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permaculture advocate in Zimbabwe - too little/too much rain

 
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Location: Cape Town
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Dear Rufaro you are, as ever, an inspiration!
 
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Why in such a dry climate is your uncle using raised beds? If it is for flooding, having more roots in the ground will increase drainage and give more life to the soil
 
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Location: Tecate, Baja California
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Hi Rufaro! I read the whole thing just now and I'm impressed with what you've managed to do; I love seeing your photos and your progress is tangible! I'm glad to hear that others are taking notice also, I'm sure that if many people throughout the world follow a similar path then we can truly have better resilience against climate change. I have a few random thoughts that may help, we've been working mainly on establishing trees / fruit trees in the chaparral desert, our conditions are sandy soil with good infiltration, 250 mm of rain a year concentrated in only 4 months of the year and 35 C heat in the summer with frequent, heavy wind gusts.

I think productive trees in the outer areas will be a good strategy to help create a microclimate, shade the soil, protect from the wind and to increase biodiversity in your case; that's pretty much agroforestry. Also, if planting trees, why not add some nitrogen fixing trees or shrubs that will help enrich your soil? I think someone mentioned pigeon pea, that's a good one that provides beans or if you have some of those native trees that can do the same thing and provide other benefits at the same time. For example, we're using mesquite - Prosopis glandulosa, Leucaena Leucocephala, and Tamarind - Tamarindus indica (this one is native to tropical Africa). Mesquite offers firewood, tasty mesquite pods and leaves that can be used for cattle feed; you can do the same with leucaenas, they grow VERY quickly and provide a lot of biomass for fodder; tamarind is used traditionally in Mexico for making candies, beverages and has other medicinal uses as well, it's a very productive tree with delicious fruit!

We've been using wick irrigation to get some trees established with very little water. I started up some shade trees to "test the waters" and we were able to keep some trees alive under 35C heat and drought administering only around 1 or 2 liters of water a week or so. Here's where we got the idea:

Wick irrgation from agroforestry website

Here's a picture of one we made using an oral electrolite botte, a straw and some nylon rope; its partially buried to keep it in place and to protect it from the wind:



You mentioned something very important: you have to grow soil. That's why it's so important to have roots in the ground to keep the soil microbiology intact and to retain humidity as well. The trees all around should help a lot with that. If anything else comes to mind ill post it here, good luck and keep us updated!
 
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Location: Zimbabwe
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I did not know that raised beds were for flooding areas only, I thought they were just a different method of managing a garden bed. I will find out from my uncle why he chose that approach. I was so impressed by how his garden looked considering where he is and I forgot we need to focus on how we can make all the elements work for the benefit of the garden. I have drafted some questions for my uncle, to find out more about the "why" to his decisions in his garden. I am so eager to find out where he got the concept of raised beds, unlike me he is in the rural areas and his exposure is very very limited, I doubt if he even knows he has made raised beds. I have not been to his place since I was a small child, his place is about 412.9km away from where I stay, I am hoping I will visit him soon. I will also ask him to send images of his surroundings as well as other gardens. Following is the list of questions,

  • what do you call the beds you made in your garden
  • why did you choose that approach
  • apart from mulching is there any water conservation method, you use in your garden

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    Rufaro,

    First of all,  YOU ARE DOING AWESOMELY!!!

    I had a thought about the  Nyovhi (traditional vegetable).  I was surprised to learn a while back that many of the field weeds in my area (Ohio valley in the United States) were originally domesticated local plants (hundreds of years ago).  I knew that when the european settlers arrived, the native americans were growing their own crops, with corn, squash and beans as the trinity that supported them.  The new settlers adopted the corn, squash and beans and ignored some of the others.  What I hadn't realized before was that before corn, squash and beans were introduced into the area from the south, the local native americans had a whole different set of crops, like dock, and had bred them for larger seeds, etc.  Many of these abandoned species are now major field weeds, although the seed size, etc has reverted.  It's an interesting idea, but 500 years ago, your people were probablly growing some completely different crops, and it may have been long enough for them may have passed out of living memory.  (most of the ones you've mentioned are either european or western hemisphere).  It might be interesting to find out what 'survival' wild food species there are in your area.  


     
    Rufaro Makamure
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    For us it is not too long ago when people relied on what nature provided. In my mum's early ages, she talks of a completely different menu, sadza (thick corn porridge was not a daily meal), even meat was not eaten as often. They did not know beetroots or other exotic vegetables. They had different food stuffs depending on seasons and we are lucky in that we can tap a lot of knowledge out of her generation.

    My nyovhi seedlings are actually ready for planting. I deliberately planted vegetables that are associated with the well to do families and then in the mix, I will put nyovhi. Otherwise a vegetable bed in most households should rightfully be called a chomolia bed, since this is all that is grown. The main aim is to put a point across that, such a plant is not a choice only when one has run out of options and class has nothing to do with such plants, but it can stand as a healthy and nutritious option which adapts pretty well to our climate. I hope to keep on adding an indigenous/ wild  plant  to the common domesticated plants, one plant at a time.
     
    Rufaro Makamure
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    A continuation on benefits of the work we have done so far at the plot:

    As we tried to keep working on improving the effectiveness of our efforts in the field, it was difficult to ignore the other areas intertwined with the progress in the field. These include home management, as well as a deeper understanding of money, time and energy as resources that we can manipulate.

    We managed to reduce the time we spend doing household chores. There are some tasks that are repetitive that we do not always need to concentrate on and we have put them in a fixed daily routine which  further reduced time spent on activity planning.  Instead of having everyone do one thing, we have divided tasks among each other and this has helped in getting more done. It is as if we have managed to stretch our day.

    We have increased time to read and this is coming in handy as it is helping in developing common goals, and this makes decisions easier, since we are building on similar values.

    As we continue reflecting on the last couple of years we cannot help but notice that we might not have so many things, but of the things that we already have, we have not yet acquired the best skills to utilise the resources to the fullest and we might be under utilising what we have and living a quality of life less than what we potentially could be living.

    I have included an image of a piece of wood with nails hammered into it which I am now using to help with the shelling. It was of zero cost as I got everything from home, but it has made a huge difference, the shelling is faster and this time I have shelled two full 50kg bags by myself and I got help on the third bag. This is an example of how we keep on improving, using what we already have. The bundle of chomolia is what I bought from the shops and less than 10 leaves are going for 50 cents.  A kg of carrots is going for over $8, 4 medium sized onions, and also medium sized pepper is over $3. Items like these which seemingly are unimportant are what we have managed to keep fairly constant cost wise in our kitchen, as we no longer buy them, we get from the garden.  

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    shelling assistant
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    50 cents bundle
     
    pollinator
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    Location: Utah
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    Tiny improvements make an enormous change over time. I love watching your progress.

    Raised beds are used for a number of different reasons, but one of their main drawbacks is that they lose water more quickly than in-ground gardens. Water evaporates from the sides as well as the top. The sides tend to hold heat so they can be excellent in cooler areas. They can be fabulous for absorbing excess water if the soil goes down to the ground, so flood mitigation is one advantage. They are easier to plant, tend and harvest because they're higher, but also more difficult to maintain the shape without external supports.
     
    Rufaro Makamure
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    We managed to get 7 bags of maize this year. We are three bags short to reaching our targeted minimum of 10 bags. We managed to channel all the harvested water during the rains, so we had zero overflow from the water harvesting tanks. We are still going to strive to get to 10 bags of maize, as we know it is achievable even with the amount of rain we got in the past season.

    We need to make a few adjustment on the equipment we are using.  For example looking at the best way of clearing the water for the drip, to avoid blocking of the filter. The filter got stuck for most of the time while at he same time clogging with mud after one watering session, so managing this can help us water any time we need to, then lastly our pump needs to be upgraded and we have already started saving up for this.
    As for our planning, we have to make sure the time the rains come the whole field should be cleared for whatever crop or crops that will be desired for the rainy period. We still had winter maize on the portion that usually gives us the best ears and these were replaced later on in the season,  the ears had barely matured at the time of harvest. Also the area that had maize stalks as mulch had a poor germinating percentage as compared to the rest of the field. We did try to replant as we went along, but the mulch was too thick and it was difficult to keep the mulch from covering the holes, thereby suppressing proper germination. The one thing we are proud of is we are moving away from relying on getting a yield by chance, and we are increasing on certainty. We are using the cob( the part that remains after shelling), for making fire for heating up our bathing water and we will use the ash for our compost. In addition to maize we got almost 3kg of beans from the same field.

    As I shelled I continued to find time for the front yard. The lawn is looking great and it is growing over the ridge we made, so we decided to raise the ridge. Yesterday, we managed to get a bag of cement and close to half of the blocks needed for making a neat and higher ridge for the lawn. We have some blocks we salvaged from the home that was being modified (where I got rubble), so we will see if the builder can use these to cover the other half of the ridge.

     
    pollinator
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    Rufaro Makamure wrote:
    We are using the cob( the part that remains after shelling), for making fire for heating up our bathing water and we will use the ash for our compost. In addition to maize we got almost 3kg of beans from the same field. /quote]

    Fantastic! These are all great practices. I know we've mentioned this before, but this makes me wonder what sort of perennials you could plant to provide your own mulch. You'd be that much closer to closing the fertility circle and being sustainable.

     
    Rufaro Makamure
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    The lawn has been nicely ridged it looks beautiful (will include images when possible). I ended up getting more blocks to cover most of the ridge, the salvaged ones had paint on them and this, the builder said was not good for the proper setting of the plaster. We only used just a few on the remaining part.We will continue working on the rubble surrounding the lawn until it looks neat and also until we succeed in suppressing all the weeds.

    A cousin of my mum's, who is staying outside the country, has been following up on my mum's progress at her plot and is impressed and because of this, he sent her some money. His wish is to come back and retire in his home country and seeing a progressive project gives him hope of future stability. I am so proud of my mother because of how she has decided to use this money. Since things have been going up it has been difficult to keep up with especially stock feed prices, and she has decided to buy in bulk. The thought of her thinking of stocking up for an existing project is great, the tendency is when one gets some income, always there is a new project to try out and as a result all projects never get attention beyond start up point.

    The other decision she has had to make is to choose between concentrating on egg production for resell, or hatching the eggs and selling the chicks. She chose chicks, because thy sell for more and she will sell just a few eggs as she tries out the chicks market. I think eggs have more room for growth, because they are not too demanding and also the market for these is certain and consistent. Also because we are still amateurs both in agriculture and "business" eggs would give us so much more room and time to make mistakes without too much of a cost. I think right now it is not just a product that is going to get my mum a stable source of income, but if she manages to offer a fair and affordable, product with an almost consistent price, she will hold a permanent place on the supplier's side now and in the future. For this to be possible it is going to take some patience and a lot of sacrifice. Otherwise in so far as to suppress input costs, it is very possible if we look for alternative feed.

    Trying to become sustainable is like peeling an onion, trying to solve one thing, makes you see more and more of areas that need fixing.

    I got feed back from my uncle in Hurungwe. He calls the raised beds fertility trenches and he chose that method because it is easier for him to feed his soil and also they are good for draining too much water. He mentions that it is not always too dry though it is getting drier by the years. He started his garden in the early 90s and then it was a lot different from now.  I asked him how he makes a living out of this because in the rural area, money is not as common as in towns and usually people grow grains which they can feed on, the whole year. He said he usually barter trades his greens for maize and he sells for cash to teachers from nearby schools. He will send images of how he goes about his salling and of how much he can get in  certain period.
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    Nyovi plant growing nicely
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    Before the ridge around the lawn
     
    Lauren Ritz
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    Rufaro Makamure wrote:Trying to become sustainable is like peeling an onion, trying to solve one thing, makes you see more and more of areas that need fixing.


    But it is SO worth it!

    Rufaro Makamure wrote:I got feed back from my uncle in Hurungwe. He calls the raised beds fertility trenches and he chose that method because it is easier for him to feed his soil and also they are good for draining too much water. He mentions that it is not always too dry though it is getting drier by the years. He started his garden in the early 90s and then it was a lot different from now.  I asked him how he makes a living out of this because in the rural area, money is not as common as in towns and usually people grow grains which they can feed on, the whole year. He said he usually barter trades his greens for maize and he sells for cash to teachers from nearby schools. He will send images of how he goes about his salling and of how much he can get in  certain period.


    So the raised beds are essentially a flood control device. I wondered if that was the case. Since he's doing what amounts to a market garden, he can grow the items that grow best under these circumstances, things that he might not eat a lot of but that will bring the best return. If the items he sells are deep rooted, they would pull the water up from underneath. Out of curiosity, does he keep the trenches mulches as well, or just the beds?
     
    Rufaro Makamure
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    IT IS MOST CERTAINLY WORTH IT !

    For the success of the past season I would like to thank my family, friends (Lea, Mark, Memory, Sarah) and this forum for the support.

    The beds are the ones referred to as trenches by my uncle, will verify this though. I suspect this is because of how he makes the beds which I will ask him to also take us through. I do not think he mulches in between his beds, but uses the lower sections as paths.

    One of the things we did, to increase time on things we had no time on, was to put order that we all agreed on, in the house. It took months, but now rearranging items is a forgotten chore and we used to do this every other week. Next on the list is being able to put things in their rightful place as we go on with our day , for example putting shoes in their proper place right after removing them. EASY.. right! No...wrong! It is proving to be one very difficult task. We are sure this will cut down on house cleaning time so we are determined to master this habit.

    We had more time when visitors came to our house to just talk and this time thanks to the crops and garden the conversations were generally very positive and constructive

    With my cousins as we checked out the garden, l made them visualize a Shelf on the veggie section in pick'n'pay one of the big super markets, we started going down the aisle together, a section filled with onions, and we picked enough to go and use, and this was in the garden, carrots, lettuce, beets, potatoes... etc, each plant in the garden represented a section. So sometimes it is not about how big, but it is about functionality. Instead of the big beds with one crop small holes in a small space with various plants could actually serve a better function. We ended up sharing seeds.

    Each area attracted a different crowd. From the maize harvest, as my uncles helped with the shelling, in their silence I could feel their judgement on my lifestyle softening. This year most if not all rain fed fields had zero harvest and here they were shelling.

    We talked at length about how wealth is actually created by nature and capital only aiding in the ease of access to what nature has to give.
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    In the garden with cousins
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    Rufaro Makamure
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    We tried to get feed for the birds yesterday and we just missed the window as the feed went up yesterday morning. It has tripled in price since January. We are now looking into buying grain from the open market, something we were planning to do after finding out more about chicken feed alternatives.

    We already have been looking into substituting some of our dinners with non corn based meals, so as to adapt to the quantities our plot offers and maybe share our corn with the chickens as the years go by and diluting the importance of maize will make crop rotation a whole lot easier. We had pumpkin and milk last Sunday night and we were surprised at how filling it was, without sadza or rice. The pumpkin was from the field, it is the only one we got. We are also substituting bread in the morning, and we had a breakfast almost for free, with a filling from the garden as well as avocado that we got from a friend of my mum's, I saw this recipe when I visited a friend and it was then when I realized that we can cut costs by adding variety to what we put on our table. There are some food stuffs that are not considered that important because they are not "staple" or common in the daily meals, so they are not too expensive and this is working to our advantage.
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    From the field
     
    Lauren Ritz
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    Grain prices are going up all over, and it's unlikely to stop any time soon. I assume you already feed your chickens the food you don't eat, anything left over. Corn cobs and bean pods as well, and pumpkin rinds as well as the seeds you're not going to plant. When you harvest your beans, feed the chickens with the plants then use their manure in the plot. And so on. I'm pretty sure you have that down.

    Another thing is (assuming you have your chickens in a dedicated "run") to plant food bearing plants around the run where they can get to the berries/leaves but can't tear out the plant itself. If you have things that always take over, plant those inside the run and see if the chickens keep it under control. Put their run under a tree where the fruit will fall directly into the run. Etc. Find ways to extend the grain, whether that's feeding them your weeds or creating a bug trap and feeding them the insects.
     
    Rufaro Makamure
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    Ooooh..! I had no idea we can make chicken feed from, cobs, we have been using those as firewood.

    We do have two mulberry trees in the free range area and we have been throwing Russian comfrey leaves together with weeds sometimes.
     
    Nathanael Szobody
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    Variating your diet is a HUGE step toward sustainability. Bravo! I love your squash and milk meal.

    If you're looking to produce grain for your own food, why not try some of Africa's traditional crops of sorghum and millet? They are much more hardy and drought tolerant, and they are much less demanding on the soil. They taste almost like corn :-) You could could try just one row to see how you like it...
     
    Lauren Ritz
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    Nathanael Szobody wrote:If you're looking to produce grain for your own food, why not try some of Africa's traditional crops of sorghum and millet? They are much more hardy and drought tolerant, and they are much less demanding on the soil.


    Or plant them outside the chicken run as your test. The chickens LOVE this stuff. Hang a head of sorghum above their heads and watch them jump for it. :)
     
    Rufaro Makamure
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    I have been enquiring a lot on why millet and sorghum are not popular since they are drought resistant and indigenous plants. The reason why maize meal overtook the two is because of ease in processing corn into mealie meal. There is also more time needed during its growing especially when keeping birds away. It is still being grown but mostly for brewing beer, maybe I will be able to get the processing of sorghum and millet and share this. If we are lucky we will get some from the market for the chickens and successful use could be a good enough reason for planting it in our field and its availability will make its use in our home limitless.

    Our roses have not been flowering and I added water amounts now it's a matter of time till we see flowers
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    First baking attempt using the rocket stove
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    Nathanael Szobody
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    Rufaro Makamure wrote:I have been enquiring a lot on why millet and sorghum are not popular since they are drought resistant and indigenous plants. The reason why maize meal overtook the two is because of ease in processing corn into mealie meal. There is also more time needed during its growing especially when keeping birds away. It is still being grown but mostly for brewing beer, maybe I will be able to get the processing of sorghum and millet and share this. If we are lucky we will get some from the market for the chickens and successful use could be a good enough reason for planting it in our field and its availability will make its use in our home limitless.

    Our roses have not been flowering and I added water amounts now it's a matter of time till we see flowers



    True: sorghum and millet take longer to ripen. However, there are short varieties of sorghum that ripen as fast as corn. I have a 70 day variety.

    As for processing, I'm pretty sure sorghum is simpler: After cutting the heads they are layed on the ground and beaten. The chaff is winnowed out of the grain. The grain is then processed into flour just like corn grains.
     
    Rufaro Makamure
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    Our second harvest this year, of green matter from our banana plant. I made compost for the flowers as well as for the kitchen garden.
    We have set a day with my mother on preparing sorghum meal, we will see how that goes.
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    Rufaro Makamure
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    Second sucessful non sadza/rice meal
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    Beans from the field
     
    Rufaro Makamure
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    I am believing in miracles more and more everyday.

    We have not been able to stock feed for the chickens for a number of reasons and I was getting worried that we will fail to prepare properly for a worst case situation (the most recent one was at the beginning of the year when all shops were closed for some days). It is safe for us to have some reserve feed for 'rainy' days, not that we wish for anything bad to happen. Just when I had run out of ideas, a guy who had some money of mine ( should be from 2013 or 2014), send it. I have been reading on how cow peas can be used as feed for chickens and I will buy a sack of this. If it works it is going to strengthen the reason for growing cow peas together with maize (we have been talking about replacing sugar beans with cow peas, since we have not managed to get the pole beans, my mum says they used to grow cow peas successfully in their fields back then). With time we will find use for other crops and then we can have stronger reasons for crop rotation, then soil fertility and disease suppression, will hopefully prove it is a worthy move if we do manage to crop rotate.

    The man who is staying at the plot has started clearing the field. On Sunday when we got to the plot, we saw that he had started burning some of the dry weeds from the field. I cannot even begin to explain how it felt, I quickly calmed down when I looked at my mum, and I saw she felt the exact same feeling and she commented that we had overlooked telling Solomon that we do not burn anything from the field. With soil care and minimum or no burning, I am now positive we now have the same values with my mum. I remember the first years it was difficult for my mum to think of not adding a little artificial fertilizer to  the compost but last year she gave away a sack which she had kept for two years in case our method fell short somewhere.

    The second miracle, my uncle from Hurungwe called last Friday, saying he was expecting the barbed wire for putting around his garden, sometime during the past weekend. I had gotten some money (in February), from a friend to buy some barbed wire. For free transport we decided to use my cousin's truck that goes to my uncle's place periodically, as they have business in that area and that way we could use all the money to buy the barbed wire. They are finally making that trip, crazy things were now crossing my mind. I am yet to hear feed back on whether they managed to make it.

    Thirdly, my sister called me and said I could share on my thread some developments, in her life, which I partially link to the exposure my family has had to sustainability and regenerative agriculture and lifestyle. I had asked her before, so as to prove that small things can have ripple effects and can make positive life changing decisions starting from individuals going into families and can spread even to bigger groups. So she will share in her own words. Speaking about that, I watched one of our neighbours' sprinklers in his field and how most of his discussions and my mother's are leaning more to what they are growing. These fields used to be green mostly in the rainy seasons, now there is more and more life even afterwards. It might be different farming approaches, but the fact that there is more growth of food spread throughout the year at a small holder farmer level is so good for food availability. It will be a matter of time until they start sharing different farming practices, and I guess the most successful and affordable one is what will be borrowed. I think I am watched a new culture being formed.

    Lastly I had a great time with a 7 year old on Sunday. We were feeding the chickens and the little boy, Wayne, was so full of energy and he was chasing the birds from the moment he got into the chicken run. My fear was he was going to be attacked by a cock and it would get us all running. My fear came into reality and I pointed to him one cock which was preparing to charge and I was telling him it is time for us to move out of the chicken run. He just looked at me and turned towards the cock and chased it. It vanished within seconds. I know it will take me time to have that much courage, but I just thought maybe this is the courage life needs, just being fearless. It seemed like he did not even notice the cock was about to charge!
     
    Rufaro Makamure
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    Oh my god!!! A woman who stays nearby just brought tomato seedlings... she says she has seen me in the garden...! It is a very good day, I am dancing to this song because it really feels like we have had a bumper harvest this year, not necessarily in the field



    In the shona culture the song "Mawere kongonya" was sang and it's meaning as given by some scholar is shown below

    The people are sharing with the rain spirits the image of crops ripening and baboons coming down the mountains to feed on them. When the baboons have fed well they walk in style (kongonya, i.e. how the baboons walk) up the cliffs at the end of the day. Thus the people are looking beyond the provision of rain to the kind of harvest that should enable them to feed both their livestock and wild animals.  



    and the above song is a modification of the song and I like it because it is a happy song
     
    Rufaro Makamure
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    Got a chance to sample wick irrigation with one of the tomato seedlings. I will see how wet the soil will be tomorrow, before I use the method on all the tomato seedlings.

    Most of my flowers dried up and I am going to try out wick irrigation as soon as I manage to grow some roots on some 'stem' I decided to cover with soil while it is still on the parent plant, that way it will not die on me.
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    Rufaro Makamure
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    We managed to get a sack of pearl millet (mhunga), a bucket of sunflower and a bucket of soya beans. The more these grains become a part of our daily lives the more real and closer we will be to having them as part of our field products.
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    Sunflowers
     
    Lauren Ritz
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    Consider using the sunflowers to shade other less hardy plants. I let them get about three or four feet tall, then chop and drop and let them grow back. I've never grown the other two.

    One thing I do (if I have enough seeds, which it appears you do) is to scatter the seeds in various areas. What comes up tells me where that particular type of seed likes to grow. Then if I want to expand I know where to put them or how to change the environment so they'll grow well.
     
    Rufaro Makamure
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    It is interesting to watch how wicks suck water, the tomato holes are soaked with the watering. The first bottle is finished and I guess I put the hole to allow the thread through into the bottle, a little too low.

    There is progress in the kitchen garden. There is an area, which is directly under a tree, that has plants with retarded growth as compared to others. It could be too much shade or the roots from the tree are affecting the plants' roots. I put the remainder of the compost from last time on all the plants and part of the lawn, so I will see if there will be any difference. I also just turned the compost I am making, so there will be a constant supply for the kitchen garden.

    I have included pepper planted on the same day, but has differing growth rates
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    Rufaro Makamure
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    I had a look at the gigantic carrot in the garden... and I doubt if I will wait for a seedling to be ready as replacement for the carrot after removing it. I am itching to see how big the whole carrot is.


    Tomorrow is the first day I am officially combining house maintenance, kitchen garden and duties at the plot. The number of eggs being produced by our chickens has decreased to less than half, so I have decided to look into this, the food and everything else that might be causing this reduction.  
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    Rufaro Makamure
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    I managed to get three different vegetables from the garden. The target is to maintain a variety coming from a small space and having a steady supply throughout the whole year, since we can grow things for the whole year. In the past two months, I have been picking pepper only, now there are carrots and beets, meaning from this month going onward I have to strive to collect at least 3 vegetables once every month, and then increase on frequency as time passes.
    I might have found a second plant from the wild that we can domesticate.  I discovered the use of amaranth as feed for chicken and it grows uncontrolled on some patches. The leaves seem smaller though, than the ones I have been seeing on the internet, even the seeds are so tiny and they are black.  
    Is there anyone who knows if it is okay to feed any type of amaranth to chickens?
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    amaranth at the edge of an abandoned field
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    Rufaro Makamure
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    We were storing peanut shells we use as mulch, in sacks and drums.As we work on improving the care for the chickens, we realised we can lay the shells, for the chickens to scratch, that way we can get even more out of the shells.

    Some changes are occuring, a garden just after our house was mulched yesterday and the family who gave me some of the rubble, covered part of their place with rubble, it seems they are also working on their outside yard. Small individual efforts could actually lead to a great space with protected and covered soil, we will have reduced washing away of soil in the long run.

    My sister sent her story and how she decided to consider exploring more on sustainable living

    2018 September I decided to move out of a bachelor's flat that I was renting, and move into a tiny house.
    Mostly it was inspired by my sister's stories of sustainable living, which led to my increased interest in alternative lifestyles. Watching amazing videos for example living big in a tiny house by Bryce Langston, opened my mind up and I decided to make some changes, starting with a realistic look at my financial position and taking charge, this is the reason why I had to move out of a bachelor’s flat.
    .
    Having done my small design (that suited my budget and schedule of materials), it was time to look for the items in the market. For a moment it looked like an impossible task and the temptation of reversing my decision seemed to be the only logical thing.
    I had planned to use some reclaimed materials and I would get them from the nearest auctioneers.
    That month prices of goods started to go up, they tripled and they kept going up at a shocking pace. So I had to rethink my design and find much more affordable solutions. The best solution ended up being a wooden cabin I bought from a friend. I moved in, during the rainy season, so water to use was readily available.


    I was lucky that I had family to support me during my relocation, my mother and twin sister for financial support and encouragement and my young sister for moral support. I started my journey to a minimalist lifestyle. I had to get rid of most of my furniture  , the comforting thing was that the money was really useful in my transition period. Other things I had to give up, included a convenient location, where I could get everything I needed at a walk-able distance from my home, including walking to work. It meant I had to change a lot of things.

    I view my position as a chance to be innovative and to discover if I am able to create a comfortable and convenient home for myself, as I make positive steps towards financial stability.

     
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    Neighbor
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    Rufaro Makamure
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    One lady who has been helping in our plot for the past years, has just started working on zai pits in her own field and it is exciting. She is also talking about adopting compost making so that she substitutes artificial fertiliser.

    I got pictures from my uncle of how his garden looks towards the end of winter and it looks good. He is also getting weeds from the dam which he puts in his beds.
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    Getting weeds for the garden
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    Neighbor's zai pits
     
    pollinator
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    Rufaro, I'm really interested in your stories! Thank you for posting them here.
     
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    Rufaro Makamure wrote:... I discovered the use of amaranth as feed for chicken and it grows uncontrolled on some patches. The leaves seem smaller though, than the ones I have been seeing on the internet, even the seeds are so tiny and they are black.  
    Is there anyone who knows if it is okay to feed any type of amaranth to chickens?



    Hi Rufaro,
    do you feed the leaves or the seeds?
    Some species of amaranth may contain lots of nitrates in the leaves, therefore should not be fed in too high proportion of the feed.
    About the seed color: in other species, dark seed indicate difficult to digest compounds. Again, if it is just a part of the diet, no problem, but feeding them exclusively on dark amaranth may become a problem.

    Seeds of amaranth are however tiny, and can be sent posted by mail easily. Do you have a somewhat reliable access to mail?
    I am quite sure if you ask here, someone has some seeds to share (I currently don't).

    In case you are too shy to ask:
    Does someone have seeds of amaranth to share?

    Here is a variable landrace that is 60 cm tall, of all colors
    http://www.realseeds.co.uk/grains.html

    There are other varieties getting to over 2 m tall, under which you could keep the chiken and let them harvest the falling grains. You just need to keep the chicken out untill the plants are strong enough.
     
    Rufaro Makamure
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    Below are images of my uncle making "fertility trenches"/raised beds. He takes out most of the topsoil on the portion he is concentrating on and then fills it up with organic material, it could be weeds from the dam, banana plant cuttings, cow dung or any other item, then he covers these with the topsoil he would have removed. He also sent an image of the dam he goes to fetch water from which is close to where his garden is.

    The amaranth that I found wildly growing is the one I planted. The seeds haven't germinated yet, but I got a sample of both the seeds and the plant. I am also working on feeding our chickens with maggots. I have been successful in breeding the maggots using the chicken droppings. What is still puzzling me is how to have the maggots drop from a bucket I punched holes in, which I then transfer the maggot and chicken dropping mix in, I saw it online.
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    Amaranth
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    Amaranth Seeds
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    Maggot bucket for chickens
     
    Su Ba
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    Wow, your uncle has created an excellent system! Fantastic!

    Thank you for the photos.
     
    Lauren Ritz
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    Rufaro Makamure wrote:I am also working on feeding our chickens with maggots. I have been successful in breeding the maggots using the chicken droppings. What is still puzzling me is how to have the maggots drop from a bucket I punched holes in, which I then transfer the maggot and chicken dropping mix in, I saw it online.


    I'm not sure what kind of maggots/flies you're working with. The black soldier fly which is often used in this kind of system has an instinct to climb, so a small ramp to the edge will have the larvae literally dropping over into the dirt. Other flies have different instincts as larvae, so what is the habit of this particular fly? Do the larvae seek out the light? Do they want the dark? Do they go for areas of more moisture, or less? do they climb, or burrow? How can you adapt your system to adjust for these and make the bucket self-feeding?

    It's neat to have more information on your uncle's work. I did something similar a year ago (although on an entirely different level) since I had leftover sod/grass. Piled sticks and yard debris, then the grass upside down, covered with leaves, covered with woodchips, covered with more leaves, and soil over the top. Didn't work as I'd intended, but it definitely stays wetter than most of the surrounding area.
     
    Rufaro Makamure
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    I promised myself I would send images for how our house as well as our plot will look after winter. The progress is so slow but I am still proud that we are going forward not back sliding. Most of the area we have control over has either stone or grass mulch (less washing away of soil and increased percolation), we are trying to improve on beautifying the place (which will add value and create a more loveable space), and we are still attempting to grow a variety of our own food. We are also still improving on self management in our daily chores, for improved use of time, this has created more moments to just talk.

    The recent thing I have heard about my mother's childhood is about squash (the very watery one which is between a pumpkin and a water melon), we use it for making porridge. When they would eat the porridge, they would hunt for any seeds that would have been mistakenly left, while preparing the porridge. A child would feel so victorious when they came across the seeds (referred to as children when found), they would then throw the seeds in the fire checking out whose seed burst the most. I found this to be an amazing incentive as compared to the current "bring each other down competitive approach". The main idea then was to encourage whoever would prepare the porridge to remove as much seeds from the squash (victory if the porridge wound be finished without a single seed found) and for the kids to not complain so much if they would come across seeds in their porridge, a game was invented that actually made them look forward to a seed in the porridge. It was a win win.
    Below are images for the house.
    PS: kitchen garden might look like nothing is happening but some life is within that layer of grass. Of course I do admit that a faster pace could be attained.
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    Still green, have started crushing rubble as it looks better when its smaller
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    Part of the street view
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    Tomatoes survived
     
    Rufaro Makamure
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    I have gone back to the drawing board to see if I can de-cluster seemingly too many task and properly prioritize, with more emphasis on the important tasks and finding a way to deal with the urgent. I am able to do this, because  we got fortunate and got help with feed for our birds for some weeks, and this has released some pressure which was building up, we are very grateful. Images of the plot's progress are as shown below, I am mostly happy to see feathers growing back on most of the chickens.
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    Rufaro Makamure
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    My internet is slow for uploading pictures currently, but I will. One man from whom I get some of the mulch for the kitchen garden, called me to show me a space he has created for his flowers. They are still tiny but I really think it is a great thing he is doing. He also agreed to let me take images of his flower bed as time progresses.

    I have also been successful with one area for seedlings, and this is thanks to the tip of trying places out, by randomly throwing seeds and watching how they grow. The area with the banana plant that we get greens from is so ideal for seedlings. for most part of the day there is an area that receives a lot of shade and because it is so close to the kitchen, it is almost always wet (we usually just throw water as we do chores), so there is no risk of seedlings drying due to lack of moisture. I placed the hosepipe holder on top of the seedlings to keep the dogs away, they have been a menace when it comes to my seedlings.

    In the past month we had a fair share of meals with beetroot and we are slowly acquiring it as part of our needed vegetables, avocados have already passed and are now a part of our "common" vegetable in the house. I still wonder how something so cheap, readily available and so tasty was not a part of our grocery items, before this year. Beetroot is also so easy to grow and requires zero chemicals, I honestly think when it comes to increasing food variety at a family level, the bridge could just be a little knowledge addition. I am still experimenting with the spider leaf plant, it flowered before we even harvested any leaves from it, so I have to keep on finding the right way of growing it so that we can domesticate it.
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    Seedling are in the shade
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    Found him munching on the seedling tray
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    Neighbor's flower bed
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    His street
     
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