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The day began with a hike. We started 6 a.m in the morning. The dawn slightly appeared and my shoes got wet from the dew. We were in a group of six and went trough fields of maize and bushes of lantana. A long dirt road in front of us and a small hill was waiting to be climbed. The view was impressive. The sun came upand the mist was hanging in the valley. I could not know that this shall be the first lesson of today.
What do we all need? It is available for us in different forms. One of the best ways to store it is in the soils and it is trapped in cycles at least since we have life on this planet. Water. H20. I think when we are talking about water then we can not pass the topic waste. There is this phenomena, that people are using their available resources in a different way, when they have personally seen where they come from and where they go.
There is always a use for something. I have not found a utility for it, I am not creative enough, when I want to throw it away. This is one of the aspects that permaculture wants me to think about. In nature there is nothing with only one use. Every part of the system has multiple utilities.
“Waste is not waste, until you waste it.”
Back to our morning hike. The mist was hanging in the valley above the trees, moments before the sun became to strong. One quarter of the water of a forest is stored above the ground, mainly on the leaves to evaporate. It is a part of a system and contributes to micro-climates. Another quarter is channeled straight into the soil for irrigation and to stabilize the water table.
I enjoyed our practical session today. What have we done? We turned a problem into a solution. The problem was soil erosion caused by water rushing down the slope. We dug a swale and planted vetiver grasses which serves three functions; slowing down, trapping and infiltrating water into the soil. The result: an efficient use of a given resource which was earlier seen as a problem.
Actually forests are oceans. I have never seen it in this way before. We should be glad for every square meter of forest we have got. The forest is the best working system for water-harvesting and -managing. Why? Because forests are used to cover their soil and fertilize it with their “waste”. This term does not exist anymore. They cover mother earth with a highly valuable resource.
“Nature does not produce waste, it cycles the energy.”
I would like to consider two more aspects. I want to mention worms. These small soil-producing power stations are phenomenal creatures. And there are two methods you can easily adapt, mulching (covering soil) and composting (turning carbon and nitrogen into humus). We have copied those approaches from our forests.
The principle nº six combines those ideas. Resources are limited. At least, try to bring the energy you have used back to nature, less polluted or with a higher statue of value.
As the course is rolling on, just like a stone stone downhill, its already the fifth day tackling the fifth principle as put down by David Homlegren. Our 5th day out of the 12 days started with weeding which was by 6 out of the 8 home teams. One of the two groups headed by Uncle Ritchie performed some pruning of the mango trees.
The team headed by Nina were the time keepers of the entire day on top of filling up the hand washing facilities. Health issues are not to be taken for granted, most especially when we’re living as a family.
We are lucky to be joined by Jane Wegesa from Kenya who is a specialist in working with vetiver grass. In line with our pricniple of valuing natural resources we are learning how to use plants to stabalise lanscape, encourage water infiltration and generate biomass to feed animals and for compost.
Later in the afternoon during the practical session, there was a practical session headed by Richie of digging Swales which is a method of water storage. This helps to keep water in the soil and also to stop surface fun off. Grace and the other participants were planting vetiver grass which is also a method of water retention and can also be used for water purification. Vetiver is a deep rooted grass which was carried along by Jane Klegea a participant at the Permaculture Design Course. It was shocking to learn that nearly 70% of all the perfumes contain oil extracted from vetiver grass.
We highly appreciate the facilitators for good information being relayed to us aluta continua.
On day 5, we were introduced to principle 5:
“Use and value renewable resources and services”.
We started the day joining our home team and Richard took us to a mango tree to show us everything about pruning. After giving us a warm welcome, he explained the reason why we should prune. Pruning is important to get more air moving through the tree, which is stimulating the photosynthesis process and give us a better yield quality. Richard showed us the tools we needed to cut and the importance of the technique.
Using the right technique is important to avoid diseases on the cut parts. As mango trees can grow really high, the best thing to do is to cut the middle branch. Branches can be used for firewood, biochar, mulching, compost… When you have a big forest full of trees, you can use the wood after having it cut into very small pieces and putting it together to produce energy by letting the oxygen interfere with it (aerobic composting).
After lunch, we had the opportunity to dig swales right behind the library. Swales are very useful as they trap the water in the landscape to help for farming or house holding purposes. It was a sunny day but as soon as we started swaling, it started to rain. We loved it, it was so refreshing! The practicum ended by planting vetiver. During the hard work of the hyppos, Dan introduced the girafs to the benefits of coppicing. Coppicing is providing you a permanent supply of wood.
Our guest speaker of the day was Laura from Zanzibar. This amazing lady told us everything about the Practical Permaculture Institute Zanzibar. The school, situated close to Stone Town in Shakani, created a tropical food forest, where people live in a sustainable environment and in total harmony with nature. Their mission is to spread permaculture knowledge through organizing different kinds of courses. Thank you, Laura, for sharing your project with us!
One thing is for sure, we all slept like babies (Evans words!) after having learned so many things in one, beautiful day…