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

Water Management and Dealing with Your Own Shit

Enough of everyone else’s shit yet?

The first year here, our neighbour farmer dumped a trailer load of cow manure on the garden, when I wasn’t around, and told my husband that I asked for it! Well, that was an error of communication, but it really brought it home to me in the most graphic way: I had to be really clear that I wasn’t going to take anyone else’s shit anymore. I have plenty enough of my own. The technical term is ‘humanure.’

SIGNS OF CORRECTION

Within four hours of my having written, “I wasn’t going to take anyone else’s shit anymore” a dear friend posted this on Facebook.

When you’ve had enough of everyone else’s shit.

 

Now, I haven’t spoken with this friend in a few months and I hadn’t planned on writing about the farmer dumping the cow manure. This friend does not follow the Sophianic Narrative either, although he is a sovereign individual and lives a natural lifestyle. So what did this little ‘coincidence’ signify to me? It’s PAM banging on the drum of the endopsyche – don’t you feel it too? Haven’t you had enough of this shit?

 

Sophia has agency. She’s had it since the summer of 2016. This means She is using all means available to get your attention – it doesn’t matter to Her whether you know She exists or not; you are still one of Her children. For those of us in PT, She’s having a bit of fun, showing that She can play with the search engines. She can eliminate the xenosh and their collaborators at any time, of course, but our wise and generous mother is giving us the opportunity to participate in that pleasure with Her and that necessitates refusing to take on other people’s shit and dealing with your own.

mulching

The first principle of Gaian Permaculture, as I defined it is: feed the soil. But what do you feed a goddess? Obviously, She eats anything, the earth is a closed system and everything is ultimately recycled, but some things are clearly more beneficial to the garden than others.

So, that leads right back to dealing with your own shit. We do that quite literally here. All our ‘humanure’ goes on the garden, along with waste from the chicken coop and all our vegetable peelings etc. (after they’ve been composted for a year or so). Some one told us that the best way to make a bed was to dig the top layer of topsoil away and put in a layer of straw and a layer of compost, then put the topsoil back. We’ve done that on a couple of beds this winter and have just planted potatoes and brassicas.

I’m not saying compost toilets and ‘humanure’ for everyone, but it is what we need to do to live here and it’s really not so bad.  Flushing toilets seem quite strange to me now. We have compost toilets and a tree-bog (the loo with a view), no flushing toilets, no municipal sewage. (We have a reed bed for grey water.) And it’s quite obvious how dealing with your own shit has benefits.  I just noticed that the asparagus is coming up already!

Tree bog – known as: the loo with a view

Our indoor compost toilet

The soil looks good this year, finally. It’s taken four years, to get to the point where we are growing around half of all our vegetables and that will increase now we know more about what works and what doesn’t. I feel that it’s paid off taking it slowly and not giving the soil ‘indigestion’ by making improvements too rapidly. A friend nearby got his soil to what seemed like a perfect state within two years, but then the mice moved in to that lovely soft, rich warm soil and ate everything. He still hasn’t got rid of them. In using our own waste to feed the earth, we have moved at the right pace for the biochemical relationship between us and the soil to develop; we are giving the soil all the information and nutrients it needs, to give us exactly what we need in terms of medicine and nourishment.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Hippocrates

We tried mulching with wood chips on several of the beds two years ago. They are good for weed suppression, but there’s no tree cutting company around here, so we had to go and get them from the wood yard. This was a lot of work and we ended up with lots of hard wood and it takes too long to break down. We will eventually use wood chips for the paths – after we’ve dug up all the brambles – but they didn’t really work on the beds.

Our main source of mulch is leaf mulch from the oak woods close by and grass cuttings in the spring and summer.

We started the garden in the winter of 2014, by clearing some straggly pines over about an acre, laying out beds and digging in ditches and swales and putting in a series of drainage pipes. This is after we cleared the trees and as we started laying out the beds with beams from the old house. We did a lot of digging.

Making the beds

I used to call the garden the ‘food forest’, rather optimistically. Four years later, it’s clear that what we are doing here is technically more organic polyculture than permaculture, but let’s not quibble over terms. Now, we just call it the garden – ‘la huerta’ as they say here.  We haven’t been able to work on the garden as much as we would have liked, we also had a house to build and retreats to run and it was a big help to have some volunteers last summer, but we are making steady progress.

 

water management: Swales, ditches and drainage

The year we moved here, in 2013, was said to be the wettest in 70 years. It rained torrentially, more or less continuously, from January to May. The track to our house was an ‘over-the-top-of-your-wellies’ river and the mud was relentless. As the soil here is clay, we put in a lot of effort over the following year, digging ditches and swales and putting in drainage, to prevent water-logging. Then we had very little rain, with drought conditions in much of Galicia for the next three years.

Last year was very hard on the garden, with a highly unusual late frost at the end of April, that wiped out the grapes, all our fruit and potatoes, followed by more drought. We lost quite a few trees too. We put in extruding hose, which worked quite well, but will need to be supplemented with water storage tanks, as we can’t run the water for the garden and water in the house at the same time (we are now off-grid). We were almost to the point of filling in the swales, as they were just filling up with weeds, when this year the rain returned. Two weeks ago the reservoirs were all 90% full, and it’s still raining. We have more than enough rain to get us through the summer now, but we really need the rain to stop so we can get out and do some planting.  This summer we will need to do some swale maintenance.

Still, what a joy it is to see our swales and drainage working properly. All that work finally paid off!

We put a drain across the track and this takes the run-off in a buried pipe 80M or so down to the pool. The rain from the green roof of the house joins this pipe and also goes to the pool, you can just see it to the left of the deck. The pool dried up completely last summer, although the summer before people were able to swim in it. If it dries up, that’s it, as we’re not going to pump water from the well into the pool.

Track drainage

Full pool

 

The swales are filled from a ditch across the brow of the hill and they are linked by drainage pipes that also go down to the other end of the pool.

Full swale

Swale overflow drain

 

The overflow from the pool goes to the little creek at the bottom of our property. One day, we’d like to clear the creek, to help it flow better, it’s really overgrown at the moment.

Creek

 

In completion with Matangi, March 2018

Water for the Food Forest

Water for the Food Forest

2015 was an exceptionally hot and dry year here.  The 2014/15 winter was dry and the only rain we had until November was on our Beltane Retreat.  At one point in the summer we thought our deep well had run dry and we became very conscious of the water we were using. We are even more conscious of our water usage now, as we are going off-grid this summer and we aren’t on municipal water – we need to pump our own water.

I used to take water for granted when we lived in London, but water awareness was one of Gaia-Sophia’s first lessons here.  First, the well ran dry in the house we rented, even though the roof leaked into our bed when it rained!  Then when we moved here we had no water in the cabin for a month and that summer, 2013, the gravity well ran dry.  We had another month of driving 10 miles to fill up at the public font that brings water down from the mountains.  Many people in Spain still use mountain water for drinking that comes from the public fonts that are all over Spain.

The gravity well is our reserve well as it doesn’t need electricity to run.  It’s up the hill from the house and the cabin and we laid a pipe so it flows down the hill when we need it.  It’s all we had until we put in a deep well and it only ran dry because we lost a lot of water when we put in the pipe.  It just doesn’t have enough pressure to support all our needs when we have guests, or to water the garden.  So, last summer we opened up the other well that is in the barn.  This is about 15M deep, so we could put in a less powerful pump and the plan was to use that to water the food forest.  That well ran dry too!  The new plan is not to water the food forest.

Most farmers around here don’t irrigate their fields.  They grow potatoes, cabbages, pumpkins and corn and every year they plough in cow manure to get rid of weeds and keep in moisture.  We are not ploughing and we’re not using cow manure.  Cow manure is full of weed seeds and creates more work than benefits.  Our strategy involves swales, ditches, woodchips and trees.

The Lie of the Land

Our food forest is on a gentle south facing slope.  Two years ago we cleared the straggly pines that were there there and began the process of laying out beds and terracing the slopes.  We had the use of a digger for the initial clearing and to lay out the old chestnut beams that were in the house to make the terraces.  The terraces are not formal and not dug out; we are just using the beams to support the downhill side of the beds as we slowly build them up over time with mulch and wood chips.  The aim is to retain rain water and minimize soil erosion from water running down the slope. We’ve done most of the rest of the work by hand, mostly just Dean and I, with a few hours here and there from various visitors.

We get around 100cm of rain in a year, which should be plenty to keep the garden growing throughout the year – if we can keep it in the ground!  The wettest months are November and March, but we can get showers throughout the year and cloudbursts in late summer.  This province, Lugo, is named after Lugo the Celtic god who wielded a spear of lightning.  Lughnasa, the first week of August (thereabouts) is when he brings lightening and thunderstorms to recharge the earth.  Lugh is a Bearer of the Grail.

Our soil is mineral rich, because no one has farmed here for generations.  Before the pines were planted about 20 years ago it would have been cleared pasture for cows and before that it would have been native oak and chestnut woods, that still exist in these parts.  If you turn your back for five minutes in a field around here, an oak tree will shoot up!  However, the soil is solid clay and without the pines providing shade and a constant supply of mulch, it turns to concrete in the summer when the sun beats down.  It’s a beautiful and sheltered location, but it’s very hard on seedlings.

Trees

We have planted about 50 fruit and nut trees so far.  We lost all the hazelnut trees last summer, as the hosepipe wouldn’t reach them, but all the other trees survived.  Mature trees are expert water managers.  A mature fruit tree can drink nearly 200L of water a day and our aim is to keep as much water in the soil as we can, so that we can minimize watering in the dry months.  It might take us a few years to get to that point, as the trees are still young and not rooted deeply enough, but that’s our aim.

Trees are intelligent beings.  You might not be able to hold a conversation with them, but that is just as true for many human creatures.  If you plant a tree in the right place and support it when young, with the minimum intervention, it will adjust its needs to whatever the Planetary Animal Mother provides.  So last year many of the trees dropped their leaves to conserve water because of the drought, but their roots were safe and they are already budding this year, after a mild wet winter.  Trees collect rain and transmit it into the soil.  It has been shown that broadleaved trees intercept blowing rain and conduct it down the branches and trunk to the soil.  The roots then provide a path which carries the rainwater into the deeper soil layers very quickly.  Our indigenous species like ash, alder, chestnut, willow, birch, oak, elm and many hedgerow shrubs are known to be particularly effective even in heavy clay soils, like ours.  Coniferous trees are less effective at catching rainwater.  Trees reduce flooding and prevent soil erosion, as well as providing shade and evening out the temperature extremes.

Ditches and Swales

Everyone knows what a ditch is and a swale looks like a ditch, except it runs across the contour of the land, rather than down it.  A ditch moves water away from where it’s not wanted and a swale retains water where it’s needed.

Swale diagram

 We are using a combination of ditches and swales, to move rain water away from a very waterlogged area and into the swales.  The swales hold more water than would stay on the surface and allow it to gradually percolate downhill below the topsoil, reducing evaporation and encouraging strong plant roots as they reach down for the water.

A full swale
A full swale

We have dug three rows of swales across the slope, fed by the ditch, so that the parts of the food forest that were dry now have water leeching below the surface.  Initially, we put old wood in the swales, as I’d read that the wood preserves the moisture and prevents more evaporation.  I thought it might mean less mosquitoes in summer too.  But the swales are so full that with the wood that they overflow all over the beds, so we are making adjustments.  It also encourages brambles to fill the swales, as they love old wood.  We will probably shore up the downhill side with planks over time, as this will prevent wood chips and mulch from filling the swales.

Mulching and wood chips

If you walk in the woods anywhere around here, the earth is protected by a thick mantle of rich, dark leaf mulch.  This is what the food forest was like before we cleared the trees, which stripped off and compacted the mulch layer.  Mama does not like to be seen naked, so the weeds then grow prolifically to cover the bare soil.  We laid thick layers of hay from the fields when they were cut, to keep the earth covered and some of the weeds away, but it doesn’t work as well for growing as wood chips and mulch, so we strip it away when we make the beds.  Hay works well to cover empty beds over winter, to keep them weed free and warm ready for planting in spring.  It tends to get fungus easily, so I prefer wood chips.

Mulching reduces evaporation so that the soil stays moist in summer.  You can mulch with almost any natural material that you can lay down in layers, like cardboard, old wool carpet or straw.  However, some materials take longer to break down than others, so if you want to plant shortly after mulching, wood chips are hard to beat.  We haven’t got all the beds covered yet.  There’s no tree-cutting service anywhere near us and Dean has to drive to the wood yard 10km away and load up the truck, then we have to wheelbarrow it into place.  It’s laborious, but the earth and the plants will thank us for it.

Our aim is to minimize our work in the garden and maximize our enjoyment and yield.  It’s a two hour job to water the garden with a hosepipe and when we go off-grid that means two hours of running the pump!  Working with nature to manage our water makes so much more sense.

 

 

 

 

 

St John’s Wort

St John’s Wort, Hypericum perforatum, is another of my favourite healing plants.

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It grows all over around here, more abundantly each year.  The healing plants are like that, the more they are appreciated, the more they grow.  St Johns Wort is said to be named after St John, because it begins flowering on St John’s day, the 24th June.  The bright yellow flowers look like the sun, star-shaped with stamens shooting out like tiny sun rays.

From Matthew Woods, The Earthwise Herbal

“It is best known as a first aid remedy for injuries to nerves—and is suited to injuries to parts rich in nerves (eye, fingertips, spine) where there are sharp, shooting pains, inflammation along nerves, acute sensitivity and pain, blood poisoning from injuries to fingers and toes (red stripes up the extremities), and clonic spasms and convulsions from inflamed nerves. Hypericum was considered a specific for tetanic convulsions in homeopathy

It is a fixture of Russian herbalism and medicine (which are not separate in that country). Russian indications are therefore extensive. It is considered to be a “liver remedy” and thus a “detoxifier.” We get some of these indications from Alma Hutchins and Fred Siciliano, OMD. The latter studied with Sydney Yudin, a Russian trained doctor of botanical medicine. Hypericum with Aloe powder (the purgative) is a deep detoxifier, according to Hutchins (1992, 258). Watch the urine: “Whole flakes of morbid matter are sometimes washed away with it.” St. John’s wort is particularly called for in cases where the innervations of the digestive tract, the autonomic, are weak and there is tension from a toxic liver—“liver overpowering the spleen” (Siciliano).

St. John’s wort and wood betony were the two most important remedies for psychiatric problems in the Middle Ages—what were then called the ill-effects of witchcraft and demons. Both plants strengthen the enteric brain, seat of the instincts, and it is in this manner that they “drive away evil influences”—the person gets stronger, so as not to fall under the domination of untoward people. Today, Hypericum is used for depression and anxiety. The exact mechanisms are uncertain, but it does not seem to be an MAO inhibitor.”

St John’s Wort for the nervous system

Many studies show that that the central nervous system is particularly affected by microwaves and ELF radiation, this map of EMF and the nervous system gives you a good overview of the issue and relevant studies. Many health practitioners who are not bought off by big pharma are now finding EMF pollution to be the root cause of all modern disease. It is impossible to escape EMF pollution and it has become a factor in our transmutation to Anthropos 11, whether we like it or not. Anyone who wants to remain healthy for as long as possible needs to reduce their EMF exposure in any way they can.  St John’s Wort has a special ability to support the nervous system and I find that a teaspoon of tincture through the winter months to be noticeably beneficial in maintaining calm alertness and mental clarity.

St John’s Wort is another healing plant that is associated with witchcraft.  I think that its proven ability to support the nervous system has a lot to do with its reputation for scaring away evil spirits and demons.  Anxiety make people susceptible to negative influence and the human imagination is good at creating demons.

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St John’s Wort tincture

The tincture couldn’t be easier to make.  Just gather the flowers and buds, not any that have turned brown, put them in a jar and fill it with 100 proof alcohol.  I use the local moonshine, orujo, which my neighbour makes.  It turns bright red almost immediately and I leave it in the sun for a few weeks and then filter out the flowers and throw them out on the ground.  It seems that the seeds are very robust and often grow the following year.

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I take a teaspoon of St Johns Wort tincture a day throughout the winter.  I use it at other times if I’m feeling particularly tense, upset or overwhelmed, or if I’m spending too much time at the computer. I like it because it doesn’t numb the feeling, it just enables the nervous system to cope with the extra strain more effectively.  It is a good pain reliever for pain associated with nerves, like sciatica and inflammation.  I have used the tincture and the salve in combination for these conditions.

It’s also good for dogs.  I’ve given it to the girls after they’ve been spayed, it is recommended post-surgery as it helps with tissue and nerve healing.  It’s also good for anxiety caused by fireworks and hunters.

St John’s Wort salve

Some of the flowers go into olive oil and some coconut oil, to be left in the sun for a couple of weeks.  The flowers in the olive oil go bright red and those in the coconut oil a pinky-red.

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I add beeswax to the St John’s Wort in olive oil to make a salve that will travel and can be kept for a while.  The St John’s Wort in coconut oil is excellent for burns, taking the pain out immediately and preventing blistering.  Although most oils should not be used on a fresh burn, coconut oil is the exception as it has a cooling effect.  It is also anti-microbial.  Both salves can be used topically for nerve pain, arthritis, shingles or any kind of inflammation and can be used on open wounds. I prefer yarrow for open wounds, unless there is bruising as well, in which case I’d use St John’s Wort.  It works just as effectively as arnica for bruising.  It also relives sunburn and frostbite.  I’ve read that some people have increased photo-sensitivity from using St John’s Wort, but I’ve not seen it in anyone myself.

I used St Johns Wort oil most spectacularly when I disturbed a wasp nest and was stung at least a dozen times and had a histamine overload.

I also keep some flowers dried flowers for tea on glum winter days.

Local medicine

As I’m plugged into the Planetary Animal Mother, I take it for granted that She wants me to be well and happy and that She has provided everything I need within walking distance to make it so.  Our ability to travel around and settle a long way from our indigenous homelands has made it harder for our mind-body systems, poisoned and attacked on so many fronts as they are, to access the innate self-healing with which we are endowed.  However, my experience here supports the notion that, if you are able to return to your ancestral homelands, your health will improve and the local medicine will be better than anything you can buy.  Especially if you make it yourself.

Update on wound healing with St John’s Wort

Our adopted dobermann Freya, was spayed last week.  The vets gave us a prescription for antibiotics, which we didn’t use.  Instead I gave Freya coconut oil with St John’s Wort, yarrow and cannabis for the first few days and rubbed the St John’s Wort in coconut oil on her surgical wound.  When we went back to the vet for her three-day check-up after the surgery, her temperature was normal and her wound was healing well with no sign of infection.

I used the St John’s Wort in coconut oil for the wound as it is anti-inflammatory and soothes nerves.  She hardly licked the wound at all and it healed very quickly.

 

 

 

Gardening with Woodchips

A couple of years ago we watched a documentary called Back to Eden.  It is an excellent permaculture documentary, that pioneers the use of woodchips in the garden.  If you can get over the Christian, Bible quoting dsitractions, the natural farming methods of Paul Gautschi are truly Goethean, based as they are on observation and contemplation of nature.

Our land is clay, and most people around here are dairy farmers. They grow potatoes, pumpkins, cabbage and corn and not much else.  The permculture sites always reference talking to your neighbours as a good source of information, but that’s only useful if you want to do as they do.  We do not want to plough up our land and cover it in cow shit.  Cow shit is full of seeds and you have to leave it for years before you can use it and ploughing destroys the mycelium network, through which the plants communicate. The Gautschi approach immediately appealed because this area is naturally temperate woodland – blink and an oak tree grows.  So do, brambles and weeds on any bare patch of land – the Planetary Animal Mother does not like to parade around naked!

We started the food forest in January 2014, by cutting down about an acre of straggly pines that had been planted too close together on a gentle south facing slope.  It took most of 2014 to clear the area and lay out some chestnut beams that came from the old house.  We covered the whole area with straw for the winter of 2014/15 as we didn’t have enough chips the and we needed to keep some of the weeds away. We have made raised beds that form terraces down the slope.  We put in swales and planted trees for the canopy layer in 2015.  The earth got terribly compressed by the wood cutter’s truck and the tractor for clearing the branches away.  We left most of the stumps in place as they will gradually break down and they keep some of the moisture in the ground.  As the land is south facing and there are no longer any trees there, it’s really muddy in winter and rock hard in the summer.

The biggest challenge was getting enough woodchips.  We bought a Titan chipper from the UK, which works well, but we still have to drag in the wood to chip. We have oak woods all around, but these are wild woods, full of brambles and it takes a couple of days to get enough wood to chip for a day.  Most of the permaculture sites that talk about woodchips are based in the US, where there seem to be an endless supply of tree surgeons wanting to offload their chips on anyone who wants them. Not so here.  Finally, after having bought thousands of wuros worth of chestnut beams from the local wood mill for our house, Alberto happily agreed to let us have as many woodchips as we want for free.  Although Dean still has to drive over there, load up the truck and bring them back here.  It’s still more efficient than chipping our own.

Straw v woodchips? Straw makes a good layer to suppress weeds and to keep in the moisture, but it’s not good for growing in.  I don’t have a greenhouse at the moment, so everything has to be grown in place from seed and the straw makes an impermeable mat that is too tough for the seedlings to get through.  I moved the straw away on some of the beds as they grew, but it’s more work than woodchips and not as successful.  With the woodchips I just move the woodchips aside to expose the bare earth, sow the seeds and push the wood chips back and the seedlings germinate and grow.  I keep straw for the paths.

So, we are still building our wood chip beds and have many. many weeds.  I leave most of the weeds, many of which are wild herbs and medicinal plants, as well as food for pollinaters and predators that would otherwise eat all my plants.  We haven’t used any fertilizer, pesticides or herbicides and everything that survived the drought of 2015 grew just fine. The thistles, gorse and brambles are the only weeding that we do – sometimes plantain, which is plentiful around here.  My aim is to keep the garden work to a couple of hours a day; of course it doesn’t work out that way because of the weather and the fact that we are still setting things up.  Still, in the first year we’ve had: carrots, cabbage, tomatoes, broccoli, peas, chard, peppers, onions, radishes, beetroot, beans, broad beans, courgettes, squash and we would have had sweetcorn, but the wild boar got it all!

 

  • Minnie the Mulcher

 

The White Warrior-Shaman

What does the White Warrior-Shaman have to do with permaculture and alchemy?

Everything, as it happens! Permaculture, organic food, natural medicine and our chosen way of living are all under threat.

Why white?  I’m an indigenous  white skinned European and I’m remembering and re-imagining the shamanic warrior tradition of my ancestors.  Perhaps you are too.   We were proud pagans, before being forced into Christianity on pain of death and this spirit has re-awakened and is there for anyone who claims it as their own.

As I’m writing this post on a peaceful, sunny afternoon here in Galicia, the enemies of life are spraying their toxic chemicals overhead.  Most people around here don’t look up at the sky and if they do, they don’t notice the spraying, or think they are normal contrails.  When we ask them why they think there might suddenly be so many planes criss-crossing the sky in this forgotten part of Spain, they just shrug. No different to many other people all over the world.  Geoengineering is just one method of boiling frogs.

This guy says it all:

 

But what can you do about chemtrails, or GMOs or smart-meters, vaccinations, government mafia or the phoney financial system?  At this point, I don’t know.  However, I do know that just as human ingenuity is capable of solving these problems, it is also capable of eliminating the cause of these problems.  Correction:  you and I are capable of eliminating the cause of these problems, if that’s what you choose to do.