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THE SHIFT IS ON. Last year a massive study funded by the U.N. and the world bank concluded that the traditional approach to agriculture using agro chemicals and genetically engineered seeds is not the answer to the worlds food crises. The 6 year study involving 400 experts from around the world concluded that there needs to be a shift towards more sustainable eco friendly practices. This shift would benefit farmers, consumers and the environment as well. Sustainable agriculture based on small organic biologically diverse farms using local resources (compost, organic fertilizers and insect repellants) are more productive in the long run. The sustainable model continually improves the soil resulting in progressively higher yields where as the traditional model results in higher yields initially but over a period of time yields decrease as the soil becomes depleted. Equally important the sustainable model favors the environment where the traditional method is detrimental to the eco systems.
The current condition of the environment demands a new lifestyle that derives value from the well being of our eco systems. Our goal at Vida Verde and the Chiripo farm is create a model in balance with nature helping nature produce and regenerate through organic farming, reforestation, recycling and the use of renewable energy. In becoming producers and limiting our consumption using these techniques we can also limit our dependence on unstable financial institutions. At the same time we can improve our health and well being while effecting the environment in a positive way as a legacy to our children and future generations . We wish to chart our progress in the form of descriptions of our procedures along with pictures as a running log. Through this medium we hope to encourage others to choose sustainable lifestyles.
Start up costs for an organic garden are low. All you really need are a few basic hand tools. A spade fork, spade, hoe, rake, machete and a wheelbarrow. Once started a home garden requires less energy to maintain then a non productive lawn with greater rewards in the form of tastier healthier fruits and vegetables. At the same time we can drastically reduce our food budgets.
A good place to start is with a compost pile. Before you even till the soil and plant your seeds you will need a source of fertile soil and organic fertilizers. Composting is a great way to recycle our local resources in the form of organic household waste along with leaves and and grass clippings to make rich fertile soil. At the same time we can help solve the public disposal problem. By creating the right environment for microorganisms and worms to process large quantities or organic waste material, it is possible to create large amounts of rich humus for our gardens soil.
HOW TO COMPOST. There are many techniques used for composting but what we have found most effective at the Chiriripo farm is a modified Biodynamic technique . You start with a layer of coarse stalks twigs and vegetation a few inches thick, then successive layers of dry vegetation a few inches thick followed by green vegetation and small amounts of animal manure (preferable chicken or goat). You then add a few inch layer of dark soil. Then you repeat the cycle over and over using as much material as is available. I recommend placing the pile in a sunny area as heat accelerates microbe growth. It is also important to keep the pile moist but not too wet. Cutting the material into smaller pieces increases the surface area for microbes to feed accelerating the process. For this reason we chop the material with a machete before introducing it to the pile. Mixing charcoal and ashes with the layers of the pile increases the efficiency by providing food for the microorganisms and at the same time absorbs soluble minerals to be later transferred to the plants. Although you can use a variety of dry and green materials to compost, we always try to include rice stalks for Nitrogen, corn stalks and sugarcane wastes for Phosphorus, and Banana stalks and leaves for Potassium. These three elements are the key nutrients for productive soil. The more air you introduce by turning the pile the faster the microbes do their job reducing the time for the finished product. For this reason we turn the pile twice a week. The more earthworms you introduce to the pile the quicker the process and the richer the finished product as earthworms not only process the raw compost but enrich it in their digestion process 3X. We originally used purchased organic soil containing California earthworms for the layers of black soil but since the worms have multiplied 1000X. If you follow this procedure you can produce rich soil in 2 to 3 weeks. Without turning the pile as frequently and without a large number of worms the process will take 2 to 3 months. Once the compost turns to black soil and has no odor it is ready to ad to your garden for planting and augmenting previously planted crops. Next week we will describe how we make organic fertilizers from our compost.
Compost Tea: Once you have properly aged nutritionally rich compost it is easy to make liquid organic fertilizer. First you need 5 five gallon clean plastic buckets with lids. Place one gallon of finished compost in one of the five galloon buckets. Add 4 gallons of water and stir then place the lid on the bucket. For the next 7 days stir once a day to introduce oxygene and stimulate microbe activity. After 7 days mix well and pour into a clean bucket through a fine mesh cloth similar to ladies stockings. After filtering distribute the liquid into the 5 buckets, one gallon in each. Fill all 5 buckets with water to within 2 inches of the brim mixing well. We mix 1 cup of crude molasses into each bucket to enhance the bonding quality of the compost tea. The compost tea is ready to apply now. However if you wish to make super compost tea you can add fish emulsion and or seaweed concentrate. Compost Tea will enhance the plants natural resilancy to harmfull bacteria. If you wish to deter harmfull insects as well you can blend 1 head of garlic in water and add to each 5 galloon bucket through a cloth filter. The best way to apply compost tea is in a foliar sprayer saturating the leaves and the roots of each plant.
biodynamic raised planting beds: There are many different approaches to making planting beds but what has worked best for us is the double dug biodynamic raised bed technique. First dig a ditch 1 meter wide by 40 cm deep the desired length of your garden placing the removed soil in a row about 1 meter parallel to your ditch. We then break up the soil in the bottom of the ditch another 40cm deep using a spading fork not to harm the earthworms. Next add a layer of aged compost about 10cm thick with a sprinkling of dolomite calcium and crushed charcoal. Then work the compost layer into the broken layer of soil below always working from the sides of the ditch without walking in the ditch. Now replace the soil we initially removed to form the ditch. add another 10cm layer of aged compost with a sprinkling of dolomite calcium and crushed charcoal again working it into the loose soil with our spading fork. Next we build approx. 30cm walls around the perimeter of the ditch. You can use a variety of materials to form the walls such as cement blocks, tree limbs, railroad ties or rocks. We use rocks as there is an abundance in our garden and they resist the elements better then wood. Once the walls are in place we start digging our next bed leaving a 50cm walkway between the beds placing the removed soil inside of the walls of our first bed. We then repeat the process of adding a the layer of agged compost , dolomite calcium and ground charcoal working it into the loose soil with our spading fork. We now repeat the process forming as many beds as space allows. These beds require a good bit of labor initially but you will be adequately rewarded with good crop yields for a long time. These beds drain well , will save your back and maximize space.
Exploring Costa Rica
Eco Tourism at Punta Mona
Punta Mona is a 85-acre organic farm, a community and center for sustainable living education located on the southern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. Our mission at Punta Mona is to expose all people who come to the farm to the ideals of Permaculture and educate about sustainability.
People Creating Change
I am Elizabeth, your 23 year old design entrepreneur! I work hard to design sustainable solutions, and educate and inspire sustainable decisions. My main inspiration is human energy transfer, my project is POWERleap- a flooring system destined for high foot-traffic urban areas that generates electricity via human footfall!