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 birds in the bush is worth 124 euros in the hand, or a bird in the hand is worth 8.85€ in the bush (assuming additional birds represent different species).

“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:

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.

Necessity is the mother of invention

The Guardian has a great article of an example of this premise titled

‘Money is worth nothing now’: how Lebanon is finding a future in farming

With food in short supply and prices rocketing, a wave of new farmers are growing produce on roofs, balconies and beyond.

From the article:

Initiatives promoting farming have multiplied. Food banks offer seedlings, volunteers teach sustainable farming and social media groups share advice. Groups of friends or neighbours have taken to farming. All across Lebanon, municipalities hand out seeds and encourage people to plant abandoned land.

Rami Zurayk, a professor of ecosystem management at the American University of Beirut, says developing a relationship with soil has positive effects on people’s wellbeing. “We are waking up now to see that what we thought we had is no longer here. People have money in the bank that they cannot use. Going back to the primordial – land, seeds, food – is cathartic.”

But small initiatives will do little to solve food security, he says.

“Someone planting pots with herbs is not going to make any difference in nutrition. We need to change the nature of the system, to treat food as a human right, not a commodity.”

Lebanon is not alone in facing a food crisis. The World Food Programme warned that Covid-19 could almost double the number of people facing hunger, from 130 million to 265 million. Agriculture has been disrupted all over the world, seasonal workers stuck behind closed borders. Lebanon, home to more refugees per capita than any other country, does not face that issue – the main agricultural workforce here is Syrian refugees.

In Baanoub, the Zahars spent more time than ever this year in the fields. Yasmina carries seedlings to plant near the olives. The trees are not straight, she says, but planted in irregular lines.

“Our generation doesn’t operate along straight lines either. Not like previous generations. For us it is natural to shift focus and start farming in the middle of life.”

Read the full article here:

La Gran Utilitat de la Palla d’Arròs / Rice Straw Mulch

[English at the very bottom. Valencià a mitj.]
No es la primera vez que alabo los usos múltiples de la paja de arroz, pero antes teníamos a lo mejor una docena de balas para probar. El otoño pasado compramos unas 300 para una posible edificación (todavía estamos a la espera del permiso), pero mientras tanto, con tanta lluvia, fue imposible mantenerlas secas y la foto muestra ahora lo que tenemos: un acolchado tremendo que ya se está descomponiendo a una materia orgánica riquísima para el suelo.

No és la primera vegada que alabe els usos múltiples de la palla d’arròs de L’Albufera, però abans teníem com a molt una dotzena de bales per a provar. El tardor passat, vam comprar unes 300 per a una possible edificació (encara esperem el permís de construir), però mentres tant, amb tanta pluja, va ser impossible mantindre’ls seques i la foto mostra ara ho que tenim: un ‘alcochado’ tremend que ja s’està descomponent a una matèria orgànica riquíssima pel sòl.
Decomposing straw 2

This is the bottom layer of rice straw after having been left out in the elements for about 8 months. We had covered it for a future straw bale building, but with such a tremendous quantity of rain, it was impossible to keep it dry and these bales are ending up serving as a pretty nice mulch. Nice to see such rich dark organic material, and they also help to conserve soil moisture!

Actualment Mengem / What We’re Eating

[Languages mixed below, una mezclas de idiomas sigue…]
With so much rain this year, the blackberries are coming out nicely. We let them grow wild, in this case using citrus rootstock from a failed graft as a trellis.

Amb tant de pluja, les mores enguany ixen boniques. Les deixem créixer silvestres, utilitzant un cítric fallit per a enredar-les.

Con tanta lluvia este año, las moras están saliendo bonitas. Las dejamos crecer silvestres, empleando un cítrico fallido para enredarlas.

Blackberries handful

The photo below is one of our nectarines, from early June, which was the most delicious nectarine I have ever eaten in my life! The tree was battling Taphrina deformans the entire spring, and I was removing leaves and removing more leaves, probably a total of five times, in total perhaps a third of its leaves. At that point it got aphids and looked quite unhappy with all the humidity. I fertilized well to give it strength and with the change in weather, it is happy and healthy and reaching for the sky. All accomplished without chemicals, just the right dose of love.

photo_2020-06-25_15-08-39Os dejo con una foto de la nectarina más deliciosa que he comido en toda mi vida, al inicio de junio. Ese árbol pasó toda la primavera batallando la abolladura (Taphrina deformans) y luego algo de pulgón (ácaros). Fui quitando hojas infectadas selectivamente hasta que ya me pareció ser el momento de dejarle al pobre árbol las suficientes para fotosintetizar. Y parece haber ganada la batalla, cuando finalmente en junio dejó de llover tanto. Está enorme con las hojas sanas. Y nada de tratamientos, solamente un poco de amor.

Animal(e)s de la Quarentena

Although I can’t say there has been an explosion, I certainly have seen more wildlife than usual in the last 3 months.  I’m trying a different schedule this year as the heat has risen, mainly working in the late afternoon till 11 PM or 12 midnight, using a headlamp. Since the insects have been on the whole less of a plague so far this year and the afternoon breezes off the ocean have been fairly regular, this has been a good way to deal with the heat.

leaky_fenceWading through the wilderness of the farthest completely undeveloped corner of the farm, S. found this section of fence that hadn’t been properly tightened, pushed out from the base cement wall by about half a foot (15 cm); look carefully at the photo to see the bottom wire twisted up and out. It seems most likely the work of a fox, which may explain the matted down grass that we’ve been seeing on the farm for several months since we finished the fence.sleeping_area

We have to wonder, though, if it was more than one fox as the area of matted grass, maybe 4 or 6 sq. meters, was larger than a single animal would have caused. The final photo shows what happened after S. tightened the fence back down, with the disturbed dirt a bit ambiguous with respect to tracks, but most in line with a fox. Animal lovers do not despair, whatever they were, animals the size of a fox or a small dog are able to slip out the slats in the front gate.let-me-out

Animals seen during the last month: countless lizards, countless bees including normal bumblebees as well as a particularly elongated one (note to self: figure out what this is called), iguanas, snakes, rabbits and rodents (mainly heard but not seen). During pruning in the last spring/early summer we found 3 bird’s nests, roughly robin- or sparrow-sized.  But no larger birds, as far as I could tell, made their nests at the farm this year. Then there were the frogs, singing out the whole day long their happiness at so much rain.

Then those seen near the farm, including on the ride home at night, are a partridge in a neighbor’s field, a huge male boar on the road that turned to give me a full look at his enormous size before trotting off down to the ravine, and a finally fox on the road with enormous eyes looking at me before escaping through an iron gate that leads to another farm.

Sowing Seeds of Happiness

The Princeton Environmental Institute has published an interesting and timely article about home gardening which comes to a conclusion many gardening enthusiasts can confirm: Growing your own food at home is a meaningful, highly rewarding and emotionally enriching activity.

The article is entitled:

Sowing seeds of happiness: Emotional well-being while home gardening similar to other popular activities, study finds

This comes from a study published in Landscape and Urban Planning Volume 198, June 2020, 103776, entitled:

Is gardening associated with greater happiness of urban residents? A multi-activity, dynamic assessment in the Twin-Cities region, USA

The researchers found that home gardening was among the top five activities in terms of how meaningful an activity felt to people while engaging in it. Below is a brief synopsis including quotes from the two sources.

“It is noteworthy that gardening is consistently among the top five activities associated with high average net affect, average happiness, and average meaningfulness scores as well as the frequency in experiencing peak meaningfulness.”

And not all home gardening achieved the same results. Food production specifically excelled” “In addition, whether people gardened alone or with others made no difference, and people who kept vegetable gardens reported a higher level of average emotional well-being than people who worked in ornamental gardens.”

“The high levels of meaningfulness that respondents reported while gardening might be associated with producing one’s own food,” Ambrose said. “The boost to emotional well-being is comparable to other leisure activities that currently get the lion’s share of infrastructure investment. These findings suggest that, when choosing future well-being projects to fund, we should pay just as much attention to household gardening.”

“This study thus suggests that cities consider investments supporting household gardening as they consider other ways to enhance urban livability.”

“These results raise interesting equity questions on which activities to invest for creating more livable and equitable cities, because our findings indicate that household gardening was the only activity that disproportionately benefited women and low-income participants.”

“Therefore, household vegetable gardening should be considered amongst other livability investments, such as biking and walking infrastructure, in cities. Additionally, backyard gardening alone may provide EWB benefits similar to the purported EWB benefits of community gardens, thus both should be considered as cities address livability investments.”

“The results suggest that household gardens could be key to providing food security in urban areas and making cities more sustainable and livable.”

According to the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact, which some 209 cities worldwide have now joined, “Increasing the amount of urban agriculture is listed as one among several key strategies that can contribute to food security, livelihoods and livability in urban areas.”

In these uncertain times, addressing the issues of food sovereignty and food security, while improving the daily lives of our cities’ inhabitants, particularly the poor and disadvantaged/discriminated sectors of society, is a goal we should put more focus, effort, and resources into.

Let’s get gardening! Let us know in the comments what foods you are growing at home, in your community garden, or, if you are lucky enough to have a nearby plot of land like we do, on your own little farm.

We’d love to have your feedback. Together we can build the community we envision.