Thursday, December 24, 2009

Counting down towards the PDC

Okay high time for a quick update (this one from Dan) leading up to Sabina's January PDC!

I really didn’t know what to expect returning to the site after over a year. In terms of the growing systems, however, I was blown away. The long dry season has stunted the first year’s growth of many fruit trees, weakening them and triggering a few diseases (including leaf scale on a few mangos and aphids on a few citrus, which the trees now seem to be outgrowing themselves with the rains). Yet about 90 of the 100 or so fruit trees I remember going in are alive and growing strongly, reaching for the sky with soft green fresh growth. The swales have been doing their thing to divert, slow and infiltrate water, and the top swale trench is filled with about 50 cm of moist organic matter and silt, the water having carried in the plentiful grevillia leaves from uphill. The legumes (cassia, leucaena, pigeon pea) sown as seed are coming up all over along the swale mounds, and in places are almost two metres high (the cassia seem to be growing slightly faster than the leucaena which is interesting). Vetiver grass and comfrey has grown strongly and has been separated out and replanted. It’s interesting that many of them have only germinated after a year of sitting in the ground, now they are emerging everywhere and are here to stay. The tallest trees so far are a moringa (4m +) and a couple of mulberries in the entrance areas (about 3m+).
1.5 year-old Moringa!

On Monday Nyero, Bukenya, Paul Kotu, Will (Sabina is lucky to have this fine fellow on board!) and I gave about half the fruit trees (totaling perhaps 200 now including mangoes, avocados, guavas, mulberries, jackfruit and moringa) a three course snack of comfrey leaves, worm castings (yes the worm farm is cranking!) and fresh cow manure, topped by cardboard and mulch to reduce grass competition.
Nyero purposefully strolling towards the task at hand

Will and Nyero treating the fruit trees.

With the legumes coming up on either side of the fruit trees, it’s exciting to think that many of the fruit trees will not only have a support tree at their service during the next dry season, proving windbreak, shade, and nitrogen, but that their roots will be well down into the moisture accumulating in the trench above them.
The top swale behind the football goal as we found it - a tough guild having survived the wet season to now 'push forward' with the rain...

The mandala garden is being managed by the kitchen staff and house mothers, who are planting strong locally-grown vegetables (eggplant, nakati and carrots) amongst the passion fruit dripping from above, the pawpaws within some beds, and four very healthy avocados which mark the beginning of a gradual transition over the next three or four years from vegie garden to food forest.
The mandala garden dripping with passionfruit (batunda)

The small round garden in the middle of the entrance area started by a few of the house mothers is continuing to produce plenty of veggies, and there are large scale plantings of sweet potato, Irish potato and beans coming along well.

What else – there is a lot going on! The tanks are full (100,000litres worth) and the taps are working fine, though the guttering and pipe work need a bit of attention (the tanks lack overflow outlets so when full the water backfloods back up the gutter!). The large vegie garden has recently been wrestled back into shape by Will and Sabina interns Nyero, Robin, Sharon and Charles, and there is a fair bit of food online and at different stages of maturity.

Will planting out in the large vegie garden

As for accommodation, the new bandas are unexpectedly luxurious! 68 Chickens are starting to lay (I think only about 5 eggs per day so far) and are in great health. They are weird chickens by Australian standards though – they won’t yet eat worms!

Kim and Clive’s work organizing implementation of the tanks, bandas, chicken system and large vegie garden is awesome as is Ralph’s work on the worm farm, paths, trees and Mike’s conversion of the entrance area from dust to grass and trees. A group of us harvested worm castings to not only fertilise fruit trees but to set up an experiment comparing watermelon grown with nothing, with cow manure, with worm castings and with both. Hopefully outcomes will be evident during the PDC in January.

The experiment to see if worm castings make a difference to watermelon growth. Each seedling is shaded with a banana stem cover and mulched with cut grass.

Socially things are hard to assess as the children and many staff are absent, and I understand that progress has been slow and in some places negative, with the students not being interested overall in gardening and the staff mostly busy with their own agendas. However, on Tuesday we interviewed 14 potential Ugandan assistant farm managers with several showing promise in terms of integrating gardens, the school and the home, and the local woman Anna who has been working in the large vegie garden is back on deck in a couple of days.

The financial sustainability of the project is far from a sure thing, though 80 avocados will go in shortly, an initial beehive is there and waiting for some occupants to arrive, and plans are afoot for major eucalypt planting on the 100 acres adjoining the main school area. So there are major challenges to be negotiated, and I look forward to seeing how things progress after the PDC and over the next year.