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What do I tell them?

 
Posts: 195
Location: North Coast Dominican Republic
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I have been reading a few posts from the "What if we made herbicides illegal?" thread, and also expressing my frustrations with ants in an "ant control" thread. I'm not in an easygoing mood at the moment, because at the moment, I feel like some of the folk up in the cold parts of the world are telling us down in the tropics that we are less than perfect.

The local farmers here have been invaluable to me as sources of information. I am a whole lot newer at this tropical farming thing than they are. I depend on their advice a lot because because I don't know enough to give them any advice myself. One hitch: the local farmers here are certain that one cannot farm here without relying on toxic gick. Now, I know, you folk up north hear the same thing. But when I look around and see what locals here have to do, it just boggles the mind. I would be physically worn out before doing half of what they do in a day.

For one thing, I have never seen a tractor here. No one I know owns a tiller. Several times a year, the dairyman who leases grazing rights on our commons sends hired men to maintain the pastures -- by which I mean, go out with machetes and cut down encroaching saplings and shrubs. Over the whole pasture. For another thing, my friend showed me how to weed a raised bed -- by using a machete, again, to cut the weeds off just below soil level. A tree falls down, and the road has to be cleared? They come with a hand axe; I have never heard the whine of a chain saw. I don't see chain saws for sale in the village hardware store, either. For that matter, I've never even seen a cattle truck here -- instead, I see crazy traffic snarls as cattle drives, by men on horseback, come down the main highway. No augurs -- if you need to build a fence, you dig the post holes by hand.

So when these hardworking folk -- who respect that I'm trying to grow my own food, unlike other expats they know -- tell me that the way to clear a grassy field for planting is to spray glyphosate and then come back with a hand spade in three days, what am I supposed to do or say? I try keeping my raised beds open with just the hand tools I can get here, and I'm just not keeping up. And that's just to produce food for one person! Who am I to lecture them about toxic gick? "No, do it the more labor-intensive way, even though your whole lives are already more labor intensive than I could ever manage." And so I hold my peace, thinking surely there must be a better way, but not knowing what it is.

What do I tell them? What do I tell them when they want to help me out by spraying glyphosate on the field I'm trying to clear? What do I tell them when they advise me that the way to keep from being eaten alive by fire ants is to spread ant powder? Do I ignore their advice and bravely soldier on, falling further and further behind? Do I rationalize, saying that my high ideals have to take a back seat to practical realities? Help me out here, please...
 
steward
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Is there a way to find out what farmers/gardeners in that area did 80 years ago to handle the greenery and ants?  I don't have a good answer and I do feel for you.
 
gardener
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I am a firm believer in a distinction between the solutions that permaculture offers the world -- which are, in my opinion, as yet an incomplete set -- and the permies.com publishing standards.

What I mean by this is that we have ironclad publishing standards ruling out the advocacy of using toxic gick, for example.  Probably -- I can't speak for Paul Wheaton, so I'm speaking about my own sure-to-be-imperfect mental model of Paul Wheaton -- this reflects what I imagine to be Paul's view that herbicides and insecticides have no place in permaculture.  

My own view is that we here in North America tend to be fairly rich.  If we don't deploy toxic gick to solve a particular problem, we usually can draw upon a wide array of other resources with which to attack it, or we can afford to "take the hit" from not being able to attack it in the most efficient way.  And it's Paul's editorial preference to encourage (demand) that the conversation be steered in those other directions in all cases in his forum.  The publishing standards are enforced accordingly by staff.  

But I am not certain that, as permaculturalists, we've invented a complete suite of permacultural solutions for all problems, applicable in all situations, even for people of the most minimal resources, under the most tight monetary and labor constraints.   There might be times where, as sensible and empathetic humans, our advice in a situation would be "Screw the permaculture.  I've searched my brain of everything I know about permaculture and I came up with nothing that would work as well for you as this bucket of toxic gick."

Do I think this is likely?  Honestly, no.  But is it possible?  Maybe.  I say this because I am not certain that permaculture always has an answer for every problem.

Here's the thing: Just because a situation could theoretically happen out in the world, doesn't mean it's appropriate for discussion here on Permies.com.  Here in the Cider Press with enough apples, perhaps, although the publishing standards still apply, and the publishing standards do not allow advocating for the use of toxic gick.  (Outside the Cider Press we basically don't discuss it at all.)  

It is perfectly OK to believe things and do things that don't match Paul Wheaton's vision of permaculture.  We don't have to agree with him in every particular.  I certainly don't!  But in the few areas he's delineated where he doesn't want his forum used to spread notions that he considers nasty, harmful, and bad for fuzzy cute kittens, I just don't feel the need to make Permies.com my discussion forum for discussing those things.  It's a big internet!  Lots of places to discuss things!  

Which is a long way around the barn to your specific very hard problems down there in the tropics.  I don't know any good permaculture solutions to fire ants or tropical grasses under conditions of extreme labor shortage and nil mechanization.  I honestly don't know enough about the conditions to even have a strong opinion about whether permaculture is likely to offer such solutions.  Hopefully some folks will offer some in this thread.  But what I'm trying to say is that if you do decide to do things the way your neighbors urge you to do instead of the way the people on Permies think you should do things, the easiest way to avoid having folks on Permies tell you you're less than perfect is to keep the decision to yourself -- which would in any case be encouraged by the Permies publishing standards.

Just tell yourself "Them people on Permies don't have a complete understanding of the constraints I'm operating under, and they don't have a complete toolbox of solutions applicable to my situation."  It may or may not be true; I dunno.   But I always just assumed that most of us here on Permies have stuff we don't feel the need to discuss here for reasons like this.
 
master pollinator
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Jason Hernandez wrote:What do I tell them? What do I tell them when they want to help me out by spraying glyphosate on the field I'm trying to clear? What do I tell them when they advise me that the way to keep from being eaten alive by fire ants is to spread ant powder? Do I ignore their advice and bravely soldier on, falling further and further behind? Do I rationalize, saying that my high ideals have to take a back seat to practical realities? Help me out here, please...



I advise looking at the videos and website of David the Good, who gardens in the tropics and doesn't use toxic sprays.  There's also a lot of information about tropical permaculture in the Designers Manual.  Geoff Lawton farms and gardens in the subtropics and has many informative videos.  Perhaps you can familiarize yourself with the ways other permaculturists solve these problems and devise a course of action for yourself and neighbors.

I don't live in the tropics so I don't have this info in my own head.  In my locale, lack of growth due to dryness is a greater problem than too much growth!
 
pollinator
Posts: 243
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Hi Jason,

The tropics can be exhausting, any chance you could find a helper? The growth is relentless all year round. But hey, there are worse problems in the world than over-abundance!

Anyway, even though permaculture has its roots in English-speaking countries where temperate climates predominate, there are a lot of permaculturists in the tropics and there are some good resources out there. Tyler recommended some good ones, and here are a couple more I know of.

The Tropical Permaculture Guidebook

Rural Wet-Dry Tropics (permies' own Rene Nijstad)

There are loads of cool projects going on in Costa Rica and at least one I know of in Guatemala who blogs a lot but I can't find URLs at the moment. Maybe you can establish contact with a few of those people to be able to ask questions of when you need to if you don't have any luck here. Actually, our own Su Ba in Hawaii might have some advice on fire ants.

Regarding ants, at least our tame local ants here in temperate-land, one old strategy is to take a big shovelful of ants from one nest and throw it on top of another nest. A civil war ensues which reduces the population of both nests. Not a cure but reduces the pressure for a while. YMMD with fire ants but might be worth a try.

If you're trying to clear a field, could you get some portable electric fencing and borrow a neighbor's grazing animals? Some pigs should knock that out in no time flat. Goats? Sheep or cows might make some headway too, depending on what kind of vegetation you have going there.

You need a support network of people who have some commitment to non-toxic solutions but are facing the same problems you are. A whole local rural culture going for the toxics and trained that those solutions are the "modern" ones, is pretty hard to go against alone. Maybe you can find some plain old organic farmers in DR? They may not dig swales or plant food forests, but it's a sure bet they deal with fire ants and they have to do it without losing their certification. You could search for Biodynamic farmers too.
 
pollinator
Posts: 249
Location: La Mesa, Cundinamarca, Colombia
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Hi Jason,

We see weeds as future mulch and soil protection / improvement. We don't fight weeds, we wait until they're big and then we cut them off. A lot depends on how you look at things. Bananas grow high, they're not bothered too much by weeds... A thick layer of cut weeds smothers the growth of weeds under it. Plant more densely in your raised beds and thin later if needed, where one thing grows something else doesn't. Just don't get angry or frustrated with any living creature, instead see how you can twist your thinking and get a positive result out of their presence.

Fire ants, I don't know what to do about them. The suggestion above to mix them with another nest if possible sounds good to me though. When we encounter any pests we try to ignore it if possible. Or bother them as much as we can until they leave.

Good luck!
 
Jason Hernandez
Posts: 195
Location: North Coast Dominican Republic
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Rene Nijstad wrote:Hi Jason,

Fire ants, I don't know what to do about them. The suggestion above to mix them with another nest if possible sounds good to me though. When we encounter any pests we try to ignore it if possible. Or bother them as much as we can until they leave.

Good luck!



I appreciate the advice so far. I don't this this specific advice for ants will work, because, as I said, fire ants form multinest supercolonies covering large areas. The following is from an article about the imported fire ant in the United States, but from my observations, it looks like it applies here, too:

Imported fire ant colonies can have a single queen or multiple queens. Single-queen colonies are territorial in nature, limiting populations to approximately 150 mounds containing 7 million ants per acre. Multiple-queen colonies tend to share resources and are tolerant of other colonies in close proximity. These characteristics may allow for up to 300 mounds and 40 million ants per acre.



I will not link to the article, because it advocates toxic gick.

Still, I do appreciate the links to resources specific to the tropics. I think part of my problem may have been trying to diversify too much, too soon. Trying to clear beds for tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, before the taller trees have filled in and reduced the area where the grass can invade. Keeping the grass clear around just the trees, until they are tall enough to compete with it -- that is more manageable. Especially the trees around my perimeter, forming (eventually) a barrier against the neighboring pasture.
 
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