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Ideas for food forest in Cuba  RSS feed

 
Louis Marrero
Posts: 4
Location: Havana, Cuba
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Hi everyone!

I'm getting 5-10 hectares of land close to Havana, and as a general rule prefer planting a diversity of trees to running after an ox with a plow all day, so I guess this is the right forum for me. Saludos!

The site gets about 60mm of rain during December-April, and up to 180mm during the summer months. The idea is to develop a homestead with guesthouse, some processing facilities, hogs and turkeys as well as 20-30 small dams along a stream for aquiculture (and as a water source in the 'dry' season). The rest would be something between diverse orchard and food forest.

Any ideas or links to your own projects would be much appreciated. I'm especially weary about getting the tree associations right - to go beyond the typical 3-4 species half-shade systems I see here. I'd also like to use the developmental phase to test out all sorts of fruits, spices and other perennials that haven't been brought to Cuba yet - anything that can be grown from seed (importing plants to Cuba is not a fun endeavor). If you've made good experiences with a specific guild, I would be great to hear about that. I'm also looking for planting maps from permaculture-inspired orchards I can learn from.

Un abrazo,
Louis
 
Dave Burton
pollinator
Posts: 1026
Location: Greater Houston, TX US Hardy:9a Annual Precipitation: 44.78" Wind:13.23mph Temperature:42.5-95F
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Welcome to permies Louis! What exactly do you need help with in the design process? You appear to have an idea of what you want to do. Do you need help organizing your thoughts or collecting relevant data?

Here is a little inspiration:


Tropical Permaculture is a good resource for learning how to do permaculture in the tropics.

This is an image of a banana guild, a good type of guild to use in the tropics.

(source)
 
Amedean Messan
pollinator
Posts: 928
Location: Melbourne FL, USA - Pine and Palmetto Flatland, Sandy and Acidic
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Louis Marrero wrote:Hi everyone!

I'm getting 5-10 hectares of land close to Havana, and as a general rule prefer planting a diversity of trees to running after an ox with a plow all day, so I guess this is the right forum for me. Saludos!

The site gets about 60mm of rain during December-April, and up to 180mm during the summer months. The idea is to develop a homestead with guesthouse, some processing facilities, hogs and turkeys as well as 20-30 small dams along a stream for aquiculture (and as a water source in the 'dry' season). The rest would be something between diverse orchard and food forest.

Any ideas or links to your own projects would be much appreciated. I'm especially weary about getting the tree associations right - to go beyond the typical 3-4 species half-shade systems I see here. I'd also like to use the developmental phase to test out all sorts of fruits, spices and other perennials that haven't been brought to Cuba yet - anything that can be grown from seed (importing plants to Cuba is not a fun endeavor). If you've made good experiences with a specific guild, I would be great to hear about that. I'm also looking for planting maps from permaculture-inspired orchards I can learn from.

Un abrazo,
Louis


Hey man, welcome to Permies! I am very happy to hear from somebody in Cuba with internet access.
 
Louis Marrero
Posts: 4
Location: Havana, Cuba
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Hi Dave,

I guess I'm already somewhere into the process, but am curious what others are doing successfully. The other day I saw a video on growing vainilla in association with cocoa shaded by various tall fruit trees (mango, tamarind, avocado...) and some nitrogen-fixers. These experiences are worth five textbooks each for me - learning from a farmer just happens on another level, I guess, even though few words are exchanged.

We have a lot of examples of permaculture gardens around Havana, and of course permaculture principles applied in a small food forest-like area on pretty much all peasant farms, but I haven't seen scaled-up versions above, say, half a hectare. Most farmers have little resources to invest, and those who do usually put them in more plantation-style orchards to make quick money (and I say quick money because they might make a hundred times the average wage on a hectare of land with avocado or banana monocultures, it's ridiculous).

Drawing a map of one of the better offers we have for a 7-hectare plot, I used the existing subdivisions (windbreaking hedges between small pastures) to boil the area down to 12 guilds between 2/10th and 1 hectare each. The blue lines are swales that feed into a series of small dams for carp (other ideas?) and irrigation, the brown and yellow paths. The descent from left to right is about 15 meters over 350 meters distance.



My biggest concern right now is finding examples of tree polycultures that can be scaled to such a size, while remaining moderately complex (7-10 core species per guild) and harvestable for a second income. So, to take the one example I'm farely certain about: mango, tamarind and avocado as overstory, banana for mulch, smaller fruit trees such as chirimoya, caimito (star apple) and café and then sweet potato and perhaps ginger on the forest floor, with geese wondering around. That's the traditional polyculture you find in every backyard that's big enough for it. The probem is that Cuba hasn't looked over it's borders for a long time, and there's a lot of 'standardization' even in the kind of trees you see. Nowadays we can find any seed for sale from some corner of the world, and we have perfect climate for most of them, but this long period of standardization means we don't have many examples of how to grow them around us. Those examples that are in textbooks tend to be monocultures and needy of a lot of intervention over the year.

So once I've the first hectare planted in my mind, things are getting much less certain. All these wonderful species I'd love to grow - there's someone nearby selling cinnamon plants, but he's not sure what guilds to place them in either. How about curry trees? Or feijoa, macadamia? So let's start with a few ideas:

(1. the traditional West-Cuban polyculture)
2. a mediterranean guild with pistaccio, almonds and/or olives. Below could be spices - oregano, laurel, romero...
3. a citrus-based guild with
4. a lighter, lower forest with a more prominent large-shrub layer of maracuya, papaya (we call it frutabomba) and maybe hierba mate. The overstory could be palms (coco, date, peach palm) for a light canopy (and because I love the sound of palms in the wind).
5. a shade-coffee and -cocoa system, where I'd try out vainilla as well. There are some in the east of Cuba, but usually with a 'boring' canopy of leucaenia and timber trees - I'd love to try pecans and jakfruit here, for example, or breadfruit, but that's pure guesswork.
6. a row system with beds for greens, artichokes, melons and other low sun-lovers, interlined perhaps with tomatos or short citrus ?
7. maybe a small field of lower, sun-loving shrubs with openings for long-season crops such as yucca and malanga.
...

You see it's all still rather vague. Our luck is that we will have a few years to try things out (until our doctoral grants run out), and will never depend completely on the farm income (unless everything goes so well, we stop going to our academic jobs). Also, sales structures are a bit difficult here, and it would be wise to concentrate on around ten plants that are then built into several of the 12 systems in different ways and as different varieties (for example, some early avocados need more sun, some late ones less). Mango and avocado are always vendable, but many specialist markets are developing quickly in the city, so in principle I think there are at least 50 species that could find a good market. Besides those we'd cultivate some of everything for ourselves and friends. We're a family of four adults, and a second family would settle on the farm and work full-time as well.

So far for now. I'll watch the film you recommended once it's downloaded, thank you for that!
Abrazos,
Louis
 
Dave Burton
pollinator
Posts: 1026
Location: Greater Houston, TX US Hardy:9a Annual Precipitation: 44.78" Wind:13.23mph Temperature:42.5-95F
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If you are having trouble finding species to fill in, maybe you could start listing the things you all like to eat or want to eat.

Another method is to check out the Plants For a Future Database and see what it thinks can grow in your climate. You can use different filters to search for various things in the database. Also, it has good articles on all of the plants they list.
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1359
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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Do you have any neighbors with almond(150 chill hours) or pistachio (800 chill hours). I don't think cuba or even zone 10 florida gets enough chill hours
 
Louis Marrero
Posts: 4
Location: Havana, Cuba
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Hola Bengi,

Thanks for this - it would probably depend on the exact location, there are extensive microclimates around the city. At our house, chilling hours are rare, but 10km east a typical winter gets 20-30 nights below 7.2 degrees. Either way I'd better look for varieties that are okay with this.

Best,
Louis
 
Daniel Etcheverry
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Are you saying you "own" that land in Cuba? I thought the governmet (fidel) owns everything. If you are sorrounded by poor peaple which is the rule in cuba it would be hard to get your plants and production not stolen at night, how are you going to deal with it?
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1359
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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I also own the computer at my cubicle at work, even though I dont really own it. I am also pretty sure he also "own" the house/apartment and no one really use it other than him. I also think that maybe english is not his 1st language, so I wouldn't fault him. He also mentioned that in the neighborhood that he lives in alot of ppl have there own "food forest" so while it is probably that cuba is super poor, his specific area has reached a certain balance where
 
Louis Marrero
Posts: 4
Location: Havana, Cuba
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Hi Daniel,

Things are changing in Cuba, albeit at a slow pace, and in a way our project is possible because of new freedoms (and some hope that the remaining freedoms we could use will pop up over the next decade or so). We are a young couple, one Cuban, one German, but both without money or priviledge besides our current PhD scholarships. My wife works on different epochs of cultural politics in Cuba during the Revolution, using Hannah Arendt's take on totalitarianism that works by assessing the inhibitions placed on individuals besides physical force, though often related to force. During most of the revolutionary period, Cuba wasn't a classical police state, but people were standardized anyway by very strong morals and norms. She's looking at how this normative landscape affected writers like Reynaldo Arenas, Jesus Diaz and a couple others I've lost in the backwoods of my mind. My PhD is on the peasant mode of farming as a general model of how a people-based economy works: lots of small and medium-sized plots, owned by lots of small propietors, with little differences in this regard between peasant farms, small shops, doctor's practices, bed-and-breakfasts and whatever other sector of the economy you can name. I call these little proprietors the 'artisan class', and am trying to weave whatever bits and pieces we have of it now into a long history of proud self-owned, self-directed labor. You can already see that both projects need to written in an orchard, and a space of self-directed labor.

Back to the government: I'm trying to be undogmatic, though sometimes we still have ridiculous problems with one or another bureaucrat. What is most interesting for me in Havana is the huge number of small, independent businesses popping up and trying to consolidate. The crucial question is whether the government, having slowly abandoned economic sectors that used to be monopolized by state enterprises, decides to favor small businesses as its replacement or large ones. Many of the large enterprises are either joint ventures or privatizing state enterprises with rather powerful managers on top. The small ones, however, are numerous and consistently do a better job. I hope this early phase of small-property based development won't be followed by a new phase of accumulation, resulting in a corporation-dominated economy like my birthplace Germany (or the US, for that matter). In short: Havana is full of nuisances, meanwhile it's full of emerging activity that is just plainly fascinating. And of course all sons of ministers have a restaurant that makes a lot of money - but there's lots of 'honest' small businessmen and -women as well.

On the land question: While all other small proprietors were dispossessed in 1968-70, small farmers were spared. Some incorporated themselves into collective farms during the 70s and 80s because of the better conditions these farms had in the economy (basically loads of subsidies from other sectors), but about 12 percent of the agricultural land is still owned by autonomous farmers and their heirs. You still can't sell it, but transactions are made based on a legal tool that allows a propietor to give a certificate of authority to the person that will continue to farm his land when he looses the physical capacity to do so. It comes with some hassle, but it works. We're still skimming the market, but at the moment many independent farmers around Havana are making good money and leaving the land (and often the country), so there is at least one offer a day, starting around 1500 dollars a hectare and up to 50000 for establishied orchards with restaurant buyers' contracts.

Stolen fruit is indeed a problem, even more so farm implements. As a farmer of moderate means, however, it's not too difficult to organize for someone to be around all the time - then it becomes a question of trust, of course, but many farmers manage without problems. More difficult is the situation for the many people (about 5% of families) who have received state land for farming but weren't allowed to build on it - they can't sleep on the farm, meanwhile they aren't established enough to buy fencing or pay a guard. We personally are four family members, and we are looking for a second family to also live on the land, so the security problem is solvable. If someone steals a coconut somewhere, there'll be abundance minus one coconut.

As for poverty, well, I'm no fan as you'll have noticed, but while people have less they also work less, work much less hurriedly or just play domino on the street. It all has two sides: Nothing gets produced, besides of course the fun of playing domino. I understand people who leave the country, people who have good reasons to stay, and people who move there after a long time outside. But unlike in the 1960s or 80s it's now mostly about one's family, one's personal means, Cubans who move back because they prefer the climate, also a lot of people from Miami who are investing the money they made since emigrating - you get all sorts of personal histories that don't fit the big political story.

Anyway - I agree with Bengi: the enemy is probably the cubicle itself, and the kind of work that needs to be done in a cubicle.

On the side: my area is rather poor, on the periphery (a barrio called San Miguel del Padrón). People in the richer parts west of the center don't have food forests, they have well-stocket fruit markets, cars to get them there or even maids to do the shopping. There's also a bunch that prefer imported temperate fruit juice (apple, pear etc) to real tropical fruit - it's a question of status, I guess.

Un abrazo,
Louis
 
Daniel Etcheverry
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Great to hear from you and your plan Louis. I wish you the best. The reason of my question was simply because i would like to informe myself. Originally i am from a third world country and the social aspect sorrounded around possible permaculrure projects was always a mistery to me. I dont wanna be negative. But it is my believe that a permaculture project cant work if the people in the area have limitations, economically and cultural. Anyways. I wish you the best.
 
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