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Parking-lot agriculture – Panama

May 8, 2009

This is a small, meter by 3 meter patch of vegetation that I planted about a year ago. First a thick layer of concrete had to be removed (the primary function of the space is as a parking lot). Underneath the concrete I encountered an ancient layer of fill; a heavy clay mud strewn with clay rocks, sandstone, and pockets of looser sandy soil. I dug relatively deep holes, backfilled with locally available leaf biomass, compost, and black soil mixed fifty percent with existing substrate, which was full of old, crushed coral and fragments of shells.

In the photo below you see torch ginger, galangal, chaya, bele, katuk, fruiting bilimbi, night blooming jasmine, anamu, a young jackfruit, butterfly pea, and a dead passion fruit vine (freshly killed by some  wayward vandal). The area received no irrigation throughout the five-month dry season.

All things considered, and taking into account that I took this photo at the very end of the dry season (today), the plants are doing quite well. This photo depicts a mere ten out of thousands of potential species that could thrive in a similar urban or suburban environment. I think more concrete slabs should be torn out of cities and replaced with useful plant and trees.

urban agriculture

10 Comments leave one →
  1. May 8, 2009 10:08:33 pm

    I want the night blooming jasmines.

  2. September 29, 2012 10:08:59 pm

    We can’t count on the rapid growth encountered in tropical climates and have to go with mass planting to ensure that our garden stays alive without excess water throughout our dry season. I am planting ground covers all over the place and allowing piles of garden debris to lay on the soil surface to maintain the topsoil moisture and keep the soil microbes in the upper echelons of the soil .

    • September 30, 2012 10:08:07 am

      Even in full-on tropical climates (especially in tropical climates) providing massive quantities of mulch around young trees is essential to maintain nutrient input, retain moisture, and stave off the encroachment of unwanted grasses, etc. When I plant a tree I will guild it with a range of additional plants, edible perennials and nitrogen fixing species. Some of these will be planted for the sole purpose of being periodically coppiced to provide biomass to mulch the tree with.

      • September 30, 2012 10:08:15 pm

        Permaculture🙂 I agree. We had to clear out a lot of debris and prune back most of our shrubs early on this year and now we have a LOT of bare earth. I have been leaving the debris to cover the earth over summer until we can plant a cover crop and some nitrogen fixing species and especially ground covers. We have a lot of native nitrogen fixers here and our top (bush) block is covered in sheok’s that are nitrogen fixing as well. What do you use for mulching? I dare say there is a LOT of biomass there thanks to the rapid growth rate in the tropics. (I am talking initially not when you are coppicing :)). It is a whole different world in temperate climates and I so envy the lush rapid growth of the tropics!

        • October 1, 2012 10:08:15 am

          I basically use all excess biomass for mulching. In my opinion of mulching cannot be overemphasized, especially in dry climates (where there is a need for retaining moisture and decreasing evaporation rates) and in the wet tropics (where it is important to inhibit weeds from growing and providing nutrients. I think of mulching rings around trees as decentralized compost systems.

          If I have a lot of excess biomass I will also dig massive holes for trees I’m going to plant, and back fill those holes with the biomass, then cover them with a thick layer of planting soil, then plant the tree. So by the time the tree is getting established and the roots reach the backfilled biomass it will have decomposed into a rich compost.

          Or, if I foresee planting a tree in the future, I will dig a massive hole backfill it with biomass and cap it with soil, so by the time I’m ready to plant its all broken down.

          Of course having a chipper/shredder is very valuable. They are usually expensive, but I have seen really great 5 horsepower chippers that were custom made by a good metalworker/machinist for a nominal price. You can chip big logs with them, but they can handle most green branches, etc, no problem. Chipping your biomas will really speed up decomposition and transforms your biomass into something more spreadable (and aesthetically pleasing, for what that’s worth).

          • October 1, 2012 10:08:27 pm

            We are about to hire a 5hp mulcher for the weekend and deal with some enormous overgrown photinia’s that have gone past their prime along with lots of other debris around Serendipity Farm. Our soil is a thin layer of topsoil and our subsoil is reactive clay. Aesthetically pleasing is a best case scenario for us here and we are learning to live with organised chaos. Sometimes to facilitate what is good for the land/soil you have to bypass what is good on the eye especially when your funds are being syponed off to the most important task at hand. Its a massive learning curve and it is certainly putting our horticultural (and research) knowledge into practice and we are learning on our feet. Cheers for your wonderful site that gives us an incredible amount of in depth knowledge. I love reading about the tropical species but they aren’t pertinent to our situation here. I am currently working out a list of xeriscape annual, perennial, shrub and tree’s as a guideline for what to aim for in a temperate food forest. Cheers for the thumbs up on salvias (including chia). Its a steep learning curve! It’s great to get ideas from other people who have more experience than us. We have all of the information/studies behind us but not a lot of practical application. Nothing like throwing yourself in at the deep end to foster lateral thinking I say!🙂

        • October 1, 2012 10:08:18 am

          I basically use all excess biomass for mulching. In my opinion of mulching cannot be overemphasized, especially in dry climates (where there is a need for retaining moisture and decreasing evaporation rates) and in the wet tropics (where it is important to inhibit weeds from growing and providing nutrients. I think of mulching rings around trees as decentralized compost systems.

          If I have a lot of excess biomass I will also dig massive holes for trees I’m going to plant, and back fill those holes with the biomass, then cover them with a thick layer of planting soil, then plant the tree. So by the time the tree is getting established and the roots reach the backfilled biomass it will have decomposed into a rich compost.

          Or, if I foresee planting a tree in the future, I will dig a massive hole backfill it with biomass and cap it with soil, so by the time I’m ready to plant its all broken down.

          Of course having a chipper/shredder is very valuable. They are usually expensive, but I have seen really great 5 horsepower chippers that were custom made by a good metalworker/machinist for a nominal price. You can chip big logs with them, but they can handle most green branches, etc, no problem. Chipping your biomas will really speed up decomposition and transforms your biomass into something more spreadable (and aesthetically pleasing, for what that’s worth).

          On a similar but somewhat different note, here is a discussion of “Zai holes”, which may be interesting for you to check out/experiment with in conjunction to mulching. You can mulch on top of a zaihole to retian moisture. http://globalwarming-arclein.blogspot.gr/2009/07/zai-holes.html

          • October 1, 2012 10:08:32 pm

            Thanks for that! I am going to spend some time doing a bit of research today as we may be able to utilise some of our larger debris in the manufacture of biochar. We have a passionate biochar enthusiast who shares his passion with anyone who will listen living not too far away from us. He has demonstrated to us how precious biochar is and how amazing it is for soils. I think I might have to send Frank a few more emails. We recently bought the book “The BioChar Revolution” and its a really fantastic resource for biochar and how to produce it. Frank wants to get a Pyrolysis biochar system up and running in the Tamar Valley to generate power and produce biochar. We might not have much industry here in Tasmania but we have a lot of tree farms and as our resident nepotistic forestry industry is going down the gurgler and the major player in the industry just went broke a lot of tree farmers just lost their livelihood so a biochar industry could be the answer for them.

        • October 1, 2012 10:08:27 am

          Here’s a nice breakdown and diagram of a good sheet mulching recipe for temperate climates (would work for tropics too). http://tcpermaculture.blogspot.gr/2011/05/permaculture-projects-sheet-mulching.html

          Out of curiosity, can you grow bananas where you are?

          • October 1, 2012 10:08:38 pm

            We have 2 bananas in our glasshouse but I am not too sure if they would survive our winters. We don’t get a lot of frost and we may be able to create a hotspot for them on the property. They are growing bananas and coffee plants in Hobart at the botanical gardens but they have a heated wall system (hot water running through the wall that was installed in the 1800’s) and that does keep the frost away however we are a lot warmer than Hobart where we are (right at the top of Tasmania as you look at the map and right at the mouth of the Tamar river as it heads out to Bass Strait the sea between Tasmania and the mainland). We have Brachychitons growing on the property and other warm climate trees and shrubs that have survived here and as mentioned, we live right on the river (just opposite our front gate) and on a very steep slope so we tend to miss out on the heavy frosts that the rest of Northern Tasmania get. We might try planting our bananas out (as they can’t live in the glasshouse forever!) and see. I will let you know how it goes🙂 Cheers for the fantastic link by the way…another one to get stuck into. I was considering Hugelkultur as a way to utilise most of the larger debris that our pruning efforts and thinning out efforts are generating. To plant out our food forest we have to remove some of the ornamentals that have run amok for 20 years so we have a LOT of green waste here at the moment. I figured a combination of biochar and Hugelkultur might be the go?

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