Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Yin and the Yang

AquaPro Groasis waterboxes
Baby elephant in Jadav Payeng's new forest
We passed by the motel on the corner, the one I walk by most every day, and I got a jolt.
They have been renovating for a very long time (covering the building with that DryVit junk and littering the entire area) and as a nice final touch, they cut down three well-shaped, healthy trees between the pool house and the road.  Why?
Walking in near 100-degree temperatures requires that you find shade as much as possible, and that is becoming less and less possible:  along with such wanton pointless acts of destruction by business owners, PennDOT and our own Homeowners' Association, there's nature's overefficient destruction from wind and snow.  We've probably lost over 30 trees in our neighborhood in a year.  All the trees damaged by the October wet snow were removed and not replanted by our Association; the Shell gas station's owner cut down a large and healthy locust tree that was not damaged or threatening anything.  Triple Crown's apartment development near us cut down all but three of the trees lining the boulevard for no discernible reason. The roasting sun is becoming unavoidable.  The grass, once shaded, turns to brown dust.
At the same time, I found out about some remarkably successful efforts all around the world to replant areas lost to desertification (which is where our area seems to be headed!).
The Fertile Crescent in the Middle East fostered civilization before that same growing civilization destroyed it with overgrazing, erosion, salinizing the soil with groundwater irrigation, and of course decimating the trees (the Greeks cut down all theirs for ships to build successive empires now gone.  They're still stuck with the rocky, arid slopes they created, though). 
Permaculture designer Geoff Lawnton, an Aussie, began a small demonstration project several years ago on 10 flat, hopeless acres in Jordan (92% desert) near the Dead Sea that he called Greening the Desert.  With volunteer labor and little money (he hasn't found any funding for the last six years), he employed an idea that created a healthy localized climate:  building up curving swales of soil with compost and leftover green materials from what farming there is, which harvested every drop of winter rainwater that had washed away and evaporated quickly before.  Salt levels in the soil dropped due to natural filtration, and humidity increased to a level that mushrooms grew (the locals had never seen that).  Trees with nitrogen-fixing roots were planted on the swales, then food producers such as figs, date palms, citrus and pomegranates.  Nature followed the cue and took over; without any further input, the new environment has grown and thrived.  Even in Scotland, reforestation has resulted in more rainfall (though they don't need it), proving once again that trees = more moisture and productive land.
Oracle founder Larry Ellison recently bought almost the whole island of Lana'i in Hawaii for $500 million.  Think what a tiny portion of that amount could do for projects such as Lawnton's, who says, "a garden can solve the world's problems." 
In Assam, far eastern India, Jadav Payeng lived alone on a sandbar island in the mighty Brahmaputra River, determined to make something of it.  In thirty years, he planted a forest by himself, starting with bamboo.  As it grew, he found birds, insects and animals moving in and learned more than a few things, among them that red ants change the soil's properties.  He lacked $500 million and a big fat ego, but the man has something much more valuable.
Just as human activity has created and expanded deserts worldwide, the rainforest north of Rio in Brazil has been wrecked over several centuries by coffee farming, charcoal making and cattle grazing.  At the age of fifteen Mauricio Ruiz resolved to bring the forest back from the dead, inspired by a poet who championed it -- words to action.  He and over a hundred others have planted over a half-million trees of 55 native species (one of them called an alligator tree -- wish I could find one which would eat local motel and gas station owners).  The goal is to cover 70 square miles.  Mauricio made it a win-win situation by convincing land owners that the project would benefit them in several ways, including being eligible for government subsidies.  The city of Rio is behind it, since the reforestation is clearing up the previously muddy water supply.
How do you grow trees in the worst of places that need them the most?  A Dutchman has recently introduced an invention which solves the vexing problem of getting seedlings to survive, which he calls the AquaPro Groasis, basically a plastic tub initially filled with four gallons of water which it dispenses very sparingly through a wick.  The roots are encouraged to grow further in search of more water, which is usually 3 - 4 feet down in arid plains.  The device cools faster than the surrounding air and so catches and collects condensation (dew) which replenishes the reservoir.  It can be removed and used again in about a year, and has had an 88% success rate in the Sahara (vs. 10% for the plant-and-hope method).
I wonder if I can convince Mauricio to come to New Cumberland?


1 comment:

  1. You need trees. I worry about mine but only for a few more year. Then they will probably be plowed under and a green lawn layed out. But for now the critters enjoy the shade and shelter.