They Work Hard for Their Water

[English below.]Ahora que nuestro concepto se orienta siempre más hacia un bosque de alimentos, incorporando aspectos de la agroecología y la permacultura, comenzamos a poner más énfasis en las plantas perennes. Dicho eso, hemos definido algunos criterios para cada planta baja consideración. Fundamentalmente, están prohibidas las plantas invasoras y si alguna posee esta tendencia, las condiciones climáticas han de imposibilitar su avance. Además, buscamos un mínimo de 2, pero mejor 3 o 4 de las siguientes características para los arbustos y arboles que se incorporan. Se expresan aproximadamente por prioridad:
1) tolera la sequía / apta para la zona
2) fija o moviliza nutrientes
3) es comestible
4) atrae la fauna benéfica
5) ayuda a ‘construir suelo’

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La planta de esta primera foto es uno de los pocos perennes que se cultivan en la región (Cynara scolymus) y me agrada mucho. Después de dos años y medio, están a más de 2 metros. Cada planta produce una buena docena de capullos y se propaga por esquejes, de manera bárbara. Funcionan muy bien cultivadas en los caballones entre los cítricos, con la misma programación de riego.

La segunda foto más abajo es del goji (Lycium barbarum), actualmente muy de moda, ya que la fruta es apreciada por sus propiedades creídas salubres.  Aunque solemos enfatizar plantas autóctonas, hacemos unas excepciones, como este arbusto chino, que es muy valorado dentro de la comunidad permaculturista. No es invasor y al parece, se adapta bien a nuestro clima.

Now that our concept is fairly clearly orienting toward a food forest approach (albeit with certain aspects of agroecology and permaculture), our emphasis on perennial plants is increasing. In this vein, we have developed a hierarchy of requirements, the first and foremost being that the plant must not be invasive or, if so, must be held in check by our climactic conditions. I’ve spent quite enough time struggling with blackberry vines, wiregrass (
Lantana camera), and prickly pears to risk introducing more invasives. Beyond that, our approach is to apply a minimum of 2, although preferably 3, of the following 5 requirements to the perennial trees and shrubs that are to become part of the long-term design. These are roughly in order of priority:
1) drought tolerance
2) nutrient-fixing or -mobilizing ability
3) edibility
4) attractive to beneficial fauna
5) soil-building capacity

Somewhat off to the side of the hierarchy is the question of whether the species is autochthonous. We want to adequately represent local species as they are of course the most adapted to the local environment and in some cases, such as the local holm oak (Quercus ilex ssp. ballota), are endangered. IMG_5567 But we are also introducing climate-appropriate, non-invasive exotics (such as the goji berry and moringa, so beloved of permaculturalists) to supplement traditional local varieties.Here’s a little goji bush we’ve planted with lots of mulch to preserve water these hot summer days.

There’ve been a few exceptions to the above due to the sheer pleasure of eating commercial-quality fruit (see my previous post below). The more delicate of these, from the Prunus genus (plums, peaches, nectarines and the like) at best can said to meet the edibility criteria, in addition to being non-invasive and autochthonous to the Mediterranean. However apricots and almonds, also of the Prunus genus, once established, need minimal irrigation. Indeed, due to our fairly high humidity, we´ve sadly already seen a potentially devastating disease develop in an almond (shothole disease). Not only that but several of our olives are suffering from Cycloconium oleaginym Cas, as are wild olives in the area, after the extreme amount of spring rainfall. This, then, tells us that the Prunus trees, when part of a mature food forest managed with proper spacing to provide maximal root zone shade, plus mulching to maintain moisture and deliver organic matter, may need sparse watering to produce fruit and possibly even none at all for the trees to maintain themselves. The same should hold for the olives.

Now, a little quiz: Do you recognize the amazing perennial plant pictured in the first photo? It’s a member of the thistle family that grows like, well, a weed… After two and a half years, the plants are over 2 meters (6 feet) tall and some have produced over a dozen buds (the part of the plant that is edible) each this spring. We have them heavily mulched with mowed weeds and, as they are doing just fine on the citrus irrigation schedule, we have them interspersed in between trees on the citrus rows.


The answer is… artichokes, and the photos shows buds that we have allowed to flower. We’ll try germinating them from seeds in six months or so.