Tag Archives: Natural capital

Building capital that lasts

Do you believe in the value of money? Do you believe that you pay for what you get when you buy cheap gadgets on the market; or when you pay for your food, apples fromEnglandsent toSouth Africato be waxed and send back to theUKto be sold at1.5 poundthe kg? Who is paying for it?

ImageDo you believe in money, profit and economic growth to solve our problems? Do you believe that the World Health Organisation for instance is about healthy citizens when its main aim is to make profit; that we will care for the people and the earth when every progress is measured solely by the profit we make? A tsunami that hits the country means economic growth; a river is polluted, more bottled water sold – economic growth; a country goes to war or sends weapons for wars – more economic growth. Looking after the elderly, the children, the disadvantaged, all of that is institutionalised today. We found ways to make environmental conservation and social service profitable, very rarely however it is for the sake of the environment or society itself that these essentials are considered.

Some people in the world work with the soil, knowing how to improve it, they live with the earth. Look at those people planting trees, catching and storing, bringing water back into the landscape, regenerating the ecosystem, growing food in a natural way in tune with the environment. Every year they store more wealth, more capital in biomass, water, in saving seeds for the next planting season and for coming generations to be able to provide for what is most important: a healthy way of life, healthy food produced through healthy soil and a healthy environment. It’s not complicated; it’s the essence of life, connecting to the earth. People have been doing it for thousands of years.

Look at the people who have relationships, whole communities working together on their lands, many of them producing food for their neighbours, sharing, caring. Look at these wealthy cultures that we in our western civilisation often call poor. Profit, obtaining a yield has a different meaning for them. Look at their wealth, diversity, yet so much simplicity and time, relationships, family, smiles on their faces, health and dignity.

This doesn’t mean that I think we should all live in communities surrounded by forests. I feel a bit overwhelmed and even annoyed when people come to me and preach about what it takes to change the world, “it would be so easy if all of you could do this and do that”. For myself I need however some clarity for what is important in my own life, what makes me healthy as a person, and what I can do that makes the people around me as well as the environment and through that my children and the coming generations healthy and happy. I do recognise that all of that is interlinked and society influences my well-being and vice versa. I am interested to startle thinking, make people observe themselves and their society around them and then draw their own conclusions. Doing this over and over again will inevitably lead us to action, because there’ll be things that we want to change, there’ll be reconsideration and reorganisation of values in our lives. Do we want money to guide us around, or do we want our values to do that for us. What is sustainable? Can we build a society where values like mutual understanding, empathy, self-responsibility and cooperation are part of everyone’s life? Is common welfare a possibility? Can we build capital that lasts?

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Building Soil and Catching Energy

“Increasing the humus content of agricultural soil has always been a principle objective of organic agriculture. Changing the management of farmland to use organic or permaculture strategies and techniques can rebuild this storage of carbon, fertility and water to close to those of natural grasslands and forests. It is arguably the greatest single contribution we could make to ensure the future survival of humanity.” – David Holmgren, Permaculture – Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability

The composting method that we use at the Panya Project and that is often used in Permaculture Projects is the 18-day quick composting method afterBerkley. We need a mixture of carbon and nitrogen elements in a ratio of 30 to 1. This is however in concentration, not in biomass, where it’s probably more around 3 to 1, fully depending on your chosen and available ingredients. Water is added to the mixture with a moisture content of 60 percent being optimal. It is an aerobic fermentation process generated through heat. The pile is stacked in lasagne-style, meaning layer for layer altering between carbons – low nitrogen – carbons – high nitrogen – carbons – low nitrogen – and so on.

Carbon is the building block of life and is mostly found in trees. For the compost you can chose most brown organic material like branches and old leaves. For the quick compost it is important that most material is quite small; huge pieces of wood won’t compost in a month or 18 days. The highest nitrogen source is probably pee, then different kinds of manure. Another source of high nitrogen is freshly cut legumes as they are plants that catch nitrogen from the air. A middle and low nitrogen source is all other freshly cut leaves and greens from the garden and the trees. Kitchen waste is, depending on what it contains, mostly on the more or less right carbon-nitrogen ratio of 30 to 1 and can be added in between the layers.

The layers shouldn’t be higher than10 centimetreseach, keeping layers of cow manure thinner. The pile is optimally between 1.5 and2 metrecube, should never be smaller than1 metrecube, as it won’t get hot enough. After 2 to 4 days the pile mostly reaches a temperature of about 60 degrees Celsius. If the pile is after four days still below 45 degrees, you might not have the right moisture or there isn’t enough nitrogen in the lasagne. If the pile gets too hot, meaning more than 65 degrees and often predominantly covered in some white bacteria, it’s defiantly time to turn it. If it keeps heating up like that you might have to put some more carbon material. The pile should be covered to keep it from drying out in hot climates and keep it from getting too wet in wet climates.

After the first four days, the compost should be turned every other day. This keeps it aerated and gives you the possibility to add some materials, mostly water if necessary. You can check the moisture content in pressing the material in between your hands. If the hands become slightly wet, with not more than one drop of water on your palm, it is perfect moisture. The temperature you can feel with your hands, if digging into the pile and it’s too hot to keep your hands in it must be about 60 degrees. You have to dig in because the outside 10 to20 centimetresdon’t heat up and don’t really compost. Therefore, if you want the composting process to finish in optimal time it is important to turn it right; that means that you bring the outside of pile to the inside and the inside to the outside with every turning.

In the Panya Project, we usually have a pile done in about a month. Through this composting method we can keep planting all year through in the same beds always adding fresh healthy soil to the plants.

In permaculture we look for the multiplication of our functions. Doing this with the compost, we see that one output of the compost that we could use is the heat; probably we could cook eggs on top of it. When we had 20 school kids from Bangkok visiting the Panya Project for a week we thought we need more hot water options than our solar collector who holds water for about 4 to 8 showers. So we built them a bucket shower with passiv heating in letting the pipe run through the 60 degree hot compost. See pictures below. For two weeks we managed to have hot water from that pipe, so hot you needed to mix it with cold water.