In December of 2002, together with a group of native women we've formed a garden
committee and Nursery cooperative to take on the following projects:
Native tree nursery cooperative, to provide valuable native hardwoods,
threatened wild fruit trees, and a wide range of fruit trees and medicinal
Restoration of a watershed reserve proposed above the community spring,
restoration of the stock of valuable native hardwoods and threatened wild
fruit trees, and
Conversion of festering puddles of greywater into irrigated orchards
Descriptions of the latter two items follow...
Restoration of El Chorrito watershed
Walking to the spring
(Right) Three of the eleven garden committee members
and their kids at the spring to scout for plants and plan the project.
Nursery coordinator Isidra with a dozen baby wild
fig trees for the nursery.
The five foot diameter tree behind her is an adult
of the same species.
We are going to plant smaller trees such as cocobolo between every post of
the fence (visible in photo above), so that when the fence posts rot out there
is a living fence of trees that will protect the spring area from
goats and pigs for many years (see photos
from the implementation of this project).
Larger species will anchor parts of the fence that are vulnerable to flooding
in cyclones. The fig above anchors the spring fence from being washed away by
the creek, which runs between the tree and the concrete box in the foreground.
The anticipated benefits are less flooding and higher dry season
spring flow, both due to greater infiltration of water into the earth.
The cost is projected to be much less than that of replacing the concrete
spring boxes, which are assured to be destroyed by peak cyclone flows
otherwise. It is possible that higher spring flow will eliminate the need for
(and cost of) a third spring box.
The greywater from 98 out of 100 homesnearly
1000 peoplewas feeding festering black puddles. December 2002 we
got it down to 90.
The Washwater which used to feed this black puddle
was rerouted into irrigation furrows ( right), which water and feed about
20 fruit trees. Because the water is spread over a wide area, it never
stays on the surface long, so it doesn't stink or breed vermin.
The greywater from this laundry area and shower used
to just run over the path. Shade for the dishwash area (not shown) was
from an umbrella.
A dozen bananas of five types, ten coconuts and two
papayas were planted to reuse and purify the water.
The papayas are inside the shower enclosure
to provide maximum protection from animals (the fruit will be well overhead,
so it won't get splashed).
The bananas are right around the use areas,
to provide shade and receive plenty of water.
The cocos are further downstream, as they
don't need much water (and to reduce the chance of a bather getting clonked
on the head with a coconut).
Cocos were also planted around the cesspool,
to take up some of the nitrate which otherwise contaminates the
All the trees got a bucket of compost from last
year's latrine to help them get started in the beach sand.
Compost not fed to the pigfish guts and bones
used to be a nuisance spread over the path. This is now converted to bananas.
coconuts for the shower.
Hiring women gets around the problem that
men often spend most of the money they earn on beer.
Paying women the same as men (instead of the
going rate of about half) helps advance equality
A four kilo (ten pound) papaya from greywater
irrigated trees at a house with only hand-carried water for domestic
The papayas which weren't near greywater trenches
didn't bear at all.
The irrigation furrow design was independently discovered by Art Ludwig and
two of the garden committee members. None knew the others had figured it out
until we started the garden committee.
The garden committee is currently growing the 700 fruit trees necessary
to add greywater orchards for every house in the village, a job we hope
to finish within a year or two.
We're training the garden committee members to design these systems, and are
paying them for their labor to install them and train their neighbors in their
The systems require no materials other than soil and plants, and only
a soil forming tool such as a hoe to form the irrigation furrow. The cost
of parts is zero.
It takes a few minutes a week to maintain.
The conversion reduces the threat of mosquito born diseases such as dengue
fever, improves nutrition and economic self-reliance.
Though the technological aspect is simple, the natural complexity is far greater
than that of a ten million dollar treatment plant.
The design of each greywater garden is totally specific to the site and
Besides gardening skill, the system requires that greywater generation patterns
be balanced dynamically against plants needs, within the technical constraints
of unlined furrow irrigation.
During the training of the garden committee members who are going to install
the systems and train their neighbors how to maintain them, we'll be working
on a comic book in Spanish which explains how to design, install and maintain
this type of system.
new greywater system to treat water from between five and two hundred
showers a day (it used to go into a pig wallow on the side of the river).
Though my California Department of Health Services
brainwashed brain initially rebelled against the idea, the locals prefer
clean-swept ground to mulch and don't mind looking at greywater. I worked
with them to re-form the irrigation field into a series of beds surrounded
by canals. The only difference in the maintenance compared to what they
normally do is to adjust the levels in the trenches so the wetted area
is even (this photo taken before the upper right trench was lowered and
the upper left trench area raised).
It is a real shock to the system when the loading
goes from five showers a day to two hundred. The old 'pig wallow on the
way to the river' system smelled something fierce even with moderate loading.
The photo at left was taken at the peak season, which
the system made it through this year with out any anaerobic odor at all
this year (though just barely, I suspect). The standing water would subside
all the way by about 5 am, then get refilled about 6am when people started
of the more than 100 fruit trees grown in the cooperative nursery in July
2003, which we planted out in about ten new greywater-fed orchard systems.
Irrigation furrows formed below a washing board.
Garden committee members pushing gender boundaries by installing a masonry
floor at Vicinta's housenormally men's work.
masonry floor is nicer to stand on than mud, and will shed water faster
to irrigate thirsty bananas, which also provide shade to the laundress.
Irrigation channels for bananas at Genoveva's
house. The more sloped the land, the more sinuous the channel. Note the
coconut husk which serves as a valve where the trenches divide.
garden committee adding another branch to Genoveva's system.
Hilberta flanked by two new irrigation furrows
which drain the small swamp where the greywater used to stagnate. There
are nearly invisible baby fruit trees along each trench.
(Note the rosewood chunk at her feet, unfortunately
destined for use as firewood).
Garden committee members planting on the south,
east, and west sides of an inferno-hot, shadeless washroom. The plants
which will provide welcome shade as well as fruit in less than a year.
Sauro's greywater-irrigated lime orchard
15 women and children from the garden committee planting an orchard
with about 30 trees left in the nursery after planting the private
orchards, mostly limes.
installation required an innovative micofinance arrangement.
Sauro, the orchardist pictured at right, has an exceptionally high output
washroom, as his is the only household with it's own private connection
to the spring, a 2" line which he uses for irrigation.
He also has a lot of rich bottom land, and a perfect, fan-shaped area
slope of half a hectare below the washing area; absolutely perfect for
receiving the greywater.
What he didn't have was any moneynot even five bucks for the bus
to go buy barbed wire to fence the area off.
What we ended up doing was loaning him the fifty dollars necessary to
get the area fenced. This is to be paid back at the rate of 50% of the
income from tomatoes and chilies he grows in the fenced area while the
limes are maturing.
To cover the extra trees he got beyond the ten per house covered under
the program, he will trade baby bananas from his orchard.
Under this arrangement everybody wins:
The women sold every tree they'd grown
Sauro got an orchard and garden plot he couldn't have afforded to
develop on his own
Tourists in December will have fresh, organic local tomatoes and chilies
instead of chemical-laden commercial produce from hours drive away.
We got to advance several project goals on one site
of a natural materials outdoor shower at Teodoro and Teresas. String lines
mark the 3% slope. The 50-150 kg rocks are planted deep in the ground
to resist rouge waves.
Note the buried, bottomless compost bucket in the
bottom right. This is for kitchen waste which is not suitable for feeding
the pigprimarily fish guts and bones. When it fills 2/3 of the way,
you just haul up on the bucket handle and the compost stays there. Dig
a new hole to plant the bucket, placing the tailings over the last compost.
Circling around the root tips of the trees, this in place composting system,
in conjunction with the urine from bathers and soil and compost in the
initial planting, will keep the trees well-fed indefinitely.
Some locals are heading in the direction of showers in concrete boxes,
because this is what they see on TV and assume tourists want.
Unfortunately, these tend to turn into dark, dank, mildewy slime pits.
Also, when the cyclone knocks them down, they turn to trash: a mess of
partially sand-buried twisted rebar and concrete.
Despite the fact that it was much preferred by tourists, Teodoro's charming
outdoor shower was threatened with this sort of "progress."
So, we offered to spruce up the existing one and build an new one out
of all natural materials.
The floor is made from dry laid brick, held in place with a ring of huge
river rock. It is raised 20 cm above the surrounding sand and has a turtle-back
shape to shed water and sand in all directions, for easy cleaning and
quick drying (that is, minimal slime-generation).
Tamping down the sand inside the ring of rocks before laying the brick.
The corners between the round floor and square walls are perfect sheltered
planting spots for papayas.
Privacy is provided by palm fronds (not installed yet) on hardwood posts.
Coconuts, bananas and papayas provide shade and pump the grey water out
from under the shower, so when the use peaks at 300 showers a day (!)
it does not turn into a swamp.
A swale around the shower prevents greywater from running off over the
The gaps between the rocks are mortared with clay/soil mix designed to
attract feeder roots from the fruit trees. It is anticipated that (if
a cyclone doesn't tear it apart first) these roots will bind the rocks
together tightly like the rocks one sees hanging in the air on the side
of gulches, held fast by encircling roots.
This design feature was inspired by finding zero roots in the sand even
right around year old trees, but a solid mat of roots in a 2mm thick layer
of silt 70 cm below the surface.
Perhaps when the cocos are big, if they were bound together at the top
with a chain and lifted with a crane, the whole showerring of rocks,
bricks, trees, posts, the workswould come up in one piece.
This should help it resist cyclones. If not, it doesn't matter. All the
natural materials would either turn to compost or could be reused for
rebuilding a new shower.
Most natives and many travelers use the bushes for
a bathroom (technically known as the "defecation field" method).
Pigs clean up the mess.
This is a ruin of a composting toilet put in by earlier
aid workers, with the victorious pigs in the foreground. This was right
in front of where we lived, and passing it several times a day was a constant
reminder of the difficulty of actualizing benefits in this environment.
We made an "earth toilet" type latrine
for our end of the beach. Latrines are tricky here; people generally go
in the bushes or use pour flush toilets. This toilet did at least get
two of the estimated 15 cubic meters of Easter rush fecal mater off the
beach, and the owners of the palapa took the lid, cleaned it and stored
it with the intent to use it again next year, so maybe this will work.
This was a plywood model for more durable ones to be made out of Koramo
(highly rot resistant local hardwood) or concrete.