Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Why is it called the Auntie's Swale?

Because this is who planted the mango, avocado and jackfruit trees in and around it (on October 6th):

Auntie Stella

Auntie Silvia

Auntie Namaze

Auntie Kowala

Auntie Flo (we miss you!)

Auntie Agnes

Auntie Sarah

Uncle Richard

Uncle Mike with a grafted avocado in Freedom Park with young Golobus Edwards

Apologies to Auntie Deborah, Auntie Justine, Auntie Mirembe and others who did plant a tree, but whose photos we've yet to get up here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Goodbye Sarah

Once again we have lost someone very special. This time our beloved Peace Corps volunteer, Sarah, has left us after spending two years. All of Sabina is feeling the gravity of her departure and she is already greatly greatly missed. Take care Sarah.

Report from Dick Copeman

After two and a half weeks travelling around Uganda with my family, I arrived at Sabina on Wednesday afternoon 22nd October, to be met by Dan and Mike, plus the kids and staff. I spent the next two days getting acclimatised and helping a little with the permaculture project.

The mandala garden was most impressive and very productive. The extensive water management system of swales, diversion drains and ponds had recently been dug and I was able to help Dan and Mike with planting of the swale mounds and the banks of the pond.

On the Saturday I ran a workshop for about 20 people, including Sabina staff and teachers, two local farmers, agricultural college teachers, three community gardeners from near Kampala, some American Peace Corps volunteers, and a couple of the Sabina students. The topics covered in the workshop included soil improvement, seed saving, worm farming and, by special request, pests and diseases.

With most people in Uganda being able to grow their own food, the workshop became more an exchange of ideas and practices between me and the participants. They were all knowledgeable about crop rotation and companion planting, but seemed to have little awareness of composting and the use of mulch. The rationale for saving seeds and the disadvantages of hybrid and GM seeds were appreciated by most but one participant spoke in favour of GM, mentioning an improved (?GM) variety of banana in support of his argument.

They were very interested in the 'white oil' (soap and vegetable oil) spray concentrate that I made and then used on some aphids on cabbage in the mandala garden. They were particularly enthused when we started a small worm farm in a container Mike had fashioned out of an old trunk, with compost worms that I had brought with me from Australia. A tour of the permaculture project led by Dan and me was also included in the workshop and one of the agriculture teachers said he was most impressed by the productivity and health of the mandala garden.

The workshop was held in the library which had been recently painted and cleaned, and the Sabina kitchen made a sumptuous lunch for the workshop participants, including some greens from the mandala garden. Three photographers from the US and Ireland were visiting Sabina and took photos of the workshop.

Evaluation of the workshop by the participants was quite favourable, though I had overestimated the ability of some of the participants to fully understand my Aussie English. I could have used an interpreter more than I did. Ten year old Kayinga Andrew's comment, when asked to say one good thing and one not so good thing about the workshop, was that "The good thing is that I learned that worms are good for the soil. The bad thing is that I am sad because I used to think they were dangerous and when I was digging I would cut them"!

The success of this workshop, and of the others that have been held, certainly indicates that one key activity of the project should be an ongoing series of educational activities.

Dan and Mike and I spent some time discussing the permaculture design that Rowe, Dan, Amanda and Mike had done for the Sabina site. I was impressed by the design, and proof of its effectiveness was already evident in the productive mandala garden and the performance of the swales in the heavy rain. My only comment was that it may be preferable to stop vehicles using the turnaround area between the library and the home, so that it could be planted with trees and grass or other ground cover plants to prevent the dust in the dry and mud in the wet from such a large expanse of bare earth.

I did make some suggestions for other trees that could be included in the plantings, including Inga (Ice cream bean), Acerola Cherry, Tamarind, Carob, Ibeka and Black Sapote. I said I would see if I could post some seed of these trees to the project. However, I have found that seeds and plants are restricted imports into Uganda and I would have to get phyto-sanitary certification and a whole lot of other paper work, unless I lied on the declaration, and then I could be liable to prosecution. Inga is a legume that has shown weedy potential in some areas of Australia with a similar climate to Sabina's, so perhaps it should not be considered. Most of the others may well already be in Uganda and may be able to be tracked down at other permaculture projects or tree projects. I wil do some more internet research and let you know if I find anything.

After the workshop, Uncle Ddembe Joseph showed me his family's garden next door to Sabina, and then took me further on to show me a plot of land on which Bkenya Peter, with Uncle Ddembe Joseph's support, is growing passionfruit on wire trellises with an understorey of coffee. This great example of productive permaculture stacking has been established as a cash crop to generate funds to support Bkenya Peter's further education, and I was impressed by the effort that Bkenya Peter and Ddembe Joseph had put into it. It also demonstrates that the local people can be quite enterprising and that the permaculture project can work with those people and support them in their own projects.

While the first priority for the permaculture project at Sabina must be to grow vegetables, fruit, eggs, milk and meat to broaden the diet of the children, it may be worth exploring, as the project develops, the future possibility of growing cash crops as well, along the lines of Bkenya Peter's project.

So thankyou to you all for giving me the opportunity to visit and contribute, in a small way, to this exciting project. I learnt a lot and enjoyed it very much, even the cold sponge bathing, the posho and the beans! And the kids, of course, were amazing. I will never forget them.

Cheers and Best Wishes

Dick Copeman
Northey Street City Farm
Brisbane, Australia

Note: See photos from Dick's workshop here

Friday, November 7, 2008

Swales in Action

Here are a couple of photos of a couple our swales after a rain.

An article about the project by Rosemary Morrow

Check out Rowe's fantastic introduction to the project (Although note as far as I know it was only ever two Saturdays where it was tea only for breakfast - otherwise the maize porridge is there and it's actually not too bad, though we found we'd be hungry within a few hours if working outside).

It finally rained!

So after months of planning, marking out, and digging diversion drains, swales and ponds, I was kind of eager to see some rain. The rainy season was supposed to start in mid-September but it never did. By late October, when I was due to leave, we had had one good rain (that I was away for) and several smaller rains, with some but not a whole lot of water flow happening. Almost daily dark clouds with thunder and lightening would loom overhead then go and rain about three kilometers west - we learned that Sabina is in a chronic rain shadow. Anyways, I was hungry to experience a decent downpour - to see the ground completely soaked to capacity and then for hard rain to continue with 100% run-off. All our earthworks were in place and like open arms waiting to receive.

I had resigned myself to the fact it probably wouldn't happen when, at about 1am on my very last night, October 26th, it rained! And it rained hard and long! After an hour of good rain I leapt out of bed, borrowed Mike's headlamp, and headed out into the night in my boxer shorts to splash up and down the swales. It was just fantastic, with the top two swales (in the driveway orchard) full and overflowing into the third, which was about 2cm from overflowing, the diversion drain behind the library starting to flow, and two of the three long swales (what we call the uncles swale and the blind river - you can see them in the Our Latest Design Efforts entry below) almost totally full, the latter receiving an enormous flow of water flooding in via a diversion drain from the bare-grounded entrance area. Thousands and thousands of litres of water channeled, caught, sitting still, and soaking in. The papaw and yam circle was impressive, totally full and just starting to overflow, as was the last swale below the bathrooms. I used the water level to check the different spillways and then went back to bed. When it kept raining I headed out again at about 4am. Deborah the home administrator saw a light moving around and thought she better investigate before realising "Oh it's probably just Dan or Mike in the swales." It was a wonderful goodbye treat, and I'm sure Mike will have some photos of the water fun up on the blog soon, as the rainy season continues and hopefully picks up its pace. For a while there I was thinking we should rename it the slightly less dry season!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Some random quotes

A few statements made in and around Sabina over the last month or two that made me smile. Not exact quotes but as close to them as I can remember:

"The usual rules about planting fruit trees don't apply in Uganda. In Uganda, to put cow manure in the hole when you plant a mango would be a waste of manure" - Father Edwards

"I learned that worms are useful. I used to think they were dangerous and when I was digging I would cut them" - Kayinga Andrews, age ten, giving feedback to the group after Dick Copeman's recent workshop

"Permaculture is a design system for sustainable living and landuse" - Random student overheard replying when asked by another student what permaculture was near the garden during lunchbreak - made me raise my eyebrows I can tell you!

"Now we've planted all these fruit trees we cannot go backwards. We can only go forward" - Uncle Ddembe Joseph

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

100 Fruit Trees and Counting...

On 29 October, Sabina had the official opening of its community resource centre, and the day was filled with speeches, entertainment, and district officials. As part of the celebration we had Rose Nalubowa Kalyesubula, the Assistant Education Officer of Rakai District plant our 100th fruit tree.

Weeraba Mukwano

On 27 October, our dear Uncle Dan departed to the saddness of many and to the utter delight of others (See the photo below of Rashida after we told her he was leaving). Goodbye Uncle Dan, you will be missed and we hope to see you again soon. Gebale Ssebo.

Workshop with Dick Copeman

On 25 October we held a workshop taught by Dick Copeman of Australia. 21 people came from all over the community to learn about Soil Improvements, Seed Saving, Natural Pest Management, and Worm Farming. The day was a great success and everyone involved, including us, learned a lot. Read a follow-up report from Dick here.