Sustainable living is a lifestyle on which we have strong focus at Finca PermaTree. An Overview of all on-going sustainable lifestyle elements and implementation.
In first hand, at PermaTree, you can learn what sustainable lifestyle is, within a minimal ecological footprint – as our goal.
To name a few sustainable ways, we’d like to start with our most important resource, our fresh water. It arises directly from the waterfall out of the mountain. We also have a natural swimming pool which is fueled by the overrun of the main water tank. 90% of our natural house is built from the fast growing bamboo, instead of wood or cement. We have no glass windows. Just bamboo windows and most doors are recycled or made out of bamboo too.
We recycled beer bottles for the shower and toilet facility, implemented in to walls and old tires to make stairs and erosion control projects. Our main stair is build with 103 recycled car tires – they can last up to 500 years 🙂 Our Chickens produce organic eggs and clean the permaculture zone 1 from insects and possible pests. Living fences are growing up to big trees and will help fixing nitrogen in the depleted soil.
All our light bulbs are LED. They use a very small amount of electric power. One of our showers is heated by black pipes with the heat of the sun rays, instead of electricity and all of our grey waste water goes into a banana circle, which will be filter and followed in to the ground. The “humanure” waste from our composting toilets, we use as fertilizer.
We also are an education hub, where people can learn about all these techniques, which they can apply to there own homes.
Summary of the Sustainable Lifestyle, implementations so far:
- Composting toilet – creating natural fertilizer instead of contaminating drinking water.
- Building with local, natural (bamboo, wood, palm, etc.) and recycled materials.
- Consuming the less as possible amount of electricity.
- Solar power energy – was our first thought here but due to the current politics with 45% additional tax makes no sense IMHO.
- We use fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas for long term purpose. Minimizing using the car when ever possible.
- More organic waste, which goes to the animals and creates new soil.
- Implementing animals for multiple diverse functions: Chickens, Guinea Pigs, Dogs and Bees.
- Reusing gray water to feed the banana circle.
- Slowing down existing water and reusing it multiple times, until it leaves the perimeters.
- Plant Nursery – where we grow all kind of plants from seeds.
We support local markets. Once a week we do our grocery shopping in Yantzaza, and every second week we support the Saraguro village by buying their organic vegetables at the market in Yantzaza. Of course we also support our neighbors. One of them produces fresh raw cheese. Our long term goal is indeed to grow all at our own farm – self sustainable. But all needs time, investment, practical knowledge and creativity.
Up-cycling, also known as creative reuse
We produce as little waste as possible. For example, plastic! We always bring our own recycled plastic bags for shopping to reduce the amount of plastic bags! Apart from this mindfulness task, after a year, we already have a huge box full of plastic bags… We reuse them – upcycle them. You can find inspiration on Pinterest like this one. Organic waste goes to our animals and they produce fresh compost out of it.
There is no such thing as waste in nature and that’s why there is a key permaculture principle which reminds us that “waste” is nothing else than a unused resource(!) Once you see the world like that, there are literally no limits.
All animals bring their benefits
No matter how big or small they are, all animals have multiple possible uses. As mentioned above, we want to produce our own food. Which means fruits (read our blog post about tropical fruits of Ecuador) and vegetables primarily. And to harvest fruits, first – it takes time. Depending on the species, up to 8 years. But what is even more important to have fruits grow on trees – pollination. Through wind or bees, humming-bird, butterfly and others. So our current project is to implement bee hives, to increase the pollination, of all the fruits of finca PermaTree. If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man. Quote – Société Central d’Apiculture, May 1965. More about this topic read this wired article – will we still have fruit if bees die off.
Like our dogs, they have their function as guards. We could say our natural alarm system. And of course because we love dogs! The food we give them is pure raw meat, fresh meat “waste”, if you want so, which people wouldn’t eat anyway. So instead of throwing it away our dogs appreciated it! The good thing, in Latin America, it is still possible to get such meat while in our country, where you can hardly find butchers, they won’t sell you that kind of meat. It’s usually already sorted out from industries, and only the good peace’s getting sold. Obviously this kind of natural raw meat food is also much healthier for the dogs than the industrial-dog food. So another win win situation.
Mentioned at the edge; our Guinea Pigs “Cuys”, how they call them, produce fertilizer through there dug, like the chickens as well. And by using our organic waste as food for the chickens, it produces automatically compost, attracts insects, which chickens will also eat and so on. This cycle has its purpose and it is an important need of mother earth. When the animals die we will dig them up near a fruit tree and that same fruit tree will have a great source of calcium, phosphor etc… all vitamins it needs to produce more healthy food. Works better than any synthetic/chemical fertilizer.
Talking about smart solutions, we are still looking for alternatives. Solar Panels, the batteries are very expensive in Ecuador because it’s an imported product and there are no industries here who produces them. And because of the current politics policy on importing electric goods. Currently we use gas and electricity from the grid. Ecuadors grid electricity is from hydroelectric power which means is produced from water in movement, which is better than gas, coal or atomic electric grids.
Our pickup runs with diesel. But the longterm idea is to get rid of the car, when we have our proper food production and there is no more need for material transportation, etc..
Currently the Fossil Fuel are still available … so if we use them wisely for long term purposes they help us to implement smart alternatives faster than without them. Our future goal is to live mainly on the finca and to replace the car with a few local mules which are a variety of a donkeys.
Reforestation and implementing clever root system
Reforestation is a big topic all over the world, because as I mentioned; trees where cut down – whole fields are cleared up for cattle or mono culture. So, fields rich in water, animals and biodiversity just disappeared and lots of places, because of these actions, around the world turned in to deserts. Trees are very important to give shade, reducing heat, give shelters for animals, as transportation of water and much more.
At our Finca we planted already thousands of trees but one local timber tree I want to mention here, named Porotillo. We use it for living fences. “Cerca Viva” how the call it here. A tree which grows fast from the stick itself and has spines. A living fence will hold much longer than one out of other materials, like for example: dead wood sticks or a wire mesh fence. To keep cows out of the boundary for example or on the other hand give animals like bird’s new shelter. It will increase soil fertility and bring much additional benefits.
Vetiver is a native Indian grass, that makes roots up to 15 Meters in to the ground. A true miracle grass and best for soil erosion to help stabilize soil. It is also known to protect fields against pests, it attracts the stem borer (Chilo partellus), which lay their eggs preferably on Vetiver. Due to the hairy architecture of Vetiver, the larvae cannot move on the leaves, fall to the ground and die. Vetiver can be also used as an insecticide or termite repellent. As a mulch, Vetiver is used for weed control in coffee, cocoa and tea plantations. The Vetiver Grass helps to get rid of heavy metals in soil. It is capable of growing in fuel-contaminated soil and has favorable qualities for animal feed. The extracted oil from the roots is used in cosmetics, perfumes, creams and soaps for skincare and has anti-fungal properties. Finally used for handicrafts, ropes and more here.
To build our house we used mostly natural materials. The wood comes from the local carpenter, but better in small quantities we thought because sadly, there are not much trees left! And it seems like nobody is caring about planting new trees. The bigger part, of the house, we invested in Bamboo. The thing is, in our region people do not know how to work with Bamboo. The material Bamboo as construction is more used near the coast and it is also not possible to buy Bamboo near our place. So we had to order it from the coast. But we thought, rather in big amounts. First, to have enough material and second, to reduce the transportation – once. 40 giant Bamboo trunks we harvested at the shore if the river Zamora. But, there are some rules about cutting Bamboo properly.
We cut the Giant Bamboo at 00:30 a.m. in the morning. These bamboo trunks where huge! Very tall and 15 to 20 cm diameter and it’s best to harvest them during the 6th and 8th day after full moon, between 12:00 p.m. and 06:00 a.m. they reach the lowest starch content. This is important because only then, it won’t be a attraction for the insects which can attack the bamboo and damage the trunk. (read our blog post about the harvesting details here).
The good thing about Bamboo is, it grows faster (up to 90cm per day!) and produces 35% more oxygen than a tree. We have been planted Bamboo now all around the property near creeks. Gigant Bamboo, Guadua, Bicolor and black Bamboo.
Recycling and redirecting of waste water
We recycled old tires to build stairs, (check out our blog post about tire stairs) or water and beer bottles to build walls for the shower and toilet, we reused old wooden doors and implemented them. We have a compost toilet to reduce the amount of waste water and to use human waste as a fertilizer when it’s decreased down to compost (humanure). Therefore, we don’t have black water which will usually come from the classic-toilet waste through pipes. But we do have gray water. Wastewater generated in our household, from shower and sink drain. This water is directed, through tubes to our Banana cycle. These plants will absorb leavings from the gray water which goes in to the ground. We use non-toxic and low-sodium soap and personal care products to protect vegetation while reusing greywater for irrigation purposes.
Banana circles can also be used as an outdoor shower/wash area, with the addition of a platform to stand on in the middle of the circle and a simple privacy screen. Fast-growing plants can be incorporated into the design to provide a living fence. More about Banana circles here.
Natural Ponds and Pool
The water overflow from the big water tank goes directly in to the natural pool. If the pool is full the redundant water will find it’s way out through the tube which is installed. From there the water goes in to swales on the property and finally in to the ground. We want to keep the water as long as possible on our property. For the pond in the entrance, we like to have some ducks or even better geese which make noise if someone ore something enters the property. Fishes will be added and water plants are essential but hard to find. To clean the water and for amphibians to provide them food and hiding places.
Loofa – Natural sponge
Until now, we bought our foam rubber from the Supermarket, but they usually did not last longer than a week. So we were seeking for alternatives. The only natural sponge we knew came from the sea. But then we found the Loofah sponge a squash plant, which we just recently started to grow. The inner dry skeleton can be used as a sponge. Apart from using the vegetable as soup it has also medicinal purposes. Loofahs are loaded with vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin K and folates.
Food, all home made and tasty
Back in our country, there was not much time to cook and so it was hard to eat 100% healthy. Even if we kept an eye on it. But now we take the time to produce our own food. We made fermented food like Sauerkraut, Banana Vinegar which is super easy to make and the typical drink, they call it “Chica”. From Chonta; Peach-Palm, Corn or Yuca. Our own bread – without oven, fresh salads from Beetroot, Cabbage, Potatoes and Carrots. Arugula and Cherry tomatoes which we already have been harvested form the garden. Different kinds of Humus from Chickpeas or Beans which delivers a bunch of proteins. It’s all about the preparation timing. Sometimes we start early, because for instance, beans can take up two hours to cook.
A typical day involves a big bowl of seasonal tropical fruit (Banana, Papaya and maybe Mango) with oatmeal and fruit juice for breakfast. Lunch could be rice with peanut butter, salad and carrots, lentils with shredded coconut meat. Dinner may be lighter like Papaya with lemon juice or just some rice with eggs. We focus on seasonal, partly organic and local produce we purchase at the market and harvest as much of our own food from the Finca as we can. More inspiring healthy dishes at our Finca here.
We like to interact with people, who share the similar interests or are interested in our philosophy. There is always a possibility to learn from each other. People from all over the world come together at PermaTree, to have the possibility for cultural interchange. They can reach a gasp in to our daily farming and living cycle. As you see, happy Volunteers in the center, posing for the picture 🙂
At the PermaTree plant nursery we plant directly from seeds, many of them directly from the fruits we have eaten. When the plants have reached a good size we transplant them at the finca.
We grow Bamboo Grass mainly for slowing down water and future building material. Bamboo is not a tree but a giant grass and so does not grow, by division, but by elongation. Bamboo as a plant in nature is actually antibacterial, and has the ability to withstand some of the most vociferous bacteria out there. Bamboo produces 35% more oxygen compared to a tree. It can also lower light intensity and protects man against ultraviolet rays. Bamboo is a good soil conservation plant. With its widespread root system, it can provide an effective erosion control. It sustains riverbanks and serves as good windbreaks.
A lot of information about living and implementing natural Sustainable patterns in to our farm. We hope to inspire you, giving you an idea what’s possible at the very beginning, within permaculture philosophy. This is our first year of PermaTree and as you can see, we already implement a few Sustainable patterns (see History of PermaTree). Share “Do-It-Yourself Ideas” to replicate or improve them as needed. Depending on the situation, this is what inspires us to move on.
Do you have some Sustainable inspiration for us? Let us know!