First Six Years of the Garden

Year One in the Garden

We moved here in May 2013, into the cabin we built, and in the winter of 2014 we cleared about an acre of straggly pines, from a gentle south facing slope to the west of where we were renovating the old house.

Pines cleared for the garden, November 2013

Situating the garden was a big decision. We considered putting it closer to the house, which would have been more convenient, but it wasn’t feasible with all the building work going on. These pines were planted too close together and weren’t very healthy, but they had protected the soil beneath with a good layer of pine needles and other organic matter. There was a small creek the other side of the pines, which we thought we might be able to divert for water, but unfortunately it dried up after we cut down the trees and the soil was heavily compacted by the machinery. Since those early days we’ve learned a great deal about water management for the garden, mulching and improving the soil.

The situation of the garden has given us great pleasure – the views are amazing. In the winter of 2018, after we’d finally cleared the rubble from the house renovation we put in some salad beds and tomato trellises closer to the house. That was a good move as we were able to put in better soil and it’s easier to take care of the more tender plants.

In the summer of 2014, we began laying out terraces using the chestnut beams from the old house. We then covered the ground with straw for the winter.

West view, summer 2014
East view, summer 2014
South view, summer 2014

We had our first retreat in August 2014, with some great people and a lot of fun, including hay rolling from the field the other side of the house to the garden.

The hay-rolling race, August 2014

That first year we experimented with the Fukuoka method of natural farming. It was a near total failure. Perhaps it might work better in more fertile soil, or at least a garden that wasn’t already well-established with brambles and weeds. Anything that did sprout, was strangled or trampled before I could find it.

Our very first harvest was of knobbly carrots in September 2014, which was when we realized that our compacted clay soil needed some TLC.

Our very first crop of knobbly carrots, September 2014

Year Two in the Garden

Over the winter of 2014/15 we dug out the natural pool a bit more and began laying out the beds.

South view, with larger pool, February 2015

We also dug swales, in an attempt to keep more water in the soil. This was partly because we moved here in the wettest spring for 70 years! The track was a gushing wellie-deep river and the ground floor of the old house was flooded out. We were concerned about moving water away from the house and thought it would be a good idea to move it to the garden. So we dug ditches, put in drainage pipes and dug swales – then we had a drought.

It was somewhat gratifying to see the swales fill up in the spring of 2018, but we had a lot more work to do to keep sufficient water in the ground. We’ve lost too many young trees to drought. We’ve been off-grid since 2018, running on solar with a back-up generator and the system works really well, except for the fact that it’s a challenge to water the garden enough in the evening as the sun is going down. This year (2019) Dean put in a water tank that can be filled during the day, with a gravity feed water system for the garden that can be run anytime.

Full swale, March 2018

In 2015 we had broad beans, courgettes, tomatoes, carrots, broccoli and some potatoes. We would have had more potatoes and corn too, but the wild boar came and ate it all! After that, we had to fence in the garden to keep them out.

In the spring of 2015 we put in an asparagus bed and tasted our first asparagus in May 2018. Fresh asparagus, picked from the garden and tossed in a little oil and grilled, served with a sprinkle of salt, is nothing like you buy in a supermarket. In fact, all our home-grown really does taste better and is more satisfying.

Freshly picked asparagus

Year Three in the Garden

By 2016, I was beginning to think that I might have been a bit over-ambitious regarding the productivity of a food forest/permaculture garden. This was nothing like suburban gardening. The main tenet of permaculture is that you work less if you work with nature, and whilst that is true, the reality of it is entirely context dependent….and with clay soil, there is no avoiding hard graft. We love blackberries, but it took us two years to dig them out of the beds and they are still springing up all over the paths in between. As we are surrounded by woods and fields, there is never a shortage of opportunistic weeds. Yes, a weed is just another plant in the wrong place, but by the time we finished weeding one bed, the next one was smothered. The digging meditation is an excellent way to root out those unwanted suckers whenever they show – as above, so below!

We made the decision not to use manure, after realizing that I’d had enough of dealing with other people’s shit! It’s been a real challenge getting enough organic material in the soil, but I felt that using too much cow manure would upset the balance of the soil and bring in too many parasites. Although our yields were low initially, we have not had problems with parasites, bugs and slugs. We are now using indigenous microorganisms and just starting with biochar, and it’s working well. Technically, I would say our garden is a mix of organic polyculture and permaculture, not that it matters what you call it if it works!

Year three was the hardest year – lots of effort and not so much return. We decided to bring in some fresh energy with some summer volunteers.

Year Four in the Garden

Year four was more hard work, mulching, weeding and watering. The swales were not sufficient and we decided to test an exuding hose system. It worked well enough, but we needed to put in more lines. Getting more water to the garden was becoming a priority. We put a pump in the shallow well in the barn (that had been the only well water supply for the previous owners, the bucket and chain were still here) and ran a pipe to the garden. That well ran dry in August. 2016 was technically a drought here, with a relatively dry winter and spring and no rain at all in the summer. We needed a better solution, but it would have to wait for another year.

On the plus side, the volunteers that year were wonderful. Their work enabled us to catch up and even get ahead of the game, enjoy some excellent company and share the peace and beauty of this place with a lovely young couple. For them, the cabin and surroundings were the perfect getaway and space for intimacy, with each other and the land. They set the Greenwood Standard, that we ask of from prospective volunteers.

With the extra boost of energy, I fell in love with the garden again. We went into winter without a mess of weeds laughing in the wind! And Dean and Jacob set up the chicken run, so we could finally get chickens. (We can’t let the chickens free-range, as the dogs will kill them.)

Year Five in the Garden

More volunteers – also wonderful and now firm friends! This was the year we began to make real progress. The garden began to look like a garden, instead of a heart-wrenching effort to scratch some vegetables out of the earth. We began boxing off the downward side of the beds, so they would hold water more effectively and more weeding and mulching.

This was the year we got our greenhouse. And what a beauty it is, lovingly and creatively built by Marcus and Dean, using what we had left from the house, with purchased roof panels and rafters.

Our volunteers also collected seeds and set up a seed bank. Most of our vegetables are now from our own seed.

Salvage greenhouse

Year Six in the Garden

This year (2019) the garden is doing great! It’s providing us with almost all of our vegetables, everything except onions and potatoes. Potatoes are just a magnet for the wild boar and they are good and cheap to buy here. And onions just don’t do well in our soil.

I’ve started everything off in the greenhouse from our own seeds and planted out when the seedlings are strong enough. Sowing directly is still hit and miss and a bit of a waste of seeds and effort. But the greenhouse makes it all a pleasure. I can potter around when it’s cold and rainy and this year we had broad beans, cabbage, broccoli, beetroot and kale in spring. We’re eating lettuce, tomatoes, courgettes, aubergines, squash and garlic and I was able to give plants away. We’ll have fresh tomatoes through until early December, as some plants are in the greenhouse and frozen and dried all the way through to next summer. It’s August and I have kale, broccoli, cabbage and more beets in the greenhouse, ready to go out in a few weeks.

Striped aubergine that matures quickly
Garlic drying before being stored
Sweet corn
White fleshed peaches, planted in 2014
Second lot of beets this year (we love beets!)
Tomato trellises
Green tomatoes

The big project this year was the water tank and exuding hose irrigation for the garden. Dean got it finished by the end of May, just in time for the hot spell. It is a luxury. It’s a 10,000L tank and we have three water structuring disks in it to keep the water fresh. It means we can water the garden and run the dishwasher or have a shower at the same time – the kind of things you have to juggle when you’re off-grid. It’s also meant that I can begin to plant flowers around the house, as they need watering in the evening too.

Dean with the water tank for the garden

Of course, there’s always more to do, but I’m really happy with what we’ve learned and what we’ve achieved in six years!

Dreamcatcher Tomatoes

We finally got to put up the trellis for the tomatoes. We’ve wanted to get them closer to the house for a long time, but first we had to build the house and clear the rubble. That’s taken a few years.

We used abandoned yurt poles for the main supports and washing line, with a couple of hula hoops to make the trellis, because that’s what we had. the dreamcatcher weave is an easy way to make the trellis and it’s eye-catching too.

The boxed in beds have a mix of our own compost, forest mulch and biochar. We have cucumbers, aubergines and lettuce planted in between and I’ve just sown basil and nasturtiums. Not much to see yet, but they are growing fast and strong.

I’m using indigenous micro-organisms and chicken shit tea for fertilizer.

Bumper crop

This year (2019) was a bumper crop for tomatoes, despite a surprize hailstorm on 4th July that caused quite a bit of damage. I cut out the damaged stems and fruits and they just bounced back. The plants in the greenhouse will provide fresh tomatoes until the first frost, usually the last week of November or first week in December. I’m currently freezing and drying about a kilo of tomatoes a day and I expect that we’ll have enough to see us through until the first drop next year. That feels great, as I know exactly where these tomatoes have come from and that they’ve been grown without any chemicals and with structured water from our well.

In the past I’ve usually grown cherry tomatoes too, but I’ve come to the conclusion that they are a bit of a waste of space. We prefer big tasty, juicy tomatoes that we can eat in salads, use for cooking and dry for later. I started all the tomatoes from seed in a propagator box in the (unheated) greenhouse in mid- March. I’ve found that there’s nothing to be gained by starting them earlier, as they need the increasing light following the equinox to grow strong and healthy.

This year I sowed three types of tomato:

Corazon de Buey

The ‘ox heart’ is a Spanish heritage tomato – it’s big, juicy and delicious, with just the right balance of tart and sweet, firm-fleshed, few seeds and the best for salads.

The seeds germinated a bit later than the others, they like a bit more warmth and they were slow starters, but once they got going……

Mighty Corazon de Buey, just picked
Corazon de Buey tomato, sliced.

Mucha miel

Another Spanish heirloom variety, with a slightly ribbed, irregular shape and a rich sweet, flavour. It’s a large tomato, with attractive green stripes as it grows. Despite its size, it’s my favourite tomato for drying, as it isn’t quite as juicy as the others and dries just a bit quicker. – (This is important as an off-gridder.) The flavour intensifies when dried, especially with a bit of basil and we’ll have these with spring salads before next year’s new crop. It’s also a great salad tomato and is a prolific cropper.

Mucha miel and Rosa de Berne tomatoes

Rosa de Berne

Rosa de Berne is a Swiss heirloom tomato. It’s a great all-rounder, with a beautiful rose-pink colour and it’s really sweet and juicy. This is a very useful tomato as it is a heavy cropper and ripens early. It doesn’t have the acidity of the others, but it still tastes of tomato. In fact, all these tomatoes are intensely flavoursome.

This is a great tomato for cooking slightly and freezing for use in soups and stews in the winter, but will go nicely with salad too.

They are all winners!

Easy Five Star Chicken Coop

Greetings!

My name is Zubynelgenubi, Zubi to my friends. I’m a gallo piñeira and I’m the king of the five star chicken coop, that was made by my valet Mister D, following my instructions.

Zubynelgenubi

Mister D had a hard time finding a good design, one that would be relatively easy for him to make and that would meet the needs of me and the starlets. Mister D said that many of the designs on the internet either looked very pretty, like Dutch barns and New England houses, or like prisons. After much consultation, this is what we put together.

Chicken coop and run

The structure is made of waterproof board and the sheets were cut in half at the woodyard. That meant they could be fitted into the back of the truck easily. Mister D cut out the openings for the door at the front, the window, the side for the laying boxes and the larger door at the back. Mister D wanted to make the back door large enough so that he could clean out the coop easily. He then fixed the window flap and the door and attached the boards to the softwood battens, so that it could be fitted together in the pen.

We have a lovely large pen, with an open area and some woodland, with a secure fence around it. The fence is to keep the dogs and other predators out. There are foxes, wolves, weasels, stoats and wild boar around here. We also have a secure run with a roof on it attached to the coop. Mister D bolts the door on the run at night to keep us extra secure, but this way we can all come out and scratch around in the morning if he doesn’t get up on time to let us out. (You know, I do my best but sometimes I’m crowing for a good hour before we get let out. I wonder whether Mister D might be a bit deaf.)

We have flags and windmills around the pen – Matron calls it homestead hen party – but it is really to stop the young ones flying over the fence. It works most of the time, they see the flags flapping and the windmills whirring and it breaks their attention. We have had a couple of near misses, so I’m extra vigilant now. (This is before Mister D upgraded the coop.)

Homestead hen party

A key issue for us chickens is perches. We feel safe at night when we can perch above ground, as we still have the ancestral memories of roosting in trees to keep away from predators. Most chicken coops don’t have enough height, because we need to be able to jump up to the highest perch without banging our heads on the roof.

Our perches are made of natural wood fence posts – they are rounded and feel just like smooth logs. There’s two of them, which avoids aguements and gives me some peace in the house. They’re lovely and comfy to roost on. The nesting box is off to the side and gives the ladies some privacy when they go to pay the rent – two eggs a day.

Perches and nesting box in the chicken coop

These are two of my girls, Bridget and Blondie, out by the feeder. The feeding area is covered, to protect it from the rain. Mister D tried putting the feeder in the run once, but it attracted too many sparrows, who then couldn’t work out how to get out. We don’t mind sharing our food with sparrows and blackbirds, but we don’t want them in the house at night!

Bridget and Blondie at the feeder

We also have a cabbage swing, which is a lot of fun! That’s Blondie, Diana and Ginger you can see behind me – I am in charge of security as well and I’m not sure about that machine being pointed this way.

Zuby and the Starlets

We also have a beach hut. It was our first home and quite sweet, but not really big enough and it fell apart after the first year. It serves as another nesting option too, just in case some one needs extra privacy! The beach is where we have our dust baths, which is absolutely essential for our health and hygiene. Luckily, Mister D and Matron have a wood burning stove in the winter and they cook outside in the summer. Mister D then sieves the coal out and gives us lots of lovely wood ash. The tarp keeps it dry in the rain – come rain or shine we need our daily dust bath.

Zuby by the beach hut

I know lots of people don’t like to name their working animals, but it really makes life more enjoyable for us all. We are well aware of our place in the pecking order, so to speak, but a little bit of common courtesy goes a long way and it makes it much easier for us to communicate with you.

Salvage Greenhouse

DIY greenhouse from salvage

This was our first greenhouse effort:

Greenhouse wreckage

Several hundred euros, several hundred pieces to put together, eighty-five pages of instructions and fifteen minutes of wind!  We salvaged some bits of polycarbonate to make cold frames and the mice ate everything – now we have cats.

Next, we tried a walipini.  Walipinis don’t work in clay, with wet winters. The walls collapsed and we’re now using it as a pit for rubble from the house build.

Finally, a greenhouse to be proud of, from Dean and Marcus “Rockstar” of the North:

Salvage greenhouse

It’s not completely salvage, we bought the corrugated polyester and acrylic for the windows and the roof rafters. but the rest is made from leftover wood from other projects.  The front pillars are chestnut, leftover from the house.  We would not have been so ambitious as to use them ourselves, but Marcus said: what do you think about using those beams on the front?  It will be beautiful.  And it is.  The doors are salvaged from a collapsed yurt.

The first stage of the project was to rebuild the stone wall next to the barn.  It collapsed in a storm a couple of winters ago.  It happened just as we were contemplating going off-grid and the only bit of the wall that collapsed was right next to the electricity meter.  It was a huge mess.

Fallen wall

There wasn’t much space to work with and we were concerned that the foundation of the wall and the barn had been weakened by the electricity pillar – the wall was very unsteady.  So Marcus put in a buttress, using all the old stones and lime mortar.  It was his first stone wall and by the time he’d finished he could pick the perfect stone for each place just by instinct.

Rebuilding the stone wall

The part sticking out from the barn is an old bread oven, with the access in the barn – there are people around here that still use outside bread ovens – and a well.  The well in the barn was the only water for the house when we moved here, with a bucket on a chain.  We had originally thought about putting a separate roof over the bread oven and well and joining it to the green house, but Dean and Marcus decided that a single roof would be much better and we can’t use the bread oven anyway, as all our winter wood is in the barn.  We use the well in the barn for the garden, as it is shallow and doesn’t take as much electricity to run the pump as the deep well, but it also goes dry towards the end of summer, so we have to work on another irrigation system for the garden this winter.

Greenhouse beginnings

So, the frame went up:

The roof went on:

Greenhouse roof

And the windows in.

Greenhouse from the front

The greenhouse is well-sheltered.  It is on the north side of the wall, but open to the west and shaded by an oak tree in the summer.  Two of the windows open for ventilation, as we seem to go from cool to hot very quickly.  Spring is very short these days. My aim is to use it to get seedlings started earlier, although it is currently home to tomatoes that I repotted from the garden.  It’s December and we still have fresh tomatoes!  We have a small butane heater which we’ll use when the nights get colder.

Greenhouse bed in winter, with coriander, beets and artichokes

With love and thanks to Marcus and Miriam.

At the bus stop

Our Cob House

Growing up in London, I never dreamed that I would be able to build our own house.  I always wanted to and used to draw pictures of houses and design little towns when I was a kid, but London is just too expensive for that to have ever become a reality there.  It’s also not the kind of place for my dream house.  My dream house had to come from the land.  It had to be made of natural materials and I really didn’t want neighbours.

We bought this place in March 2013.  No one had lived here for many years and the old house was falling down, which was just what we wanted.  The unpaved access road, which was a river when we first saw the house, kept other prospective buyers away.  It was daunting at first.  We don’t have any building skills, we don’t know the rules here and our Spanish is limited but we decided to go for it. Our plan was to build an eco-house, using local, natural materials and built by a true craftsman, Mateu Ortoneda.  In part, this was a reaction to living in London and the brutal ugliness of the city – yes, parts of London are beautiful and we enjoyed living there for many years, but it is mostly grey, concrete and kebab shop signs. I craved natural beauty, organic lines and I wanted to live in a house that felt as though it was part of the land, rather than an assault on it.

It took us a while to find architects and a builder, but if we’d have tried to do it all ourselves we would still be looking at a pile of rubble, and we started building in August 2014 and we moved in June 2016.  It was then down to us to install the kitchen and finish the bathrooms, which we completed in January 2017.   Of course, there are still finishing touches to be made, but as people around here say: when you finish your house, you die!

The house is mostly cob, made from clay dug from our land, straw from our land and local sand.  Apart from the stone work and slate roof on the stone part of the house, all the work was done by one man, Mateu, with occasional labouring help.  We have restored part of the house in original stone and kept to the original footprint (more or less).  The shape is the same as the original house, but the style is totally original. Everything has been made by hand on site, including all the beams, pillars and roof slates, all from local materials.

Not only is the house incredibly beautiful and unique, but there is something very special about seeing it grow out of the ground at a very human scale and pace.  This is a large house and it would have been much quicker to build a smaller one, but we always have visitors through the summer, so we went as large as our budget would allow.  Mateu says that houses should be built to the natural scale that emerges from two men working together.  I think he’s right on that because this creates proportions that feel right and generate a sense of well-being.  In an ideal world, we would have local builders working with local materials as valued and respected craftsmen, creating homes that enhance the lives of their residents and beautify the natural environment.

We also went off-grid in June, when we moved in.  Our original plan was to have solar energy with a grid tie-in.  However, new laws in Spain make it mandatory for all grid customers to have smart meters by 2018 and grid customers with solar systems are to be penalised – it is more expensive to have solar and grid than to have solar alone, with huge fines for non-compliance.  We didn’t build a healthy, ecological house to have our brains fried by a smart meter, so we had no choice but to find another way.  It was a great decision.  Much of the information on the internet is designed to put people off, to make you think that you will have to lead a primitive life and this is just not true, in our experience.

I would say that the places where building a house like this is not affordable to sane, intelligent people with some wherewithal about them, is probably not the kind of place those people would want to live anyway.  And, of course, not everyone would want to live in this kind of house either, but the curious thing is that I didn’t know that this was what I wanted either, until we moved here.  The biggest shift and the biggest effort was in getting out of our old lives in London, it was like pulling ourselves out of quicksand.  After that, it was a breeze, with a few mighty gusts to deal with now and then.  The cabal puts a lot of effort into making it seem as though it is impossible for you to follow your dream and, as the result, most people don’t have a dream.  Even fewer go on to realize that, in reality, the dream is dreaming them.  Once you realize that – well, that’s for another post.

Off-grid living

Off-grid set-up

We went off-grid this summer to escape electrical enslavement and to be able to participate in the transmutation of the species. Yes, that’s right.  It’s not about saving money, but about participating in the path of Correction that includes the transmutation of the human species.  More about that here: Energy and Transmutation.

We’ve run two retreats with up to 13 visitors and have had no problems, so far. The winter will be different, but we don’t have visitors then and we have a back-up generator. Our set-up includes 10 x 250w panels and a 48v battery reserve, with two inverters.

Solar panels
Solar panels

Batteries and inverters
Batteries and inverters

The biggest challenge for us, by far, was working out our needs. Eventually, we bought a monitor from Efergy, so that we could track the actual usage of appliances over a month or so. It’s impossible to work this out from the information provided by manufacturers. Using online calculators gave us a consumption figure of around four times more than we actually use and it would have made the system prohibitively expensive if we had gone with this.

Why go off-grid?

The decision for us was really simple: Spain has made it mandatory for every household to have a smart-meter by 2018. This might change, if Spain ever manages to elect a government that represents the interests of the people, but I’m not going to make my health and sanity subject to political fantasy. Smart meters are deadly. I posted about this a while back: Enslavement by smart meter and my position has only toughened up on this point. As I’ve decreased my exposure to the grid, the more I’ve come to realize how harmful electricity is – especially with regarding to weakening the willpower of anyone within its field.

Consider this:

Delgado’s experiments took place in the 1960s. He proved how an electrical stimulation to the bull’s brain via an implant caused the charging bull to turn to the right and trot away from the scientist in the ring. In a later experiment he caused the same bull to charge off a cliff. He then went onto prove how implants were not necessary and that behaviour could be modified through the use of low power pulsating magnetic fields. Smart meters produce low energy pulsating magnetic fields.

Controlling the behaviour of the majority of the human inhabitants of planet earth has been a wet-dream of the ruling cabal for quite a while and they’ve put in a lot of effort into making it a reality. Here is a brief summary of electromagnetic mind-control experiments over the past 50 years.

From the physical health perspective, it is undeniable that smart meters, wifi and dirty electricity are a huge contributing factor to most of the modern diseases we face.  For anyone who is able to view their life as something beyond their current bodily experience, EMF pollution is a disaster of epic proportions – but not insurmountable.

Transmutation originates from the Planetary Animal Mother and surviving the transition depends on how you live, not in what you read, think or say.