Converting a former rice farm into a permaculture aid-training center takes some doing, especially in the wet season. Many years ago some farmers terraced this land using buffalo and hand tools. It must have taken them years! This land has grown hundreds of tons of rice over time but now its time for diversification the permaculture way.
The first problem is water, too much of it. Each paddy is flat like a pool table with an earth lip around the edge. When it rains or when the irrigation canal is open the paddy floods to calf deep. I’ve measured the PH and it is quite acid. This suits the rice farmer as the water is used to kill the weeds and soften the earth for planting. Other than a few water plants, not much will grow on a paddy so action must be taken.
I dig trenches every 25 meters across each of the paddies I want to convert. I also remove the lip so water can’t pool. To create planting areas I dig raised garden beds out of the paddy soil. Each garden requires lime to bring the ph back to neutral. Mulch assists with building back the mud into soil.
This year I have been observing the soils and the weather together, I recon its best to get a perennial system in place before the rains come. Seedlings just get smashed by the quantity of rain in the torrential downpours we have most days. The ducks we have seem to thrive and a million snails in the paddies keep them well fed.
On the lower paddies we are growing organic rice. It’s a decision we made without much preparation. Rice needs fertilizer so we thought we would use a commercial fertilizer as we are pressed for time. Easier said than done here in the Philippines.
First brilliant idea, guano! Yep, the caves around here are full of it. Bat shit and bird shit build up on the cave floor and its just sitting there for free! BUT…the caves are up in the side of a cliff across a few rice paddies. Nobody was willing to help us hump heavy sacks of bat shit through muddy paddies. These guys here are tough so if they aren’t going to do it, it must be a bastard of a job. I also remember the last time I went into a cave in Aceh in search of bat shit I got bitten by these evil insects that live in the bats fur like remora on sharks.
Many products available claim they are organic but you really have to examine what you are buying! One product we almost bought uses poultry manure. Poultry manure from battery farming, full of hormones and antibiotics! NO WAY! Organic certification here is a bit lax for sure.
Final solution…DUCKS. We pen them on the terrace above the paddy and dig a small pond that we can bleed into the paddy below. The ducks can be let out during the day into the paddies and put away at night. We can do this until the rice plants grow seed heads.
Ducks munch the snails and consume a huge amount of weeds. The do the weeding and pest control as well as give us eggs and meat. They also cost less than the commercial fertilizer too! The only downside is they need a bit of handling and some supervision.
Our paddies are plowed and conditioned with a Klig Klig (hand tractor). We used a buffalo the first few times but the Klig Klig is best for the conditioning phase. We are now ready for planting.
The rains here are so heavy a man can barely walk in it. I know, I’ve been caught a few times. We sometimes plan for the day but the rain keeps us indoors under cover. Many times the local kids come to our field school and help us in exchange for a hearty meal.
There’s no TV here in Mablad so the kids have their own entertainment. One of their favorite pastimes in the wet season is SPIDER FIGHTING! They have these little matchboxes with several spiders they carry around in their pockets. Inside the box they have divided into 4 cells, each with a spider.
Just like cock fighting, the kids bet on their champion. Holding a stick with a spider at each end the kids cheer as the spiders run together and grapple with each other. I watched a few of them and the action is pretty fast with 16 legs whizzing in a blur as two arachnid kung Fu masters go at each other. I have to get real close and squint with kids screaming in my ears to see what’s happening! They take this pretty seriously for sure. They recon they even have ways of training them!
After the fight, the spider goes back in his matchbox cell with a juicy bug to eat as a prize. The kids say the spiders aren’t poison which is a good thing as they sometimes escape in the kids pocket…imagine 8 spiders on the loose in your shorts…
After the heaviest rains this week I rode my bike down to check out the riverbank. The ferocity of the river flow is chewing away the banks of the river and eating the good farmland. I see coconut trees have fallen as well as large trees that have slid into the river. Meter by meter this river is hungry for more land. I will see the community leaders this week about getting an emergency gabion project funded through the government. If not then we slowly watch the river get wider and the farmland get smaller. Climate change is really in your face here. Fingers crossed that we don’t get a typhoon to top off this massive erosion problem.