Environmental Action Plan for Earth Connection Center
To create a regenerative system at the center these are the steps that we have taken:
Ecological Restoration of the Tropical Dry Forest ecosystem
After looking for reference ecosystems to model the forest after, since cattle ranching had cut and degraded the forest, we set out to restore the 40ha property. We found no reference ecosystems close to the property but did find a few over an hour away. We started collecting local seed from mother trees (large remnant trees), raised money on a gofundme to build a small nursery on the property and worked with the seed to unlock their germination secrets. 6 months later in 2016, at the start of the rainy season, we held our first Ecosystem Restoration Camp. We planted hundreds of trees in 8 ha of forest. We tried 3 techniques: direct seeding a mix of tree seeds, bareroot seedlings and small potted trees (10x20cm bags).
After that, we have continued to add more biodiversity to the rest of the 40ha biological reserve and more and more wildlife has returned to the forest. It is a magical place now! See our YouTube videos to learn more!
We have built many wildlife ponds to attract wildlife and give them water to drink. In the Yucatan, water is 10m deep under the ground and there are no ponds or rivers above ground. Our cenote is open so some creatures can get in to drink but many cannot climb down the 10m. We have attracted many creatures to these watering holes and seen a great increase in diversity as we have the only accessible water for many km. The creatures also help us restore the forest by bringing us seed!
We continue to mentor people that want to learn and host research students to help improve our processes of ecological restoration, regenerative agriculture and biodiversity conservation.
Water is at a premium in the Yucatan especially in the 6 months of dry season so everything with water is done carefully with a minimum of waste.
At the center water is pumped up from the groundwater by a windmill and stored in a large storage tank. This is a blessing since we originally hauled buckets of water 10 meters up from the cenote and brought it to the house.
The water in the tank initially was not balanced and we had challenges with mosquitos.
Initially we used lime in the water to change the pH and kill the mosquitoes…the local recommendation.
Then we were getting many tadpoles in the tank from local frogs and toads so we needed to change that strategy to a more sustainable approach. We noticed that the cenote does not have mosquitoes in it. So we added aquatic plants to the top to help cool the water and mosquito eating fish. The system has balanced now and no more mosquitoes. We have dragon and damselfly larvae, water boatmen and small water striders. They in addition to the fish, which have taking off and breeding fast, all hunt the mosquito larvae. The mosquitos at the ranch are much less than in the local city. We keep an eye out for any standing water, clean up all garbage… In addition, we have a diversity of hungry creatures that eat mosquitos: bats, swallows, dragonflies…
Irrigation is done by hand or with a gravity fed drip irrigation system in the food forest and gardens.
Every 2-4 days we run the generator and fill the water storage tank on the roof so we have running water at the casita.
We use low pressure water saving showerheads in the showers.
No toxic chemicals are allowed at the center – pesticides, cleaning products, personal products, chemical fertilizers in order to protect the cenote and the biofilter.
Dishwashing is done by hand using a minimum of water:
- A small amount of water is used on the dishes to soften the leftovers. Water is passed from dish to dish to minimize waste.
- Dishes are scrubbed with a watery soap solution 10% soap.
- Water is then used to wash off the dishes, passing the water over to the next dish to take off the majority of dirt and then given a final rinse with clean water. Dishes are air dried and toweled off to remove water that might contain bacteria.
Grey water from the shower and dishes goes into a greywater filtration system. The system uses 2 barrels for anaerobic digestion and one with aerobic digestion and plants to remove nutrients.
Rainwater is collected from the roof and piped into rain barrels. We use this water to water our plants near the house.
Bulk drinking water is purchased locally at a water filling station using refillable jugs.
We have a compost toilet.
In our system we separate the liquid from the solid in different holding tanks.
The urine is collected and used as the nitrogen component of our fertilizer in the nursery.
The scat is mixed with carbon to create biochar and after thorough composting it is used under fruit trees and under trees in our habitat restoration projects. Not in the garden. Using it under fruit trees is safe as the fruit is well away from the compost.
We have a small solar system (1000W) and added a windmill (400W) installed on the roof of the casita that powers everything! We also have a small portable gas generator that we use as backup power and when we are doing construction.
We have a fridge that only gets 3 hours of run time to cool down and most of the year this is enough to keep vegetables, sauces and eggs cool in the fridge and milk products, nuts and flours cool. We keep the nuts and flours in the freezer as beetles that might be in them are killed by freezing.
We don’t eat meat at the ranch. The fridge is not cold enough to store it safely and we choose to eat less meat because of the damage it causes to biodiversity and the high rate of deforestation. Besides that, if you have ever raised your own food, you know that the meat from grocery stores tastes nothing like it should. But that’s another story…
We regulate our sleeping hours from 2 hours after dark and then get up at the crack of dawn. There is enough light in the casita during the day.
In addition, we have laptop computers, cell phones, rechargeable flashlights, rechargeable batteries that are charged as needed to keep them running.
Some hand tools and the blender are run as needed aiming to run them only when the sun is high in the sky.
Garden and Nursery
We are using a regenerative/permaculture system in the garden: no till permanent beds, crop rotations, companion planting, chop and drop… No chemical fertilizers or pesticides, we created a super powerful brew to supply al the nutrients and microbes the plants need.
Because the soils in the Yucatan drain quickly, we are working with the soils to enhance nutrition and water holding capacity. There are a number of strategies that we are using:
Biochar – Biochar is a mixture of carbon that is created by burning organic waste in a low oxygen environment so that the carbon is left. The carbon is then mixed the compost, manure, soil, urine and molasses and left to cure. The aging allows the activated carbon to absorb nutrients and the sugar in the molasses stimulates fungal growth. When finished the biochar is nutrient rich and full of microorganisms beneficial to plant growth. It holds water in the soil and slowly releases nutrients to the plants.
Fertilizer – Initially we used diluted urine to add nitrogen to the garden then a mixture of 10 % molasses, 10 % kambucha, 1% micronutrients and urine. The molasses has many micronutrients and sugar to stimulate microbial growth in the soil, kambucha has micronutrients and is acidic to help balance the basic soils pH, the urine is a source of nitrogen for the plants as this seems to be the limiting nutrient in our soils. Now we have improved that to our super powerful brew see our YouTube videos!
Insect control – we grow tobacco to use as a tobacco spray for aphid infestations.
Watering – we use drip irrigation in the early morning and hand water individual plants.
Food forest was established in an area cut down for cattle ranching. The nitrogen fixing thorny trees were left and plantings done between the trees. Chimay are pioneer species and were already dying. The cows had eaten any new tree growth so there was no new understory so this was a good area to plant. We have over 50 species of tropical fruit trees!
We minimize the amount of garbage we create by being selective in what we buy and the amount of garbage that it will create.
In grocery stores we do not use plastic bags on fruit and vegetables and use reusable bags and boxes at the checkout. We buy mostly fruit, vegetables, grains and very little processed/packaged food.
We do not burn garbage at the center so all garbage must be recycled or returned to the city to be disposed of.
We separate all paper and burn it in our biochar unless it has excessive chemicals in it i.e. glossy paper.
Aluminum is separated and at some point, we will build an aluminum forge and make something.
Plastic, which is the bulk of the packaging, we stuff into bottles to minimize the volume of the garbage and prevent it from getting into the environment.
All containers, yoghurt, juice, milk… are cut open and used in the nursery to grow plants.
Glass bottles are crushed and were used in our outdoor bread oven as a heat sink.
Using this system, we have only one shopping bag of garbage to take to the city monthly.
We purchased a used inexpensive minivan.
We go to the city weekly/biweekly to minimize gas usage. If we run out of something we make due until the next scheduled trip or forage.
Our latest project is the Planet Healers YouTube Channel to offer our wisdom to the world and inspire more people to make this world a paradise.