8th Life Panama EcoVillage

From the blog

Seasons Changing

The rains are coming to an end as one season flows into another. Here in Panama, we either have rain or we don’t. When it rains, it really rains and when it doesn’t, it really doesn’t! We go without rain for 4 – 5 months straight. As you can imagine, this takes its toll, especially on young plants. That’s why our priorities as we prepared for the end of the rains all related to water and plants. As a matter of fact, so are our priorities looking forward.

Earlier in the year we had a well dug through a government water program and were left with a 4” pipe leading down 80 feet to the source. The government doesn’t offer the pumps, so we researched what would work best for us with an eye to the future. The well is at a relatively low elevation on the property, so for future sustainability we need the pump to move water uphill to a tank. From there it can then be easily distributed downhill as needed. Our pump selection took this into consideration even though we won’t move the water tank up the hill until early next year. Right now, the well’s location allows us to use it during the coming dry season to take care of our plants and for any other water needs.

Speaking of plants, we just built an amazing nursery out of re-used materials and some roundwood. It was an amazing process of teambuilding and nursery building!

Now we need to build some planting tables and organize our tools and planting materials and we’ll be ready to move existing pots over to the new nursery and start planting seeds. You might wonder why we’d start planting seeds now that we’re entering the dry season. The funny thing is that the dry season is when the annual vegetables grow best. The rains here can be simply too much for them – so we plant seeds towards the end of the rains and plant the seedlings just as dry season starts. This, of course, means that we’ll need to make sure they have enough water, which brings us back around to the well and pump. We catch rainwater from our roofs, too, but historically we haven’t had enough tanks to capture enough to get us through the dry season. This left us hauling water from town to water trees the last 2 years. We’re grateful that this year will be different!

As we develop our perennial polyculture garden system we are experimenting with raised beds for our annual vegetables and fruits. We chose to work with raised beds because we have some very poor soil near the bunkhouse and kitchen (zone 1) and lots of organic materials to fill them with. We used hügelkultur principles, starting with small tree trunks and large branches, and layering different types of organic matter in the beds. The last two layers are soil mixed with manure topped by dried grasses. We then covered the raised bed with a tarp which allowed the organic matter to start composting and killed off any weed seeds.

Last year we learned that the square foot gardening method in raised beds works best with seedlings. Seeds sown directly migrated around the bed and some even came up several meters away. This year we’ve more than doubled our raised beds and are now working on our planting design so that we can start seeds in the nursery in the next week or two. Through the planting design, we’ll define what crops to plant throughout next year and where to plant them. This will allow us to prepare the areas to be planted, whether in raised beds, no-dig beds, directly into our food forest, or in other areas of the finca.

Our plans for next year are ambitious and include:

  • Building a system of ponds and swales throughout the Rainbow Realm (another reason the water tank will be moved to a higher elevation on the land)
  • Establishing more layers of the food forest (tubers, ground cover, bushes, vines)
  • Increasing our annual fruit and vegetable production
  • Defining and starting to implement an erosion prevention program throughout the finca
  • Improving infrastructure in Rainbow Realm, including a trail system, signage and more
  • Building a multipurpose gazebo in Falls Meadow
  • Finding a way to get high-speed internet at the finca
  • Building the first individual dwelling(s) in the Rainbow Realm
  • Holding permaculture courses related to the above and sharing our learning

To achieve this, we’ll need people with a myriad of skills and knowledge. Once we establish our plan for the year, we’ll post our activity schedule here and on Facebook and Instagram (@8thLifeUbuntu). Maybe you’d like to come lend a hand and learn together with us!

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