Since the last article on the permaculture project, we have done several things. First of all we did some workshops on different subjects. One was on earth plastering inside the houses to make them healthier and create natural ventilation as well as thermal and acoustic insulation using earth. The Gar has a lot of earth that is really good and easy to build with if people are happy to collaborate and work with us.
Then we did a workshop on gardens, particularly on the fertility of the soil. A lot of people from outside the Community also participated and it was very nice to meet people from the island.
Fertilizing the soil
The soil here in Tenerife is volcanic, so it contains a lot of minerals. But while we have plenty of minerals, there is a lack of micro-organisms, which act as the binding element between the soil and minerals. Without micro-organisms plants do not grow in a healthy way.
Another problem is that this soil is lacking organic material and for this reason water does not remain in the soil long enough to permit the micro-organisms to give minerals to the plants.
Plants can survive by getting their own water. There are lots of plants here that are adapted to the climate, such as a type of spinach that is full of water collected from dew. What we plan to have are some domestic plants that can receive water from the air – we are near the ocean so there is a lot of water in the air – and then let this water come into the soil for the plants that are not so good at doing this job, thus connecting local and exotic plants.
Then we are working on another level creating lymphatic or capillary systems for the soil. Normally, undergrowth provides all the roots and the micro and macro-organisms that allow the water to go all over the soil through capillaries so the plants won’t have any problems. But this kind of soil unfortunately does not have this characteristic anymore and desertification will set in if we leave it like that. So we have created some channels in the soil that we filled with branches and covered with fabric, soil and straw. These channels act like capillaries that transport water underground so we can avoid watering with hoses as is done in conventional gardening since this approach would destroy the soil.
Basically we are making a lymphatic system that makes use of rainwater and grey water (wastewater from washbasins and showers). We are using all the grey water from the houses, running it through a de-greaser – a concrete box that removes grease – then it passes through channels that are full of twigs and lots of micro-organisms. We are making use of EM, effective micro-organisms, that will clean the water as it passes through capillaries to get to the plants. In this way, the soil will become self-fertile, a bit like self-liberation.
We have been using the dry branches from bushes that are lying around the Gar for this system. This is typical in permaculture: you do one action with several functions, in this case clearing the land of the dried bushes and at the same time creating this capillary system.
A water condenser
Then in another area we are making a water condenser in the form of a Longsal symbol. It is made of stones and when you look the surface you may not realize it is actually a meter and a half deep and filled with stones. When the air enters the condenser, the stones lower the temperature of the air, which causes it to release the water it contains and leave the water behind. This cycle continues and as a result there is more and more water inside the system.
We expect this system to help this piece of garden become totally self-sufficient in terms of water and fertility in the next two years. However, for the first and possibly the second summer, once a month we will need a lot of water, like the amount of a heavy rainfall and that will be it.
It is interesting because this type of water condenser was used in prehistoric times and in many of the sacred sites throughout the Mediterranean, places that historians thought were for spiritual gatherings were actually for collecting water. In fact, one morning I woke up and saw the two drops of the Longsal symbol and I immediately thought of a water condenser so we hope that this system will help.
The houses – the sun’s glare
Then we have been working inside the houses trying to find a solution to the glare of the sun. On the sides of the terraces we are stringing up a few strands of stainless steel wiring, which is very cheap, from the roof down to the surrounding wall so that we can cover it to create some shade and keep the temperature lower inside the house.
We have also made some adobe bricks using a wooden mold that we filled with a mixture of sand and soil to which straw has been added. Then we left them for a few days in the sun to dry. Since these houses have too much glare and heat from the sun coming through large glass windows we are trying to reduce the quantity of light that comes in by making two low walls in adobe or cob on each side of the terrace.
We have also made some samples of natural plastering using soil. These samples include one with soil, a little sand and straw and another with soil and a very light volcanic soil that has a lot of air in it to create acoustic and thermic insulation.
This type of plastering has several functions: to make thermic insulation, to give a soft and pleasant acoustic effect, and to create a buffering for humidity – if there is too much humidity in the house it will be absorbed and then the moisture will be given back when the house is dry. Once we have decided on the type of natural plastering we feel to be most suitable, we will be using it on an entire apartment.
We are also developing a system to create natural ventilation inside the houses. For example, in this room there is a hole in the wall in the north at floor level where there will be a pipe that comes from under the soil and brings cool air. There is another pipe on the south side of the room which takes air out using a black solar pipe so that when the sun heats up the air inside and it starts to go up, it will suck the warmth out of the room and bring in cool air from the north side. This is a fairly common solution for ventilation in hot, dry climates and is used by people who know how to build natural houses. It works without electricity, and you can control it by simply opening and closing the pipes.
Using these techniques combining natural plastering and natural ventilation should make the houses more comfortable. We are trying to create better houses because at the moment they are not so great since they were constructed very quickly and with poor material. We are experimenting with ways to transform them and if people like this transformation we will go ahead.
We have to create a place that is comfortable for human beings. Temperature, noise, humidity, light, everything should be agreeable and pleasant. So we are going to finish an entire apartment like that and if one of the Gars would like to use these techniques, we can do it. At the moment it is still in the experimental stage.
I’m a molecular biologist and I play with life, connecting things and letting everything work like a cell.
By Saviana Parodi