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1/2 acre country house in the Colombian Andes  RSS feed

 
Juan Sebastian Estrada
Posts: 94
Location: Medellin, Colombia
12
bike forest garden trees
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Hello everyone. This is my documentation effort of what I plan or want to do with a small 0.5 acre (ca. 2200 m2) piece of land.

First of all I think it's important to mention that I do NOT live in this land. I do own it and its current purpose is as a country place (a weekend retreat and resting place) for me to get away from the city and maybe some day retire to permanently. Therefore I have very limited time to work on it so permaculture is key in letting nature do most of the work! I normally go there every other weekend during Sundays (there is no house yet so I cannot stay overnight)

Location: It is located in Colombia, province of Antioquia, municipality of Guarne, ca. 45 minutes by car from Medellin (Colombia's 2nd city in population). The climate is seasonally tropical (i.e. no seasons here other than rainy and dry, which we refer to as winter and summer respectively), however the altitude (2300 meters above sea level) makes the weather rather cool (Mean 17ºC, minimum 5ºC maximum 25ºC. No frost). In this way I believe the weather is more similar to a mediterranean climate's shifting between spring summer every three months (i.e 3 months cool and rainy, 3 months warm and less rainy). Annual rainfall is between 1500 mm and 2000 mm (60-78 inches) with the driest season being December through March although there are always several days of rain in each month.

Following is what I managed to answer from the Portland Maine Permaculture permaculture design questionaire (some of which I hope to illustrate further with pictures in future posts). I left out some things that don't really apply to my situation:

2. Are you aware of any historic uses of this land such as farming, logging, etc.? No

3. What kind of property surrounds your property? (residential, business, etc.) Rural. Mostly country (weekend) properties from city dwellers like myself.

4. Please describe the number and type of buildings on this land (including any outbuildings). None. My goal is to build a small house for the weekends and vacations and maybe live (when retired) in the long term.

5. Does your property have any desirable views? Yes, mountains and a valley.


6. Does your property have any undesirable views? Not really

7. Are there any special privacy or “screening” needs? There are some noisy neighbors and it would be great to isolate the noise somehow, but I think this is fairly difficult and not a main objective.

8. Do you know what type of soil you have? (Clay, Sandy, Loamy, Rocky). I believe its clay, but there is a fair amount of organic topsoil, maybe 8 inches in most places

9. Have you had your soil tested? No.

10. Have you observed any drainage problems (wet ground, standing water, water in your basement etc.) on your property? No.

11. Have you noticed any areas of soil loss or erosion? Yes. There is some bank erosion in the edge with one of the neighbors.

12. Any areas that are too hot/dry in the summer? Not sure

14. Describe elevation changes on your property. Where is the low spot, the high spot and are there any sloped areas? It is all sloped. There is an elevation difference of around 15 meters (49 feet) between the lowest and highest points, with a distance of ca. 65 meters (210 feet), i.e a mean slope of 23% but very irregular terrain

15. Describe any unique features of the landscape.


16. Do you know where your septic system & leech field are located? Or where your sewer lines cross your property? I know where the septic tank is, but not the leech field. Although I would prefer to have a compost toilet.


19. Do you need (now or in the future) to make your property accessible/usable by persons with disabilities or limited mobility? No


21. How much time do you currently spend maintaining your yard or landscape? A few hours every couple of weeks.

26. What types of company do you entertain? Adults/Children/Mixed? Friends/Family/Co-workers? Neighbors? Mixed adult/children – family.

27. Please describe any pets that you allow outside. A dog

28. How long have you lived in this home? I don’t live there

31 To what degree are you interested in growing some of your own food? Very interested in fruits, veggies and herbs. Would love to have chickens for eggs, but not being there all the time makes it very unlikely. For the near future it will probably have to be a zone 2 or 3 kind of arrangement, with hopefully mostly perennials

33. During which seasons of the year do you spend time in your yard? All seasons. This is tropical climate althoug high up in the mountain so fairly cool (2300 meters above sea level, 10-20ºC average temperature)

35. Do you see yourself implementing your permaculture plan fairly quickly, or gradually over time? Gradually over time

43. Where does your drinking water come from? Will probably come from municipal water supply

Breakdown goals and motivations: To create an edible landscape that requires fewer inputs of time, money and effort in terms of ongoing maintenance, and live more sustainably.

Pics will follow!

 
Juan Sebastian Estrada
Posts: 94
Location: Medellin, Colombia
12
bike forest garden trees
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I'm trying to follow Dave Burton's advice to Getting Help On Permaculture Projects (http://www.permies.com/t/45006/projects/Guide-Permaculture-Projects), so here are my answers to his other questions:

1. How much do I know about permaculture: Read "The Natural Way of Farming", "Gaias Garden". Have been coming to the forums at least once a week for the past 2 years, watched all of geoff lawton's videos, a bunch of Paul's, some from the videos form openpermaculture.com, subscribed to Permaculture Magazine this year and read about 10 past issues, read most of what gets published at permaculturenews.org, listened to some of Paul's podcasts and read some of his articles. I haven't got the time or money to get a PDC yet, but I would like to get certified in the future. I figure what I do in the meantime can count as part of my certification project.

2. What kind of help I'm seeking: I will be posting ideas that I have and I will be documenting my progress. The amount of help will depend on how difficult each individual project is or how much experience I have on it. Mostly I'm just looking to hear from people who have done what I want to do and maybe tell me what to avoid or give me tips. This is not a very disciplined design exercise, I just have some broad ideas that I would like to implement gradually over time, plant some trees, grow some food and just make my piece of land a nice place to relax in.

6. Sun position: This is probably important to address. The latitude is 6º north, very close to the equator, thus the sun position doesn't vary much throughout the year. The notions of structure orientation and sun traps probably don't apply too much here, except in some spots which might get more shade during times of the day but not during times of the year.

7. Permaculture role model: Don't really have a clear idea about this yet. Being high in the mountains Sepp's work seems attractive, and being tropical some of Geoff Lawton's work also applies.
 
Juan Sebastian Estrada
Posts: 94
Location: Medellin, Colombia
12
bike forest garden trees
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Some pics:
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These are an avocado and an orange tree. They are the only healthy trees already planted and mature.
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View from one of the higher edges
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another pic showing the northern limit of the property and access point
 
Juan Sebastian Estrada
Posts: 94
Location: Medellin, Colombia
12
bike forest garden trees
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An aerial view of the site, oriented with the north up. The highest part is the topmost corner. The lowest is the rightmost corner which is also the entrance to the lot.
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This is a satellite view of the site. You can see the site clearly outlined in the center, with a more or less trapezoidal form.
 
Santiago Doglio
Posts: 6
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Sebastian, I'm from Colombia to very interested in what you have done since April! Saludos!
 
Juan Sebastian Estrada
Posts: 94
Location: Medellin, Colombia
12
bike forest garden trees
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Pineapples: I don't really like pineapples, but all the other people in my family do and if they can shade some grass and maybe collect some rain water between their leaves for birds and insects then they will be planted. I'm making an effort to plant every pineapple top that comes across. So far 5 are in the ground and seem to be doing well. I think at this altitude it may be a bit too cold for them so they might not grow as quickly (I've planted another at a friend's house in a much warmer climate and the difference in growth is noticeable), and currently my limited amount of rocks and bricks for storing heat are being used with other fruit trees e.g. citrus and a mango pit.

Comfrey!: It was particularly difficult to get my hands on some comfrey. People here in Colombia don't really seem to know about it much. Plant nurseries certainly don't. I even wrote to a couple of Colombian permaculture farms which have a website to see if they would sell me some root cuttings, without success. Finally I went to the botanical garden here in Medellin and spotted a few plants. The gardener was kind enough to dig one out for me (even though he probably isn't allowed to give plants away), but he was so excited to tell me the medicinal wonders that this plant had done for him, and since I listened carefully and asked nicely he decided I was a good person and not someone who just wanted to steal a plant. From the root crown I cut about 10 cuttings. In the picture below you can see the plant that has regrown from the crown itself, nicely helping a citrus tree (can't wait for it to grow and flower, then chop and drop!). So far (it's been around 4 months) only 2 of the cuttings have sprouted any leaves, which to me is a bit disappointing because everyone is always talking about how prolific comfrey is and how you can get a new plant from a tiny cutting and how if kept unchecked it will take over your property. It may be just impatience from my part. I just wish I could plant much more of it around my fruit trees to get rid of some of all the rampant grass. Hopefully some more plants will sprout in time and I will be able to increase my comfrey exponentially. Who knows, maybe even sell and give away cuttings and plants in the future.
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Pineapple top
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Comfrey plant next to a citrus tree
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One of the comfrey cuttings which have sprouted
 
Juan Sebastian Estrada
Posts: 94
Location: Medellin, Colombia
12
bike forest garden trees
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Yay! my first apple!

Bidens Alba? maybe someone can confirm if this plant is Bidens Alba? I remember Alex Ojeda talking about it in one of his videos saying that it has antiviral properties. Is there any way to find out for sure? Unfortunately the foreground flower is out of focus.

In the picture you can also see some bricks that I've laid next to the citrus tree to store and release heat, suppress the grass and prevent it from growing too close to the tree, hopefully increase a bit of condensation or at least prevent soil evaporation, provide critter habitat, and prevent runoff and soil erosion in intense rainfall events (they are located downhill from the tree to act also as a silt and mulch trap). I'm trying to do this around all trees either with rocks, rubble (urbanite), or wood.

Feijoa: Next is a pic of a feijoa or pineapple guava tree. Here you can see that it has been mulched with some wood chips and also bracken fern (you can see some of it green and some of it already dry) of which there is a lot around (read somwhere that it is a magnesium accumulator I think). Also some rubble thrown with the mulch to create some critter habitat.

Purple acacia: This is a Acacia Baileyana 'purpurea'. I have planted it for chop and drop mulch and to maybe fix nitrogen (although I am not sure if this is possible since it is not native so the necessary rhizobium might not be present in the soil). From the trees I have planted it is the fastest growing so far, probably a meter or more in less than a year.

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Bidens alba?
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Feijoa tree.
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Purple acacia.
 
Santiago Doglio
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Very nice to see the advancements in the project! I´ll be waiting for more!
 
Juan Sebastian Estrada
Posts: 94
Location: Medellin, Colombia
12
bike forest garden trees
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Bromeliads: I have plans for a pond (medium to long term) and maybe some tiny frog ponds and bird baths to store water onsite for the wildlife. In the meantime I've been planting bromeliads next to some of the trees so that they store a little bit of water for birds and insects after it rains. They are almost maintenance free, just stick them in the ground or fix them to a tree trunk (they are epiphytic) and forget about them. The only edible bromeliad I know of are pineapples. They are also quite beautiful and bring a bit of color to the land.

Mints: I got a few cuttings of spearmint and peppermint from a relative that I've transplanted next to a couple of trees. As they grow I can get more cuttings and put them in every guild. I didn't remember where I put the peppermint and was having trouble finding it among the overgrown grass, until I stepped on it and the smell made me look down! At the place that I got them they are very prolific and even manage to outcompete the grass, so fingers crossed that they will also help me with that.

Aloe vera: In the spirit of adding some ground cover to shade the ground I've also planted some succulent plants here and there. The advantage of succulents is that they hold their moisture in the form of a gel and are able to withstand longer periods without water, so they are a good option to plant during dry periods when most other plants would need watering and constant care to survive after being transplanted. A good multifunctional succulent is aloe vera: It provides shade, is very easy to plant (just stick it in the ground), it's edible, helps with skin dryness and sunburns. Many people here swear by it as a rooting agent but I haven't had much success with that. Maybe the gel just prevents a cutting from drying too quickly, but I also believe it contains some rooting hormones because the plant itself is very easy to establish from cuttings which would suggest that it produces roots quite easily.
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Bromeliad
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Spearmint
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Aloe
 
Juan Sebastian Estrada
Posts: 94
Location: Medellin, Colombia
12
bike forest garden trees
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Can anyone help me ID this plant?

It is growing massively in the high end of the property where the slope is a little steeper, among lots of bracken fern (there is also quite a lot of dandelions which suggest to me that the soil is acidic and compacted).

I think I've ruled out hogweed, cow parsley, alexander, angelica because non of those coincide with this in the shape and distribution of the leaves.
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Joylynn Hardesty
Posts: 251
Location: Officially Zone 7b, according to personal obsevations I live in 7a, SW Tennessee
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The plant structure suggests boneset to me, though it is not common boneset, maybe late flowering boneset? Or a cousin? Check here http://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/prairie/plantx/late_bonesetx.htm
 
Juan Sebastian Estrada
Posts: 94
Location: Medellin, Colombia
12
bike forest garden trees
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@Joylynn: Thank you. I'm still not sure though, but as you say, may be related.
 
Juan Sebastian Estrada
Posts: 94
Location: Medellin, Colombia
12
bike forest garden trees
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Clover: I've been scattering a mix of clover and alfalfa seeds around to have some ground cover which is more useful than grass. So far I haven't seen any alfalfa, but the clover has come out in some spots.

Mantis: I found this mantis hiding under a plastic tray that was lying on the grass. Its fantastic to see good bugs around, it gives me hope that there are critters to help get the bad bugs under control. I decided to put it on a citrus thats infested with soft scale (scale insects) and ants and see if it would go for any of those. It didn't seem to care at all and just climbed down to a leave where no ants or scale were present. Maybe another time.

Scale, ants and sooty mold: This citrus tree has a scale problem which is of course accompanied by sooty mold. As is often the case with aphids, ants here like to feed on the secretions caused by scale insects. I poured some water with lactic acid bacteria on it to see if it can be of any help. I still struggle to fight the urge of intervening when a plant has a problem like this. I've seen some ladybugs around, but so far they either haven't been attracted to the scale or just have better things to eat. If the problem persists I might use some soapy water to get rid of the scale and the mold because it supposedly doesn't affect the good bugs. The ants won't go anywhere of course and might bring the scale back, so that is something that only time and a more mature system can solve.

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Clover
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Good bug :)
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Bad bugs ;(
 
Juan Sebastian Estrada
Posts: 94
Location: Medellin, Colombia
12
bike forest garden trees
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This weekend I decided to try biodynamic paste and see how it goes. I was thinking on taking a bit of horse manure from the lot next door but as I arrived to my land I was lucky to find a few cow patties (how mysteriously fortunate!) that I put to good use. Later I found out that some nearby cows had come wondering this week and were promptly removed but not before leaving me a timely gift. In any case, I got a bit of horse manure in addition to the cow manure and added a few comfrey and dandelion leaves for the sake of variety, a bit of urine (my own, couldn't let it go to waste), then added equal (ish) parts of sand and clay, some water and stirred until it turned into a paste, then proceeded to apply it to the trunk of all my trees. Pictures below. I hope this will give my less than cared for trees a bit of a boost while I'm not around.

The sand I took from the access road (unpaved) and the clay just required digging out a couple of spadefuls (there is plenty of clay around which gives me confidence that a small pond can be dug in the future and sealed relatively easily).

Next is a picture of some banana plants I planted some weeks ago. I put them next to an existing concrete slab that I hope can act as thermal mass and give them some heat at night. They seem to be doing well considering the altitude. It is not a banana circle, they are just planted in a semi circle with an earth wall behind them. The idea is that the space behind them will gradually fill with biomass and become a mulch basin to absorb greywater from the future house and maybe some food scraps or other compostable materials in the same way that a normal banana circle does.

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Small avocado tree with biodynamic paste applied.
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Large avocado tree with biodynamic paste applied. This one took most of the paste I made. What you see attached to the trunk is a bate hive for stingless bees.
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Banana plants in the background. Concrete slab in the foreground, covered in grass which I intend to remove some time.
 
Juan Sebastian Estrada
Posts: 94
Location: Medellin, Colombia
12
bike forest garden trees
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This weekend I also planted a dragon fruit cutting I got from a relative. Can't wait for it to grow. Put a stake next to it for support and planted a pineapple crown beside it. Also a couple of large heavy clay bricks downslope to create a warmer microclimate, provide habitat for critters, shade out grass and prevent the mulch from being washed by the rain. The bricks are lifted a little by the earth that came out of the hole and some wood (kind of a micro hugel) with the intention of having the larger sides facing inward towards the plants thus radiating more heat in this direction.
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Juan Sebastian Estrada
Posts: 94
Location: Medellin, Colombia
12
bike forest garden trees
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Joylynn Hardesty wrote:The plant structure suggests boneset to me, though it is not common boneset, maybe late flowering boneset? Or a cousin? Check here http://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/prairie/plantx/late_bonesetx.htm


I definitely believe it is a relative of boneset, Eupatorium sp. based on the structure of the plant and appearance of the flowers.
 
Juan Sebastian Estrada
Posts: 94
Location: Medellin, Colombia
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bike forest garden trees
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Didn't have time to take many pictures this weekend but managed to snap a few.

I got about 20 cuttings of Vaccinium Meridionale, known in Spanish as Mortiño or Agraz, a berry of the same genus as blueberries, huckleberries, lingonberries and so on. I wounded the first couple of inches of each cutting with a knife to expose the cambium and dipped them in aloe gel to encourage rooting. Hopefully some will root and take. These should thrive in my acid soil.

Planted three plantain plants that I got from a friend. Now I have 3 different varieties including 1 finger banana plant which I thought had died but discovered this weekend that a new leave is sprouting.

I finally got to make a small bird bath to try and encourage more birds to come and stick around. Something that has bothered me since I bought the land is how few birds seem to come even though there is ample food (lots of crickets and other insects in my land, fruit in the neighbors'), so I think one reason might be the lack of water. Got a terracota basin, filled it with some rocks and a branch for perching and access to the water, and added a couple of Yarumo (Cecropia Peltata, aka trumpet tree or snakewood) leaves that stick out in an effort to increase the rainwater catchment. I have a few ideas to make it prettier but for the time being I just hope to get enough rain to fill it and maybe overflow a little to flush a bit of the dirt that is attached to the rocks. I wonder if anyone has experience on keeping the water free from algae? maybe adding some aquatic plants that don't take much space (maybe they can hang on the outside with the roots inside the water)?

Orchids: I have a few orchids in a shaded spot of the property. I love orchids even though they don't provide many functions to the permaculture system, they are just very low maintenance and wonderful to look at. Now in bloom are specimens of Maxillaria, Epidendrum and Dracula.

Last week I was listening to the podcast in which Paul interviews Willie Smits. I think it's the podcast that has made me more emotional and that I've found more inspirational. He is a hero. It got me thinking wether I could grow a sugar palm here. One of the aspects that I found more interesting was the mention that the sugar palm draws nutrients from the subsoil much like comfrey does: a large tropical plant that produces sugar, fruits, high quality timber, fibers, increases fertility and more!; I think comfrey has found a match as the queen of permaculture. Anyway, I have found a nursery that produces sugar palms here in Colombia and am waiting to hear from them about shipping costs. This is one of those occasions in which you learn about a plant and then you just have to have it in your system, even if I am located at a much higher altitude than the plant's original habitat. Who has experience with other useful palms for high altitudes/cooler climates?
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Maxillaria sp.
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Dracula sp. Flowers are not yet open
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Bird bath.
 
Juan Sebastian Estrada
Posts: 94
Location: Medellin, Colombia
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bike forest garden trees
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In a previous post I mentioned that I had planted one purple acacia and three alcaparros (senna sp) for nitrogen fixation amongst the fruit trees. I've also spread some clover and alfalfa seed. So far the acacia has grown significantly (I think it's close to 3 meters now), the alcaparros have not grown at all, some clover has sprouted here and there and there are no signs of the alfalfa (Observation). This has been a surprise because the alcaparros are native and the acacia is not. So I decided to do some digging and find out if any of them were forming root nodules, with the result confirming my initial surprise. There are distinctive root nodules on the acacia (pic below), none on the alcaparros and I think none on the clover (I knew beforehand that the seed was not inocculated). So either the acacia found some native rhizobia that it is compatible with or it has found its way from Australia. Now the idea is to propagate and plant the acacia next to the fruit trees to assist with nitrogen fixing (Interaction), for which I've taken and started to root some cuttings. Even though I'd like a bit more diversity of nitrogen fixers for now I have to do with what I have already planted and growing well.

There's a new comfrey plant that has sprouted from one of the cuttings I planted some months ago. Hopefully more will come and survive the insect attacks!

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Root nodules on the acacia.
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Purple acacia cuttings taking root
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New comfrey plant and dandelion working together for me.
 
Juan Sebastian Estrada
Posts: 94
Location: Medellin, Colombia
12
bike forest garden trees
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Also this weekend I was planning on applying some soapy water to the citrus tree that was covered in soft scale and sooty mold, however when I arrived I discovered that the ants have finally left the tree alone (It's the ants that shepherd the scale to feed from its secretions in the same manner as with aphids), the scale has decreased and the mold is gradually coming off. This shows that patience is a virtue in permaculture and that nature takes care of things if we let her do her job. Some part of me wants to believe that the biodynamic paste helped to drive the ants away, but I had already observed them climbing up and down the tree without problems after the paste was applied, so probably not, or maybe it just took more time than I expected?

One more orchid for beauty.
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Citrus tree affected by scale and sooty mold
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Epidendrum sp
 
Juan Sebastian Estrada
Posts: 94
Location: Medellin, Colombia
12
bike forest garden trees
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Today i want to write about observation, and turning problems into solutions.

Because I live in the city and can only come to my piece of land every few weeks I normally go right into mowing, mulching, maybe planting a sapling or two and don't dedicate much time to observing the signals that the landscape is giving. For some weeks now I have been getting increasingly annoyed by a thorny weed that is gaining ground. But during the holidays I have been able to stay for a few days in a row, so this morning I woke up at 6:30 a.m. (early for a non-working day ) with the intention of observing during this early hour, something that I've wanted to do for a while.

I found that there is quite a good amount of morning dew, to the point that the avocado and orange trees were dripping (not a lot, but a few drops here and there every minute). This points me to doing some rock mulching on some recently planted saplings that have not been doing well because it hasn't rained in a while (we are currently experiencing a El Niño year which means that average rainfall has been lower than average).

Then I was walking and trying to do some observation, when this weed that I mentioned got stuck to my pants. I crouched down and pulled it from the ground and it came out with some roots. To my surprise the roots were full of nodules. It then occurred to me that I have been scattering clover, peas and beans with the intention of fixing nitrogen but without much success, they almost always get outcompeted by the rampant grass, and all along this weed has been doing it on its own without me having to lift a finger. It is one of those moments you remember what you have read many times but not often put into practice: the problem is the solution.

The plant (which I will stop calling weed from now on), is mimosa debilis. From now on instead of trying to get rid of it I will try to use it to my advantage. I have transplanted some specimens next to my tiny fruit trees which are not doing great hoping that they will share some nitrogen with them, and whenever I need to find a spot for planting a new sapling or seed I will now try to find a mimosa plant and plant what I need next to it.
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Juan Sebastian Estrada
Posts: 94
Location: Medellin, Colombia
12
bike forest garden trees
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I'm trying a new lazier approach to disposing off my bokashi compost.

I use two five-gallon buckets that I fill with my household organic waste (anything that was once alive goes into the organic bin) mixed with homemade bokashi bran (using bacteria from yoghurt whey). The last batch of "bran" was made using coffee grounds and I like it a lot better than actual bran because it is much easier to spread over the food scraps even when wet, which means that I don't really need to let it dry and this allows me to prepare a batch much quicker. Usually the buckets fill with about 2 to 3 weeks of scraps which normally correlate with the frequency that I come to the property and bury them.

Until now I have been burying the waste next to the fruit trees (maybe 5 cm away and uphill from the tree) and covering it with the topsoil from making the hole. I found that even with a good amount of soil on top of the waste (10 to 20 cm) there were animals coming and digging it up (most likely neighboring dogs). I definitely don't want to dig a deeper whole, so I have been putting tree trunk stumps on top of the buried waste and soil so that the dogs won't be able to dig it up and it has worked fine. After about two weeks most of the waste is decomposed and unrecognizable (citrus takes longer).

BUT, I still don't like digging holes if I can help it. So I decided to just lay the scraps on the ground close to the tree, cover it with a plastic box or basket with a few rocks (or a stump) on top for weight. Usually there is still room for the bugs to come in and it is dark enough that the worms may come from underground (I hope). It will probably take longer to decompose, and some of the carbon and nitrogen might go into the atmosphere, but I'll monitor it to see if I can still get good results this way.
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Scraps partially decomposed after one week
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Fresh bokashi partially covered by box.
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Sometimes something pretty grows among the grass
 
Juan Sebastian Estrada
Posts: 94
Location: Medellin, Colombia
12
bike forest garden trees
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This is the result of my effort to infiltrate some morning dew to keep a recently planted sapling. This is a Chinese Ash tree (fraxinus chinensis locally known as Urapan) that I got for free along with a bunch of other trees from the local utility company under a reforestation program that they have to protect the water resource for their hydroelectric plants. We have been suffering from one of the driest and longest El Niño events for over a year now and it was definitely not the best idea to transplant it under these conditions, but the saplings are just sitting there under the shade of the avocado tree and even though this protects them a bit many of them have also died in their nursery plastic bags, so I just couldn't resist the urge to plant it and see how it went. After a few weeks the tree had lost all of its leaves and I thought it was done. In an effort to save it I decided to use some broken pieces of ceramic ware that were lying around to try and infiltrate a bit of water from dew during the mornings. The idea of using these broken tiles (or whatever they might have been) instead of just rocks was to maximize the area for condensation and also to improve the amount of condensation that trickles into the soil making use of the slick vertical surface. It seems to have worked very well. The tree is clearly recovering and there is a noticeable difference in soil moisture compared to the surrounding areas.



I went into a nearby small patch of forest to gather some soil with the idea of introducing some beneficial fungi to my trees. The pictures show some mycelium and fruiting body of a fungus decomposing the litter. I then mixed this with some topsoil and worm castings that I had on hand and have spread it around the trees.





Next is a patch of mimosa debilis. I've planted another sapling (I think its Spanish or Mountain Cedar, Cedrela Odorata or cedrela montana, which I think is a misleading name because it's not a conifer) right in the middle of it and did some chop and drop around it hoping that there will be a release of nitrogen into the soil and fertilize the tree. (I forgot to take a picture of the transplanted tree, will do it for a future post.)



Finally for this post, a new comfrey plant that has grown from one of the cuttings I buried a while ago. It seems to be growing a bit better than most of the others which sprouted earlier.



 
Juan Sebastian Estrada
Posts: 94
Location: Medellin, Colombia
12
bike forest garden trees
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More comfrey is sprouting, now there are 3 decent albeit small plants which give me hope for making more cuttings in the not so long term. We have finally had some consistent rains after a very harsh El Niño that has hit us for over a year, making last year very difficult and with very slow progress. Either the comfrey plants are enjoying the rain, or the weed fertilizer which I've been giving them from time to time (any chance I get, which is not very often, maybe once a month), or both.

Below is a picture of the concentrated weed fertilizer. When I first read about it others said that it would stink like hell, but I was surprised this time (it has been fermenting for about a month) because it smelled just like fresh cow manure, not really a stinky smell imo. I've been feeding this to my trees and plants, diluted in about 1:10 parts with water.
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Juan Sebastian Estrada
Posts: 94
Location: Medellin, Colombia
12
bike forest garden trees
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On doing nothing: or rather on not doing.

Some parts of the plot have been overtaken by the mimosa debilis plants that I wrote about before: thorny legumes that are trying to fix my soil while also trying to keep me out of my land . In some parts they mostly keep at ground level, but in some parts they have grown over 1 m tall and have blocked the access to some wild raspberry plants that I like to visit for an occasional treat, so I decided it was time for them to become mulch. I took my machete and went on a chop and drop mission, not really mulching anything, just chopping and letting them drop in place because it's not really enjoyable to move thorny canes anywhere (maybe enough will gather in place to start a hugel bed in the future). I didn't plan on planting anything there yet, but should probably scatter some seeds or plant some trees in place next time, I'm sure they will grow back and I should plant something to outcompete them, I just don't know what yet.

But the reason of this post is to write about not doing (Fukuoka style), which is why the wild plants have started to take over: I have been purposely refusing to mow and "tidy" the place up in spite of my family's urging me to do so. I'm letting the "weeds" do their job even if it means that some unpleasant thorns or grasses may come along.

Around here it is normal to pay someone to come with a noisy gasoline powered weed wacker (with metal blades or plastic line) and mow the place for a reasonably cheap price. I can't bring animals to do the job so I have a less albeit still noisy battery powered trimmer for the grasses (trying to replace it with a scythe but I haven't been able to sharpen it enough yet), and the machete for the more sturdy bushes. It would probably be easier and cheaper for me to pay someone to come and mow, but that would mean that I wouldn't be able to make some interesting discoveries: The past few weekends I have found two voluntary blackberry bushes and another that I had planted myself and thought to be dead but came back through the overgrowth. The other beautiful discovery was this:



I believe it's some kind of wild orchid, I've yet to identify it.

Anyone else would have just cut them with the mower and not notice. Further more, had I or someone else been mowing regularly probably none of these plants would have been able to survive or even germinate without the cover and protection from their weedy companions.

I also spotted a small blue and yellow lizard for the first time crawling through the mulch and rocks around one of the trees, which is very satisfying. I was beginning to wonder if predators would ever come to take hold of the habitat I meant to create.

That's the beauty of doing less, observing more, and letting nature do her thing.
 
Juan Sebastian Estrada
Posts: 94
Location: Medellin, Colombia
12
bike forest garden trees
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I have now identified the orchid from my previous post as a species of Habenaria, a genus of mostly terrestrial orchids from tropical and subtropical regions. They typically have tuberous roots or rhizomes and are perennial deciduous meaning that the plant dies back periodically (kind of like Cypripediums and other temperate orchids).

For me it is very satisfying to identify a plant so that it's possible to learn its characteristics and learn its role in the ecosystem. From what I've read Habenaria plants like wet (they are also called "bog" orchids) weedy/bushy spots. As I described I found this one among the overgrown mimosa thorny plants, so that fits the description quite well, but from what I've been able to observe this isn't a particularly wet place in the property. There is in fact a much more damp area in the lower part which I expect will become a small pond eventually because it's right at the key point in a valley. So either this plant doesn't need or like as damp spots as others or the strategy of letting nature take over in this zone is really helping retain water in the soil. I'll be observant of that.

I created another thread about orchids in permaculture which sadly didn't get as much attention. There and here in other posts I have mentioned that I was an orchid fan before learning about permaculture, so to find a wild orchid growing in my property is even more exciting for me, it really made my day. There are always small gifts of nature that present us with new learning opportunities, I love that about permaculture.
 
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