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permaculture advocate in Zimbabwe - too little/too much rain

 
pollinator
Posts: 573
Location: Zimbabwe
446
greening the desert
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I enjoyed my time at the plot yesterday. Children never cease to amaze me, they have a tendency of having their way and still leave you in stitches or loving them more.  I went to the field to water the maize as well as plant more covo (the vegetable that we sell). So Jealous' son usually follows me around, putting an effort to chat, though he is still learning how to talk and also he speaks a different language from mine.
He had so much energy especially yesterday and he did not want to just talk, but he wanted to do everything I did. I tried to distract him with every trick that I know, but nothing seemed to work. The time I meant to spend doing "constructive work" as I had planned was running out. I eventually gave in and started sharing my tools with him. I was so surprised when he started digging his hole and afterwards he grabbed one of the suckers, put them in his hole and covered it with soil. He mimicked everything I was doing and the straight face he put as he was doing everything, melted my heart with some warmth I can't even explain. I am even smiling as I am recalling everything.
I failed to upload the last image of how the plant looked like, after it had been planted. One thing this experience made me realise is the responsibility I have by just being around any child, even without saying a word. I might not be aware of what a child learns from me by just being close to me, what I am sure of is that, it would be a good thing if I leave a positive mark in their lives. It was unfortunate I had to redo the work that had been done through such an effort.  
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let the digging begin
let the digging begin
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never mind the dirt ... I am going to plant this
never mind the dirt ... I am going to plant this
 
Rufaro Makamure
pollinator
Posts: 573
Location: Zimbabwe
446
greening the desert
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The rain has not come yet and most of the maize from different fields is now approaching a stage that is beyond recoverable. Our maize is still surviving, though the yield is definitely going to be affected. Last week I had tried to increase the watering of the field to twice a week, because the evaporation is way too much, even with the mulch. It became a little overwhelming and costly when I tried it, so I had an idea crossed my mind, of having water poured gradually without straining so much. I intended to maintain the once a week watering schedule but, for the second watering I had planned to substitute it with filled bottles which I would then sink into the soil, in each maize hole, upside down with the top removed. There are a lot of empty beer bottles that I could pick and use. Right before implementing the idea, I just heard today in the news that there is a cholera outbreak. I do not think it is wise to go around picking litter or having someone to do this, after such an announcement.
I am now afraid that I am fighting a losing battle with this poverty alleviation thing. Maybe there are some places that are just meant to be the way they are.
You know, along roads in the high density areas, most of the places that have no buildings, have maize planted on them, all in an effort to reduce the cost of buying food, by having some home grown substitutes. But when you really look at it, more is lost in the attempts. The area with the maize ...gosh ... its just way too big, when the small fields are all combined together. I used to wonder where all money and the so talked about abundant resources disappear to, wel I think this is one of the ways things are lost. There was money used to buy seed, fertilizer, labor... etc. For the majority of the families we are looking at around $50 to $100, for others who have more resources we are talking about figures that go to around $500, which will all disappear without even benefiting anyone, because of the dry spell. So it is just $50, it is not a big deal, but when multiplied by the number of families it will be surprising how much money would have been lost, unintentionally of-course.
What if we are stuck on one position, almost like a pendulum. One moment we try something and the results are amazing (like last year with the rains the yields were out of this world) and the next moment we try the exact same thing (with additional capacity, hopes having been raised by the previous year's harvest) and we loose even more than we would have gain the previous trial. We will not end this poverty...
I know one obvious answer is changing the type of crop and having a more drought resistant one. There are so many campaigns that are sending the message of small grains and more drought resistant plants. What if there is a more deeper root cause that might not directly be linked to food when we look at the surface. Maybe what we are failing to do is to learn from our past experiences and grow from there. Agriculture is just one area I am interested in, but all fields could be improve by one thing. I have a strong feeling if we have a certain shift in our efforts and we improve the planning phase, and we put more investment in finding ways to at least a little bit certain of favorable results, we can be more in control of our so called "abundant resources" and actually enjoy them. Lets say for example, as in our situation people decide to grow maize. Other people have done some research and there is a rough idea of how much water requirements are needed for a maize plant to produce yield. Well I think it might be a little bit wise to plan for the whole duration of the maize's growth. Considering everything that will be needed to at least have some certainty that there will be something coming out of the efforts. We know that we are in a drought prone area and there are chances that the rains might be good or bad, what are the small steps we are taking to take care of type of crop we are choosing. We might be able to just get by currently with the resources that we have, but what if we could have created something even better for the future generations by improving our chances of having positive outcomes, be it in fields, or companies, or which ever area. Imagine if all these big co-operations were relying on "maybe it might work or not" it might be difficult to then explain to employees that salaries are not coming because of unexpected losses that were not foreseen. There are bigger organizations that have decisions that have a realizable impact to the economy because of their magnitude, as families, be it we are into food growth or not we can make it easier, by minimizing losses of the little resources that come our way. We can work so hard and deprive ourselves of some of the luxuries that life has to offer, but as long as we do not work smart or progress, whether as individuals families or as a nation, it will be sad to see that we will be in the same position in years to come.
I had hoped to speak out through writing, but I do not know anymore...the field outcome is what I relied on to do the talking but now it is out of my control which puts me right back to square one.
 
gardener
Posts: 1798
Location: Longbranch, WA Mild wet winter dry climate change now hot summer
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Question cam to my mind. Can you plant earlier now that you have the soil covered and it may not be so hard to dig and plant the seed next year.  For example here it is too cold to put the seed in the ground earlier but starting the plants in flats and then transplanting them results in the ears forming before the drought starts at the beginning of summer.  
It would be much more efficient to water a lot of little plants close together early in the year than a lot of big plants far apart later in the year.
I have discovered that the golden flax seed that has the omega 3 oil that balances the omega 6 oil in corn prefers to sprout when my field is flooded which allows it to mature before the ground dries out.
You are doing well on the permaculture course. Observe, try to apply what you observed, observe what happens and try again to apply what you observed.
 
Rufaro Makamure
pollinator
Posts: 573
Location: Zimbabwe
446
greening the desert
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I received my hose today. We are  still waiting for the rain, in the meantime an extension to the existing hose pipe is a dear thing.
20180124_163050.jpg
at the railway station collecting thhe hose
at the railway station collecting thhe hose
 
Rufaro Makamure
pollinator
Posts: 573
Location: Zimbabwe
446
greening the desert
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Today we had a cool morning and a passing cloud with a few drops of rain (don't even know if the quantity is even worthy calling rain, but it bought us some time, since transpiration was low today).
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the sandy part
the sandy part
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best part of the field
best part of the field
 
Rufaro Makamure
pollinator
Posts: 573
Location: Zimbabwe
446
greening the desert
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I took pictures of the effect the sun has had on the other fields. With the one field, I have included view A and view B to show how big some of the fields are.
20180126_184657.jpg
view A
view A
20180126_184738.jpg
view B
view B
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crops planted early
crops planted early
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crops planted later on in the season
crops planted later on in the season
 
Rufaro Makamure
pollinator
Posts: 573
Location: Zimbabwe
446
greening the desert
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We had fresh maize cobs a week and a half ago, and it never crossed my mind to take a picture of the cobs because all I could think of was the taste of the maize. The way I gobbled the maize cob actually surprised me. I was told that the maize was not from a big commercial farm. The size of the cobs vs the intensity of the heat we are experiencing, made the farm an interesting place to visit. I am excited because we are planning on visiting the place tomorrow. I hope we will be able to learn some skills that make them survive through this heat, as though we have had really good rain.
 
Rufaro Makamure
pollinator
Posts: 573
Location: Zimbabwe
446
greening the desert
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Today has left me speechless and very hopeful. The past weeks have not been the best times I have had. The reality of the effects of the dry spell were becoming more and more apparent, and it seemed like we are always going to be a few steps behind, in planning to survive in the erratic climatic conditions. The drip system kept on crossing my mind, what was eating me up is, it was not that I was not thinking about working towards having the system set up, but the feasibility of having the system before the dry spell is the one that was beyond my control. Accepting that we can never be proactive and prepared in times of disaster meant that everything I had hoped for would be shattered. My mother thought of taking me to insukamini which is the place where the irrigation scheme we went to today is, and the trip was very inspiring.
It is a community owned irrigation scheme with 125 families and it was started in the early 80s. There is a dam which has water flowing to the fields through canals and by gravity. Individual people then siphon the water to the various parts of the field and the member rotate different plants throughout the whole year . We can survive hash conditions...
Someone can say of course they can, because they have a dam. What I just learn't is, we can harness whatever it is we have and create a convenient life. Just like the butterfly effect that is created by the small individual fields that are surrounding my neighborhood today, we can focus on manageable water harvesting technique which collectively will have the same effect as one dam owned by a community. We were fortunate to meet a lady who was there, when the irrigation scheme was being developed. She said even up to today, it is a wonder how the place which was so rocky was turned into such a productive area.
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amazing work from beautiful people (despite the burning heat)
amazing work from beautiful people (despite the burning heat)
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one of the farmers
one of the farmers
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not everything that might seem impossible is really impossible, early stages of maize towards the end of a very dry rainy season, weather does not disturb plans
not everything that might seem impossible is really impossible, early stages of maize towards the end of a very dry rainy season, weather does not disturb plans
 
Rufaro Makamure
pollinator
Posts: 573
Location: Zimbabwe
446
greening the desert
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It is 4:30 in the morning and it is raining.
 
Rufaro Makamure
pollinator
Posts: 573
Location: Zimbabwe
446
greening the desert
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The weather outside is just perfect for starting on researching about drip irrigation systems. I did try this same research over a year ago, I confused myself in the process, so this will be my second attempt. It is cool with a bit of some showers, which the plants needed. On Saturday morning we planted 2 beds of covo which is highly on demand, so things are really looking up.
For my irrigation research I am in a catch 22 situation. I have an option of finding a more standardized system with most of the design almost done, or go through the whole process that an irrigation designer goes through, which is specific to our place. The prescribed one saves time and leads to results showing sooner, which is good considering the stage I am at is mostly experimental. Starting designing from scratch has more to do with personal satisfaction, to be able to design something using mathematical calculations (more of a dare, as the whole designing concept scares me). I really liked mathematics in school, but I never got to apply much of it and it is slipping away slowly. Maybe at the end of the day when done some research I will know which route to take.
 
Posts: 50
Location: outside Brisbane, Australia
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chicken cooking greening the desert
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When you were writing about the long dry spell, I really felt for you! Australians know what it is like to have a drought. There are months every year where I wring my hands and spend lots of time checking the weather forecast. For 2016 and 2017 my internet bill actually went up in the dry months because I was checking the forecast every night. And it is only because I love my plants, not that I need to depend on them for food or income! At the same time a few charities sprung up where you could make a donation to buy some feed for farmer's cattle, in the driest areas in the interior of Australia. They were sending out trucks of hay, and positive messages for the farming families, who were facing the desperate situation of not being able to pay their bills and maybe losing their farms.

I am lucky that my husband is very good at construction, and has studied earthworks. He made some swales for my orchard, and dug the dam a bit deeper, using borrowed equipment. Many of my fruit trees only just survive the dry times, but without these extra resources they wouldn't survive at all.

When I travelled to Italy in my twenties, the first thing I noticed on arrival was the light. It was a warm, nurturing, gentle light. The sun was so benign, so benevolent. It was sunny without being harsh, and warm without being hot. It was also very stable weather, with no tornados or droughts. It was a mild, dependable climate, and it made me see just why great civilisations had risen up in the Mediterranean. Although humans had suffered the same awful diseases that they had in other places, here it was possible for civilisations to survive and build, without regular devastation. Without the extreme challenges of the tropics or cold climates, humanity had been supported in its development. In other places, it had been too much of a challenge just to survive, or what had been built up was regularly destroyed by natural disasters.

Over here the weather can be life-threatening, either with bushfires or drought. Mother Nature is not always friendly. Best of luck in finding a way to manage hot sun and unreliable rainfall. Human ingenuity plus technology will find a way somehow!

 
pollinator
Posts: 3736
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
646
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Rufaro,

a couple of thoughts for you:

1) Your pipes may perish if you leave them in direct sunlight. If possible try to cover them to protect them from UV.

2) Have you seen Joseph Lofthouse's work on landrace seeds? He breeds his own varieties to thrive in his harsh conditions.  You might find - as a longer term project - that you get good gains by learning how to select your own seeds to save.
 
Rufaro Makamure
pollinator
Posts: 573
Location: Zimbabwe
446
greening the desert
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I have started reading about micro irrigation and this is what I have so far
PRIMARY OBJECTIVE: to make water from the borehole available to the field plants,using less effort, in order to supplement rain water and also to enable growing of crops in times other than the rainy period.
I have chosen micro irrigation because of its effective use of water. The water used is mainly from rainwater collection as well as the borehole, and to cut on filtration units costs, I could choose to apply water through basin bubblers, seeing as they are not quickly blocked by particles and other things that might be found in the water.
STEP 1: Calculation of water requirements
I do not think I have the luxury of learning about designing an irrigation system for now, so I have gathered information from the internet, on maize plant water requirements per day. For the evapo-transpiration rate reference value, I used the value from a research paper done by Zirebwa in 2014, for the Gweru region and I picked the relatively high value of 9mm from the tables presented. The crop coefficient for the maize I will use, is 1.15 from the www.farmwest.com website, this then allowed me to calculate the evapotranspiration value which makes it 10.35mm/day. I will write the other steps as I progress.
It has been raining in other areas of my town in the past days,we are receiving showers sometimes. We took a sample of two random maize ears that have started to grow and they were fertilised fully which is a good thing.
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fertilization satisfactory
fertilization satisfactory
20180203_151005.jpg
The splendour of the sky as the clouds formed
The splendour of the sky as the clouds formed
 
Rufaro Makamure
pollinator
Posts: 573
Location: Zimbabwe
446
greening the desert
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There are moments where reading, sometimes makes something more intimidating than simple. I wish there were emojis I could use to explain how confused I was getting with the irrigation literature I had collected. The main reason why I had posted the first step I had done, on water requirements calculation is to make it difficult to quit on the whole irrigation system installation, (you know how when you put word out there, it kind of makes it difficult not to fulfill it). I have not seen in real life an irrigation set up really close. The best I have had a close up on is a sprinkler at the end of a hose. Today as I was checking out videos, to help with a visual of the actual system, I stumbled upon a you-tube video on "Installing a Drip Irrigation System for Raised Bed" which explained drip irrigation system set up in a very simple and straight forward way, it is now actually funny to me when I recall what picture I had in mind (a seriously complicated thing I tell you).  There are some components we bought from some guy last year for irrigating our garden beds, but we did not have enough knowledge and the things have never been used. This year my hope is to be able to know enough of the irrigation set up before purchasing anything, which I think is know becoming more and more possible.
 
pollinator
Posts: 4328
Location: Anjou ,France
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Might it not be better to work out how much water you have and then calculate how much you can plant .
Is there any milage in growing different stuff to everyone else . :-)
Cow peas etc

David  
 
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