www.banksy.co.uk - adaptation by shadow

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Aquaponics - eFISHient food production in Palestine

Another post from our volunteers, Carly and Jean... their blog is: http://makingsenseofthings.info

Aquaponics in the West Bank

During our stay at Bustan Qaraaqa in Palestine, we have been lucky enough to volunteer one day a week with Phil and Lorena from Byspokes on aquaponic systems (their website is where the following information comes from). Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture, which is growing fish in water, with hydroponics, which is growing plants in a liquid. Since they arrived in the West Bank in July 2010 they have been researching, developing and trialing the FIRST EVER aquaponic system constructed behind the Wall!

They have been developing integrated aquaculture/irrigation systems and aquaponic systems to enhance food security in rural areas of Palestine, where as much as 44% of the population are chronically food insecure. In general, water and space for agriculture here are in short supply, and this is nowhere more apparent than in high density urban areas such as refugee camps. For the last 60 years, the 27 refugee camps in the Palestine have become increasingly densely populated – now over 673,000 people live in these camps in the West Bank and Gaza. Unemployment can reach up to 80% in the camps, and with no land for agriculture or gardening it is almost impossible for residents to produce any food domestically, creating a massive dependence on external aid.

Two of the biggest problems facing the Palestinian agricultural sector are water availability and space available for cultivation. Palestinians have been denied access to the Jordan River and its water since the start of the occupation in 1967, and although the West Bank sits on top of (and is the recharge area for) the mountain aquifer, 80% of the water in this resource is utilized by Israel. Palestinian abstraction is strictly controlled, and as a consequence the only way that Palestinians can meet their water needs is to buy water back from the Israeli water company Mekorot (for example, this accounted for 39% of Palestinian water consumption in 2005).

Aquaponics removes the need for fertile ground as they can be constructed pretty much anywhere – even on a rooftop - which is why Phil and Lorena saw that these systems could be so useful here in Palestine. Due to its recirculating nature, an aquaponics system is extremely water efficient and also a very space efficient means of fresh food production. Here is a simple diagram showing how aquaponics works...

Aquaponics at Bustan Qaraaqa

Phil and Lorena have been exploring lots of different construction and operation methods to develop an aquaponic system that works well, and is appropriate for, the West Bank. The systems they have implemented:
  • Uses cheap, locally available materials – mainly re-claimed or re-cycled, in line with the philosophy of everything else here at Bustan Qaraaqa
  • Works with the extremely high alkalinity and high pH of the groundwater in the West Bank
  • Grows plants which thrive in the local conditions, and are already part of the local diet
  • Enables production of plants with high water requirements even during the driest times of the year
  • Offers the opportunity to grow “exotic” plant species that are not consumed locally at present, such as basil, lemongrass and butternut squash.

    Recently, as the winter gradually moves in, and overnight temperatures begin to fall, they have been very busy trying to “winter-proof” the aquaponic system at Bustan Qaraaqa. This system is located on an exposed terrace close to the house, and gets the full brunt of the prevailing wind. For most of the year this is not too problematic as air movement helps keep plants strong, healthy and pollinated. However, now the wind simply blows away the warmth that the system managed to accumulate during the day.Although the carp in the system will tolerate pretty much any temperature, the tilapia will all die off if temperatures dip much below 15°C for an extended period. To winter-proof the system, they are constructing a simple greenhouse from transparent plastic sheeting to envelop the whole terrace for the winter months and a solar water heater to try to warm up the water during the daytime. To make the solar water heater they decided to reuse all those Tetra-Paks that were cluttering up the recycling area at the farm. They wrapped them up tightly in black plastic bags (thus finding a use for another ubiquitous waste stream) and painting them with a home-made paint, see the recipe on their website. The heater, in the photo to the left, has been plumbed in and now they are monitoring its performance.
    Aquaponics in the community
In addition to the Bustan Qaraaqa system, Phil and Lorena have established a project at the Al-Basma Centre, a centre for young adults with mental and physical disabilities.They utilised the centre's on-site greenhouse to set up the aquaponics pilot project, which enables the centre to earn money through selling fish and organic vegetables. In the current political and economical situation it is of vital importance that organisations in Palestine can be increasingly economically sufficient. At present the Palestinian economy is heavily dependent on foreign aid. Organisations operating in Palestine are no exception, with the majority of the funding coming from external sources. The amount of financial aid reaching Palestine is diminishing annually, and this trend looks set to continue. Thus, providing the Al-Basma Centre with a means to achieving enhanced economic sustainability gives the centre more independence and will allow them to continue their work helping the clients.

We have been helping Phil and Lorena weigh and sex fish, plant the grow beds, complete water testing and build new structures. They observe, measure and record many elements of the systems to evaluate their effectiveness in terms of water and cost efficiency in producing vegetable and fish harvests compared to growing crops in soil. They have also produced an impressive training manual and workshop series which has been tested out on us (and the staff at the Al-Basma Centre) to assess their effectiveness as tools for knowledge transfer and training participants to set up and maintain aquaponic systems independently in the future.

Recently they added some Australian redclaw crayfish, Cherax quadricarinatus, in to the aquaponic systems. They have been interested to experiment with other crops and this seemed like a good start. Adding them to the sump tanks and/or raft tanks provides another crop without needing any additional resources. By introducing a crustacean they are increasing the diversity and hence stabilising and strengthening the aquaponic ecosystem. Also, it just seemed like a good opportunity as they could acquire some for free! Last but not least, shrimps are very expensive here in Palestine and these bad boys taste even nicer than shrimps! Check out how beautiful they are... this is one that escaped:

Aquaponics Techniques
Through working with Phil and Lorena we have learnt a few aquaponics techniques. The Flood and Drain technique floods the growbeds with nutrient solution until the growing medium (volcanic rock in this case) and roots are wet, then the growbeds are drained to allow air back into the plant roots. The growing medium soaks up the food and water like a sponge, so irrigation generally takes only a few minutes at a time. Gravity draws excess water from the growbeds and keeps the roots healthy.

Another technique is the Nutrient Film Technique where a thin film of nutrient rich water flows along the bottom of pipes with holes cut in them for plants in baskets to sit in with their roots reaching the water. This technique doesn't offer the same root support as a medium filled growbed, but the pipes are lightweight and can be stacked one on top of the other, creating green walls.

With the Floating Raft technique the growbeds are filled with aerated, slowly flowing, nutrient rich water. Styrofoam sheets are floated on the water surface, and the plants are planted in baskets through holes in the styrofoam. The plant roots are always immersed in the oxygenated, nutrient laden water. This growing technique does not offer as much root support as a medium filled growbed, and has an equivalent sized footprint. However, it could be very useful on rooftops, for example, as there is no need to transport hundreds of kilograms of growing medium. Also, the increased overall water volume compared to a similar sized flood and drain system gives increased thermal stability to the system. In addition, the aerated water under the plant roots provides a great habitat for other aquatic animals such as crayfish or freshwater mussels.

Vertical Grow Towers will be implemented in future. They are often called “strawberry towers”, as they lend themselves very well to strawberry production, vertical growing towers are very space efficient – they can be suspended right above the fish tank. Grow towers are filled with growing medium, and plants are planted through the sides. Water trickles through the towers from the top, draining out through the bottom. Due to the high surface area of growing medium within the towers, grow towers can also increase filtration in an aquaponic system.

Here is a sketch I did of an aquaponics system they have recently designed that combines the Flood and Drain Technique with the Nutrient Film Technique (NFT):


In addition to aquaponics, Phil and Lorena have been promoting sustainable aquaculture. One method to enhance resource use efficiency is to practice this in existing irrigation cisterns. Unlike modern, high intensity aquaculture, sustainable aquaculture is not heavily reliant on technology, power, and fishmeal based fish food. Instead, the aquaculture systems they advocate rely on fairly low stocking densities and enhancing natural pond productivity through fertilisation of the water with manures and/or supplemental feeding with domestic and agricultural vegetable and cereal wastes.

This low-tech option has a couple of limitations in terms of the types and amount of fish that can be farmed because of the lack of aeration and filtration. However, for true sustainability, less fish actually means better water quality, less fish stress and less disease and parasite outbreaks. Fertilising the water costs nothing and promotes planktonic and microbial growth, leading to healthy and diverse pond ecosystems. This means that the fish live off an entirely natural diet of aquatic vegetation and pond organisms. Without air pumps, water pumps and filters, they don't consume power either which makes it cheaper, greener and worry-free – especially in a region with frequent power cuts! There are so many advantages too - production of an additional crop (food fish) from already existing resources; fresh fish to eat instead of imported, expensive frozen fish; the nutrient rich water can be used as a natural, free fertiliser for crops.

In summary

Delicious fish, edible plants, nutrient rich natural fertiliser, space efficiency, water efficiency... Aquaculture systems are amongst the most productive on earth! As part of my permaculture journey, I hope to use everything Phil and Lorena have shared with us to create our own system one day. In the mean time I will keep following their website to learn as much as I can from these energetic and beautiful people. We also want to take this opportunity to encourage you helping them... they are about to start several other pilot projects in the West Bank, and in the medium-long term, they are hoping to do similar projects in other parts of the world, including Africa. If you know of potential places or partnerships please let us/them know. Last but not least, you can support their initiative by donating here - any little helps!

As for us, sadly, we are leaving Palestine this weekend... so long, and thanks for all the fish!

Read more!

The politics of olive harvesting in Palestine

A post about the recent olive harvest by our volunteers, Carly and Jean. Check out their blog http://makingsenseofthings.info

We are currently staying at Bustan Qaraaqa in Palestine and just happen to be here during olive harvest season... we are also here during an interesting time because of the Shalit Deal, where Israel swaps one Israeli soldier for 1027 imprisoned Palestinians... so, how do we link olives with the Shalit Deal??

Well, ironically, the olive leaf is a symbol of abundance, glory, wisdom, fertility, pureness and peace... but here people are oppressed, getting their olive groves and rain water cisterns destroyed by Israel as the natural water resources are monopolised (on average Israelis have access to 4 times as much water as Palestinians). People's ability to sustain themselves is being taken away from them. In the past every self respecting family in Palestine would produce their own olive oil but now many are shifting to buy their oil as access to their land is taken away and their trees are uprooted... more about that later!

This post is all about olives - from harvesting to preserving - and hopefully you will find it useful, particularly if you live in a Mediterranean climate and grow olives yourself, or want to. If not, perhaps it will just help you make sense of things a little more... about olives or about Palestine.

Harvesting olives

The olives at Bustan Qaraaqa were picked from around 15 trees (although there are 60 in the grove, these were the only productive ones this year) by around 9 people over 2 days by 'milking' the branches - sliding your hands gently down the branches allowing the olives to drop onto some blankets below. The olives are harvested in the green to purple stage, and this can be done soon after the first autumn rain has fallen. As a side note, I read that canned black olives may contain chemicals (usually ferrous sulfate) that turn them black artificially. Try making sense of that...

As part of their permaculture approach, Bustan Qaraaqa grows olive trees as a polyculture rather than monoculture (as it is traditionally done). This is achieved through intercropping, for instance, with legume trees or ground covers such as chickpea which produces the much loved hommous. Data is then collected in order to assess whether polyculture improves trees' productivity.

At this time of year families everywhere are encouraging friends, family and tourists to help them with the harvest and from our experience at the Bustan Qaraaqa farm it is a fun, social activity.

Sorting and weighing the olives

The olives for each tree were carefully sorted from the leaves and weighed so that data on each tree can be collected. The total weight of olives collected this year was 97kg.

Olive trees produce every year but the amount varies from year to year. This particular olive grove had become unproductive because the trees hadn't been pruned until Bustan Qaraaqa moved in; they were neglected and water stressed due to soil degradation and decreasing rainfall. In response, the trees were pruned, 'fed' with manure and lime, and swales (water harvesting ditches) were dug to increase soil humidity. The digging of the swales is thought to have the most profound effect on productivity. So now production is increasing but it is still dependent on the water received throughout the year... and rain is still low here in Beit Sahour, just 200-300 mm per year!

Cold pressed olive oil

Bustan Qaraaqa mills the olives locally, bringing home cold pressed olive oil. The amount of oil contained in the fruit differs greatly by cultivar but the outer, edible layer is usually 60–70% oil. According to what I have read, typical yields are 1.5–2.2 kg of oil per tree per year. 15 trees from Bustan Qaraaqa's recovering grove produced 25L this year and we've preserved 5kg of olives too!

The oil is the result of the first press and is a cloudy slightly green colour. The green colour fades over time and the flavour mellows. The oil from the first press is considered one of the few truly healthy oils because it is a mono-unsaturated fat with high amounts of potent antioxidants, and a low content of cholesterol. Something people often forget though is that while olive oil is good for you at room temperature, healthy properties are destroyed when the olive oil is heated (and causes free radicals).

When olive oil is produced, the byproducts are olive cake and effluent. Here in the West Bank where there is no waste disposal, these byproducts are generally dumped around the edge of town. Unfortunately, this contributes to polluting an already polluted environment. The effluent (the water used in the process) is also discharged without treatment into streams, causing nitrification.

In the permaculture way, people could turn the problem into a solution. The olive cake could be used as a fire fuel due to the oil content remaining in it - simply compressed in to brickettes and burnt! Bustan Qaraaqa sometimes takes the olive cake to compost and use as soil in their gardens. But then, this is just another of the issues they are trying to educate on here... even composting the olive tree prunings isn't normally done in Palestine - like everything else here, it is burnt, under the misunderstanding that this is a clean way of dealing with it.

How to preserve olives

Olives are a naturally bitter fruit so they are fermented or cured with brine to make them more palatable. Freshly picked olives are not palatable because they contain phenolic compounds and oleuropein, a glycoside which makes the fruit too bitter... although apparently not unhealthy. We cut 2 slits in to our olives and soaked them in water for 10 days, changing the water every day to remove the oleuropein, which is a bitter carbohydrate. We then made up some brine (salty water at a ratio of 1:8 salt to water) and experimented with some different combinations as we packed them in to sterilised jars: olives with lemon, garlic and chilli in brine is one example, but some contained cider vinegar, rosemary vinegar, bay leaves, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, dried sage and zaatar (oregano).

As a side note, we could also have fermented our olives which would have leached out and broken down the oleuropein and phenolic compounds and also created lactic acid (a natural preservative - just like when we make our natural butter!).

About olive trees

The olive tree is very hardy as it is quite drought, disease and fire resistant, and it can live to a great age.

Olive trees prefer calcareous soils, flourishing best on limestone slopes and crags which is perfect where Bustan Qaraaqa is! They grow in any heavy soil, even on clay if well drained, but in rich soils they are predisposed to disease and produce poorer oil than in poorer soil.

The older an olive tree is, the broader and more gnarled its trunk appears. Some trees are claimed to be 2,000 years old! And in some cases it has been scientifically verified too... although, apparently it is quite difficult to age as they rot from the inside out. There are also two ancient giant olive trees in the Arab town of Arraba and 5 trees in Deir Hanna, in the Galilee area, which have been determined to be over 3,000 years old. We have heard that here in Palestine there is an olive tree in Al Wallaja which is claimed to be somewhere between 3000 and 7000 years old (depending on the carbon dating method the scientist uses)! However, they only attain that age thanks to human 'management' (pruning, watering, etc). This then shows cultural continuity in the region, whereby farmers take care of the olive trees generation after generation.

To finish on olive trees, we know a lot about them, but... we still don't know where they originally come from! It is thought that they have originated either in South Caucasus or in Yemen.

The politics of olive harvesting in Palestine

It is to be noted that at this time of year, there is always a massive peak of violence related to access to olive trees. What once was a social, happy event that brought much to the Palestinian economy is now stressful because of the violence which is now related to control of the olive tree fields. As this interesting article explains:

Palestinian farmers have had their land stolen, their crops set on fire, their trees uprooted, and their farms fenced-off beyond their reach and bricked up behind the Separation Wall, and so on. Their orchards have been razed to make way for the building of ever more illegal settlements and racist settler-only roads, and to make way for the continued construction of the illegal "apartheid" wall as well as for no other reason than simply to grab more Palestinian land.

Whereas in the past the olive harvest traditionally provided employment for thousands upon thousands of people in each region, with families working together to bring in the crops, to press the olives, to manufacture the by-products (and to export them), there are now fewer people who can earn a living this way; as a result, Palestinian families are struggling desperately. In 2010 alone it is estimated that "Israeli forces and settlers uprooted or burnt at least 10,346 olive trees in the West Bank." In Gaza it is estimated by the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Agriculture, that Israeli forces have "destroyed at least 114,000 olive trees in the strip since the outbreak of the Palestinian Intifada in 2000." In fact, conservative estimates put the number of olive trees destroyed by the Israelis since the creation of the Zionist state on Palestinian land in 1948 at more than one million; of those, around half have been destroyed since 1987.

The article also explains that Israeli authorities destroy the crops of Palestinian farmers by levelling the farmland using armoured tractors and bulldozers and simply razing the crops and groves. Other times, Israeli soldiers themselves are responsible for much of the destruction by firing small bombs into the fields which catch alight and burn the crops. Sometimes Israel issues military orders demanding that farmers refrain from picking their crops and then arrest them if they refuse to comply. This year, we heard an account of the soldiers telling the Palestinian farmers that too few people were on the land harvesting to prove the land was being suitably used so that next year they'll be denied access... while other groups of people have been told to stop harvesting and leave because only the owner (in this case the old grandfather of the family) is authorised to harvest. Settler attacks also take many forms, including the burning of fields and trees; digging-up trees, both ancient and saplings; beating-up farmers who tend their crops, and so on.

How does Israel justify their actions?

Well, in brief... soon after the West Bank and Gaza Strip fell under the Israeli occupation in 1967, land transactions became forbidden without a written permit, which implied that land registration was compulsory from that date. Since then, many orders which affect the land directly have been issued. Among these was the reclassification of land in the occupied territories. Some land was classified as "rocky lands, unsuitable for cultivation", others as "nature reserves", and a third class as "essential military territory". The result was the confiscation of more land, redefined as state land, to be used to build Israeli settlements.

In 1980, the Israeli government adopted a new "legal" approach to state lands. This approach declared uncultivated, unregistered land as state land. This means that land which is not cultivated for 10 years or more can be claimed as state land under the reasoning that they are "neglected" or "abandoned" by its owners and therefore confiscated to ensure "proper" and "efficient" use. You can see from the stories above how the interpretations by Israel, the soldiers and the settlers on how land is being "cultivated" (or not) can vary according to their desires to grab land and hence the tensions during olive harvest...

It is evident to anyone visiting here that Israel has stolen great quantities of land from the Palestinians and used it to establish many settlements in the West Bank, like the large imposing one on the top of the hill in the photo to the left. Israel prohibits Palestinians from entering and using these lands, and uses the settlements to justify numerous violations of the Palestinians' human rights, such as the right to housing, to earn a livelihood, and the right to freedom of movement.

The destruction of Palestinian olive groves and orchards is just another human rights issue here as people already struggling under the threat of occupation, arrest, harrassment and death are also denied a source of income and sense of normality in carrying out their traditional livelihoods. Additionally, it is an environmental issue with the destruction of agricultural land and burning of crops... not to mention the effects of land and water pollution by the Israeli regime and its impact on people, plants and animals.

This is why Bustan Qaraaqa are here and why we are so interested in learning what can be achieved using permaculture under such difficult circumstances. Please take the time to read their website and if you can, donate from their website to help this very low budget project of dedicated and inspiring people continue their incredible and challenging work.

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Monday, 14 November 2011

Talking rubbish - Turning trash into treasure

This post was prepared by Carly, who has been volunteering at Bustan Qaraaqa for the past month. You can follow Carly and Jean's blog at www.makingsenseofthings.info.

Here at Bustan Qaraaqa they don't simply sort their recycling, compost their vegetable scraps and put out the rubbish to be collected weekly - they take REDUCE, REUSE and RECYCLE to a whole new level. With no municipal waste management in Palestine, they have adopted a policy of 'what comes on site, stays on site', often collecting other peoples waste too! Using permaculture, creativity, knowledge and passion they educate and demonstrate by living sustainably themselves and maintaining a philosophy that there is no such thing as waste - just a failure of imagination. They hope to inspire Palestinians to stop throwing their rubbish down hillsides or burning it on the side of the road and for foreign guests to understand their role in the waste cycle too. What would you do if your council didn't collect your waste? How would you consume differently? What would you do with your rubbish?

This post will take you through the details of Bustan Qaraaqa's waste management systems and also provide some inspiration from the internet on upcycling ideas... but first I want to share with you a project we have been involved in during our stay here... building a greenhouse from recycled materials.

Beit Igzaz - The Greenhouse

This construction project has been the main focus of our efforts whilst at Bustan Qaraaqa and through this work, along with dealing with the daily waste management, we have deeply internalised our connection with consumption and been inspired by by the functional and aesthetic creations that can be created from our 'rubbish'.

The beit igzaz is designed according to the principles of permaculture and will serve as a resource hub integrated into 'zone one' of the farm system. It will enable them to improve their on site resource management by providing water and food, cooking, laundry and shower facilities and more, but most importantly, by providing an alternative to the fossil fuel dependent kitchen and one-use-only grey water shower and laundry systems currently in the farmhouse. The aim is to entice the guests and volunteers to use the more sustainable and economic alternative system by offering practicality and convenience whilst also providing an impressive demonstration site for education purposes. Beit igzaz has been designed using multipurpose principles with many interconnections. This way it reduces the consumption of building materials and space by putting many functions under one roof whilst still creating a spacious, bright and green space to live in. It will contain: shower, sauna, kitchen, laundry, aquaculture, food production aquaculture, winter fruits, tropical foods, mushrooms, smokery and brewery. This sketch shows the design elements:

Functional Overview - At Bustan Qaraaqa's site in Beit Sahour they have to design for low rainfall (just 200-300ml per year!), a municipal water supply that is unsustainable, expensive and unreliable and high temperatures for more than 4 months of the year (35-50°C). Therefore, the greenhouse has been designed to efficiently use water, cool in summer months and maintain at least 16°C in winter months to keep the tropical plants happy. To achieve this over 200m3 each year of clean rainwater will be collected from the recycled plastic bottle roof draining to trees, storage tanks and cisterns. This clean water will be distilled using a solar still before drinking or used directly in the shower and kitchen. The washing machine will have the options of being filled with fresh water or from the hot soapy shower water directly. All the grey water will flow through the constructed wetland system inside building then into the tilapia fish breeding tank and on to irrigate the tropical fruit trees such as banana and avocado. The same water collecting roof will allow the sunlight in to warm the rock and the water channel but will trap the warm air under it - raising the temperature inside on cold winter days. In the summer a system of vents and ducts will keep the atmosphere cool. This solar passive architecture saves fuel. The sketch below shows the water cycling:

Water conservation - The building’s roof is designed to collect clean rainwater and deliver it to a storage tank so it can be used through the dry summer months. This water can be solar heated or supplied al clima to the shower (see the photos below), laundry, kitchen and aquaponics directly. The greywater is collected, reused and filtered by the system, and along the way, used for cleaning, laundry (prewash), climatic amelioration and crop irrigation. The water flows from one component to the next with gravity along a water quality gradient. Precaution is taken to prevent unnecessary reduction in water quality by salty soaps and detergents. Finally the water’s quality is improved by a living filter of plants as it passes through a wetland flowing into a pond overflowing into a forest soil irrigating a tropical forest food production system. The water will also play a key role in storing solar energy to heat the space on cold winter days and cool the air on hot summer days. Every drop of water used will be reused by another component of the design as they aim to achieve the most efficient use of this versatile but scarce resource. Look at the gorgeous shower that will use water collected from the roof before directing that water to the laundry...

Climatic amelioration - The building is designed to take full advantage of the wind and sun to have cooling effect on hot days and a warming effect on cool days. On cold days the vents are closed and roof and walls trap solar energy as sun warms the rock and air inside. Solar energy stored in warm rocks and water is released through the night raising minimum temperatures and preventing frost. Additional sources of warmth are: the shower room producing solar heated water and steam, the sauna, and the kitchen where the wood fuelled bread oven and rocket stoves warm the space. The fuelwood is growing on the farm. On hot days the ventilation is opened. The steeply pitched roof angled into the prevailing wind allows for the efficient extraction of hot air. The exiting hot air draws in evaporation-cooled air through a duct in the shower room where more evaporation further cools the incoming air. In theory the stronger the sun shines the faster the cool air will be pulled into the building. The ceiling is 7m high at its highest keeping the hot air high above head height. The entire roof can be shaded to limit the amount of solar energy entering the building. A solar oven replaces the need to use the bread oven on hot days. The large volume of water in the system has a cooling effect as it evaporates and transpires from surfaces. The photo above shows a volunteer constructing the recycled plastic bottle roof which is crucial for trapping heat and collecting water. The sketch below demonstrates the heating and cooling functions of beit igzaz.

Materials - To avert the environmental damage caused by the extraction, manufacture and distribution of building materials Bustan Qaraaqa set themselves the aim of collecting all materials locally by either saving, scavenging or salvaging. This has included the glass bottles to build the walls (hence the name beit iqzaz - literally glass house), the plastic bottles to build the roof and metal cans/tins to make the rocket stoves - note that there is no facility to recycle these materials in the West Bank. Additionally, they have salvaged materials from dumps, demolitions and scrap merchants, including the scrap iron for the frame, reclaimed timber for the doorframes, construction scaffold, kitchen unit, reclaimed kitchen sink, leaky water tanks as shower screen, rotten cement for levelling and smoothing floors and more! They have also made use of local materials for natural building such as soil, sand and goat manure used as a mortar or natural cement to hold the glass bottles in the walls, field stones to build the wall foundations and olive wood trunks as lintels. The soil for the tropical fruit trees and other crops to be grown inside the building is enriched with compost made on site (see the compost sections below). Look at how beautiful these glass walls are! The bottles are held in place by the natural cement and horizontal wires attached to the reclaimed steel frame.

Increased food production - The “finca”, inspired by diverse gardens of subtropical American and African forests, will provide a diverse array of foods. The finca will give Bustan Qaraaqa the opportunity to grow vegetables and fruits on the farm all year and to grow tropical fruits they now buy from the market. The warmth and recycled water will allow them to continue cropping heat loving crops through the winter such as: tomato, aubergine, cucumber, peppers, passion fruit and to harvest frost intolerant perennials such as: banana, avocado, guanabana, starfruit, zapote, cassava and taro. The possibilities are endless! Imitating the stratified and diverse structure of tropical forest ecosystems every plant life form is exploited to maximise productivity in a limited space. From the soil up, a ground layer of taro, tomato, and pepper is shaded by a subcanopy of shrubs and small trees such as banana, coffee, cacao, papaya and starfruit supporting climbing vines like black pepper, passionfruit and pitaya, all under a six meter high canopy of avocado, sapote and gunanbana (soursop) trees. Transpiration and shade will cool the atmosphere of the building in the summer months.

Waste (Resource) Management

What doesn't get used in the construction of beit igzaz gets used in other wonderful ways here at Bustan Qaraaqa...

Composting - Bustan Qaraaqa compost all their food scraps. They also include any meat, grease, hair, nut shells, coffee grinds and dirty water. Any paper or cardboard (like cereal boxes) is also torn up and added to maintain the important carbon:nitrogen ratio and the resulting compost is used in the gardens. The grease is removed from plates and added to the compost before washing up. Washing up involves soaking the dirty plates and cutlery in water with citrus (already used in a delicious meal - see the picture on the right). The citrus cleans, meaning they don't have to buy detergent - cutting down on consumption and saving the environment at the same time. The pith of lemon is rich with with antiseptic for cleaning, alcohol which is useful for dissolving grease and the acidity of the juice acts as a detergent. It is worth noting that commercial washing up liquid is 7% formalin (formaldahyde) which is a documented carcinogen and cause of dermititis. Additionally, they wash up with palm scrubbers which means they have even less to dispose of... they simply compost it when it is worn out! In the future they are planning on putting a worm farm under the kitchen work top in beit igzaz. It will enable them to continue eating their kitchen waste - nutrient rich worm castings will feed the tropical plants and the worms will feed the fish!

Human Waste - The loo with a view saves water and produces humanure (which will be used to establish beit igzaz's tropical forest). The Bustan Qaraaqa team built the beautiful compost toilet from scavenged materials suspended over the humanure composters. They gathered timber for the frame from building sites, scoured the dumps for palm fronds for the thatch, and collected bottles from bars to fill the walls. Windows were constructed from plastic bags ironed into coloured sheets, cut and ironed again into designs which glow like stained glass in the evening sun. Moreover, the true beauty of this new toilet is that they can make their contributions hygienically, saving 6L of water every time and not contributing to environmental damage due to untreated sewerage going straight in to the landscape - there is no sewerage treatment here in Beit Sahour. :(

Cardboard, clothes, textiles - With so many guests coming through Bustan Qaraaqa, there are always old and worn out clothes left behind so these are used to mulch trees as you can see in the photo below. In this dry climate, this is essential to maintain moisture and life in the soil. Of course old clothes can also be used as rags or upcycled in to new clothing or furnishings too - more about that in a future post! :-)

Glass bottles - Bustan Qaraaqa use their glass bottles in beautiful functional ways to construct beit igzaz, as you saw above, but there are many other inspiring ways glass bottles can be used too. Check out these ideas I found on the internet...

Plastic bottles - As you saw above, the plastic bottles at Bustan Qaraaqa are mostly used for the water harvesting roof on beit igzaz. However, many of the plastic bottles here are also used for more efficient irrigation. By linking the bottles together and digging them in to the ground beside a tree, watering their roots with very little water in this dry climate is much more efficient (see the picture below, middle). Another use for plastic bottles is as a water heater for the aquaponics system as seen in the picture below, left. In Taiwan, a huge building using 1.5 million PET bottles (see in the picture below right) was built recently.

Below you can see a plastic bottle school in Asia, instructions on making a bottle wall in Central America and a plastic bottle home in Nigeria.

Plastic bags - Bustan Qaraaqa simply reuse their plastic bags for carrying things, lining rubbish bins and making screens like the one in the compost toilet above but this beautiful canister basket, below, is also inspiring and I'd like to try making one someday.

Metal Bottle caps - Bustan Qaraaqa have been collecting bottle caps but are undecided what to do with them so here are some ideas..

Corks - Bustan Qaraaqa have also been collecting their wine corks but haven't used them yet so here are some ideas (on top of the obvious, cork board one)...

Tin and cans - here are some ideas for all the cans they have been storing...

Wood - There is never a shortage of ideas for wood scavenged or for pallets found. Jean recently made an armchair from a pallet and the solar oven below was built by Bustan Qaraaqa out of just two pallet.

Tyre stuffing - Finally, with any rubbish that can't be reused or recycled (like cigarette butts, women's hygiene products, some plastic containers, etc), Bustan Qaraaqa stuffs it in to tyres and builds structures like the below bed bases (which have been cobbed over) or small huts.

A final note...

Staying at Bustan Qaraaqa has definitely helped me deepen my connection to waste management and also got me thinking about the best ways to process waste... so here are some things to remember...
  • Sort, group and clean your waste straight away - no one wants to pick out old yoghurt pots for their project!
  • 1 of anything is almost useless but by collecting items you regularly use the possibilities expand for unique, beautiful things or construction projects.
  • REDUCTION is the most important (then reuse and then recycle) thing for the environment - by reducing your waste you also reduce your work!

Please share your experiences in waste management and any interesting projects for reusing or recycling things. :)

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