Primer Aniversario/First Anniversary

[English below]
El jueves 23 cumplimos un año con la parcela y este fin de semana, por supuesto celebramos con la comida típica de la región, aunque sin ayuda habría sido imposible ya que no tenemos experiencia y en realidad es bastante complicado cocinarla bien a leña. Moltes gràcies a M. per la paella deliciosa! Abajo unas imagenes que hacían falta, de como el barranco se inunda cuando llueve y de los javalíes que finalmente captamos en una foto. Las de las bicis muestran como llevamos todo cada día de ida y de vuelta, tantos las herramientas de labranza como hasta la perra, que también contribuye dejando su olor por todos lados, cumpliendo su función valiosa de espantajavalíes. Adjunto varias reflexiones en inglés sobre los retos del año pasado (siempre es el más difícil el primero, ¿verdad?) y como podemos mejorar en este segundo que comenzamos. Paso primero: ¡ABONO NATURAL!!!
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This Thursday marked a year with the farm, and friends helped us celebrate, with my friend M. sweating over a hot orange wood fire to cook our first organic vegetarian paella at the farm. Now it’s time to reflect on what we’ve accomplished. For 10 and a half months we pretty much followed the permaculture admonition to observe the site for a year without making any large changes. Instead we battled opportunistic weeds, wasted a fair bit of water trying to adapt to blanket irrigation and attempted to save the 10% or so of the existing mandarins that were still viable. We tried our hands at a bit of vegetable gardening, which made it crystal clear how much work the soil needs.  Personally we are much more physically fit (although admittedly frequently dog-tired), but we have even less free time than before.  This is something permaculture practitioners all seem to think will improve once we build a more coherent ecosystem.

We have planted 25 trees since early January but have a shipment coming next week (four avocados from southern Spain) and recently promised K. in Carcaixent that we’d plant a Valencian oak, a native tree he would like to see re-established in the area.  We’re almost wanting another year of observation to see how these trees do, while starting to developing a tree nursery.  We’re experimenting with propagating pomegranates and figs from cuttings that we’ve taken from trees along the ravine road that runs in front of the farm, and are trying our luck with Judas tree pods and holm oak acorns from parks in town. Finally, the verdict is still out on walnuts or pecans (they seem complicated); best to leave them till the fall.

DSCF4234We’ve done everything with bicycles and hand tools, though last fall we added a chain saw, weed-wacker and bike, all of which run on electric batteries which we charge in town.  All tools go to the farm with us and back in a bike cart along with Shakti the dog.  LoadedCartReturningThe process of building a tool shed stretches far into the future… and depends on Byzantine Spanish bureaucracy.  It would allow us to store tools and charge them with solar panels on-site, while offering a bit of shelter from the elements during wind- and rainstorms.  It was only the other day that we were at the farm during a significant downpour (the fourth of the rainy season since November), because visitors drove us there in a car.  FarmFloodMar2017The picture shows how the road washes out exactly in front of the farm; I could get up the driveway with thick rubber irrigation boots.

What else have we accomplished in one year?  “Ground zero”, our central area with nearly 50 mandarin trees, is now looking quite healthy compared to its previous state as a wild jungle of weeds dotted with moribund citrus.  We’ve added a grapefruit and a lime and intend to try our hand at grafting a few shoots from our friend A.’s enormous and delicious lemon tree at Vidamar.  This area also includes last year’s garden that we’ve expanded this year.  All together we will try our hand at cultivating roughly 250 sq. meters, although alleyways represent a certain percentage of that space which at some future point we hope to keep relatively clear of all but short leguminous (nitrogen-fixing) ground cover.  I’ll have to do a future post explaining the historic Moorish blanket irrigation technique on the farm.  Watering happens through these alleyways.

SY_00016Aside from that, take a look at the wild boar we finally captured on camera! A lot of time has gone to re-raking wood chip mulch, following the havoc wreaked by these nasties (they’re after the grubs that feed on decaying wood), but at least it makes it easier to sow nitrogen-fixing ground cover on the soil they churn up. We’re experimenting with four different perennial varieties that will hopefully out-compete our nastier weeds like blackberries and what I suspect may be wiregrass, Ventenata dubia. I spend a lot of time hoeing these out, though the wiregrass, when well established, requires a pick-axe. We also have bur clover, Medicago polymorpha, which at least is nitrogen-fixing and edible, despite its nasty stickers.

Our winter garden produced spinach but none of the leafy lettuces we’d planted. Bok choy and Swiss chard did well, and we’ve started eating the alliums we’d planted last summer, which are abundant. Given we clearly have a problem with soil nutrients, I worked on identifying a local source of animal manure.  Fortunately a neighbor who keeps horses and goats seems to have an excess he’s willing to let us have.  We also purchased vermicompost and are building test plots to examine both which fertilizer and which cultivation technique (no-till, roto-till, Hügelbeet) seems to work better. We need to keep in mind that our alkaline soil pH, 7.8, will favor certain crops, among them asparagus. We have wild asparagus growing all over the place, which makesasparagus tempting as a cash crop. But anything other than the wild variety, I think, is just too thirsty for our region.

How do I see the project developing in the next 3 or so years? Right now it seems likely we’ll develop as a cross between a U-pick food forest and commercial niche garden production. But fundamentally we’ll have to see how to manage our very expensive water bill, just like all the citrus producers that surround us.

Experimento: Hügelbeete

[Short comments in English below.]
Pués, faltaba añadir un toque alemán a la mezcla lingüística de este blog…   La palabra ‘Beete’ significa bancales y el ‘Hügel’ refiere al caballón, en realidad uno bastante grande comparado con lo normal.  La agricultura biointensiva es aficionada de los caballones pronunciados pero esta técnica alemana va más allá todavía.

Este video mudo muestra en menos de dos minutos como se construye un bancal de este tipo, rellenándolo con todo tipo de materia orgánica, que en nuestro caso, con tantos cítricos muertos, hay de sobra.  Por el sistema histórico de riego a manta de la zona, que sigue en vigor en nuestra parcela, no va a ser posible orientar la mayoría de los bancales en el eje norte-sur sino que de este al oeste, para no impedir el flujo de agua.  Tampoco hemos apilado toda la tierra sacada, como se ve en el video, hasta que sepamos cuanto agua se mete y cuanto se hunde al regar.

hugelbeetjafillNuestra amiga J. ha decidido encargarse de la primera fase y en noviembre se puso a excavar.  Y el mes pasado, el encargado del banco de semillas de l’Estació Experimental Agrària en Carcaixent nos hizo una visita y nos explicó como abonar los bancales.  Más adelanto habrá que describir nuestro protagonismo con la conservación de semillas autóctonas valencianas.

A la vez, decidimos montar un experimento (como nuestro amigo E. en Berlín dice que está muy bien la permacultura pero falta mucha ciencia allí, es decir, estudios cuidadosos), asi es que tantos años míos de formación servirán para algo. Hemos excavado bancales con 2 diferentes profundidades (gracias a C. que nos ha ayudado bastante), abonados de dos maneras (estiércol de animales de un vecino para contrastar con humus de lombriz).  Luego tenemos bancales que trabajaremos con cultivador y otros que se dejarán sin trabajar (que Juan Antón del Bosque de Alimentos de Alzira opina que no hace falta labrar el suelo).

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El suelo que tenemos, sin embargo, está dramáticamente desgastado por tantos años de cultivo de cítricos basado en agroquímicos.  Dentro de un mes, plantaremos los planteles que nos dará el EEA de Carcaixent y acopliaremos datos sobre su progreso, subiendo fotos a la vez a este blog.

It seems a bit of German was missing from the linguistic mix of this blog. We have begun to experiment with hill-beds (Hügelbeete), a German technique. The silent video above is a nice demonstration of the technique. A large amount of organic material is layered in order of decreasing size into a large hole and a pronounced raised bed is constructed with the remaining dirt. We have filled these with large orange tree trunks, then branches, then leaves. The idea is that the organic material will degrade over time, fertilizing the plants, and also serve as a repository for humidity. As ours is blanket irrigation and a Mediterranean climate, rainfall isn’t what it is in Germany, so our hills are much lower such that the plants’ roots can reach the water both in the bed and supplied by watering. Thanks much to two friends, J. from Valencia and C. from Berlin, who pitched in with half the digging! /em>