I can’t believe how fast time is going by! In our last update dry season had just started and now we’re entering rainy season. So much has happened in the interim! Before getting into that – I just want to say that I’m psyched! Why?
We’re offering another on-site PDC!
Join us from July 3 – 16, it’s going to be awesome! There are 4 online preparatory classes in June and over 90 hours of on-site experiential learning in July. The course is being held on Finca Ubuntu, the site of our forming ecovillage. Rainbow Bunkhouse is being updated to accommodate 10 people and we’ll have a few tent sites available for overflow. We’ll have excursions, guest facilitators, and tons of practical, hands-on experience. You can find all the details about the course here: https://8thLifePanama.org/PDC/.
So, what have we been up to since we last wrote?
The nursery is finished, with lots of planting benches, worktables and tons of seed trays and plants of all shapes and sizes. Bites out of leaves and some leafless tomatoes and granadillas led us to fence the nursery it to keep iguanas out. That worked for about a week, then we noticed that something else was getting at the plants. A neem oil spray worked for a day or two. Cinnamon didn’t seem to deter them at all (both remedies suggested by permie plant folks and local people). Then we found the culprits! A leaf-cutter ant nest in the ground inside the nursery! Those little buggers were feasting on all our baby plants! A bit of diatomaceous earth should do the trick! We’re sure that some of the plants will bounce back, but the effects of the leafcutters were really disheartening. One day a thriving plant, the next day a bare stick in the ground. ☹ Why attack the plants in the nursery when they have a whole jungle to eat?!?
We also put iguana fencing around the raised bed area where we plant our annuals. This year we haven’t been able to get as much production as we wanted, what with iguanas and leaf cutters decimating our nursery and us getting a bit of a late start. So far four cantaloupe plants survived. Yeah!! Before we got to fencing the raised beds and realizing we’d need to scout out the leaf cutters, something ate up the squash and lima beans. We’ll figure this out, though, and soon we’ll transplant some tomatoes and peppers into the raised beds.
Were you wondering what we used to build the iguana fences? Or asking yourself what will deter iguanas? Much like the nursery itself – we found used materials. Mind you, we didn’t know we were going to need iguana fencing when we made this find – someone was replacing their roof and we asked about the old roofing material. At $10/sheet it was a steal! And just in the nick of time to make iguana proof fences. Iguanas can’t climb the metal roofing, so if there’s no place they can get under the fence, you’re good to go. I wish the leaf cutters were as easy to deter!
But, enough about iguanas and other plant-destroying pests.
An amazing group of people attended the Permaculture Design Course (PDC) we held in January. It was such an honor to be their Permaculture guide. I caught Covid during the course – but as they say, “the show must go on”. Everyone pitched-in, we rearranged the schedule to include more self-study while I was recuperating, and we completed the course. Not only did we complete it – the students presented some fabulous designs.
Water was one of the main topics of our PDC. Our friend David helped us to learn about earthworks and swales and we dug a system of swales and pit ponds in our food forest. We learned how to use the zip level to find the contour and mark the path. We dug one swale by hand, then David took the backhoe right into the food forest without damaging a single tree! Now that the rains are starting, we’ll begin planting alongside the swales and in the loose earth from the excavated ponds. That’s something we’re really looking forward to!
With water being a crucial element on any farm, especially in an area like ours with long dry seasons, in February and March we worked on several other water related projects. We leveled the rainwater catchment tank at the bunkhouse and fixed the overflow pipes, directing overflow water into the swale in two locations. We also installed the final gutter on the nursery roof and moved the rainwater catchment tanks to a better location, levelling the ground and re-engineering the piping. With these fixes, the Rainbow Camp area was made ready for rainy season just in time! With the first rain, the nursery tank is 1/3 full, so it’s a good thing we’ll be adding another tank to that system.
For more rainwater catchment, we brought in a huge excavator and fixed (well, totally redid) the pond we’d dug last year. The purpose of this pond is to catch water at the top of a runoff gully. By retaining the water in the highest meadow of this area of the finca, we will start to re-sculpt the landscape here. Last year we planted trees and vetiver around the edge of the pond. This year we’ll plant a groundcover across the weir and several rows of vetiver down its sides. Over time, the plan is that the pond will naturalize and become an oasis with its own microclimate, attracting more biodiversity.
You might wonder why we’re catching water at the top of the natural runoff gully. Several years ago, we tried to hold the water at the bottom of the gully by building a damn. After rebuilding it 2 or 3 times, we realized that our efforts there were futile. Flash floods blew out our damns every time. We also tried building one a bit further up the gully with the same result. This led us to realize that we need to slow the water starting at the top.
Another water related project is to automate the well pump and set-up the large reserve tank. This tank will be located at the highest spot on Rainbow Realm (our name for this section of the land). We’re currently working on the design for the tank’s base, and we’re taking care of a few holes and rusty spots. To fill it, we’re adding a pressure tank to our well water system and will be running the piping uphill so it can feed downhill by gravity.
I’m sure I’ve missed a few things in this update, so why not come see for yourself?