Even before the start of my apprenticeship at the ranch, I would not have described myself as a particularly squeamish person. I like to think that I reacted to incidents involving large numbers of insects (infestations) with an appropriate amount of squeam. However, on more than one occasion, I was nudged outside of my comfort zone within the first few days of my time at the Ranch. Over the past few weeks, my relationship to these small jungle friends has changed once again.
At Rancho Mastatal we have been building sustainable homes from natural materials in the tropics for over 15 years. In this time we have tried many different styles, building materials, and designs. We would like to share with you our opinion for the best natural and sustainable home design for the tropics.
As apprentices at Rancho Mastatal, we take on a Plant Skill, where we each are responsible for a plant variety in our agroforestry system. When we began as apprentices many of us wanted to avoid the Salak palm, as it has splinter inducing spikes throughout the stem and leaves. Following my intention to dive into challenges this year, I decided to take being caretaker of the prickliest palm on the Ranch.
Living in the tropics I found myself surrounded by cocoa trees, which was something you’d dream about as a kid. “Chocolate trees” But like so many things we’re used to consuming we don’t have the knowledge of how to process a raw material into something we can use, within the society we live convenience has removed us from the source. A simple act of making something gives us a connection to our environment.
The need to cultivate a “living soil” that is full of microbes is something I hear frequently in the organic farming and permaculture world. As an apprentice at Rancho Mastatal this year, I have the unique opportunity to look further into the universe of these small and unseen allies. A way into this world was through the Ranch’s process of making organic fertilizer, one that harvests and inoculates the soil with Mountain Microorganisms (MM). This is similar to compost tea, where we create a fermented fertilizer with microorganisms such as manure.