Designing a Permaculture Centre in the Desert

Noam Romano Krabbe
Friday, 8th April 2016

The Permaculture Research Institute Tabernas, in Spain, is being developed. Based in the Tabernas Desert, the centre's design is being adapted to its location, working with the climate and the landscape.

Only 2.5 hours from England, by the Mediterranean coastline in Southern Spain, on the edge of the Tabernas Desert, lies the home site of The PermaPuebla Initiative. They are creating a 170ha desert permaculture education, research, and demonstration settlement on a 200ha property, that will become the Permaculture Research Institute Tabernas, Spain. 

This ambitious endeavour is guided by the permaculture ethics, and is focused on the development of a scalable and reproducible regenerative agriculture enterprise on lands that are in the process of desertification, as well as the formation of a permaculture education and research centre. The project not only has the potential to regenerate and re-stimulate the water table and healthy ecosystem functioning in the immediate area but, through the demonstration and education of scalable and reproducible techniques, could also have a positive influence on the behaviour of local land owners, as well as many others in similar climates around the world.

The research side of this project provides many opportunities to undertake multiple pioneering experiments ranging from specialised techniques for this climate, the most ambitious idea so far being to attempt to produce rice in drylands, to cutting edge energy technology, particularly in the area of energy conservation. Every step of the way will be documented and followed up to share and serve as practical examples to educate and inspire others.

The project kitchen gardens are a good example of an experimental design that has been specially adapted to the location. The design of the garden was first considered in terms of the ‘Scale of Permanence’, with climate, land form, and water being the top three considerations. The gardens are being made on what were originally designed as flooding terraces for olive trees that are an already existing landscape feature here, so rather than remodelling the entire landscape to fit certain pre-conceived ideas, it is more sensible to work with what is already here in this case and adapt the designs to that.

The original design of the terraces already takes the climate as a key consideration, it is hot and dry here for most of the year with the potential for massive rain events a few times per year, so the terrace systems are constructed within the valleys to make full use of the water catchment from both the sides and the centre on these occasions. Each terrace has a berm on the edge that allows for the whole terrace to flood and a large quantity of water to infiltrate into the soil. With this in mind the design that was chosen for these terraces uses raised beds with paths that double up as water collections channels, dug down below the surface of the terrace. Although raised beds are unconventional for drylands, this design maximises water collection and retention when big rain events occur, and prevents veggies from drowning when the terraces flood.

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As mentioned earlier, this is an experimental design that shows how it is possible to creatively adapt to a specific location by utilising a whole systems approach. However, as with all experiments, it is important to constantly observe and adjust the design in situ, as this is the only way to gain a real insight into what works well and what doesn’t.

The PermaPuebla Initiative is a registered non-profit organisation that is currently working towards financial self-sufficiency in line with the PRI Master Plan guidelines, but at this point they are very grateful for donations and assistance to reach that point, so if you are interested in learning more about the group and this exciting new project, as well as how you can help them, check out their website at www.permapuebla.org, and like their facebook page, www.facebook.com/PPIProject/, for the latest project updates.

Further resources

Desert or Paradise by Sepp Holzer

Watch: How to green the desert

Watch: Green Gold - How can we regenerate large-scale damaged ecosystems?

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