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Weekend break: farm visit

It’s a brand new week at the PDC and we are ready, energized and full of excitement to start the new week…. But before we do, we would like to reflect a little on the previous week and our “time off” during the week-end…

dancing girls

time off

Last week we had the introductory phase covering Holmgren’s first six permaculture principles where we learned to observe and interact, catch and store energy, how to obtain a yield, about the different ways to apply self-regulation and accept feedback, how to use and value renewable resources and lastly, produce no waste. We rounded this week up with a very exciting week-end during which we had a ground visit with our Honourable Mathias Kasamba, the Republic Member of Parliament of Uganda and legislator in the Parliament of East-Africa. His farm is about 300 acres with a variety of crops, mainly practicing conventional farming with a little bit of permaculture.

Passion fruit vines at the farm

The crops he is growing on a large scale are coffee, passion fruits (which is his main income generating crop), banana, maize, eucalyptus and pine. From there, he is generating wood for selling and his personal use for his house and farm construction. In addition, he also raises animals which includes cattle, pigs, poultry and will soon be introducing rabbits with an aim of producing meat in order to feed the growing Ugandan population as rabbits produce so fast and multiply quickly. We ended our tour by suggesting to the minister that he may want to practice permaculture and still get yields but minimize the use of chemicals, produce no waste and find more environment friendly ways to feed his animals. He seemed quite open for the suggestion, having visited our course last week. He is also going to launch an institute for further agricultural research with an aim of transforming lives. Hopefully this will lead useful cooperation and who knows, some change on a larger scale.

Fun weekend

Otherwise our group is getting tighter together, people are loosening up, sharing and we were enjoying playing games like volleyball, we danced with the kids in the school. Some people went to church for their Sunday prayers and others just took advantage of the week-end to catch up with some highly longed for sleep. We were a smaller group as some of us left for the week-end, either going home or visiting the area a bit, which made it quite nice and peaceful to remain here together and relax during the week-end. We also had a very nice lunch at the minister’s place where we also took lovely and tasty juice made from his farm’s sugar cane. We also had chicken at Sabina’s, which made it a good change from the beans and meat we usually eat.

Drumming at the school

Day 5: Using Natural Resources

vetiver

Practical facilitator Grace with a clump of vetiver grass ready for planting

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.

Swale dig

The technique of swaling traps water in the landscape. instead of heavy rains running off the land and causing soil loos, it infiltrates into the ground where it reamains available to plants.

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.

vetiver plant

Facilitator Paul Ogola from Kenya oversees the planting of vetiver grass. It will quickly grow forming a natural hedge which will act as a swale, trapping water and soil run off

We highly appreciate the facilitators for good information being relayed to us aluta continua.

pri-z

PRI-Zanzibar team presented on their impressive work on the island

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…

 

Day 4: The Earth is a system, its has limits and runs on feedback

principle 4 permaculture

Apply self regulation and accept feedback

Day 4: Apply self-Regulation and accept feedback.

Each day is themed around a permaculture principle and today is about feedback and limits.

Today’s blog has been written by Barnabe  Mukezangango, who is organic farmer in Rwanda.

This was a great day where we have seen the following lessons:Seasonal planning, Soil /Land preparation,
Permaculture Ethics &values and crop maintenance.
In the morning, all home teams were busy doing different activities like pruning mangos,tidy library(chairs, tables and cups),coffee husks, harvesting chard, litter picking and weeding , global post writing.We all went for energizer with Steve Jones. And then we went in class and we looked about feedback and nature limits.

a good farmer should know how plan according to the season,as said Allen Lakein ”Failing to plan is planning to fail ”. In addition,” it takes real planning to organize this kind of chaos” said by Mel Odom.

Planning deals with “why “,”how”,”when”,”Where”,and “what”. For example as we have seen in Uganda, a farmer should plan to prepare the land in December, January and February since it’s a dry season;he grows crops in March,April and May as it’s wet season,and again prepare the land in June ,July and September as dry season and grows crops again in September,October and November.
After lunch, We especially enjoyed the sessions today with banana circle and cob rocket stove even though We didn’t get to all do the banana cycle since some of us were making a cob rocket stove. We have planted 5 bananas ,papaya ,lemon grass ,onions, comfrey. We all really enjoyed digging because it is interesting and amazing activity. Unfortunately Evans from Zimbabwe was bitten by Safari ants and every body was laughing at his reactions to their stings!

Sabina Head Jude, who is also doing the PDC with two of the participants

With permaculture ethics , we should not separate from the nature, and we have to respect living things, other people while working to meet the needs of ours selves and our family

Long term garden volunteer at Sabina Luigi, with the herb garden raised bed

Standing room only at Mr Dan and Mr Jagger’s workshop on coppicing and wood fuel generation

Thermal mass rocket stove workshop. Clay is soaked in water, mixed with sand and straw and formed around a pipe which has been pre greased with cooking oil so it can slide out when the stove has been made.

Fuel efficient stoves is a very important topic. conserving wood and the environment of course, saving needless work gathering wood which is largely wasted and importantly saving people from the hazards of inhaling wood smoke, the cause of a great deal of preventable disease and suffering in the majority world

Tree nursery

Team members Barbara and Nina Moon

The teaching team have been preparing many examples of different growing techniques to demonstrate the possibilities of growing in different conditions. These sack gardens show how food can be grown in small spaces, urban environments and where space for growing is limited.

We have also been propagating tree seedlings, jack fruit and avocade mainly which can be open pollenated and grown from seed rather than grafted.

Sack garden.. with regular showers and sunshine you can almost see these plants grow each day

 

Day 3: Obtaining yield

Hello everyone! We are a group of five people, two from Congo, another from Rwanda and two from Uganda and would love to share a little bit about our experiences here at Sabina where we are eagerly learning more about permaculture in order to apply it in our communities… One of the things we enjoy here, is that we aren’t only learning, but also really getting an opportunity to share our knowledge and experience with the tutors and other students on this course….

cob making #pdcug

lots of feet stamping on the clay

Today we had a very rainy day and this really allowed us to observe and understand how water was replenishing the soils, feeding the crops as it was following the water irrigation system based on the permaculture principles on the grounds of the school… Despite the mud and getting wet, our day was full of intensive learning interlaced with practicals and lots of fun…..
We especially enjoyed the sessions today on trees and guilds, which are; in Olivier Niyomugenga from Rwanda’s words “groupings of plants, trees, animals, insects and a range of other components”. We didn’t get to all do the banana cycle since some of us were making a cob rocket stove, but Olivier and Stephen Baguma really enjoyed digging the holes for the banana circle, the inner compost pit, planting banana, papaya trees and comfrey in the circle before covering them with the mulch which will preserve the soil and ensure the young seedlings to grow happily together, one species becoming the companion of the other in the circle. Banana circles really are a very interesting and amazing thing because of their association with other crops….

The others, Présence Mutundi Kambale, Justin Matsitsi Kambale and Victoria Katumba on the other hand really enjoyed learning how to make a cob rocket stove with our bear hands after preparing the soil by literally dancing on top of it…. Richie, Steve and Dan really put all their energy in teaching us this session in 1h time, making us realize how great it is to build such a stove, using our own resources… What a great thing to bring back to our communities and help women avoid cooking without having to breathe all the fumes from burning charcoal or wood…. The other great thing about the stove is that it uses so little wood and will thus not be a great burden to the sustainability of our forests….

This brings us to the other session that really stuck in our heads, and that was Angie’s amazing session on trees. We really enjoyed learning more about them, their interconnection and many uses. We concluded the session with building a “group wind break”, this helped us figure out all the elements that we must consider when building one ourselves. We were also surprised by all the different uses of trees, which can serve as medicine, covers for the earth, providing oxygen and adding to swale fertility… We thought trees would only give us shade, but it was great to find out about all their other functions…. And Angie added to the session by also sharing her personal experience which made it all very tangible and real.

We also realized today that its really important not to separate ourselves from nature… We are really just one thing… If we realise this and also really look after our soils, we will really improve our yields. The day was concluded by a talk of one of our sister’s Jane, who spoke to us all about the uses of the amazing Vetiver plant –something that could also be very useful for the DRC, where erosion is a very big problem. This plant is yet another example of the multiple benefits we can get from one source…. Whether for parfume, rope, pots… reversing erosion – Vetiver seems to be a plant that will do a lot of good for us all in the future….

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