The Kalu Yala Blog
July 28, 2011by Mary Ann Turrentine
Posted In: A Home Grown Economy, Farm to Table Living, The Creation of a Culture, Voices of Kalu Yala
Permaculture, a smart way of farming I’ve learned about while exploring different sustainable gardening techniques in Panama. Last week, Ellie and I took a little road trip to Penonmone, on a mission to learn more about permaculture farming from an ex Peace Corps gringo, John Arthur Douglas. This granjero perezoso (lazy farmer) decided to settle down in Panama and start a garden that could sustain itself so he wouldn’t have to do much to ensure the garden’s longevity. His motto: “to work less and harvest more… use your head more and your back less.” I love this idea, permanent agriculture.
Basically, Mr. Douglas researched how to harvest plants so that they can benefit from one another and continue producing with little to no help from the farmer. He simply looked to nature for his best advice; clearly forests seem to have no problem producing large quantities of diverse species without chemicals or serious plagues. Mr. Douglas came up with a great little gardening technique, calling it “the magic circle.” The magic circle, which is about six feet in diameter and eighteen to thirty six inches deep, has plants strategically placed around this circle which work in unison with one another. For instance, planting a yucca, next to a plantain tree: the plantain tree provides shade, while the yuccas control erosion and weeds, and improve the soil as nitrogen and carbon fixers. Finally, the secret to a long lasting garden and this magic circle is “the trash.” By trash, I am referring to organic matter such as leaves and fruit. Ultimately, for a magic circle to become fully lush just throw all your kitchen leftovers in the middle!
After picking Mr. Douglas’s brain I headed back to San Miguel and began building Kalu Yala’s own little magic circle at casa llena. Digging the hole was no problem, because the soil was so moist and already perfect for gardening, because when we arrived five weeks ago it was Don Julio’s (previous occupant of casa llena) trash pile. After I spent the morning digging the hole, Anne, Niki and I headed down to el rio (the river) with a machete and our bare hands to gather vines and rocks. Finally, we finished up building our magic circle, now we just have to plant the seeds and wait for the “magic” to happen.