Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Presents

Christmas has gone for another year and the wrapping paper is put into plastic bags thrown into rubbish bins and the useless gifts will become Stuff ?

Not here !!!

This Xmas we received gifts of  quality compost and decreasing soil pH.

Thank you to all the hosts of Soneva Fushi as to acheive these results everyone is involved. How do we do our job at the Eco Centro and vegetable gardens if guest don't eat or drink and for that matter arrive in the first place.

On the 29th November the first two fast compost piles (The Berkeley Method) were made and on the 23rd December they were turned into the storage bins.

The piles were tested for pH and soil moisture. Moisture levels were between 50-60 % ( Ideal) and the pH 7-71/2 very good.

Now we have proven we can make a quality compost in 24 days the challenge now is to make enough to supply our needs and if possible to make it even quicker.

Pile 1 finished

pile 2 finished

The second present was confirmation that the soil pH could be lowered using organic matter without animal manures.
Soil pH tests on the first bed retrofitted using tropical bed building strategies as shown in "Permaculture A designers Manual" by Bill Mollison lowering at least by one point and showed and greater moisture retention. 
 Tests showed a reading between 9-10 one month ago. Once 7 is achieved there is no stopping us to produce consistent excellent varieties of tropical fruit and vegetables. 

Bottom 2 tests of retrofitted bed . Top 2 adjacent bed unattended to

To aid in the further reduction of pH and improvement in soil health a shipment of legume seeds has arrived which will be planted and monitored to assess improvement. 

Bed 1 soil conditioning

The legumes sourced include pigeon pea ,cow pea, buck wheat and millet all to be used as nitrogen fixers and green manures to turn into the beds for a healthier and happier 2011.

Raja Ravi Mani Russell

Wishing you all the best for 2011

Monday, December 20, 2010

Tropical Down Pour

Over the last few weeks we have had unseasonal rain with over 90mm fall  in a 24hour period.  Europe has had  heavy snowfalls and as I write the UK and Europe are again under a heavy blanket of snow.The rain is banging again on the tin roof above my head. What does this all mean ? Climate Change , Global Warming   words heard every day so why after Kyoto, Copenhagen, Cancun is there still no commitment to helping the world in which we all live when there are options and proven ways to slow down and stop the heating of the earth.   

Adaption ,We are now told we will have to adapt so here at Soneva Fushi we are using permaculture design principles plus local knowledge to work with nature. Most importantly it does work too !!!!

Water everywhere flooding the main vegetable garden. Plants waterlogged and of no value , nutrition leached from the sandy soil and worst of all the valuable rain water is disappearing or as we prefer to say not harvested for future benefit. What to do ? As discussed in a previous blog several beds had been retrofitted for such an event and what better way to demonstrate success.

The above bed was the first completed at the end of November where we dug out the soil lined the bottom with cardboard then added organic matter including food and fish scraps.Refilled the bed with the soil mixed with  compost and  final thick and I mean a thick layer of mulch at least 100mm. A rule of  thumb I use when mulching is "If you think you have put enough on add more" Only two beds survived without damage , the retrofitted tropical designed.


Ali and myself spent the afternoon in the rain watching where the water was coming from and going to. We then set about digging trenches to drain the garden and to prevent  flooding in the future.  

I was in one area then noticed Ali digging holes in the pathways we had not trenched then driving a wooden stake into the hole and stirring it around. Never having seen this I asked what he was up to? Ali explained  how he was creating a plug hole into the water lens as it is only 1.5m below the surface. Within minutes water was disappearing before my eyes.

Another observation was the colour of the water, it was a tan colour when it sat in pools showing how the imported cow dung recently added to other beds was now disappearing too.

Cow dung is seen as the silver bullet here. To be truly sustainable we can not import dung. As it is possible to make fertilizers that will do the job required with what we have here education is needed.

The following day we started an experiment by filling the channels with coconut fibre. The aim as in any good permaculture design is to have multiple uses 1. retain moisture in the soil after rain 2.decrease the pH due to a more acidic reading when tested 3. to add more organic matter to the sandy soil  4. to provide a mulch pit for latter use on the garden beds and 5. to drain excess water away from the beds. 

I am pleased to say this has worked as after the heavy rains of the last few days the beds are draining quicker and there is greater moisture retention.

Ideally the removal of soil on the pathways to a depth of 100mm  then filled would be great.

As a friend said "once you get into the rhythm of the island the people, anything is possible" thanks Bear.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Size Counts

Fast Compost 
The retrofitting of the vegetable garden has been steaming along the acceptance has been amazing. There in lye's the the monster we have created "COMPOST" The vegetable garden alone is 1700m2. In the first bed we used approx 1m3 of compost for a 10 m2 bed  therefore we will need to make at least 170 m3 and fast .
Currently compost  comes from heaps that were made  2 to 5 months ago and are running out so I have introduced the Berkeley method.

The Berkeley Method of composting is designed so a usable compost is available sooner than standing heap piles that in reality can take up to 12 months before being able to be used. The main issue here is that we have tropical rains and the water lens is only 1-1 1/2 m  below ground level so the piles are always wet which hinders decomposition. The Berkeley Method or Fast Composting can produce a finished compost from 14 to 21 days.

Using a Compost calculator to work out our recipe as a 30 :1 ration of carbon to nitrogen is seen as most effective , we did 2 piles with different recipes and ratios to see which works best . Bearing in mind we only used materials available to us nothing brought in to the island. I had also been advised when at The Australian Permaculture Convergence (APC10) that 10% bio char added was beneficial for microbial activity as it increased surface area,moisture retention and odour absorption ... plus we all want to sequester carbon ?

All materials were shredded except for pile 2 where dry leaves were used whole. The secret to making fast compost is to shred as small as possible the carbon components, leaves, hay, straw, paper or cardboard, anything brown and dry. An increase in the surface area from shredding allows compost microbes to work better and air and moisture can circulate more effectively to the materials used.

In the past I had always layered compost piles though for this experiment all components were mixed together and looking back through my PDC notes Geoff Lawton also suggests this method, Moisture was tested by grabbing a hand full of the pile and squeezing to see if a drop of water would come out as how else do you calculate 50-60% .

Apparently size does matter so a pile at least  1 m x1m or larger and covered though not having the cover straight on the pile helps the air to circulate we used old Cudgen (coconut thatch) first with the plastic sheet on top.

Here is how we are going  
Pile 1: For a total C:N Ratio of 26:1 
Mix Used
3 wheelbarrow x wood sawdust
3 wheelbarrow x vegetable waste part composted
3 wheelbarrow green jungle mulch
0.6 of wheelbarrow bio char

Pile 2: For a total C:N Ratio of 35:1
                                                       Mix Used                                                   
3 part(s) Leaves loose-dry
3 part(s) Wood Chips Softwood
3 part(s) Leaves Fresh
1 part(s) Vegetable Waste
1 part bio char 

Day 1: Mixed

day 4

Day 4 :
Turned and added water .. both piles heated up , Pile 1 more so

Plastic sheeting placed over piles day 5

day 6 pile 1

day 6 pile 2

Day 6 : turned piles : moisture content  good handful squeezed droplet of water  Pile 1 hotter than pile 2 … both braking down though leaf in pile 2 still evident .

Day 8 : Pile 1 still hotter than pile 2 moisture good
            Pile 2 not as hot as pile 1 moisture good , leaf breaking down no smells
day 8 pile1 

day 8 pile 2

Day 10 : Pile 1 turned heat still in pile  chocolate colour  no smell

              Pile 2. More leaf break down heat still not as much as pile 1 though still breaking down to chocolate colour .. no more moisture added

Day 12  Pile 1 : temperature still very hot while doing moisture test it felt as though I burnt my   hand ,earthy   smell with signs of ants on the surface of pile

day 12 pile 1
day 12 pile 2
             Pile 2 Temperature not as hot as pile 1 which has been the same all the way through , again an earthy smell and ants on surface with more leaf decay present.

How long will it take ?????

Monday, December 6, 2010

Change Is Good

Following the introduction of tropical soil building over a week ago the response has been very positive ...

My initial thoughts was how was I going to introduce new ideas and then gain commitment to the changes in garden design and soil management when the same practices had traditionally been in place for over 10 years.

I just keep thinking of a saying from a psycology text book "Traditions are easier to change than someone's values "

Traditionally we used no pesticides , herbicides , chemical fertilizers. Multinational Agracultural companies were able to change this tradition  in the early 1950's  which has proven to be a change for the worse !!!

So why couldn't  I change a tratition of bare soil farming and no mulching when these techniques have proven to be good for the Earth, the People and provide Abundance.

The key to the change was the pH soil testing, it is such a visual display of colour and the netural range is a  healthy leaf  green , isn't that what we all want to see in a plant ? The Gardners I work with are very proud of their gardens and know when something is not right it was explained to me " If my plants do not look happy I am not happy" and there are unhappy plants. A soil with a pH of 10 explains it all.

The commitment has been amaxing with a garden bed being retrofitted every day now. I also explained how by redesigning the widths of the beds to be two arm spans wide would also help in the ease of maintaining the beds and benefit the soil by not compacting it through walking on it .

The use of the kitchen waste has also increased especially the fish frames . As all beds canot be retrofitted at once the gardners suggested digging holes in existing beds and fill with fish waste  ... It is so encouraging how now they are suggesting strategies to improve soil .

The first bed started  several weeks ago is now planted with beans to fix nitrogen and the thick mulch has been a great example of water harvesting and prevention of water run off. Tropical downpours have been frequent the last week. The sight of pooling water on bare soil compared to raised beds heavily mulched showing no signs of plant damage has also led to the acceptance of mulching. I do not work fultime in the gardens as my time is divided between several locations It brings so much pleasure when I walk into the garden and see CHANGE for the good .

Last month organic matter returned to soil includes
1650kgs of Mulch
1060kgs of compost
400kgs kitchen waste
200kgs cardboard  

We are all Happier !!!