Bangkok’s Green Pockets – The Wild Wee Woods in the Giant Metal Jungle

Now, it’s no secret that the pollution in Bangkok is unreal. Some days it’s so hazy that you can’t see the horizon and it makes you sit back and wonder if you’re experiencing the end of the world. Some days, when it rains it drowns the pavement and you end up with an oil slick ice rink that makes you slip and slide all over the show, as the rain brings the pollution to floor level. Some days it’s so bad that working out is more of a hazard than a health boost.

Despite this though, nestled in the new city of glitzy robot tower blocks and buzzing automobiles and flying trains, you’ll find that Bangkok is dotted with mini jungles.

IMG_0459.JPGWhen I look out my apartment window, yes I do see skyscaping metal boxes and thick tar rivers of screaming traffic, but I also see these nuggets of nature, blissfully working as their own spheres of serenity and productiveness. Luckily, there are certain rules in Thailand that mean you can’t build too close to temples, which helps to maintain these little pockets of paradise. Unlike the manmade falseness of picture-perfect parks – man’s ironic attempting at recreating what he tore down – these bundles of bushes are cacophonies of natural occurrences.

IMG_0465.JPGIn these parts you’ll see the natural patterns of the jungle springing up, with the multiple forest layers pushing through to beat that race with concrete. Often positioned, not strangely, next to poorer neighbourhoods, you’ll find that these gashes of green are abundant with edible plants and forest foods. These small jungles are teeming with life and in that, provide life. From the butterfly peas to the morning glory vines, from the banana and mango trees to the wild basil and turmeric and ginger, from the tamarinds to the yucca, you will find these miniature microcosms mimic the larger forest of which they were once part. And you will find their inhabitants live very similarly too, despite the urban sprawl and prevailing poverty that is being thrust upon them.

IMG_0462.JPGFor the likes of me and the other dusty computer kids of this choking city, we probably owe our lives to these little islands of oxygen. They drink in the smog and spit out a treat for us to guzzle, barely noticing of its giver. While the pollution is bad here, hell it will get worse when they start cutting back those clusters to create curls of creeping windows that reach the sky for more commuters to rest their anxious heads after a long, hard days typing on the box inside a box. When will we learn?

I guess right now, all we can do is thank that the sacredness of these places helps to keep the demolition team at bay. For now.

 

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Emancipation Economics – Social Permaculture & Cryptocurrency

I’ve been knees deep in the permaculture world (officially) for just over a year and I want ya’ll to realise where a year of permaculture can lead you. I went from digging out drains to speaking on stages so quick my head’s spinning like a yo-yo in the early 90s.

Social permaculture is still new and no disrespect to the fore-people that lead the way (honour and love to Starhawk, Looby McNamara, and Adam Brock in particular), but we’re still working on the vague, missing out some of the finer and somehow monumental concepts. Let’s take the economics.

I know, right, thrilling. You’re probably gripping your seat, thinking, I can’t wait to learn more. Please unwrap this candy of delight she is about to discuss. Give me that sweet sugar of maths and logic rolled into one like a statistical ball of all-consuming fun.

Oi. Don’t knock it, right. I want to take you on a journey of whole systems thinking in a direction none of us conceived. Standing in the awe of my PDC teacher talking about tree types, I never thought I’d be about to indulge you with the transition economics and real world whole systems thinking of incredible cryptocurrencies.

BURN THE WITCH, I hear you cry. Don’t be scared. I promise I’ll be gentle. But I really think it’s time we talked about this.

We can pretend that a market garden is going to give us a self-sustaining future where we can survive on selling our products at the market. We talk about cottage industry like selling tinctures is gonna send our kids to college. It isn’t, and here’s why, you bunch of self-indulging capitalists. While the system that leads to making those products may be regenerative, the economics you employ to market them are not. Oh you think they are, I thought they were. Don’t worry, this ain’t no high horse situation. I’m not buying a ladder to get on my trusty steed.

It’s this simple. I recently took a job in analyzing cryptocurrencies. As a hardened anti-technologist, this was my version of reading the Bible to use educated arguments to slam homophobic Christians. I partly took this job to prove the idiocy of cryptocurrency.

But I was wrong. 180 flip on my view. You wanna see real anarchist economics in action with whole systems design? This is where you should be looking.

Rather than talk to you about the ins and outs of cryptocurrency, I’d rather give you an example. We all know that’s far easier to swallow.

The cryptocurrency I will be explaining is called Tutellus. It works with a whole systems design that brings in students, teachers, and businesses to benefit each of them. So first, I want to outline the problem.

HERE’S WHAT SUCKS

Students: As students we get ourselves in debt by having to pay through the nose for education. What’s worse is that most degrees are a vague attempt at teaching us subjects that are pretty much irrelevant to today’s world. Now I’m not shitting on philosophers, but how much have you used that degree. As a graduate of criminology, I can tell you out right that I’m not Inspector Gadgeting much in my life.

Teachers: You can teach the hell out of your students or not at all and you’re getting the same wage. Nobody cares about whether a student is really learning real world stuff anymore, they care whether your data is up to date and whether your data is datery enough for them. I see this very dichotomy in my sister who talks wonders about what her children have learned each week, while sacrificing her own social life to stay up all night punching numbers into spreadsheets.
Businesses: Oh there’s a bunch of people applying, but none of them have real world skills or even the specifics to handle the job you’re looking for.

WHATEVER CAN WE DO ABOUT THIS?

Here’s what we can do. We can pull our problems and assets together and stop acting like we’re all individuals wandering around the chicken coop looking for the handful of grain we hope our masters will give us.

Just as a sidenote, this is hard to explain. As with all full cycle solutions, it’s hard to work out where to jump on the circle.

So we’ll start by chasing the money.

So you’re a business and you want to employ a candidate that’s going to fulfil your role completely, be qualified to jump on the job imminently and be up to date with all the advances in the field. Problem is that many degrees are still working with texts from the 1980s and lecturers who are so up their own egos that they don’t want to talk about Anonymous because they’re busy telling you the worthiness of Freud’s handful of generalized experiments.
But you’re willing to pay for recruitment so you hand your money to an ‘expert’ recruiter hoping they’ll find you a gem in a desert of sand. Let’s bypass that pony show shall we?

So as a business you put your money into the pool. This gives you access to the best students, performing the highest in the general field you’re looking. Yes, you’re going to pay more depending on the market rate of the job you’re looking for but if you want the best, you gotta pay for the best. So you plunge a sum of money in and you get a portfolio of students who fit the bill. Thing is they’re not at the end of their learning. They could be at the beginning. What brings them to your attention is this score that they’ve earned. They earn that score not only through being a smart arse, but also being a hardcore participator in their own learning. You know that those students are going to bring that hardworking attitude to your doorstep. This allows you to communicate with them, encourage them to angle their learning in a certain way. In fact, you can offer them scholarships so that they start to tailor their learning to exactly what you need.

It’s an investment, right? By the end you get a student that is so adept in what you need, that you don’t need to waste thousands of dollars training them with half-arsed corporate training, because they’re ALREADY THERE.

So then we have the students. You’re working working working, unsure if it’s leading to anything. On top of that you’re spending spending spending with blind faith that it’s going to come out with something. If we were in a casino, we’d call that gambling, my friend. Laying down money in the blind hope of return. I mean tell me I’m wrong but if I were, we wouldn’t have the student debt crisis we have, right?

So imagine you knew that your hard work was being rewarded. You pay for a course but you can make ALL that money back if you work your darndest. Not only do you do well in your exams, but you participate to improve the community, because only with an improved community will you get improved services. So you review your teachers, you participate in debate, you answer other students’ question right and so on and so forth. You engage.

This builds the score that employers see while also getting you financial rewards from the system. But where do these rewards come from? Well when businesses put their money in, that money gets distributed out to those students who are killing it. Then you get noticed. Then you get more rewards and you get sponsorship, then before you know it, your education is not only free, but you’re getting real world enterprise mentorship that guides you into working out what you need to learn to get a real world job. Hint. It isn’t an age-old degree based on yesteryears’ philosophy.

So that leaves your teachers. The people who educate the next generation, stuck on wage fit for a weekend server at a local restaurant. This is disgusting and disrespectful to our whole culture and development as a human species. Bound by curriculums that are defined by data and endorsed by governments who have, of course, no other agenda but the kids’ best interests at heart, teachers are confined to providing one-size-fits all education that neither benefits each individuals’ creativity and flair, or the teacher’s own capacity to demonstrate innovation.

In this sense, with this new system, teachers are rewarded. The money paid into the pool by businesses rewards teachers who get students to the top spots. How do those students get there? By tailored education. Teachers producing the most dynamic and relevant courses with the greatest conversions of learning are being rewarded by the businesses. Not only that, they’re rewarded when kids sign on to their courses, not just when they do well. So if you’re providing courses that are poignant and intriguing, you’re getting what you deserve.

So to sum up, kids learn a relevant and useful education for free while becoming hard-working, self-driven individuals. Teachers are motivated to be the best educators they can be, receiving the accreditation they deserve for that. And businesses get the best and most relevant candidates for the job, that need little training and are self-driven, without paying more than they’d pay to a recruiter. Damn that makes sense, don’t it?

But why blockchain?

Here’s why. Humans are arseholes. All of our resumes show better humans than we are. All teachers give less than 100% because they don’t need to. All businesses promise things they can’t deliver. No we don’t, you plead in defiance. You do. Why? Because you can.

Blockchain is a trustless immutable ledger that can’t be ignored, can’t be changed, and can’t be denied. When you have that, you can really see who truly shines. Without doubt, without reservation. And that kind of guarantee, makes people work harder, better, smarter, and with more guile.
We create the currency so the money stays in the system. With that currency, we can then spend it inside the participating businesses so eventually they make their money back. It’s basically barter, except there’s an immutable trail of accountability.

You can choose to walk away from this kind of oncoming technology, hoping patterning plants will save you. Or you can realise it’s all important. Top to bottom, inside and out, fractals in hand, this is how our economics should work. As permaculturalists, it’s our responsibility to be at the pinnacle. We’ve been pushing local currencies and transition economics for years. Now you have it. You going to embrace it, are you just sit there gawping with your head in flowers?

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When 2 Worlds Meet – The Ecotones of Bringing Together Local and Global Knowledge

As I said in previous posts, I spent a little time on Ometepe in Nicaragua. This post is about my time spent with the local gardeners.

The hostel I was working at, Little Morgan’s Hostel is run by a guy called Morgan (the father of Little Morgan). Morgan is the kind of man that continuously makes you raise your eyebrows in heartfelt surprise at the many tricks of knowledge he has up his sleeve. On the face of it, his hostel appears as a drinking haunt for half-arsed backpackers trawling the same trail as all the other fish in the sea. But when you look slightly closer at the inner sense of community within his circles, you see a glorious mix of locals and internationals intermingling to get all the jobs done and Morgan flitting between them all with equal understanding, appreciation, and eagerness for each.

When I first suggested to him that I come down and build a garden for his restaurant, I was aware that his whole site was a menagerie of tropical trees and flowers planted himself. However, when I first visited a year ago, I wasn’t looking through permaculture lenses so in reality the true depth of the intricacies of his plantings had never occurred to me. No doubt it doesn’t occur at all to the backpackers who travel through there, distracted by the excitement of their short breaks from regular life, juiced up on alcohol and adrenaline from all the wonderful places they’ve swooped through. It’s not fair to say people don’t notice the beauty, but they don’t necessarily notice the multifunctionality of the beautiful site; me included.

DSC04030.JPGHowever, this time around I was entering with a new perspective and a different purpose. This enabled me to pop on my observation googles to notice what was hiding among the jungle chaos of the place. I was headed to build a garden on a spot which had previously been used for growing, but had become overgrown. Before I even got to the garden, I noticed that the bar itself is surrounded by a plethora of fruit trees and various other edibles. Mangoes, pineapples, squashes, coconuts, bananas, and plantains are casually hanging around dripping with goodies, and that’s just from a quick glance. And you can’t miss the animals mingling in and churning that soil while grabbing belly rubs from the patrons.

DSC04642.JPGThe thing is that the intricate density of all the green that splurges across this climate and landscape is difficult to comprehend. You need to have a helping hand. Often in permaculture we can be a little…let’s say…know-it-all. The principles set out by Bill Mollison and David Holgrem have served as a fantastic manual for working; the issue is that often we butt heads with local people when we come in with our white people club of new age farmers and tell them how they should be doing it. I’m not doubting the validity and excellence of permaculture and regenerative agricultural methods, but nobody knows the land better than the people who have had their hands in it every day of their lives.

I’ll be honest, when Morgan introduced me to the garden guys, I was intimidated. These guys have done this every day in the blistering heat, wearing jeans and knocking back whisky while they get the job done. Not only that, they built the myriad of phenomenal structures from the very garden they grew.

mirador.png
Source:volanthevistI couldn’t see them really taking my ideas, physical self, or vision seriously. While we want to think that our brand of feminism is the way forward, there’s no escaping the fact that traditionally, women do not work in the fields here. I was prepared for them to reject my capabilities. I was wrong.

They welcomed me into their team with open arms and spent a great deal of their precious time working with me to teach me some of the intricacies of the land and some of their knacks. But it didn’t stop there.

To begin with, it was a very macho experience; them trying to take the hard labour out of my hands, somehow humouring me with my little gardening fancies. But before long and as my Spanish developed, it became an exchange of friends and it ignited an interest in all of us.

It first started with the oldest guy in the crew, Chefan. Chefan tried to put an insect repellant on the soil and I nearly exploded with desperation. I didn’t want to insult him but I wanted to grow organically and I wanted to test the methods I’d be taught. I politely and in the most restrained way I could, asked him not to. I will never forget the look he gave me. The pause of a man who had lived many lives while never having left that island. The pause of a man who’d seen a million faces shit all over his culture and suddenly see one who wanted more than cheap plastic and throwaway touism. He cracked this smile so wide that I could have fit a boat in his mouth. He gestured for me to come with him and pointed to a neem tree, handing me the longest machete I’d ever seen and signalling that he’d give me a boost. When an indigenous Ometepian pulls you into their fold and tells you to climb that tree, guess what you’re doing. Up the tree I went and retrieved some neem. He put the neem, some garlic, and some of the local brain-blowing chilies in a bucket and we left it over night. We sprayed this all over the ground and plants and I had no bugs (for a while, this is the tropics, not Never Never Land!). He later laughed about how his Grandfather taught him this but he’d never used it and was amazed it had worked.

It only escalated from there. Chefan came to one night with the head builder, Luiz, and they said to me: ‘I see the fire in your eyes’. And we talked. Over whisky and tears we spilled our hearts. Luiz explained to me about how Chefan and himself bring young boys to come and work at the hostel to teach them about empowerment. No doubt you have seen the raucous of politics happening in Nicaragua right now; this was at the backbone of everything they were teaching. They taught these young boys to plant the seeds, grow the trees, design the building, choose the right branch, and build from it. They taught them to utilise what nature gives them, not to control it or break it or bend it to one’s will, but to work with it and create from it. They taught them to be empowered by the land, not to try and take power over it. They taught them that they didn’t need an oppressive regime if they could take care of everything themselves and until they could, they had no business fighting that regime (that’s a story for another time).

From here on in, these two older men had the younger men work with me. They explained that of they taught me the hands on sneaky tricks, I would teach them the science. I taught them to rebuild the terraces along contour to preserve water.

DSC04608 (1).JPGThey taught me to grow yard beans along the fences to keep weeds out, I taught them to stake yucca as the fence. They taught me to pierce pigs noses to stop them rooting, I taught them to use the pigs to root the pesky bindweed first. They cut down the overgrowth while I made them hot sauce from the local chilies. They taught me to plant my nursery in a bed of ashes, I taught them to create guilds to protect the tomatoes from fungus. They taught me the native plants and I taught them the names in English.

DSC04615.JPGOne day, when I was suffering from conjunctivitis and everyone was throwing back antibiotic drops, they made me an eye wash from witchhazel.

I taught them to look for the signs of pests and adjust the carbon to nitrogen. They taught me that the jungle will do what it will, and to eat what grew and enjoy it.

I spent many a night discussing philosophy and corporations with them. I will never forget the tears in Larry’s eyes when he was sure he was crazy, trying desperately to explain his own personal observations of how pesticides seem to affect the land and how nobody seemed to believe him. He’d never left the island, he doesn’t have the internet, he knows nothing about the worldwide anger raging about the use of these products; he just knew what he saw and drew his own conclusions. The wholehearted embrace that he gave me when I explained about Monsanto was like I’d put his mind at peace.

It wasn’t just knowledge they gave me. They gave me their hearts, their community. They had their wives teach me Spanish and how to cook. They shared stories and introduced me to their families.

Between us we grew a garden that managed to create some of the most delicious recipes I’d ever tasted, making that restaurant a bit more sustainable. Between us we managed to teach and learn and create. I thank them so deeply for those lessons and to me it’s proof that social diversity creates resilience, it creates strength. Because alone neither of us had the answers, but together, we killed it.

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I believe that as a community, we can all do our bit to help and having your help would mean the world to me.

5 Observations from my Tropical Garden

OK, so I have been working on this garden in Nicaragua for about a month now. It’s rainy season so it’s been a bit of a busy kafuffle trying to get everything ready before the big rains come. Due to this, there have been a great many changes to the garden very quickly. Here are a few things I’ve observed from working.

  1. Tropical rain is hard to deal with

When it comes to rainwater harvesting, the tropics have their own set of complications. While half the year it’s throwing rain out of the sky like a clown with a bucket, the other half is dry as a bone. While obviously we want harvest as much rainwater as we can in order to keep the plants satisfied in dry season, when that rain comes down in rainy season, it comes so thick and fast that the beds become saturated.

As some work had been done in one area before I came, I can actually compare the different methods used. The guys here had already transplanted tomato plants into terraces when I arrived, without preparing the soil. This means that when it rains, while the terraces help to halt the water, once the bed becomes full, it overflows and the soil starts the erode down the beds. However, I used sheet mulching with rice husks and weeds on the new beds I built. This not only suppresses the weeds, but it holds the water, absorbing it into the rice husks.

I have noticed a few things with this method. The soil isn’t eroding and the weeds are suppressed which means the seedlings seem to be sprouting up at record rate. With the tomatoes, you can see that some areas are more eroded than others, and in those eroded areas, the tomatoes are not growing so well or dying off; especially at the top of the bed.

I’m trying to combat this by laying rice husks down. It’s not impossible but it’s tedious to weave in and out of the plants. Rather than laying green mulch, I’m planting edible cover crops in between; some give nitrogen to the soil, some shade, some are simply weed suppressants, but all of them help to hold and harvest the water.

  1. The insects love anything non-native

When I first arrived here, I was fortunate enough to bump into Scott, one of the teachers at Rancho Mastatal. It was my first day here and his advice was invaluable. He told me that it’s hard to grow food here because the insects are ferocious. I was a little confused at first, because everyone has to eat, but then I realised he was referring to the kinds of vegetables we can easily grow in the UK.

I observed the garden to work out where the insects like to flock to and where they stay away. It became apparent very quickly that native plants were far more hardy to the attacks of the insects. I started to chat to the local guys to find out more about edible weeds and indigenous plants. They pointed me toward a wild bean, certain squashes, indian lettuce, wandering jew, cucaracha, katuk, chaya, and other such plants. I’ve been planting these in the garden and so far, they seem to be much more hardy. While the insects are slowly mauling the tomatoes, they tend to steer clear from these more native species.

The shows that part of permaculture is to think about how to adapt to your surroundings. While it’s great to have an iceberg lettuce for a solid BLT, using native edible leaves as lettuce is going to have a much higher success rate.

  1. The jungle will always try to take the land back

I’ve noticed that I need creative ways to keep the jungle back. Whether that’s using thick mulch or cover crops, it is important to suppress the weeds in order to intensively grow enough food. While I have of course worked in other gardens with weeds growing, the jungle is a different ballgame. If I weed a bed, leave the soil bare, and come back that evening, there will be weeds again.

IMG_0314

Right now I’m experimenting with all different ways. I’ve been planting lemongrass at the edges to use their dense root system to keep back weeds. I’ve also been planting squashes all around the patches, as their large leaves help to keep the weeds back using shade. Varying cover crops a will help me to work out which plants work best with with vegetables to keep the weeds back without affecting the growth of the veggies; the variety also increases the biodiversity.

  1. A decent plant nursery is essential

When I first got here, the garden guys were using plastic crates filled with soil as a plant nursery. There are a few issues with this that prevents seedling sprouting.

Firstly, the rain is so heavy that it leads to the box saturating and becoming swampy. There’s no places for it to drain. Equally, they used the same soil from the ground, without mixing in sand, making it difficult for things to root easily. Secondly, the boxes aren’t shaded and the blistering tropical sunshine leads to seedlings withering; they need some kind of shade.

This week I would like to try to create a plant nursery to start planting lettuce seedlings and peppers. I’m thinking of using plastic bottles as a means to harvest water and build it from bamboo, ensuring drainage, while also giving shade.

  1. Terracing creates a series of microenvironments

I’ve never worked so closely with terraces before and seeing them every day enables me to understand their power. With all gardens, different areas should be treated differently due to their ranging features; some areas have more shade, water, wind, light.

However, interestingly, by creating terraces, we have created several different areas to work with. The top of the terracing tends to get more flooded than the bottom, which doesn’t appear to make logical sense, but it does. This means that plants that like wet feet, tend to be doing better up there; such as lemongrass. With this observation, I planted yucca at the bottom (north). Planting it here was a conscious decision as its northern location means it won’t shade out the garden, but it is also quite drought hardy, so it would be fine with less water.

I have planted varying crops all over the place. As they grow or don’t, I will be able to see what does well together where and replicate this in similar areas. This planting and revision enables me to learn from what I’m dong and to re-evaluate the system to increase its productivity through pattern recognition. It’s frightfully interesting!

Feeding the Forest – The Right Thing to Do

Since I’ve been here a couple of weeks now, I’ve had a great deal of time to explore the property and understand the inner workings of the plants that live alongside me here. Morgan, the owner of the hostel, has had the property for 12 years. When he arrived there was nothing here; now it looks pretty similar to the neighbouring jungle around it. However, from closer inspection and from lengthy chats with Morgan, I have come to realise the purposefulness with which the plants were chosen.

Although many of the backpackers don’t seem to notice, we are surrounded by an abundance of food and useful plants. I’d like to give you a wordy walk through of what we have here.

Papayas_Permaculture
Papaya Canopy

What’s in the Forest?

Firstly, we have an amazing amount of food. Morgan has planted lots of coconut trees. The meat is used for food and for making milk and oil, the water for drinking, and the trees themselves provide much needed shade for the hostel. The property itself is considerably cooled by the canopy layer that the coconuts provide. Under this very high canopy are large fruit trees, such as mangoes, bananas, plantains, breadfruit, and jackfruit, which again provide shade and food. The bananas also serve as food for the chickens and turkeys, who not only eat the fruit, but scratch underneath them to find bugs. Neem trees are also abundant and are used to make insecticide for the garden, as well as providing shade. There are also many smaller citrus trees and papayas. We’ve been considering increasing the use of these fruits by making syrups and juices for the bar, and perhaps making a still to make home-made moonshine for the customers. Equally, papaya stems are hollow and make incredible natural straws, creating a phenomenal replacement for the horrifying damage done by plastic straws in our natural water sources. There are also several trees planted for timber, which has been used to craft the entire hostel, while palms are used for the roofs.

Neem_Permaculture
Neem

When it comes to the bushy layers, lemongrass and cuban oregano can be spotted, used both for culinary purposes and for their medicinal properties. There is also a smaller bushy tree, often confused for papaya, but it’s actually called chia. Not like chia seeds, but pronounced with a capital ‘I’ – ChIa. This plant has big spiked lobed leaves like papaya, but the leaves can be cooked up and served in the same manner as spinach.

There are quite a few creepers crawling along the ground including a wild tiny melon and squashes. Down on that ground level, you’ll also find an abundance of what appear to be weeds, but are actually edible greens, such as wild peanut and an odd succulent type plant that seems like samphire but less salty.

Squash_Permaculture
Squash

Punctuating the green sea are beautiful flowers, both edible and ornamental. Of the edible flowers I recognise are hibiscus and canalillies. Morgan told me that they previously used flowers in the salads but it dwindled away over time. My penchant for beauty in food has led me to encourage him to take this back up again, which I’m excited for. It motivates me to learn more edible flowers so I can scavenge them on site or plant them.

Canalillies_Permaculture
Canalillies

For those that have a good eye for rhizomes, there is a blanket of yukka/cassava that lines the pathways, creating shade and providing starchy goodness for the restaurant’s fries. They serve excellently to break up the soil, which although relatively sandy, can become quite compact after a heavy rain.

Banana_Yucca_Permaculture
Bananas and Yucca

Winding up the trees you will find dragonfruit, passionfruit, and malabar spinach. I’m in the process of adding loofahs to this and more spinach.

Breadfruit_Permaculture
Breadfruit

I’m very overwhelmed by the fruitfulness of this place and the potential it provides to take Morgan’s hostel one step closer to self-sustainability. When I asked him about why he plants all these things but doesn’t market the ecological side of the property, he said he does it for his son, so that his son will have everything he ever needs right in front of him: food, building materials, medicine, beauty. He followed this up by saying it was the right thing to do. Sometimes I feel like we get caught up in the complexity of creating a perfect design, forgetting the reason for why we do these things. We do this because it’s the right thing to do to help the future generations. We’re out there in all weathers, brains ticking over, trying to push the imagination to find more ways to increase the yield in a regenerative manner, not to prove that we’re the best permaculturists, but because it’s the right thing to do.

For me, being able to see it in action has really spurred me on. Often we visit permaculture sites which are ‘on the way’ but never getting there, or we meet permaculture teachers who bounce from place to place never dedicating themselves to the implementation, leaving the follow-through to fall through. It’s humbling to stand with a normal guy, who doesn’t brand himself as some kind of ‘save the world’ permaculture expert, and hear him profess he does this because it’s the right thing. Because it is, and when you see it in action, you feel it more than ever before.

Living Edge Giving Veg – How To a Make Living Fence

Walls, fences, barriers, they’re so restrictive. They keep people out and keep people in and both of these things has a very negative feel about it. But maybe that’s because those non-living fences have get rid of the beauty of interatcions on boundaries. They turn a place that could become a magical fusion of both sides through a medium, into a stale and lifeless boundary that separates two sides.

Why Love Living Fences?

Living fences embody permaculture’s principles in their very conceptual breath. On the basic level, living fences demonstrate the example of multifunctionality. You plant the fence posts and they grow into trees which not only provide the needed barrier around you garden, for example, they provide shade, food, habitat for wildlife, mulch materials; they hold soil and prevent erosion, they hold water in their roots, they create a less formidable and more arable microclimate, and many tree suitable for living fences are also nitrogen fixers. Great, look at all those benefits that a steel barrier couldn’t provide.

Living_Fence_Posts
Knocking in Living Fence Posts

But it’s deeper than that. To pull the old rabbit adage out of the permaculture hat, living fences epitomise ‘more edge, more veg’. While this attitudinal principles can literally refer to the fact that more edge enables you to plant more vegetation, living fences embody the symbolism of the deeper-rooted meaning here. When two things exist, they exist in their own manner, say a pond and the land. When these two things meet each other, they interact. This creates a whole new area for development, a new space for magic to happen. When water meets the land’s edge, you get a mixture of both; wetter land and more silty water. This unique environment enables other things to grow that wouldn’t have grown on the land or water, such as reeds, water cress, lemongrass…

When you apply this idea to living fences, you see that the tree fence provides an avenue for what’s on the outside and what’s on the inside to interact in a more magical manner. Say you’re building a fence around your garden to keep the chickens out. Planting a living fence now provides an extra shaded area and perhaps more nitrogen. The tree attracts more insects, so your chickens will be attracted to this area, tilling the soil, eating the insects and manuring on the soil. So on the one side, your chickens are working the soil and so is the tree, and now you have this area just inside your fence which is high in nitrogen, slightly shaded, has been aerated and has a plethora of insect and microbiology; sounds perfect to plant some ginger!

By providing a catalyst for the two sides to interact, you now have a whole new place for yield.

Madre_De_Cacao_Living_Fence_in_Belize
Madre De Cacao Living Fence in Belize

Living Fences with Live Stake Propogation

There are many species of trees you can use for this but it’s best to look at your native climate to understand the best ones for you. We used Madre de Cacao but according to Andrew Schreiber, you can also use:

  • Scouler’s Willow
  • Austree Willow
  • Balsam Poplar
  • Black Mulberry
  • Blue Elderberry

I’d like to add Moringa, Poplar, Elder, Willow, Gliricidia, Gumbo Liimbo, Jatropha, and Madero Negro to the list. There are many more.

  • You want to try and cut the branches for propogation when the tree is dormant. For us, we were in the tropics, so this isa little harder but look for a time when the tree seems to be dropping most of its leaves. Otherwise, winter is best.
  • You need to cut branches that are about 4 inches thick for the main supporting posts, and then little think whip branches for weaving. You’re looking for newer branches here. Look around the base of the tree.
  • Mark out the place you want the fence and line that fenceline with the posts. They muct be the correct way up (i.e tip of the branch at the top). It is also good to cut the branch at an angle so that it has more surface area to work from
  • Living_Fence_Outline_Belize
    Outlining the Garden with Madre de Cacao post in Belize
  • Knock the posts in about half a metre deep.
  • This next bit isn’t essential, but it provides fencing while the trees grow and also allows the trees to mould together (TREES ARE AMAZING). Weaved the smaller branches between the posts.

That’s it. Then you let it grow. It gives a very Alice in Wonderland feel, which in truth, we all want Wonderland so why not?

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Classroom Prisoners – Permaculture as Cross-Curricular Education

So I talked a little before about outlining your own journey to understand where you want to be in the end, to understand what you need to learn. Outside of the four square walls of the oppressive schooling environment, I’m learning to learn in a far more effective and viceral manner. And this is the problem with school; you’re tied to a desk and expected to learn one way and only one that suits the standard format of statistical outcome spreadsheets. Are the children learning or ticking boxes for the sake of the government’s need to prove their ‘achievements’?

The Problem with School

The problem I often see in the schooling system, not that I’m the first to say this, is the compartmentalisation of learning.

Here’s science class. Sit down and learn your science. Here’s geography class. Let’s learn geography here as a completely isolated construct to science.

It makes no sense to me that we would separate these interweaving concepts. It somehow takes out the mystery and magic, the excitement and epiphanines. I’m just spitballing here but I think a lot of it has to do with trying to create a standardised education that’s easy to deliver to children in an organised and easily packaged manner so it looks good in the data. I hear my sister, a primary school teacher, complain about ‘data’ all the time. Data? What data. How can you measure somebody’s capacity to have learned when you apply it in an isolated manner.

I have seen a change though. I see my sister apply cross-curricular thinking to her 6 year olds; trying to develop links between subjects across the board. However it’s insanely difficult to do that when the only stimulus you have is a concrete box in which they sit, an interactive whiteboard, and some crepe paper. You can learn all this theory about the world as much as you want, but as any millenial will tell you, this school system tells you nothing about how to actually be, live, breathe in the world. I was atrociously underprepared for what adulthood would throw at me because I didn’t know how to recognise interconnectivity in the system.

We see a rise of school gardens as a political nod at the envrionmental movement. Here you go, shut up, we’ve given the kids a garden now, what more do you want? What more do I want? I would like you to use it as the multi-faceted tool that it could be utilised as. I would like you to train your teachers into enticing and influencing creativity and pattern recognition in their pupils through this incredible medium that represents basic human needs in its rawest form. I’d like you to encourage children to become self-sustainable so they don’t have to live their lives believing your lies that they’re not good enough or clever enough or brave enough or smart enough to do it themselves and that they need governments to hold our hands in everything they do. This of course is a far bigger paradigm shift…one I firmly believe starts in the garden but it certainly doesn’t end at the tip of a trowel.

Permaculture as a Conduit

Permaculture. Ah. The baffling complexity and simultaneous simplicity of the concept is striking, even overwhelming. Many mistakenly see it as away of doing really good gardening. That’s short-sighted in my humble opinion, as it renounces the incredible capacity for it to demonstrate manners in which we can teach social, economic, and personal development.

Starting this journey, I realise the breadth of everything I need to learn. School teaches us abstract concepts without providing us with applicable scenarios. Kids switch off. Why in God’s name would a 15 year old care about erosion of soils? For serious, it’s not interesting to a teenager, no matter how jazzy your Powerpoint is.

If you want someone to care about something, you have to give them a reason to care; a stake, some ownership, a sense of pride and responsibility.

Wouldn’t it be far more engaging if you said to a 15 year old ‘Here look, by the end of this term, you’ll be making and selling your own hot sauce so you’ll have a bit of money in your pocket, a sense of self identity, a project of which you can be proud, something from which you can demonstrate your responsibilty, and skills which you can take out into the world. However, to get to that stage, there’s a few things you need to know.’ I know I’d be far more willing to hear about soil erosion. Maybe that’s just me.

Permaculture_Education_Mindmap
Permaculture Education Mindmap

Let’s picture what permaculture can teach kids. While the many branches of water management, natural building, cottage industry etc are all connected, let’s take the small example of the school garden; what can they learn? How about the chemistry and biology of soil and plants? What about the physics and mathematics of earthworks. How about the nutrition? Pattern recognition? Mapping? Natural geography? Botany. Energy recycling. Waste management.  How about all the economics they learn from producing products: profit and loss, distribution, marketing, inventory, problem-solving, planning. How about the community and social skills they learn? The philosophy of whole systems thinking. The documentation teaches photography skills, video skills. Want a child to learn IT? How about learning to use complex 3D design programs, video editing? How about the ability to historically look back at the land and understand previous usage; both people and planet. Climate changes, human geography. Entrepreneurship. Art. Home economics.

Sure kids won’t be interested in it all. But the one thing I have really learned through permaculture is that, yes, while I want to make beautiful natural cherry syrups, I have to learn all the processes that go into getting the cherries first and that journey makes it more worthwhile. It gives me a stronger sense of achievement and appreciation for what I have finally produced. Not only does it give me pride, ownership, and economic reward, it also teaches me value. The sheer work that goes into producing stuff and learning that process myself helps me to value things differently, reducing my consumption. It takes you out of the faceless, irrelevant classroom, and puts you in a place where where your learning becomes relevant to the real world.

I know I’m not the first to say this. I’m not the first to push this point across and I’m probably not the most articulate in doing it. However, it has given me the idea of perhaps producing a few resources aimed at education, for schools, parents, homeschoolers. So we’ll see how that goes. We’ll see if we can stimualte to activate.

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