Pioneering Permaculture in Cyprus, Parts I and II

By lambert strether of Corrente.

Readers may be interested to know that there is a permaculture installation on Cyprus at Agia Skepi Theraputic Community in Nicosia (map). Here’s a video about it:

Here’s an interview with Dr. Emily Markides (her site) who initiated the project:

Ground-hugging shrubs, aromatic plants and new trees fill the garden, some already bearing mature, scented peaches, a fruit common in the area. Along a recently laid path, there are several deep ponds, home to a chorus of frogs hidden among the water lilies. Designed on land adjacent to Agia Skepi, a drug rehabilitation centre for young men, the garden crackles with life yet has an air of extraordinary peace. The special guest on his way is Father Athanassios, Bishop of Limassol, who initiated and sourced financing for the rehabilitation centre, a personal dream now realised and immediately visible from the garden.

“Gardening is therapy,” she insists. “[‘The boys’ at the center] are beginning to really appreciate the garden. I don’t think it was the case at first – they were moaning. But now after coming out and seeing the results… the garden smiles back at them.”

The results are astounding. A ragged, wild piece of land has grown into a thing of aesthetic beauty and environmental practicality.

This is Markides’ second visit in two years and the garden has come a long way. “What we didn’t expect was to find worms this year, the soil is rich and ready.”

In the video, watch for the description of sheet mulch layering starting at 9:35, in subtitles: Manure on the bottom, then newspaper, topped with straw — although when straw became too expensive, they used seaweed! The newspaper prevents light from reaching the soil, so weeds do not grow, the newspaper and the straw together capture and hold water, and the entire system rots and enriches the soil. Last summer I didn’t weed, and I didn’t water at all, except seedlings, very early in the season. And I don’t even need to turn the soil; I just add another layer, year after year. I don’t like work. Sheet mulch is the best!

If Cyprus was covered with permaculture installations, Cypriots could pluck fruit from the trees, year round, even if they couldn’t get money from their ATMs. Stress relief, no?

NOTE I wonder if we have any Cypriots reading Naked Capitalism. If so, this video is from 2007. Has the installation survived?

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. William

    Great that you are keeping the Permaculture meme alive on NC. It represents the only way of reversing the destruction of life on Earth and actually making it a better place to live.

  2. Synopticist

    Whats she doing with that little circle of stones at 8.40?

    I guess it’s for water retention, but how does it work?

    Pray tell.

    1. Aussie F

      It just creates a shaded microclimate. Shade slows evaporation and encourages microbial activity.

    2. HotFlash

      If I understand Emily correctly, Katia uses the small stones as a marker, to show to the boys that the plant in the circle needs to be watered.

  3. HotFlash

    Just finished watching the Cuba video, thanks for that, fromMexico. I always said that the US’s embargo of Cuba was the best thing that could happen to them. US ‘support’ of Haiti has caused nothing but misery for the average Haitian.

    1. different clue

      I read once ( though not in detail and can’t remember sources) that President Clinton added to Haiti’s misery by forcing Free Trade in rice upon Haiti. Petro-subsidized low-priced rice from America destroyed the domestic rice market in Haiti and drove Haitian rice farmers off their farms and into the urban slums like Cite’ d’Soleil (spelling?).
      More recently Clinton oh-so-sincerely “mea culpafied” over that, after the damage was safely too permanent to ever reverse.

  4. different clue

    I say again that there should be a Topic called Permaculture where all these articles should be stored for easy look-back. But it means nothing if just only me is saying it over and over.

    Does anyone else want to see a Permaculture Topic Area created and archived here? So they can go back and see all these posts in a building mass? If enough people say they want a Permaculture Topic for all these permaculture posts, our blog-hosts might well create the Permaculture Topic. But only if enough other people say so. I’ve said so enough myself. More broken-recording on my part just gets boring. So its up to others now. If you-all want it, you-all need to ask for it.

        1. JohnnyGL

          Agreed, it’d be handy to have them all sorted for easy reference.

          Lambert, when I get time to watch these videos, I find that they provide additional ‘antidote’ power!

  5. deeringhthamnus

    where is the water going to come from? In some cases, improved methods of water purification can play a role to upgrade existing water save and recycl, but, who finances or funds new product technologies anymore? There have been a few water technology start ups, but, they are either way under valued, or way over valued,indicative that the financing in this field is clueless. Easy to throw billions away on a facebook. Difficult to do the things that we all need for a real economy.

    1. different clue

      Part of the Permaculture concept is capturing and retaining on the targeted landscape the skywater that falls free from the sky. (I haven’t watched these videos so if this particular project is dependent on piped system-water then that observation of mine is irrelevant in this case).

      But in general, part of Permaculture is groundscaping and earthworking to retain water. Retained water in the soil supports greater plant growth. Some of that growth is underground fine-roots and root-hairs which eventually decay into humus. Humus is hydrophilic and retains any water that touches it. That humus-held water allows yet more plant growth which supports yet more humus formation which retains yet more water which supports yet more plant growth . . . a Spiral Stairway to the Stars.

      Here is a little blurb about a pioneer of water-retention landscape management on a huge scale.

      Could micro-keylining be done in a micro-sized place like Cyprus? ( I bet Cyprus is smaller than some of the hugest Sheep Stations in Australia).

    2. different clue

      Watched the video. In this case, they clearly already have the water, and they note it would go unused otherwise.
      So why not use it?

      In places without a water piping infrastructure, people would have to manage the groundform and landscape to capture and retain all falling water or dewfall.

  6. Nathanael

    I do not see how to do “permaculture” when we can’t predict how the climate will change due to global warming.

    And if it isn’t permanent, then it’s just “agriculture”. Perhaps “temporarily sustainable agriculture”.

    1. different clue

      It can be a bridge and a learning tool if nothing else. And as the climate in any one place changes to the detriment of permacultures in that place, perhaps the changes will affect some species-members of the permaculture sooner than others. Perhaps the Permaculturist
      would have time to swap in and plant homologous species from other climates into the spaces left by dropping-out species in that one place.
      For example, if a cold-dry place where Siberian Pea Shrub (Caragana arborescens) works becomes too hot-dry for Siberian Pea Shrub, perhaps it will end up hot-dry enough for Mesquite (Prosopis whatever) to work instead.

  7. Lambert Strether Post author

    Re: Permaculture on Cyprus at Agia Skepia, a far-flung correspondent writes:

    As for the what is happening now: it has gone on to be bigger and better. I can say it has been a resounding success in resiliency. When Greece went thru its crisis two + years ago, Agia Skepi did also. At that time the boys grew zero of their food. Now there has been a 180 degree turn. The boys now work another off site farm and trade their labor for vegetables. They also create bread from their own kitchen and sell it. The permaculture installation is now actively used as therapy. The management of the site actively use permaculture for the running of the site.

    What is interesting to note is that after the original installation, nothing happened to it for two years and the plants were left to go wild. There was a crab/quack grass infestation but the plants that were well established and picked properly for that climate like aromatice herbs ie rosemary, lavender etc and some of the trees went crazy and grew to quadrupled in size. Going back and finishing the site and getting that grass under control was key. Weeding the strawberry beds that were swaled on the side of the hill made productive ($) fruit and really kept everything going in the right direction. If there hadn’t been the professional permaculturist to go back and do that rescue then we may have had a different outcome. For me the take away here is that every project (even permaculture installation) needs a return follow up. That is what ensures long term success rather than a short spike of greatness.

    I think that was the takeaway for this Geoff Lawton site as well. I suppose we go from there to funding models. Or caretaking models…

    As for the water conversation, from the beginning the building site actually had a sophisticated black water (ie toilet water) recycling system installed from an Australian design. There was a very unattractive water tank at the top of the very scrubby hill where the permaculture installation was started. That extra water allowed the naysayers at the beginning to let them put the garden installation in since Agia Skepi already had excess recycled water that wasn’t being fully used. That was a big help. Cyprus is hot and water waters will be coming. Cyprus has deforested major parts of the island from copper mining in antiquity. If they would replant many of those trees they could ensure more rain fall on the island (since tress help create microclimates and bring rains). It could also lower the impact of the Sahara sands which are now coming to the island far more often than in the past.

    Again, if Cyprus was covered in edible forest (and why not) the banking crisis would have much less bite. If you can’t pluck money from an ATM slot, at least you can pluck fruit or nuts from a tree!

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