After the rain come sunshine & hard work

After the rain come sunshine & hard work

You might have heard it – we had quite a wet and foggy winter. Which meant that despite our best efforts, work wasn’t really progressing well… For every day we were out and about making things happen, there were at least two or three days when our (clay) soil was too compacted, the weather too rainy or just too plain cold to do what we had planned.

However, that all changed in the middle of February… Since almost ten days we have volunteers staying with us and neighbours helping us out, and things are going so fast that it makes my heart leap with joy. We have about two more weeks of work in front of us, and then it’s time to clean up and get everything ready for our first bed & breakfast guests to arrive; we’ve already got a few bookings between March and October and we’re very much looking forward to it.
In the mean time, I thought I’d share a few pictures of what’s going on here…

At the back of the house

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Last year, a lot of earth was dumped at the back of the house. Nothing much grows there at the moment and it gets muddy all the time – so we’re doing some landscaping…
First, we poured a 1m60 border of concrete along the back wall. Not only can this serve as a base for a recycling unit, a wood storage, gas storage, gardening / working station and chicken coop – it’s also much easier to walk on when the weather isn’t perfect.
The wood storage was built in one day by our volunteers Laura & Pietz – and the day after, they tackled the recycling tower (done in just a few hours!) and now they’re working on stone stairs towards the solar system shed.
Our friend Katrien is working at a brand new (and super fancy) chicken coop, with the help of our Belgian volunteer Brecht. It started out as a coop, then became a chicken house, the idea of building a castle came and went and now it looks like it’s going to be a chicken cathedral. Guess we’ll have to call our next rooster “Cardinal”.
In the next few weeks hopefully we’ll be able to continue on the chicken coop, finish the stone stairs and maybe start on preparing the back yard and setting up fencing for the chicken run. It’s going to be bigger than before!

Around the house

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You might have seen that we’ve been working on a terrace wall in front of / around the house since May (2016). I’m very proud to announce that it’s almost done now; it only needs some finishing touches, and it does need to be filled with a lot more soil. Which should happen on Wednesday, with the help of our friend George. Once the soil is in place, we’ll add on manure, planting soil and mulch – and we’ll be all ready to start sowing and planting! I’m very much looking forward to that part.

The side entrance to the guest rooms has been tiled (thank you Dan!), and Axel has been doing a few repairs and improvements to the guest balconies. As we speak, Axel and Brecht have started on the front yard; we’ve been discussing the design for weeks and hope it will be both convenient for me to work in, and beautiful to look at. We’re loosening the earth first, but we’re building raised beds on top of it anyway. The garden beds will be filled with herbs and edible flowers (or just vegetables with beautiful blossoms), and maybe some berry bushes.

The vegetable garden

The vegetable garden is a work in progress – but work is progressing, for once. After the last two seasons, we decided on building hexagonal raised beds – only time will tell if this is the right decision, but so far we think it’s going to look fabulous. The idea is to make a few raised beds every now and then, so in the end it will be all raised beds – and paths in between. So far the fig, kaki, plum and two apple trees have gotten their own raised beds – so we can plant a “guild” of other plants around them. We also bought all the accessories for a watering system… now only to install it before the heath of summer.

This year, we’ve sown the seeds for the vegetables inside… in the living room… Axel made me an extra big table that will hold four of those big polystyrene seed trays. I’ve got plenty of seedlings now: corn, tomato, kale, cabbage, onions, lettuce, more tomato and cauliflower… more to be sown next week. And soon we’ll have to plant out a few of them at least. So much to look forward to!

The chickens

Ah, the chickens… there’s highs and lows there.

First, there’s the incubating. I did a lot of that; I had an incubator with our own eggs + one of Kurkum Farm hatch in January, four little brown-layers-with-feathered-feet (chicks of Fatima & Ramon) and one little peeping Tom are now hopping around happily, they’re about four weeks old now.
After this, I borrowed our friends Dan & Mell’s big incubator and put in another batch – this time it contained our own eggs, Dan & Mell’s Brahma eggs, some eggs from Kurkum Farm and some eggs from Tierruca (the place we’re buying our alpacas at). There were 25 eggs in total… However, due to several different reasons, only 7 hatched. It’s a pretty diverse little group of Brahma, bantam and feathered-feet-layers though, and I hope they’ll be everything I’m hoping for.
At this moment, I’ve got seven Silver Brahma eggs in my small incubator (due around the 11th of March), and 15 more Brahma eggs + a few of our own in the big incubator (due about 5 days later). Fingers crossed for a bunch of healthy and happy chicks!

The adult chickens have been on rotating pastures since the beginning of the new year, with the help of an electric fence (which is super easy to move) and the chickshaw (moveable chicken coop). I love this setup, and am definitely going to write a review on the chickshaw soon… we’ve had it almost a year now. The chickens seem to love it as well; they’re safely inside the fence, and they get a new bit of land to scratch up and explore every few weeks. What’s not to like? They’re getting lots of kitchen scraps, 99% organic food and of course bugs and weeds from out there. Our eggs are now bright orange and very, very tasty.
On the bad news side, there’s something wrong with Tita. She’s been in quarantine for a week now, but we can’t seem to figure out what her problem is… she’s not really weak, but has trouble walking (or flying) straight and falls over at times. She’s getting some supplements and we still have some hope left… not much though, as she doesn’t seem to be getting better (not getting worse either, but she’s not fit enough to join the rest in the run). Fingers crossed for her!
Last but not least, we’ve said goodbye to our very beautiful but very useless Brahma rooster Ramon a few days ago now, I’m writing a separate post about this (and about the uses and uselessness of roosters). Tito is now head honcho but he’s not sure how to handle that – he’s always been a bit insecure and being left with two older hens (Fatima and Ramona) doesn’t do much for his self-esteem… as long as he behaves, he can stay though – or until one of the little chicks steps up and becomes big boss. We still have several months before that.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this small update – it’s so nice to get feedback and hear how so many of you are following our adventures here in Spain. There will be many more to follow!

Road trip to Cantabria – visit to an Alpaca farm

Road trip to Cantabria – visit to an Alpaca farm

Soon, very soon, I will post more about the “why” – why did we drive all the way to the other side of the country just to look at some alpacas? For now though, these are just some pictures I took on our way there…

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On our way there, early in the morning & terrible weather: Zaragoza.

 

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The Rioja region is just FULL of bodegas and wine fields

 

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Bilbao in Bask country. No good pictures of the city itself, but you can see weather is clearing up & Euskera (the Bask language) is not like Spanish at all.

 

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The gulf of Biskaia – the ocean at the other side of the country. It’s a funny feeling to know we live quite close to the mediterranean sea, and in just a few hours we’re looking at the Atlantic Ocean.

 

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Cantabria is breathtaking.

 

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A bit wetter than Matarraña where we live… (see the rain coming)

 

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but very very beautiful and green.

 

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Ten little alpacas from Alpacas de la Tierruca & Alto Paso Alpacas, standing in the field outside the brand new (almost-finished) alpaca visitors & education center.

 

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The girls of Alpacas de la Tierruca. I was spit at by a very pregnant female, she didn’t like how I was taking close-up pictures 🙂

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Everything a farm needs – a barn cat, a dog and pretty stables – now converted and holding an artisanal alpaca fleece processing workshop.

 

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We took a special interest in this gentleman… He’s three years old and might end up on our finca some day soon.

 

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The one thing we’re missing on our finca – a river right outside the door

 

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Goodbye Cantabria… see you again soon!

Splitting up the blog…

Splitting up the blog…

This little blog has taught me so many things. It has taught me that it’s ok to open up: I can write about our mistakes and our bad days, and it’s ok to share our successes and our good days with the world as well. It has taught me that although most people think we’re crazy for moving to Spain and starting a new life here, they also think it’s bold and courageous and they like following our adventures here. But most of all, it has taught me that I love to write about those adventures – and that I love to share everything I’m learning here.

The adventure started years ago, when we first started dreaming about an Earthship somewhere on grassy meadows in the south of France – and it took a leap when we bought our land in Matarraña (Spain turned out to be quite a bit sunnier and just as pretty as France). There were other milestones – the day I got my (online) Permaculture Design Certificate with Geoff Lawton, the day we moved to Spain, the day we moved to our little maset (the little donkey shed Axel rebuilt for us), and finally the day we moved into our new house.

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Our “maset” – the converted stable we lived in before the big house was finished.

I now felt like it was time for another milestone… this week, I split up my blog. I will continue to post personal updates, news on the bed & breakfast, the adventures of our volunteers and some chicken stories on this blog – but I’ve also started a new blog. I’m looking forward to using that blog as my big outlet: I can’t wait to share information about permaculture, homesteading, small scale farming and keeping animals. I will post my favourite recipes, share tips on how to go back to basics (even if it’s just a tiny bit) – and as a sociologist I would love to write about the social aspects of permaculture, gender roles on a homestead or the importance of an utopia in the modern world (fans of Jurgen Habermas, hold on to your hats). Of course there will be chickens as well, and volunteers, and everyday observations about life in Spain.

I would like to invite you all to take a look at my new blog on www.simplelivingspain.com (yes, it’s basically about Simple Living in Spain). And maybe you’d like to subscribe to my newsletter, and get a weekly overview of cool things I’ve read, interesting videos I’ve watched and news from the farm? If you have any suggestions on what you’d like to read there, please go ahead and contact me – in the comments, on my (new!) Facebook page, on Twitter, Instagram or good old-fashioned e-mail. My (digital) door is always open, and I’m always looking for more inspiration – or interesting subjects to stick my nose in.

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Stuff I’m going to be writing about on my SimpleLivingSpain.com blog: chickens, living off the grid, growing our own food and cooking / baking it, gardening, living in Spain and much much more… 

Simple Living Holidays: from idea to reality

A rather short post today… I am very proud to pitch to you my next “baby”: Simple Living Holidays.
Many of our guests, visitors and Facebook-followers told us they’d like to know more or even experience our way of life. We call this lifestyle “Simple Living”: it’s all about making things less complicated and making time for what’s really important. For us, it’s a way of taking back control of our lives.

Around here, we’re meeting more and more people who set out to do the same. They come from all over the world (although most come from other places in Spain and Europe), and they all converged here, in Matarraña. All of us have slightly different ideas and priorities; some keep farm animals, others work relentlessly on the vegetable garden, others take better care of their inner self and for some, the technical aspects of off-grid living are the big challenge. Most of us do a mix of everything.

As a first step, guests at Mas del Encanto will be able to attend workshops next season – from animal husbandry to vegetable gardening, from harvesting almonds to cooking and baking with produce off the land. Our guests will be able to include some unforgettable experiences in their holiday.

 

You’ll be pampered and well taken care off: staying either at Mas Katmandu (outside of Cretas) or at Mas del Encanto (between Cretas and Lledo), food and drinks will be included. Most workshops and visits to local projects and farms are included in the price, but you can choose to attend them or not; if you want to skip a workshop (or a meal) and go out to town or stay in for a change, it’s your vacation!
Some (more specialised or intensive) workshops might be offered for an added fee.

This is a very tiny and newborn baby still – our heads are full of ideas and we’ve created a list of over 50 workshops we could offer around here… now it’s a matter of selecting the workshops people want to attend, talking with the people that can host those workshops, and put a price tag on everything. To help us in the process, I’ve set up a survey. It would help tremendously if you could take a few minutes to answer a few questions!

Edit, December 2016: there is more information now on this page. You can now help us by pre-registering (it’s quick and easy and doesn’t mean you actually have to participate in the end); this will also give you a discount if you actually decide to attend a holiday or some of the workshops. Click here for more information!

Last summer, some of our guests made marzipan with almonds from our trees

Taking the leap: living off the grid

As you all probably know, we are now living completely “off the grid”: we have electricity from solar panels, water from our own well and we catch radio waves for internet. We have a garden (work in progress) for fruit and vegetables, and many other plans: a solar dehydrator, wood-fired heating (we’ve got plenty of wood after pruning and from dead trees), a stone oven for pizza and bread, solar heating for shower water,…
Living this way, we feel working for ourselves is so much more rewarding than having a 9-to-5 job we don’t really have any connection to.

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Here are a few things we learned in the past few years, that might come in handy. Some are things we got told by others (thank you for that!), most things we found out for ourselves…

  1. Don’t believe everything the internet tells you
    The internet is full of hearth-warming stories – “This amazing house was built for only $200,-“, “This kind of dwelling is the most eco-friendly known to man”, one website (of a Spanish real estate company) even states that there are “plenty of jobs available in Spain” and “you don’t need to learn Spanish as there are doctors and notaries around who speak English”. Use your brains, read the small print, talk to real people.
  2. When in doubt, just go for it
    In the past few years, the only regret we had, was that we didn’t do certain things sooner. We could have moved to Spain sooner, we could have started living in our little maset sooner. It would certainly have saved us money! However, sometimes fear just gets the best of us. So from now on, we try to live by the motto “When in doubt, just go for it” – but make sure you’ve got a backup plan…
  3. Planning and communication are key
    Our impression is that the people who succeed the quickest, are those with a plan. Those who arrive here, have a clear idea of their goal, and have a plan that matches local reality. To get that clear plan, it’s important to communicate with your fellow adventurer(s) and set common goals – and to keep communicating, especially when things aren’t going according to plan. A friend advised us to sit down and have business meetings between just the two of us; we’ve just started to do that… Although our project stays the same, we have made several adjustments to the planning already – and keep making those, every time life gets in the way.
  4. Budget = more than some land and a house
    When you’re looking for some land or even a house to buy, real estate agents will ask you for your budget. In the “civilised world”, that’s simple; it’s the amount of money you are willing to spend on that piece of land and / or house. Here, it’s different; living off the grid involves quite a few investments you probably didn’t think of right away. We bought ourselves a car that was more suitable for this environment (instead of our Passat which was great to cruise with, but would just not have survived the bad roads here in winter), several kinds of tools (almond- and olive-picking materials, garden and building tools), a generator and a solar system for electricity, a borehole and pump for water, trees and seeds, materials for making fences and sheds,… Some of our friends bought even more – like a tractor or digger, more and bigger tools, better materials,…
    We’re not the only ones who decided to get ourselves a temporary home (in our case, our little maset; in the case of some of our friends, a yurt or tent camp). That goes out of the the budget as well!
  5. Plan for delays
    If you’re planning on making a living after your move, it might be a good idea to make sure you’ve got an income (or some money stuffed away somewhere) to survive for a few months or years, until you’ve got your business up and running. Paperwork can take a lot of time; we’ve met too many people who would tell us how much time a proces
  6. Party with moderation. But don’t forget to party! 
    I think most of my family think I’m on permanent vacation here in Spain. It might just be that my Facebook profile reflects just that – there’s barbecues and parties, nice views and almond blossom, trips to the beach and to Barcelona,… Underneath all that however, there’s a lot of hard work. I still work as a personal assistant, and in between that I’m caring for my veggies and trees (and cooking, and cleaning); Axel spends most of his time building stuff (and he does a lot of cooking and cleaning as well). However weird, it is true that our social life is much busier now we live in the campo than when we used to live in Amsterdam; but it’s not a vacation…
    On the other side, we have found the social aspect of living here is very important. When we get together with neighbours and friends, we get to talk about collaborations, exchange phone numbers from people who could help us out with stuff, meet other neighbours, often also exchange produce off the land.
  7. Rent or vacation before you buy / build
    This is advice I read on a forum – and it turns out it’s golden… if you’ve got the time and the money, rent something in the region you want to move to, or find yourself a nice place (maybe a rental house or a local bed & breakfast) you can go to whenever you like. Be sure to visit throughout the year, so you can get a feel of the seasons and so you’re sure you like the area.
    If you already bought some land, it pays off to get to know it before building stuff on it; see how sun and irrigation work, where you’ve got the nicest view and the least cold wind (in winter) but a nice cool breeze in summer.
  8. Rent smart
    Most people we know around here, came here before (or while) they started building a house to live in. Most of them would start by renting a house in the village. Almost all of the people we know who were planning to rent until their house was finished, ended up staying in that rental house months (or even years) longer than they were planning to. Counting not only rent, but water and electricity as well, this is a big dent in the budget… Take this into account. It might save you a lot of money to put a caravan or yurt on your land, or restore an existing building like we did.
    The place you’ll be renting a house in, is important as well; we had a little house in the village of Lledo from October to July. Unfortunately, Lledo only has 1 shop, which is open daily for about 3 hours; if we wanted bread in the morning, go to the butchers, have a drink at the bar,… that would mean taking the car to another village.
    Distance to your finca is important to; friends of ours had a very nice apartment in a town nearby – but it would take them about 40 minutes to drive to the finca (and 40 minutes back as well). Moving to a village house only 10 minutes from their finca surely made their lives easier. And moving to your own finca makes everybody’s lives happier.
  9. Cheap, good and quick
    A carpenter once told me that if I wanted to have things done cheap, good and quick, I should pick 2 or just compromise; it’s not possible to have all 3 to perfection. I think he was right.
    When an internet article shows you how a guy built a house “for free”, they forget to mention how he spent years and years collecting the building materials. When a construction company promises you to build your house in no time, the finishing might not be to your standards. When things seem too good to be true, they probably are.
  10. Making money while living off the grid
    I’m lucky enough to have an online job – I work as a personal assistant, do some translation work from time to time and hope to be able to do more writing in the years that come. Not everybody is that lucky, and we often meet people who wonder what they’re going to do here.
    If you have some kind of income (a pension?) or some money stacked away, you might not need to find a way to make money. Living off the grid can be very cheap – you can grow your own food, barter more food for stuff you make or services you provide, and think of how much money you save by not paying for electricity, water, parties and events.
    If you do need to make an income, don’t think opening up a hotel / B&B is the only way you could do that; it seems like every newcomer around here wants to open a “casa rural”, while there are many other services much sought after that don’t require such an investment.
  11. Choose your location… and your neighbours.
    When giving you information about where to buy, most people or articles will talk about the properties of the land (size, use, soil, distance to road and villages,..), the climate, the laws of the region you’re buying in,… Not many will stress the importance of good neighbours.
    When living in a regular setting – in a city, village or suburb in the Western world -, you will probably get into contact with lots of people. There’s friends and family, colleagues at work, maybe other parents at school if you’ve got children,… You more or less get to choose with whom you spend most of your free time. When living off the grid, you’re much more dependent on your neighbours; some weeks, they will be the only ones you see. When you need some help moving a rock or need to borrow some tools, it’s good to be in a place where people are friendly and welcoming! Our neighbour Enrique taught me how to grow vegetables the traditional way, Dan helped Axel build the bathroom and the cellar – and last year when I was looking for a tool to pick my figs with, Caspe offered me his ladder. Not quite what I had in mind, but still very sweet of him! We really feel like we’re not alone in this here.
Our "maset" - the converted stable we lived in before the big house was finished.

Our “maset” – the converted stable we lived in before the big house was finished. Such fond memories… 

Wherever you are, whoever your neighbours are, whatever you are doing there, the quickest way to feel at home is probably to get yourself (a little) integrated into the community. When in Rome and such; learn the language (if you moved abroad), go to events, say hello to everyone you meet (it might just be a neighbour you haven’t met yet). It helps to have young children in school or to volunteer in a local organisation. You’ll probably always be the stranger around here, but others will appreciate you making the effort.

Reset and try again

In most ways, I consider our lives here a big success. We couldn’t be happier, we’re “living the dream”, and I’m not going to bother you (again) with how beautiful it is here and how much the sunshines makes each day more glorious.

However, it’s not like everything is going perfectly. At times, it seems like we’re building failure upon failure. Examples? We have plenty of those. When your zucchini fail to appear, and your neighbour just laughs at your attempts to grow organic tomatoes. When you can literally can not find a single olive hanging off your olive trees. When you have other priorities in spring, and just don’t get enough things planted to feed you and your housemates as planned. When you just can’t handle the heat for days and days in a row. When the tiles just fall off the stairs. When there are no bees around to fertilise your garden. When you do your best living and working with a couple of volunteers who hardly speak any English (or other common languages), and they just end up hating you. When you keep spraining your ankle (and don’t really get to give it a rest). When your self made “almond milk” turns out to be this white watery liquid with a lot of must at the bottom. When you make a (very very stupid) mistake and the chickens all get killed.

Of course, my first reaction is to blame myself  (in many cases, it is my fault and nobody else’s) and feel bad about the whole thing. Turns out that doesn’t really help.

So the only option left, is “reset and try again”… Failure is everything those mushy quotes say it is – we’ve made mistakes (we’re making them all the time!), and those would really be failures if we didn’t learn from it, or if we didn’t try again. Now it’s time to kick out a few of the original plans, and instead… We sit down. Take a deep breath. Give ourselves some credit for we’ve realised already in such a small time – and tackle what really needs to be done in the weeks to come. And after that, we’ll think some more: make new plans, decide on other projects, do what we think we should do at that time. Live life by the moment, instead of letting our dreams be broken by unrealistic expectations. Cut ourselves some slack, take some time off. Maybe try and get some more sleep.

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And most of all, think about all the things that are not going wrong. This summer, we’ve had some great guests already – old and new friends, long lost (or never lost) family members. We’ve had super volunteers as well – always ready to pitch in and really help out whenever necessary. We’re finally making stuff: hummus with our own chickpeas, mustard from our own seeds, our olives are tasting amazingly good, marzipan from our left over almonds getting made as we speak, made amaretto last week, planning to make fresh “tinto de verano” tonight. More and more things are getting finished: the last step of the outside stairs is finally there, our current workaway-volunteers are grouting the last bit of inside tiles that still needed to be done, we’re getting help on Friday to finish the wall around the water deposit,… And then there’s the shooting stars in this amazing black night sky… they really make you forget everything else.

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Bruno Duran / GeoPixel organise stargazing nights in a few different places, now the Perseids are coming through again.

Permaculture basics

I’ve been wanting to write an introductory post to permaculture for months now. There are thousands of articles online about it already, probably even more on “agroforestry” or “regenerative agriculture” and other techniques which are closely related or seen by some as an integral part of agriculture. I’m writing this as a tiny introduction, so in future posts I can write more about this; I would love to share specific techniques or ideas I’m experimenting with, write about the social aspects of permaculture or talk more about off-grid lifestyle… so consider this a bit of a background story.

Permaculture is a set of design principles and techniques that aim at producing, cultivating and using things in a sustainable way, all the while working with nature instead of against it. To me, it’s mainly a way to minimise input (work, money and materials) while maximising the output. It can be put into practice in very small spaces (an apartment balcony for instance) to very large scale (big farms). Permaculture mimics patterns and features from nature: growing different plants together so they can help each other, creating systems including several elements at the same time, accounting for wind direction and sun inclination, and many more.

A lot of people practise permaculture without knowing it or without wanting to call it that. To some, it has a hippie or extremely green connotation (especially when words and expressions like “holistic”, “care for to the earth” or “synergy” are used). It’s taught at university in many countries; used as a way to re-green desert or depleted pieces of land; a growing number of people are using permaculture (or aspects of it) at home in order to provide for their family or community. There are astonishing examples of what it can do on large scale, the only downside being that it takes quite some time and effort to set up – the average permaculture property will take 5 to 7 years to start producing enough to get some return on investment.

Permaculture is not new or innovative; it mainly assembles techniques and ideas that have been around for a long time. And as the permaculture movement grows, new inventions pop up from time to time as well.

How do we implement permaculture at Mas del Encanto?

Every permaculture project starts off with a design. I made a first draft for our property as a homework assignment for my permaculture design course; we’ve made a few changes since then, but the main thing is still the same. I divided our property into zones, zone 1 being the zone closest to the house, where we’d spend most time and have the things we’d spend most time around; zone 1 being the wilderness zone, where we wouldn’t touch the forest.
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The first permaculture design for our property, there’s the different coloured zones and a few buildings and ponds

Then there’s soil; you can’t keep animals, grow vegetables or produce fruit when your soil is no good. At this moment we’re getting manure from our neighbours’ horses, but some time in the future we hope our own animals will produce enough to add to our compost and build up rich soil. We make sure we rotate plants (& animals) on our land so the soil gets richer season after season, instead of being depleted and needing lots of fertiliser like in traditional agriculture.
We also don’t use chemical pesticides; we use specific plants to deter certain pests and we try to attract the right animals to our land, which will feed on the “bad bugs” and make sure our veggies survive.
The terraces to the east of our finca (the barranco or dry river) are being turned into a so-called food forest or forest garden. We’ve planted many fruit and nut trees already, there are some berry bushes in between them and we’ll keep adding vegetables and edible plants, while at the same time working to make the soil better. We select the plants carefully so they will be able to help each other; for instance there’s legumes that put nitrogen in the soil, trees provide support for climbing plants (beans and tomatoes for now, hopefully grape- and other vines in the future), and the big leaves of pumpkin, squash and zucchini plants provide shade on the ground so the soil doesn’t get baked by the sun. We plant certain flowers to attract pollinating insects, and plant other plants to keep pests and flies away from our vegetables.
Chickpeas looking pretty

Chickpeas looking pretty tasty

Chickens are very important in most permaculture designs; with little input, they have a lot of output. Our chickens take care of bugs and weeds, and in exchange they give us daily eggs and a lot of poo (fertiliser) – and occasionally we’ll get to eat one of the surplus roosters. Although or chickens have a set run for now, we built them a mobile chicken coop so in the spring and the fall, we can drive them to different areas of our land to “clean up” the area: eat the weeds, scratch up the soil, get the whole thing ready for planting. We plan to implement more animals as working elements in our design; we’ll need grazers to keep the grass short, maybe one day some goats to eat weeds and make us cheese, and (who knows) a pony so we won’t need a tractor… There are plans for beehives, an insect hotel and maybe a bit of vermiculture (worm composting). So many plans, we’ll need quite a lot of time to implement them all!
Hills & trenches

Hills & trenches (with mustard and beans)

The way you manage waterflow on your property to minimise costs and effort but maximise the outcome (irrigation), is a very important aspect of permaculture. We started on waterworks here and there on our land; we made trenches around many trees to catch more water when it rains, dug canals in the barranco so the waterflow gets redirected to a pond, and all the rainwater from the roof of our house goes to one point where one day, we’d like to have a natural swimming pool. Hopefully this fall we’ll get to rent a digger to do some landscaping around the house as well.
We know we have many, many more years to come before we can get our little farm to its full potential – but we have so many inspiring examples, challenging ideas and so much time before us that we’re very much looking forward to the potential results.

A few videos for further watching

http://www.geofflawtononline.com/ – Geoff Lawton has tons and tons of videos on all things permaculture. You only need to register (it’s free) to watch them.

Green Gold, a fascinating and eye-opening documentary by John D. Liu about re-greening deserts around the world. Worth sitting down for. It’s also got a very positive message to oppose the defeatism of global warming…

A Farm for the Future, a fascinating documentary by Rebecca Hosking about farming in the UK. It not only explains what’s wrong with relying on fossil fuels and synthetic fertilisers, but it also talks about the many alternatives. The images around minute 25:00 show exactly what the problem is with plowing and killing the soil, these are things that cannot be unseen. And as a bonus, it features the late Patrick Whitefield.