Practical Permaculture: The Tao of the Turtle


Turtle symbolizes independence and being at home anywhere. The turtle can travel all around with its home on its back, thus the turtle can journey far and experience many opportunities. Turtle values the earth, the water, and the heavens, symbolizing the grounding quality of the earth, the emotions of the water, and the magic of the mystical. Turtle energy can be helpful in achieving balance, and freedom. This totem is a symbol of a connection with the center, navigation skills, patience, developing new ideas, self-reliance, tenacity, and non-violent self defense.

Deep in the jungles of Costa Rica, unbound my nation nor farm, she has been cultivating gardens, digging swales, and implementing creative permaculture designs. Tropical torrential downpours force her to design systems that withstand the waters, and protect her plants, so she may spread their seeds. A permaculture pilgrim equipped with her turtle pack, a bag of seeds and cuttings, a wisdom of permaculture implementation, a deep understanding of plants, a collection of books, and her PDC and teacher’s training, she sets out to bless each farm with her work. For over a decade Desiree Wells has been traveling throughout Costa Rica landing on farm upon farm, implementing designs, planting, and maintaining. In search of new learning opportunities and driven by the perpetual 3 month border hops, she traveled. Learning the way of survival in simplicity and beauty. Today, this permaculture pilgrim has found a place to call her own.

Over the last year Desiree has been setting up a “classroom” where she can share the things she has learned in her adventures. This classroom is set in a beautiful garden oasis where sheet mulching, composting, and swale building meet in perfect harmony. Where cob comes in many forms, and recycling is a work of art. Workshop participants come from the community to experience hands on learning about watershed maintenance, cultivating seeds and cuttings, composting, natural building, introductions to permaculture, and more. Because this classroom is only in its first year, so much of the learning that takes place in Abundant Eden (the business that Desiree has begun), is grass roots and focuses on implementation. Desiree calls what she does Practical Permaculture and focuses on techniques and designs that establish sustainable survival. Slow and sure, like the turtle, she believes that with careful observation and well thought out designs, many problems that may arise in Permaculture’s feedback loop can be avoided. Desiree single handedly provides food for the community she belongs to, Finca Fruicion, and her gardens are like magical fairy lands, where plants come together in 3 dimensional art.

I met Desiree about 2 years ago, when my family and I first came to Costa Rica, with the intention to live our dream. She was such a bright light and I remember walking among her gardens at one of the many farms she serves in awe of the beauty that it held. Some time later, she and her horse came to our farm and decided to make a home here. I can not express the joy that I felt, when she shared that she wanted to be a part of our community. Having gone through a Permaculture Design Certification course and a teacher’s training, I still didn’t feel that I was ready to really share what I had learned with others. I was seeking a mentor, someone who could show me the course in this foreign climate, and like an angel she came into our lives. Since then I have learned more than I can express here and deeply appreciate her wisdom. When I look at the swales around my house and then walk down the community garden that Desiree tends, I am humbled. Although, my desire to work side by side with Desiree is strong, fate has blessed us with a baby and slowed that course for the moment. Even still, I have learned so much. Some of which I will share in this article.

When I first came here, I was in a hurry to design and implement. I wanted chickens, goats, gardens, and more. We focused mostly on infrastructure for our family of 5, but soon my rabbit like speed manifested a chicken coop, swale gardens, and a goat house. We had lots of chickens, plants and a few goats. But alas, my speed caught up on me and I was in for a great lesson. Desiree kept telling me to slow down and focus on my zone 1, but I was an ambitious youth and I didn’t listen. Our dog ended up killing most of the chickens and my ignorance the rest. The gardens near the house were put in without the infrastructure to water them and many of the plants did not survive the dry season. Although, the goats are thriving, I have morned the loss of our chickens and plants and have taken in the lesson. Slow and sure, the turtle wins the race.

One of Desiree’s greatest strengths, aside from her ability to know what plants need, is her swale building. She has created a system that her plants thrive in. She begins by creating contour lines with animal manure and plant matter, which depends on what pioneer species are nearby. Then she digs a trench, one shovel deep and one shovel wide, just above the line of organic matter, and puts the soil on top of the line. This is pretty text book, however there is more, the plant matter/manure line creates a “worm hotel,” especially when she adds cardboard, another layer of organic matter, food scraps, and essentially creates a compost pile, which she affectionately calls “yum yum sandwiches.” After that she digs the trench out deeper and adds that soil to the top. This is not the best soil, nor do the plants thrive in it alone, so what she does is add some rich soil from another place on the farm, and creates a little nest for the seedlings. By the time the roots are deep enough to reach the composting below, it is broken down enough for the plant to use. Of course, here in the tropics things break down fast. This is only one of the many techniques she has put into action here on the farm.

Desiree is an extremely creative, artistic, and competent permaculture designer, she has traveled to and worked on some of the most well known permaculture farms in the US, Thailand, Costa Rica and Panama, developing her tricks of the trade. I am so honored to be able to work with her and call her a sister and friend. I highly encourage other people to come and check out our little piece of heaven here to learn in the classroom of Abundant Eden, as I have. Desiree is now accepting interns and apprentices at Finca Fruicion in Costa Rica. For more information, feel free to check out our Finca Fruicion website or email us.


Alana Bliss


Source by Alana Bliss