Permaculture Design Course

A Permaculture Garden on the Kilifi New Year site

By Heather Gordon Athie – Kilifi New Year Festival

Digging swales on contour | Permaculture Design Course  Photo credit: Karin Duthie | Illustrative Options

Digging swales on contour | Permaculture Design Course

Photo credit: Karin Duthie | Illustrative Options

A beautiful opportunity came up at the last Advanced Permaculture Certification course I attended. Barefoot Soulutions and Kilifi New Year joined forces in creating a Permaculture garden with the help of all the course participants. It was a super fun filled day planting a variety of trees and plants, that will one day grow into a lush food forest. The Permaculture Garden is in Kisima, which is the “Mind, Body and Soul” space at Kilifi New Year. The aim of this garden is to allow festival goers to zone out a bit from the party and learn ☺

I would like to share with you what we did on the day and the knowledge we will be sharing with those that come to Kilifi New Year in two weeks’ time!

For those of you who don’t know,

What is Permaculture?

Permaculture encourages the balance to our environment through the practical application of ecological principles.

What is a Permaculture garden?

A Permaculture garden is a space where Permaculture principles are demonstrated to address human needs  while ensuring equilibrium in the ecosystem, in real life- and in our festival!

Food Forest:

The Permaculture  garden is growing delicious food for us to eat in the future. It’s our real-life festival food forest!  This tropical food forest will provide lots of different crops that all come into harvest at different times. This same piece of land planted in monocultures of corn or beans would give only a portion of the calories and nutrition when compared to the fruits, nuts and herbs that will all spring from this piece of land.

There are several heights to a food forest, so as organic matter falls to the floor, it improves soil fertility, capturing greenhouse gases and storing them in the soil. When compared to the energy dependent forms of industrial agricultural, not only are food forests more productive, they are also much better for the environment as well. Monoculture places a huge burden on the soil by extracting specific minerals, leading to unhealthy soils.

Layers in a tropical rain forest | credit:  Internet Geography

Layers in a tropical rain forest | credit: Internet Geography

What we planted

  • Cashew

  • Mango

  • Banana

  • Tangerine

  • Orange

  • Tahiti Lime

  • Banana

  • Pigeon pea

Indigenous plants:

  • Tamarind

  • Terminalia Cataplaa

  • Tamarind Indica

  • Terminalia Alata

  • Marula

  • Mvule

  • Mpingo

Why these plants?

  • Adaptation! This combination of trees  are best adapted to our coastal ecosystem, and give good yields with a low investment of effort.  

  • Diversity! The diversity of species is important as they will all grow to different heights.  Multi-story planting- creates more micro-climates and increases production!

  • Utility! These plants provide food, fuel and medicine! The taller trees will also provide habitats for birds; and the flowers from all these plants provide nectar for bees.

  • Mineral exchange! Cashews and tamarinds fix nitrogen which is needed by other plants (in this case mangoes and bananas!). All these plants also utilize soil minerals at varied depths with tamarind consuming the deepest situated minerals, whereas bananas go for the shallowest!

  • Reforesting Indigenous Species! We planted many  indigenous plants, some of which are near threatened species. Permaculture encourages the promotion of indigenous plants as they are perfectly suited to their environments and are incredibly useful. For example:  

    • The bark of Terminalia Alata is used medicinally against diarrhoea. Marula produce delicious fruit, and the tree also produces a high quality cooking oil, which is resistant to oxidation and thus has a long shelf life.

    • Mvule (African teak)  is a dark brown hardwood timber, resistant to termites! The powdered bark is used to treat coughs, heart problems and lassitude. The latex is used as an anti-tumour agent and to clear stomach and throat obstructions.  

    • Mpingo  has a dense, lustrous wood ranging in colour from reddish to pure black. It is used a lot in wood carvings but matures slowly so is severely endangered!

Let’s bring these species back from the brink!

We learned that in the Tropics, it is extremely important to retain moisture and nutrients in the soil as well as disperse it. I would like to share some of the methods we used to make sure we were retaining these important elements as best as possible.

Methods used

Moisture retention and dispersal


SLOW it down, SPREAD it out and SINK it!

A Frame

Photo credit: Karin Duthie | Illustrative Options

This is a tool mainly used to find and map out contour lines. These lines sit on level ground so that water disperses and spreads equally.  There are many ways to map contour lines. The benefit of the A-frame is that it is easy to build and use- anyone can do it!

  • Low -tech methods are sometimes used in Permaculture because it is important to be able to use tools and resources that are most readily available and most affordable for most people to make and replicate.


  • Swales are level ditches along contours (F. Robyn, 2011. PDC Handbook (v2.3) p. 1-, sec.2.)

  • We created small swales to hold, slow down and improve water absorption into the soil. (F. Robyn, 2011. PDC Handbook (v2.3) p. 1-, sec.2.)

  • The dispersal of moisture is determined by gravity which is dictated by the elevation of the land. This plot is affected by a North-South slant

  • The technique with creating swales in tropics is to heavily mulch the swale to ensure nutrients and moisture is stored

Now for the planting part!

We dug large holes, two meters apart, along the berm (raised beds) of the swales. To ensure the seedlings develop and grow successfully there are a few important techniques we used.

Depth of hole: this is usually done to hold the seedlings upright at a depth that facilitates development of roots and by extension the entire plant. The rule-of-thumb is that the hole should be deep enough to hold the existing roots and those that will develop post-planting time. The hole size also takes into account the extra moisture and air which are vital in helping the seedling adjust to the shock occasioned by change of environment!

Keeping top-soil and sub-soil separately and returning the top soil to the dug pit: the top-soil (sometimes also called the living soil) is rich in humus and nutrients which young plants need to establish faster

Careful removal of planting bags: the careful removal was done so that the young roots of the young plants are not damaged

Use of soil conditioners: Apart from providing essential minerals to the young plants, these conditioners enhance/improve the soil structure and profiles to best fit young plants (seedlings). Some are also known to enhance soil moisture retention. With improvements in soil science, today we also have conditioners that are laced with some chemicals to help protect young plants from nematodes, fungi and bacteria.

Barefoot Soulutions has partnered with Organix Limited, a company that primarily markets products of plant and natural origin. The products are biodegradable, environment friendly, ecologically safe, have low pre-harvest intervals and can be used on a wide range of crops without causing harm to beneficial organisms.

Organix Products we used:

Absorber logo.png

Water retainer for forestry that, when incorporated into soil or a substrate, it absorbs and retains large quantities of water and nutrients.


An organic pure and naturally occurring ultra-concentrated hamate powder. It supplies crops with the active ingredient of Organic matter (humus).


An organic soil conditioner prepared from a range of natural ingredients some of which are cold pressed seed cakes. It enhances the microbial activity in the soil resulting in increased soil fertility.

Nhance seed 102.jpg

Manufactured from freshly harvested seaweed; a process that does not involve the use of chemicals, freezing, heat or hydration. Nhance should be applied during the initial growth stages or crops.

We mixed the above soil conditioners well and used about 1-2 buckets per hole to plant our trees. We filled the holes halfway with the soil cocktail, carefully placed our tree seedling in the hole and covered the remaining with more of our special soil mix. The secret at the end was to create a little circular indent around the neck of the seedling to give it room to breathe.

Watering after planting: food for both young and old plants and also helps in arresting shocks suffered by plants as a result of change of environment!

Sewing Cowpeas:  Cowpeas  are super plants for nitrogen fixation; they also grow relatively fast and therefore ideal for covering the ground


Imitation of forest ground

We used hay (dried grass) bought from the local community. This type of mulch helps with:

    • The prevention of soil erosion

    • To cover the soil and minimize loss of soil moisture (evaporation) and improves water absorption

    • We applied the mulch to reduce the impact of the sun’s heat and the sweeping wind.

Photo credit: Karin Duthie | Illustrative Options

We are so excited to watch our Permaculture Garden grow and blossom! If you are coming to this year’s Kilifi New Year festival, come by and check out Kisima (Mind, Body and Soul) and experience the Food Forest for yourself ☺

Permaculture Course Participants plant Food Forest for Kilifi New Year

Permaculture Course Participants plant Food Forest for Kilifi New Year

Practical Permactulture Workshop Experience

November Practical Permaculture Workshop Recap

BY: Michael Barton

Ask any Permaculturist and I’m sure they will tell you that the first few months, even years on a project are the most intense and busy, as there is always a long list of things to do. In the developing stages of any permaculture site one is faced with the overwhelming task of understanding your site in an attempt to bring it back to life. Understanding the play of the elements through or over the site takes time, months of focused observation and thoughtful interaction. Every project will have its end goals and numerous steps along the path of development to achieve these goals understanding the progression of these steps itself takes time.  With the lens of Permaculture design organizing months of observation into a detailed plan for your space and time takes shape and the benefits are then quick to follow. 

Typical Limuru Scenery; Tea as far as the Eye can See

Typical Limuru Scenery; Tea as far as the Eye can See

Barefoot Soulutions recently held one of their Practical Permaculture Workshops (PPW) in the Highland areas of Tigoni/ Limuru about a half hour from Kenya’s capital Nairobi. This area is known for its cold weather and rolling hillside of tea. With rich, yet dense red clay soils, it would be hard to find a local resident without a portion of their plot dedicated to some kind of food production. The roadsides are often dotted with small tilled patches of soil growing the usual maize, bean or sukuma crops. And any field not under continual tillage will usually host napier grass and a lot of weeds. Old yet fruitful Avocado trees boast some of the plumpest fruits around, and banana, loquat trees and passion vines seem to have their place in every plot.

The one week PPW was hosted at the Brackenhurst Conference Center a key and historic part of the Tigoni Community. The conference center rests on top of a hill previously landmarked by a lone, enormous Muna Tree. Today, although the iconic tree still stands, Brackenhurst’s reputation is marked by their dedication to the environment with a forest regeneration program of over fifty acres of restored indigenous highland forest. The center boasts an incredible biodiversity of flora and subsequently fauna, through an initiative driven by Plants for Life International, a partnering organization with the aim of developing the Brackenhurst grounds into an internationally recognized botanical garden. 

Barefoot Solutions role through the PPW was now to expand the facilities environmentally conscious practice with a focus on food production and ecosystem enhancement through the application of Permaculture. The PPW’s focus was to demonstrate both on a small and large scale what was possible through the application of permaculture techniques.

The block of Brackenhurst’s farming field allocated to the PPW

The block of Brackenhurst’s farming field allocated to the PPW

Given permission to adjust the old Shamba (Vegetable garden) spaces and also to cut new gardens, the small team of eager workshop participants guided by the veteran Tichafa Makovere, got to work applying the concepts they had learned in the classroom to the Brackenhurst grounds. In the middle of Brackenhurst’s existing farm fields, space for two large Mandala Gardens were allocated; through gentle movement of the soil into workable sized beds with dedicated and mulched pathways.

The newly designed Mandala Gardens in the middle of the existing farm

The newly designed Mandala Gardens in the middle of the existing farm

Keeping slope in mind keyhole beds were added and planted with thick sweet potato ground cover to capture and store water.  Moving away from the traditional large tilled patches of ground planted as monocultures, Tichafa had participants racing back and forth from the field to the nursery beds to “bring more seedlings” to “fill those gaps” asking “do you remember the companions to cabbage?” “What about beetroots” all to leave behind a well-designed and diversified showcase for the farm management to replicate.

Above: Participants eagerly planting seedlings and intercropping companion plants

Mandala Garden taking shape

Mandala Garden taking shape

On another day of the course, a Perma Blitz took place on the Woodland Star International School’s Playground space. Woodland Star International is within the Brcakenhurst grounds and is fully on board with the overall vision of making the campus a showcase site for what good environmental practice can look like. They loved the idea of developing a space for their students to learn and participate in food production and asked that during the PPW,  Barefoot and the workshop’s participants impliment a ‘sensory garden’ on a relatively unused corner of their playground.

Above: Woodland Star International School; Unused corner of the playground garden

Above:The finished school garden space filled with sensory planting regimes

So that’s what we did; working against the clock we removed a thick layer of Kikuyu grass lawn and fought with the hard-compacted soil to bring to life a sensory maze that would entice the students into the space. Mulching our pathways with fresh straw the un planted mandala growing out from an indigenous tree as the center piece was already a treat for the eyes. Then adding bananas and squash for quick growth and a tasty end product incorporated both the ground cover and vertical growth that permaculture systems promote.  

Finally, students were then involved and helped in the planting of a diverse seed mix to bring edibles, color and smells to the new beds, including peas, citronella, mint, sunflower and marigold to mention a few.

Above: Integrated School Garden

The course’s practical element didn’t just have participants working on the Brackenhurst Campus though. Two days of field trips to three nearby sites were visited over the workshop’s duration to give the team the best local examples of Permaculture techniques in practice. A Journey down the Rift Valley’s escarpment to the Care of Creation Kenya demonstration farm site taught the team about soil conservation and soil building techniques. Simple demonstrations were shown to showcase how effective the simple addition of mulch on garden bed can save moisture and prevent soil erosion, increase fertility and soil life, resulting in healthier crops and higher yields.

Care for Creation Demo Farm

Care for Creation Demo Farm

Above: Care for Creation Demo Farm

A visit to the Mlango Farm, was awe inspiring to the course participants as they saw what a dedicated team lead by good instruction and design could do to turn steep hillside into a flourishing and profitable business. Beautifully leveled terraces supported by banks of fruit trees and perennials like rhubarb and sweet potatoes, bordered large patches of herbs, greens and root crops. Mlango Farm put smiles on everyone’s faces and filled their heads with questions despite the steep hike in high elevation.

Mlango Farm

Mlango Farm

And finally, the group visited the Idili Permaculture Demonstration Farm. This is a site I have been SLOWLY developing for the last two years, when time and budget permits. If nothing else the site showcases what can be done by a couple people on a shoe string budget, through trial and error and lots of observation. Participants learned about zonation and how the placement of certain elements can help in time and resource management. Planning in time and space could be seen in the agroforestry demonstration plot where participants tried their hand at measuring contours with an A-frame to create a new swale system. They left the site with a new kitchen garden space, again in a Mandala design planted mulched and awaiting the rains.

Mandala Gardens at Idili

Mandala Gardens at Idili

Above: Idili Permaculture Site; Integrated Gardens

Above: Fresh produce from the Idili Gardens

A few months on and the gardens implemented on the course are growing strong, they boast a diversity of crops and have truly been a showcase to the staff and guests of Brackenhurst. But as I mentioned in the opening of this blog, these concepts when first introduced require hard work and follow-through and require a time to prove themselves. In my various follow up visits, I received many comments about how well the gardens were doing and inquiries about unknown plants that were now thriving in these spaces. Although the mandala designs and companion planting haven’t become the norm on the Brackenhurst Shamba, YET the ‘seed’ (excuse the pun) has been sown and there is an excitement about what may happen next.

Course participants at Mlango Farm in Limuru

Course participants at Mlango Farm in Limuru

If you enjoyed reading this blog post about our last Permaculture course and are interested in doing one with us, you are in luck! Our next Permaculture Design Course will be held in November 2018 at Distant Relatives Eco Lodge in Kilifi. Exact dates are still to be confirmed but if you are interested in knowing more please contact the below email addresses.

Watch this Space… Abundance is on its way.

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