Stilted eco-hut at Taino Farm

Huts at Taino Farm are an example of sustainable housing in the tropics.

This week at Taino Farm, Charlie Durrant (our permaculture designer and educator) gave us a lesson on the main differences in Zone 1 Design in Permaculture in tropical, dry and temperate climate zones. In permaculture practice, Zone 1 consists of the main building and the area nearest to it. It is the most controlled as well as the most frequently visited area. Alongside the main building you will often find herb gardens, a nursery or small animals in Zone 1.

A chicken tractor in a tropical farm

Chicken tractors are an example of small animals in Zone 1

In Zone 1 of tropical permaculture gardens, it is especially important to have multiple layers of growth to decrease the intensity of the sun and slow down the leaching effect that heavy rainfall can have. When building in tropical climates, the main goals are to maximize airflow and minimize the sun’s exposure to thermal mass (such as walls and roofs).  Houses in the tropics are often stilted and have large windows to increase airflow.

In dry climates when building sustainable eco-housing, the emphasis is on insulation. Though the climate is similar to the tropics in that it is often extremely hot, seasonally and at night it can become quite cold. Solar chimneys are often implemented for use in the summer. You can find an explanation of Solar Chimneys here. Permaculture gardens in dry climates are usually sunken beds and use the wicking bed system to prevent evaporation during watering.

Temperate climates are in many ways more complex, as you have more factors to consider in environments that experience all four seasons. However, Charlie explained that there are also incredible benefits to growing in temperate areas. The soil is often much richer and the growing season is productive because daylight hours are longer. He also pointed out the benefit of growing deciduous trees around a living space: It can help reduce the potential for the sun to heat the thermal mass (walls etc.) in the summer yet because they lose their leaves, still allow sunlight onto and into the building in the winter.

Permaculture Education in The Tropics

Charlie Durrant teaching us about the benefits of Temperate Climates

While all of this is valuable information, the prominent lesson this week was bigger than just Zone 1. Charlie’s lesson showed us that learning about permaculture is practical and interesting no matter where you are from. When we return home, whether that be to the Czech Republic, Haiti, the U.S. or right down the road, we are all sure to come away knowing principles that can help us maintain a more sustainable lifestyle.

Volunteers from the Czech Republic and Haiti

Volunteers from the Czech Republic and Haiti learning about Zone 1 planting

Biodiversity in Tropical Permaculture

Biodiversity in Tropical Permaculture

Biodiversity is an extraordinarily important aspect of tropical permaculture and creating a sustainable organic farm. This week at Taino, Charlie (our permaculture designer) and Victor (our maestro farmer) took us on a meander through Los Brazos to collect native seeds.

finding seeds

Victor’s daughter, Nicole and her friend collecting seeds.

 

Increasing biodiversity by planting a variety of native flowers and legumes is beneficial in many ways, not only do they attract native wildlife like birds and lizards, they also help to create a resilient ecosystem. For example, there are thirty varieties of the Moringa tree, if we were to have only one kind, a disease could come along and wipe out one of our most important crops. Biodiversity also helps to provide us with a more reliable/sustainable yield of organic food because different species and varieties of plants produce at different times. We may have an avocado tree that produces fruit from September to October and another variety that goes from October to November. In doing this we both maximize our yield and maintain a healthy ecosystem.

native seeds in the dominican

A cup full of guandule and other native seeds

Flowers and plants like Sunhemp are beneficial because they are short lived, aerate the soil and fix nitrogen for the other plants (and they feed our bees!). Part of Charlie’s permaculture lesson this week was on companion planting. In the tropics, there is no shortage of pests so strategies like companion planting help us to deter them without having to use harmful chemicals. Whether it means planting a tall plant next to one that likes shade or a plant with a strong odor like basil next to one that is susceptible to pests like tomatoes, we want to plant crops together that will be mutually beneficial.

Blue flower from the dominican republic

Caption: These blue flowers are beautiful and edible!

nitrogen fixing roots

Charlie showing us how to identify nitrogen fixing roots.

We are blessed to be in an area where plants and people thrive and benefit from each other’s existence. Many of the seeds we collected were from Victor’s Mother’s house and at the end of the day we were invited to share a cup of coffee and meet the whole family. Four generations are living in their lovely home, including a two year old boy and his 104 year old great grandmother! We were all touched by their kindness and I left feeling so grateful to be planting seeds that were given and will be planted with love.

dominican farming family

Charlie with Victor and his family