Thursday, December 11, 2008

Permaculture....more than organic gardening!!! Part 2

Energy Components
Technologies, Connection, Structures, Sources

When designing and establishing systems we must prioritize our investments first in structures and technologies that create energy, second that save energy and last that consume energy. It is inevitable that we will spend energy to initially establish our habitat. This is not a problem, so long as the designed habitat produces more energy over its lifetime than was initially spent. All systems should provide their own energy needs and remove themselves as much as possible from a dependence on distant sources. “When the needs of a system are not met from within, we pay the price in energy and pollution.” (Mollison)

When designing to the site-specific components the first priority is water, as water is an energy that can be put to great use. Higher elevation rainwater storage (earth dams and tanks) should be designed into a landscape whenever possible. This is done to provide gravity fed water for crops houses and other uses at lower elevations. Swales are always planted to trees. They are tree-growing systems. The trees use water harvested by swales to turn the suns energy into wood and foods, like nuts and fruit. The wood can be used to build and maintain structures, provide fiber and heat, for solar efficient homes, in high efficiency stoves. By first investing in the water structures we have created numerous energy storage in our settlement.

Social Components
People, Culture, Trade, Finance

Cooperation not competition is the key. Presently my wife and I live on an apple orchard, together we contribute 40-50hr/week of our time and energy to the orchard. We are not the owners. In exchange for our efforts, we get a roof over our heads, clean and healthful food from the garden, access to land for our own food production and a good community. Assessing this arrangement from a purely financial perspective would neglect all other levels of wealth that we obtain from the relationship. Further more we can be assured that a significant proportion of our time and energy will stay within the systems on the farm. If we were to have regular jobs, within the formalized economic system of distant capital and finance, most of our time and energy would inevitably by exported out of the local environment and economy. By working to keep our time and energy cycling in the local economy through a non formalized system of exchange: trade barter and cooperation, we work to ensure our efforts go towards building the health and security of our community. We reduce our need for monetary gain, as our basic needs of clean food, clean water, clean shelter and healthy community are produced through our basic day-to-day interactions.

Abstract Components
Timing, information, ethics

Without an ethic or belief structure and actions in relation to survival on our planet, permaculture has no starting point. The basic permaculture ethic is as follows:
Care of the earth
Care of People
Return of Surplus to the above two ends (can also be understood as setting limits to growth)
With the ethic as our sounding board, we can use all available information to design healthy communities and provide for those communities without degrading local and distant ecology. In order to spread good design we must spread information to where it is needed and assist others who are trying to learn. As much as we need to combat against a lack of information, we should guard against an over abundance of data. “Information is only a resource if acted upon.” (Mollison) At some point we need to take a step forward and get our hands dirty.

It is only through the functioning connections between components that a complete whole system design can be achieved. The designed systems must maintain and build the health of the local environment and work for its occupants, not distant sources of capital, if it is to be sustainable. This can only be achieved by analyzing the needs and products of various components and placing those components where they supply each others needs and best utilize the inherent energy flows of the landscape and climate. Organic gardening is vital to any sound design, as we all have a right to clean food, but it must be placed appropriately within the context of the whole systems design that is known as permaculture.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Permaculture....more than organic gardening!!! Part 1

It is often the case that permaculture is mistaken for being just another form of organic gardening. This description is seriously lacking when considering permaculture and the influence it is having, and can have, in our rapidly changing world. “Permaculture is a design system for the harmonious integration of landscape and human habitat” (Mollison) An organic garden is only one element, an important element, but only one in an infinite number of different elements that might make up appropriately designed human systems. At the heart of good design are the functional relationships between elements and how they support each other. Permaculture is not about finding new and complicated high tech ways to support our present culture of waste and "protracted thoughtless labor". It is about integrating: site, energy, social, and abstract components to provide for human needs by creating and recycling resources and energy without degrading local and distant environments.
In the next few months we will be developing our own water, food, and animal systems here on Denman Island. Our system will be designed to provide for more than our own personal needs, as we are offering permaculture design courses and bringing in many people. As we go through the design process we will write about our efforts to implement permaculture design. Win , lose or draw we will reveal how easy or difficult it is to design a 1/4 acre lot starting from our front door. Through the process we will demonstrate how permaculture design is so much more than organic gardening.
Permaculture is not a hippie movement or a religion. Permaculture is a practical ethical way to move forward in a world of uncertain futures. The more we take responsibility for the cycle of resources around us, the richer and more abundant day to day life will be. The more connected we become to our community the more it will be there for us in the future.

Site Components
Water, earth, landscape, climate, plants

An appropriate design first considers local conditions and then harmonizes developed systems with those conditions to achieve that highest level of energy conservation possible.

Water, Access, Structures

This is the priority sequence of permaculture site design. By first designing water infrastructure (swales, dams, irrigation lines, diversion drains, irrigation ditches…) to harvest rainwater and store it passively throughout the landscape, we insure the fertility of the land and soil into the future. By storing, soaking and spreading water throughout the landscape we have preserved and even increased the health of the local ecology.
With the water system designed we can now turn our attention to accesses. The roads and trails must harmonize with the water system. All run off from roads and trails is directed passively to water harvesting structures like swales and dams. The compacted and sealed nature of access features results in flash run off during rain events. In a standard civil enegeneering situation this run off is a problem resulting in numerous logistical and environmental problems. In a harmonized permaculture design the run off from roads and trails are resources easily put to use in the whole system.
The final step in design, structures, is now easy, as building sites will become obvious against the backdrop of designed access and water. All water runoff from house and building sites is easily directed to the water systems.
The pattern of settlement development described above enriches the local environment through increased year round moisture, increasing the productivity of local soil conditions, often resulting in a surplus of usable energy as water stored in small earth dams up slope. The inceased moisture in the environment produces an ecology that supports and provides for the local inhabitant. Residents are required to use only enivronmentally safe products and activities, as any pollution produced is not carried away with the rain water but stays on site in the water harvesting structures. This is the ultimate feedback loop! In a permaculture design if we posion our environment we directly poison ourselves!!!

We have more to come in Part 2 "Energy Components" be sure to check back next week...

Friday, October 31, 2008

Harvest time and Hibernation

Halloween is here and the harvest of the apples is nearly over. Since our return to Canada things have been non-stop. I have had some spare time here and there, between bags of apples, I have be teaching myself the basics of home food preservation. So far I have been met with little success. I have managed to ruin twelve jars of yummy blackberry apple sauce because I did not process them correctly. I nearly cried when I saw the white fuzz on the inside of a jar I opened. I have learned my lesson, though and am thankful that I live in where there are no penalties for such error, only opportunities to learn.
Besides, there are heaps of apples left to experiment with and I'll be sure not to make the same mistake .....more than twice at least !! There will be time for all the indoor stuff as it cools and there is less to do outside.
West coast Canadian weather is just how I remembered it, a wacky mix of teasingly warm and sunny then incredibly wet and dreary. Just three days ago I was in a Tee shirt wondering if I should take a jump in the lake. Now, it hasn't stopped raining since yesterday afternoon and its tough to keep the chill away. I often have my nose pressed to the glass door window in amazement watching the rain fall all day long. I go to bed expecting it to have stopped, but it's still raining in morning. I thought that it would be a cleaver idea to water our indoor herb garden whenever it is raining in an effort to mimic the rain. But now I worry that I may drown our plants. I'll use a different method to remember watering them from now on. Other than my over zealous liquid sunshine our indoor pot garden, which is in the main kitchen window, is doing great. I went to the main garden a couple weeks ago and started potting up parsley, marjoram, oregano, chives, mint and purchased a rosemary plant. While I was doing that, at the markets, Jesse met a lady selling little stevia and gotu kola plants and bought one of each. So now we have the beginning of a mini jungle on the inside and it is starting to produce modestly.
It is important to us to have that fresh nutrition available when the winter comes and extend our season.
As we are drawing inwards, so to are other creatures we share space with. When we arrived here at the farm we noticed ladybugs were everywhere. In the orchard they fly everywhere often crashing into my face and ears. Now that the weather is cool they have done a little ladybug march into our house. At first we would just see them on the walls and one or two flying about. Then we realized that they were congregating by the main door. A little pile of ladybugs all squished together. Jesse reckoned they would just die there and that would be that. I was convinced something more complicated was at work.
So... I googled it!
And this is what I found out....
Ladybugs live off of their stored fat during hibernation, which is why I don't see them moving much. So, now when I get a lad bug flying on my arm I take them over to hotel hibernation and I see a few more have found their way to this spot on there own. Each female is capable of producing 10,000 eggs a year and they can live for two or more years. So in short these Ladybugs spending the winter in our house will be a big help to the gardens and orchards next year.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Food out our front door

Time is moving by quickly here on Denman Island. It seems like only yesterday that we we arrived; the trees were loaded with apples and they were dropping into our hands faster than we could catch them. We are nearing the end of the picking season now and most of the apples are off the tree, one more week or so and all will be picked. It has been a long and busy couple of months, I get Sundays off but unfortunately for Jesse he goes to the weekend markets in Vancouver. He hasn't had a day off since we moved here.
He doesn't seem to mind much though, and always comes back with a good story or two. He is also making some good connection with people he meets at the market. It feels good to be striking some more permanent roots in stable ground, and start connecting with the local community.
I dearly miss our friends in Australia, but I know they are only an e-mail or SKYPE call away and it gives me strength to know how much they care for us and wish to see us to succeed.
It has really been pouring here recently, and when the rain is really coming down I think of Jordan and I imagine the thirsty landscape. I remember those that who make their life in the dead sea valley and other places like it. Then I do a little rain dance in my heart for them. I get tired and cold in the rain but I will not complain!!! It is truly a gift.
In all of this surplus moisture, I am inundated, even in the cooling weather of fall, life abounds. There are sources of food all around us. Everyday I go to the forest and pick mushrooms to eat. I don't even need to go that far. Sometimes the field mushrooms are growing just out the front door. Near by Chickadee lake is full of tasty trout, and about once a week Jesse goes to catch one or two for the dinner table. Recently, I collect and dried a some rosehips. They have a subtle acidic flavor and are jam packed with vitamin C. Honestly, I used to think oranges where they only good source of Vitamin C on the planet. It is only recently that I have known the power packed punch of rosehips. Deer inhabit Denman Island, they are healthy, well fed, and abundant. There is a designated hunting season, though I am unsure if anyone shoots and eats the deer here, as they seem very bold and unafraid of humans. It is surely a stable source of local protein.
We live on an apple orchard so we do not hunt down feral fruit at the moment, but I have seen it out there. In the past Denman Island was well known for it's apple growing so there are feral trees everywhere. There could also be plum trees and pear trees as well, not just apples. It is entirely possible to find or produce 90% or more of ones food needs, within the confines of this island. After growing food on dust and rock in Jordan and Australia, we look forward to planting a large garden here next spring. It really has helped to be away from all the comforts of home. The time away as allowed us to view native soil through a lenses of immense gratitude.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Life on Denman so Far

We are well into our third week here on Denman Island, and there is absolutely no way that we ever want to leave this amazing place. We could not ask for a better situation or place to be. Though the work is physical and often heavy, our life on the orchard flows with ease and consitency. We're enjoying ourselves amongst the general beauty and relaxed way of life and it has helped us recover from our year abroad. A sense of place, that has been missing in us, is now starting to take hold. After being away for so long we had started to forget the comfort of home.
As our new surroundings make their impressions, the lessons learned while in Australia and Jordan confront us with regularity. We have a new eye for the pattern and characteristics of our native landscape. Everyday I am more excited about what Permaculture has to offer, and how it can help people confront the issues of our changing world.
We work hard getting the apples sorted out during the course of a day. Its tough work with a 20kg bag hanging off you whilst climbing and picking. Keeping the effort to a couple hours at a time with lots of little breaks helps to stave off fatigue and injury. Wild life abounds here, and there is always something to see while out in the orchard. There are raccoons, bald eagles, kingfisher, deer, green tree frogs and little snakes everywhere. The insect life is phenomenal, and I love watching the dragonflys skim over the lake and do their dance. It surprises me how many spiders there are too. Bigger than I remember, which is not a problem now that I have seen the Huntsman and Redbacks of Australia or the scorpions of Jordan.
The first two weeks were full of apples, swimming and fishing. Now that it's a lot cooler it's kayaking, fishing, mushroom picking and of course apples. We take the apples to farmers markets on the weekends, which are a lot of fun, and it is great to see so many conscientious vendors. Busy markets at the end of busy picking weeks makes for some long hours, but at the end of the day in the crowds I feel charged up with plenty of zing left over. Life is good here and we can't wait to share it with our friends when they are ready to visit us.

- Tanya

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Our recon mission to Denman

Back in Canada and hitting the ground running!

We were into our second week home and there was already heaps to do. One of the main things on our list was a trip to Denman Island. We needed to meet the owners of Apple Lane Orchard. We have moved to the orchard to help with the harvest, as well as start striking some firm roots of our own.
Gregg (Jesse's Brother) came along for the ride, to check out our new home and offer a keen eye to the situation. It was a quick trip, exciting and absolutely beautiful because the weather held up nicely.

I think that the Island life will suit us just fine!!!
There is a lot of rain in the winter here but that is made easier with good surroundings; a clean lake stocked with trout, the ocean in all directions and a lack of hustle and bustle. The gulf Islands of BC our know for there natural beauty and laid back culture. There are several other islands near by. such as Hornby and Lasqueti and Vancouver Island is only a very short "fairy" ride.
There are 1000 residents on Denman and we hope to meet like minded people who are supportive of the work we do. This coming weekend there is a local strawbale work party that I plan on attending. It is going to be a great way to meet some locals and learn some new skills.
The apple orchard is very pretty and one really could not ask for a better work environment. What we might be loosing in the exceitment of city living we will gain in the strong community relationships that can be built in a place like Denman Island. In the last year I have learned that a true measure of wealth is found in the richness of diverse community relationships.

It's another beginning and it is going to be a fantastic journey. An apple a day keeps the doctor at bay!

I will keep you posted!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

What is at the end of the journey?

Been out of touch for a while!! We spent the last two months in a remote region of Australia, near Mudgee, NSW. We are now home in Canada and getting back on our feet after the plane flight.
While in the Australian bush, we lived with some good friends of ours, Nick and Kirsten, whom have a little homestead called Milkwood. They are in the beginning stages of their great adventure and it was wonderful to help get things going. Milkwood is a great example of permaculture design in action.

We planted trees, planted a small garden, took down old fences and helped out where ever we could. Near the end of our stay we helped in the construction of their Humanure Hacienda, poo compost system.

Poo is a touchy subject!
Everyone we've meet has a different approach to handling poo. Some send it to a septic system others use various forms of composting, all avoid sending it to municipal systems and try to recycle or reuse.
The system being used at Milkwood is one of many techniques out there and it fits well with Nick and Kirsten's comfort zone and circumstance.
Milkwood is located in a remote area and piles of composting Humanure will not draw much attention. Not everyone is in this situation so other options have to be explored. It is great to see how simple it could be to handle poo. Composting poo is safe, practical, efficient and cost effective. The biggest obstacle is getting over any unwarranted fears of poo, one might have.

The Humanure Hacienda is a beautifully simple two structure system.
1. A manure and urine capture.
Basically this structure is an outhouse with a bucket or bin to catch deposits. After a deposit is made the user covers the poop with some sawdust. When the catching bin becomes full it is time to make a trip to the second structure.

2. The three bin composting system, "Humanure Hacienda,"one roof covered for dry straw and two for poo composing piles.

For the average family two composting bays is enough. When a bucket from the outhouse is delivered it is added to the compost pile and covered with straw. The layers of poo and straw build over the course of a year and fill one composting bay. It is then time to start filling the empty composting bay. At the end of the second year the first pile has completely composted and is ready for use in the garden. The designer of this system reckons that the compost is safe for use in the veggie patch!!! Very much up to the individual on this one.
To get a more complete understand of this system you can read The Humanure Handbook. I highly recommend it, whether you live urban, suburban or rural. It is an eye opening read.

Rather than treating poo as waste, it easily turned it a high value product for a fraction of the cost associated with septic and municipal treatment systems.

Composting is a responsible practical and safe way of handling human manure and more of us need to be doing it. We commend Nick and Kirsten for there efforts and thank them for sharing this experience with us. What away to end our year abroad.

An interesting note...
Before all other structures the Humanure Hacienda was the first structure to be raised at Milkwood. Even before a house has been built, Nick and Kirsten have taken responsibility for the most fundamental aspect of human nature.

Keep charging team!!!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Rest and Relaxation in Noosa?

By Tanya Booth:

By the time we had departed Jordan we were a bit tired and weary so we made our way to Noosa QLD, Australia, for some much needed R&R. It was a nice couple weeks of relaxation and surf. Our friends, and fellow Permies, in Noosa (The Gemmells) have always been very supportive of us and there is always a warm welcome and good food to be had. The pursuit of permaculture has been made much easier by friends like these. We could never express enough graditude for the hospitality they have shown us. The picture above is of Jesse and a couple of the Gemmelle boys enjoying a beautiful Noosa evening.

While we were staying in Noosa, a neighbour, Deb, needed some help putting together her garden. Deb decided to follow a no-dig garden recipe from a magazine with step by step instructions. All that was need was few hands to help.
A no dig garden is similar to the process of making our compost piles. However, the ingredients are not piled in a heap but layered out over a large area and there is no need for turning.

In a no-dig garden the materials are layered one on top of the other and allowed to decomposed at their own rate. This type of garden is a great way to start off a new bed. The big effort is having patience, allowing the ingredients time to develop into nice soil. There are numerous different formulas for making ‘no dig’ gardens but the main idea is to let nature do the work. As the ingredients breakdown, worms will move in and do the important work of soil aeration. The materials used will depend on what is available or what you can afford. The no-dig method is great for those who have marginal soil or wish
to turn a lawn into something useful.

There are numerous recipes available on-line, and it can make for a fun afternoon with a few friends. It is not complicated at all, but it does require accumulating the right stuff and taking a survey of what is available in your own backyard.
Take a look at these plans and give it a go!!
No Dig Recipe

The above picture is Deb with her newly finished no-dig garden ready for planting. It took a total of about 2hrs to put it all together and about $200 worth or materials. Within a few months this garden will be producing more veggies than Deb can eat and continue to produce well for many months to come. A worth while investment!

While in Noosa we also recieved a bit of press check it out by clicking the following link!
Noosa News

Monday, June 2, 2008

Permaculture in Palestine

Our time here in Jordan is coming to a close. We will be departing back to Australia on the tenth of June for the remainder of our one year tour.  At this time we find ourselves very reflective of the past 15 weeks. We have had and shared many moving experiences, far more than we could ever hope to write about. However a span of 7 days at the beginning of April continues to be at the front of our thoughts and the topic of much conversation and meditation...

Part way through March we received an e-mail calling out for help.  A Permaculture workshop was to be held in Marda, Palestine and an instructor was needed. The original instructor, Starhawk, had been deported for involvement with human rights organizations operating in occupied Palestine. We did not want to see the workshop fold because of such an unfortunate turn of events so we offered to fill in. For our first teaching job, this was an amazing opportunity. We never could have guessed that the pursuit of Permaculture would take us into the heart of the occupied Palestine. An unparalled opportunity to learn first hand the reality of such a difficult geopolitical region.
Permaculture has a long history in Marda dating back to the early 90's, with some impressive programs and design implemented by Julie Firth of Perth, Australia. Unfortunately the funding for these programs dried up some years ago and the system that were installed are no longer being maintained. They are still growing though, and it was great to see the positive effects of Permaculture design going strong in a land of so much hardship and difficulty.  Further confirmation to us that Permaculture design can achieve its goals.

Marda is a beautiful old village during the month of April, looking very lush with many flowers in bloom. The temperature was superb and a nice relief from the heat of the Dead Sea Valley. We arrived in Marda a day before the course was to start, we greeted by a gentlemen named Murad Al Khufash. Murad is the lasting impression made by the Permaculture activities of years gone by. With a family history dating back hundreds of years in Marda, he is the pioneering force behind the continuation of Permaculture in the region.  It was through his initiative and education centre that facilitated our teaching of this course.

Originally uploaded by
The next day we participated in a small tour of the site. We discussed the possibilities of Permaculture in the future of villages like Marda. Murad's plans to make a centre are just in the beginning phase. How to sustain such efforts in the face of difficulties created by the occupation is a challenge. Despite all of the turmoil and risk Murad pushes on and much good is coming from his work. He would like to see the local people re-establish a relationship with there land through the positive Permaculture principles. It can take some time to develop a relationship of understanding between Permaculture and the traditional cultural methods. Murad takes it step by step introducing hands on practical techniques that help the community. By hosting this course he has made a big statement to his village.

Originally uploaded by tlbaraka
This picture, which is close to the Permaculture demonstration site, is an example of traditional Palestinian farming practices and village organization. The crops that are seen in the foreground are broad beans,and chick peas and in the distance to the left is wheat. On the slopes behind the village off the the left are very old olive terraces. This village is lucky enough to have two sources of flowing spring water. Unfortunately both springs are not being used to their full potential and are presently contaminated with wastes and garbage.

Old olive grove in Marda
Originally uploaded by tlbaraka

Tour of Site
Originally uploaded by tlbaraka
In the valley below the village the land is divided up by families owning small terrace fields. The soil appears to be a chocolate colour clay-loam with numerous pieces of limestone. The stone is moved out of the fields and used for the terraces that mark parcel boundaries.

The traditional agricultural system appears to be one of rotational tillage production, though many practitioners are using arogcheimicals. There are productive trees of olive, almonds, apples and stone fruits on the edges. All of the basics are there. This system of agriculture is ripe for redesign. It would not be much work design some hard wear to access the springs, some earth works for better water soakage; and diversifying the edge forest system to increase fertility, products, reduce the amount of area in tillage, and increase the amount of permanent pasture. These lands have been under intensive cultivation for many thousands of years. It is only by virtue of the rich subsoil and abundant water that they have held up for so long. Soil organic matter is marginal at best. From a design stand point Marda is on pretty good footing with tree production on the upper slopes, housing in the mid-slopes and broad scale cropping on the flatter lands below. With near 600mm of rain per year and two perennial springs there is more than enough water to go around.

The course went off well with good attendance and the local community well represented by young people employed in various agricultural activities. Unfortunately the practical component of the course was not well developed, due to a lack of prep time on our part. It was a big enough job as it was to work out lecture material for each day.  

Sharing a meal
Originally uploaded by Jesse and Tanya
Within the context of a military occupation, from check points to a mid-day curfew, this Permaculture experience is one that we will never forget nor fully understand. It will be given its rightful place amongst our collection of stories. We are grateful too Murad for providing this opportunity and keeping us safe. Thank you for sharing with us!!!

Through the positive outlook of Permaculture we were able to share ideas and dreams of the future. The enthusiasim of the local students made the course that much richer. It is gives us strength to connect with others of our generation actively working to make a difference in their communities. This is a thread of consistency we have seen everywhere we have been. We are blown away by the overwhelming co-operative and  positive action going on even in the face of so much difficulty.

If you would like to read more about this event please check out an article written by Tami Brunk.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Planting the Trees

The Plan
Originally uploaded by Jesse and Tanya
The compost is still quiet warm, and loosing value as a blog topic so we will change things up a bit....

About two weeks ago, we finished the planting of the first trees for Permaculture Research Institute Jordan Valley.  We dug 87 holes about .5m deep, 1m wide and 3m apart above and below the three rock walls.  A few of the trees are closer that 3m, because of large rocks that would often get in the way during digging.  It took just over one week to get all the holes finished.  During this time things really started to heat up down here in the Jordan valley. Work was confined to the morning and evening.  The site is on a very degraded piece of land and the soil is hard and compact with almost no organic matter.  Digging the holes was hard work, and we often found ourselves using a pick axe to chop through a calcified layer of soil. This calcified layer of soil is commonly known as a concretion. When planting trees in such conditions it is very important to get through this layer, as the trees have difficult time pushing roots through on their own.

Tree Planting
Originally uploaded by Jesse and Tanya
In preparing for the planting of trees we lined the holes with a thick layer of cardboard and  bucketed water into each hole back filling with a mixture of soil and mulch. It is important that the mulch:soil in the be high, as the mulch will increase the water holding capacity of the planting hole. The mulch will also work like compost to increase the soil biology. This new soil biology we help the young trees to grow and thrive.
The cardboard in the hole also works to hold water and act as a fungal food. Many types of fungi are important to the growth and healthy development of young trees.

Once we planted a tree a thick layer of mulch was piled around it.  The whole planting process was very labour intensive.  We often put more that 40 minutes into the planting of each tree, and this is still not taking into account all of the hours spent getting materials together.  It is a massive investment of time and energy into just a few trees. However, the shade that these trees will offer in five years will more than amortize our efforts. 


Originally uploaded by Jesse and Tanya
As a matter of common sense, one wouldn't expect that banana leaves be a major source of mulch in one of the driest countries on the planet. However, At great expense to the local environment and population, banana farming is an important part of the local economy. Usually the surplus organic matter from the farms is seen as a problem and often gets burned. In this case we have managed to put the banana leaves to good use, as they provided the bulk of our mulch material for planting the trees. We had some help collecting the mulch from a few friends we have made locally, it turned out to be a fun couple of afternoons.

Mulch can reduce water demand to one fifth what it might be without mulch. It also keeps the root zone of the plants cool and provides habitat for all kinds of beneficial organisms.

Under very difficult circumstances, we have only lost about 20% of the trees we planted. The weather is getting very hot and dry and we where about 2 months behind on the planting season. We planted only hardy pioneer trees and, all that are still alive, shouldn't have much trouble getting establish. For the moment we are hand watering once every week, and the moisture seems to be holding. Before we leave, next month, it is important that a drip irrigation system be installed so the plantings can be easily water by one person. The really challenge to the survival of these trees will be goats. At the moment the site is not entirely secure and small goats seem to come and go as they please. While on the site, the goats provided us with unnecessary pruning services. Unfortunately the project does not yet have any real budget and it cannot afford to build a new fence or wall. All we can do is patch up holes and hope for the best.

Nothing is easy 400m below sea level!!!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The compost at 26 days

The compost at 26 days
Originally uploaded by Jesse and Tanya
We have been turning the pile religiously for the last 11 days. Everyday the pile was steaming, and looking as though it would never cool down. Today it happened, no steam and a lower temperature. The pile is evolving out of the thermophilic stage and into the curing stage. We will still turn it, as it is a bit warm and will still be consuming its fair share of oxygen. The product is looking great with a nice dark brown colour, good diverse structure and a clean smell. We have already started to use some small amounts in the garden to help establish new seedlings and germinate seeds. The pile will only get better with age now.

Based on how things went the, C:N ratio was a bit low in this pile. If it was higher the thermophilic stage may have ended sooner. If we had not turned the pile every day would have been anaerobic with a poor end product. We will let you know when it is well and truly cold and curing.
that's all for now.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Look at this beautiful Pile!

15 day old compost
Originally uploaded by Jesse and Tanya
15 days and still going strong. The shape of this pile is just about ideal. When we turn a pile we try and build the new pile it a nice uniform conical shape. In our experience this shape seems to get the best results. It has also been shown that this shape allows for better oxygenation of the pile. We have found that a lower rounder shape produces more heat and is more likely to turn anaerobic.
Like all aspects of assembling and producing compost achieving an nice shape takes practice, luckily one gets to practice on every turn. We are meticulous about every aspect of making compost. Some days it can take more than 30 mins to turn the pile because we are being very careful to mix and aerate the with each pitch fork and trying to build a nice shape.

Q an A
Some question sent to us via e-mail.

How long can something compost for and produce heat days, weeks or forever if you kept feeding it?

Our pile is still producing a lot of heat. We try to keep the temperate low by turning it every day. If it gets too hot many of the beneficial microbes will be killed off. We expect that it will be starting to cool off in the next few days. It is possible to keep a producing heat by adding more material. Brush turkeys in Australia us a compost heap as a nest. The male bird maintains a constant 30 degree temperature by adding an removing material through the whole incubation period.

Does the composting produce harmful gases?

Most of the gas that is produced by a compost pile is CO2. The C:N of the pile at the start should be about 30:1 by the end of the process it will be something like 10:1. the reduction in C is gassed off as CO2. It is also possible for a pile that has too much N that ammonia be gassed off the pile. We have also noticed a rotten egg smell around composts that are anaerobic, this is likely from a sulphur gas of some kind.

The smells from a compost are excellent patterns to use when working with your pile. One can learn a lot by smelling the pile. If a problem is noticed early enough a pile can be pushed in the right direction.
In order to experience these patterns you have got to turn your pile!!!!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Compost moisture

compost moisture
Originally uploaded by tlbaraka
And the compost marches on. Actually the compost marches back and forth with each turn. It has been developing for about 12 days now and some big changes have taken place. For one it is getting easy to turn as the big banana leaves have broken down into smaller pieces and are no longer getting caught together. We only saw the wool twice on this mornings turn( we put a whole sheep's worth of wool into the pile). The material has a nice dark brown colour to it, not black. Black would indicate an anaerobic compost. There is no offensive smell. The pile seems to be maintaining its initial volume. Often when a pile is too hot it will shrink in size. In all compost piles bulk carbon is gassed off, however, this lost volume can be replaced by air space and structure if the pile is well turned and oxygenated.

Today we also performed a quick check to ensure proper moisture content.
1. Take a handful of compost.
2. Squeeze as hard as you can.

If water drips out of the compost and off of your hand the pile is too wet.
If no water appears the pile is too dry.
If water just appears, but does not drip, between your fingers and on the surface of the compost the moisture content is just right.

Notice in the picture the moisture between the pinky and ring fingers and below the tip of the middle finger. This pile seems to have just the right amount of moisture content.

In the next post we cover pile shape and its effects on the composting process.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Turning the pile on day eight

turning the pile on day eight
Originally uploaded by tlbaraka
Ok so the pile has been going through its own evolutions. Luckily for us we have been there to push that evolution in the direction we want it to go. Everybody remembers the stinky mess when we first turned it. On the second turn it was going well but a bit too hot. We decided to turn it every day to keep things oxygenated. Now on day eight, the sixth turn, it appears our strategy is working, as there are few signs that the pile is ever getting anaerobic. It is uniformly moist and hot. On day two, when we first turned it the heat and moisture were patchy. It is only by turning the pile that we spread out these patches of activity to the rest of the pile. We have been adding one watering can of water to the outside before each turn to keep things moist. We also keep the pile covered with plastic between turns. If we allowed the pile to be exposed to the air it would dry out in no time.
It looks as though we are on track to be finished with this pile in about 10 to 15 more days.
This is with out a doubt our most successful composting effort. It has been a fairly intensive job, but it will be worth all of the good soil biology in the end.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

5th day of compost

5th day of compost
Originally uploaded by tlbaraka
We turned the compost for a second time on the afternoon of the 16th. We where a bit worried about what we might find, as it was so stinky on the first turn. We where happy to find that the compost was quite hot. It actually produced steam in 40 degree weather. It did not have much smell either. One part was a bit stinky, because it was too dry and not decomposing properly, we added a bit more water here. In fact the pile is composting a bit too quickly now. Notice the white residue in the middle of the picture. This indicates the presence of anaerobic bacteria, meaning the pile is using more oxygen than is present. If we do not address this problem the final product will be low quality. We are working to maximize the amount of aerobic life in the pile not anaerobic.
It is likely that the nitrogen ratio of the pile is a little bit high. As a first measure, the pile will be turned everyday. Hopeful turning the pile everyday will bring more oxygen into the system and fix the problem. If this does not work we may need to add a sparing amount of high carbon material such as shredded paper or cardboard. The addition of more material is a last resort. Adding more material after the composting process has started will increase the amount of time required to finish the pile off.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The pile on April 14th

The pile on April 14th
Originally uploaded by tlbaraka
Looking good on the outside and showing signs of internal heat, we made the choice to turn the pile after only two days. It might have been a better idea to turn it after four. On the inside the pile was only just starting to heat up. Once we got into the middle things weren't really happening yet and it was all a bit stinky. It was also quite dry so we really needed to add water. It is likely that we will need to add water on the next couple of turns before we get it right. This is really only the fifth or sixth pile that we have made, it will probable take a few dozen more before we really get it right.

Day one: Assembling the elements

A close up of the ingredients
Originally uploaded by tlbaraka
This is the first post of series that will be published over the next few weeks. If all goes well it should be approximately 18 days long. If we have not been that good it could take much longer. On April 12 we assembled a compost pile in the front yard of our residence in Jordan.  It would be difficult to list all of the different materials that went into the building of the pile, because we don't really know ourselves. The rule of thumb - "If it was alive once, it can be composted". We do know that banana leaves, mesquite leaves, goat manure, dried up old bread, sheep's wool, guava leaves, wood ash, chicken poop, sticks and stones, kitchen scraps, snails and bugs went in. It is likely that some plastic made its way into the pile as well, this will be removed as it goes. We hope that countless species of microscopic life made it in as well. It is the diversity of the life in a finished compost that makes it so valuable to a garden. It is the flourishing of microscopic life that we are trying to encourage by assembling a compost. All of the fungi and bacteria found in a good finished compost are around us at all times. When building a compost we bring the elements together and allow life to do the rest.                                  

Watering the pile
Originally uploaded by tlbaraka
Water is the "keystone" element of any compost pile, as it is the keystone element of any life system. Life uses water to conduct its interactions. It is the interactions in a compost pile that we wish to encourage. A lot of water is used to start a compost pile, as most of the materials are usually quite dry. A healthy pile will have moisture content of about 50%. This might seem a wasteful use of resources in a region such as the Jordan valley. However, the value of compost in a garden can be seen within a few months. This compost pile will also be used at the project site to help build soil biology around trees that will be planted in the coming weeks.

We are following a composting technique known as the “Berkley Method.” It is a labour intensive method, but it can yield a reasonable product in short period of time. If all is going well we will be making the first turn on April 16th and every second day to follow until the compost is relatively cool and finished. The plan is to blog a picture and some observation at every turn.

Right now the pile is covered with a plastic sheet and holding its moisture so things are looking good thus far.

Monday, April 7, 2008

One Month in Jordan

The Land
Originally uploaded by tlbaraka
When it comes to water, Jordan is one of the poorest countries on the planet, consuming an average of only 200m3 /person/year. The global average is approximately 7,700 m3 and the North American average is on the order of 110,000 m3 .

Al Jufah is located in the Dead Sea Valley several hundred meters below sea level. The average rainfall for the area is 100-150mm per year which usually falls in just one or two rain events. The summer temperature often exceeds 40°C and the defining characteristic of this bioregion, as with all arid regions, is an average evaporation exceeding precipitation. Water is a major issue for the region, and water harvesting design will be vital to success under these conditions.

During a visit to Jordan in Late 2007 Nadia, Abu Yahai, Lawton designed and implemented three on-contour rock walls (swale walls) on the site, one of which can be seen in the photo above. The walls were back filled and covered with a layer of topsoil.

Rock Wall October 2007
Originally uploaded by tlbaraka
These walls will function as soakage water harvesting features and planting sites. Other site infrastructure includes a gravity fed drip irrigation system, small holding tank, low perimeter fence and a small concrete block structure.

The long-term goals of PRI Jordan are to establish sustainable arid land living systems, which can be affordably replicated by members of the local community. The primary short term objective for the coming months will be planting and maintaining perennial plant systems along all three swale walls and fence lines. These guilds will included both support and crop species. Plantings regimes will resemble those established by Geoff during Greening the desert, 2001. In the future these perennial systems will provide micro-climatic stability on the site, giving shade and wind protection, holding soil moisture and building organic matter. As the system develops the site will become a more comfortable living environment for human habitation.

All plantings will need to be in the ground by the end of April, as the weather is too hot and dry after this time. Through the course of the summer months it will be crucial to keep the plants irrigated and well mulched to survive the season. The summer construction of a straw bale house may take place if more funding for the project can be sourced.

Raising local awareness and empowerment will be the most important aspect of PRI Jordan. It is important to demonstrate practical solutions for local difficulties involving water, food (nutrition), fuel, housing and waste management. Empowerment of the local population is vital to the maintenance of local stability and sustainable long-term success of any community. There is a strong historical presence of efficient water use and water harvesting design throughout the region. The Nabetean culture was second to none when it comes to dry land agricultural design and many aspects of permaculture design take a page directly out of this cultural history.

It is the hope of PRI Jordan to rekindle the success of these traditional systems, reducing the dependence on modernization and industrialized systems.