Greening the desert

Loss plateau, China

We all know that there is a lot of land erosion going on in the world. Forests are being cleared for agriculture and wood profits, poorly managed agricultural land is degraded with the usage of poisons and machinery. Resulting in erosion slowly turning the land into an ever growing desert. Northern Africa was once lush and green until the Romans used it to grow their wheat and other crops. Now, there is only a desert left to show for it. I never imagined that a desert once would have been a lush green paradise.

Thankfully, how destructive we humans can be, we can also do something to stop this desertification. And that is simply done by correct land management and water retention methods. It’s all so easy, it makes you wonder why it’s not practiced on a large scale! Just by making an effort.

Loss Plateau in 1995

Loss Plateau in September 1995

Loss Plateau in 2009

Loss Plateau in September 2009

These images suggest there’s some image manipulation going on. But actually, these photos are real and show what was accomplished in China in 15 years time. True greening of the desert. Camera man John Liu made a documentary about this project in the Löss Plateau, which is the size of Belgium. ‘Hope in a changing climate‘ shows how eroded land becomes fertile again through permaculture methods and cooperation with the local people and now China uses these principles in more parts of the country to the benefit of local farmers and villages. ‘Lessons of Löss Plateau‘ is a different documentary with more detail about the project.

Now the same practices are used in parts of Africa. Even in desert countries like Jordan, where permaculturist Geoff Lawton is greening the desert bit by bit trying to spread the word by educating young children at the local schools. Geoff Lawton uses swales for water retention, permaculture design and ground coverage to stop the dehydration of the land.

Other methods like Holistic Animal Management by Allan Savory are also addressing these problems of land erosion, using correct animal management along with water retention methods to regenerate landscapes on an even faster scale. Nearly the exact opposite of prevailing theories that blame desertification on overgrazing, Allan Savory’s solution centers on dramatically increased livestock numbers to reverse desertification.

Holistic Animal Management

Holistic Animal Management

For hundreds of years the 6,500 acres you see pictured here in Africa were barren, dry fields until 1992 when Savory increased the livestock by 400% and managed them through holistic, planned grazing. Over a short time, the barren fields were transformed. The concept is formed around the idea that large herds of animals concentrated by predators — which have reduced in numbers over the years — were an essential part of the grasslands ecosystems. The herds have diminished in concentration, spread out and thus ecosystems are faltering.
Savory has developed an approach that uses livestock to replace the once ever present herds of grazing animals in order to reboot the ecosystem into green grass and open water, full of water lilies and fish. The dense livestock’s hooves break up the ground so water can seep through and new plants have room in the soil to grow, as old growth has been eaten and trampled. The concentrated amount of manure fertilises the ground and increases vegetation. The livestock graze on the vegetation for a very short period of time and keep the grasses at a healthy length and density.

These are just a few methods which can be introduced to make a huge difference. All realised by a change of perspective and a holistic vision. By observation of the land and making the correct adjustments to reverse erosion. This is something we can all work on. There are also products like Groasis which aid in greening of the desert. Very simple and effective growboxes to help young trees make a healthy start.  But I believe you can accomplish just as much with holistic land management and permaculture methods.

If you’d like to learn more about these ideas you can watch documentaries here;


On your bike

The thing I like most about the Netherlands, is their bicycle culture. I know, Holland should be about windmills and clogs, and you will find one occasionally. But bicycles? Yes, now that is a true dutch culture. Anyone who has ever been to Holland will have noticed the large amounts of bikes. They are simply everywhere. And not any old bikes. No, we’re talking complete works of art here.

Obviously being a small, compact and, most importantly, a flat country, there’s no better way of getting around than on your bike. The old cities don’t leave much room for parking many cars. Making the parking problem far less frustrating is by simple going by bike. In fact, you will find that most cities have bikes available at the central station, or bike rentals all over the city.

Most children are brought up with this culture by cycling to school from a young age. Which is a great way for children to get around, learn to deal with traffic and to get their much needed daily exercise. Many mums also have a ‘delivery bike’ (bakfiets) to rush their (smaller) children around in.

..or dog of course… 🙂

..0r to go shopping, as it’s like having a small car. We have one ourselves for the same reasons. Not only is it a lot of fun to see and do, it is also a totally eco friendly way of traveling around and free exercise as well. I can highly recommend it.

The brilliance of simplicity

Sometimes a creation or an invention can be so brilliant, yet so simple, you wonder why you never thought of it yourself.  Young children are excellent at this. They still have the ability to think ‘outside the box’, which is something we really should nurture. It reminds me of years ago, when I was backpacking through Indonesia, I would see many happy poor children playing with anything they could find on the streets. I can still picture that big smile on a child’s face, running back and forth on bare feet, holding a plastic bag high in the air like a kite.

building with kapla

It’s the simple things that make us so creative. And that’s why I like Kapla so much. It’s so simple, little light weighted wooden blocks of the same size, which inspires to build the most complex buildings. The creator, French based dutchman Tom Van Der Bruggen, was clearly thinking outside the box when he created Kapla.


We all know that there are a lot of building blocks out there. But there are none quite like Kapla. Made of pine from renewable French forests, each plank is exactly the same size, shape and weight. The uniformity of the planks lets you build truly amazing structures using only gravity and balance to hold them in place. No snaps, clips, glue or interlocking parts necessary. All you need is a little ingenuity and hand-eye coordination, which you will soon learn when building.  Experts say that it can actually help children who are learning to read. Out of experience I can tell you, you can never have enough of the stuff, as the projects grow bigger and bigger.

And you know what? This brilliance in simplicity is all around us. Everywhere. In cooking, building, writing, creating, learning. You name it. In nature as well. That is exactly what permaculture is all about. Sometimes solutions are so simple and so logical.

The next time I need a solution, I must remind my self to ask the boys to help me think outside the box.

A city permaculture balcony


After weeks and weeks of rain, cold and misery, about a week ago suddenly the sun decided we were worthy of her warmth again and spring went into full spin. In just a week or two our little balcony garden/herb box has exploded. Full with colours of the flowers, different coloured herbs and small salad plants. It’s a joy to watch them grow. But it’s a time to also get into gear ourselves, to keep them watered and feed them accordingly. feeding the worms for worm juiceWe also needed to fertilize the box with lots of worms and wormjuice (basically worm pee/poo)

Not forgetting to also feed the worms themselves with leftover fruit and veggies, peels and whatever organic rubbish I can find. And with a household of 2 growing boys, two busy parents, there is plenty of that. Happy worms do a lot of good for your garden. Airing the soil, feeding the plants and cleaning up rubbish.

So, I went out into the morning sun to take some photos of our edible balcony. Where space is tight, so you need to use it to it’s full potential. Tall climbers like raspberry, kiwi’s and grapes along the wall and canopy. Hanging strawberries, and bee attracting flowers at the base of the plants. Also acting as a ground cover.

And a herb box, filled with different varieties for companionship growing. Basically we chuck a load of seeds in, and those who thrive best do so by growing alongside companions who support them. We have calendula’s in there, strawberry plants along the edges, so the strawberry’s can hang overboard. Parsley, thyme, dill, mint, chives, basil, sweet violets (great for in salads), marigolds to deter too many insects and somehow even some sunflowers managed to get in there. I’m sure I missed a few, but just to get a general idea.


No need to weed, just harvest when you need and that creates room for more to grow or expand. And of course we don’t want to forget about our animal friends. Only birds in this part of town, but at least something! A nice little hideout.  And for the insects an insect hotel.

insect hotelfor the birds Continue reading