Adventures in Permaculture
15.04.2014 - 13.06.2014
Another month down, and I’ve come to own up to the progress we’ve made on our permaculture project in Panama. It seems each week Glenavon on the Lake takes more shape, becomes more inspired and inspiring at once, and provides us with great senses of accomplishment, surprise, wonderment, sweaty fatigue and camaraderie.
In late May/early June, some major things happened around the place, both agriculturally and communally. We began taking in both crops and volunteers regularly, including Emma’s father, a man with a paintbrush always in hand. We’ve widened our scope of what we can already use from the property. We’ve survived mango season. I’ve begun a new writing gig for the site of permaculture legend Geoff Lawton. Things are officially in full motion.
Thusly, to limit my ramblings, I will do something all online writers must become accustomed to doing: I’ll report this progress via list, a la David Letterman’s Top Ten.
1. Started eating leaves.
Salad greens do not readily grow in the heat of the tropics, so we’d been largely lacking in the salad category, which is perhaps odd for vegans. As a result, Emma has become a leaf wizard, scoping out everything from bean leaves (used like spinach) to papaya leaves (medicinal tea) to several salad leaf substitutes, like hibiscus, cranberry hibiscus, moringa and okra—yes, okra—leaves. And, we’ve also gone crazy with the fresh herbs from last month’s herb spiral. We eat fresh herbs every day now.
2. Volunteer much
The volunteer program is in full swing now, with spots booked up through mid-August. We are currently on our third couple in a row, which will make for six weeks’ worth of volunteers. So far, we’ve had Matt and Charlene from France (experts in kitchen and titans of the cashew nut); Luke and Julie from England and France, respectively (swimming gurus and premier sidewalk cleaners); and currently George and Grace from Cornwall (masters of hard work and now worm bed specialists). It’s been really fun hanging out, sharing a little chitchat and veganism.
3. The Food Forest(s)
We are building two small food forests, one in the front and another in the back of the property, and they are both really showing progress. In the back, what we call the garden gully, we know have five magic circles, two for plantains, one for papayas, one for bananas, and one unclaimed as of yet. They are stuffed with other crops as well, including yucca, sweet potato, ñamé (a cross between yucca and sweet potato), pepper, taro, and hibiscus. In the front, the beds we’ve constructed between existing trees—lime, macadamia nut, moringa and water apple—are bustling with activity and bearing fruits and beautifully full plants.
4. Writing On
I did not expect that Panama would revolutionize my writing career, but it has. Veering off my travel-writing tableau, I’ve landed two great gigs in new invigorating genres. Last time we were here, in February, I managed to land my gig with One Green Planet (over 50 articles now), still one of my favorite websites, all about veganism, activism, conservation, and animal rights. It really feels like writing with purpose. And, now, upon our return, I’ve become part of one of the great permaculture websites out there, and it looks like I’ll be able to contribute regularly to Permaculture News as well. Suddenly, the money I’m making writing is becoming an actual wage.
5. The Communal Area
We’ve worked very hard to create a cool communal space for us and the volunteers to hang out in. It has become more and more what we want. There are drying leaves hanging around, a ping-pong table, different funky colors for each wall, plantlife encroaching from all sides, a WiFi hotspot, couches and easy chairs, a beer fridge, a book exchange, a psychedelic mural in progress, great views in both directions, a semi-outdoor kitchen area, jars of snacks everywhere (dried mango and coconut bacon), and more and more every week. It’s working.
6. Lawn Mowing Success
We have a unique agreement with Alan and Angelika: The property is divided in half by a sidewalk, with one side being free reign for our experimentation and the other being maintain like a normal lawn. After they left, I discovered the lawn mower (which I didn’t want to use for fossil fuel reasons anyway) was in bad condition. Consequently, we splurged with our first budget and bought an old-fashion roto-mower. It cuts the grass in an appropriately wild way that I like, and we’ve been able to make composting/mulching use of the clippings from it. The lawn looks good, but even better, it’s serving the gardens.
7. “Ice Cream”
With our crazy abundance of mangoes over the last couple of months, we’ve had to get inventive with them. Jams, chutneys, smoothies, salads, and juices just weren’t getting it done. Emma came up with an awesome ice cream that has stolen the show over the last couple of weeks. Lots of mango blended with one banana then frozen. Take it out to thaw before dinner and blend it one more time before eating it. With or without coconut milk, I’d say it stacks up, only its 100% raw fruit.
8. Parental Visitation #1
Emma’s father Tony came to visit for three weeks and really got into his inner hippie, which is a lot for an ex-military man who still irons his Bermuda shorts. He stayed on a true vegan diet the whole time, even when meat was available on our outings to Panama City. He chipped in to the communal effort, volunteering for his keep and consorting with the riffraff (us). At the end, he even went full on wild child and painted our outdoor fridge and freezer in a multi-colored swirl straight from the 1960s, even though he said, in the 1960s, he hated the 60s.
9. The Greenhouse
The greenhouse in the front of the property has been in a perpetual state between somewhat finished and chaos since the first week we arrived. It is finally shaping up into something fantastic. There is a roof. Compost bins are rolling. We have beds everywhere, and they are full of food—black-eyed peas, mung beans, brown beans, cucumber, hibiscus, tomatoes, kale, passion fruit, Malabar spinach, and whatever else Emma has conjured up (one strong-willed chia plant). The tables are stocked with seedlings, including several fruit trees for our food forest. There is fencing around it to keep the dogs out. And, the latest addition is a worm bed, something we’d put off but that has been in the plan for months now.
We are actually starting to really get food from our garden. We eat fruit from it everyday, and sometimes our entire bowl of morning fruit comes from Glenavon! We are collecting okra, jalapenos, beans, mangoes (still), water apples, avocadoes, cucumbers, cantaloupe, papayas, peppers, the occasional tomato, watermelons, the aforementioned leaves and the occasional sweet potato. We are actually growing a noticeable portion of our own food well before we expected to be. Granted, some trees were already in place, but we’re only two months in. It feels like it’s off the ground and real.
Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed the rundown. I’ve certainly enjoyed living it. Don’t be afraid to drop us a line or even to invite yourself on down if it so suits you. We accept volunteers, but I do recommend contacting us first. Until then, maybe just join us on Facebook at Glenavon on the Lake and keep yourself in the know.