Brief intro. My name is Jemes (Bad Pollen). I am an alumni/past PDC student of Jeff Nugent. (Hi Jeff, good to hear your latest book is almost ready for publication. Congrats.)
I have been working with village-level sustainability projects in southern India and at present, Thailand. I came to Thailand from India a couple of months ago. I was intending to be back in India by now but I have fallen in love with Thailand and keep finding excuses to stay on for another few months.
I have been working beside (though on different projects) a past student of Geoff Lawtons’, Loong Yoot. Along with the assistance of a couple of Rosemary Morrow's past students, Yoot has been busy passing on the legacy of Geoff's training.
So the torch of permaculture is being actively passed from one dirt-soiled hand to another, as it should be. The learning curve gets a bit steep at times. But we hook in the toes and fingernails and keep right on climbing.
Working in your own backyard is one thing. Doing it in someone else's patch is a different thing entirely. There is so much more involved than just permaculture techniques. So many other issues involved, but I will save that for another post, if anyone is interested.
I have a technical question. I do not normally have the luxury of computer access so I will post my query here while I have the chance. Mostly though, it is a chance to say hello, especially to Jeff. It took me a little longer than planned to get to India, but did get there eventually, Jeff.
Situation: Northern Thailand. Fairly mountaineous area in parts. Tropical climate. Latitude about 19 degrees. Two monsoons per year, the lesser of the two in a couple of months time. Annual rainfall about 1200mm with winter months of almost nil rainfall.
Working with a local villager who has cleared and planted a very steep NW facing slope. Not entirely his fault as under the terms of his land tenure, he has to demonstrate that he is actively cultivating the land. Soil is heavy red clay loam. Rocky on top to heavy clay subsoil.
He has planted papaya, bananas and a variety of other species, right across this slope. Hard working dude. Works in the forests by day, comes home at night, then goes out for another few hours to hand water (buckets) his plants. The ground is steep enough to make walking across it quite treacherous.
Several issues come to mind. Apart from his plants, the slope is pretty barren and rocky. When the heavy rains hit, erosion is probably going to be an issue. The current soils shed water well without a lot of penetration. So during the dry months, keeping the plants watered is a big job.
Due to the slope and the level of village technology all work is done by hand and hoe. So Darren's wonderful Keyline designs are probably not viable except at the micro level. (Gawd, Darren, I would love to have some of your technology, aerial photos,sat maps etc over here.)
Initial ideas are as follows. Deepen and broaden the small craters he has created around each plant and including a 'spillway' for excess. Look at adding in some herbaceous guild companions. (help shade the soil, improve utilisation of area, more organic matter into the clay soils, root zone penetration etc.)
Into each crater, add some gypsum (hydrated), builder's plaster (unhydrated), or dolomite (lime) to help break up the heavy clay (especially the subsoil). I dont know the pH but I am assuming it is probably fairly acid. Should also help improve the plant nutrient accessibility.
Apart from the dreaded (and expensive) superphospate fertilizers etc the idea of adding stuff to the soil keeps getting me queer looks from the locals. Lime is something you paint your mudbrick walls with (yeah, I know, different lime) and what's gypsum? (umm, its white and and and...bugger)
And of course mulching and manuring. (though not a lot of livestock in this area, except for elephants). Earthworms would be great but not many of them around. The slopes get too dry and the flat lands are all flooded for weeks at a time for rice production, making the soils pretty anaerobic.
Planting 'horseshoes' of Vetiver grass or similar to help stabilise the areas around the plants and again, improve organic matter, water retention etc.
Okay, coming to my question. Apart from the 'horseshoes', I am wondering how else to utilise the vetiver grass. Two thoughts occur to me. Planting contour bands/swales across the slope to reduce downslope water velocity, silt entrapment etc etc. Or to get fancy and plant them in a 'fishnet' pattern to direct water into the plant craters, especially for the lower rainfall months.
So 'fishnets' or swales? I am tending towards contour swales but undecided. It is awkward because at some times of the year, the lack of water is the problem. Other times of the year, there is too much. The soil itself also needs improving heaps to improve water penetration and retention. Comments anyone? What do you reckon, Darren?
Any ideas welcomed.
Cheers from Thailand,