Sunday, August 21, 2011

Banana Circles on Maui


Photo: Banana circle: functional and beautiful.

We stumbled across these simple banana circles at Laulima Farm in Kipahulu, on the road past Hana in the shadow of Haleakala (which I highly recommend checking out if you should ever find yourself wandering the magical road to Hana...).

It's a very simple design which can increase the tidiness, production & functionality of banana plants; by planting in a circle around a shallow pit filled with mulch, you can 'march' the bananas around the perimeter of the circle as the root corms send up new baby shoots.  Sweet potato and other moisture-loving species like comfrey and mint can also be planted around the rim to increase yield and diversity in a concentrated area.  Cacao was observed here, growing in the shade created between two banana circles.

Bananas are a very hungry plant, and will benefit from the extra concentration of nutrients the central mulch pit provides.  Kitchen scraps from Laulima Farm's roadside stand were being dumped into this circle, and as you can see the plants were only too happy to take up all that excess nutrient and turn it into copious quantities of bananas.

The system can also work well for harvesting & processing greywater - turning greywater into bananas - so long as you are careful to esure that harsh chemical cleaning agents are avoided. 

Rick Coleman of Southern Cross Permaculture Institute used banana pits in Central America, where subsistence farmers who were walking 2 hours each way to access their mountain grow plots had no toilet system, resulting in unhealthy (nasty!) runoff to the villages below. 

Banana circles were dug upslope of their mountainside plots and filled with rocks & organic waste matter.  These shallow versions of a pit latrine systems were an effective alternative to the practice of just going where and whenever the need arose, since typically only one or two people per day were using each banana pit. 

In this simple example of Cycling Energy [Mollison] / Produce No Waste [Holmgren] a potentially toxic waste product is converted into a valuable nutrient source for an additional crop by asking the simple question:

  • How can the waste products of one element in your system become an input for another?

Back to Laulima Farms, and there are 0 food miles here, because bananas are planted in such abundance throughout the property that they practically give them away.  (As an aside, their banana bread is OFF-THE-HOOK (amazing), spelt flour is used more to bind the banana mash that is used to make the 'bread'.  We muched on a couple slices while we waited for the customers ahead of us in line to blend their own smoothies...)


Photo: Human-powered smoothies!

Photo: Nitrogen-fixing Peanut grass and hardy Mint used as a wonderfully attractive groundcover.

Photo: Food planted everywhere, as far as the eye can see at Laulima Farms.

Photo: Bamboo circle used to great effect as private seating area..

Photo: Bamboo construction used in Laulima's roadside stand.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

theGreenBackpack in Hawaii


Photo: Oahu, 'The Gathering Place'.

Its been a long & winding road, spanning from a small cluster of islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, to the island-continent with one coast in the Pacific and the other in the Indian Ocean (Australia), across 'The Ditch' (Tasman Sea) to our Polynesian neighbors in Aoteroa (New Zealand), then to the European hinterlands of the North Sea (Hamburg, Germany), and finally back again to our island home: Oahu.

Also known as 'The Gathering Place', Oahu is home to Honolulu (capital city of the Islands), plus some 800,000-odd residents (out of the total state population of around 1.3 million)… Hawaii plays host to some 8 million or so visitors from North America alone each year, and while it really is as good as you have imagined it to be here (sun, sand, surf ….and so much Aloha spirit), just like your community, we face some serious issues which must be dealt with:

  • Hi_toilet_paper_shelves
    Photo (by Seattle Times): Empty shelves in a Hawaii supermarket during a recent tsunami warning.
    Food Insecure.
      Hawaii imports between 80 - 95% of its food, which is actually quite ridiculous when you think of the fertile soils and ideal, year-round growing conditions we have.  If the shipping lanes were blocked for any reason, best estimates project that there would be only around two weeks' worth of food here to sustain the population.  Anytime there is a hurricane warning, what do you think is the first thing to disappear off supermarket shelves?  You guessed it: Toilet paper.  On a bright note, you can now find farmer's markets selling fresh local produce somewhere on every day of the week.
  • Hi_oil_tanker
    Photo (by mtnbiker808): An oil tanker delivers its payload off the shores of Kapolei, Oahu.

    Energy Dependent.  The numbers for energy security are similar to the numbers for food security: as much as 95% of our energy is produced from imported coal or oil… if you've ever sailed off the Ewa coastal plains when the oil tankers are offloading (twice weekly), you know how fragile those hoses which pipe our fuel to the refineries in Campbell Industrial Park (draped precariously off the side of massive tankers bobbing up & down in choppy seas) are.  The State of Hawaii is working towards reversing those numbers, with a goal of powering the islands by 80% renewable energy by 2050.

While those are two issues tGB will be directly involved in addressing during the coming years, they are definitely not the only ones.. there are also issues of Homelessness, Elder Care Crisis,  Growth vs. Sanity (a.k.a. Honolulu's Mass Transit System), Watershed Management, Invasive Species and Ecosystem Conservation challenges to be reckoned with.

Hawaii is a paradise precariously balancing conflicting pressures on our natural resources - just like our planet.

My wife have spent the last few months relocating our lives to this tropical island paradise, reconnecting with family and friends, and working through the myriad of details which come with starting over from scratch in a new place to build a life together (like getting married on the summer solstice!).

Along the way, we've stumbled into some pretty amazing projects that we'll be sharing about with you in the coming months.  There are rumors that theGreenBackpack crew may be off again later this year to work in Vanuatu, and perhaps other areas of the Asia-Pacific region...

…and of course, we can't wait to get back to Mongolia to continue our work there (and maybe even plant some seeds for more regenerative projects) - though not until next summer please (an Island Boy can only take so much -30C temperatures!!).

Meanwhile, I look forward to enjoying the rest of the summer here getting my hands dirty in some new projects, and then spending the winter in a place where anything below 15C is a two-blanket night…

In so many ways, Hawaii is like a miniature R&D testing lab for Planet Earth, a microcosm for many of the common challenges and issues faced by communities around the globe.  We look forward to diving into working towards solutions that can be shared, adapted & applied; perhaps to your local region.

Stay tuned for more permacultural adventures in moving beyond sustainability, and make sure you subscribe by clicking here if you want to make sure you don't miss any of it.  We'll be posting consistently rather than frequently, because 1) we can't even keep up with all the stuff that crowds our InBox either, 2) there's just too much awesome to be done out in the real world, and 3) we don't want to make anyone too jealous about living in Hawaii.  ...I jest! (sort of..)

-Matt Lynch & friends-
aka 'theGreenBackpack'