"There is one, and only one solution, and we have almost no time to try it. We must turn all our resources to repairing the natural world, and train all our young people to help. They want to - and we need to give them this last chance to create forests, soils, clean waters, clean energies, secure communities, stable regions, and to know how to do it from hands-on experience."- In memory of Bill Mollison
Welcome to Permaculture in Trinidad and Tobago. Welcome to Wa Samaki.
Wa Samaki Ecosystems, created in 1997, offers a working example of a Permaculture operation producing cut flowers for the local market, organic food for our household consumption, wildlife conservation, watershed rehabilitation, Permaculture Design Courses, workshops and volunteer and internship opportunities.
Wa Samaki Starter Survival Pack
The covid 19 pandemic has thrown so much of what we do out of whack! Food security is now of utmost importance . In our effort to help people turn their lawns and ornamental gardens back into edible landscapes we are offering 'Starter Survival Packages'. The details below are for our first package as we support people to grow their own food.
Here is some general info on how to deal with cuttings and starts in your package.
Some of the cuttings or plants are better started off in containers in a nursery area. Choose a location that gets some morning sun as evening sun can be too harsh for them.
It’s advisable to use a loamy soil, coconut peat mix or promix for the plants in your nursery and then transfer them out into the garden once the rains start.
Some cuttings will tolerate being placed directly in the garden but will need to be kept moist until they are strong enough. We have tried to identify which of your plants can go straight into the garden or which ones need to be started in a nursery.
Cuttings need to be planted the right side up for them to grow properly. Look at the nodes where the leaves were attached to the stem. There is a little eye or pointy bud just above the leaf scar. This is up. The opposite side of the cutting goes into the container.
Don’t over water. Just keep the soil moist, not soaking wet. You may not need to water every day. Test the soil with your finger to determine if it is moist or dry before watering. Signs of over watering are drooping leaves as the stem begins to rot and can’t take up any more water.
Let your plants grow for a couple of weeks in their containers and then put them out where they can get longer sun exposure to harden up before planting into the garden.
Compost can be mixed into the hole when planting or placed on top of the soil after the plant goes into the ground. Most of these plants like lots of mulch around them as it helps keep moisture and vital nutrients in the soil.
The following plants come in your package. Numbers will vary depending on what is in stock.
Cassava (Manihot esculenta)- Sticks can be planted directly into the garden; soften the soil where they are going with a fork or spade then simply push them in about 2/3 of the length either upright or at a 45-degree slant. They prefer full sun and a sandier soil but will grow in clay (just harder to dig out) if it is not waterlogged. They will do well even in poor soil. Harvest time is normally 8-12 months. Tip: Some people look for the tiny flowers on them and then harvest.
Topi Tambo (Calathea allouia) - This little tuber can go directly into the garden; soften the soil where they are going with a fork or spade then plant them about 2-3 inches below the surface. They can be planted right side up or upside down and can be grown in partial shade or full sun. Once they are planted before the rainy season they will sprout as the rains begin. While growing they like to be as moist as possible so mulch heavily with leaves or other organic material. As the dry season starts, the plant will dry down and at that point, they are ready to be harvested. To harvest dig up the whole plant, cut off the tubers and plant the corm back into the soil and mulch heavily again so it is ready for the next rainy season. Tip: They are much easier to harvest if planted in a mulched sandy bed vs clay.
Yam (Dioscorea sp.)- The tuber can go directly into the garden; soften the soil where they are going with a fork or spade, make a hole about 6-12 inches wide and deep, fill with leafy mulch then plant the tuber and cover with about 1 inch of soil. They can be grown in partial shade or full sun and do well if planted next to an established tree where they can vine up. If planted in the open they will need a trellis, however we have also seen them grown as a ground cover in some other Caribbean islands. As the dry season starts the plant will dry down and at that point, they are ready to be dug up. Once harvested, cut about 2-3 inches off from the head and plant that piece back in the same spot so it will sprout during the next rainy season. Tip: The more mulch around them the bigger the root will grow. Leave some of the yams in the ground for the first year so they will make a much bigger tuber in the second year.
Dasheen (Colocasia esculenta) – Yellow dasheen can be grown on dry land as opposed to the white or blue that like wet conditions. It can be planted directly into the garden bed; Soften soil , make a small hole and plant the corm or just the head of the corm with the top/leafy part sticking out slightly (some of you will receive plants with a leaf, some will just receive the corm). Try to plant at the start of the rainy season or keep moist and mulch heavily until the rains start. They should be ready to harvest during the dry season or about 8 months after planting. One plant may have 3-6 “daughter dasheens” around them when you dig it up. Plant one back in the hole and find space somewhere else in your garden for the other 5! They will begin to sprout when the rains start again. Tip: Try not to leave your dasheen in the ground too long into the dry season as it will begin to rot if the rains start early.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa)– A little piece can go directly into the garden; soften the soil where they are going with a fork or spade and plant them about 2-3 inches below the surface. They can be grown in partial shade or full sun. Plant them before the rainy season and they will sprout once the rains begin. They like to be moist while growing so mulch heavily with leaves or other organic material. As the dry season starts the plant will dry down and at that point, they are ready to be dug up. Dig up the whole plant, remove the turmeric tubers then plant the corm back into the soil. Mulch heavily again so it is ready for the next rainy season. Tip: Turmeric is very prolific and does well even in heavy clays. Just mulch heavily and make sure it is not waterlogged.
Poi seeds (Malabar spinach) – if the seeds still have pulp on them, wash off the pulp gently and dry the seeds on a paper towel in the shade for one or 2 days. Plant the seeds in small pots/containers and they will normally germinate within the first week of planting. Let the plant get up to around 6-8 inches in length then plant in the garden. They love to climb/vine so place on a fence or trellis. Aprx. 10 to 20% of the leaves can be harvested regularly and eaten raw or cooked. They will grow in full sun but also seem to do well with partial shade. Tip: They tend to like limestone added to the soil if it is very clayey.
Chaya (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius-Tree spinach) - These cuttings can be treated just like a cassava (planted straight in the ground). However, for greater success plant in pots until they have grown to aprx. 2 ft then transfer to the garden. Once planted and the tree is more than about 2-3 ft tall the younger leaves can be harvested and cooked. The older leaves are hard to break off the stem and can be very chewy and are not recommended for cooking. These leaves cannot be eaten raw and you should avoid the sap from the leaves when harvesting. Tip: This edible leaf must be cooked for a few minutes to drive off the slight toxins. Some people boil and dispose of the water before using the leaves. We use it directly in soups but ensure it is thoroughly boiled for at least 3-5 minutes.
Aibika (Abelmoschus manihot) – We have 2 varieties and you will have a stem of each (while quantities last). It is advisable to start in a pot so the plant can root properly and then transfer to the garden. It enjoys moist soil. When the tree is aprx 3ft any of the leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. Raw leaves tend to be a little slimy. Flowers should be removed, as it extends the life of the plant. Tip: It is advisable to plant new pieces every year just in case the plant ages quickly and dies.
Kangkong (Ipomoea aquatica) - This leafy green needs a damp area. We grow ours in our aquaponic system, but it will grow in moist drains or wet areas and will behave like a ground cover. Its leaves are best consumed cooked. This is a quick growing vine that likes heavy pruning so the more leaves you harvest the more this plant will produce. If leaves are left to get old, they will start getting attacked by pests, so it is best to remove most leaves when you harvest. Tip: Try to not let it flower to increase its longevity and keep replanting cuttings just in case the older plant dies out.
Katuk/Sweet leaf (Sauropus androgynus) – Success is better if potted and grown for a few months and then put out in the garden. Once the plant is aprx. 2-3 ft tall the leaves can be harvested and cooked. Pruning the plant will make it thicker. Use the younger leaves to the top as these are more digestible. It is not a leaf that is recommended for juicing or to be eaten in huge quantities every day. A small handful per day is fine.
Tip: The shoot tips can also be harvested and eaten. Some people label the tips as ‘tropical asparagus’
Nitrogen fixers/biomass cuttings:
Mexican sunflower (Tithonia diversifolia) – Sticks can be treated like cassava and go straight out in the garden once they are kept moist and mulched. Grows quickly and will make a showy yellow flower. Best to use as a chop and drop mulch. Cut it down about 6-8 inches from the ground just before it starts flowering. Each cutting cycle will make it bushier. It is also known as ‘tropical comfrey' as it is rich in nutrients. Tip: When put to rot in water for about a week the water can be used for watering plants.
Quick stick (Gliricidia sepium) – These sticks can be treated like cassava and go straight out in the garden once they are kept moist and mulched. Can turn into a tree if not pruned regularly. Has flowers that are great for bees. Again, it is used as a chop and drop for mulch and can also be used to make living fenceposts. Best to use a chop and drop mulch just as it is about to flower. Cut it down at whatever height suits you for your garden purposes and it will shoot back at that height again. Each cutting cycle will make it bushier. It is also known as ‘Madre de Cacao’ and is used as shade to start cocoa. Tip: Its leaves can also be rotted in water for about a week and then used to water plants.
Tricantera (Trichanthera gigantea) – These sticks can be treated like cassava and go straight out in the garden once they are kept moist and mulched. It will make a large shrub or tree if not pruned. Makes lots of biomass for a chop and drop system. Tip: Its large leaves are excellent fodder for rabbits, donkeys, cows and pigs.
Mulberry (Morus sp.) – This variety makes large berries but does not seem to be prolific in this environment. Best started in a pot and then transferred out into the garden. It is best used for chop and drop and for biomass. It can be regularly pruned at 2-4 ft and can form a small tree if left unpruned Tip: After each prune it will sometimes send up a few berries.
WHAT IS PERMACULTURE?
Permaculture (permanent agriculture) is a term created by Australian Bill Mollison to describe a land use system that is modeled after natural eco-systems. Mollison defines Permaculture as 'the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems that have the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, shelter, energy and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way'.
The Permaculture philosophy is one of working with rather than against nature, of looking at systems in all their functions rather than asking only one yield of them, and allowing systems to demonstrate their own evolutions. Permaculture is applicable in urban, suburban, and rural environments and offers a proactive approach to addressing the escalating environmental crisis.
Permaculture design is a "whole systems" approach to land use planning based on the patterns of symbiotic relationships between land, water, wind, soil, animals, and people inherent in natural eco-systems.
The original layout of the farm in 1997 consisted of a large farmhouse surrounded by approximately 15 acres of citrus laid out in a 20ft square grid.
The fields were maintained by brushcutting with a tractor and by applying weedicides and herbicides around the citrus trees. The other 18 acres consisted of bulldozed land that was being prepared to plant more citrus and a large flat area where a goat shed and hydroponics shed once stood and two other flat areas that were earmarked for sheds to mass produce chickens. Three streams run through the property that carry water during the rainy season (June to December) but quickly dry up during the dry season (January to May).
Almost all the trees along the streams had been cut down to allow maximum sun exposure for the citrus. A few ponds had been excavated within the streams and one stream had been dammed to produce a large pond that was earmarked for irrigating the citrus. The topography of the farm is undulating with a ridge running through the centre of it in an east west direction.
Bush fires on unused lands surrounding the farm are a constant threat throughout the dry season which requires the constant monitoring and clearing of firebreaks. Wildlife on the farm was minimal due to a loss of habitat and a manager that was an avid hunter.
Wa Samaki has been accumulating plants since its inception in 1997. Some have been given to us, some we have had to go into the forests to collect, some have been picked up as seed washing across from South America when the Orinoco river floods and pushes vegetation all the way to Trinidad. We have become a resource for all things tropical that have disappeared from many communities.
Our collection now includes numerous 20 varieties of root crops including dasheen, tannia, cassava, cush cush yam, african yam, eddoes and topi tambo. We also hace an enviable collection of edible tropical greens including sweetleaf, suriname tania, chaya, moringa, okinawa spinach, kangkong and ibica (edible hibiscus).
The birds bring in seeds of wild trees they eat, we just have to be observant enough to leave the seedlings alone to flourish wherever they fall. Our network of over 20 ponds has given us some great edges and microclimates to push our biodiversity even further! .
A good permaculture design will organize its layout according to priorities. This is called zoning. It will also take into account any external forces that are affecting the site. This is called a sector analysis.
At Wa Samaki Ecosystems we have been fortunate enought to have a site that allows us to demonstrate all the zones quite effectively. Take a virtual tour with us.......
Zone 1 Intensive House Garden (light blue)
This zone is closest to our house occupies about 1/3 of an acre. It is currently being used for producing vegetables for the home as well as for nursery propagation for the farm.
Zone 2 Landscape garden/orchard
This zone includes ornamental plants as well as some fruit trees. Plants in this zone occupies about 1 acre and are focused on improving soil fertility. As such nitrogen fixing plants such as tamarind, flambouyant and glyceridia are grown.
Zone 3 Production beds (green) organic vegetable beds (red) nursery (pink)
This area occupies between 3 4 acres of land and is concentrated on flower production. The farm has close to 30 different varieties of heliconia, 8 varieties of ginger lillies and torch lilies as well as 4 varieties of ornamental bananas.
This production sustains the cash flow on the farm. On a weekly basis over 1,000 blooms are sold on the local market. The production beds are integrated close to water sources (man made ponds) and are shaded by larger tree crops which produce shade and mimimizes the need for shade houses.
Zone 4 - Forestry
This zone occupies about 15 acres and is comprised of a variety of lumber trees including, teak, cedar, poui, mahogany and fiddle wood. Systems put in place to manage our orestry include:
Close spacing of trees encourage trees to grow straight, once the trees start touching each other they are thinned out
Trees are pruned regularly to encourage them to grow straight and tall
Litter from the trees are incorporated into the farm to make compost as well as for mulching to conserve water
Fire trails are well maintained
Water is trapped using contour drains which encourage the water to percolate into the water table instead of running off the land
Zone 5 wild area
This area occupies about 5 acres and indigenous trees and wildlife are encouraged to grow here. These areas are our reserves in case of any catasrophe. These areas help with biodiversity as well as with the rehabilitation of the watershed.
Twenty years plus of regeneration has given homes to an amazing assortment of wildlife At Wa Samaki that disappears from the landscape once you leave our site! Over 40 varieties of birds have been surveyed on the farm by the Forestry Department, some of the birds, normally only observed in deep forest, are comfortable in thses surroundings. Our long term aim is to have the communities along our river, the Chandernagore, eventually adospt the river so that people stop dumping garbage into it and it be comes a wildlife corridor that allows for protectionand conservation of our rapidly depleting inheritance. We encourage students and researches to explore our site and share their pictures and research with us and the wider community. Wildlife observed on the farm includes otter, squirrel, manicou, pygmy manicou, caiman, iguana, matte, a variety of snakes, turtles, agouti and tatu