Permaculture Failures – or are they feedbacks?!

Simple Solutions

One thing I love about Permaculture is that so many of the solutions are so simple! I love reading articles about low inputs with amazing results, or simple innovations that have fantastic results.

I’ve spent just over a year now putting my Permaculture Design into operation on our 1.5 acres. The design included the house and garden, emphasizing reducing waste, self sufficiency in some areas (eg herbs, eggs, meat) and improving the soil. We have had many successes and I have blogged about them on this site. However, we also have a long list of things that didn’t work!

Are they failures?

Another think I love about Permaculture is a failure is never a failure, if you observe it, learn from it, and accept the feedback that comes from it. That is what I have done in the table below -I have itemised the things that “failed” and tried to examine them and see what to learn from it.

Sometimes the lack of success comes from my inexperience in the garden (plants in the tropics need sun too, not just heat). Other times, its from my lack of knowledge of the specific local situation I am dealing with here (eg local children will strip my fruit trees bare before I can reach them. Or, stray goats and sheep in dry season will devour bit of green in my garden).

Sometimes it’s hard to try innovations here. You tend to hear comments like “we don’t do things that way here” and this can be tiring especially when you are putting in such effort to deal with the new challenges of the day to day in a new country. Sometimes there are good reasons why some things aren’t done here (like my daughter discovered when she struggled to grow imported roses) but sometimes new ideas or methods can work extremely well and help a huge amount (like composting).

I’ve learnt a lot from the internet, particularly from people doing Permaculture in similar tropical or dry climates. However, I’ve found that I can’t copy their ideas directly but need to tweak them to fit the resources and challenges of my own environment. That takes effort, and you guessed it, failures! But the hope is that eventually I will find what works here too. I was encouraged by this BBC article that comments how many trials are needed before a success http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-34775411

I sometimes wonder would more observation have prevented me making these mistakes – but then I conclude that I don’t think it would. I am always observing our garden and learning constantly, but I also learn a huge amount by doing. It’s in planting seeds, working with animals, observing their behaviours that I have learnt the most.

About the tables below.

After writing a list of the projects that were not successful, I saw they fitted into a number of categories – plants, animals, water, structures and other. For each item I reminded myself what my original intention had been and how I put it into practice. Then I cited the problem that I encountered and the issues that caused that problem. Finally, I reflected on what could be done to make the project a success in terms of the original intention. It’s been a helpful exercise to remind myself of why I was doing the thing in the first place which was easy to forget in the frustrations of failure!

ANIMALS

Original intention

What I did

Problem

What was the issue

To do

goats and sheep – milk

To milk goats to have raw milk to help our teeth

Bought a pregnant goat

Tiny milk production

Udder too small

Buy a goat with a big udder

Goats and sheep – meat

We’ve thought that perhaps we could have goats for meat

We have a male and female goat

We get too attached to the goats and can’t bear the idea of eating them.

Attachment

Don’t get close to the animals, name them things like Burgers, Dinner etc.

Goats and sheep – grass control

I wanted to use the animals to keep the grass down

Learnt a little about mob grazing. Had a metal enclosure built to imitate intensive grazing in one spot.

Didn’t get the hang of it yet – hadn’t understood that animals don’t eat grass gone to seed.

Lack of understanding and experience.

Lay out exact plots where the enclosures will go each day. Watch the grass to observe recovery time. I think I understand it now and will get it better next year.

Rabbit babies

Rabbits for meat and pets

First time – brought Lowennas rabbit and babies to the moveable coop. Second time, same but waited till the babies were bigger and the coop was re-inforced with stronger wire.

First set of babies died in the hutch. Also, the mother kept eating through the chicken wire and escaping.

Second set of babies escaped through the original holes and the cats killed them.

Don’t know why the first set of babies died.

Second set – although we reinforced the chicken wire with stronger wire we didn’t patch up the holes in the chicken wire. The mother couldn’t fit through but the babies could.

Patch the chicken wire. Or, make a better enclosure. However, its only worthwhile investing in this if we are willing to eat them.

Chickens

To keep local chickens in a natural environment to keep us in eggs and meat

I got 4 bush chickens for eggs. Weren’t laying enough so I got a bigger run and bought 10 new chickens in the market. They all died of Newcastles disease. So I got a cockerel to breed from my original 4.

Newcastles disease.

Don’t know why egg laying is so erratic

Buying chickens from an unreliable source without having a chance to look at them carefully.

Keep good records to spot any patterns in laying. Breed up good layers by selection.

PLANTS

Original intention

What I did

Problem

What was the issue

To do

Bougainvillea cuttings

To continue the line of bougainvillea trees a along the drive

Googled and learnt that cuttings grow roots

They didn’t! They just dried out and died

?

Try again? Get a root hormone powder? Learn more.

Cherry seedlings

Try cherries to vary fruits in garden

Planted seedlings from a friend

Most died after a number of months

?

Plant more than I’ll use to account for the low success rate.

moringa hedge

To grow a hedge beside a path for privacy from passers-by when we eat outside

Bought and planted 13 moringa seedlings from a nursery and planted them along the path

Stray goats and sheep ate the leaves, further leaves didn’t grow.

Lack of understanding of the local situation – stray animals in dry season

I transplanted seedlings to my fenced garden and will plant them out when they are stronger, with netting around them until they grow big enough to be out of goats reach. Perhaps I will never be able to use this plant for low hedging, may need to source another type. We also moved where we eat to under the mango trees where the garage blocks the view from the path somewhat.

Lemon tree prunings

To cut mistletoe out of a lemon tree that wasn’t producing much fruit

Googled to learn, than had someone cut 3 ft below the mistletoe

Tree looks badly shaped, too much taken off so just shoots grew this year with no fruit.

Don’t know enough about pruning

Wait a year or two to see if the tree starts producing. Learn more about pruning.

PLANTS contd

Original intention

What I did

Problem

What was the issue

To do

Banana circle

Create an area for composting that also grows food

Planted 3 small bananas and 3 small pawpaws in a circle

Stray goats ate the plants

Lack of understanding of the local situation – stray animals in dry season

Protect small trees until they are big enough to be beyond goats reach.

Tomatoes under spare room window

Grow food near the kitchen

There were some strings dangling from a water pipe which I assumed had been to train up tomatoes so I transplanted some volunteers from the compost heap

The plants didn’t grow as it was too shady

Lack of experience growing to know that even in the tropics, plants need sunlight, not just heat.

Find sunnier spots to grow tomatoes, and experiment with varieties that will do well. Also protect them from stray goats.

ponsietta

Russell loves these Christmassy plants that we often see towering above us here but not in our garden so I wanted to grow some for him.

In the rainy season I found lots growing in the long wild grasses so I transplanted many, about 10, 2 or 3 at a time, nearer the house so we could enjoy them and also so I’d remember to water it come dry season until it was well established.

They all wilted and died when transplanted.

Don’t know.

Try again! I transplanted some to the fenced garden where they’ll get watered daily, maybe that’ll work..

mulberries

To increase the variety of fruits in the garden.

On 4 occasions I took 2 cuttings as directed from a friends mulberry plant. I potted them near the front door so I could keep an eye on them and water them.

They all died

Don’t know.

Buy an already established plant?

food forest

To establish a food forest under existing trees.

Planted a passion fruit plant to grow up a camels foot tree.

It survived for over a year(without much watering) but didn’t grow any bigger

Too shady? As well as shade from the trees, the “forest” is on the far (west) side of the house so doens’t get lots of sun anyway until nearly sunset.

Potatoes with garlic

I wanted to grow potatoes with garlic to repel pests. I chose to do it near the food forest but in a spot that would get some morning sun too.

Had someone make ridges for me (they were sloping down hill which I now think wasn’t great, across the hill would have been better, but I was thinking this way they were N-S so the plants would get the sun better.) I planted local small potatoes interspersed with garlic.

Not much potato harvest, enjoyed a few shoots of garlic grass but no big heads of garlic

Poor soil, shade?

PLANTS contd

Original intention

What I did

Problem

What was the issue

To do

Fenced veg garden

To demonstrate raised beds, using compost, mixed growing, rotations, not stepping on soil

Had someone build a fence, marked 10 1x2m beds for annuals, plus a perennials border. Built some compost, had the chickens scratch it, planned rotations.

Most seeds didn’t grow. Some did eg pumpking, but for all the flowers there was no fruit

Seed packets too old (from predecessor). Soil too poor? Shade? Need better care in planting (eg carrots were too close together)

Keep working on which seeds grow well here. Keep enriching the soil.

Pawpaw

We love this fruit so I wanted to grow lots of it!

Planted seeds in pots.

First few seeds in pots didn’t germinate. Planted lots in rows, but they didn’t survive transplanting after thinning.

Plant in situ/grow bags, thin, transplant when bigger.

Lowennas roses

Lowenna wanted to grow roses in her garden

She bought 2 roses from the nursery

The plants didn’t prosper despite watering etc.

Hard to care for non- indigenous plants?

Her other plants are doing well – the ones she transplanted from other parts of the garden – if they were growing wild here they obviously can cope well here.

parasite on cizaki

I wanted to get rid of an ugly parasatic plant that was growing on a cizaki tree so that we could enjoy the cizaki fruit

Spent days pruning and cutting, then burnt the parasite. Hard work, lots of thorns

The parasite grew right back the next year

Perhaps the parasite was not completely rooted out.

Identify the parasite and learn how to deal with it

STRUCTURES

Original intention

What I did

Problem

What was the issue

To do

Goat rain shelter

A moveable shelter for shade and rain protection that would go in the fences

Had a shelter made from termite resistant wood and zinc

Painfully heavy to move each day with the fences

Termite resistant wood is very heavy.

Design a lighter one on wheels. In the dry season, keep the animals under trees. Rainy season – could all my cells be under trees? Not sure.

Chicken tractor

A moveable chicken shelter

Had one made from termite resistant wood.

Also heavy to move, but not too bad. Just fit 4 chickens, but since they weren’t laying enough, I had to get a bigger structure made for more chickens.

Termite resistant wood is very heavy.

Build with metal? (more expensive). Add wheels?

Rope swing

A fun swing for Lowenna and her friends

Used some rope and a tyre on a mango tree branch

The rope keeps unravelling

Not getting around to sorting the rope.

Buy a better rope and get it fixed well once and for all.

WATER

Original intention

What I did

Problem

What was the issue

To do

Pond

To have a water feature in the fenced garden for wildlife

Bought a shallow bowl and buried it in a bed and filled it with water and some rocks so frogs can hop out

Sun evaporates the water. Wind blows in grass and leaves. Frogs and other insects drown in it.

?

?

Buried clay pots for dry season water

I had read about desert people burying clay pots to water plants and loved the idea.

I tried it here but with no success.

Water not leaving pots except at a very slow rate (weeks to empty). Plants not picking up the water

The pots are widemouth, not long and thin, perhaps they exude water differently?

More research? Find/commission better shaped long, thin pots?

Rainwater catchment

To harvest rainwater directly to our kitchen and bathroom taps

Had a tank installed under the roof

Mozzie worms swimming in tap water

Not enough pressure for a shower

Check mozzie screening on tank

Rain garden

To have beautiful flower beds that also divert rainwater and allow it to sink

Observed rain flow, dug channels and flower beds, experimented with plants that could survive regular flooding

Flower beds look scraggy

Not getting around to weeding them. Also I was letting everything grow for observation and identification.

Let gardeners week once I know what plants I want there.

OTHER

Original intention

What I did

Problem

What was the issue

To do

To model various permaculture features that are easy to imitate and don’t cost too much

Many projects!

Materials are expensive

I don’t have sources of scrap/re-usable/second hand materials like local people do

Encourage local people to improvise if they are imitating anything!

Also, to emphasize that initial spending is worth it in the long run, its an investment.

Also, to show how money can be saved in other areas, eg we have no car, fridge, TV etc.

To break even

All animals and plants are chosen with their various functions and purposes in mind.

Low output of animals so inputs are higher than outputs

Low harvest of fruit and veg

Small udders etc

Children taking fruit without permission

Need to selectively breed and choose productive animals

Fencing? Education.

Keep practicing growing to see what grows well here.

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