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.

Anunciem un Taller Gratuït de Murs de Pedra Seca

[English below.] Moltes gràcies a les amigues i als amics que ens van ajudar a progressar tant el cap de setmana passada (foto a baix). Per a la gent que encara voldria participar, oferim altre taller en 2 setmanes. Estem molt contents d´estar tan prop d´acabar tot el projecte del tancat de la!!

¡Estamos especialmente impresionados con L., la joven vecina, que casi seguramente se volverá una futura arquitecta!


One of the skills I learned from my father, or, better said, we learned together, was how to build a dry-stack rock wall. The farm my parents bought when I was 7, had lots of walls in disrepair, and over a significant part of my childhood, we repaired and lengthened them. The rock where I grew up tended to granite and shale, both of which are flatter and more rectangular than the calcareous rocks of this area, which are often somewhat rounded or worn down by water movement into odd shapes. That´s why we started with the ¨wet laid¨ technique which is so common here, because wet cement is much more forgiving of strange forms. But after we scored this massive dump-truck load of cut rock, I knew the time for dry-stack had arrived. Last weekend, with the help of 4 awesome friends and the amazingly talented 11-year-old neighbor girl, we got a great start on an 8-meter long, 1.2-meter high stretch, which the Smooth Operator and I subsequently built up to roughly half height (ganz lieben Dank).

This is how it looks starting from the 5-meter wet-laid section. The reddish-brown color comes from our iron-rich sandy soil which makes up about 70% of the cement mix. The whiter color further down is where the dry stack begins. We´ll leave the remaining work for a final workshop in a couple of weeks, then straighten out the far part of the chainlink fence which is angled into the hillside as a bit of a place holder.

Estrenamos el Nuevo Taller de Adobes

[These photos show our latest natural construction workshop, this time focused on adobe blocks, which we made from our own soil and rice straw from the rice fields some 30 km away. The plan is to use the blocks to build a little doggy hut that will maintain warmth in the winter. In the fall we’ll be looking for a pair of dogs to adopt, who would do well on a farm.]
Compartimos algunas fotos de nuestros primeros intentos con adoberas hechas de madera de pallets reciclados. Utilizamos nuestra propia tierra mezclada con cemento natural y paja de arroz de la Albufera.

Cooperamos con el banco de arroz de Tancat de la Pipa, que intenta dar una alternativa a la cremà que tanto contamina la región durante otoño. [Moltes gràcies a E. per a ajudar amb el transport!] IMG_3519Aquí se aprecian los bloques ya completamente secos, listos para construir. El plan que tenemos es que estos primeros sirvan de práctica para construir una caseta para un par de perros rescatados de la calle.

Slow Spring

[English below.] Abajo se aprecia un par de fotos del segundo taller de bioconstrucción que ha ido aún mejor que la primera, ¡claro está que la experiencia ayuda!

Y más abajo se ve lo que la tierra actualmente nos da, ya que en nuestro pequeño microclima, hemos pasado un invierno no propicio para el cultivo de hortalizas, con heladas fuertes durante casi una semana al inicio de diciembre y un par de noches otra vez bajo cero durante Fallas. Añoramos todavía la pérdida de nuestros primero intentos tropicales, los 5 aguacateros, el limero. Y nos sorprende la muerte de 2 de los 3 algarrobos que plantamos y uno que nos había salido él solo. Pero puede ser una lección valiosoa, para indicarnos que en realidad lo que tenemos en vez de un clima subtropical, característico de la costa valenciana, es más bien uno continental, por la montaña prójima y el frescor y sombra que guarda.

It’s been a harsh winter, nearly a week in early December and two more nights again in March of below-freezing temperatures. The latter was after Fallas which is supposedly safely past the last freeze (tradition says to plant cucurbits on March 19th, the day of Sant Josep, the saint in whose honor the church appropriated what was probably an earlier pagan festival). At any rate, the freezes did away with all the new tropical plants we had put in (5 avocados, a lime and a pitanga), plus, surprisingly, 3 out of 4 carobs which are supposed to be hardy. And of course, as I lamented previously, the citrus.

The rest of our citrus harvest has been taken to the juice factory, about a metric ton and a half. We hired transport for about 1000 kilos and I moved the rest by bicycle cart: exactly nine trips of 50 or so kilos each, a total of 475 kilos. In total, there must have been about 2 metric tons, with the usual 10% or more ending up on the ground, to which is added what we consumed ourselves, gave away and sold (nearly 200 kilos prior to the freeze). So we know that instead of 85 or so productive trees, we have about 55 that average enough to be worth the effort, this year over 30 kilos each, but still nothing to write home about.

This has convinced us we are definitively NOT in the subtropical hardiness zone (USDA 10a) and that we need to try our luck planting for the colder continental zone (9b). We’re keeping our eye on the cherry to see if it will produce, which would be unusual for our area. Are on our way to the nursery to look at adding more warm-climate versions of apples, pears and nectarines.

On top of the cold winter, spring has been slow to come, with most of April unseasonably cool as a follow-up to the cold winter, which makes working outdoors still a pleasure. The photos above are from our second stone wall workshop.

This time in addition to working the rounded stones typical to the region, we began to work with the split stones that I scored when the barn up the hill was torn down. They are much bigger and, with more flat surfaces, I think will make the work go faster.

Finally, an update on what we are eating — it was a good year for wild asparagus, and we have learned that cutting back the plants to ground level is critical to producing tasty new shoots, so we will try to find the time for that next year in amongst harvesting citrus. Our spinach struggled all winter with the cold, but the peas did well, the radishes are liking the April weather and the celery has come back for a 2nd year.WhatWereEatingApr2018

One Man’s Trash

[English below.] Hay un dicho en inglés: ¨one man’s trash is another man’s treasure¨. Quiere decir que la basura de uno es tesoro de otro. En la montaña arriba de la parcela había una enorme granja antigua de piedra que ya se estaba cayendo. Yo, desde que me ha entrado la idea de hacer un muro rústico, he tenido envidia de esas piedras, y he estado dando vueltas sobre como podía tener las ya caídas. Resulta que hace una semana, bajando a la parcela, vimos un gran bulldozer en la montaña demoliendo lo que quedaba de la edificación. Fui en seguida a hablar con los trabajadores, luego volví por la tarde a hablar con el jefe y el día siguienteRockPileMar2018Cropped una última vez para hablar con el camionero. Ese mismo día entró en nuestra parcela un camión cargándonos unos 10 a 12 metros cúbicos de escombras que consistián principalemente en piedras grandes de cimentación.

Ellos contentos porque en vez de tener que transportarlo al vertedero a unos 12 o 15 km, lo dejaron conmigo a cuarto kilometro, totalmente gratis. Y nosotros aun más contentos por no haber tenido que ir a comprar y dejar transportar rocas de la cantera. ¡Arriba la sostenablidad!

Adjunto aquí el cartell para el siguiente taller de bioconstrucción de muros rústicos que se hará el 15 de abril, con estas mismas piedras.


Up the hill from us sat a large barn built in the beautiful old Valencian style of natural rock constructed in the old method of limestone mixed with the local earth, sand and water to form a natural cement. Probably well over a hundred years old, it had begun to collapse, due more to its roof beams rotting and the subsequent exposure of the cement to direct rainwater, than due to the cement itself failing. Ever since my idea of building a stone wall by hand, I haven’t stopped thinking about those stones and how to get my hands on them. But even though it can’t be more than 500 feet away as the crow flies, renting some sort of transport was going to be the only way.

Imagine my delight when, last Monday, coming down the hill to our farm, we spotted a bulldozer demolishing the barn and I told S., “here’s our chance!”. I zipped right to inquire what they were going to do with the rocks (take them to the dump) and if I could have a truckload. After another visit with the bulldozer operator that afternoon and a phone call to the boss, it seemed like I might be able to score a load the next day. I was there at 8.45 AM to talk to the dump truck driver, we all agreed it would be mutually beneficial, and a couple of hours later the truck pulled into our driveway. We now have 10 or 12 tons of rock to wheelbarrow out of our entry, that’s the down side. But the up side is that rock wasn’t hauled off to be dumped in some landfill somewhere and even better, we got it for FREE! How´s that for sustainability?

Exitoso Taller de Bioconstrucción

Ya hemos vivido nuestro primer taller bioconstructivista donde hemos comenzado un trozo de muro rústico de piedras cimentadas con argamasa. Participaron 5 personas que aprendieron como escoger y colocar piedras y como preparar y aplicar la argamasa. Además aguantaron bien el frío que hizo (la temperatura no excedió 11 grados y con tanto aire que había, seguramente con una sensación térmica bastante menor que 10 grados). ¡Pues en realidad no hay mejor manera de calentarse que pasar el tiempo levantando piedras!

El taller lo volveremos a hacer en enero para vosotr@s que esta vez no pudisteis participar. Esta vez, espero yo, con más temperatura, ya que parece que este invierno, ha sido diciembre el mes más fuerte (la gente dijo que la primera semana pareció más a enero).MurRústic10Des2017 Enero se ve por el momento con los prognósticos de mediano plazo, un poco más suave. Ya tememos que con 3 noches bajo zero y otra esperada para esta noche, hemos perdido por lo menos 2 de los 5 aquacateros que plantamos en primavera. Pero el cerezo estará contento con tantas horas de frío.

Actividades en Diciembre

Adjunto el cartel de la nueva idea que tenemos, de que la gente vaya a apreciar la naturaleza de este lugar tan precioso y si le parece, recoge mandarinas propias. Y más abajo, anunciamos el primer taller de la sostenibilidad que hacemos en Senda Silvestre (cartell en valencià).Recógelo Tú Clemenvillas Senda Silvestre 2017
Ens fa molta il·lusió començar amb una sèrie de tallers del tema de la sostenibilitat, en aquest cas, de bioconstrucció tradicional. Benvingudes i benvinguts!