Agroecology

How to make a Banana Circle

By: Ivan Lieman

Step 1:

Select an area to use for your banana circle and mark out a circle two meters in diameter. You can mark another bigger circle around this one, as a guide for your mounded garden bed.

Step 2:

Using your two meter circle, dig out a dish-shaped (concave) hole to a depth of 50cm to 1 meter. Put the soil from the hole around the edge to create a mounded garden bed. At this point, you can create an opening slightly below ground level for rainwater run-off or your grey water from showers to enter the banana circle.

 Banana Circle Schematic

Banana Circle Schematic

Step 3:

Line the hole with old paper, cardboard, or a few layers of banana leaves to slow down the infiltration of the water once it’s working. This will make sure that water and nutrients stay in the pit long enough to be taken up by bananas, papayas and other plants that surround the pit.

Step 4:

Fill the pit with organic mulch, you can add some ash, effective microorganisms or manure making a large compost pile. Stack in a prism shape, they will reduce in size over time.

 Banana Circle Shower

Banana Circle Shower

Step 5:

Plant banana suckers around the rim of the mound at 60cm intervals. Normally four banana suckers around a two meter banana circle. These can initially be inter-planted with papayas. Also add cover crops like watermelon, taro, pumpkin, sweet potato, cow peas etc. Comfrey and other green manure crops can be inter-planted and chopped into the mound. You can also add climbers and vines like passion fruit when the trees can support them. Think layers, guilds and stacking food! Have the water loving crops in the inside rim of the circle such as taro and sugar cane, and the less water loving on the outer rim such as cassava. Lemos grass is a great to use as an erosion controller for your mound not to break down.

Step 6:

Mulch very generously to cover and protect the soil and minimize evaporation, and the build-up of organic matter.

 

Are you interested learning more Permaculture Techniques to apply to your land? We now have monthly Voluntourism opportunities on our drylands permaculture farm in Nakukulas, Turkana. For more information on this follow the link below.

Greening the desert - a day in the life of

An update from the Barefoot Soulutions team from their permaculture project in Turkana East county – North Kenya

Akale Samuel (aka Anna) is a 46-year old Turkana from the Aduyait clan. She lives in Nakukalas; an acacia dotted, wind swept town some 40 minutes drive south of Lokichar.

Anna is a widow with 2 grown children; a boy and a girl who are both married and live elsewhere. She owns 10 goats and since July 2017 Anna has been working alongside 5 other widowers at the ‘Amana (Turkana for shamba) Demonstration Farm; A flourishing permaculture hub that aims to connect the local community with future possibility.

 Anna, Turkana woman farmer | Amana Demonstration Farm | Permaculture

Anna, Turkana woman farmer | Amana Demonstration Farm | Permaculture

Over the last 10 years the traditional pastoralist lifestyle of the Turkana people has changed enormously; the formal economy replacing a barter system that revolved around livestock including camels, goats, sheep and donkeys. With the changing times, Anna relocated to Eldoret where she rented a 1-acre plot in Was-ingishu growing maze, wimbi and leafy greens that she sold locally for several years before returning back to Turkana in 2002, hungry for home. For some years she ran a small duka selling tobacco and from a loan secured through her local woman’s group she purchased her goats.

2016 was a dry year for huge swathes of Kenya and it hit Turkana hard; many of the roads today are lined with mountains of sun bleached skeletons and Anna’s herd suffered enough for her to start looking for work … and this is where we met.

Work at Amana begins at 6:30am sharp, just as the sun climbs up above the Kawerer escarpment and for a solid 45 minutes the air is fresh. By 7:30 however those rays have warmed and Jackson; the farm manager is urging everyone to finish their watering duties chap-chap. Armed with two black jerry cans Anna completes her line of Moringa oliferra’s spaced evenly along the perimeter fence and moves towards her personal sack garden whilst the other women finish off the remaining polyculture beds laid out beneath several mature Eregai (Acacia reficiens) that offer the bok-choy, spinach, lemongrass and chia some welcome albeit patchy shade.

 Anna plants line of  Moringa oliferra’s  spaced evenly along the perimeter fence

Anna plants line of Moringa oliferra’s spaced evenly along the perimeter fence

Once finished with the watering there are endless tasks to be completed; germinating herbs, vegetables and indigenous seeds in the nursery; mixing soil and goat mbolea collected from a neighboring boma into ready-to-go piles or chopping up the 100 plus kg’s of fresh food waste collected that morning from a nearby oil drilling camp. Once this task is completed the pieces are added to a brand new ‘hot compost’ heap layered with wet cardboard collected from the same camp, more mbolea and a sprinkling of effective micro-organisms before it is covered by a black plastic tarpaulin beneath which the bacteria immediately get to work, transforming this pile of leftovers into a steamy rich soil enhancer in just 35 days.

 Papaya seeds and food waste used to make compost | Turkana Women Farmers

Papaya seeds and food waste used to make compost | Turkana Women Farmers

 Making Compost | Turkana Farm women

Making Compost | Turkana Farm women

Mulch – or dried organic matter, plays an essential part in retaining soil moisture but so dry and overgrazed is the Turkana environment that excess material like grass is in seriously short supply. Until the systems on site have reached their full potential in producing harvestable quantities Anna and her gang of heavily beaded women make do with sacks of sawdust, donated free of charge from the local hardware store, sprinkling it around the small depressions surrounding each tree seedling and along the surfaces of vegetable beds aided by the living (green) mulch provided by sweet potato vines and pumpkins.

 Turkana women | Making Compost

Turkana women | Making Compost

Out on the drip irrigation site, the first glimmer of green has broken through the carefully leveled soil; leguminous crops like pigeon and cow pea and green gram designed to kick start the microbial life in the soil that will soon pave the way for a variety of higher value species hardening in the nursery.

A similar exercise is kicking off in the agroforestry site where sixteen 80 meter rows lie waiting for the delivery of both indigenous and non-indigenous production trees that will in time provide demonstration quantities of timber, fodder, medicine and food.

By the time the afternoon shift rolls around, the young shoots and seedlings have gorged on sunshine, drooping their leaves to minimize water loss through evapotranspiration whilst those planted in the irrigation beds wait thirstily for the evening cool when the valves are twisted open.

The earthworms too require regular moistening as well as a steady quantity of finely chopped organics that include homegrown eggshell from 7 happy hens, tea bags and coffee grinds producing a fine bucketful of dark brown ’worm juice’ that will be diluted at a ratio of 10:1 as a mighty delicious liquid fertilizer.

 Shower run off water feeds into banana circles on site | Turkana Women Farmers

Shower run off water feeds into banana circles on site | Turkana Women Farmers

The days move damn quick in this part of the world but before Anna and the rest of the ladies return home for the evening there is a general wipe down and clean up; heavy farm boots are replaced with flip flops and a well deserved shower is enjoyed; the sweaty run off lapped up by the flourishing banana circles that boast a riot of bright yellow sunflowers amongst a backdrop of rustling green.

The Amana farm certainly has a long way to go and between the heavily alkaline soils, hard water and crazy heat, the learning curve will remain almost vertical, but it is one that is being enjoyed by all.

The Islands of Ecological Bliss | Seychelles

By Jess De Boer

 Vallee de Mai Nature Reserve

Vallee de Mai Nature Reserve

The Seychelles

Imagine the front of a brochure if you will: crystalline blue waters, golden beaches and rustling coconut palms. Turn the page and below the embossed heading that includes the word luxury you can almost hear the faint tinkle of piped lobby music and the waft of an international buffet floating across the grounds of some swanky resort.

But that's not why we came here and it sure as hell is not the reason we’ll come back. This series of 115 islands, speckled about the warm Indian Ocean are floating droplets of natural abundance; on the 20-minute drive from the airport to our first nights pad our eyes were on stilts and the threshold to free-flowing salivation had been crossed.

Check out those trees!

On that first drive alone, during which we passing through Mahe’s main ‘industrial area’ Indian Almonds lined our passage in a fine display of red and gold dotted amongst palms of ludicrous variety, gigantic breadfruit trees laden with football-sized bounty, overloaded star-fruit, guava and bilmbi. In the background stood the trunks of stocky cassurina; bought in long ago together with the unassuming chongololo whose job it was to turn the acidic leaf litter and saline soils into palatable jungle substrate.

Mahé is home to 86% of the country’s population (76,000 people as of 2011) who live in amongst the densely forested foothills. Several windy roads crisscross up and over the slabby granite peaks, the highest of which tops out at 950mt providing a tasty agro-ecological zone for tea, bamboo and carnivorous pitcher plants. This may be the most densely populated of all of the Seychelles islands but if there was a joke about an ecologist, a botanist and a permaculturalist, all 3 would end up smiling.

 Spice Garden | Seychelles

Spice Garden | Seychelles

The oldest spice garden in the world exists up a narrow, concrete lane that proved a grueling test for our tiny rental car; especially when we stalled it in shock upon entering a patch of free-standing cacao trees complete with bright purple pods interlaced with vanilla and the background chuckle of endemic blue pigeons. Shortly thereafter we putt-putted our way round a twisty bend lined with golden coconut palms whose fruit lay clustered in such density it defies convention; a trend that repeated itself with Jackfruit, golden apple and the random explosion of citrus varieties like pomelo, lemon and orange whose flesh burst with a potency long forsaken by the blandly perfumed varieties stocked in modern supermarkets.

Stepping from one island to another is a simple and absolutely essential endeavor facilitated by ferry, yacht or short flight. The world beneath the crystal clear waves is one of equal splendor for despite the universal bleaching of coral there are just so many fish; big ones, small ones, spotty ones and don’t get me started on the regular passing of sea turtles, stingrays and reef sharks. Stepping out of this perfectly warm sea one would be advised to replace goggles with binoculars and feast on the explosion of bird life whose guano deposits helped build up many of the islands into permanence; once fuelling a lucrative trade in the potassium rich droppings that were transported to far distant corners of the world to be spread amongst sugar plantations before the advent of commercial chemical fertilizers. The depositors of such high grade manure; Sooty Terns, Noddies and missile shaped frigates are but a few of the species we met along the way and thanks to the concentrated efforts of local conservation groups the populations of birds returning each year continue to blossom.

 Bird Island | Seychelles

Bird Island | Seychelles

But paradise has a catch we discovered, for behind the tropical bounty of rich seas and forest glades whispers an all too familiar tale of human obliviousness. The Seychellois are regularly reported as Africa’s most obese population, shunning the local profusion of breadfruit and yam in favor of bleached rice and other foreign delicacies and the island is alleged to import over 80% of its food from far, far away places and apparently the agricultural division of the main university has just two students; both of whom had ticked horticulture as their chosen career paths and whose dreams involved making it big in the lucrative 5* hotel landscaping business. Growing their own food aka “farming” has a negative stigma amongst the majority of the local populace and the agricultural ministry reputably receives less than a 1% slice of the government’s annual budgetary pie…

Say what?

And so while the tourists give themselves whiplash staring at the famous Coco du Mer palms and snapping themselves a billion selfie’s with giant land tortoises we zipped in and out and up and down on a mission to absorb as much information from local authorities, determined farmers and like-minded pro-activists who share our vision for this incredible island chain; a vision that involves food and people; education and design, conservation and enhancement all of which tie together into that most essential re-connection with the natural world that, in these tiny flecks of paradise anyway still remain heavily endowed with loveliness.

 Fruit abundance in the Seychelles

Fruit abundance in the Seychelles

Permaculture Demonstration Site Success

 Permaculture Demo Site

Permaculture Demo Site

Coming up to a year ago we formed a beautiful partnership with Distant Relatives Eco Lodge in Kilifi. We not only wanted to facilitate and host our Permaculture Design Courses (PDC) at this vibrant location, but we also wanted to provide a flourishing demonstration site that would yield a productive landscape for the DR community and guests. Today we proudly want to share with you the success we have had on the DR Demo site.

 Permaculture Demo Site

Permaculture Demo Site

When we started, the Distant Realtives site was sandy and the soils were unproductive. The site had issues with water catchment and was in need of better ecological management. So, we set out on the journey to turn this site into a Permaculture haven.

Through the principles of Permaculture we have started regenerating the landscape, harmonising different key elements of our system to enhance soil regeneration, flow of nutrients & energy improving the ecological balance.

 Barefoot Soulutions Permaculture Design Demonstration Site

Barefoot Soulutions Permaculture Design Demonstration Site

We started by looking at food waste and developing a continuous composting site to enrich the soils. We did water harvesting through landscaping, built up the soils through mulching which covers the ground and puts organic matter back into the soil. We set up a wormery to implement the vermiculture process of using worms to decompose organic food waste, turning the waste into a nutrient-rich material capable of supplying necessary nutrients to help sustain plant growth. We could then start planting seedlings to raise a tree nursery and nurturing a food forest.

The biggest accomplishment today however is the waste water system we set up from the kitchen. Every year Kilifi suffers from a terrible drought. When the rains do come the water catchment from the roofs help, but the ability to re-use the kitchen grey water is what has saved this site.

Learn to live in abundance! If you have enjoyed reading about the success on this site, if you are interested in creating your own Permaculture site/ garden, want to get involved in this movement and learn more, please join us for the next September Permaculture Design Course. On this course you will learn all about Permaculture principles and practical skills needed to start your own site like this!

 Barefoot Soulutions Demo Site at Distant Relatives Eco Lodge

Barefoot Soulutions Demo Site at Distant Relatives Eco Lodge