Tres Hermanas y Cinco Ocas / Three Sisters and Five Geese

[See English below.]

La asociación, también conocido como el compañerismo, de plantas, que establecen como una especia de gremio entre ellas mismas, de estas tres plantas representa el ejemplo más famoso del mundo, la de las Tres Hermanas de la milpa centroamericana. Hemos tenido el placer, con la ayuda del banco de semillas de la Estació Agrària de Carcaixent, de experimentar con su adaptación para esta región, incorporando como Cucurbitaceae la carabasseta Lola, como Fabaceae el fésol d’un metre y como Zea mays la dacsa blanca del Comtat.

Los animales de granja pueden interpretar un papel muy importante en la agricultura regenerativa, como anteriormente razoné aquí. Empleé el estiércol de caballo para la mitad del ensayo y fermentaciones del de oca para la otra. El de caballo ganó al inicio, con un crecimiento claramente más rápido del maíz, pero al final no había ninguna diferencia entre ellos. Me alegra porque representará un círculo cerrado de estiércol de oca, un cultivo exitoso autóctono y un suplemento para agradecerlas su aportación (miradlas en la foto de abajo pidiendo sus raciones en agosto cuando el pasto se pone seco y pobre).

Farm animals can play a very important role in regenerative agriculture, but, although geese can theoretically survive on pasture alone, it’s nice to have treats and supplements available, to which end we are experimenting with a local corn variety mixed with Lola zucchinis and meter-long beans. Although not perennial, they are local heritage varieties from the seed bank run by the regional agricultural experiment station and were planted in the 3 sisters guild of Central American milpa tradition. We carried out a small trial on cleared but un-perforated soil, i.e. no-till. On half, I scattered horse manure from a neighbor on top of the soil as we planted corn seeds by injecting into small holes. On the other half, there was no pre-treatment as I had only just got my geese back by planting time, but I applied their dung in the form of a ‘tea’ fermented for several days throughout the first 2 months of growth. To even out the amount of water all plants received, I supplemented the horse manure plants with plain water equal to the amount of water the other plants received from the dung tea.

Both manures were satisfactory, with the horse manure promoting more rapid initial growth, but everything evened out in the end. This corn isn’t exactly sweet corn (my attempt at corn-on-the-cob was unsuccessful), so I need to check with the seed bank — it may be for popcorn, which the Spanish love. For now the smaller ears that didn’t fill out completely has ended up as treats: the geese absolutely love it!!! Here is a picture of them begging for it.

And finally how cute is our little friend S., helping out by herding geese this summer


This Guardian article makes it clear:

World must rewild on massive scale to heal nature and climate, says UN

From the article:

“The report notes that while restoration science is in its infancy, agroforestry and other sustainable farming practices are already well understood and can be scaled up.”

The Sky Is Falling / Un Primer Cuento de la Granja

[ENGLISH BELOW] Me agrada anunciar que Senda Silvestre finalmente es una granja: cuenta con 5 ocas, a pesar de un trauma muy triste por la entrada de un zorro y la perdida de 2 de los 4 pioneros (una de ellos dejada allí muerta con el oviducto completamente lleno). Después de llorar unos días su muerte y pasar un buen período de autocastigo por mi propia negligencia, pues, me compré 3 oquitas que me llegaron con apenas 7 o 10 días y ya llevo 5 semanas criándolos. La hembra adulta (Goosey Loosey) que se emparejó con el macho (los 2 sobrevivientes), aunque no ha incubado bien sus huevos, pasadas un par de semanas, parece que ahora se cree la madre de los 3 chiquitos y ¡regularmente tengo que extender mis brazos/alas y graznarle aún más fuertemente que me hace a mí para recordarle que son míos!! Mientras tanto el macho, Banda Blanca, de mi amigo J.L., los maltrata sin piedad cada vez que se acercan a ‘su’ agua o a ‘su’ comida. O sea, lo normal de establecer la jerarquía. He aprendido como manejar todas las personalidades y parece que va bien. Disfruto del desarrollo de las chiquitas (mirad las fotos abajo), que ahora me dejan cogerlas y acariciarlas. Como el relato de hoy se basa en un cuento de niños que relaciono con una vivencia de mi infancia, está escrito principalmente en inglés.

I grew up on a 100-acre (40-hectare) farm, in a back-to-the-country sort of way; my parents were city folks who bought a former dairy farm and spent a year or more fixing it up. We moved in when I was eight. There was a full barn with stalls for several dozen cows (though the animals had been sold off), an enormous grain silo that must have been a hundred feet tall, two enormous hay lofts, ample room for tractors and assorted farm implements, and even a root cellar where apples kept for most of the winter. Despite this and despite me being absolutely crazy for horses, the only animals we ever had were an ever-rotating population of farm cats and two lambs, one of which died within two weeks and the other at three years (probably of sheer loneliness). Though the sheep was meant for eating, my mother in a moment of uncharacteristic leniency which to this day I cannot explain, in the end did not send it to slaughter. Of course I had fallen in love with it as an adorable baby (it was an orphan that I fed with a bottle for several weeks). I plotted how I would run away from home the minute the slaughterhouse entered the picture; perhaps my soft-hearted though typically unassertive father intervened. It was my job to feed that sheep every day and change its bedding every week. I was heart-broken when it died and dug its grave myself, in the middle of the apple orchard. I must have been 12 or 13.

My mother, granddaughter of German immigrants, was a hard woman. She never allowed me any other animals, although a parent could have hardly asked for a most responsible child. In the end, I did extra farm chores, for and with my father, to earn a bit of pocket change to pay for riding lessons, biking miles away to a horse stable. We lived quite high on a hill and I remember clearly the long schlepp pushing the bike uphill back home. The few years, years back, that I lived in Germany, were in part to puzzle out my mother’s approach to life: a sort of joyless soul-crushing fulfillment of one’s duty. From what I saw, she may have out-German’ed the Germans. I remember her mother as being the same, immigrants to the New World being a special breed…

But I digress from the current story, which is about my determination, after five years, to finally make Senda Silvestre a farm, which to me means animals. I did my homework and settled on geese as the perfect mixture of tough, lawn-mowing, fertilizing machines (the fact that I’m sick to death of weed-wacking surely influenced my decision). I got two mature females first, who rewarded me with an egg each, laid during the trip to the farm and another on the first day there. I got them installed in a loosely-fenced inner pen and named the more vocal one Henny Penny. The quieter, submissive one of course, was Goosey Loosey. All went well and three days later, J.L. brought me two excess males from his gaggle of 13 that was suffering a masculinity overload. One of the males had a white stripe across his breast and became Banda Blanca. The other, probably the runt of the litter, had a white spot on his breast, Cor Blanc (Corazón Blanco).

Well Banda Blanca spent the entire afternoon calling out to his missing compañeros and repeatedly escaping from the pen. Eventually I gave up and went home, as I had sadly not thought to bring my camping gear. The next day, all that remained of Cor Blanc were a few tell-tale feathers at a weak spot where the fence joins the neighbor’s, and Henny Penny lay dead in the pen. The two-meter fence that represented the better part of three years on the chain gang was, in my mind, fox-proof. It certainly is wild boar- and dog-proof. But the fox had found a way in through a spot in the fence that said neighbor had compromised, without my knowledge.

My friend M. came out before sunset and helped me get the survivors to safe temporary quarters and also engaged in an unexpected dissection – it turns out she had never before seen a poultry oviduct full of eggs (of course not, no one slaughters a goose who is laying). We skinned Henny Penny together and she enjoyed the biology lesson and I took poor Henny home to freeze for another day. In the meantime, I felt like an assassin, of course, for my negligence, and, despite having seen my share of death in the countryside, spent most of the next couple of days in tears.

In April, I bought 3 new goslings (about 2 weeks old i nthe photo above) to replace the two adults lost. They are unsexed (it’s very difficult to sex poultry, particularly when they’re young) so only time will tell. In the meantime, Goosey Loosey and Banda Blanca formed a tight pair (it must have been the trauma that brought them together) and are slowly accepting the goslings into a gaggle. Here’s Goosey Loosey, who apparently believes she’s become a mother, guarding the babies at about 3 to 4 weeks old.There are goose droppings building up fast and the many small plants we’ve introduced this year to flesh out a number of permaculture guilds are looking extremely happy. It’s also been quite a rainy year and relatively cool, not as extreme as last year, so really perfect planting conditions.

S. has built a palatial pen to protect the animals overnight or on the off day someone can’t make it out to the farm to let them out to graze. Banda Blanca has discovered a weed that is one of my least favorites (Avena fatua, aka wild oats, if I’m not mistaken) and is teaching the rest of the gaggle to strip it of its nasty long, pointed stickers that lodge into socks, boots and laces and are terrible to remove. And we have eaten goose eggs (double the size of chicken eggs) and goose meat (incredibly rich, practically like red meat), in my case for the first time in my life. Cuca the neighbor’s dog is fascinated by the goslings and whines every time she isn’t allowed to play with them. Goosey Loosey has pecked her very hard at least three times that I’ve seen, so Cuca is learning to keep her distance, with certain lapses where she works herself into a bit of a frenzy and has to be put outside the fence. She seems to have an irrestible urge to lick them, which they (and I) don’t understand at all… Despite this, I think the goslings will grow up accepting her. Let’s see if the future doesn’t bring super-cute photos of adolescent goslings and a mangy yellow lab zonked out side-by-side in the summer heat.

Amor Prohibido

Ahir quan ja estava jo acabant en el camp, la gossa que passa cada vegada més temps amb mi, va fer-me senyals perquè li òbriga la porta i es va anar del meu camp primerenc, cosa que no fa mai, a no ser que escolte a la seua gent (veïns meus). Bé, em vaig dir (ja que la soledat et lleva a parlar-te més del normal o saludable), hauran vingut sense haver-ho detectat jo. Però no anava cap a la seua casa. Bé, em vaig dir, haurà escoltat alguna altra cosa interessant.

No ho vaig pensar més, vaig acabar i eixir cap al camí d’alt. I allí dalt, a uns 200 metres del meu camp, uns 15 o 20 minuts després, ja prou de nit, va estar ella, interceptant-me, cosa que mai havia fet. Uuuf, em vaig dir, està pràcticament invisible, i si ve un cotxe, què passarà?, que allí no és el seu lloc. Ella és del barranc, no del camí d’alt, terre inconnue, la gent d’allí no la coneix. Li vaig indicar que torne a casa, ‘a casa’, li vaig dir, però clar, assenyalant la direcció contrària a la normal.

I ella es va posar al costat de la bici a córrer amb mi, exactament com feia Xakti, cosa què és per a trencar-me el cor. A més, 5,5 km definitivament no pot córrer. Vaig parar una 2a vegada a dir-li, ‘adeu, bonica, tu vas a casa‘. I vaig pedalejar a tota velocitat cap al poble, amb una sensació terrible d’abandonament mutu, a la meua casa tan buida com la seua.

Aiiii, perdre el cor a un labrador és un martiri total.

Continuat: El Tema dels Murs Antics / Walls, Continued

[English below.]
En el vídeo els dos senyors B., veïns meus, demostren com es treballa les pedres realment grans, que són el triple de tamany de les de la base que vam fer nosaltres. El senyor amb la palanca, és de la família que va fer totes les obres de canalització i murs de contenció dels nivells d’una bona part de la nostra vall. El seu pare ens va fer la nostra canalització i a més el nostre aljub. Admire molt aquestes antigues tècniques. La narració està feta pel seu nebot, nostre regador, A.

The video shows two of my neighbors working the really big rocks by leveraging along with gravity. The narrator is the man who runs the irrigation pump for our part of the valley. The man with the pole is his uncle, my neighbor. And their respective father/grandfather is the person who constructed the irrigation canals and the cistern at our farm. With the torrential rains we lately seem to be getting once every month or two, there’s not a time after the rains that one rides out to the farm without seeing at least one old wall that has crumbled. We are currently designing an erosion control permaculture guild to try to hold our own hillside in place. More on that in the future.

Landscape of Fear

[Castellano abajo.]
This title was so amazing that I had to plagiarize it, but I want to link to the report anyway, here, about the importance of apex predators in nature. Our farm is some 200 meters away from the Pas del Llop (Wolf Pass) in a valley completely free of wolves, undoubtedly for decades (note to self: check with some of the old-timers on this). The consequence is, as I’ve written before, that the wild boars are completely out of control and we’ve had to fence in about 7800 of our total 10600 square meters. It was a Herculean task, pretty much self-taught, on which we spent the better part of three years (since there’s no electricity, I, the chemist of the team and with the better back, mixed all the cement by hand). I hate the environmental implications of cement but I have to admit that it’s been really nice as the month tick by since the boars rooted out the last seedling in the early part of this year.

The area where I grew up was rocky agriculture land, and the country roads were lined with walls from the stones that the land continuously belched out. I learned the dry-stack technique together with my father, as soon as I was old enough to heft rocks. I say together with, not from, because he was a city boy transplant to the country. It would seem that having the skill hardwired from childhood is worth something; the rock wall that I completed earlier this year has stood the test of several torrential rains, most recently last month, when 445 mm fell in 24 hours, of that nearly 200 mm in only two hours. Which is more than I can say for the roof of the 111-year-old house in which I am living in town, where the rainfall measured less than half that. It leaked like a sieve.

But I digress… Back to the fence which has three parts: stretches where a retaining wall was necessary (the most effort of all), stretches where a foundation had to be built (into which it could be cemented directly), and stretches where it could be cemented against an existing wall. The entire length of the fence is some 315 meters; roughly 90 meters needed foundation and nearly 24 meters required earthworks. The picture gallery below shows a continuous length with a mix of the styles. First is an existing cement block wall that we extended in the same style, then a dry stack wall of stones that came from this source, then a natural cement wall that consists of our own rocks and dirt, plus a small amount of gravel and natural cement that were purchased to make the proper mix. The last part of the wall, dark from moss due to the moisture on this north-facing wall, is an existing retaining wall in the older style that was built when the terraces were leveled.

Many natural construction workshops and many dear friends were involved in making this wall a reality. Many crushed fingers later, I am really happy with how it looks. And the nicest thing of all was my friend P., who later told me, ‘I look at walls completely differently now, it’s really made me appreciate my own heritage.’ One final note: when hiking in the mountains which are full of limestone rock, one is prone to stumble upon one of hte historic limestone kilns that dot the area. But that is another story, and a whole different level of skills (producing my own natural cement) to which, yes, I admit, I do aspire. In the meantime, I would like to cover the cement block wall with a thin layer of plaster made from our soil and natural cement, to impart our natural soil color. And I will await the return of the wolves, who are slowly spreading back through Spain.

En la galería de fotos, expongo las 3 diferentes maneras que hemos utilizado para vallar nuestro campo. El más complicado del todo ha sido construir muros de rentención, donde no había nada para apoyar la valla. Allí habremos hecho aprox. 24 metros de largo, con una altura media de tal vez un metro. También bastante difícil ha sido la necesidad de obrar una cimentación de 40 cm en zonas donde no había nada pero sin necesidad de retener la tierra de un nivel. Allí hicimos unos 90 metros. Lo más fácil, y así hemos intentado aprovechar al máximo, ha sido apoyar la valla en muros ya existentes. En total son aprox. 315 metros lineales de valla.

Las fotos muestran como hemos extendido un trozo de estos muros más feos de bloques de cemento (espero pronto revocarlo con cemento natural y nuestra tierra). Luego hemos pasado a la técnica de piedra seca. Finalmente se aprecia un trozo de muro rústico con cimentación natural (una mescla de nuestras piedras y nuestra tierra con un poco de planché y cemento natural comprados). Al final del todo se ve un muro ya existente, totalmente negro por el musgo, indicación de la alta humedad en este costado norte).

Voldria agrair a totes les amigues i tots els amics qui haveu, juntes i junts amb mi, esclafat els dits per a què tinga murs rústics tan bonics. Però el moment més emocionant de tota l’experiència ha sigut el comentari subseqüent de la meua amiga P., qui ha dit, ‘ara circulant pel meu país, m’és impossible no parar a mirar els murs antics, gràcies per haver-nos ajudat a valorar el nostre patrimoni.’ Un verdaderament plaer, que són una meravella!

Concluyo con la observación de que este muro, como expuse anteriormente, ha sido necesario debido a la falta de lobos en nuestro valle. De hecho, estamos a 3 entradas del Pas del Llop, que llevará ya décadas sin haber visto lobo alguno. Y el desequilibro de los jabalíes, consecuencia de su ausencia, es severo. Ahora espero la vuelta de los lobos con tranquilidad.

Biological Diversity Evokes Happiness

The proverb “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” has recently been quantified in a new and interesting manner:

According to the German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research, 14 bird species in the bush are worth 124 euros, or each species in the bush is worth 8.85€.

“Europeans are particularly satisfied with their lives if their immediate surroundings host a high species diversity,” explains the study’s lead author, Joel Methorst, a doctoral researcher at the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre, the iDiv, and the Goethe University in Frankfurt. “According to our findings, the happiest Europeans are those who can experience numerous different bird species in their daily life, or who live in near-natural surroundings that are home to many species.”

“Fourteen additional bird species in the vicinity raise the level of life satisfaction at least as much as an extra 124 Euros per month in the household account, based on an average income of 1,237 Euro per month in Europe.”

According to the study, a diverse nature therefore plays an important role for human well-being across Europe – even beyond its material services. At the same time, the researchers draw attention to impending health-related problems. “The Global Assessment 2019 by the World Biodiversity Council IPBES and studies of avian species in agricultural landscapes in Europe clearly show that the biological diversity is currently undergoing a dramatic decline. This poses the risk that human well-being will also suffer from an impoverished nature. Nature conservation therefore not only ensures our material basis of life, but it also constitutes an investment in the well-being of us all,” adds Methorst in conclusion.

Read the full article here:

This beautiful bird photo comes from here.

The Mozart Effect of the Plant World

A recent Neuroimaging study provides new details on the link between stress reduction and green urban landscapes.

This is in line with the Biophilia hypothesis put forth by Edward O. Wilson in his book Biophilia (1984), a term coined by the philosopher Erich Fromm.

Lista Preliminar de Plantas Senda Silvestre

[English below.]
Ya que este curso de permacultura que no se pudo hacer por su mayoría (solamente se hizo el primer día introductorio debido a la cuarentena), se vuelve a programa para este jueves, querría subir esta lista en formato archivo para los alumnos y toda la demás gente a que le pueda interesar. Incluye tanto las plantas que hemos introducido (en el columna Estatus se puede ver el número de las mismas) como las silvestres que ya estaban allí al comienzo del proyecto o que se han ido estableciéndose a lo largo de el, debido a la mejora del suelo. Estas últimas no están enumeradas. Así es que si encuentras un número en el columna de Estatus, la planta se introdujo a propósito. Seguramente la lista la iremos ampliando y mejorando con el tiempo.

Haz clic para acceder a sendasilvestreplantasresumencursillooct2020.pdf

Here’s our first comprehensive list of plants at Senda Silvestre. It includes those that we introduced intentially, which appear either with number planted or a written note in the Status column. The others with no entry under Status were either there growing wild when the project began or have established themselves over the course of the project, as the soil quality began to improve (burdocks and stinging nettles, for example). We’ll continue to expand and improve the list over time.

Cornus Mas

[English below.]
Quiero seguir con la serie Héroes Permaculturistas, que vamos desarrollando en cuanto encontramos plantas aptas, que a veces son bastante difíciles de conseguir en España. Hoy tratamos el cornejo macho (Cornus mas).  No cumple exactamente mis criterios pero añade otro que no tenía contemplado, que es el color a finales de invierno (y por lo cual, da a comer a las abejas antes de los cítricos).


Tolera la sequía y es bastante flexible en cuanto a la iluminación, desde sol bastante hasta media sombra. Produce un fruto ácido y las semillas pueden servir de sustituto al café.  Además, aquellos frutos son pequeños y por esto, atractivos para los aves, el cual puede teóricamente evitar su daño a la fruta más grande que nos interesa a los seres humanos.

Este verano de vacaciones en Berlín, a través de esta página, S. encontró un ejemplar majéstico en el Parque Treptower.  Cogí varios frutos y los traje por aquí y ahora las tengo plantados para que se estratifiquen durante el invierno, a ver si sale algo en la primavera.CornusMasTreptower

Here I’m continuing what I hope will become a regular examination of Permaculture Heroes being planted at Senda Silvestre (you can see more by clicking on the category with this name below).  This is the Cornus mas or Cornellian cherry which doesn’t meet at least three of my permaculture criteria but does add another which I hadn’t contemplated, which is late-winter color.  This helps sustain the bees before the appearance of the citrus flowers.

It’s drought tolerant and adaptable with respect to the amount of direct sun. It produces a small, sour fruit whose seeds can be used as a substitute for coffee.  In addition its fruits are attractive to birds and theoretically can dampen their interest in the surrounding Prunus species which are more interesting to us humans.

On vacation in Berlin this summer, through this cool website, S. found a magnificent example in Treptower Park.  I picked some fruit and brought it back and have planted the seeds directly to over-winter in the ground and we’ll see if anything comes of it in the spring.