Daniel’s Experiments with Permaculture
Maya, one of our 300hr students, helping out during karmayoga time. Anyone who has spent time in the ashram has seen Daniel running to and fro, usually with a few tools or a wheelbarrow full of fresh soil, and always with a bright smile.
His enthusiasm and curiosity for these endeavors is infectious, and one can’t help but smile and trail after him to learn about the latest project. Speaking of which, we currently have two projects underway simultaneously.
The first is an experimental structure made of woven bamboo poles, for which we made miniature models with our 300 hours YTT students as well as Stefano’s three wonderful daughters.
You might be wondering how exactly one goes about bending trees that were recently rooted firmly in the ground. The first step, after acquiring several stout bamboo poles, is splitting them lengthwise into approximately equal strips. Step two typically involves soaking the bamboo in warm water, such as in a large pot. So, of course, we chose to give our bamboos a bath overnight in our pond.
Bamboo is naturally flexible and impressively strong lengthwise, and this pliability increases hugely when softened with a water bath. Following our paper models, we eventually interwove our bamboo strips into a cohesive unit, after which we began the slow yet steady process of affixing each joint with wire and watched the dome gradually appear. We left the dome overnight to “cure” and strengthened each joint again the next morning – now it’s quite solid! We’re still thinking of how exactly to cover the dome, whether simply for shade or a more waterproof option, but more on that later.
Our second project is a long-term investment. Daniel has been investigating permaculture and recently was introduce to the concept of “hugelkultur” or “hill culture,” in German (see example here). The idea is part of a “no-effort” permaculture technique which is somewhat of a contradiction, as for the past three weeks Daniel has been laboriously hauling cartloads full of earth, sticks, soil, and still more soil around the ashram – which certainly requires a bit of effort. However, this is all the preparation for this hill culture, which imitates the natural ecosystem of a forest floor.
Firstly we lay down a bed of relatively large branches and sticks in order to store water and nutrients, as well as biodegrade over months-years to continually nurture the soil and plants above. This is fenced in by a short wall made of still larger tree limbs to contain the structure. Consecutive layers of sticks and leaves are added on top of this, gradually compacting into a a dense bed. The final layer is a mound of new soil, preferably compost-based, but any good soil works well. This is formed into a hill with soil deepest in the center and only shallow around the edges, allowing for plants with different root systems to grow simultaneously.
One could ostensibly begin planting at this stage, but we’ve decided to go even further so that even less effort is required long term. We next put down a layer of cardboard over our hugel – which will both store water and discourage pests and unwanted plants from growing.
We designed our little garden on the boards and sliced out holes for each plant to germinate.
After lovingly embracing the hugel, we scattered our bountiful seeds into their domains and put down the ultimate layer: straw mulch. This finishing touch again soaks and stores water, as well as decomposes above the newly-planted seeds, providing fresh nutrients to them almost immediately.
Hopefully we’ve done everything correctly on this attempt and imitated nature’s rhythms accurately. If so, we should see some lovely little sprouts within the next few weeks! Ideally, we have nothing left to do but remove the few undesirable plants that may pop up, harvest, and eventually add more fresh soil on top. The rest ought to take care of itself on its own time and on nature’s benevolent and fruitful terms.
Our anticipated bounty includes: lettuce (purple and green), radishes (two varieties), beetroot, onions (bush and German), Thai tomatoes, celery, parsley, basil, zucchini (two varieties), capsicum, and Thai sweet peppers. For good measure, we scattered around something called feldsalat about which we’re not entirely sure but which looks to be some kind of salad green. Here’s to unknown futures and what looks to be a beautiful crop!
May all beings be happy, well, peaceful, and skillful.