By Heather Gordon Athie – Kilifi New Year Festival
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!
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.
What we planted
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.
Moisture retention and dispersal
SLOW it down, SPREAD it out and SINK it!
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:
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.
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 ☺