tree planting

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:

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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.

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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

Greening the Desert

Safarilink / Barefoot tree planting day @ Ngamia Secondary School, Nakukulas – Turkana East.

Barefoot Soulutions is a Kenyan start-up specializing in tropical permaculture. The team were sub contracted by Tullow Oil in July 2017 to design, implement and manage a number of working demonstration farms in partnership with local community groups.

In September 2018, Safarilink jumped on board and together the trio embarked on a tree planting campaign that saw 200 mixed variety seedlings, including the superfood ‘moringa’ dug carefully into the soil by students and teachers of Ngamia Secondary School.

Barefoot’s demonstration farm ‘Akiro Amana Analaireng’ from the air

Barefoot’s demonstration farm ‘Akiro Amana Analaireng’ from the air

Harsh, inhospitable, 8 billion black rocks.

Lake Turkana land is Kenya’s far north and unlike anywhere else in the country. Thousands of years ago this was once a lush wetland where our earliest ancestors roamed, the fossilized remains of one discovered 1.6 million years later by a team of sweaty archaeologists who promptly re-christened the area ‘The Cradle of Mankind’.

Hosting the world’s largest permanent desert lake this region is uniquely under-populated and holds the title of Kenya’s poorest, driest and hottest county. Stuck right up on Ethiopia’s southern border this arid place occupies a vast empty space on the map, shaded yellow right across the sweeping breadth of the Great Rift Valley.

This area is a throwback to our most ancient human origins but besides the dam it is an awakening economic giant. Beneath its surface lies significant oil deposits, sub surface water reserves and on the southern shore a scurrying hive of activity with the construction of Africa’s largest wind power farm. Expansive roads now cut through swathes of prehistoric acacia savanna and the buzz of boda-boda’s regularly interrupts the waaaaa call of the go-away bird whose whoosh of grey feathers against the piercing blue sky is often the only movement between the hours of 9 to 5 when day time temperatures peak at ‘sweaty.’

Africa as a whole is on the march, urban centers have replaced fly ravaged shack-scapes and flying high above this still empty landscape for the fist time the dust from a hundred thousand hooves far below quickens the heartbeat… where did all the grass go?

The challenge of our generation is regeneration - and this is Barefoot’s mission.

The ‘Alaireng womens group work closely with the Barefoot team learning and implementing Permaculture practices on a daily basis.

The ‘Alaireng womens group work closely with the Barefoot team learning and implementing Permaculture practices on a daily basis.

“Desertification is a fancy word for land that is turning to desert,” said Allan Savory in his widely acclaimed 2013 TED talk[1] on holistic land management - and it's happening to about two-thirds of the world’s grasslands, accelerating climate change and causing traditional grazing societies to descend into social chaos. Solutions exist in theory but it’s the practice part that stumps most. To this end, Barefoot had been sub contracted to set up a series of agro-ecological demonstration sites together with select members of adjacent communities who would train alongside our team in anticipation of the day when they would take over the full running of the sites and their associated value chains – of which Moringa is just one. 

Fresh Moringa leaves being naturally dried in the Turkana heat – before being turned into high grade powder.

Fresh Moringa leaves being naturally dried in the Turkana heat – before being turned into high grade powder.

Akiro Amana Analaireng is the name of the main farm site and tree nursery - ‘Demonstration farm in the desert’ is the literal translation and it is from here that several pick up loads of indigenous and exotic seedlings were selected and taken to the school for the Safarilink sponsored tree planting /out grower program.

Along with a fine mix of indigenous species like desert dates, acacia melifera, henna and flamboyant came 100 young Moringa oleifera and Moringa stenopetala; one of the most nutritionally dense plants in the world whose leaves once dried and crushed into powder occupy pride of place amongst the world of ‘superfoods’ whose global market value is projected to increase at a compound annual rate of 16% in the coming decade.

Both species of Moringa thrive in hot, sandy places –the oleifera species (originally from India) grows in abundance along our coastline and is favored by the Giriama as a tasty green vegetable, but it is the indigenous stenopetala that gets us excited; the leaves of which are darker and larger in size and when eaten raw, added to boiling water for a super-tea or dried, crushed and spooned into a cute packet for sale (see below) bring in a tidy income for the farm, community and one day the school too.

The farm produces its own organic moringa powder – from both species – with the school set to be our first out grower.

The farm produces its own organic moringa powder – from both species – with the school set to be our first out grower.

Because we’re planting in Turkana – hot, dry and sandy, the trees are planted along with a range of Organix (K) products: Absorber is a hydrogel substance that helps retain precious water in the soil, Earthlee is a concentrated humate powder and Asilee a soil conditioner

= All organic – all brilliant.

Students celebrate their visit with a cup of fresh moringa tea

Students celebrate their visit with a cup of fresh moringa tea

Earlier on that week the students received a farm tour (that included a cup of fresh moringa tea at the end) and upon our arrival at the school the team quickly got busy with a mechanical hole-digger... noise, sweat, heat, dust and many tiny seedlings in whose future canopies lies so much potential. Each student was allocated one moringa and one indigenous tree to nurture over the coming months and a competition of ‘whose tree grows the fastest’ initiated with a prize awarded at the end of the year.

In summary, tree plantings don’t get more exciting – or cooler than this – an essential realization to make as we face down the future as a country whose very future lies in the hands of its young people – and the natural world. 

We have much work to do people…

Thank you Safarilink !

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Contact: Jess de Boer ( for information on our farm fresh moringa powder

Check out for more information on their epic products

Water Conservation, using Absorber & Okoamaji

By Organix Ltd

How can we conserve water?

Organix has two products, Absorber & Okoamaji. Both products can reduce watering frequency, help with aeration, reduce leaching, and uniform germination of seed planted crops.

Watering frequency is reduced depending on the type of soil and weather conditions.
Sandy soils require more water then loamy or clay soils. During hot weather, plants loose a lot of water through their leaves due to transpiration. On average Absorber & Okoamaji can reduce watering frequency by 50%. Suppose you are in a hot area like Turkana and need to water your trees daily during the hot months of January and February. By using Absorber you will only need to water every other day; not only saving you water, electricity or diesel but also it will reduce leaching. The more water you apply the more leaching that occurs. If the water pH is high and there is sodium and bicarbonates in the water, then you do not want to apply too much water. This will keep increasing soil pH as well as the concentration of sodium. Then bicarbonates will build up hindering nutrient uptake by the roots of the plant.

Help with Aeration in soil? The process of continuous absorption and release of water from the Absorber & Okoamaji particles leads to expansion and contraction which will create air pockets in the soil leading to good rooting. With any plant, good feeder roots are the basis of good plant health leading to higher yields.

Leaching reduction? The particles of Absorber & Okoamaji will absorb nutrients dissolved in the water and will release with water. These nutrients may have been washed down in the soil if there was no Absorber. The nutrient use efficiency is increased as a result.

Uniform germination of seed planted crops – small amounts of Absorber when applied with seeds will ensure uniform germination and a healthy start of the plant. In case of a dry spell happening immediately after germination, the chances of mortality will be reduced.

Where can Absorber be used? Tree planting, fruit trees, coffee, tea, landscaping, vegetables, cereals like maize, wheat , …. Pretty much on any plant

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