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.

¿Cómo afectará la coronacrisis a la agricultura de proximidad?

[English below.]
En plena crisis sanitaria global, este reportaje nos da un poco de esperanza. Mientras tanto, esperemos que aún más agricultores no caigan en la bancarrota por las grandes perturbaciones que se están experimentando en la cadena local alimentaria (todos los mercados locales llevan dos semanas cerradas).

Mientras tanto, aprovecho la oportunidad de compartir con vostrxs la foto de una criatura vecina que me viene a buscar companía en el campo. Me trae alegría durante estos días tristes y hace que los pasamos mucho menos solas las dos, mientras voy plantando toda la verdura posible, por miedo del duro que podrá ser este año. Es muy parecida de raza y de carácter a nuestra querida Shakti; ya son casi 3 años que nos dejó para siempre, para ir a jugar a pelota en el cielo.

In the middle of weathering the corona virus quarantine all alone, there is one happy side, which is this creature. She belonged to an elderly neighbor who passed away in the fall, and his widow and daughter tell me aat home in the pueblo she would spend the whole day whining and pining for the farm. So even though there is no fence, they have been leaving her out there on her own since the winter (which was quite mild this year). She knows my whistle now and comes running to play ball, eat grass, plop down in the ample ground-cover for a siesta and hunt critters (my over-run, weed-infested jungle is quite a playground for all sorts of animals). She is very similar in race and temperament to our beloved and long-ago departed Shakti. She brings me happiness and purpose in these sad times and I can tell by the major butt-wiggling and jumping around when I open the gate to her that she feels exactly the same.

Hardscrabble / Trabajoso

[ESPAÑOL ABAJO] I looked up the definition of this word which, in my mind, is always used as an adjective in association with soil or farming. The Free Dictionary lists it as a noun as well:
adj. Earning a bare subsistence, as on the land; marginal. n. Barren or marginal farmland.
Hardscrabble perfectly describes the state of the soil when we bought it, and hardscrabble continues to describe our attempts to move forward. July was a difficult month, because of the pig attacks I already described here. Our wildlife camera recently revealed that we are in actuality supporting three adult boars and three piglets. After seeing these photos, I immediately stopped camping out alone, even though I hadn’t heard the pigs at all this year. Common wisdom is that mothers with young are in no case to be mixed with. I never thought I would miss Shakti‘s stinkiness so much!SixLittlePiggies

The damage the damned creatures do is startling, to the point that this week we’ve seriously considered calling an end to irrigating the Cucurbitacaea (melons, watermelons, squash and zucchinis) that are scattered here and there, many of which are still not fully ripened. It’s just too much water for an area that, each time it’s trampled (sometimes several times a week), results in more uprooted plants. Next year, however, we have a much better permaculture plan to greatly increase our irrigation efficiency.

In addition, in full July summer heat, some of our historic hand-made ceramic irrigation tubing burst; this time three sections instead of one (as happened last year in June). The neighbor, whose tubing is connected to ours, was unable to water for an entire week as we fumbled our way through the learning curve of irrigation hand-repair, which I am pleased to report was equally shared by man and woman. A chemistry background seems to help quite a lot with high-quality cement mixing, although does nothing for the digging…

Despite the setbacks and the fact that there always seems to be something interrupting the ever-present need to weed and prune and tie up vines and climbers, the larger mandarin trees have several hundred fruits per tree and we kept the garden areas producing and reasonably weed-controlled all the way through the end of July. This is a full month beyond what we managed last year, with probably ten times the garden area under cultivation. It’s testimony to the really significant progress we’ve made in defining what we can grow here. Coming soon: an evaluation of the different sorts of beds, produce and growing conditions that have worked best.

Me resulta difícil traducir la palabra en inglés que elegí para describir la fase en la cual nos encontramos 16 meses después de haber comenzado este proyecto. Conjura imágenes no solamente de un suelo muy duro y pobre (como era el nuestro al inicio del proyecto), sino que de la difícil existencia de la gente que intenta labrarlo. El carácter del suelo se está cambiando rápidamente, sin embargo, y como prueba del tal, nos ha venido encima una plaga que nos lleva al punto de desesperación. Como se aprecia en esta foto de la cámara infrarroja, son 3 jabalíes maduros y 3 inmaduros. Este enorme da miedo de verdad.PigClearAsDay

Al ver las fotos, dejé inmediatamente de quedarme a dormir en la tienda allí, ya que la perra no la tengo conmigo, cuanto me hace falta. Entran casi a diario a buscar los lombrices y escarabajos que, con la mejora del suelo que hemos efectuado, se encuentran en abundancia, especialmente en los caballones que son necesarios para regar a manta y que quieren destruir cada vez que los volvemos a reponer.

Fuera de eso decidieron explotarse 3 tuberías antiguas en pleno calor de julio y como nos falta todavía mucho que aprender, nos tardó toda una semana repararlas bien, mientras tanto el vecino no pudo regar. Un estrés, que nos pasó el año pasado también (aunque siendo solamente una tubería, fue más fácil la reparación). Ya habiéndonos vuelto experimentados en el arte de fontanería campera y alertados de que vaya a ser un problema repetido, nos sentimos más preparados para enfrentar la siguiente ocasión, aunque estaríamos muy contentos si no volviera a pasar hasta el año que viene….

Attack of the Wild Pigs / Acoso Porcino

[English below.] Estas fotos muestran una visita que nos hicieron una javelina con varios cochinillos, que tiene que haber sido poco antes de nuestra llegada, ya que los cucurbitáceos que arancaron no estaban todavía marchitadas. Tenemos completamente deshechos unos 50 metros de cabellones, que es donde ibamos apilando una mezclas de malahierba, ramitas y tierra. Lo tomamos como señal de la mejora que estamos efectuando en la calidad del suelo, y nos contamos afortunados de que el permiso de vallado, que ha tardado 7 meses en su paso por tres dependéncias gubernamentales ya está concedido.]

We´ve now been working about a year to improve our severely depleted soil. Last summer the lamb’s quarter, wild amaranth and horseweed (Conyza canadensis) got so out-of-control by the fall that we had no choice but to buy a weedwacker (electric, which in the future will be charged by solar panels). We’ve done a lot of chop-and-drop but our system of flood irrigation makes it difficult to keep up with these aggressive weeds and the ground covers we’ve chosen are so far insufficiently competitive. Still, the soil is tending more toward a brownish-red color with a more crumbly consistency than last year’s brick-red hard-pan appearance. And the wild boars have visited us, as we expected, less than two months after losing our beloved dog Shakti, whose scent will have sadly faded into the background.
The boars are after the worms and grubs that are increasingly present in our main garden area, and on Saturday, shortly before we got there first thing in the morning (the plants hadn’t even wilted), they upended four zucchini and half a dozen watermelon plants, which were outside the temporary chicken wire fence of the main garden. They pushed under it in two places but fortunately seemed reluctant to actually enter. Rather than be discouraged, I am trying to look at it as free weeding, but the truth is that they have torn apart nearly every ridge that serves to direct the irrigation water and which we plan to adapt into raised garden beds in the future. We´ve built the ridges up with soil piled over chop-and-drop organic matter and they are increasingly rich, moist and ideal for soil organisms, which we would prefer to have building our soil rather than feeding ravenous pigs. It´ll be a lot of work getting all the soil back in place before the next irrigation in a week.

I would be a lot more discouraged but a few days ago we finally got permission from the three Spanish bureaucracies involved to build a boar-proof fence, which means two meters high fencing set into a 40-cm deep concrete base (for about 100 meters), although luckily the remaining 200+ meters will be set in holes up against existing stone walls. I´ve already started digging…

Zuckerschnute meines Herzes

When Shakti and I were first introduced seven and a half years ago in Berlin, I was rather afraid of dogs, having been bit by a big black neighbor dog when I was maybe five or six years old. It didn´t help matters that Shakti was also black and pretty darn big, too. It took a couple of years before we worked things out and I began to fall in love with her. Initially reluctant to cede her status as alpha female, she eventually recognized my value as an additional person to toss balls, play tricks for treats and scratch her belly. In time I became a valued member of her tribe, to whom she looked for security and support. Und langsam, genau als ich Deutsch lernte, wurde sie meine süße, schwarze Zuckerschnute. I guess all of us think our pets are special, but we got stopped regularly, in two different countries, to be told how nice looking she was and so amiable and obedient, and even to be asked if other dogs could spend time with her to learn to be so well-behaved. The best compliment though, from someone here who was probably rather afraid of dogs, who expressed her wonder that such a big black dog could have such a cara de bueno.

To Shakti´s adoring public, I’m very sad to say she left us last week at the age of 15 and a half, after an extremely quick final illness. She got to camp out with us at the farm a couple of times the last few days, as the weather had turned so nice. We played with her favorite ball; this picture from our first anniversary party in March perfectly captures her eager anxiety that says `you do want to play with me, right??`. SBallFarm We fought for sticks, let her eat whatever she wanted: pate, sausages, hot dogs, cheese. She sniffed around for some more psychedelic mushrooms from the rains a couple of weeks ago, without much success, as her sense of smell, along with her sight and hearing, had dimmed significantly. She dug as many holes as she desired and slept safe and sound in her doggie cart. She was only in true discomfort the final day, when we had her put to sleep right there in der Natur.

I had two odd dreams a few weeks before she fell ill, first that she was so sick that she needed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, which I gave her (now that´s true love!); in the dream I didn´t find out the outcome. But at one point last week, she lost consciousness and stopped breathing for about a minute, scaring us to death, but reviving in time to go out to the farm another time.

The other dream was of cremating her in a wood stove (which seems less strange when you consider that I grew up in a house with two, plus I´ve been thinking for months of burying her in the central burn pit at the farm). In the final week of her life as she slipped away from us, I dug out a lot of ash and then a lot of dirt to replace it. When finished, we´ll have reclaimed this ash pit right in the middle of our nicest terrace, where we plan to plant a beautiful shade tree right on top of her. It will serve as a permaculture canopy layer, to form a shady oasis in the middle of the most intensive polyculture area, which we are currently transforming to a mixed garden/citrus mix with wild asparagus and artichokes as perennials as well as nitrogen-fixing ground covers.

Ashes to ashes and organic material to organic material, we would love to hear from you what tree you think should serve as Shakti´s monument. It would be ideally bigger than the surrounding citrus which typically is kept pruned to a height of some 4 meters, but not so enormous that it shades out too much area. And of course, as always in permaculture, it should work for its living, providing food, improving the soil and/or assisting companion flora or fauna.

ShaktiDestroyingJacket - cropped One final picture from last year shows how, after getting chained up for eating too many wild boar droppings, she managed to work her way off the cardboard meant to protect the tree, uncover a tree root, get my jacket filthy, then decide it would make a pretty nice pillow. That was Shakti: even when she was so naughty that she had to be punished, we had to avert our faces to hide our smiles, she was so damned cute.

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!!!

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.

Out-Foxed/Más Listos que el Zorro

[ENGLISH BELOW] Mirad estas fotos del zorro que habita la parcela. Los jabelíes muy listos no los hemos podido jamás captar por cámera, eso ya durante seis meses, aunque vemos todas las huellas de su presencia allí no más.  Nos estamos quebrando la cabeza pensando en como puede ser.  Más abajo la fuente que descubrimos al darnos cuenta del agua que sigue chorreando por el desagüe al costado ocidental de la parcela.

This summer, one of us had the brilliant idea to get a night-vision camera.  And here, with beginner´s luck, is what it captured during the first few August nights positioned on the far side of the property, close to where it borders another parcel that is completely overgrown after probably a good 20 years of neglect.06aug2016fox

The fox is a good little digger, mainly looking for mice’s burrows around the numerous dead orange tree trunks, but the damage is nothing compared with the packs of feral pigs that regularly sweep through. Both types of critters can dig down a good 20 or 25 cm with ease, but there’s only one fox, and probably half a dozen or more pigs. We really want to capture them on camera but they have eluded us completely for six months now.  Even when we see the damage right in front of where the camera is mounted, despite trying various motion detector and infrared settings. They are living up to their crafty reputation. Camping out, in May and June then September and October, however, we heard them frequently, sometimes a clear piggy grunt, sometimes a call that sounds chillingly like a human baby crying.

Shakti the dog was invaluable in keeping the pigs at bay while we were camping out.  She seems to have left indelible signs, such that they, while busily digging through nearly everywhere else that we´ve left mulch (which is a food source for grubs and worms, a favored protein source for the pigs), have yet to touch the two areas where she regularly slept, one of which was near the garden.

I have resorted to voodoo in the other areas. S. the human got a haircut and I have been scattering his hair mixed with what I comb off the dog, to test the Valencian idea that hair will scare them off. As the pigs grow hungrier through the winter and the traces (and memory) of our presence dims, the destruction grows. I am attempting to view it as free soil-turning. But we´d rather have more of the little soil-bound critters there working for us, instead of the four-hooved kind.sy_00001

Here’s a clearer picture of the fox on New Year’s. I’m growing rather fond of him (I deduce his gender from his vigorous and accurate marking of as many high-lying stones a possible). It will be a bit sad when/if we ever get permission to build a fence (Spanish bureaucracy works in mysterious ways, at glacial speed). He´ll be excluded from nearly three quarters of the farm. But we intend to leave a significant wildlife corridor leading back to the parcel behind, which also borders our irrigation spillway that in reality is a natural spring that originates up in the mountain behind us that. We discovered this after the torrential rains we have had in December and January (completely uncharacteristic of the area, as those rains nearly always came in October). Here’s a photo of the bricked-in grotto that is the source of the water currently trickling down dscf378the south-western boundary of the farm.

What a Trip! (Setas Alucinógenas)

La perra parece haberse vuelto aficionada de las setas, las cuales, con tanto que ha llovido, tenemos saliendo a todos lados. Ya nos habíamos dado cuento de este interés suyo, porque por las mañanas, despúes de una visita a la parcela, comenzaba a producir bastante más de lo normal en cuanto a caquitas. Pero el domingo pasado anoté un cambio en sus exhalaciones al olfatear cosas por allí en el campo, como que había encontrado algo muy pero muy interesante y diferente. Me dije, ¨esto no puede ser nada bueno¨ y la aparté.  Por lo visto, lo hice demasiado tarde, porque dentro de una hora, más o menos, vi algo bien raro en su mirada… y pronto despúes la observé mirando el aljibe semidestapado con tanta determinación que lo fui a tapar en seguida, a no ser que se le ocurriera meterse adentro.

Preparé nuestra salida, y en tal momento ella, mirando por todos lados, decidió que no sería prudente ir a ninguna parte y se fue a galope en la dirección contraria. Finalmente la pude obligar entrar en su carreta y volvimos al pueblo sin problemas. Al llegar, ya no quiso salir de la carreta y cuando se lo obligamos, se lanzó otra vez a galope, loca perdida. Después de una buena vomitada, por supuesto después de haberse acostado en su camilla (¡para mejor ensuciarlo todo!) adivinó su amo que tenemos setas alucinógenas en la parcela… Mirad abajo para ver si nos podéis ayudar a indentifarlas.  Por lo que leo en Internet, es probable que sean Psilocybe semilancDSCF3318.JPGeata.

That dog, what will she do next?  I was at the farm with her on Sunday and she was, as usual, eating grass and happily sniffing everything, always with the vague hope of finding some tasty morsel.  Suddenly I heard her make a strange noise that sounded a bit like ¨what have we here?¨ and looked over to see her snout buried in a hillock of grass.  I pushed her away and went on with my work but I´m betting she made her way back there because an hour or so later, when it was time to leave, she decided that wouldn´t be prudent at all. First she looked at the opening to the cistern, which is about 2 meters deep, with that determined sort of look that makes me push her away immediately.  I immediately replaced the cistern cover and got the bike and dog cart to head out, at which point she galloped in the opposite direction.  I was able to talk her into getting into the dog cart (not a bad place to hide), then did the 7 kilometers back to town without incident.dscf3257

Back home, she refused to budge from the cart and looked at her master and me like she didn’t know us, with her eyes darting and head trembling all the while.  When he dragged her out, she took off jumping galloping down the street.  It was after getting her upstairs and calmed down enough to get into her bed that she vomited up a whole mass of ‘shrooms.  It wasn’t until midnight, after hours of constantly sitting up to look anxiously behind her and then falling over as in a dream, and eventually vomiting the little food we gave her to calm her stomach, that she seemed to come out of it.

The rains have been late in coming and really intense this year.  I measured 40 cm (16 inches) in December. The road to the farm washed out twice and the river in town breached its banks by a couple of meters but fortunately didn´t crest over the containment walls protecting the town. Everything is completely soaked, with mushrooms coming up everywhere.  And it is raining again as I write.dscf3377

It would seem that some of those mushrooms are magic…

La Nueva Parcela/Our New Farm

[Castellano abajo.] To all our friends who’ve been asking us for months now to post photos, an apology for the long delay. But you’ve probably already heard many times about how much work farming is and although we both come from farming backgrounds, we can now very personally attest to it.  So here are photos of the little piece of heaven that is breaking our backs and our pocketbook, even as its beauty motivates us and its potential inspires us.  And that´s not to mention the effect on one very happy dog!

[Aquí unas de las primeras fotos de la nueva parcela, con un resumen en inglés para los amigos extranjeros.  Ya pronto describiré en más detalle las experiencias que hemos vivido y lo mucho que estamos aprendiendo. Lo cierto es que ya podemos constar lo que todos dicen, que ¡la agricultura implica muchísimo trabajo!]


In the next few photos, you can appreciate the state of decay in which we found the property, some 4 years out of production; for us, a true bonus as this means that the pesticide residues from modern citrus farming will have undergone significant degradation.


The first step was to prune the remaining viable trees, which out of a thousand originally present, sadly represent only about 10 percent.  Here are some of them silhouetted by a sunrise in May.



And last but not least, our local peak surrounded by real rain clouds (photo from April).  There are few things to compare with the joy of a farmer in a semi-arid zone when it actually rains!

Coming soon, photos of how we are gradually attempting to transform a citrus monoculture into a polyculture using agroecology.