Tuesday, 22 December 2009

How to make soil / Como fazer o solo?

How exactly do you get food to grow in depleted or poor quality soils? I've tried with little success in Scotland, Kenya, Liberia and now Portugal. What's the trick?

Now settled in one place for more than a few months, a village where people grow vast quantities of amazing-looking things in their gardens, I have seen a few seasons pass and have listened to their stories about what they do to make it all work. Also, we have Paulo on site much of the time: our very own walking permaculture encyclopedia, who's always keen to see the theories into practice.

Although permaculture design covers far more than the growing of vegies I can't help notice the huge differences between the two systems (local's gardens and permaculture growing). Here are a couple of major ones:

Normal gardeners dig their soil over each year, usually use this opportunity to add in some manure of other fertiliser. Heaps of work, happily avoided in permaculture's no-dig method: just cover the soil with loads of mulch (described below), avoid walking or compressing the soil and ecourage loads of soil life to develop: bacteria, fungi/mycellia, insects, worms, and millions of other mini-actors we barely understand but are responsible for making great soil if they have the right conditions. Digging the soil wrecks their world (and is way too much work too).

Weeding: another reason I always avoided gardening - loads of boring work. Instead, put down sheet mulch (shown below) and the weeds are denied light and can't live. Replace them with plants you want. Easy. OK, supposed to be. I'm sure there is more to it, but it has worked for us so far.

Couple of test sites here.

This is a South facing terrace that bakes in summer. Trying to build up soil there to plant berry bushes and small trees and kiwis to shade the whole area.
Neighbour's dog, Pinnochio (our dog's best friend by far) tramping all over it already the swine. We had just pruned a large bit of the mimosa (acacia) tree planted last year, for nitrogen mulch...

This is the next terrace up, the "chicken terrace". Here we want to build up an edge, to keep water on the terrace a bit longer, but also build up soil quality to grow things in. So we started with cardboard, then some nice looking soil with old manure on top, then forest leafy stuff, then newspaper, well soaked. then straw. We found 35 tiny strawberry plants in the shop and punched holes through the damp mulch bed and popped them in. Oh, we installed some micro irrigation pipe below the cardboard too, to avoid the drudgery of summer manual watering...

Teuru, admiring our handiwork. Next stop: strawberry heaven.

And here is the first garden patch we started this Spring (09). We chunked it full of tomatoes and squash and green peppers. As they started withering into winter, we planted in some lettuces, cauliflower, brocoli, onions and any other winter thing we could find. Where we found weeds we covered them with more cardboard and straw. It seems to go OK, and the soil is imroving a lot, but slugs have chowed through a good share of those new leaves. So next up is how to deal with slugs. Any ideas anyone?

Star of this show: Teuru all the way over from Cook Islands

Paulo in his element with new trainees (James from Tasmania and Teuru)

Friday, 18 December 2009

Copenhagen climate conf: best videos so far

They say it's the most important meeting in history, so much at stake, tens of thousands of people there, millions like me here and can't go. How do we keep up with what's going on?? BBC and all the usual media sources provide slim pickings, not much radio or video worth mentioning, or just interview the senior politicians or advisors (eg Nicholas Stern).

However, the Stupid Team (who made Age of Stupid) have the best show ever, covering each day, intereviewing heaps of key people and dealing with the rising tide of climate change sceptics. Why is it that more and more people are starting to believe the rubbish dished out by the climate deniers camp? Anyway, these videos say it all.

1. The Stupid Show

2. Desmond Tutu's speech to the crowd (that guy rocks)

3. President Nasheed of the Maldives (what a President to have?!)

4. Ambassador Lumbumba chair of the G77 group of nations (this one a bit longer and more serious, but his points are classic)

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Thesis on watermills to generators

I just realised that I can share my thesis with anyone if they are interested. Here is a link to google docs for:

abstract, contents pages, etc.

the introduction

the conclusion

Let me know if these even work... And if you want to see any of the actual chapters - these are just opening and closing sections.

Photo: Senhor and Senhora Gonçalvez, by their functioning grain mill on the river Mouro. Interviewed for the thesis - which also gives a rough idea of how much electricity could be produced from their mill, while maintaining their flour milling service.