Monday, January 31, 2011

Greening Of The Classroom

Growing Soil

Will Anything Grow ?

 In the design of the Outdoor Classroom we have used several tropical garden bed designs including pit mulching, no dig, sheet mulched and raised bed methods. We placed jungle trimmings along a fence line up to 3 feet in height then covered with sandy soil cardboard and mulch always watering in between each layer. Other resources used include sawdust, coconut fiber but I warn you not to use fiber only powder as the fiber takes forever to break down, I will cover in another blog. Food waste, sand, coconut palm, coconut thatch (cudgen), compost and mulch.

Constructing Raised Circular Bed

When designing these beds the foremost thought is that the system will grow soil as there is none to speak of to grow the fruit and vegetables sustainably.  To grow soil we need a mixture of carbon and nitrogen plus water and air for aerobic breakdown of the organic materials used. Always thinking of how can I encourage micro and macro flora and fauna to create humus which in turn will give us healthy soil therefore healthy plants. The same rules as for making compost. 

Fungi Eating

In the Classroom we will have many different people visiting from all walks of life and of all ages. To show how gardening can be easy for all from people with disabilities to young children. Research has indicated that gardeners can increase their life span by up 20% longer due to using all senses and thought processes.

Childrens Raised Circle Garden

Recycled Tricycle

To cater for all ages of gardeners three raised permanent structures were built to demonstrate raised garden beds of differing heights. Recycled materials including a disused porter’s tricycle, timber from villa renovations and logs from jungle trimming.
Diameter of the beds were worked out on arm span witdths of children and adults as were the heights.

Access inside the classroom has considered wheel chair access through wider pathways of coconut fiber.

Coconut Fiber Pathways

To support Permaculture design principle “all elements having at least 3 uses” legume and green manure seed was scattered on all beds or directly on to the sandy soil, watered in then mulch finly spreat on top then watered again within 5 days the seed had sprouted. Legumes and green manure seed used include mung bean, cow pea, millet and buckwheat. These seeds will supply 1. Nitrogen to the soil through root nodules 2. Retain moisture 3. Cool the ground reducing evaporation 4. Prevent weed growth as competing for space   and 5. When chopped and dropped adds biomass and nitrogen to the soil plus 6. You can harvest seed for eating and 7. Sowing in other beds or in the same. If you want to think of more there are. The end results though being a sustainable practice and all you have to do is buy the first seed or get from a friend.

Victor Sowing Seed


A good bug mix of seed was also scattered on the edges of the beds to encourage pollinators, predators and to help in nematode prevention and providing a habitat for “beneficial insects, such as predatory mites and tiny micro wasps, ladybirds, lacewings, hoverflies, tachnid flies and predatory beetles. These beneficial insects or 'good bugs' are generally small with correspondingly small mouthparts, so they are only able to feed on particular flowers with suitable attributes. By providing a plentiful food supply the 'good bugs' live longer and reproduce.” The mix includes red  clover, alyssum, cosmos, marigolds, Queen Anne's Lace, buckwheat, Lucerne, dill, caraway, coriander and phacelia), gypsophila.  Comos, Red Clover, Lucerne, Sweet Alice, Caraway, Queen Ann lace. Thanks to for seed and information.

Yes we can grow on sand

On Top Of  Jungle Trimmings With Compost

10 Days Growth

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Working With Nature Not Against Nature


Water harvesting techniques beside the use of mulch and compost are also to be demonstrated in the Outdoor Class Room.

Swales (absorption beds) as discussed by Bill Mollison can aid in the infiltration of overland water flow for deeper storage for long term use and to increase base flow plus longer term water storage during dry seasons. With tropical down pours common swales also aid in slowing water down to minimize soil erosion and nutrient loss. Swales can also turn into terraces over a period of time through the collection of debris and further back leveling. For tropical sandy soils swale depth and width is best to be wider and shallower to cope with infiltration of the large amounts water falling over a short time.

Swales are designed to follow the contours of your land, to do this you need a surveying instrument as elaborate as a laser level or as simple as an A frame made from recycled timber a few nails and screws a piece of string  and a heavy weight as we did .

Try to make a space of at least one meter apart from each leg then secure with a brace 2/3 of the way down and at the top , it is best to make the A frame rigid. Find level ground by using a builders level then stand the A frame up and with the level mark across both legs. The A Frame will now sit level on all ground once you have cut the legs straight across this mark. Find centre distance between the two legs on the top brace and drive a nail in to secure the string with the weight on it, this will act as plumb bob to find centre on the bottom brace once the weight has stopped swinging mark the point as this will be your level point you look for when surveying your contour.

Logs on contour

 The principle is to find a start point and drive a stake in the ground then to continue from that point finding level ground and staking as you go. It is amazing how the land transforms before your eyes as you drive in every stake and more so when you dig or mound soil along your swale line nature has given you. This best describes “Working with Nature not against it” and Permaculture principle:

8. Use of edge and natural patterns for best effect

Earth mound on contour 

Swales are for growing trees


 As Eco Centro was filled with building rubble we were unable to dig the swales so we used soil from the redesign of the access to make earth mounds on contour with jungle logs placed on contour to retain soil, compost and mulches added for soil improvement.       

Pegs mark contour for raised bed

We also used the A Frame to contour swale a raised garden bed to maximize the collection of any surface water running through the garden.  If we harvest all the rain in the classroom which is around 2000m2 we will collect 1205L for every 25mm of rain that falls. Leading to rehydration of the land and drought proofing.  Try it you will like it !!!

Raised bed on contour

The next step is to cover the area with plants which will also aid in water harvesting        

Monday, January 17, 2011

Inputs Outputs It All Goes Around

As mentioned last week access was redesigned to allow for transport of waste to the recycling points without interfering with the Outdoor Class Room.

Access is required to drop off a mixture of metals, glass bottles, cardboard, food waste, coconuts, jungle trimmings to be mulched and
larger off cuts to be turned into bio char and sawdust for compost making. We also receive wood from carpentry and renovations on the villas for making charcoal in our pyrolysis ovens.

Outputs referred to as "Wealth" is created in the form of compost, charcoal, bio char, crushed glass, coconut fiber, mulch and separated metals.  The circular design has proved a success, I have asked the truck, buggy drivers and tricycle riders what they think and all is positive. Most encouraging is that all are impressed by the transformation of the area into something of beauty. More and more hosts are coming to see what is happening and this has given the team at Eco Centro a great sense of pride in their work.  Other comments are "every time I come here there is something different done" The team are introducing new ideas on the design of the centro and discussing with me how they can take home the new skills such as the fast compost system and tropical garden bed designs such as no dig, raised beds and sheet mulching. Within the Classroom we have an example of all three bed designs.

The no dig bed below uses the left over palm fronds from the fence strait on the ground to seal the bottom of the bed for nutrient and organic matter loss. Next jungle cuttings that could not be mulched as there was more vine was layered with soil spread on top and heavily wateredf ollowed by a layer of cardboard then a thich application of mulch at least 10cm deep then watered again.

Palm Fronds

Jungle vines and soil

Card board and mulch

At the entrance we made raised beds fom vegetable waste , Cudgen of palm thatch, compost mixed with the existing soil and sheet mulched with cardboard and mlch from the jungle trimmings. Water was used heavily after each layer. Likewise we experiemented with the left side of the fence being a no dig design though this time vegetable matter was spread directly on the sandy soil then cudgen was placed on top with a mixture of compost made at the eco center with soil  covering it. Finally cardboard and mulch.

Coconut logs to raise bed

  The beds were raised using old coconut  tree trunks to hold in the materials needed for the beds unlike the first raised bed where we just heavily mulched and plan to edge plant with lemongrass and pandan to hold the shape of the bed . This is to demonstrate there is more than one way to make a productive garden bed. 

Pre wetting cardboard in barrow to save on water

The right hand side was dug to a depth of 30 cm then lined with cudgen to trap organic matter and reduce leaching during rain periods. Vegetable waste was spred on top then a mix of compost and soil then applied. This layer was at least 60 cm deepthen cardboard and mulch applied. There stratigies are for several reasons all to do with soil improving , growing soil ,to reduce the pH and for moisture retaining all with the aim to have healty soil for healtyh plants.

Digging is it necessary ?
Vegetable waste

Compost and soil mix

The beds now await planting of nitrogen fixing plants which will a combination of legumes, cow pea, buckwheat, chick pea, millet and mung beans to not only fix nitrogen also continue to build organic matter and retain water.  

Monday, January 10, 2011

Outdoor Classroom

Eco Centro an Outdoor Classroom

Eco Centro was designed as a waste to wealth centre where all outputs from the resort are sent such as cardboard, glass, metals, food and wood waste plus jungle cuttings. All these materials then have the three R’s applied Recycle, Reuse, or Reduce. Eco Centro has been a very successful waste management centro with the 2009- 2010 Carbon Footprint Inventory Report showing Soneva Fushi achieved carbon emissions reversal of 19 tons of CO2 in the resort’s waste handling activities as a result of efforts in recycling!!!


The vision for the Eco Centro is to become more than a waste to wealth management centro. It is to further develop and retro fit the existing design so the outputs from Eco Centro can be utilized in designing a Permaculture Demonstration Site, to create an Out Door Class Room for guests, hosts and the neighboring communities.

Permaculture Systems will be designed to demonstrate Tropical Climate agricultural growing techniques, energy control and capture methods. Through the use of Permaculture Ethics and Principles of Design the aim is to support the company’s goal of being decarbonized by 2012.

The outdoor classroom design is inspired by Carolyn Nuttall and Janet Millington’s book “Outdoor Classrooms a handbook for school gardens”

Welcome to School

The design will consider David Holgrem’s Permaculture Principles and Pathways for Beyond Sustainability.

1. Observe and Interact
2. Catch and store energy - sunlight, water, sustenance, human activity
3. Obtain a yield - food, mulch, straw, income
4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback - experiment, observe results, try again
5. Use and value renewable resources
6. Produce no waste- everything in this micro-system is used to support it
7. Design from patterns to details- We used the patterns of plant succession to design the uses of the space. Forest to under story to edge to open field
8. Integrate rather than segregate- multiple species grown together to produce a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts
9. Use small and slow solutions - small experiments will lead to a productive use for the space
10. Value diversity - we mixed different plants that will attract a diversity of other organisms and produce diverse yields
11. Use edges and value the marginal
12. Creatively use and respond to change

Within the design considerations these were seen as the most important to start with.

Open Access


Current garden design including all structures, human and vehicle traffic accesses and pathways were identified for flow patterns to and from recycling points.

Access was every which way with human and vehicle traffic random at best. It was decided to create the demonstration site in the middle of the Eco Centro. Existing fences were pulled down to create a circular driveway giving access to all recycling points and no access only human to the Outdoor Classroom. Three access points into the Classroom are available for inputs from the Waste to Wealth Centro for supply to the Classroom and for the Classroom to extend into the Centro, all is the learning center.  

Closed access

2. Fulfilling David Holgrem’s principle of catching and storing energy - sunlight, water, sustenance, human activity
Then we started about Securing a defined Area for the proposed Permaculture demonstration systems

Rabbit proof

As there is a pest issue with Chickens and Rabbits secure fencing was first started. Rabbit proof fencing requirements are chicken wire or like to be buried 15cm and to extent to 1m above ground with secure gates.  Galvanized wire mesh was ordered and used then Palm fronds were cut from the jungle or “collection” as we say here was done.

One R" Reuse

We reused an existing fence made of hardwood from an old jetty. It was reerrected on the sunside as this would allow  sun all day into the garden and a view of existing Permaculture systems in place such as the pyrolysis ovens, Bio Gas system, composting bays and tin recycling.
All entrance gates are arched trellises to grow passion fruit, gauds and other climbers to help with shade and introduce climbers into the garden. To welcome you to our classroom of plenty.

What is Permaculture ?

 You won’t be stopping here if you want to learn …much much more to come

Monday, January 3, 2011

Young Permies

Happy New Year and wishing everyone the best for 20011.

Over the Xmas, New Year holidays a childrens club was set up for guests and I was asked to help with garden based activities.

The first activity was showing the children how to raise seeds, plant seedlings and to care for them.

A big thank you goes to INDEP  whose DVD I used which had been designed especially for educating children in sustainable gardening in Indonesia.

International Permaculturist Unite

The children were enthusiastic when asked questions on the type of vegetables grown and how to care for the seedlings and plants. All raised their hands and proudly sharing their knowledge loudly.

Fresh Coconut Treat
 After the presentation we went to the Eco Centro where I showed them the compost making process .They were able to touch and smell the various components that we use to make compost. Sawdust, leaf litter,bio char and vegetable waste plus a hot heap was explored.

Mulching With A Smile 

The staff at Eco Centro had prepared beds for the children to add compost, plant lemon grass, mulch and then water. The children ranged in age from 2years to 10 years and of various nationalities, Russian, French, English, Thi and German .All worked together brilliantly getting dirty and wet.

By the end of our  time together the children edge planted the lemon grass where it will stay to become part of a guild demonstration for the Outdoor Permaculture Classroom. 

Lemon GrassEdge Planting

The second activity was a Flora and Forna photography search. The children selected five unknown cards which had either an animal or a plant they had to find while walking through the island to the Vegetable Garden. Bats, Gecko's, Water Hen, Basil, Mint, Passion Fruit and Lemon Grass were some of the animals and plants the children had to find and photograph.

Water Hen



Once the the photos were taken we gathered at the Bar for "Shirlie Temples" and downloaded the pictures straight away for the children to see them on the big screen television.

To finish off we had a smell and sight test with herbs from the garden. The activity was to be a competition, everyone was a winner !!

Again the children showed great enthusiasm throughout the morning without one squeal or a tear in sight. The sign of a successful childrens activity.

Keen Observers of Nature 
Maybe we should all observe and work with nature more and then maybe the world would have less tears shead ?