Sunday, 30 December 2007

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Permaculture in Trinidad

I blog to make myself see the world differently.

To look for the beauty in the detail and to turn my face from the rolling-ball negativity that pervades so much of modern life.
Johnny Stollmeyer devotes his time to making the world a more sustainable place.
Why do I want to blog about him?
Because I think of Johnny every time I run across an article or note documenting the discovery of a new species. Just a few weeks ago, I read that a new species of Cobra was discovered in Kenya. The medicinal potential of a discovery like this is profound.
I had the same feeling when I learned that the vine that I love so much, odontadenia macrantha, was showing promise in Ovarian Cancer.
Traditional religion may provide abstract comfort but, increasingly, I feel the need to hold onto to something more tangible. Something practical that will ensure the preservation of our planet.
In this curious season of Advent, I wanted to highlight permaculture because the spirit of rebirth is not far away; it is right below our feet, every day.
For 2008, let's all try and respect it a bit more.
This is my first on-line blog interview so here goes:

Johnny, where do we start?
How do I begin to describe what you do?

I am a conceptual artist/deep ecologist working on issues of sustainability.

My practice includes painting, sculpture, installation, performance and craft. I run a small cottage industry that produces a line of ecological jewelery using mostly calabash and coconut shell called Turtle Island Children.
I have not been in the studio for the past year as I have been working on introducing Permaculture to T&T. This has meant spending more time in the kitchen garden and planting fruit trees on the land behind my parents house.

Permaculture is a term that I keep hearing. What does it mean exactly?

PC is a land use, community building movement that started in the 70’s in response to the energy crisis brought on when the US reached peak oil.

The father of PC, Bill Mollison a Tasmanian forester, came up with the concept (along with David Holmgren, one of his students) from experiences gleaned while working with indigenous subsistence forest gardeners.

PC is a set of Ethics and Principles used to design landscapes that produce a continuous yield of food and material for human needs that conserve energy and that have the biodiversity and stability of/and harmonise with natural ecosystems by mimicking them.
It is applicable to all environments, urban, suburban, rural village or hamlet at all scales from individual homes to large farmsteads.

We seem to be going in the opposite direction so it's reassuring to learn that Permaculture is picking up momentum. Why now in Trinidad?

Peaking oil (the end of cheap energy), climate change (the coming ice age) and the human population explosion.
PC addresses all these issues by:
  • Promoting decentralization, shortening supply lines and import substitution to improve local community self reliance and, thereby, reduce global trade.
  • Using renewable biological resources that contribute to the cycling of nutrients;
  • Creating edible landscapes using locally adapted, open pollinated heirloom annuals, perennial leafy green vegetables and planting food forests that are more resilient in the face of changing weather patterns, restore habitat for wildlife, rebuild topsoil, control flooding and sequester carbon.
  • Calling for self directed limits to population and consumption.

How much corporate support are you receiving now?

Atlantic LNG has hired us to design their buffer zone and to plant shade and fruit trees in the recreational area of the relocated residents.

How can the public find out more about what they can do?

At the moment there are several courses being offered. Recently there was the 2 week intensive, certificate Design Course taught by Peter Bane, editor of the PC Activist.
The next one runs from 4th – 19th Jan. 2008 led by Erle Rahaman-Noronha and myself.
See our website at
We have also been offering one day introductory seminars to generate interest in the certificate course. T Also we are thinking of offering a certificate course to run over consecutive weekends.

What has the response been like?

The first course attracted 25 participants. The seminars had good early turnouts (12-15).

How did you end up doing this?

I am inspired by that part of the back to the land, intentional community movement of the 60’s which has now come together under the term Bioregionalism (life-place).
I was introduced to the Bioregional Movement in 1988 and have attended all the Continental Congresses (-1) since then.

We have been referred to as the “Ghost Dancers” of the environmental movement as many of us embrace native spirituality.

Bioregionalism is about learning to live in balance with the place we call home.
Becoming personally accountable to all the other beings we share our watershed with: trees, birds, rocks, rivers... Re-inhabitation, becoming indigenous, building human community from the neighbourhood up.
The new term is Localisation.
Permaculture is an integral aspect of Bioregionalism.
Me: I know there is a relationship between your respect for the land and your expertise in the kitchen. Can you give me two easy recipes for a quick dip to serve with some crix?


I don’t do measurements, but.......
  • Black bean dip:
  • soak and boil beans till soft,
  • fry garlic, onion and ginger in a little coconut oil until they begin to caramelise,
  • add beans with freshly chopped shadon bene, chives and fine leaf thyme.
  • Add salt, pepper sauce, olive oil and a squeeze of lime to taste,
  • mash with a potato masher.
  • Serve with corn chips.

  • Choka Melongene/bene butter (tahini) dip:
  • burn skin over an open flame, turning until completely charred,
  • let cool,
  • remove skin.
  • Whisk together with raw garlic, bene butter (Tahini), salt, olive oil and lime juice.
  • Garnish with sliced stuffed olives
  • serve with multigrain crix.

Thank you Johnny.

2nd Annual Permaculture Design Course:
Friday 4th - Sunday 6th - tackle climate change, peak oil and escalating
food prices as we build sustainable communities that have the diversity
and resilience of natural ecosystems and generate continuous yields for
human needs. Learn how to create an edible landscape and food forests that
encourage wildlife, conserve energy and trap greenhouse gases at Wa Samaki
Ecosystems, cor. La Cuesa/Freeport Todds Road, Freeport.

Permaculture Principles can be applied to urban, suburban or rural
environments on the scale of households, neighbourhoods, villages or cities
Contact: John @ 624-1341, Erle @ 373-2890 for details:

Monday, 24 December 2007


A time of life.
I really do see the face of God in pregnant women.

A true Christmas gift is life that spans across a century.
Both of these women live in close proximity to me and when I wake up tomorrow morning, I will try to think past the glitter and glitz that Christmas has become and find the spirit of life and rebirth that I think the metaphor of Christianity brings to us.

And in mothers who make it to 100 years old.
Merry Christmas World.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

First Morning on Turks and Caicos Safari

I love the light so much on these coral islands- it is so different to our jungly, greeny hue. This light is reflected off the aqua water and powdery white sands and throws back a crispness that is quite remarkable.

Pair this with the cobalt of the glasses and the yellow of the orange juice and the palette is perfect.

After our rather lively night at "Da Conch Shack" we were all a bit fragile the next morning. If you are going to do breakfast, aim for the skies- raspberries on cream top the granola, all accented with a sprig of mint. Not impossible to do at home but very satisfying both aesthetically and gastronomically. Wash it all down with a mimosa and you are ready to go again.

Where were we?
On fabulous Grace Bay beach in Turks and Caicos enjoying the hospitality of Nikheel Advani who was the co-chairman of the 1st Annual TCI Gourmet Safari. This young , hip Managing Director of Grace Bay Club was impeccably turned out at 8.00am . There he is in the middle, with Sebastein from Dellis Cay and Dan Dunn, writer.
I am jumping ahead of myself because this was actually breakfast dessert - yes, there is such a thing- strawberries in champagne.

We are waking up slowly- in the background looking quite sleepy is Dan Dunn who is fresh off a book tour promoting his first book "The Imbiber". Life as a spirits writer- no not the medium kind! The kind that cause you to make wild promises and bond indiscriminately with the nearest warm body. My husband is already devouring it and I have heard the laugh out loud moments. Dan is a funny guy with a LOT of stamina.
This day ended at 2.00am or thereabouts and I was the one to finally put him to sleep on the bus by trying to explain the history of the Caribbean using my palm for geographic references. Poor man, he was no match.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

More Orchids

Sunday, 9 December 2007

The Orchid House Project

I have started to set goals for 2008 and an orchid house is right up there at the top of the list. At the moment, my orchids are all over the garden and I have to keep moving them depending on the amount of rainfall , the angle of the sun and other random factors.I visited the beautiful home of the Craig family. This spectacular home overlooks the St Ann's valley and like everything else I saw on this property, the orchid house was a masterpiece of ingenuity. The orchids are watered three times a day for 4 minutes via a timer that has been placed on the water line. The large fan is also turned on to keep the heat down in the shed which is protected from the weather by shade cloth, over which lies a layer of plastic. This makes the environment far easier to control and means that all orchids can be fertilized, sprayed, re-potted and generally cared for in a far more consistent manner than can ever be achieved out in the open weather.

Vandas are attached to the Eastern end and so get the rising sun. The oncidiums, cattleyas, dendrobiums and phaleonopsis are all arranged so that they receive ideal lighting conditions.
Of course, the romantic in me still clings to the idea of the orchids growing splendidly up in the canopies of my trees and attached to side of my mango trees but realistically, I am hiding my head in the sand with this approach as everyone, bar none, agrees that orchids thrive once put into a more controlled environment.
I have never done well with phaleonopsis and when I see them doing so well and looking so happy, I am tempted to try again.

Sunday Green Thumb

Join Green Thumb Sunday

I am sitting at my computer tonight and there is a cool, December breeze coming down the St Ann's valley. A true Christmas breeze. Our temperature never dips substantially enough to have an impact on the garden. But it certainly puts me in the mood for some sorrel, ponchecrema (our rum-laced egg nog), a nice tasty pastelle (cornmeal patties wrapped in banana leaves and steamed in a colander) and a big slice of ham with some cloves studded in for that extra special Christmas flavour). But that's a whole different post.
Tonight I am celebrating Green Thumb Sunday and sending out lots of planting energy to fellow bloggers the world over.
This wild plant was brought to me by my gardener and has done very well in the shade of my saman tree. It is a wild pachystachys (pachystachys spicata, syn. P. coccinea) and looks quite similar to its cousin the yellow shrimp plant or yellow pachystchys (Pachystachys lutea) . This plant acts slightly differently in that it spreads via running, rooting stems. So if it miraculously multiplies, this is the reason. The overlapping bracts from which the inflorescences emerge are fascinating in their symmetrical order.

I've sneaked in a vase of zinnias that I have next to my computer. I love the chunky, painted sunflowers on the glass almost as much as the zinnias. The light in this room in the afternoon is really special and almost everything I shoot in here has this soft, warm colouring.

Crotons make up an extraordinarily large family and are categorized by leaf shape and size. They tend to do best in filtered light. Mixed light encourages the best colour variation. It is not unusual to have several shades of contrasting colour on one leaf. They root easily, making them very easy to propagate and satisfying to grow. A cutting will last for several weeks indoors in a vase, often rooting in the water.
I am rooting two new ones at the moment. I picked them up while visiting a friend in San Fernando. One of Trinidad's well known horticulturalists, Mrs. Rita Barrow, once said that the secret to successful landscaping in the tropics lay in crotons.
They can always be counted on to provide colour, shape and texture and most will hedge as happily as they will shrub.
The very talented team of mother and daughter, Margaret and Vanessa Dalla Costa do really lovely work. This Taj is an example of their imaginative mosaics. This piece was calling to be in my garden. So here it is in its new place of glory; in with the bromeliads, under the sexy orange heliconias and next to my large copper.
Green Thumb Sunday

Friday, 7 December 2007


At Christmas time in Trinidad, this is a common sight. Sorrel, which is a member of the hibiscus family (Hibiscus sabdariffa), is tradionally used to make one of Trinidad and Tobago's most beloved national Christmas drinks. The population takes its cue from signs such as the sorrel-laden vans that appear on the side of the highways selling their fare, as a signal that the season is officially open. The late appearance of sorrel can have a significant impact on the general Christmass-y feeling that pervades the both islands. The fleshy sepals are peeled away from the green base and soaked to "draw' the flavor. Sorrel has an astringent flavor that is quite unique. Almost cranberry like. Clove, cinnamon and ginger can all be added to improve the flavor.

So how exactly do you go from the aesthetic beauty of a truck load of fat magenta sepals to the clear, crimson drink that is synonymous with the season?
Everyone's recipe is different, but you must start with at least five pounds of sorrel. It will shrink, don't worry. Choose crisp, fresh sorrel that snaps easily.

When you arrive home, settle down with some good company or an excellent Christmas movie to get you in the mood or, a completely fool proof way, put some Daisy Voisin on the Ipod.
Sit with two large bowls. Start peeling your sepals away from their green seed. Put the seeds in one bowl and your sepals in another. Have fun and feel very virtuous and Christmass-y for about 10 minutes.After which time, expect to get irritated that no one told you that the prickly, little fuzz on each sepal is very itchy and peeling sorrel is very time consuming. Make a mental note to self not to get taken by the pretty vans next year and promise to buy the ready made Orchard packs.However, never be tempted to boil the whole sorrel, the green seed will dramatically change the flavor and gives it an almost musky undertone. Persist, it will be worth it.

When all the sepals have been peeled away, wash carefully and place in large pot and bring to the boil. Add a handful of fresh cloves, 2-3 pieces of cinnamon bark, 1 smashed one inch piece of ginger root. Turn off heat and leave in pot overnight to allow flavor to steep. The next morning, most off the color will have leeched from the sorrel and the liquid should be lovely and crimson. Strain and sweeten with white sugar to taste. You will be amazed at the amount of sugar that it takes to sweeten sorrel. It's quite alarming actually. It is also possible to make a simple syrup and sweeten to taste with that, it does mix easily. When I bottle my sorrel, I leave my cloves in but remove the cinnamon and ginger by straining the whole batch. Some people add bay leaf or orange peel and use brown sugar. Either sugar is fine but I personally find that brown sugar changes the clarity of the final drink. I will not even give an estimate of the amount of sugar that you will need, but suffice to say that you can safely start with a cup and go from there. Bottle, refrigerate and enjoy.