My Visit to the Greening the Desert Sequel Site, November 2013
The Jordan Valley Permaculture Proejct (aka ‘Greening the Desert – the Sequel’)
in November 2013. (Photo: Geoff Lawton)
I experienced a very diverse range of activities during my two weeks in Jordan, teaching a tree care course and helping in the farm activities, at the PRI Jordan Valley Permaculture Project (aka ‘Greening the Desert – the Sequel’ site) at 400 metres below sea level in the Dead Sea Valley. I also took side trips to a wadi on the edge of the Dead Sea, and an organic farm at Wadi Rum, in the far south of Jordan. It was an emotional high to be back in Jordan with Geoff and Nadia’s family. My first visit to the farm was in 2011 as part of my participation in the 2011 International Permaculture Conference (IPC). (Browse IPC presentations here.)
From left to right: Mustafa Bakir (Turkey), Bill Mollison, Miles Durand
and Geoff Lawton (all of Australia), at the JVPP site, 2011. (Photo: Craig Mackintosh)
The building programme continues with the construction of a new kitchen and a chicken run compost system under the Prosopis spp. overstory. The support trees and overstory plants, including Casuarina spp., Albizia spp. and Leucaena spp. have grown considerably since my previous visit. The olive trees and date palms are doing very well. The South African pigface (Carpobrotus spp.), a succulent with an edible fruit, was planted as a ground cover, and in the future the Australian pigface will be planted.
Future additions for support and food trees could include Pines spp. for their edible seed, mushrooms and their associated fungus spp. to break down the pine needles and increase soil organic matter content, and Casuarina equestifolia, which tolerates harsh coastal conditions including high calcium content.
The fly population in the Dead Sea valley is huge and can be a health risk. The design and construction of a fly room could turn this fly challenge into a resource — fly larvae maggots would become chicken and fish food. 15kg of fly larvae and maggots from food waste equates to 50 kilograms of fish and chicken feed. The high temperatures in the Dead Sea valley make it ideal for fish under cover — i.e. greenhouse tilapia farming. The South African Dicla Eco Tilapia system, producing 4 tons every three weeks from a 50m polytunnel house could be ideal for this location. Better still an aquaponic system producing both fish and vegetables. The production of algae for different uses is another possible product for the Dead Sea valley.
The 3-day theory and practical tree care course was well attended by the students. And the value level of trees to a permanent agricultural system was raised. Some of the fruit trees are showing the effects of nutrient deficiencies caused by the high pH levels in the soil. This is despite the inclusion of large quantities of organic matter into the farm. This to be expected as desert soils can have very high calcium levels. Trace elements, humic acid and sulphur were added to the compost. The compost was then spread around the drip line of the fruit trees. We expect to see a significant improvement in tree health within three to six months. The garden tools part of the course left the tools clean, sharp and coated in rust preventative oil.
The walk up a wadi that empties into the Dead Sea was journey through time. The rock formations of the wadi walls and floor, created by a combination of wind, sand and water are truly an amazing eye-catching delight. This most extraordinary wadi has a permanent stream of running water containing a high nutriment flow. A forest in waiting of tamarisk was growing alongside the stream. The grazing of livestock has kept the tamarisk at below sheep level. The removal of grazing animals could, in a very short time, enable a tamarisk forest to spring forth, and the creation of terraces filled with soil planted for food production is another obvious step.
Date palms, it has been said, need to have their roots in the water and their heads in the fire. The organic farm at Wadi Rum is located across from the convergence site of the 2011 IPC. This very diverse and productive organic farm was designed by Geoff Lawton. One of Geoff’s students is the farm’s current manager and he is very pleased with his first organic bananas. A feature of the organic farm is the inclusion of nitrogen fixing plants, a snap and drop for the grape vines. The sight of a farm worker snapping and dropping on to the vines tells a story of healthy soil, plants and people. What a contrast to the nearby farm using soil-, plant- and people-destroying expensive and dangerous agricultural chemicals.
On the edge of the fields we found a number of wild food plants, including black night shade, Amaranths and Milk thistle. The farm workers were impressed with our wild food plant discoveries and will include these wild food plants in their daily food consumption.
I have a deep respect and great admiration for the people of the Dead Sea valley. The Dead Sea valley is a very harsh place to live, yet it produces remarkable people of great resilience and strength of character. I will return to Jordan see another chapter in this most remarkable story.
Greening the desert — is it possible? Are trees green?