What's Next

By Michael Barton | Permaculture Consultant

Man has that question haunted me since leaving high school. But coming to the end of a contract and the hand-over of a project I’ve found that question once again has crept back into my mindscape. However, this time around I no longer have the ‘deer in headlights’ look to reply with but more of the overly confident exterior appearance, with the ‘fake it till you make it’ mentality to drive it home.

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With little over a year, of part time work with Barefoot Soulutions, I can clearly notice my personal growth. The Turkana Project has proven, time and again that Permaculture thought and design can create incredible results, even in a harsh Semi-Arid environment. I intend to scale and replicate certain appropriate techniques learnt in Turkana in other environments as I move on from this project with improved design and decision making skills. 

I don’t have an answer to that question, ‘What next?’ But I could talk your ear off about what I know is possible, and the dreams I’ve got for a beautiful piece of land I call home. I won’t bore you with the intricacies of the ever evolving ‘plan’ but what I will tell you is what I know to be possible.

What will I need:

A bit of vision, an intimate understand of the elements and an A-grade team of people I can call on for help and advice.

I now jump home to Tigoni, Limuru, probably the closest thing in Kenya to the polar opposite from our Turkana Demo farm. In Tigoni my soil is red clay, instead of silty sand, and the average yearly rainfall is 1,200mm instead of 200mm. In Tigoni, I look forward to hot days as opposed to dashing between trees for shade. Needless to say it’s not a desert, however there are lessons learnt from Turkana that will inform how I move forward in developing this land in Tigoni

 Turkana Demonstration Farm

Turkana Demonstration Farm

 Tigoni Farm

Tigoni Farm

Within the three years of time in Tigoni, trying my hand at intensive kitchen gardening, I’ve tried growing countless varieties of crops, on a meaningless scale with consequently no harvests to be proud of. But as I’ve observed and interacted (my favorite Permaculture principle) with this piece of land I’ve become acquainted with its challenges and enthused with the potential it holds. And now with lessons learnt in Turkana its my turn to make something of my own.

A Snippet of my Plan

Vegetable production:

-       What I’ve learned (From the Turkana project)

1.      Vegetable production is hard from the start. Organic vegetable farming is often even harder, especially if you don’t have access to certain inputs or knowledge in the needed field.

2.      Annual crops are very thirsty and will drive your water consumption ever higher even with water management techniques in place.

3.   And finally, no matter how great and healthy and beautiful your produce is, sometimes people don’t really care that its Organic and simply aren’t willing to pay a fair price for your ‘specialty’ crop.

-       So what will my approach be? (moving ahead in Tigoni)

1.     To make things easier on myself I will not be ‘Market Gardening’ annuals for sale but simply home consumption and to share with Neighbors. I will however give some focus to the perineal vegetables and herbs, that require less water and maintenance, that work well in my environment and begin to find markets for them.

a.     What crop varieties: Rhubarb, Raspberry, Strawberries, Artichoke, Asparagus, Spinach, Dill, Fennel, Mints, Rosemary, Lemon Verbena and a few more.

2.     Now I have some markets in mind for these crops but it would just be poor business sense to give you all that information… Right? But with a little value addition these crops seem well suited to my environment and the time and resources I can dedicate to them. 

Agroforestry:

-       What I’ve learned (From the Turkana project)

1.     Start with a simple layout in accordance to your elements (Aspect, slope, Average yearly rainfall)

2.     Bed preparation, determine infrastructure needs appropriate to your environment.

3.     Select species for specific outcomes and determine their role in time and the space.

4.     Watch as nature does its thing, enjoy it, and intervene when truly needed.  

-       So what will my approach be? (moving ahead in Tigoni)

1.     I’ve got about 1.25 acres to work with for my Agroforestry plan on a gently sloped piece of land, good sun exposure, low wind strength and 1,200mm of rainfall to work with.

2.     My soil is thick red soil high in clay content with decent infiltration but poor drainage. So, to facilitate good root growth of the selected species I will use a chisel plough to rip lines into the sub soil. This should provide better infiltration of the rainfall whilst also aerating the bed to allow for better drainage. Orienting these beds along contour will help prevent erosion and also aid in water retention within the system as a whole.

3.     The Species I’ve selected for the Agroforestry zone will include some of the following:

a.     Semi Hardwoods: Prunus Africana, Sysygium Guineense, Hagenia Abyssinica, Newtonia Buchananii, Ocotea Usambarensis, and Vitex Keniensis.

b.     Fruit: Peach, Apricot, Cherry, Blueberry, Raspberry, Mulberry, Plumb, Avocado, Banana, and Passion.

c.     Fodder/ Wind Break: Napier, Bracharia, Sesbania, Boma Rhodes, Clover, Pigeon pea.

4.     Building soil is a priority so using the fodder species as a way to accumulate biomass as mulch to build good soil. Fodder will also act as a wind break for young sensitive tree seedlings in their early years.

These are just two of many lessons in Permaculture practice that the Turkana Project has proven viable to me. There are many more that will also be acted out on in my own space with an appropriate design. Overall, I feel the lesson learnt by everyone on this incredible team in Turkana could be; that the risk of investment (both time and money) into a multifaceted permaculture approach, in a complex environment, will teach you endlessly, if you remain fixed to idea that there are alternatives to conventional farming methods.

Seek them out!  Get your hands dirty!  Observe!  Act!  Dream!  Be Bold!  Stay Humble!

I’m off to the cold and wet highlands now, come for a visit if you want to know more,

And

Watch this space Abundance is on the way

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