On a bright Sunday morning 20 May the second free taster workshop on permaculture took place at Congo Preserve on Statia.
We had the pleasure of welcoming 7 participants, commissioner for Agriculture Glenn Schmidt amongst them.
After an introduction Joshua Spanner showed us around his property, which is located about in the centre of the island with magnificent views of the Quill, the Boven and the Caribbean Sea. Congo Preserve has over 30 different kinds of fruit and nut trees and is irrigated with gravity fed water from a nearby storage tank. Joshua developed a system with second had pressure tanks to boost the water pressure significantly.
The trees are a long-term investment in food production and soil fertility. In contrast with annual crops like lettuce, tomato or egg plants, which require a lot of work and resources every growing season, products from trees like fruit, nuts and leaves can be harvested year after year with minimal input of labour and other resources if the plantation is designed properly. Congo Preserve is a great example of just such a system, called a food forest in permaculture. A food forest mimics Nature’s most productive ecosystems where the hardest work is to keep up with its abundance in food and other useful products like medicines and cosmetics.
Congo Preserve supplies its own needs for electricity by harvesting the sun. Using second hand industrial batteries the energy captured by the solar panels is stored and available for use any time of day. Joshua told us of new systems that work without batteries by being directly tied in to the mains power grid. A technology successfully used in many parts of the world right now.
Leo Bakx, permaculture teacher, told about designing windbreaks with trees and shrubs. Building a living hedge of trees on the side where prevailing winds come from, will protect fragile crops and trees with less wind resistance from serious damage. Such windbreaks can themselves be productive in many ways. They can fix nitrogen from the air and feed other plants as mulch or compost and feed people and livestock with fruits and nuts. You can take advantage of ripe fruits with some wind damage by making preserves, jams, juices and wines for sale or to maximize yields to serve them directly on-site to visitors.
Another important factor in laying out a tree plantation is the differences in height of the surface. By connecting points of the same height (contours) you can take advantage of gravity to catch and store water from the rain with the least input of materials and labour. By laying out ditches on contour (called swales) and roads on contour you can store rainwater in the soil. After some time a water table will appear downhill from the swale. Planting trees on that side of the swale will provide them with plenty of water without further irrigation. Laying out road on contour will prevent rainwater to rush downhill and wash away valuable topsoil (or the road itself for that matter). Designing on contour allows for great control of water in the landscape with the least cost in materials and effort.
To demonstrate how easy it is to find the contour in your own landscape Leo showed a technique with just a few sticks and a spirit level.
The workshop ended with a some delicious juices made by Joshua and cakes and other goodies brought by the participants. During this harvest feast ther was lively discussion on what you can do in your own back yard with trees and the ins and outs of solar power and harvesting your own water.
The next and final free taster workshop will be on Sunday 24 June at GreenBlend’s farm. This workshop is about Integrated Pest Control with natural techniques. Participants will be able to make some natural sprays to take home.
The full Permaculture Design Course will be from 10 through 31 July. For registrations and further information please see the PDC course page.
Craig R. Elevitch and Kim M. Wilkinson. Agroforestry Guides for Pacific Islands, 4. Integrating Understory Crops with Tree Crops: An Introductory Guide for Pacific Islands. Permanent Agriculture Resources.
Craig R. Elevitch and Kim M. Wilkinson. Agroforestry Guides for Pacific Islands, 8. Multipurpose Windbreaks: Design and Species for Pacific Islands. Permanent Agriculture Resources.