Colleen Donovan

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since Aug 29, 2017
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chicken goat
Tzununa, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, Central America
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Recent posts by Colleen Donovan

Join us for an AMAZING two week Permaculture Design Certification Course in beautiful Lake Atitlan, Guatemala! This is our 7th Annual PDC held in collaboration with the Mesoamerican Permaculture Institute, and it covers the full 90+ hour Permaculture Design curriculum as laid out by Bill Mollison and Dave Holmgren. We also explore ancestral wisdom through Mayan Cosmovision and indigenous practices, thoughtfully delving into the intersection between ancient practices and modern techniques to find a holistic paradigm for today's needs. Participants are exposed to new perspectives and theories which are grounded in real, practical hands-on work and strategies. Join us this December and become a Perma Ninja!

WHERE: Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
WHEN: December 2-16, 2018
COST: $1295
MORE INFO: www.atitlanorganics.com

A forest full of food?! Yes! I'll show you how to create your own perennial food forest in your backyard today.



We're going to take a look at creating food forests year-by-year.

Year 1: Our food forest has a central, or focal, point. This is almost always a medium-to-large fruiting tree--in our example above, an avocado tree. In temperate climates it may be an apple or a nut tree. Around the focal tree there is a great diversity of other plants which both help the tree and also give us a variety of other yields as we wait for the avocado (apple/nut, etc.) tree to mature. These plants help by providing mulch in the form of organic matter, providing habitat for beneficial animals and insects, covering the ground to stabilize temperature and humidity, and filling the space to prevent weed growth.

Year 2: Our avocado tree has grown, but not much. There is a saying about perennial trees: first they sleep, then they creep, then they leap. Our avocado is still in its creeping stage. Meanwhile, the other, smaller plants have grown quite a bit and are nearly ready to give their harvest. Herbs and grasses are already providing a harvest of food for us and animal fodder. All of the plants together create a micro-climate which supports the avocado's growth.

Year 3: The avocado tree has begun to 'leap,' filling up space. Smaller trees and shrubs are giving off good harvests. Much maintenance has been needed up to this point--the first two years of establishing a food forest require the most care and work. Immediately after planting we recommend a heavy mulching, and you will need to go back 2 to 3 times each growing season to weed. While weeding you can fill in any empty space with new plants and reapply mulch.

Year 4: Our food forest is now fully established. It is a functioning eco-system which draws its own population of beneficial birds, insects, and wildlife. It is designed to feed us, but also works as a forest in its own right: it cleans the air, filter water, holds carbon, and cycles nutrients rapidly. It no longer requires much maintenance; weeds are controlled by shade and dropped organic matter (mulch), and new plants establish themselves from fallen fruit. By year 4 you are ready to sit back and enjoy the 'fruits' of your labor!

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For more Permaculture How-To's, check out the Atitlan Organics blog here
2 months ago
Introduction to Permaculture and Introduction to Natural Building Courses:
Lake Atitlan, Guatemala October 2018

Introduction to Permaculture
1-Week Course
Through an balanced blend of practical work on the Atitlan Organics farm and interesting presentations and group discussions, participants gain a well-rounded and dynamic understanding of Permaculture. Over the course of the week we'll move from a big picture understanding of Permaculture, starting with the Permaculture Principles and Ethics, Permaculture Design Theory and Zones, and the Ecology of Permaculture, into a detailed approach of specific themes related to Permaculture. These include: Water Management and Storage; Efficient Capture and Use of Energy; Garden Bed Preparation and Care; Plant Propagation; Earthworks and working with Contour; Fertility, Soil Building and Compost; Food Forests and Wetlands; Animal Husbandry and Integrated Animal Systems; Social Permaculture, and MUCH MORE! On Friday, we'll take a field trip to the Meso-American Institute of Permaculture and the Kaq'chikel Maya village of Quixayá to see more amazing examples of Permaculture in action. It's really an amazing, fun, inspiring, and beautiful day of travel throughout Lake Atitlan and the surrounding region, and one of the highlights of the course! As you can see, it's an "Introduction" in name only. You'll finish the week not only inspired to enact change, but empowered with the specific skills and techniques necessary to do so.

Introduction to Natural Building
1-Week Course
Houses and buildings are the "nuclei" of any site, through which the majority of energy and resources flow to be either wasted or maximized for best use. And yet, most permaculture courses barely touch on physical structures! We here at Atitlan Organics think that your house and other structures deserve a LOT more attention as integral and essential parts of your overall permaculture design. That's why we've teamed up with Abundant Edge to offer the Natural Building Course, a one-week course founded in the permaculture principles and covering all things natural building. From stone to cob to natural plasters, you'll learn a wide range of natural building styles and technique which can be put to use in any climate or region of the world. Learn how to reduce your footprint and maximize your efficiency all while creating beautiful, durable structures! We like to think of it as "Permaculture for Zone 0."

Each day is split into two parts: a hands-on practical in which you get the chance try out different techniques in natural building, and a classroom session which delves deep into topics such as stone foundations, building with cob, and troubleshooting design flaws.


$575 each, with all food and lodging included for the week. Sign up for both courses and save $200!
For more info on these courses and registration, you can visit Atitlan Organics
2 months ago
Hey all,
Have a listen to Shad Qudsi, founder, and Neal Hegarty, lead facilitator, of Atitlan Organics as they talk about the upcoming service-based project they're rolling out at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala! It'll feature heirloom varieties of avocado to reforest the steep slopes in the region. Hope you enjoy!

https://www.abundantedge.com/abundantedge/rrt-5
4 months ago
Houses and buildings are the "nuclei" of any site, through which the majority of energy and resources flow to be either wasted or maximized for best use. And yet, most permaculture courses barely touch on physical structures! We here at Atitlan Organics think that your house and other structures deserve a LOT more attention as integral and essential parts of your overall permaculture design. That's why we've teamed up with Abundant Edge to offer the Natural Building Course, a one-week course founded in the permaculture principles and covering all things natural building. From stone to cob to natural plasters, you'll learn a wide range of natural building styles and technique which can be put to use in any climate or region of the world. Learn how to reduce your footprint and maximize your efficiency all while creating beautiful, durable structures! We like to think of it as "Permaculture for Zone 0."

Each day is split into two parts: a hands-on practical in which you get the chance try out different techniques in natural building, and a classroom session which delves deep into topics such as stone foundations, building with cob, and troubleshooting design flaws.

UPCOMING DATES: October 2127, 2018; December 16-22, 2018; February 24-March 2 2019
MORE INFO & REGISTRATION : www.atitlanorganics.com/natural-building

5 months ago
A quick guide to setting up a home plant propagation station, in your home or garden:

This is how we make blood sausage at Atitlan Organics. We do it when we harvest a goat or a pig but really, you could do it with just about any animal. This video's about a year old and our process is always evolving. We were just in Scotland and tried haggis--dang, it's good! Anyone have any good haggis recipes? That may well be our next iteration of blood sausage.



We've got lots more knowledge sharing on our Atitlan Organics blog here. Have a good one! -Colleen
5 months ago
Hi Sarah,
We've got some parts on our farm that stay wet nearly year-round. We grow tons of taro, ginger, and turmeric there. Would it be possible for you to change the humidity by creating micro-climates through swale building? Alongside our swales (filled with the above-mentioned crops), a ton of other plants grow which benefit from access to a wetter micro-climate without being in completely damp soil (mulberries, blackberries, some grasses, comfrey, mallows, bananas). Perhaps modifying the landscape to encourage water to settle in one area will help it to drain from other spots; or by raising beds and mounds alongside swales you can literally rise above the damp.

Otherwise, just keep amending your soil with dry carbon material. Dry leaves, wood chippings, straw, or anything else you can get your hands on. 
6 months ago
By Neal Hegarty

In school they teach us about Entropy, or more specifically about the second law of thermodynamics, which states that the total entropy or disorder of any system always increases over time. In other words energy always flows down. This law is applicable to everything, no matter how big or small. Your life will end; all your carefully planned endeavours will crumble. Meticulously build a sand castle, come back a few days latter and only a pile of sand will remain. It will never get as complex as when you first built it. The sun will burn out, as will all the other stars in the universe, leaving a vast dark empty nothingness. We know this. In many ways, though not always spoken about it’s a defining ideology of our time. Cynics, atheists and nihilists are most aware of it and like to point it out at any opportunity, there’s no point to anything, we live in a cold indifferent universe and its all coming to an end, so just go along for the ride and don’t take things so seriously. I know this line well, because I was often the one delivering it. But it’s not just the existentialists that are influenced by this feeling. Religious folk across a wide spectrum of belief systems console themselves with the idea of life after death, or with the notion of attaining enlightenment in this life and so entering the realm of ‘deathlessness’. Capitalism, in my opinion the dominant religion of our time, is similarly influenced by awareness of the transience of life. This interpretation of reality seems to say, it’s a terrifying place this world, we are lost at sea and it’s everyman for himself, the only thing that can save you is to accumulate as much as you can, That’ll keep you safe, buy a good long life, and secure a future for your children. Yet no matter how much we buy, how much money we make, how high we build the walls and how much we save it never seems to leave us feeling safe or satisfied.

I believe the reason for this lies, as ever, in the story we tell ourselves. The story of entropy and the second law of thermodynamics is only half the story. The famous physicists Schrodinder, said that life is negative entropy, or that to be alive is to challenge the downward flow of energy. Imagine the universe coming into existence from, as we are told a ‘singularity’. I like to picture a singularity as a seed - a little ball that contains all the energy and information necessary to create a universe. Where that seed came from is another question, but in one moment it bursts open. The second law says that all that energy should rush away, from its highly ordered state as a singularity, to complete disorder, infinite black space. But, so the story goes, that didn’t happen. Something caused energy to dance with energy, like little thermal currents in a river force water back up hill, the energy from this singularity hung around, got slowed down enough to form tiny bits of matter. Matter danced with matter and eventually we got stars. Giant collections of the simplest atoms formed, cooked more complex atoms and exploded. We come from these exploded stars. These giant pressure cookers, turning simple atoms into the complex ones that make up this world, challenging the second law with all their might. That’s syntropy, not entropy, matter becomes more complex, not less complex. Simply by existing and then dying stars create atoms, solar systems and life forms far greater than the sum of their parts. And its not just stars that do this. Everything that lives wants to play this game.

Plants use photosynthesis to trap the suns energy and turn it into complex sugars. Sunlight flowing down hill, is caught, cycled and turned into more complex forms. And so if we look close enough, everything we see is, in its own way challenging the second law. This by extension implies that everything we see is alive; a realisation which in itself has profound implications for the way we see and interact with the world. Is a rock just a lump of inanimate material, or is it an extraordinarily complex arrangement of minerals, which, as they give home to and are broken down by lichens and mosses, themselves become recycled into soil, where they become the primary food source for plants. It’s the dance of life, as energy flows down hill, it dances and interacts with other forms of energy and creates new life, more complex life. Decay and creation are one and the same thing.

And so, to the salmon. All the energy that flowed down hill, rainwater full of nutrients from the forest floors and dead dinosaurs, settles at the bottom of the ocean, never to be retrieved again. Until for some reason, spawning salmon, whose very existence depends on these nutrients, are compelled to undertake a collective suicide mission, to swim from the sea, back up stream, to lay their eggs on the river bed before they die. Anyone who has witnesses such an event will, no doubt have been struck by the sheer scale of the death. Salmon carcasses wash onto the riverbanks, the air fills with the smell of rotting flesh. Bears, birds and other creatures come out to feast, but there is always excess. It seems wasteful, unless you watch closely enough. The salmon’s bodies are the accumulation of millions of years of energy flowing in one direction. Their involuntary journey uphill is just another example of the dance of life. Their dead bodies break down and become food for and endless array of life forms, the salmons journey paves the way for new and more complex life forms to come into existence. We no doubt owe our existence in part to the salmon’s journey.

But what does this mean for us and why am I talking about it? I think the salmon’s journey can show us something deeply profound about the meaning of existence. Being a consumer feels empty because it is empty. Everything that lives wants to challenge the second law by creating new possibilities. We are alive too, and so to the people who say that it is human nature to be greedy and destructive, I say it is the denial of our true nature, which is causing the horrors we see all around us. It is in your nature to create, not to consume. Your life does have a point, a purpose. If the salmon can retrieve all that energy and in doing so create all that life, imagine what you can do with your conscious mind, your opposable thumbs and your ability to cooperate with others. If you feel anxious or depressed with your comfortable life, don’t go to the doctor. You’re supposed to feel this way. It’s the feeling that comes from living a sterile fruitless existence. Just like the salmon, you are yearning to swim back upstream, to take your one precious life and to create something new and beautiful. Tell a story, write a play, build some soil, help a fellow human. Intuitively we all know the difference between fruitful activities and sterile ones. Rationally there is no reason for the salmon to swim uphill, just like there’s no reason why I should plant a tree the fruit of which I may never see. But my soul sings when I do it. What can the salmon teach us about life? Everything. Your life has a purpose, all life does. Find yours, you’ll know it by listening to your heart, not your head. You’ll know it because once you start to dance in harmony with the rest of the universe you’ll feel like your flowing not struggling. Go towards life and the universe will help you, go the other way and things will always be tough. Dance into the unknown, and like the salmon, don’t worry about seeing the results of your endeavours. We have no idea what’s coming next. Its time to let go of our need to know and control; consciousness is frightening, but its time to let go of that fear and become active co-creators and participants in the dance of life.
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Neal was our Volunteer Coordinator for 3 years at Atitlan Organics Permaculture Farm, on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. He has since gone on to found his own permaculture-based homestead, The Abundant Edge Farm, just down the road from us!

Want to learn more? Check out our blog and upcoming events!!

6 months ago