Monthly Archives: February 2015

Water Catchment

When it rains it pours. There is little worse than looking out over a barren dry landscape, having nothing to drink, and remembering all the rain that, a month ago, washed away neighbors seedlings and soil. There is often adequate water but uncaptured it causes devastating erosion followed by thirst. There are numerous ways it can be captured .

The back of our house is metal roofing to catch rain water for drinking. We have big dreams of getting a water tank for $300. Keep dreaming girl.
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The front of our house is thatch so we collect the water for washing… and drumming. Best way to stack functions!

The pond catches water for agriculture and fish purposes. The dirt was used to make a terrace for working and playing.
terrace
dry sweet potato

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Catching rain water is absolutely vital. Sometimes water doesn’t run for months. People drink this dirty water because there is no other option. Toilets are few and far between. Guess where it ends up? I hope we never have to struggle as we have this year again.
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Stoves

Rocket stoves prevent deforestation and lung cancer. Wait, What?

Rocket stoves save fuel helping to minimize deforestation and saving women hours of labor finding firewood. They also trap heat inside the earthen or brick burning chamber. This causes the firewood to burn hot like charcoal. This minimizes smoke, and lung cancer, and keeps the fuel burning much longer meaning it doesn’t need to be constantly fed the way open fires do. We are able to cook all of our meals from fallen coconut branches. Clean the yard and cook dinner, stacking functions!

Energy Saving Rocket Stove
Energy Saving Rocket Stove

Earthship

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2 Years Later
2 Year Later

Life is all about getting started. When getting started means building a house get ready for a lot of work! We decided to build a cob earthship as an example of environmentally friendly, low cost building. Earthships use tires packed with dirt as foundations for walls built into hillsides. Cob is a mixture of sand, clay, and fiber used to face the tires to make them beautiful as well as build free standing walls. The benefits of a cob earthship are being dirt cheap, use locally available material, recycle old tires (after the treads are stripped to make shoes), passively heated and cooled, user friendly for inexperienced builders and the organic flow fits in beautifully with a permaculture landscape.
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Remember in the developing world everything is done by hard labor. No bob cats and bulldozers to build this house! The tires all cost about $1 which is still considerably less than standard cement and coral block. Step one is digging out the hill and acquiring a load of tires. Step 2 is putting all the dirt you dug back by pounding it into the tires. It is important to have the tires full enough or they will slouch and compromise the integrity of the wall. Some people use sledge hammers however we found using a stick thick as an arm and about as tall as a person worked better. The tires can be pried up with another stick making it easier to pound dirt under the lip. Wetting the medium slightly also helped to pack it in well.
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The mangy tires make a wonderful home for rats. Where there are rats there are snakes. YIKES! We have faced the tires with cob for beautiful effect. Cob is a mixture of clay, sand, and fiber. The fiber gives the walls tensile strength so if a crack does form the wall is still connected by the fiber making the patch easy and effective. For fiber we used a mix of sisal, coconut coir, and sticks. I have a high recommendation for using sticks in every section as it gave the cob enough strength to get a good section of wall build every day as well as tie each layer together.
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And what is a home without cute friends to share it with?!? Notice the windows. They are 5L water bottles filled with water and a cap full of bleach. I added some pipe glue when I screwed the caps back on. The best thing about them is when the sun shines directly through they cast rainbows across the room.
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A home isn’t a home without plants. These plants are wonderful. How many people can eat their house? They also help cool the sweltering the air that passes through the windows. Making our house the coolest around!
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Passive Cooling

Living without air conditioning mean creative measures must be taken to keep cool.

1. Roofing- The east side of our house is tin it gets very hot but allows us to collect drinking water. The West side is thatch so during the hottest time of day the sun falls on cool thatch. The tin overlaps the thatch reflecting the evening light into the house and releasing the hot air.
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2. Windows- The front of our house is made with metal work covered in vines. The air is cooled as it is pulled through the leaves and the hot air escapes through the open roof.
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3. Earthship- We dug our house into the hill. An underground house is considerably cooler than a free standing one.
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4. Cob- Cob is wonderful. If is cool during the day and warm at night.
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5. Trees- The trees surrounding the house protect the cob from rain and once grown will keep the house shaded.
mojakwamoja

Cob

Cob is a mixture of clay, sand, and fiber. The fiber gives the walls tensile strength so if a crack does form the wall is still connected by the fiber making the patch easy and effective. For fiber we used a mix of sisal, coconut coir, and sticks.

Coconut Coir
Coconut Coir
Sticks embedded connecting each section
Sticks embedded connecting each section

I have a high recommendation for using sticks in every section as it gave the cob enough strength to get a good section of wall build every day as well as tie each layer together.
10347701_10152264946253871_6434744239634093994_n
mermaidkraken10341964_10152310214148871_5901094388113582794_n20141112_073700
And what is a home without cute friends to share it with?!? Notice the windows. They are 5L water bottles filled with water and a cap full of bleach. I added some pipe glue when I screwed the caps back on. The best thing about them is when the sun shines directly through they cast rainbows across the room.
20141213_04080510523225_10152296072713871_6678987351587798446_n
A home isn’t a home without plants. These plants are wonderful. How many people can eat their house? They also help cool the sweltering the air that passes through the windows. Making our house the coolest around!
20141024_060603Picture 003

Edible Fences

Fences are an unfortunate necessity. Roaming animals can easily destroy a harvest. Our own goats cause us problems with our neighbors when they destroy someones crop. With something as divisive as a fence the best choice is to make it useful. Privacy is valuable. On the people side we have stacked coconut, cashew, moringa, papaya, and coming soon passion vines. In five years this fence will be a thriving edible privacy screen.

Coconut
Coconut

On the goat side we have planted a mix of glacidea, luceana, and napier grass. This will provide our goats with higher protein feed that will last through the dry season. As the goat tractor cycles through the garden the uneaten leguminous leaves also leave behind a high nitrogen mulch.
fance

Water Catchment

When it rains it pours. There is little worse than looking out over a barren dry landscape,  having nothing to drink, and remembering all the rain that, a month ago,  washed away neighbors seedlings and soil. There is often adequate water but uncaptured it causes devastating erosion followed by thirst. There are numerous ways it can be captured .

  • Swales and terracing
  • Ponds
  • Trees
  • Organic matter
  • Tanks are awesome but expensive. For a tank to be installed first a solid, flat foundation needs to be poured. Then the piping and tank attached to a metal roof. The tanks have to have a solid foundation or they will break. Sometimes they break even with a solid foundation. If the job is to be done correctly a filtration system should be installed with UV lights. However without electricity and capitol for fancy filters people make do with chlorine treatments and or boiling.

Roads

Roads allow people to access markets. When it rains the economy suffers because of lack of mobility and cessation of building projects (a large employer). The shelves at the local stores empty because vehicles, mostly motorcycles, cannot reach our area. Pockets lighten as meager savings dissipate and work projects are put on hold until it drys out.
mudroad

Inadequate road infrastructure is very wasteful. Burns from falling under the exhaust pipe are commonplace. 20% of Juma’s income goes to maintenance and repairs of his motorcycle. Maintenance every week is required because the bad roads dangerously loosen the bolts on his sub-standard motorcycle. A small slip can break a clutch. A broken clutch is about three days worth of work and you have to walk the bike 3 miles up and down hills to get it repaired.
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For $1/meter people will flatten the road and dig drainage ditches to manage the water. For $10/ meter we can add gravel. We have already leveled and put in water management for 400 meters of the most dangerous road for $25 (thanks to Baba Kahindi and Juma for volunteering to work for so little).

Mulch

Mulch is a non living soil covering. Keeping the soil covered does a few things.

Mulch Around Chinese Cabbages Growing in the Dry Season
Mulch Around Chinese Cabbages Growing in the Dry Season

o Slows water droplets before they hit the soil giving it more time to sink in.
o Provides a home for burrowing insects that make holes the water can travel through to permeate the soil. The insects also eat the mulch and bury the digested organic matter in the soil sequestering carbon and making fertilizer. It can also provide a home for beneficial crawlies such as spiders that eat plant pests.

Lady Beatles May Look Fancy but are Voracious Predators
Lady Beatles May Look Fancy but are Voracious Predators

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o Shades the soil from the sun. The sun breaks down organic matter in the soil, releasing it as CO2. The heat also makes it difficult for roots to flourish. Shading the soil keeps the roots cool and keeps CO2 sequestered in the soil.

On our farm we mulch by cutting our cover crops and fence line and feeding it to our goats.

Fencing with Nitrogen Fixing, High Protein Goat Food
Fencing with Nitrogen Fixing, High Protein Goat Food

When the goats are done we spread the mulch on the garden providing a good fertilizer and covering the ground.

Goat Tractor
Goat Tractor

For sensitive plants the mixture needs to compost for a few weeks so it is not as “hot”. During the dry season we fill the trenches alongside our crops in the low land to conserve moisture. When the rains start we dig the compost out of the ditches,

Mulch Filled Ditches
Mulch Filled Ditches

feed the grubs to our chickens,

Chickens Say "Yummm!"
Chickens Say “Yummm!”

and mound the compost.

castings

The raised beds and ditches provide drainage so our crops don’t drown in the lowland.

 

Integrating Animals

Geese

It took a while for Jey to sell me on the geese but they turned out to be a great facet on our farm. They are grazers and keep our orchard trimmed. Most importantly they are amazing watch animals. They patrol the farm and sending up a holler and chase snakes off the farm.

deadly snakes come around looking for water in the dry season
Deadly snakes come around looking for water in the dry season.

Chickens

Chickens can be helpful or destructive. They need to be kept from scratching up the seedlings and mulch. However they can be useful for fertilizer production, eating insects, and egg production.  We are cross breeding our egg layer hens with large improved local chickens and selling the chicks. Chicken food is made from amaranth from the market, coconut fiber after the oil is extracted, black solider fly larvae grown in fruit scraps from the market, and bananas from our farm. Black Solider Fly larvae provide high quality feed high in protein and fat which is easier for chickens to digest in the heat.

Dried and Ground Sweet Potato Scraps for Chicken Food
Dried and Ground Sweet Potato Scraps for Chicken Food
Fruit Scraps to Feed Black Solider Fly Larvae
Fruit Scraps to Feed Black Solider Fly Larvae

Fish

Ponds are built into the erosion gullies to catch rain water. This allows the water to slowly drain to the farm underground dramatically extending the season. Mosquitoes are deadly carriers of malaria so it is important to stock the ponds with fish. Tilapia grow well eating the mosquitoes and algae that proliferates in the goat manure used to seal and fertilize the pond.

The dirt we removed for the pond was used to build a terrace.
The dirt we removed for the pond was used to build a terrace.
Goat manure was used to seal and fertilize the pond where we grow tilapia.
Goat manure was used to seal and fertilize the pond where we grow tilapia.

Goats

Goats are great for clearing land, on farm fertilizer production, sealing ponds with their manure,  and delicious milk!
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Bees

Bees are vital for our farm. Before our hive many of our flowers would fall un-pollinated. Our neighbor even hand pollinates all his veggies! We would much rather have a hive, harvest honey, and harvest food. Some of the challenges of having bees are lack of food in the dry season. This causes many wild bees to swarm. A swarm actually went through our goat tractor and killed two of our goats. 🙁 To keep our bees happy we have planted our perimeter fencing with plants that bloom in the dry season as well as fix nitrogen and provide good quality forage for our goats and subsequently mulch for the garden.

Bees are an essential part of an ecosystem
Bees are an essential part of an ecosystem
honeybait
Stacking functions: pollinate delicious fruit and harvest delectable honey!