Recent developments at Kailash-Akhara, Adi Yoga Retreat Center, Phu Rua, Loei, Thailand.
By David Perkins (Dharmadeva) – Farm Manager and resident permaculture designer and educator at Kailash-Akhara.
This report provides an overview of many aspects of creating a retreat center and living sustainably using the principles of permaculture. Short updates will be given regularly to keep our wider community informed. See Part I and Part II if you haven’t already.
First phase of building is now complete
After a year and a half of construction in the core area, painting was completed just before an opening ceremony and party to celebrate the annual festival of Guru Purnima on the full moon in July. Four buildings make up the core area: The Temple/Training Hall, Dormitory, Kitchen-Dining Room, and Bath House with composting toilets. We are now practicing, sleeping, cooking, eating, showering, doing laundry, and recycling our poop in shiny new surroundings – a level of relative luxury compared to the stripped-down facilities we began with.
Fruit from grey water
Banana circle, 9 months after planting
Water from personal bathing, washing dishes, and laundry, is dirty, but it is far from being waste. Our system for treating this ‘grey water’, as it is called, is to feed it to thirsty plants in a feature of the landscape known as a ‘banana circle’. We have 6 circles, each with 6 – 8 banana plants, and 1 or 2 papaya trees. To begin this system, a shallow pit is dug, about 2 meters diameter, which is then filled with food scraps and cut vegetation to provide the extra nutrition needed by these heavy feeders. Then, a shower stall or dishwashing station can be placed directly in the middle of the circle, or greywater is piped from sinks to the circles. The first ones were planted at the beginning of 2008; now, 15-18 months later, they are producing fruit in abundance. We have cut the first few bunches, and I just counted at least 9 more coming along… at this rate we’ll be enjoying fruit and giving away our surplus for many months to come.
Electricity from the sun
This is an off-grid site. We have kept our need for electric power to a minimum by smart design, and currently the extent of our need for electricity is low wattage lighting for 2 buildings, charging laptops and phones, and running the occasional power tool. Photovoltaic panels have been installed on the south-facing roof of the bath house, with the juice being stored in deep-cycle batteries, and supplied around the site through a 700W inverter. It’s a system that is sufficient to meet our needs for now, with potential for future expansion.
“There’s no such place as ‘away’”
Staff in kitchen
It’s a favorite quote of mine, and we have inevitably been forced to answer the problem that it points to: after reducing, re-using and recycling as much as possible, where do we throw stuff away? In a remote rural location like this, how do we responsibly handle the need for waste disposal? The local custom is to use designated spots on the side of the road, as a dumping and burning ground. Not satisfied with adding to that situation, we created our own on-site landfill. 2 pits were dug by excavator, 4 x 3 x 3 meters deep, which swallowed up all the construction debris, leaving some room for future ‘dump runs’. When burning is necessary, a homemade incinerator gives a useful second life to an oil drum, and it helps us burn as hot and clean as possible.
Azuki bean & Crotalaria provide good vegetation cover on swale berm
Leguminous trees, shrubs and plants mingle
with fruit trees in newly planted
food forest near a swale
We continue to work on establishing a system of swales for passively harvesting rainwater – not only in tanks and ponds – but also in the soil itself, by means of infiltrating runoff. We now have around 1,100m of swales on the land. The initial excavation work was completed in 12 days in April, and was followed immediately by sowing seeds and planting the pioneer species. The vegetation grew rapidly with the early rains, and is doing its job to stabilize the disturbed soil and minimize erosion. The heaviest rain we’ve had so far was 35mm in 2 hours. That certainly tested the swales, which performed well, filling to about 60% capacity, and infiltrating completely within 24 hours. Rainwater will now more effectively hydrate most of the entire site (about 25 acres/10 hectares) rather than race to the bottom of the hill.
A Mango tree puts on
new growth in food forest
Following the guidelines for creating a food forest, we are planting plenty of nitrogen fixing trees and shrubs in amongst the tree crops we want to grow. The crop trees we’ve planted so far include: guava, mango, jackfruit, star fruit, tamarind, pomegranate, and mangosteen. Not forgetting of course, the one tree generally regarded as having the greatest number of uses, the coconut. We are looking into good sources for more crops, namely coffee and macadamia nuts. It’s early days – we still have a lot of planting to do, and it’ll be a while before we taste the rewards, but as the saying goes, “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now”.
Rehabilitation of areas heavily impacted by construction
After 18 months of building, there are some areas that are showing the scars left behind after construction work. Specifically, hard compacted soil where roads where carved by repeated driving. These traffic patterns made sense at the time, but now that major construction is done we don’t need roads between our buildings – we need footpaths and attractive landscaping. The first step in this transition is a kind of permaculture first-aid. Small swales were dug to intercept the excessive runoff from the hard bald ground. A thick mulch of rice straw was applied all over, and footpaths of woodchips were laid. Shrubs that will tolerate these poor conditions are being planted, whose roots will help break up the compaction. A nice touch is that the small swales are now planted with flowers that we’ll use in ritual offerings, thereby keeping a supply of fresh picked flower heads at hand on the way to the temple.
A swale helps restore the site of a former dirt road