Saturday, February 6, 2010

Post PDC - busy times

A Sabina chicken surveys the world outside the coop

Hello from me, Michele Sabto, assistant program manager from Jan-Feb 2010. Cameron Cross and Symmone Gordon are the new program managers, and have hit the ground running with new outdoor classroom construction, waste management plan, and much more. They are ably assisted by new Ugandan intern James Kolokola, who also teaches at the nearby Mbuye farm school.

In the quiet week after the PDC, before the children returned, Alex, a teacher from nearby Mbuye Farm School, visited and toured the site with Eric, a PDC student from France. With Symmone and I in tow, me with camera in hand, Eric and Alex identified over 40 native plants with edible and medicinal properties - not the well known mangoes, avocados and paw paws, but lesser known plants that many would dismiss as weeds. Among them are a type of oxalis (Oxalis corniculata) that is edible raw and has a tasty sweet flavour, and Black jack (Bidens spilosa), a plant whose leaves are edible when cooked. The outcome of this research will be a booklet, 'Plants at Sabina', which I'm putting together - stay tuned for its iminent internet release.

Eric PDC student, and Alex, a teacher at nearby Mbuye Farm School, with Alex's reference works on edible and medicinal plants in Uganda

The main vegetable garden is producing nutritious bounty, including cabbages, pumpkins, squash, dodo (amaranth), many different types of eggplant, kale (known as sukuma wik, in Luganda, pronounced sqwoomaweetch), nakati, ceylon spinach, and more. Harvesting happens in the morning, with the harvest handed to the kitchen staff who add it to the beans that are part of the daily posho (maize porridge)-and-beans diet of the children. The fresh garden produce is added towards the end of the cooking period so that the nutrients are preserved. Here is Mattias, one of the Sabina cooks, checking out some of the morning's harvest.

And here is the finished product, a tasty and nutritious combination of beans, squash, pumpkin, eggplant, capsicum, and greens (dodo and nakati). 

The children are getting to know the garden. Here is Violetta and her friend Philip enjoying green peppers and bitter eggplant in the main vegetable garden.

Thanks to the 67-strong brood of chickens, the children are now eating one egg per child per week, which is apparently a Ugandan nutritional standard. The eggs are large with strong hard shells and bright yellow yolks.

Two youngsters at the school, Daniel and Stephen, feed and water the chooks and collect the eggs. This is a big undertaking for them as they must do it before and after school. They were trained by Kim and Clive, the previous program managers, and are doing an excellent job. They are occasionally helped by Samuel, shown here preparing greens for the chooks. Each day the chooks get big bunches of greens from the garden, including comfrey but also a wide range of 'weeds', including many of those identified by Eric and Alex. Extensions to the chicken runs to allow the chickens more space to gather their 'green pick' are underway. We believe this will raise egg production even more.


Despite all the hard work, there is still time for play. Here a game of scrabble is underway, played in Luganda of course!

One of my big ongoing jobs has been sorting out the seed room. It now has a set of recycled shelves, salvaged from an old disused chook yard. After cleaning them thoroughly, Nyero Christopher and I painted them a jaunty blue colour and I set about organising the seeds. Seeds are now stored in alphabetical order on the shelves, and I have put many into sealed containers which I recycled from around the site and cleaned. A seed log book records all the seeds held in the room, along with details such as expiry date, source, planting notes, and culinary and other uses. Anyone can now look in the log to see if we hold a particular seed. So that this recording and cataloguing continues, I have written up seed room rules to be pinned to the seed-room wall. We hope to have these translated into Luganda soon.

I've enjoyed my time at Sabina and am looking forward to reading future blog posts about the exciting developments underway, as Cam, Symmone, James, and of course the children and staff of Sabina, take permaculture at Sabina to the next stage. 

Michele Sabto (that's me!) in the main vegetable garden

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Names, faces, people, places

Some names and faces of people and places at Sabina leading up to and during the PDC (a more detailed description and report of the actual PDC to come shortly)...

Will and helper Muenda Ronnie digging holes for the chook run extension. The honeymoon banda in the background.

The mighty Nyero taking to the caliandra with a panga (machete) - the pruning tool of choice in the tropics, where everything grows so fast that little clippers literally just won't cut it. Cam (co-manager with Symmone for the next six months) finished the job after the PDC, and the visual access through to the matoke (banana) area is great. New Ugandan intern James will be spending a lot of time here, and has already spelled a death knell for the banana weevils with his local knowledge.

The gorgeous Stephan who works in the kitchen, carrying some pineapples for afternoon tea. We ate incredibly well thanks to Stephan, Annette, Agnes and Stella, along with helpers Bukenya, John Boscoe, Matea, Todeo and Wynne.

Aunty and house mother Annette harvesting beans from the small mandala-style garden the aunties started in 2008 in the middle of the entrance area.

Aunt Stella upon first meeting Amanda after 18 months. She shrieked and jumped up in the air!

Eric from France planting one of four gliricidia cuttings he brought along with him from Malawi wrapped in wet newspaper. Gliricidia is a superstar legume, great for fodder, trellis, living fence, nitrogen fixing, mulch, and much more. A few weeks later all the cuttings had burst into leaf. Let's hope they make into trees so we can expand and share them (Sabina is just entering a short dry season so they will need a bit of watering until the next wet season in early march).

High-ranking Ugandan politician Matias speaking at the official opening of the PDC. He is a gifted orator, and during his talk he declared the Sabina library, with some emphasis, a "permanent permaculture training centre." He was followed by Dr Godfrey from the district agricultural office who said three times during his talk that he will do anything he possibly can to support the project (words very much in correspondence with all the help he's given so far). To paraphrase: "The Sabina permaculture project is aiming to help improve food security for Sabina and for the local community. This is exactly my mandate. So, Sabina does all the work, and I reap all the benefits!"

The wonderful Leslie (right) with equally wonderful volunteers Michele (left) and Will (centre) preparing salad from the garden. Every day of the PDC we had a fresh salad, with two PDC participants working with Michelle to make a salad every day. Not just any old salad either - fresh mango slices amongst many equally delicious ingredients.

Michelle and Charles making a start on a fruit tree inventory. In the end we located 150 fruit trees that have been planted since the project started (about ten in the last three weeks), and that are alive and doing well. About 20 or 30 are doing spectacularly (1.5-4m high), and the future of Sabina is looking very fruitful indeed.

Intern Mugarura Charles feeding the chooks. Charles popularizes catch phrases, and this season everyone was soon saying "push forward" and "big drum" (important person). In Charles and Nyero speak, one doesn't make an advance on a lady (remember they are 18 and 19 - year old boys), one "sends a missile to a secretary." The both of them speak in riddles, and it can be quite entertaining (or frustrating, depending on your mood) figuring out what on earth they are talking about. Potential permaculture sitcom makers, these are your men!

Lule, a PDC participant sent from Godfrey's office with a phenomenal understanding of local trees, plants, animals and insects. With his irresistible smile Lule would delve into details of trees at length, and is hoping to help Sabina establish a apairy for commercial-scale honey production.

Rachel Otuya from Kenya, a much appreciated PDC participant and teacher. Here she has just harvested a giant Russian sunflower head from the mandala garden.

Our dear friend Moses, an employee of Leslie's in Kampala, and a truly lovely man, in the throes of his final individual design presentation. Apparently upon arriving home after the course, Moses jumped out of the car and ran to start implementing some of his learnings. Within a week the garden had been tweaked and an amazing new chook house was complete.

And a few of the practical activities during the course:

Bamboo trellises for climbing beans etc with Andy.

Compost making with Will and Amanda. Within two days it was steaming - I think they actually cooked an egg in it.

Water level contour marking with Dan (so much faster and accurate than an A-frame, though does require expenditure on at least a metre of clear tube whereas an A-frame is free to make - it also requires very clear communication between the people at each end of the tube, as we discovered during this class!).

And a photo of Will, a real joy to be around, and who has put so much into Sabina these last few months, and who will be there for one more week before moving on. Safe journey will!

(Note - thanks to Dianne for those of the above that she took - basically all the good ones!)

Design Draft

Here's a pic of a diagram of a lot of the stuff that's been done around the home (bottom half of pic) and some of the shared strengths of the five school area (top half of pic) designs from the PDC (done in groups), which we'll try and add to this post shortly. The shared strengths were:
  • Move football field north of school (wow - radical!)
  • Open visual access between school and home (no thick tree plantings)
  • Make current paths of least resistance between home and school official paths lined with fruit trees
  • Extend food forest west from main driveway to the above paths
  • Locate multi-purpose building south-west of school
  • Have small zone 1 learning garden adjacent to food prep component of multi purpose
  • Have path from school leading through existing large vegie garden
  • Keep area north and south of east-west school building clear for assemblies
  • Add a compost toilet for kids with separate toilet for staff
  • Have dedicated carpark east of school
  • Have zone 4 harvest forest then 5 wild forest north of relocated playing field
  • Have a zone 4 harvest forest strip around whole school - especially western boundary
  • Separate playing field from outer zones with living fence of caliandra
  • Stabilise steep slope immediately north of school with vetiver grass or similar
Current project managers Cam and Symmone will be developing the design and an accompanying action plan in consultation with the school and home staff and other stakeholders over the next month - stay tuned!

Serious Rain

On January 19th it hailed and rained extremely fiercely for about 35 minutes. Rosemary stopped teaching as nothing could be heard underneath the tin roof of the library, and while the students got on with their design assignments, Will and Dan dashed around outside seeing what the water was up to.

A flood of water rushing past the kitchen, to flow into the mandala garden and the new banana circle.

Splashing down the Auntie's swale.

The top swale.

Bukenya Peter checking out the Aunties swale.

When the rain stopped the water continued to flow, overflowing from the Aunties swale into the large pond.

Amanda viewing the full pond.

Here's Will leading the banana circle implementation a few days prior.

After the rain it was full to the brim!

A few more random photos from recent weeks

A garden snail about five times bigger than what Australians are used to...

The chooks having just been released into their new run, where they will prepare the ground for vegetables for humans and food for themselves. As a rule of thumb, each chook can prepare 1 square metre in two weeks.

A chicken kindly letting us know the fence needed to be higher.

The mandala garden-cum-food forest in wet season wild lushness. See it 18 months earlier here.