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Pruning Vetiver Grass

The pruning of the vetiver grass at its right time works like a carbon bomb

Like with many other elements within the PermaTree farm we are using vetiver grass, within systems such as the Adaptive Contour and Erosion Control with Vetiver grass and Arachis Pintoi. As usual the more one element can be interconnected with other elements and create more functions. The more value every single element will bring on a macro scale. Our goal is always to be able to stack elements of high value to get a final function of even higher value. Obviously the goal is that all those systems work self sustainably and are ideally regenerative.

Video: Pruning Vetiver Grass

Pruning of vetiver fences up to a height of 30 to 50 cm. prevents these from giving seeds, makes them thicker and consequently more effective in filtering runoff water and erosion.

At the ende of the day vetiver gras is being used at PermaTree in Ecuador for the following use-cases:

  • Crop fertilization with pruned vetiver grass (contains minerals)
  • Erosion control – bioengineering
  • Phytoremediation of water and soil contaminated by heavy metals, hydrocarbons, agrochemicals, and other pollutants.
  • Keep in mind vetiver has more than 1000 uses (construction materials, forage for livestock, landscaping and ornamentals, mulch, compost, veneer, fiber board, ash for concrete work, and insecticide)

Transplanting Vetiver Grass

Vetiver

Vetiver as Photosynthetic Energy Accumulator

Seeing vetiver grass as a “photosynthetic energy accumulator”, both on the ground in the form of plant biomass and under the ground as a creator of fertility due to the fixation of organic carbon, through the decomposition of its roots and the creation of Microbiological networks, we wonder how we can obtain the greatest amount of energy through its pruning or cutting.

1 Year Old Adult Vetiver Grass

vetiver grass 1 year old

Pruning Adult Vetiver Grass

recently pruned vetiver grass

The Logic behind the Pruning the Vetiver Grass

When vetiver grass grows, it reaches a maximum growth point (2 meters), where it stops growing and prepares for flowering and planting. There is the ideal time for its cut, since its roots have also been expressed as much as possible under the ground. In terms of energy saving, the grass, being pruned aerially, immediately cuts its roots, releasing all fertility to the soil. Then, we let the grass grow to its maximum potential, so that it accumulates or “captures” the maximum carbon (load) and then we cut it (it is unloaded). This works like a two-phase carbon pump, with a charge pulse and a discharge pulse.

vetiver
Vetiver

More Vetiver Grass at PermaTree

Taking advantage of the current rainy season we have been planting some 5000 new vetiver grass seeds. Having already transplanted vetiver grass half a year earlier and seen the positive effect. We decided to plant more during the rainy season.

Vetiver

Technically Vetiver (Chrysopogon zizanioides) is a noninvasive perennial bunchgrass of the Poaceae family, native to India. The name comes from “vetiver,” a Tamil word meaning “root that is dug up.” The zizanioides was given by Linnaeus in 1771 and means “by the riverside.” As you would guess, the native habitat of this grass is in low, damp sites such as swamps and bogs.

Vetiver can grow up to 150 centimeters high and form clumps as wide. The stems are tall and the leaves are long, thin, and rather rigid. The flowers are brownish-purple. Unlike most grasses, which form horizontally spreading, mat-like root systems, vetiver’s roots grow downward, 2 meters to 4 meters in depth. FOUR meters deep roots !!! At finca PermaTree vetiver is a active part of the sustainable elements, we have implemented. There are many additional possible uses of the vetiver grass.

Vetiver grass at PermaTree

This vetiver gras has been planted about 6 month ago

So the most accessible part of finca PermaTree is from where it starts to get steeper and steeper – a real slope.

The reason Vetiver works so well for erosion control is it produces a massive root system that grows straight down rather than out from the plant. It creates a sort of curtain beneath the soil, trapping sediment and slowing down the movement of water. Because the grass grows down instead of outward, it does not become invasive.

Our focus with vetiver is to control the soil erosion

To fight against loss of land, reduced soil fertility, greater rainfall runoff, lower groundwater recharge, more sediment flows in river, higher contaminants in diminishing water supplies, lowered quality of drinking water, increased flooding, and diminished economic benefits and increased hardships to both rural and urban populations especially in developing countries, but also increasingly in developed countries too.

This is one vetiver grass seed we use to transplant.

We purchased the vetiver directly within Ecuador in so called “bultos”, each of the filled with about 500 vetiver grass seedlings.

We did use a lot of manpower. During 2 days no more than 5 planted all the 5000 vetiver

On this image you can clearly see the two rows of vetiver gras transplanted about 50cm before the “cliff” with the natural road.

Here you can see that we decided to plant them rather tightly together. If you compare with the first image at the top with the grown-up vetiver and the recycled tire stair you can image how high and wide this natural fence is going to grow.

Initially 10 month ago we had planted a few vetivers but had not managed to cut down the pasture grass witch grows up to 2 meter high. And so dosen’t let the vetiver get enough sunlight. So for now all is clean and there is no more pasture grass. It will re-grow within the next 4 weeks… But so will the vetiver and hopefully in 3 month from now the vetiver will have won the growing race.

 

Additional known uses of Vetiver grass

  1. Vetiver protected plots were consistently richer in nutrient contents than control plots. Nitrogen use efficiency was enhanced by about 40%
  2. Vetiver mulch conserves moisture and improves soil fertility
  3. A method of fermenting the harvested grass has been found to make an excellent medium for growing mushrooms.
  4. Vetiver is used as a wind break or to trap soil and sediment from washing away on terraced agricultural plantings as well as bare hillsides.
  5. The roots of the plant have been used for centuries as a source of essential oil that makes a wonderful perfume. It is also used for scenting soaps and other cosmetics.
  6. Rugs and mats made from aromatic Vetiver Root
  7. animal forage at a certain stage of growth
  8. Vetiver Plants are used to clean water from agricultural and farming operations

Sustainable Lifestyle, implementation at PermaTree

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.

You see, the sustainable elements are truly holistic from raising chickens, recycling tires, growing living fences to home made and fresh cooking.

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.

 

Finca PermaTree with lots of pasture - status April 2017, a good year after starting from scratch.

Finca PermaTree with lots of pasture – status April 2017, a good year after starting from scratch.

Think local
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.

Chicks with mother. The white one survived.

Chicks with mother. The white one survived.

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.

Guinea Pigs "Cuys"

Guinea Pigs “Cuys”

Electricity
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.

Fossil Fuel
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.

Porotillo - living fence / cerca viva

Porotillo – living fence / cerca viva

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 grass
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.

Vetiver grass at PermaTree

Vetiver grass at PermaTree

Vetiver grass at PermaTree

Vetiver grass at PermaTree

Building Material
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.

Cutting giant Bamboo at midnight.

Cutting giant Bamboo at midnight.

PermaTree main bamboo house - front view.

PermaTree main bamboo farm house – front view.

Main house, double layer guadua bamboo walls.

Main house, double layer guadua bamboo walls.

Volunteers house, guadua bamboo structure.

Volunteers house, guadua bamboo structure.

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.

Sustainable: Compost Toilet (humanure) at PermaTree

Sustainable: Compost Toilet (humanure) at PermaTree

Building the recycled bottle wall for the shower.

Building the recycled bottle wall for the shower.

Bottle wall - outside view of the shower.

Bottle wall – outside view of the shower.

Sustainable: We used lots of recycling bottles for our shower.

Sustainable: We used lots of recycling bottles for our shower.

Recycled bottles and doors for the compost toilet.

Recycled bottles and doors for the compost toilet.

Sustainable - 103 Recycled tires, stairs.

Sustainable – 103 Recycled tires, stairs.

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.

The highest natural pool from above.

The highest natural pool from above.

Lago Negro - Natural pond up the hill.

Lago Negro – Natural pond up the hill.

Near the Plan 1 - another natural pond.

Near the Plan 1 – another natural pond.

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.

Loofa the vegetable.

Loofa the vegetable.

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.

Typical fruit breakfast at PermaTree

Typical fruit breakfast at PermaTree

 

Home made bread.

Home made bread.

Fermented Bananas turning to vinegar.

Fermented Bananas turning to vinegar.

Our own vegetable garden is growing. Status January 2017

Our own vegetable garden is growing. Status January 2017

Socialize
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 🙂

Local and international people come together at PermaTree - field work day

Local and international people come together at PermaTree – field work day

Plant Nursery
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.

PermaTree plant nursery with Btina

PermaTree plant nursery with Btina

The Plant Nursery at permaTree - status February 2017

The Plant Nursery at permaTree – status February 2017

Growing Bamboo
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.

Baby giant Bamboo - starting to grow

Baby Giant Bamboo – starting to grow

A new young born - bamboo bicolor

A new young bamboo shot – bamboo bicolor

Final
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!