. . • Document a permaculture-inspired site design in the Philippines.
. . • Accumulate in one place external resources, information, and experiences...
. . . . – so I can find them again easily.
. . . . – as a resource that the organization I am working with can use in maintaining and expanding the system after I leave.
. . . . – as a resource for other permaculturists in Southeast Asia or similar climates.
I will update this thread periodically with information on current projects, resources I have found useful, or anything else that strikes my fancy.
I am working with an organization that currently runs a children's home and wants to add a church, school, and various community development projects in the future. They have been around for about 5 years, and currently care for about 40 kids. I arrived here at the beginning of January, and will be here until the beginning of July. My primary mission while I am here is to help create a resilient perennial and/or low-maintenance food production system for the kids and staff.
The organization I am helping owns 8 or 9 acres of mostly flat land near the coast, about 1/3 of which is currently mangrove swamp. Much of the remainder has been cleared of mangroves or other forest over the past three or four years. Current structures include two large houses for the kids, a church / kitchen / multi-purpose building (not yet finished), and a goat and chicken house. The livestock already present consists of 30 or 40 goats, some ducks which are supposed to be laying eggs (and are now becoming dinner), and a bunch of chickens for eventual sale. There is also a large soccer field which of course cannot be developed in most ways.
The site's climate is tropical rainforest, but is close to being tropical monsoon. It does have a dry season, but according to PAGASA (Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration), it still receives 64 mm of rain during its driest month, which is higher than the 60 mm cutoff for a tropical monsoon climate. In my research, however, I found that few sources agree in their normal temperature and precipitation information, so this may or may not be reliable. According to PAGASA, average annual precipitation is 2337 mm or 92 in. Normal temperatures do not vary widely, but remain in the 20s C or 70s and 80s F year-round. The Wikipedia page for Calapan (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calapan#Climate) includes a good overview of the climate, though unfortunately it lists no references. I am also including a spreadsheet I made with some of the climate information I found.
Major considerations for site design:
One of the most important considerations in my design for this property is that it includes a children's home. The current kids range in age from 2 to about 20, and many of them used to live on the streets. Due to these two factors, many gates get left open, many balls land in random places, lots of trash gets left around, and plants and animals occasionally get abused or killed. At one point, I (mostly) facetiously remarked that if you're building a fence that requires a gate, you might as well not build the fence. Another consideration is that I do not currently expect the system I design to be cared for long-term in a permaculture manner. Due to these two factors, the system must be as bulletproof as possible.
Another major consideration is the soil on the property. In most areas, it is sand without any noticeable topsoil. In some areas, it is salty sand that either used to be or still is mangrove swamp. So, we will need to add a lot of organic matter and slowly build soil fertility.
Major features of the design:
My plan is for food forests or other robust polycultures to be the centerpiece at this site. I have built some earthworks for rain and graywater harvesting, though the sand makes this part more interesting. My main desired components, in order of priority, are:
. . 1. Orchard / tree crops / perennial polycultures
. . . . (a) human food
. . . . (b) fodder
. . 2. Earthworks
. . . . (a) boomerang berms (done)
. . . . (b) pond
. . . . . . i. fish and/or other protein sources
. . . . (c) swales
. . 3. Rotational grazing system for goats
. . 4. Annual gardens
Calapan climate: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calapan#Climate
Köppen climate classification: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%B6ppen_climate_classification
PAGASA precipitation normals (see Calapan): http://pagasa.dost.gov.ph/index.php/climate/climatological-normals
The first major project after we started seeds in a nursery was the creation of an annual garden. We started it around the end of January, though the transplanted crops were added later, as we had only started them a week beforehand (some plants still haven't been transplanted). The garden is about 10' x 60', divided into two sections with a fence. Access is through a triangle gate - one gate opens to the outside, one gate opens to the left half, and one gate opens to the right half. The triangle gate and division into two sections is intended to insure against the gate being left open. This way, two gates have to be left open to let the goats into the garden, and if one side is left open, the other side will hopefully still be protected. We prepared the ground by sheet mulching with cardboard that had been used to line chicken coops, grass, and rice hulls mixed with goat manure. None of this was pre-composted, so we probably tied up some nitrogen by doing this.
We planted the following species in the garden: ampalaya, beans, borage, calabasa (squash), corn, cucumber, eggplant, garlic, kakawate (a N-fixing tree), kangkong, mustard greens, peanut, peas, pechay (bok choy), peppers, radish (daikon and small red types), parsley, sweet potato, tomato, upo (an edible gourd, watermelon, white clover, and yarrow. Of these, the borage, corn, peas, parsley, watermelon, and white clover have been complete flops. Given the previously mentioned need for the systems here to be more or less bulletproof, I am not focusing too much energy on what hasn't grown, but rather on what grows easily. In this regard, the star players so far are ampalaya, calabasa, kangkong, sweet potato, and upo. The kangkong and sweet potato are dual-purpose, serving both as living mulches underneath other plants and sources of cut-and-come-again greens.
The garden has required some irrigation so far during the dry season. We've gotten a little under 2” of rain in the last two months, and for a while we were watering daily. Then the watering stopped, and so I've been watching to see how the garden does. Overall, I'm impressed by how well it's been doing without water, though it finally looked dry enough today that I gave it a thorough watering.
There are still lots of changes I would like to make in the garden. When I first started tomatoes, I used the standard variety available here, which sort of resembles a Roma in many ways. wanting something that would taste better for fresh eating, I had someone send me some heirloom seeds from the US. While they were in the mail, the first seedlings got set back about a month by the goats. Given that, I decided to wait on most of the tomatoes until the heirloom seeds arrived. So the heirlooms are now planted in trays, but there are still empty spots in the garden waiting for them. I have also had some insect (mainly aphid) problems on the beans and okra, so I would like to add more pest-repelling plants. Toward that end, I started some peppermint and zinnia seeds in trays today.
The three biggest problems I have had in the garden so far have been nutrient deficiencies, insect pests, and goats. When the plants were small, some of them seemed to have a severe nitrogen deficiency. It was very spotty, though - some beans and upo died from it, while others in different areas are growing happily. The insect problems have also been somewhat spotty. Several bean plants have had their stems covered in aphids, which have then attracted ill-tempered biting red ants to guard them. The aphids mainly seemed to attack the nitrogen-deficient beans (so much for N-fixation), most of which have died. The okra has also collected some aphids. (Interestingly enough, I've seen three different species of ants guarding these aphids, but never more than one species per plant. Each plant can have its own species of ant.) I have sprayed the aphids several times with hot pepper and garlic tea, but I'm not sure how much that has actually helped. The goats have also done some grazing in the garden through the fence. I think I mostly solved that problem by weaving aroma, a local shrub with long thorns, into the hogwire fence wherever the plants were too close.
Most of the crops in the garden are not mature yet, but so far we have been able to harvest sweet potato tops, kangkong, radishes, some pechay, and some okra. The first ampalaya and cucumbers should also ripen within the next week.
Pangas Ponkai wrote:I am in Bohol, so our climate is very similar. Try some papaya, banana and dragon fruit (pitaya), which takes very little maintenance other than harvesting. Our dragon fruit actually came from Ilocus, the other side of the island from you. Try to get cuttings as seeding will take much longer to fruit. As it is, cuttings could fruit after the first year, but the second year is far better. It is a cacti, so quite unusual, and the fruit taste is subtle but you can get almost addicted!
Thanks for the suggestions! I have a bunch of papaya started in bags in our nursery as well as direct-seeded on our swales (I'll cover the swales in a future post). Most of the seedlings are only about an inch tall right now, though. We also have a fair number of bananas planted, which are slowly getting established. They should take off a bit more once the rainy season gets here. I think we have five varieties so far: saba, solo (sulo?), seniorita, latundan, and some kind of red banana that none of the people I've talked to have heard of before (though it tastes like solo). I have read just a little about dragon fruit, and your post reminded me that I was thinking of getting some. Unfortunately, I don't currently know of a local source for it. I will have to ask around.
Unrelated topic, but isn't it crazy that there's a typhoon headed our way at this time of year?
In early February we dug 6 boomerang berms to catch graywater runoff from one of the kids' houses. They range in length from about 5 feet to about 15 feet, and are arranged in 2-3 tiers, the intention being that any overflow from the upper berms would run into the lower berms. In reality, however, water infiltrates into the sandy soil quickly enough that the lower berms will probably only receive surface runoff during heavy rains. When we dug the berms, there were three main sources of water runoff from the house: a kitchen sink, a water spigot (with a gutter downspout next to it), and a bathroom/laundry room. Thus, we put three corresponding berms in the upper tier. Several weeks later, however, the spigot above the middle berm broke, and it was not replaced. As a result, the upper middle berm no longer receives surface runoff most of the time. Many of its plants are still alive, but they are much smaller and slower-growing than those of its neighbors.
Shortly after digging the berms, we mulched them with rice hulls (ipa) that had been used to cover the floor of our goat house (lots of goat manure mixed in). We have also added additional mulch a couple of times since planting - more rice hulls as well as small branches left over from feeding the goats.
We planted all of the berms with a core mix of plants: cassava, peanut, radish, san fernando, sweet potato, and squash. In addition to these, we also added others as appropriate: gabi (taro) and kangkong in the basins of the upper berms where standing water is normal, banana, coconut, ipil-ipil, and malunggay in places where tree roots shouldn't interfere with any structures, pineapple in the dry areas, and a couple of extra ampalaya, okra, watermelon, and cantaloupe sprinkled around randomly. In general, all of these species are mixed together in a free-form polyculture. This should allow them to support each other better, though it also makes it more interesting to find any given species.
After four months, there is a marked difference between the upper and lower berms. To put it simply, the lower berms look like boomerang berms with plants growing on them, while the upper berms look like jungles. The tallest cassava and gabi are both about 5-6 feet tall. The sweet potato and kangkong are growing rampantly, and we have been harvesting their leaves regularly for a couple of months (mostly from the upper berms, but some sweet potato from the lower berms as well). About 80% of the bananas survived transplanting, and are now growing slowly larger. The other trees are also starting to put out more growth, though slowly. For quite some time, I was worried that the pineapples had not survived planting, but some of them are starting to look more alive now. When the rainy season hits (usually around now), I expect most of these plants to really take off.
Purdue University's horticulture site has good information on many of the plants that grow here. It generally includes plant descriptions, preferred growing conditions, propagation information, and parts eaten or otherwise used. Stuartxchange.com also has a lot of good information, especially on medicinal uses of plants. Attached is a spreadsheet of a number of common fruits and vegetables. Wikipedia is also useful at times. For goats, Fias Co Farm has an extremely useful website with a huge amount of great information.
Ampalaya (bitter gourd): http://stuartxchange.org/Ampalaya.html
Cassava: http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop%20/duke_energy/Manihot_esculenta.html and http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/CropFactSheets/cassava.html
Dragon fruit: http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/strawberry_pear_ars.html and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pitaya
Gabi (Taro): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taro
Ipil-ipil: http://www.stuartxchange.com/Ipil-ipil.html and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leucaena_leucocephala
Kangkong (water spinach): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ipomoea_aquatica
Kakawate (Madre Cacao): http://www.bar.gov.ph/chronicle-home/archives-list/405-june-2003-issue/3072-kakawate-and-its-many-uses
New Zealand Spinach: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tetragonia_tetragonioides
Nipa Palm: http://eyeonlifemag.com/a-lovely-garden/edible-fruit-tropical-palms-as-foods
Fias Co Farm home page: http://fiascofarm.com/goats/index.htm
How to milk: http://fiascofarm.com/goats/how_to_milk_a_goat.htm
Prenatal care and labor: http://fiascofarm.com/goats/prenatalcare.html
Udder development and beginning once-a-day milking: http://glimmercroft.com/Udder.html
Rocket stoves: http://sustainablog.org/2011/09/how-to-build-a-rocket-stove/
Salt-tolerant plants: http://salinitymanagement.org/Salinity%20Management%20Guide/cp/cp_7_table-2.html
Spawnless Mushroom Production: http://bizfil.com/spawnless-mushroom-production-using-munggo-hull/
Do the people handling the site still practice permaculture?
It's hard to say exactly whether they practice permaculture, and probably depends some on what you mean. As far as I know, the earthworks and systems I set up (other than the annual garden) are still there and are being maintained in a similar manner. I know that some of the cassava I planted has since been harvested. I assume it was then replanted from the stem cuttings, but I don't know for sure. The owners picked up some of the permaculture ideas I discussed with them, and I think they paged through Mollison's Intro to Permaculture, but I don't know how much that affects their current management of the site. Because I was only there for six months, I only attempted to put into practice a small number of permaculture systems and ideas that I knew would be pretty robust and easy to take care of without prior permaculture experience. There is still much more that could be done there, but there's definitely been a solid start.