Our cherished windbreak of mixed mimosas is in ruins. More than 90% of them were simply pushed over in April as if by an elephant. It took seven years to grow this barrier against the northern trade winds. I was going to plant fruit trees this year but now, once again it’s too windy in the garden for such things and I must start afresh.
Panic pruning during the storm, but it’s already too late for most of the trees.
Clearly though, these were the wrong trees for the job. They were okay against the relentless northerlies because those summer winds never go above Force 8. I didn’t, however, properly take into account the occasional Force 10 southerly, even though when we planted them we’d just had such a storm. I want to think I was badly advised, but was I, really?
Planting in 2010
I think I remember asking for something fast growing and perhaps I ignored advice that ran contrary to speed. I wasn’t so philosophical about time back then; I wanted everything now, quickly, trees fully grown in my lifetime, please, let’s go! And at face value, mimosas didn’t seem so very foolish. They use them all around us for dune stabilization. They seemed to do well and are pretty. Plus, they fix nitrogen so are good for the soil.
I’m taking this on the chin, though. It has forced my hand to do it properly before any more time is lost. Half the trees were being attacked by the acacia beetle and ironically it’s only the sickest trees that survived the storm, because they had so few leaves. Lesson: if deep down you know that you must take a step backwards in order to make something good and strong for the future, then best you just get on with it. I should have ripped them all out three years ago when the beetle first struck.
The windbreak in 2014. To pull it out then was just too much to contemplate.
Our new windbreak kicks butt, or will do, I hope. We’ve gone back to ancient history in how to plant and irrigate for the strongest possible trees with the least water. Out go all the plastic pipes everywhere, out go all the drippers that were constantly blocking up.
In come amphorae. Each little sapling has gone right down into the bottom of a deep hole, so that some are entirely below ground level. Beside each one in the hole is a 20 litre amphora, an unglazed, clay water jug. We’ve infilled soil only to the top of the root ball, as is usual practice, but the main difference here is that there is only 5cms of soil between the tree’s roots and the subsoil. The little trees are right down on the bottom. The rest of the hole is filled with alternate layers of straw and manure mulch leaving only a small air gap around the trunk. Lastly we filled each amphora with water and put a stone on the top.
A 60-70cm tall, carob (grafted female) in her new home.
I think this solution is elegance and genius in equal measure. That I have high hopes for it is understating things. Every three weeks to a month the amphorae are filled up by a man with a hose. There’s nothing to break or go wrong, no need to disturb the mulch to check drippers. Over about five days the water seeps very slowly out through the clay into the soil and mulch. This replicates a heavy rainfall. The water can’t evaporate upwards due to the 60cm thick mulch but it will eventually drop away into the subsoil below the tree. This helps loosen that subsoil and from the very start encourages the young tree to chase it downwards as the upper soil dries out. All this is happening below the reach of all those surrounding weeds that would otherwise steal our little trees’ water. Over a year or two the mulch will, from bottom to top, turn into a rich compost and, keeping up with that metamorphosis, the point at which the roots turn into the trunk (there must be a name for this part, but I can’t discover it) will slowly rise until it gets to ground level. By that time we’re going to have some very strong little trees, with deep roots. I expect they’ll eventually break the amphorae but by that time they won’t need them anymore. But we could always put in more when that happens, further away from the trunk, as an insurance against particularly long droughts.
And what trees this time around? The first echelon is a line of casuarinas (she-oaks) at 2m spacing. Then 4m away is a second echelon of grafted, female carobs at 3m spacing. Both these species have proved themselves elsewhere in the garden, albeit that they grow slowly. This is tighter spacing than normal but our conditions are so harsh that with larger gaps these trees might never close ranks against the wind. And if they ever do start to crowd each other out we can always just prune for firewood, or remove every second one. That’s going to be my children’s decision. Hopefully though, I’ll get to experience a wind-free garden before I get my own little hole in the ground.
Announcing the 2016 Internship program at Fertile Roots. The charity is registered, fund-raising has begun and the Azrou Issa Eco-lodge is less of a building site; it’s time to build and put into place the permaculture / regenerative systems on our two demonstration sites.
We’ll be building all the permaculture classics (chicken tractors, wicking beds, etc) + natural building + welding & carpentry and much more. This is a golden opportunity to gain the practical experience that is so daunting if you haven’t done it before.
We are looking to have 4-6 interns at any time beginning 20 December 2016 and ending 20 April 2017.
All information can be found here.
By Mark Anstice, Founding Director
The first moves towards physically starting this charity began as far back as 2013. As is usual, when one has what seems to be an inspired idea, I plunged ahead, accelerating like a greyhound out of the gate. Around making a living on one continent and self-building an eco lodge on another, I created this website, arranged our first educational course, recruited Trustees, cajoled the locals towards forming a cooperative and began filling out the application for charity registration.
At around this stage one of our new Trustees asked how on earth I found the time for all this? My somewhat self-congratulatory reply was that I ran everywhere, and it was true, I was a little on the manic side. But now I understand properly what he meant; I had the time for all this because our first child was not even yet conceived. Now we have two.
I’ve only just now submitted our completed application for charity registration, almost 2 years after I started filling it in. And 15 months have passed since I last posted anything on this website . My personal blog has become similarly untraceable to the search engine algorithms. It’s been hard to pick up these things again, because failure and realism have elbowed their way into a space once occupied only by shining optimism and invincibility. And it’s not just the website; looking out of the window as I write my efforts to regenerate our own tiny acre seem hardly to have gained any ground at all. On starvation water rations, the 250 wind-break and shade trees transplanted last year are still under a metre tall, and most of the fruit trees have died. Some kind of beetle is killing many of the windbreak trees we planted five years ago. Over the farmers’ fields around, there is no starvation ration to supplement rainfall and water our plans for re-greening, not one drop. In our main demonstration site, at least fenced off from goats all summer, none of my other deadlines have been met and the locals have taken note. Despair creeps in if I let it, and sometimes, momentarily, I do.
But defeatism is a luxury I cannot afford. I’ve put too much into this and my dreams still have force. I have found here a path so fascinating and enticing that to not spend the rest of my life working along it is something I cannot contemplate. I look at what they’ve done in Niger and Sudan, re greening the desert Sahel, and know it’s more than just possible here; it’s only time and effort.
That’s one of the things when you have children, perhaps especially when already in middle age as I am; time speeds up with a lurch. It’s put me off balance for a while, until the realisation begins to dawn that all this: family, land, community, the project, everything; each little bit is simply bigger than me. The aim, after all, is to build something lasting and I have, what, only 25 useful years left in me? My windbreak might take, no, it WILL take 10 of those, and every year there will be as many failures as successes, maybe more.
Learning to climb a ladder, my 19-month old daughter shows the way; a quick blub, pick one’s self up, dust off and try again. And who cares who’s watching the fall and then the sheepish restart. This post is just that; a sheepish restart. I don’t imagine those search engine algorithms will show it to too many people anyway.
Our first Permaculture Design Certificate course, taught by Darren Doherty of Regrarians, surpassed all our expectations here at Fertile Roots HQ. A wonderful mix of personalities – thirty four students in all, from as far afield as the US and Costa Rica – Darren’s superb teaching and two weeks of glorious weather made this an event nobody will forget easily.
Making a no-dig garden
We were particularly pleased to have a third of the seats taken up by Moroccan nationals as we had always felt this to be vital in helping enthuse the local farmers with the spirit and possibilities of permaculture. In the event, local participation was initially disappointing, however, three farmers did gain their certificates and many more came in to listen now and then. That’s a good start and word will inevitably spread.
Our local PDC graduates
The real result however, is that two of our graduates, Si Mohamed and Abdullah, are keen to start regenerating their land as soon as possible and have chosen adjoining fields down near the beach as the first experiment. This is the perfect place for a demonstration site, because it’s the least productive land and also the most public. The pressure is now on to make permaculture work there, in little more than sand, just yards from the Atlantic surf and fully exposed to the relentless north wind. If we can achieve a result on that spot, in full view of everybody, then all will have no choice but to sit up and take note.
Checking out what will be the first demo site
Dinner time, presided over by Gaia at the head of the table
Darren has generously offered to continue consulting on this for free and it will be a fantastic and invaluable support to have his expertise there behind us. Regrarians have also offered to help bring in the area’s first sustainable technology in the form of a donkey-drawn ‘eco seeder’. Against all odds there’s a perrennial grass growing down there and the last thing we want to do is dig it up, as normally happens, with a plough.
Darren Doherty on stage
Another graduate of the course, Mehdi Cherkani, has offered assistance with seeds, grafting and other areas of expertise whilst another, our translator Ahmed Alami Aroussi, has also offered his services as and when needed.
An impromptu classroom
And another: at the source, Ain l’Hajar
An occasional lapse in concentration
Armed with so much knowledge and with such support in the background, at Fertile Roots we feel a freshly strengthened sense of purpose and direction. We can also now show enough income in the Foundation’s first full year of operation to register with the UK Charities Commission and gain our ‘charity number’, which will be vital for future fund-raising efforts. Permaculture in Morocco is growing.
Classes over for the day; off to join the evening football match
Our heartfelt thanks to Darren and Lisa Doherty and their super cool teenagers, Pearl and Zane; also to Ahmed Alami Aroussi for his professional translating and to Andrew Onreat who worked tirelessly and without reward throughout September to help us get the eco-lodge ready. And finally, thank you to all those who attended for making it such a dynamic and entertaining two weeks.
15-Day Permaculture Design Certificate Course
Essaouira, Morocco 6th – 20th October 2014
The Permaculture Design Course (PDC) is an internationally-recognized, seventy-two hour course resulting in a Permaculture Design Certificate. It provides an introduction to permaculture design as set forth by movement founder Bill Mollison and serves as foundation for further permaculture work and study.
The course covers sustainable living systems for a wide variety of landscapes and climates. It includes food production, soil regeneration, animal systems, aqua-culture, water harvesting, waste & recycling systems, home design, construction, energy conservation and generation, alternative economic structures, legal strategies and more.
This course will be bi-lingual, conducted in English and translated into Arabic.
Darren J. Doherty has delivered over 180 courses and seminars to more than 12,000 attendees since 2001, including 40 PDC’s (14 solo). Darren has also completed more than 1600 property development plans since 1993 in 47 countries and is widely recognized as a leader and pioneer in the Permaculture and Regenerative Agriculture movements. You can read more on him and his ‘Regrarian’ movement here and hear him explain regenerative agriculture here.
I’ve been trying to get Darren over here for some time now. It was important to me that of all the Permaculture teachers out there it would be he who would teach our first PDC here at Fertile Roots HQ, and the on the site of Morocco’s first permaculture-based Agricultural Cooperative. Why? Because Darren is not just stuck on permaculture. He calls himself an ‘integrationalist’, and is an active exponent of other forward-thinking systems and methodologies also, such as Keyline and Holistic Management. As such he is happy to use whatever ‘tools’ are needed to reach the project goals, and that’s the approach we need in Morocco We have a whole lot of very difficult conditions here that are going to require a very big toolbox!
Also, I have to say, his teaching style is a joy. I find class rooms a struggle no matter what the subject but with Darren never once found my eyelids drooping.
Darren did his first PDC in 1993 so there are few teachers out there with more experience. Every day this program will have you doing a practical exercise based around the subject of the day, all building real knowledge and experience, because what you know you will not forget…
The Regrarians PDC follows a-day-to-a-subject program based around Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual (Mollison) as follows:
Day 1: Introduction
Day 2: Concepts & Themes in Design
Day 3: Methods of Design
Day 4: Pattern Understanding
Day 5: Climatic Factors
Day 6: Trees & Their Energy Transactions
Day 7: Soils
Day 8: No Class (Day Off)
Day 9: Water
Day 10: Earthworks & Earth Resources
Day 11: Aquaculture
Day 12: Strategies for An Alternative Nation
Day 13: Humid Tropics
Day 14: Drylands
Day 15: Cold Humid
Monday 6th October – Monday 20th October 2014 (Monday 13th October – day off)
Fertile Roots Eco-Lodge, Al Fayda Village, near Moulay Bouzergtoun, 30kms (15 as the crow flies) N of Essaouira, Morocco.
It’s an ambitious structure that started life as a centre for the arts and now also has a bright future as the HQ of the Fertile Roots Foundation and a Permaculture centre. It’s still under construction and has been built almost entirely by the owners and their fishermen and farmer neighbours, utilizing local stone and lime.
The lodge overlooks a narrow strip of farmland sandwiched between the ocean and the forested hillside. Owned and worked by the two communities of Al Fayda and Azrou Issa, these 100 hectares of wind-battered ground are the subject of the Fertile Roots Foundation’s first project. The two communities have come together to form the Al Fayda Permaculture cooperative……Read more
This is not a profit making venture; our aim is to spread Permaculture here in Morocco and we need only to be sure of covering our costs. If a profit is made it will go into the Fertile Roots Foundation coffers to support our work in the local community. The prices below are as low as I can risk making them at this point. PDCs in Europe or the US average around €1500 and I have to thank Darren for giving us an extremely favorable and generous rate so that we can offer ‘scholarships’ to as many local farmers as possible.
International Participants…………Dirhams (MAD) 7,282.00 (This equates to €649 or £528 at the time of writing.) To book this course now…
Or, pay a deposit of 25% (please see the note on ‘Deposits’ at the bottom of the page).
National Participants…………..Dirhams (MAD) 4,805.00 (€429)
To book this course now….Or, pay a deposit of 25% (please see the note on ‘Deposits’ at the bottom of the page).
Three meals a day are included in the above prices. Accommodation is also free if you bring your own tent and sleeping gear. Please see below for other, more comfortable, accommodation options.
Scholarships for this course are being offered to local farmers. Please let us know if you know of any local who would like to attend this course but cannot afford it and we’ll see what we can do.
Scholarship pupils attending from outside the project area and so staying at the eco-lodge will be charged 50Dhs per day for food.
Alternate participation options and price
Option 1: Monday 6th – Tuesday 7th October, 2014 Intro to Permaculture Dhs1,120 Internationals / Dhs300 Nationals
Option 2: Monday 6th October – Sunday 12th October, 2014 Permaculture 101 Dhs3,930 Internationals / Dhs2000 Nationals
We have limited space and priority is given to those attending the full course and to the local farmers that each paying attendee has sponsored. If you are interested in the alternative participation options please contact us.
Please note that certificates can only be earned via the full 15 day PDC.
Your participation in this PDC or Option 1 (Intro to Permaculture) or Option 2 (Permaculture 101) includes access to continental breakfast, vegetarian lunch and vegetarian dinner. These meals are offered free of charge and it is your choice to eat that which is provided.
Those who decide to opt out of any of the supplied food and beverages we have to offer will need to self-cater at their own expense.
If you have strict dietary requirements, then either bring some of your favorites, or apply early and let us know, otherwise your options will be limited. You will be contacted by email once you’ve made your booking and also close to the event giving and final instructions and information.
- 4 x 90 minute sessions per day, 0900-1930 + evening sessions, 2 x 30 min morning/afternoon breaks + 1 hour lunch
- Regrarians Permaculutre Design Certificate of Completion ( on completion of the full 15-day PDC ONLY)
Staying with Local Families: Several families in Al Fayda have offered accommodation.
Please bring your own bedding. 50dhs/night sharing
In our tents: We will have several bell tents and tipi tents set up in the garden with mattresses. 50 dhs/night – sharing with 2-3 others and sharing compost toilet and solar shower. This is a limited option so if you are interested please book your place early.
Bell tent or tipi tent to yourself: 200dhs/night – sharing compost toilet and solar shower. Again, this is a limited option so please book early.
Your own tent: You are welcome to bring your own camping gear and we will not charge you for this.
Hot water will be available for use but not in any great quantity!
- Please bring all that you need, as facilities at the Eco Lodge are basic.
- There are no laundry facilities available.
The following accommodation options are available in Moulay Bouzergtoun (25-mins walk along the beach or similar time by car along the track).
Magic Fun Windsurf School: 5 basic and cheerful rooms, three of them for two people (double or twin) and two singles, with a shared bathroom. (100Dhs per person/per night). Breakfast not included
La Tatanga. (prices to be confirmed)
A Maree Haute: A stunning Maison d’Hotes run by Jean-Marc and Francoise. This is closest to the Fertile Roots Centre at just 20 mins walk away, along the beach. For those attending this PDC they have offered a special room rate of €50 a night (20% discount) for a stay of 2 week or €55 a night for a stay of 1 week. This includes breakfast.
Please contact email@example.com to discuss your accommodation needs.
What to bring
- Maps/Plans/Photos of your own place or project for use in this PDC in the many design exercises.
- Sleeping bag/bedding for 14-15 night stay in one of our tents (we provide the mattress) or with the locals; or
- Tent or camping gear comfortable for an 14-15 night stay
- Although it’s unlikely to be anything other than sunny and possibly windy, please verify weather forecast here before packing your gear.
- Camping mug/cup/plate & (refillable) water bottle
- Flashlight/Head Lamp
- Day bag or small backpack
- Clothes for October in Essaouira (22C(high)/17C (low)) bring something warm for the evenings.
- Sturdy boots
- Long-sleeved shirt & pants/shorts
- Wide-brimmed hat (one that stays on in a wind) & sunglasses
- Notebook, Laptop/Tablet & Video/still camera
- A great attitude for participatory learning
If you want to have a portable chair for those times when we are stopping for a while around the site, then please bring one.
Anything else you need to make your stay as comfortable and pleasant as possible.
Marrakech and Agadir airports are both approx 200kms from Essaouira and are well served with cheap international flights. There are frequent buses between both cities and Essaouira. The journey time is between 3-4hrs and cost approx 75dhs (€7).
Essaouira Airport is just 40kms away and has less frequent and usually more expensive flights via France.
Taxis: We can arrange a taxi to collect you from any of the airports. From Marrakech or Agadir this will be 600-700dhs (€60-70). From Essaouira 250dhs (€25). Taxis can not make it all the way to the Eco-Lodge but will drop you off at the start of a 15min donkey trail through the forest. A donkey can be arranged to carry any luggage.
Local Bus no.s 7 & 8 (towards Moulay Bouzergtoun) are both good. Between them there are departures from Bab Doukkala at 10:00, 11.30, 12:30 & 16:00 each day. Ask to be dropped off at the ‘Poto Rose’, Chicht, a painted telegraph pole which marks the start of the donkey trail to Al Faida village. The bus journey is approx 30 mins and costs 6dhs and is followed by a 15 min walk down through a forested valley.
If you have a lot to carry we can arrange a donkey to meet you at the road.
By Taxi: At the time of writing taxis are unwilling to come all the way to the Eco-Lodge so you should also ask to be dropped at the ‘Poto Rose’, Chicht , which will cost 150dhs, and then walk down the valley (15 mins). Once again, if you have a lot to carry we can arrange a donkey to meet you.
From Essaouira: Drive eastwards out of town on the main highway to Marrakech. After 6kms turn left along the ‘Route de la Cote’ towards Safi. After approx 12kms you will descend a long, winding hill with the ocean in front. At the bottom of the hill, in front of the last house by the road, turn left onto a dirt track.
After 100m, turn left then follow this for 3kms, all the way to its end at the Fertile Roots Eco-Lodge. This track is very rough in places and in October can have sections of deep sand. It is not difficult, with care, to drive a normal car all the way but there is also a parking place after 2kms which will miss out the worst parts.
If you are in something fast and low-to-the-ground, please do NOT attempt the track without contacting us first for advice. You WILL break your car or get stuck, either of which will prevent anyone else from arriving.
You are permitted to record anything and everything at this event. By attending this event you give permission for images/voice of yourself to be used by Regrarians Ltd./HeenanDoherty Pty. Ltd and the Fertile Roots Foundation.
We understand that sometimes circumstances dictate that you are not able to attend after you’ve made and paid for your booking, or have paid a deposit. We are happy to give a refund 14 days out from the date of this event, minus a 300dhs administration fee. If you need to cancel your booking within 14 days then we will be unable to provide a refund, though you can use your payment towards a future Fertile Roots Foundation event.
Please note: if you’ve paid a deposit you must pay the remaining 75% in full before 06 September in order to benefit from our ‘early bird’ price. After this point the cost of the course will increase 10%.
Please contact Mark at Fertile Roots with any questions and to register your interest.
And finally, the organizers accept no responsibility if this event is the catalyst for major changes in your life.
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