round 3: perma garden at maru a pula school

Today was my first day back with the students in the garden at MAP.  Having been away for 3 months, I returned to find the garden looking mighty post-apocalyptic.  Grass has grown up in the pathways, most of the veg and herbs have either gone to seed or burnt to a crisp  and all of it is decomposing back to its earthy origins.  Tom Waits’ song, “The Earth Died Screaming” came to mind when I laid my eyes upon the garden.  Needless to say, the garden wasn’t looked after properly while I was gone.  However, it’s nothing to be upset about.  In fact, the thought of all of that organic matter breaking down into our sandy soil makes me surprisingly happy.  As does the thought of no dig gardening which we will be practicing from now on.  It’s important to dig when preparing a bed for the first time, for many reasons such as aerating the soil and mixing in compost and natural fertilizers to feed the soil.  After the initial creation though, digging can actually disrupt life below the surface.  It’s best to let the microorganisms and micronutrients continue on with their merry lives undisturbed.  Merry?  If I were a microorganism in soil I’d be happy, especially if beets were growing nearby.  Yum.

I have small groups this term for which I am grateful.  Imagine having a 25 year old teacher in high school.  Would you ever do anything you were supposed to do?! Smaller groups are a bit easier to manage.

On the bright side, the lemongrass and parsley are still thriving and the kitchen scraps in the compost heap have been at work.  Our multicolored and smelly pile of lunch prep scraps and leftovers has transformed into a pile of rich, dark compost in only 3 months.  Yum.  Amazingly, about 15 tomato plants and 1 brave butternut squash have taken root in the heap.

As Monday’s group transplanted the tomato seedlings to the shade area, a couple of students told me about a history class they are taking.  They are learning about the Vietnam War and watching Full Metal Jacket.  Interesting teacher, and interesting school.  Who watches Full Metal Jacket then gardens in the afternoon?  That’s right.  Wish I could em mine, but it doesn’t feel quite right.

In 10 weeks I’m hoping we’ll turn this post-apocalyptic site into a green haven that will be feeding students with tasty and nutritious food.  If only we had more shade!  The summer sun is hot hot hot down here.  I have to hand it to the students who signed up to swelter in the southern African summer sun for a few hours a week to learn how to grow their own food.  Otshabile, Thabo, and Tumo are all return students.  Keep on keepin on, kids.  I dig your dedication.

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4 Responses to “round 3: perma garden at maru a pula school”
  1. David Frierman says:

    E. M. Forster’s inscription to Howards End is “Only connect…” This is what the novel is about: connection to family, to one’s beloved, to one’s society, but perhaps even more important, connecting to one’s best “spirit,” connecting one’s actions to one’s principles, connecting to the greater human spirit, connecting to nature. There are many interpretations of that fateful night when Gandhi was thrown off a train in South Africa for his color, and his subsequent decision to honor and follow the truth in all interactions; the simple decision that made him a “mahatma,” a great soul. I see this event through the lens of connection. Gandhi had been a great failure, that night he connected to his greatness, his truth, the truth. He subsequently connected to the outcasts of his society, to the forces of political change, to the ideals of equality and justice. He was not perfect and there were times when he acted selfishly and lost the connection. He was also a politician, with all that implies. But his greatness is in his steadfastness in the connection he made to the truth as he saw it. I know you are seeing the truth in Malawi, and I see you making decisions based on it. I think this is very, very difficult and it awes me that you are doing it. It also pains me that you are already suffering the grave consequences of it: an greater awareness of the scope of human misery, personal physical damage (malaria and gardia are no small matters), and the maddening frustration in searching for answers to the problems you see around you. That’s why I want to tell you again, if what you are doing there is coming from your truth, and I believe it is, it is as important as anything else you could be doing, and perhaps will do, in a larger arena of organization, of politics, etc. Anywhere you work is your work. My only caution: you also have to connect to your own well-being. You must preserve your health and safety so you can act. It is your duty to remain safe and healthy; this is not a luxury.

  2. wow. thank you.

    you point to something i’ve been thinking about while living in africa. it’s that, once you know, you can’t keep on living as if you don’t know. living places like this does open my eyes to human misery and clear injustice and unfairness that exists in our world. it can be painful, and i also become numb to the pain, to protect myself. this is something i think humans everywhere experience, too. you can have these same feelings living in boston or podunk alabama, it doesn’t matter where you are. one doesn’t have to live in a poor country to experience these feelings.

    as in anything that requires human growth, it sometimes feels like a curse to act in accordance with one’s awareness. it would be much easier if one could pretend she hasn’t seen this or hasn’t felt that, but now that she does, she goes through the world with a different consciousness that feels wrong if she betrays it. however, it isn’t always so grim and like a curse, because the flip side is expanding one’s awareness and enjoying the positive aspects of being aware and living in the world this way. mindfulness, meditation, and yoga come to mind as ways to cultivate inner awareness and this can balance the painful aspects of awareness experienced in the world.

  3. Kenneth says:

    Beautiful words of insight and reflection from both of you.

    The need for protection from the dangerous elements is clear. The Earth needs forests, so her children can grow without being burned. I wonder if there are trees that can be planted for longer term shade and therefore food and habitat productivity of the area? If the need for wood is a limiting factor, maybe there are species that can be grown that have little use for wood or burning, while providing the services of shade and soil maintenance. There are 4 or 500 species of eucalyptus tree in the world, for example, and many can survive very extreme environments.

    I just watched Australian permaculturalist Geoffrey Lawton’s video on planting a food forest, mimicking natural succession stages, which was very inspiring. It’s like re-creating Eden. Plant a forest that provides many different foods and services. It seemed very easy in tropical Australia, where swales are able to gather sufficient water to nourish young roots.

    If it’s too dry to successfully establish trees, can row covers be constructed to shade young plants? Recycling old cloth/clothes, sails, sacks, maybe sewing them together and stretching them over gardens between posts, or over a clothes-line type of cordage strung between buildings, shrubs, or trees to make A-frame tent covers?

    I wish I could be there. It sounds like a powerful place to learn and grow. Let me know if there’s anything I can mail you. Here in Portland/Vancouver, there are so many resources…

  4. I like the idea about sewing together old clothes and stretching them over posts. We’ve struggled about what to do for shade in the mandala garden. I worry that if I use anything other than shade netting that the rain won’t seep through to the crops underneath.

    I watched Geoff’s video recently too and I am itching to plant a food forest in Botswana. I like the notion of what he said about imitating how nature repairs itself and creating a human-orchestrated ecosystem. Fruit trees can grow here and I just saw a mango tree producing today, so new ideas are streaming. Planting fruit trees in the garden is a high priority.

    thanks for the tips, kenneth!

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