Back to Case StudiesPermaground RasJebel Permaculture Farm
and Demonstration Site
Find it on Permaculture Research Institute Global Projects
More details on the farm blog permaground.wordpress.com
Authors : Sofien & Lina

Goal of RasJebel Farm in Tunisia : what is planned

Started in June 2012, this project is converting an old subsistance orchard into a sustainable permaculture system and a space for alternative cultures and creative exchanges. The project aim to create a productive self-maintained agriculture, reactivate soil fertility and biodiversity, harvest rainwater while providing life support for farmers and public activities (eco-construction and habitation). Beside common vegetables and fruits, the project aim to introduce mushroom cultivation and compost; unknown for locals. An essential goal in the project is to document everything in detail, for anyone to be able to replicate it elsewhere.
The project is developing along five axis
  • etages0002.png1. Forest Garden Layers and Fractal Natural Greenhouse : it aim to complete existing layers with ground covers, shrubs and herbaceous, vegetables, to establish simple companionship associations and multi-cropping, in order to build a plants structure complex enough to form a fractal greenhouse.
  • 2. Soil Building : the goal is to make intensive composting , introduce decomposer edible mushrooms, as well as mycorizhal and rizhobioms association, to recycle dead organic material lying around, coffee ground from caffes and vegetable waste from the market in town.
  • 3. Extreme Water Management : In Mediterranean climate, rain is infrequent, but happens in abundant volume. To use it optimally, the goal is to build swales and ponds for surplus, sunken beds on contour, to heavily mulch with wood or stones to minimize the exposure to evaporation, and keep the ground, including its surface, moist and active for plants, mushrooms and decomposers, even during the summer dry season.
  • 4. Animals : The project aim to restore recycler micro-fauna, and complement them by raising a goat, rabbits and chicken, pigeons that are also important as pest control, and support wild life, such as birds, frogs, chameleon and insects.
  • 5. Habitation and People Support : The project also aim to provide support for farmers life and public activities, and include constructing a cob small house with natural or recycled materials, collecting drinking water from roofs, recycle gray water and treat black water (e.g. compost toilet), provide energy with a wind turbine, compost (Jean Pain Style) and solar panels and keeping the site, products, equipment and people safe.
Additionally, the specific problems of this site, that the project attempt to tackle are high evaporation, fire hazard, social integration, security, financial sustainability and isolation. The main crops planned are annuals (e.g. potatoes, cereals, asparagus), perrenials (e.g. artichoke, jerusalem artichoke), fruits (e.g. peach/apricots, pomme grenade, strawberries, avocado) and nuts. Few crops are already present, such as mulberries, figs, almonds, barbary figs (opuntia) and grapes, and are harvested, when not stolen or eaten by birds, wild boars and wasps. (more details about the plans in this page)


Context and Initial Land : what was started from

Surrounding Area and Context context.jpg

  • The land has a surface of about 3000m2, and is situated in a mediterranean / sub-humid climate, in Bizerte region, in Tunisia, at latitude & longitude 37.233 10.114, and altitude; 5 m (16 ft). Find it on google maps. The Bizerte region comprises hills and valleys with limited underground water resources, a mixture of soils that vary from vertisols to the superficial soils. In this region, most soils are of good quality, deep on tender limestones, pH > 7 and 25 to 70% clay. Annual rainfall for this area is from 600 to 800 mm (680 mm/year). The land is close to the town of Ras Jebel (litterally 'head of the mountain'), between the shore (400m) and low mountains, a very windy area. The land itself is in a group of agricultural lands surrounded by a small pine forest at few hundred meters. It is accessed through a dirt road that also leads to the beach, very frequented during the summer. Asphalted road, water and electricity grid stops at 300m from the land. Initially, surrounding fences were quite open and frequently damaged by the passing wild boars, like neighboring lands.

Initial Land plan-rasjebel.png

  • Vegetation : The land is limited and segmented by windbreak barriers of numerous cypress trees, opuntia cacti, reeds and few pines. Inside most trees are fruit trees, about 77, with different sizes and health state : 45 almond, 7 fig, 7 plum, 6 mulberry, 3 pomegranate, 3 olive, 3 medlar, 2 quince and 1 orange tree.
  • Soil : The orchard is in gentle slope, strong at the south-west, with two terraces, to almost flat at the north-est. Original soil is a poor light soil, very sandy with rock base at only few meters deep. The south-west half has been covered with a thick 15 cm of clay from well digging, that hardened over time. The land was plowed during many years.
  • Water : At lower land limit (west), stone long piles prevent rain water from flowing to neighbor land. Two wells are present and has been restored in 1998, with water level at 5.5m deep. The water quality was good in 1998, but need to be re-analysed. Some mosquitos reproduce at the surface. The second well, at the north-est side, is invaded by two trees - one fig tree that threaten the well.
  • Wild animals : Abandoned for many years, the land and fruits are eaten by wild life when not collected by locals. Many traces are visible of night visit of wild boars, such as manure or fur tufts. Pigeon, mosquitoes and sometimes frogs find refuge in the wells. Few wild birds built nests in the cypress or taller trees. Lizards thrive in stone piles and walls. Black wasps visit the orchard as well as striped yellow and black wasps that built two 10cm nests. A large population of ants, most small ones, live in the land breed and protect aphids, and built many nests including in few tree trunks and branches.
  • Habitation : The land being used only for agriculture present a disorganized variety of scenes and atmospheres. The entrace was terrassed with dunkey steps to ease the access. A stem wall of sandstone indicates the existence of a construction in the past, but its purpose is unclear. A fire place shows few infrequent people activities. The surrounding fences, of piled branches, were quite open and frequently damaged by wild boars. The land has no access to electricity, water or sewers grid.


Current Status : what is done so far

Layers and Fractal Greenhouse


  • Forest Garden Trees Plantation : alternating shallow & deep root, fruit & support (N-fixing, insecticidal), shade management (small trees on front, tall trees on back, alternatin deciduous & persistent)
  • Forest Garden Shrub Plantation : support shrubs
  • Trees Pruning
  • Nursery Greenhouse : naive suspended greenhouse, wind optimized greenhouse, coin, arbres
  • Vegetables & Aromatic Plantation : Started in autumn 2012, we are working on plant propagation from seeds and cuttings and in particular plants with interesting characteristics for our site and for Mediterranean climate. You can look our nursery page with useful information and our calendar.
  • Direct sowing field experiment

  • external image l.jpgHarvesting and Conservation : 8kg of red and white berries have been harvested in June, shared and transformed to jam and compote. Much more fallen to the ground or eaten by birds and insects. Few plums were harvested, but almost all have been stolen by a neighbor. Many almonds were harvested, as well few figs, but fig trees were not pollinated and could have produced much more. Non harvested fruits encouraged the explosion of ants and wasp population. Many kg of barbary figs (opuntia) has been harvested, and some turned into jam (unfortunately liquid). Carpobrotus figs from the beach has been also collected, tasted raw, and their juice tried into jam. A few pomegranates have been also harvested.
  • external image img_25831.jpg?w=160Natural Pest Control : To limit proliferating ants, trees of the half of the orchard has been limed. This method was used traditionally to avoid tree trunks heat, prevent fungal diseases but also to discourage ants housing in the trunks cavities and holes. Additionally, corn starch mixed with sugar was tested and seems to make them disappear after a week. Liming significantly changed the luminosity in the orchard. A soap based soft treatment was used against aphids which affect few trees and are protected by the ants. Grape leaves infected by mites were removed to reduce their population. slugs, aphids
  • Wild plant identification & harvesting : Wild plants spontaneously growing in the land has been partially identified, and used. These include :In Summer: Chenopodium album (edible), Alyssum maritimum, Pancratium maritimumIn Automn: Amaranthus retroflexus (edible), Diplotaxis erucoides (edible), Trifolium (edible), Drimia maritima, Atractylis ou Carduus (edible), possibly Malva, HawkbitLeontodon spp. and Scorzoneroides spp or Chondrilla juncea (edible), Catsear Hypochaeris radicata (edible), Crepis bursifolia, Sonchus oleraceus,, Senecio vulgaris, Acroptilum repense, Capsella bursa-pastoris (edible)Mercurialis annu (ref) is the more abundant weed in our garden. Its a non edible annual, non acidic soil indicator. It lives in relation with ants (ref) and can be used for dry oil in small scale (ref).(Sources: wikipedia, http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/WEEDS/broad_preview.htmlhttp://sophy.u-3mrs.fr/photohtm/HI69.HTM, http://completegarden.wordpress.com/tag/garden-weeds/)

Soil Building

  • external image img_25741.jpg?w=120Compost Piles: Two compost piles has been realized and are maintained onsite. Made with materials coming from the site, the nearby pine forest and kitchen scraps: dead wood and branches, dried wild cereal straw and thistles, opuntia dead leaves, reed leaves, wild boar manure, fig and acacia leaves and branches, fruits fallen on the ground, pine needles, wood in decomposition, full of mycelium and fungus, coffee ground and vegetable scraps. The pile is watered from the well and covered with a tarpaulin. At the start, a clay pot with water is placed in the middle of the pile to keep it moist.
  • Vermicompost: Two vermicompost bins has been built and are maintained at the apartment in nearby town, one with Eisenia foetida and another with other composting worms (Eisenia andrei, Eisenia hortensis)
  • Tree Base Mulch: Mulch was made around trees base, similarly to Lawton Jordan site, by concentrating wood and dried weeds around nearby tree.
  • Planting beds : Lasagna & CRW beds, terrasses & mounds, hugelkultur buried wood
  • Chop and Drop
  • Nettle tea

Extreme Water Management

external image img_26651.jpg?w=160

  • Swales : Three experimental swales have been built, with a raised bed that is not yet planted. By contrast with classic swales, the first swale is constructed to retain the water instead of infiltrating it in the lower ground. Firstly, the surface blocks of clay has been removed, then 40 cm from the original soil level was dug. The clay was temporarily deposited uphill and the rest of the soil, sand and organic matter placed downhill to form the bed. Finally, 10cm of clay was placed back at the bottom of the swale to enhance retention. The first swale is 8m long and 1m large. The second swale is an extension of the first one. It s located near the cob house and for this reason it was constructed in order to keep water far from the construction and infiltrate as quick as possible. For this reason all the clay layer (around 10cm deep) was removed and stocked for future use. The swale level is a bit higher than the first swale so it can overflow towards the first. The planting bed has the same hight with the first one, filled with local soil and sand from the swale but the clay part has been removed. A third 7m long swale with raised bed has been also built in extension, on the sandy part of the garden where a more sloppy area will be drained. The first and second swales are communicating through a tube made from plastic bottles attached the one to another and then covered with clay soil in order to create a crossing bridge of around 1m large. The connection with the third swale and the overflow is not done yet. Also a connection with the nearby well split water is considered.
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  • Buried jar
  • Hugelkultur buried wood
  • Mulch or Ground covers everywhere
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Animals

  • Wild Animals Management:Wild boars are present in the site during the night and have positif and negative effects. They are visiting the orchard and return the soil but also cause various problems to the nursery and planted beds by eating small plants, roots and walking in freshly sowed beds. They are omnivore and eat principaly vegetables but also small animals and insects. We decided to limit the access to the site by reinforcing the fences, other possible solution are:
    • Planting bearded grains: barley, rye that are not attractive for wild boars
    • Electric fences,
    • Feeding the animals in the forest in order to stay far from cultivated areas

Habitation and People Support

  • IMG_2929.JPGCob Home Eco-Construction : First step was gathering information and studying two books on cob construction (see on cob book page). An old collapsed ruin in the garden was studied for restoration, but finally another site was chosen. A small round cob room was designed with possibility for future extension. A drainage trench under the wall, was dug, filled with gravel and terracotta pipes were installed. A few meter outlet was made. The ground around the house was leveled to conduct the water outward. A stemwall, with rocks from the ruin, is actually under construction (01.09.12). (more details)
  • external image img_26911.jpg?w=120Cob Cooking Rocket Stove : A cob rocket stove was built and almost finished, which will function with limited wood, with only small branches and no smoke. This allow to optimize the precious wood burned for cooking. First tests are not yet conclusive.
external image img_25901.jpg?w=120

  • Natural Fencing and Door : A door at the entrance of the orchard was constructed from reeds. This was a good start of working with reeds which are abondant in the site and the surroundings. Several reeds attached together with metal were used for the strong parts of the construction and series of reeds were attached one next to the other to create uniform fences and door to reduce the visibility from the road. At the limits with the neighboring orchards tree and thorny tree and shrub branches were used to limit pedestrians and wild boars. For the construction of fences tree branches were woven, usually three horizontal lines of linear branches blocked with vertical ones.
  • Outdoor Living Room : paths & areas



Contact and Visit

  • We, Lina & Sofien Koro, are working full time on this project, visitors are welcome to the farm, you can contact us at sofiane(dot)gueddana(at)gmail(dot)com & linasoroli(at)gmail(dot)com





















Related Links

  • Tunisia specific links