Roberto Muj is an agricultural trainer and community organizer for CIEDEG in Guatemala (http://nuevociedeg.org/). He travels widely for work and designed a home food production system based on perennial crops that could survive his frequent absences. We taught a permaculture training together in January 2010 and I was amazed by his deep and wide knowledge of permaculture plants and systems. His home garden is one of the finest examples of perennial market gardens that I have ever seen.
The farm is in what is considered a chilly area as they sometimes get light frosts. Avocados grow but only some kinds of citrus will survive. Elevation is about 2200 meters. Most of the year is dry, with a 4-5 month rainy season in our summer.
Here is Roberto with his 10-year old perennial beans growing on firewood trees.
Much of the farm is laid out as a perennial alley crop system. Rows of productive trees alternate with perennial herbaceous crops.
Trees include citrus, avocado, sweet gum, alder, mulberry, fig, macadamia, and giant yucca.
Herbaceous crops include aloe, alfalfa for chicken fodder, perennial beans, perennial kale, and many cut flowers including lot of Alstromeria. The cut flowers and fruits are sold in local markets, with most of the production currently being in flowers and soon to shift to fruits as trees mature. We brought asparagus seed at his request as it is hard to producre in Guatemala but there is a huge market. Roberto wants to extend this production model to more of his acres which are currently producing corn - perhaps a macadamia-avocado-alder-asparagus type of system.
Roberto’s alley cropping system:
Here is a major Alstromeria flower production area with rows of citrus, alder and alfalfa.
This polyculture is in the very back corner. Rather than weeds as one might expect, every plant is useful. The large elephant ear is a Xanthosoma, not an edible clone but instead used for pesticides to kill whiteflies, a significant pest for Roberto. The living fence is Yucca guatemalensis, which has excellent and valuable edible flowers. The trees (genus uncertain) are used for firewood. Climbing them is chayote or guiskil (Sechium edule), a perennial vegetable cucurbit, and perennial beans (Phaseolus coccineus or P. lunatus).
Here are two rows of perennial beans and perennial kale (colocha) between rows of tree crops. Wow!
The garden I developed (and manage) with Jonathan Bates is in its sixth year and some pretty exciting things are happening. Here’s a little history of the garden featured as the case study in Edible Forest Gardens Volume II and featured in many photos in Perennial Vegetables.
Original mission:”Our urban forest garden is an intensively managed backyard foraging paradise, a megadiverse living ark of useful and multifunctional plants from our own bioregion and around the world. The forest garden is the unifying element of a larger permaculture design for food production, wildlife habitat, and social spaces that encompasses the entire property.”
Thanks to all the people who participated in our work parties and made this garden possible, especially to members of Western Massachusetts Permaculture Guild.
Here’s what we started with in March 2004:
And here is the process of sheet mulching to create a nursery bed. We brought plants with us from our previous garden, so we needed a place to put them while we did our design. And start improving that soil!
Here is spring 2005. Later this year we did a lot of work!
Here’s 2006. Tallest plants in garden are annuals! Also our strategic materials depot.
2007:Snow pattern showing winter sun/shade pattern (reverse of summer); Installing trellis and pond; Keith and Lisa dig bamboo rhizome barrier; path and bed layout.
2008 was a big year in our forest garden. We definitely went from sleep and creep to leap and reap. Here are some photos: spring yields, persimmony polyculture; pockets of production; sea kale coming into maturity; Marikler with pawpaw polyculture and chicken run; bamboo barrier polyculture.
In 2008 we came up against some problems and solutions. Our main problem was too much darn vegetation - plants, foliage, and dried stalks and prunings. We solved this issue of excess growth with:
1) Chickens. Our cut-and-carry system turned weeding into feeding! They turn our excess foliage into manure and eggs and make a very high quality compost, much better than we had before.
2) Nursery. Started selling all those excess plants, raised funds for an irrigation system.
3) Firepit. We got a metal outdoor firepit which became a great place to dispose of large stalks and prunings which did not compost well. We get roasted marshmallows, social time outside, and ash for fertilizer.
In 2009 the system started to really take off on its own. It was not a good year for grapes due to excess moisture, but great year for berries, Asian pears, much more. We removed the mini-dwarf apple and peach, also the bush cherries. Too many pest problems for all of those! They were replaced with Badgersett hazels and dwarf sea buckthorn, anchors of a new sun-loving early-succession polyculture in meantime featuring lots of sylvetta, sorrel, prostrate birdsfoot trefoil, alpine strawberries, and green and gold.
Photos include early summer berry harvest, kiwi trellis (still mostly tomatoes), understory richness, Asian pear and bamboo, pockets of production, bamboo corner.
Stay tuned to this blog for posts about our revamped “next generation polycultures” which are going in spring 2010. At first our goal was maximum biodiversity. We currently have around 175 species on our 1/8 acre and have tried many more. But we now know what grows well for us that we like to eat. Now we want to focus on those species and how to grow them in functional polycultures, which may decrease overall diversity somewhat but will increase functional interconnection and useful yields.