is screened and continually check the underside of Her leaves
for insects. The primary concern in the U. S. is the ever-present spider
mites, so that will be the main concern here. These rascals live on the
underside of Her leaves and lay their eggs in the dust next to the ribbing
or veins of Her leaves. When the eggs hatch, the young suck Her juice. The
beginning symptoms are pale and limp leaves with brown tips. The leaves
become specked with small pale green dots and begin to curl in. As She
becomes weaker and weaker, whole branches will just turn yellow, curl up and
drop all their leaves. The stems become pinched and brown. If you observe
very carefully you will see small spiders, no bigger than the head of a pin
scurrying around on the underside of Her leaves and in the topmost clusters
of branches and leaves. Hold Her at different angles in the light and you
will see fine spider webs crisscrossing the various branches.

Finally, you will see small white eggs on the underside of Her leaves and
your whole Tulasi will be yellow and limp. She can be saved' There is a very
simple process which if you use at a regular basis will keep the spiders at
a very minimal level and Srimati Tulasi will flourish and bloom. Never use
any sort-of poison. Tulasi is meant for offering to Krishna, and how can She
be offered if She is covered with some spray (systemic sprays horrible!!).
She is also contaminated by the use of systemic sprays as they work their
way through Her system and ultimately deposit their poison in Her leaves.
Ladybugs are often offered as a solution-, but from my own experience on
several attempts they haven't been much help.

The real cure is the bathing process. (Actually, the eggs of the spiders are
stuck on by some sort of natural adhesive and will not be washed off. They
hatch at their will so the regular bathing and periodic sprays with fresh
water can keep the spiders and mites at bay. ) The needed paraphernalia is:
one large plastic bucket with a mouth 2 ft. across, 1 bar of soap (spiritual
sky herbal or non scented is the best-- be careful what soap you use). I
found that the best to use is a vegetable soap as the others are made with
some animal products, and a hose with fresh water. It is best done in the
morning or on a cloudy day, as it is a taxing endeavor and the sun is a
strain. Water first, as this will help to keep the soil in the pot.

The basic principles are: You dip the Tulasi in the soapy water, swish Her
around carefully and then rinse off with fresh water. The soapy water coats
the leaves and smothers the spiders, the clean rinse washes the soap off,
along with the spiders and their webs. If done regularly twice a month, your
Tulasis will survive nicely. The water should be drawn the day before and
handled just as written in the water section. This way it is also not too
cold for Her. Rub the bar of soap in the water until it turns a shadowy
white, not solid white like milk, but more of a translucent white. If the
soap is too concentrated it can do some damage. Add a 1/4 cup of honey to 6
gallons water as that will also help coat the leaves. Cut pieces of
cardboard to fit inside the various sizes of pots ( see picture page) as the
cardboard will keep the dirt from sliding out into the water or your whole
Tulasi from falling out. Work in an area where there can be water spilled in
large quantities but that is also protected from the wind, dogs, and other
alien factors. Get an assistant to help you hold Her pot, and using the
cardboard to hold Her soil, tip Her up and submerge Her in the solution. Don
' t be timid but also be gentle (there is a fine line of difference). It is
either this or the slow death by the spiders.
Swish Her around softly, cautiously agitating the water by raising and
lowering her in the bucket, like a pump swirl against Her. The whole time
spent no more than 5 seconds, I have timed it. Now that means once you
actually have Her submerged, and have the knack of it. One danger point is
when She is removed from the water. Just like after you wash something-- it
has greater weight due to the added water that has been absorbed, so there
will be added water suspended on Her various leaves and branches . If you
just pull Her right out, the added water will cause Her to droop over and be
unable to support Herself. If you grab Her right out there is every
possibility of breaking roots and also tearing branches. As you pull Her
out, simultaneously grab hold of a strong part of Her stem towards the base,
several inches above the ground. By holding on to the stem in this way, it
gives added support to Her and also you can very gently shake off the excess
water (Like the Boar incarnation, shaking off the water after saving the
world from the filthy place. )

The next step is to hose Her off with fresh water, one reason is to wash the
old soap off Her leaves and the other is to finish off those spiders who
were shaken loose by the bath but not completely removed . By placing a
finger over the nozzle you can make a jet-spray-- there must be force enough
to knock the spiders off but not enough to tear or rip Her leaves. Be sure
to get the underside of the leaves as that is where the spiders hide out.
The main concern here is the possibility of flooding Her pot with the excess
water, so turn Her pot on one edge, tilted to one side, and in that way you
have a clean shot at the underside, and the excess water just travels right
on by.

Also you could cover her root ball and the earth at the top of the pot with
a sphere of plastic or something like plastic wrap. Now very carefully shake
off the water, and unfold Her leaves. Remove any of the old yellow leaves
that may be caught in Her branches. Have a sacred throw away to take care of
the unoffered leaves. She maybe a bit limp (be very careful when you do
this, have an assistant and think it out thoroughly before acting), but you
will see Her perk up by morning (You may have to prop up a branch or two for
a day or so-- use a stick, being sure not to crush any buds or leaves.) I
haven't used any store bought insecticides in a very long time. If the
plants are kept healthy, there won't be a need for such things. Also they
are poisonous, and I know Srila Prabhupada didn't really like the idea.
The only thing I used was sulfur (a couple of years ago) for the mites, and
it is an organic control. We used Malathion once or twice but decided
against it, and I haven 't used anything at all for perhaps 2 years. By
using such things the leaves practically become unofferable, as they are
poisoned. Sulfur washes off, true, but you have to have very hot sunshine in
order to activate its working principle. The spiders are spread by eggs
which the mothers lay along the veins on the underside of Tulasi's leaves.
These serve as breeding grounds and as the eggs are stuck on to Her leaves
with a type of secretion, they are virtually impossible to remove with
simple washing, so the successful process consists of bi-weekly baths with
soap (every 14 days) and spraying Her off every day or every other day
(every other day is probably sufficient). Our greenhouse is arranged in such
a way that 70 Tulasis can be rinsed at-a time, The water soaking into Her
stems helps to generate healthy fibers for carrying fluid.

Some ideas are: put Her on some shelves so that by kneeling down you can get
right under Her leaves. Be sure that it is done in a reasonably warm place
so She won't catch cold. During the summer months we spray Her with water
twice a day, once in the morning around 10:00 and again the afternoon about
2:30. She loves it as manifested by Her green effulgence. There is also the
possibility that you are taking over after the spiders have gotten a strong
grip and done much damage. Check the tops of Her branches by holding Her in
different angles of light. Very fine meshing of webs can be seen. At this
stage the spiders are like cancer and the only combating element is to
somehow remove the sick limb. There are so many eggs that they will just
serve to contaminate the rest of Her; also it is like fighting a battle-- if
She is fighting off the spiders on too many fronts She will be ineffectual
on all fronts. Better to remove the worst places and let Her concentrate on
that which has potential to be saved.

Once the leaves are yellow with browning tips and covered with the webs,
there is no hope. Best to remove by following the tip down the stem to where
She still remains healthy. Cut above a pair of healthy buds as seen in
collecting seeds section. Contemplate the move first, cut off as little as
possible and still do the job. Better to just cut Her once than do many many
small cuts-- and yet don't butcher Her. This may seem harsh, but having done
the initial cutting (better to cut once than to let Her go the slow way with
a blanket of spiders) the regular bathing and spraying keep Her in the peak
of health.
(Note: 'It is a great offense to cut Her lotus branches, replied Srila
Prabhupada to Radhaballabha in a letter. Also, he spoke last fall just prior
to His leaving about this subject: generally plants are pruned before winter
but Tulasi-devi is not ordinary. Sachidevi.)
The Tulasis that I have tended in this way have made a comeback and are now
serving their Lord nicely, so judge by the results. So far as I understand,
pruning is not to be done except in most exceptional circumstances. Cutting
a leaf or a flower stalk is not considered pruning so far as my
understanding, but is rather a necessary everyday thing for gathering to
offer to the Deities. (Here we are cutting flower stalks daily, and if we
cut steadily for 2 or 3 hours, still we can't get them all. It is our major
problem with our Tulasi plants. I want to keep them from going to seed, but
it is virtually impossible as it would require an 8 hour a day job
practically-which is not practical.) So to pick off a mosaic leaf or
infected leaf or a few infected leaves seems okay to me-- but to start
cutting off branches, etc. . is where I would become most hesitant .

Pruning; so far as dictionary definitions, means to cut off branches or
parts of a plant so generally it doesn't refer to cutting of flowers, etc.. I
can relate one incident in this regard: last visit Srila Prabhupada made to
New Nabadwip the Tulasi plants on either side of the temple gateway had
grown overly large-- about 7 feet tall and 4 or 5 feet in diameter. So They
had bushed out into the walkway, thus closing the entranceway except for
about a foot and a half. We had tied them back repeatedly, but still They
closed in again so that a person had to turn sideways and slither between
them, and even then lightly brush them. This isn't so bad for devotees, but
all guests aren't so considerate so They would get smashed against and so
forth. So as Prabhupada walked between Them there being only enough space
for Him to pass, I asked what can be done, the entrance being closed. He
smiled and said, "You cannot cut them. Don't live, don't die. " He laughed.
We did nothing, and then later got a letter from India and He said that in
this case They could be trimmed back.

So only then did we proceed to do it with reluctance. So you have perhaps
understand the seriousness of pruning from this incident. I have heard such
pruning is sometimes done on the mainland for some reasons, but you should
explain it can only be done in extreme cases of necessity. If there is
disease or heavy infestation of spider mites, then I suppose it The next
step is to hose her off with fresh water, one reason is to wash the old soap
off Her leaves and the other is to finish off these spiders who could be
concluded as necessary in order to save the plant, but should not "be done
whimsically to "make the plant bushier Her goal and reason for existence is
to be offered to Krishna, so to spray Her with some poison defeats the whole
purpose.
Also, She is very tender and most sprays are extremely harsh; soap is
mildest medium I hare found. One possibility that Is offered is a 3% oil
spray, but I haven' t experimented with it and would like to avoid it. If
there is trouble with larger bugs, try to purchase some lady bugs or praying
mantises.

Write: Bio-Control Company, Route 2, Auburn, California 95603, Box 2397, 50
for a small vial of 50 lady bugs which is more than enough. Write for
information to the California address. (Remember this was written in 1970);

I have used the lady bugs on spider mites with little results, but they may
work on different types of bugs . Never use a systemic spray or soil soluble
solution as it will almost kill Her and leave a lingering taste for up to 6
months.
Note: a good spray made for planets: is OX bug spray . Wait 3 days after
spraying before offering to Krishna. Flies are another botheration and must
be avoided as they are very dirty. The best is to use screens and always be
sure to shut doors. A fan also helps to get rid of them if it has an outside
sucking vent which will draw them out. (Good air circulation helps Her
grow.)




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