On the Monday, 7th we were lazy due to heavy rain and postponed our way to the land, we finally stayed home all day and did a bit of cleaning after a great heavy sweet breakie : tarro porridge with jam and pawpaw !
Dany made some soap, Meriem sorted out legume seeds: benoir or ‘rain tree’ and I sowed some pawpaw and grapefruit in new bush pot : a long splatted bamboo. I then did a bit of computer work while Dany did his accounting, everyone did a bit of research and we worked on the design of the kitchen.
I worked on the design of the ‘water house’, which will be a bathroom plus laundry zone underneath a big roofing area to collect water and protect the tank. We will arrange the surroundings as a wet garden surrounded by bananas. I remembered a spiral bamboo bathroom in Indonesia and I adapted that design to make it bigger and multifunctional. The bathroom structure in the middle will serve as support making the higher part of the spiral, which will go lower and lower and splatted bamboos across will collect water in a spiral shape.
On the Tuesday 8th, Meriem focused on the compost zone as she wants it to be her responsibility, she found a flat spot just above the swale in between the two gardens and cleaned it out in order to build a roof first and then start 3 piles of compost. We want to experiment with our first splatted bamboo-roofing surface for this place, which will be a small one though easier to handle! Tom is bringing us a barrel to store clear drinkable rainwater and we will start to collect water from there. Dany cleaned the area around the house by chopping down the big navenu and piling it onto two piles, one green and one for firewood.
I did a lot of planting on this cloudy and wet day, I put 31 cucumbers seedlings from our compost pile at home In the ground. They went on the south side of two of the organic matter piles in the new staple food garden. As soon as I finished, the sun started to appear and became strong and really hot by lunch time!! Meriem left for the house to get ready to go to town where she needs to do some shopping and catch up with Tom who is arriving at the end of the afternoon from Australia. I prepared a bit of lunch and went back to the poor cucumbers seedlings and covered them with big leaves. Dany cooked while I went to explore the West side of the house looking for clearings where to fit the water system tank and bathroom. I came back for lunch and found Dany explaining Manae how a swale works and giving him a little tour. He is one of Ray’s workers, he has a little garden not so far from our land on Ray’s land and comes sometimes to work in it and do some harvesting. Right now he has been sent by Ray to sort out coconuts as they want to make copra and sell it to the factory. He is making big piles of coconut ready to be opened and to be then cooked in the coconut shed. He stayed with us for lunch and we exchange tomatoes, capsicum, egg plant and pumpkin seedlings for young banana trees.
We went to his garden and explained to him how to mulch the new seedlings, he accompanied us back to the land helping to carry huge banana seedlings back with us. We planted them just behind the annual garden hedge in order to replace this wind break which is now a big portion of strangling vines growing on small trees, then I worked for few hours on the annual garden, weeding, preparing a new bed with the new material and shaping some of the existing beds before preparing some spots for seedlings.
We came back late carrying taro from Manae garden and arrived at the same time as Tom and Meriem who had been dropped off by Ray .
Tom went to town early to meet Norah, our main contact at the agriculture college of Santo. They organised an ‘Introduction to permaculture’ course with Tom. Dany accompanied Tom to manage the opening of our local bank account in town at the Westpac office. They also went to the land management office to try to understand the issues with the our land. They met a nice man who tried to explain to them the problem of custom landowning and agreements of usage. It seemed very complicated and the man was only speaking French and bishlamah…not English! That should have been the mission for the French women who were left on site ;) !
Meriem and I went to the land late, we did a little cleaning and meriem went to pick planting material in Ginette’s garden: 4 different varieties of kumala (sweet potatoes). I improvised a coconut yogurt from a receipe given by Ona . I poured in a jar the water of a green coconut and added the milk of a dried one with some grated ginger.
Arriving on the land we met Manae and went to his garden from where we brought back 2 more banana seedlings : white meleke variety with some island taro to replant.
I started to prepare a new bed for the taro and at the same time I weeded the grass which is starting to grow on our paths in the annual garden. The strategy is to fill up the whole space with beds as much as we can to avoid weeding and increase food production! I used the navenue half dried branches and leaves to build up the new taro bed and keep the weed away. Meriem kept going on the swale and installed a little bridge across one of the path. After lunch I planted the bananas and Meriem continued cleaning out the zone for compost, we used all the small scrapped organic material to mulch the bananas and built up some new garden beds in the annual garden.
At the end of the day I did a slashing session just behind the garden on the South side in order to find a spot for the nursery and the solar building, which will also be a tool shed.
We came back late and really tired after this extremely hot day and were so happy to find dinner ready, a delicious taro mash with some greens made by Dany!
On Thursday 10th, all of us started at 6 am after eating pawpaw in order to be at the agriculture college at 7.30am, where Tom is giving a two day Introduction course. We stopped at the market to have a small brekky and we found a woman selling fish for half the price as what we usually buy it at, we grabbed her number after organising some potential pick up for some days … great !!!!!
A few people were there for the course, mainly teachers and office workers from the college but as well some students and locals from villages around.
Everyone seemed really interested and captivated by this introduction; such a different way of agriculture for them including as well a new model of living and thinking. The three of us participated trying to bring a bit of bishlamah and bringing as many examples as we could locally. We talked a lot of course about our land site, showed them some pictures and talked about our challenges.
For lunch break Dany and I went for a look at the animal section and got to have a look at the chicken ‘house’ on two floor levels, the duck pen, the pig section and the goat paddock. The broody chicken are outside in a normally closed pen but the egg producers are kept inside and fed grains. The pigs are kept in really small enclosures and a hose washes those out; the water is collected in a concrete drain which heads to a huge hole in the goat paddock where nobody is growing food because of the goats …
Straight in the afternoon session we gave them this example to illustrate energy loss. Meriem went for a look around and was offered a handful of glyricidia, great legume for companion cropping! At the end of the day we had a tour in the garden and two of the horticulture trainers told us they will be willing to come and help us on the land once in a while!
We came back home and had some meat for dinner with delicious yam patties and a spicy coconut soup, locally called Tanna soup. We tried the yogurt for dessert, which was actually really yummy and fatty!!!
On Friday 11th of August, we went back to the agriculture college after an other brekky at Mama Marie Therese’s stalls at the market, we arrived later as we almost walked all the way to town but we were perfect on the island time schedule ! We were happy to see all the participants coming back with enthusiasm and to meet two new ones, Isaac and Bomb both agriculture trainers at the Matevulu college on the East Coast. Isaac knows Adeline, one of Tom first students in Vanuatu and the first contact in Vanuatu for us. She is spreading the word about our project and is finding a lot of potential students really into it . Isaac found us this way, he got to look at a few pictures from a previous PDC and talked a bit about permaculture with her, since then he was really interested to know more as he thinks this is a good direction for agriculture. He shows himself quite reserved at first but then showed such an interest in the course, asking a lot of questions and making the class become a real exchange around the table where every one could share and comment ! The compost topics could have lasted all day as every one was so much into it! In the afternoon Tom let the 3 of us present the ‘urban’ topic! We didn’t really prepare and we struggled a bit to organise the 3 of us together… The session ended up lasting the whole afternoon but we had a great exchange with the participants who were really curious. We brought two of them on board drawing their own piece of yard and we tried to work on a little design with them ! It has been a great learning process for us and Tom had a lot of fun looking at us struggling drawing plans on the board!
At the end of the day the classroom was full and we had an amazing long closing ceremony where all the participants gave feed back about the course, the Bellarue project and permaculture in general. We got some amazing feedback, they explained to us that they could find in permaculture a true direction for their culture, their agriculture and their lives, that this has toucehd them in their job through the agriculture topic but most of everything in their heart as a way of living! What a great reward for Tom coming all the way here for such a short period and us building up a demonstration site at Bellarue! The horticulture trainers promised to visit us in the coming weeks and Isaac on the next Sunday as he has a lot of relatives and a piece of land at bellarue as well !
Rodney the forestry department trainer proposed to come back and give me a little training at forest surveying to be able to keep going with the planning, three of the 3rd cycle students will probably be able to give me a hand and that is great because I’m struggling quite a bit to draw a correct map on scale from the thick bush !!!! The girl from the aquaculture section promised to help us to develop an aquaculture system some time soon.
On Saturday the 12th, we had a Day off, Dany and I stayed home and did a bit of cleaning, Meriem and Tom went in town.
On the Sunday 13th, we finally went to the land with Tom. Manae was there with Timmy and Greg cleaning Ray’s manioc garden… After a quick look around with Tom, Dany and him went to collect a new palm tree for the flooring structure. They chopped, splitted it and carried it back helped by the boys and Manae. I worked at weeding the grass of the future kumala garden and preparing some mounds for planting them; Meriem planted some island cabbage around the garden and did a bit of mulching. We had a good lunch together and the boys went back down to BP Borne, Manae went back to the coconut job and we took Tom for a little exploration walk to talk about design and localising the different big structural elements as water tank, bathroom, chook pen and nursery. We brought him to the big cleared redwood site and we carried back the first chopped bit that we will use as a kitchen bench. At the end of the day, Meriem made up an orientation pinpoint and picked some bush cabbage for dinner, I went back in the staple garden to plant 3 kinds of kumala/sweet potatoes, one from the Salomon islands which doesn’t need to cook for long, one orange flesh/white skin with purple leaves and another one white with pink skin.