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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Garden in Bali

A Garden in Bali pt.3

With a Comfortable roof over our heads we progress outside to the transitional space between indoor and outdoor life. In Permaculture speak we will refer to this as Zone 1.

Zone 1

The zone nearest to the house, the location for those elements in the system that require frequent attention, or that need to be visited often, such as salad crops, herb plants, soft fruit like strawberries or raspberries, greenhouse and cold frames, propagation area, worm compost bin for kitchen waste, and so on.
Of course these examples are arbitrary and it is the idea not the example we are working with.
Our first concern is with the needs and wastes/resources created by our home.

In our case there is a need to mitigate the effects of traffic on the area, to maintain access in a way that doesnt damage the soil and also reduces negative effects on the house by factors like dust and mud, compaction of soil, discharge of waste and storm water.

One major design need is to accomodate the motorcycles that are the primary mode of transport on the island. Parking on bare soil stirs up mud and dust, compacts the earth and destroys the vegetative groundcover.

A traditional local practice is the location of a bare earth plaza adjacent to houses. This area allows drying of Crops like coffee, rice and chocolate in the full sun during the harvest seasons.

The Plaza is an open sunny expanse where tarpaulins can be laid out to dry valuable crops before sale or storage.
This system has evolved from the needs of the community and to maintain the functional space we will also maintain the small plaza, but with some modifications.
The drawbacks of this system are the earth compaction, the muddiness in wet seasons and dustiness in dry seasons. It creates a lot of housework to remove the dirt from tiles and concrete and the space though useful is 100% unproductive.

For areas of highest traffic a non slip surface will be installed as paths
For medium traffic areas and spaces to park visiting motorcycles a Cinderblock system will be installed that prevents compaction and allows rainfall to percolate through the soil profile. Planted inbetween the blocks are hardy and low or no mow species of grass used in local landscaping.
Volcanic Cinder blocks bound with some cement and interplanted with low  growing grasses  allow waste infiltration, reduce compaction and red dust/mud.

 When the fencing is complete to exclude local dogs, we will purchase 2 pairs of Chinese geese to mow and maintain the grassed areas. We have lived with geese before and like them a lot despite their tendency to be antisocial birds! Their hardiness, ability to resist predations and reliance on a primarily grass and herb diet make them perfect for our site. The 2 pairs will have in total 800m2 to range over, including a future water pool with gravity drain off to a fenced vegetable garden so the mucky water can be used to make composts. Supplemental feeding with mineral rich foodstuffs like Seaweed, Comfrey and protein and vitamin rich prunings from tree leaves like Moringa, Noni and Sesbania will help cycle nutrients in our garden and remineralize our soils. Tropical geese will be and adventure! and we look forward to researching local animal husbandry practices.
Basic information on raising geese

Water for the house is supplied from high up the mountain and is clean and potable. There is no need for water cisterns at this point. Water cisterns adjacent to volcanic areas can be problematic due to the ashfall  filling up gutters and tanks as sediment. First flow devices can be installed to clear most of this but currently the installation of water tanks is not a needed or cost effective modification. Should it be required in future there are several open sites on the property that can be reserved for that purpose.

Of greater concern is the treatment and reuse of contaminated waters. There are 2 sources of wastewater
Black water from a local style squat toilet that leads to a septic system, and Common greywater from showers and kitchen.

Bali has its fare share of gastrointestinal problems. The warm humid climate breeds bacteria very quickly and shoddy disposal of wastewater contaminates groundwater supplies. The main source of water in much of lowland bali are groundwater wells of dubious quality.
Given the quality of the Water the process of washing hands, utensils and food in tap water is somewhat self defeating!
That said Indonesians are clean people, in terms of their personal hygiene. In fact ive heard it said many thing Westerners smell because they don't wash enough. The truth behind this may be complicated by issues like unfamiliarity with the bathroom layout, i know i'm guilty of showering less than usual there when the prospects of yet another Ice cold bucket bath sink in. Also access to laundry facilities when travelling can be difficult as it takes time to wash and dry clothes. Its is also true that People from cool climates sweat a lot more than the locals. Im usually drenched in sweat while my friends brow merely shows a few sweat beads!
Clean people, in a filthy environment. Im still not sure how they do it! I can say for sure the environmental consciousness there is low, but improving rapidly. In contrast its hard to say for sure what is happening in Australia. In our consciousness we are much more aware of the needs of wildlife, of pollutants and environmental stewardship, but in practice we rely on expensive centralized systems to provide all our needs and remove all our wastes. Its easy to think you are clean and green when you aren't actually taking responsibility for your impacts.

So we want to take charge of our wastes, deal with them onsite, and discharge to others only outputs that we would be happy to receive back.

Our wastewater will be diverted through several systems.
Black water from a modified septic tank will exit to leach fields planted with high water use species like bamboo and reeds. Harvesting the biomass from these and pyrolizing it to make biochar is one way to cycle nutrients and water safely.
Grey water will pass through grease traps, then on through wastewater beds using wetland plants before moving to irrigate Timber and non food crops.

the next step is where we start to meet our own biological needs for food and medicine as we start using a variety of plant species to landscape the area directly around the house.
All covered in Part 4.


A Garden in Bali

A Garden in Bali Part 2

The Renovations continue!
August 2011 and back from another trip over to see Friends and family. The transformation has been astonishing. From The delapidated old girl i first saw the house has been transformed into an attractive and comfortably habitable home.

From this...

To this!
Special Thanks to my Good friends and Dynamic Team, I Wayan Joni Eka putra and his Father 
It has been a painless excercise for me and i owe this all to my good Balinese friends. It has also been very cost effective! Well in comparison to getting any work done in Australia its has been cheap.

Thanks to a Government scheme coming through after the renovation there is now a 900W electricity supply to the House. It is a prepaid electrical meterbox, one goes to the local shop and buys a voucher for electricity. This number is entered using a keypad on the electrical box in the kitchen and the display them shows the credit of kilowatt hours remaining which slowly winds backwards. No service fee, no nasty surprises at the end of the quarter! I think it is an excellent means for encouraging efficiency and avoiding debt traps for low income communities.

the 900W supply gives us a modest energy budget to work within that really is ample for our needs. Currently we have Compact fluorescent lights installed but we will plan for eventual replacemnet with LED lighting to cut consumption even further. A 75Watt Refrigerator will be purchased and set up off the ground with good airflow to optimize its efficiency.
These days i dont own a Television. Media content streams in via the internet to be watched on laptops, tablets or other mobile devices. If a TV was required there are several LCD TV units with a modest 44W  power consumption - yes, both fridge and TV each using less than an old incandescent light bulb!

During the Day there is no need for lighting indoors as glass tiles placed in the roof act as skylights.

We are installing a gas hot water system purchased on ebay in Australia. 10L a minute instant gas hot water system, the AGA 7635.
supercheapaussies ebay
Despite the abundance of local water we seek to maintain our use within preset budgets. A shower head brought from Australia using 8L a minute should provide sustainable comfort. A future project is to remodel the septic and greywater systems to accomodate expected flows, filter and discharge water into the gardens around specially selected fuel and timber trees.

Gas hot water for cleaning and showers is fueled by elpigi (LPG). In future a solar hybrid system might be installed if a unit can be made or modified locally. The problem with Solar hot water systems on the market now is the built-in lifespan. They are not made of materials designed to last more than 8 years. Tweaking this with better materials could extend this lifespan considerably.
"These days solar water heater tanks are usually made from ordinary mild steel coated with vitreous enamel coating (the manufacturers call it glass lining). The tank has a sacrificial anode to prevent rusting and the anodes are designed to last about 8 years. Once the anode is gone the tank will probably rust out. A company from Perth used to manufacture heaters with stainless steel tanks, sadly they were bought out by one of the larger Australian manufacturers and the stainless steel was replaced by enamelled steel. 
... takeup of solar heater has been disappointing but is probably due to the fact that the better quality imported units (Rheem, Solarhart and now Ariston) are very expensive (Rp25 to Rp30 million), a substantial investment. Cheaper units (such as Wika) can cost anything from Rp11 to Rp20 million. A solar water heater will save between 2 and 3 million rupiah a year in water heating costs. Solar water heaters tend to rust out and in tests I was involved in many years ago this was usually after about 8 years only just after they had paid for themselves.
If manufacturers of standard solar water heaters were to take a more ethical approach in their manufacturing design and methods solar water heaters could last much longer and probably more people would by them. "

A twin tub washing machine is a possible future addition. We find it worthwhile to outsource laundry in an economy like Bali. We would like to work with local providers to see if any appropriate technologies and inovations can reduce their toil and mitigate any pollution caused by the process. This might be contributions towards technology like a washing machine, infrastructure and design for purifying waste water before discharge to the environment and the selection of biodegradable and minimally polluting detergents.

And that is Zone zero for now. Zone Zero? Its permaculture speak for the House :)

Zone 0

The house, or home center. Here permaculture principles would be applied in terms of aiming to reduce energy and water needs, harnessing natural resources such as sunlight, and generally creating a harmonious, sustainable environment in which to live and work.
And now we move into Zone 1, the immediate surrounds, in my case the remainder of the 200m2 plot after the footprint of my 6 x 9 m house is deducted.

Why Indonesia?

I always knew Indonesia was a treasure trove of interesting plants. Its one of those biological hotspots on the planet where colliding tectonic plates match with colliding floral and faunal assemblies from different lineages. Asia and Australasia meeting across an archipelago of so many islands that nobody can agree how many there are!

Add to that the history of peoples and their cultures that have moved through this space over the millenia, discovering and rediscovering it. The Ancestors of The Tasmanians, the Aboriginals, the Papuans, The Hobbits of flores, the proto-malay who became the Batak tribespeople, and todays Malay groups that dominate the western islands. Everyone has had a turn on their way out of africa. My perspective on going there is not a case of seeking wildness but quite the opposite, im seeking knowledge from a landscape that has been crafted by humans for millenia and bears our muddy footprints all over it, if humans can be part of nature then this is a key place to look for it.

It is a biologically rich zone. Without it we wouldn't have products we know well like Sugar, Nutmeg, Clove, Sandalwood. And we have a lot more to discover yet, add up the spices you know, and now imagine theres more than double that you don't even know about. Well if you are a spice lover you will appreciate that!

Most people know about the origins of agriculture as the english speaking world knows it. It started independently in several locations. The fertile crescent of the middle east, India,The fertile floodplains of china, Mexico,the Andes and northern Argentina. They domesticated plants and animals that were mostly annual species, living and dying in a single season and giving us grains, pulses and a small number of domesticated animals we could raise on crop residues.

But there are other zones that gave us a different kind of agriculture, based on tree crops and perennial plants that have shaped human history just as much, and hold the key to development in future. Papua gave us sugar cane, the indonesian archipelago gave us many spices

Four areas hold a great interest to me, Central america, the Amazon, Afghanistan/Persia and Indonesia. These places are very rich in fruits, nuts and medicinal plants. Africa too but that continent remaisn the dark continent with much of its wealth still unrecognized.

Why do i love plants so much? Im sure i'm the eccentric to my friends. Well my view is that nothing in this world is so deserving of mastery than to know your habitat. each plant (and animal) species we cohabit with is living ut its own life and agenda concurrent with us. Plants create everything we truly need. we are biological entities first and foremost

its like asking a painter why they love paint. Paint is colour, it gives the ability to blend and create, to express, to sustain. Colour is the power that allows a painter to have a voice

Monday, September 12, 2011

Mapping the Useful plants of Townsville

Townsville PermaSurvey Google Map

Its our Approach when entering a new climatic zone to Survey and map the locality of useful species so that we can get a better idea of the range of species that can be used in a permaculture design.

This Teaches us a lot about the climate and helps to ensure a successful design process. By mapping the species we can identify what is likely to grow well in the area and the approximate mature sizes of these plants. It can also suggest useful combinations of plants by seeing what negative or positive interactions these plants have on each other.

By mapping existing gardens and any remnant trees we can also start to understand the history of the place and the Ethnic makeup. Some species may act as indicator species for particular ethnic groups and we can follow this up by making an effort to meet and learn from these gardeners. We get to make new connections and learn more about how to grow and use new plants suited to our area

In Australia this is especially important as the dominant Anglo/European derived ethnic group migrates into the tropical regions and attempts to produce food in a challenging and unfamiliar climate. We are lucky to have had an influx of people from Tropical regions all over the world so that today we have crops from the pacific islands, Asia, Africa and the Americas. By getting to know gardeners from these regions who have settled here we can learn more about how to grow and use their plants in our own gardens.

Some examples are the Islanders and Papuan gardeners to our north who have brought crops like Aibika, a tree 'spinach', Pit pit and who use Pumpkin leafy greens (Tips and tendrils) as a tasty and nutritious green vegetable. Gardeners from Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines can show us how to use Unripe pawpaw (Papaya) as a salad vegetable, how to use new flavouring herbs like hot mint (Polygonum foetidum), sawtooth coriander  and fragrant pandan in our cooking. These people have knowledge of traditional diets rich in fruits and vegetables that are just what we need as we try and transition from a post colonial and post WW2 industrialized diet back to a healthy way of eating.

When designing a Home garden is it is essential to know about the needs and habit of the plants we use. We need to know how big these plants get, what kind of light and water regime they require and particulars like cross pollination or seed saving strategies we need to employ to get adequate and sustainable yields. Books don't do this very well, they often give guides based on other books or on the experience of authors in a place very different to our own. For a given location the size of a tree may vary greatly depending on depth of soil, fertility and climate. If we can see the trees growing locally we have a make a much better guess on their eventual dimensions.  

To do a PermaSurvey you need only a few things. A botanist, bicycles, a street map you can draw on and internet access. First we define our area, for example a suburb, then we casually ride (or walk) up and down each street marking on our map as we go plants of interest.

I define plants of interest in this case as edible plants, herbs, useful support plants like nitrogen fixing trees or wildlife attracting plants (local or exotic wildlife dont have prejudice!). In a place like townsville i exclude some extremely common plants such as the common stringy mango, or tall coconuts. I may include special cultivars of mango or dwarf coconuts. I also mark gardens of interest where there is an abundance of useful plants so that people can see how all the elements can fit together and interact coherently.

Once back home this paper data is tranferred to google maps, honing in on the trees and gardens using streetview. The entry is matched to an open source link on the Internet such as wikipedia. That way people can view and contribute their special knowledge to the body of knowledge on that plant species.

The map then becomes an open source educational resource for any given human settlement. Useful for designers and educators to enhance the botanical literacy of local communities.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What should i grow? #1 things you cant buy

When planning your Forest garden you will inevitably find there is more available to grow than you have land, labour or water  to fit and so choices and sacrifices have to be made

There are different priorities for every gardener but for the gourmet gardener or those with specific ethnic tastes the first answer may well be to grow what cant be bought.
Many species just aren't commercially available, perhaps because your tastes are quite unusual or sometimes for legal reasons things cannot be traded easily.

Here are a few examples to consider and some explanation of why they might be so hard or impossible to buy

Mulberry (Morus alba)

So prolific, so tasty, but so unsuited to commercial horticulture. Its a perfect plant for a childs garden, they strike easily from cuttings, grow fast, fruit very early, taste great. Silkworms can be raised on the leaves to teach them biology and textile history. The prunings make great biochar, the leaves make a tasty tea that lowers blood sugar. And if they stain, just rub an unripe fruit on the stain (hands or clothes) then rinse to wash away the pigment :) Ducks and chickens love them so great tree inside a chook run.


Like the mulberry this tasty fruit just isnt made to be machine handled. Its one of the first tree to fruit in spring and kids love them. They are evergreen and quite attractive trees. they can be bought grafted but seedlings grow good quality fruit and bear in 3 to 4 years from seed.

Panama cherry (muntingia calabura)

A tropical cherry, of sorts, not a real cherry but for a wild plant surprisingly tasty. It is a recolonizer of wastelands sprouting up in rubble and kickstarting a new forest. it gives welcome shade in hot tropical climates. Enjoy it till other trees outgrow it

Fresh figs

There is reason the greek and romans loved and cultivated these fruits so much, they are delicious! but try and buy a ripe fig. A sun ripened fig is sweet and syrupy and a mouthful morsel. they will also grow on the rockiest most horrible sites and once established are quite drought hardy.

Sun ripened tomato

hybrid or heirloom, i dont think it matters, as long as its vine ripened. try it and you will be converted as the full flavour of what a tomato can be explodes your senses.

Kweni, Wani,  Kemang

There are thousands of cultivars of the common mango (Mangifera indica), but did you know its just one of many species? the centre of Diversity for the genus Mangifera (69 species) is Indonesia and malaysia.
Kweni (Mangifera odorata) is similar to the common mango but more tart and also delicious. It fruits well in areas too wet for the common mango.
Wani is a balinese indigenous form of Mangifera caesia, the best forms are large and stringless and have a taste and texture like combined custard apple and mango, highly aromatic and very sweet.
Kemang is a javanese form of the Mangifera kemanga but more sour and esteemed for local dishes like Rujak.


Like the mulberry this unusual gem just wont make it to the shops except as a novelty. But it is sweet juicy and kids love it. It would make a good street tree.


Not a tropical plant, but i thought id put in some oddballs for our temperate readers. Akebia is a genus of vines from temperate north east asia. They are especially appreciated in Japan, and the japanese know their food better than almost anyone else. Several cultivars can be found on ebay from time to time under a search for "rare plants akebia"


This is another unusual tree, this time from West africa but supplanted to the carribean with the slave trade. Salt fish with ackee fruits is the national dish of Jamaica.
Here is the Recipe with a rather Tasty Jamaican!

Of course like so many of the best things the pleasure comes with some poison. Unripe ackee are poisonous as is the seed and can cause jamaican vomiting sickness. It is a dangerous and acute illness and for that reason i doubt any litigation savvy restaurant in Australia will ever serve this food. If you want it you will have to grow yourself.


Once you eat Garden eggs, you will know how good eggs can be. Fed on kitchen scraps, some grains, garden weeds and vegetable trimmings and allowed to forage for insect protein and tender grass shoots on your lawn you will taste the difference. even before you taste it you will feel it in the weight and thickness of the shells, and the firmness and deep colour of the yolks. vitamin enhanced, amino acid fortified, phytonutrient impregnated eggs. You just cant buy eggs this good. Especially since various egg boards banned the sale from unapproved suppliers.
Your rubbish bin wont smell cos all scraps will be recylced, your garden will be more pest free, chickens have great character to watch and interact with, your garden will increase dramatically in fertility and besides all that - home grown eggs just taste the best. 

Pit Pit

Pit Pit (Saccharum edule) is a sugar cane like grass but it does not produce a sweet stem, instead it produces a flower that is cooked in coconut milk by islanders much like Europeans cook cauliflower in a white sauce. It is highly sought after and often sold out at markets very early.

Khat & Kava

Khat (Catha edulis) and Kava (Piper methysticum) are two enjoyable and medicinal herbs that are well suited to forest garden cultivation. Khat is an East african shrub originating in the same region as Coffee and also has stimulating properties. Its is a mild stimulant with slightly inebriating qualities. It in on par with Tea and Coffee in its consciousness altering capacity, and its addictive potential. It soft leaves and twig are chewed in significant quantities and is only suitably active as a fresh herb. Its abuse potential among western palates would be extremely low due to the consumption method that leaves you looking more like a dairy cow chewing cud! But for those from the 'old country'  the best option is just to quietly grow your own
Kava comes from some areas of the Pacific and similarly its a culturally acquired taste, something akin to muddy water mixed with anaesthetic to the neophyte! but it is greatly enjoyed by those who seek it. Its visible effects are something like marijuana - it makes people relaxed, destressed, and inclined to sit around a lot talking. But unlike Marijuana or alcohol it is mainly the body that is relaxed and sedated, the mind remains clear and sharp, but destressed. Maybe your legs wont support you, but you can make decisions on it clearly and without angst. Kava is an elixir of peace and used to settle disputes in a civilized and enjoyable way.
Sadly if its not alcohol the Australian governmnet wont let you have any enjoyment, so its import is banned except as personal luggage and the limit is 2 Kg per adult. To buy it in Australia needs a doctors script and most doctors are unfamiliar with its safe and effective stress relieving capability. so.. grow your own     

Comfrey, Lungwort, Coltsfoot, Calamus

These Herbs are restricted for sale as herb in Australia. According to the Therapeutic Goods Administration they represent some kind of threat to societies welfare and have been banned for sale or inclusion in therapeutic goods.
I can't say the TGA and i see eye to eye on these matters. These are not plants with abuse potential but quite specific herbal remedies for specific ailments. Lungwort and coltsfoot i have used with great success for my own bronchial troubles. I have sped up wound healing using comfrey, as have many others. Calamus (Acorus calamus) is a powerful detoxifying herb and flavouring agent for herbal beers and liquers.
So rather than fight the powers, we can simply ignore them and grow our own medicines. This is only a small sample of the plants of great healing power that are now prohibited from sale and i expect the list will grow. So sourcing, growing and taking charge of your own health is a matter of some urgency.