Biodynamics meets permaculture in Egypt!

Today was my second visit to the Sekem School Garden. I discovered that it has flourished significantly since my last visit. The sunflowers looked beautiful, seedlings in pots grew taller and the garden as a whole looked way more alive!

Together with a couple of 7th grade students Mr. Saeed, the agriculture teacher, built a 3 compartment composting bin out of recycled wood. The initial plan was to make each compartment 1 cubic meter. The actual compartments had dimensions of around 90 cm x 130 cm and a height of around 1 meter.

The 7th graders got ecstatic about the woodwork and kept hammering the nails to fix the pieces of wood together and hammering wooden wedges in the ground to hold the composting bin still. It was a labor of love to them and they appeared very energetic.

3-compartment composting bin made from recycled wood

A 3-compartment composting bin made out of wood.

Mr. Saeed plans to improve on the composting bin even further by calling on the help of carpenters from Sekem to help attach hinges to the doors of the 3 compartments to make it easier to harvest compost once it has matured and to also ease up turning the compost whenever needed.

Students asked me about the compost and I explained to them how it is food for the plants. Upon hearing the word compost at first they were taken a back because  their experience is confined to compost made using cow dung. I assured them that the compost we intend to make here at the Sekem School Garden will be produced completely from vegetative components and no cow manure will be added. I told them it would even smell pleasant once it has matured.

I also explained to them the process by which we will be making the compost. We will be making it as a lasagna where we will be adding a layer of browns (such as sawdust or dry leaves) followed by a layer of greens (such as left over plant stems after harvesting) followed by a sprinkle of old compost or soil. Those 3 layers are to be repeated on and on till the first compartment of the compost bin is full. The compost pile may be turned once per week since we are in winter and more frequent turning would result in it loosing heat and thus effectively slowing down the composting process.

The nice thing about this composting bin is that there is plenty of space between the wooden slabs that make the walls of the bin which would result in lots of air coming through. This might eliminate the need for turning the compost all together or at least making turning less essential.

Mr. Saeed, the students and myself are all excited about this newly constructed composting bin and its potential. It will help make the Sekem School Garden more self sufficient instead of having to order compost from another neighboring farm in which compost is made on a large scale.

An interesting thing also is that Sekem has an abundance of sawdust from its workshops and an abundance of dry leaves from the many trees at the Sekem Farm. This would provide an abundance of resources to feed the composting bin! We expect this to work wonders in the future once the composting process is started!

Meeting the Teacher

During my visit to the Sekem Farm in Belbeis, I met Mr. Saeed who is the agriculture teacher at the Sekem School. On that particular day, he had one double class for grade 11 students. It was nice to meet with the students in class. I introduced some fundamental permaculture concepts to them in an easy to comprehend manner.

At first, the 14 or so students were a bit shy to participate. They did not say much upon asking them. By the end of the class they had gained more confidence and contributed one idea after the other not to mention many questions they have been asking.

One of the ideas contributed by one of the girls was particularly helpful. She suggested we create a path in the middle of the Sekem School Garden that lead to a place in the middle where people can sit. This changed our initial vision of the design for the garden completely and seemed to be a great idea.

We then left the class and went down to the Sekem School Garden. There we had a look at the real thing together and envisioned the new design. We finished up the class together by transplanting seedlings from the school garden to a circle in the schoolyard with the help of Mr. Saeed.