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Drylands Management, Organic Gardening, Sunseed News, Volunteer Stories

The first rains of the season have been and gone… and they have left their mark on the land here. Our beautiful poza looks different from last week, because the water swept through the valley, knocking caña aside and carrying with it the dust and soil from the surrounding hills. The hills themselves look so much cleaner, the plants have definable and separate colours, rather than all being coated in the fine dust, early mornings are sweet with soft dew, and even the air feels fresher.

Before and After the Storm


We knew the rains were coming days before they arrived, though the amount of precipitation was often in question: We were told to expect 40mm to fall on Thursday, three hours later that had gone up to 100mm and 200mm on Friday but over the next day the prediction dropped to 40mm over 4 days, only to shoot back up to 100mm in 3 hours. The weather warnings for the area were Violet. So, understandably, we doubted the truth of the forecast once or twice. How could so much rain be coming when we were enjoying such glorious sunshine? Still, precautions were taken and we spent a morning preparing Sunseed for the likelihood of a heavy rain. Gabriel, our organic gardens coordinator led a team in sand bag collecting. They lugged the heavy bags from the gardens to the main street of the village where they built banks to protect the road from the floods of water. Tanks were positioned to collect the rain, so that we could make the most of the precious water, and where necessary buckets were placed to catch the leaks in the roofs.

The next day we watched as the rain clouds gathered at the edges of the valley, laden with their blessing of much needed water they drew nearer and nearer. Most people had found inside jobs to do during the day to avoid getting wet, and we sat around the house, trying to use as little electricity as possible. The clouds meant that the solar system wasn’t working at full capacity and once it dropped down to 90% we could not charge any devices, despite this the atmosphere around the main house was one of excitement.

Waiting for the storm

And then the rains came. They hammered, heavy and hard into the dry earth, the first few drops sending little flurries of dust into the air, until everything was soaked. It was only minutes before the main street of the village had become a river, flowing over our bare feet where we stood soaking in the water, just like the plants.

Soaking up the rain

In the evening the storm picked up. Lightning flashed across the sky, illuminating towering cloud formations and thunder rolled through our valley. We stood huddled in the doorway of one of the buildings, watching the water run down the main street. We laughted as we tried to avoid the rain, splashing through the streams and puddles and even pausing to dance under the torrent. That night, warm and dry once more, the rain beat a comforting rhythm against the roofs and, after a summer of heat, blankets were pulled from cupboards and onto beds.

On Friday in the pouring rain Gabriel, Tom, and our neighbour Dave Dene fixed the floodgates of the acequia with yeso, which sets underwater. So now all that we needed to do was clear the new mud from the acequia. Luckily, Saturday was the communal acequia maintenance day and we were joined by our neighbours to clear the acequia. We were up to our knees in the water channels scooping mud into buckets with our hands. Squeezing between caña and under hanging brambles we cleared the areas of the acequia that were worst affected by the rain and the silt that it had carried with it.

Cleaning the acequia

Once finished we trouped, muddy and tired, back to Sunseed’s main building. But, because the acequia wasn’t running yet, the village ram pump wasn’t working, and we had very limited water for washing. Using water collected from the rains we washed the mud from hands and faces and then settled in to enjoy our Saturday.

Later on, when the river was once again crossable, our drylands team went to find out what the rains had done to all of the hard work that has been poured into the area. We all wanted to know whether the walls had held or if the force of the water had knocked them away. To our delight, when the team came back, they had photos of the walls not only standing strong and proud, but having worked fantastically to slow and even stop the water. Areas of the drylands were all puddles and mud from the soil and water which had been stopped before it could flow away. It was cause for celebration and the main house was filled with our smiles of joy and relief.


The heavy rains have gone now, but the season is turning from summer gently into autumn. Since the storm we have had small showers of rain, the ground is still damp enough that we haven’t had to water the gardens for the last few days, giving us an unexpected luxury of time. But it’s not only the weather that is different, the landscape has changed. The poza is now far more open and elongated, as most of the caña were swept away or flattened, it gives us a view further down the river that is more open. Sweetcorn that we have been nurturing and growing through summer was knocked down by the power of the storm. The ram pump is not yet up and running, but our wonderful maintenance team are working hard to get it operating. By now the turtles have returned to Rio Aguas and the silt is settling out of the river. The trees, plants and people are all refreshed and rejuvenated by the downpour.

The land love the rain

Drylands Management

The term Bokashi comes from Japanese and it means a fermented organic matter. We chose to apply this technique for its several assets (developed later), but with some adjustments according to our resources available around us.

Basically, a Bokashi system need sources of Nitrogen, Carbon and other nutrients which will be fermented by Effective Microorganism (EM) with the help of sugar additions and material with porosity to enhance their growing.This technique provides fertilizers as a basic compost, it is very fast (around two weeks), and the final result is very close to a natural humus. It contains EM and the growth factor hormones added through a Fermented Plant Juice (FPJ) and a higher C/N rates than a compost. What better material can we ask for our work in soil regeneration in the Drylands Department?

So how did we make it? We used:

  • around 400kg of humanure mixed with
  • 100kg of soil
  • some straws chopped
  • ashes for the Carbon content (and also regulate the pH)
  • coffee grounds for the porosity and their nutrient content
  • diluted pee.

This is our appropriation of the Bokashi system; otherwise the best materials are rice bran hull, any manure, compost, garden soil and some molasses.

Peter preparing layers of the bokashi compost pile

Then we raised the humidity rate up to 60% by adding the water and a mix of EM, FPJ and sugar. Our EM had been home made with some soil harvested under canes and put in appropriate conditions to grow. This is called Indigenous MicroOrganism culture (IMO).

Finally we’ll have to follow the temperature of this mud cake during two weeks and turning it when needed (from 1 to 3 times a day) and eventually harvest the final product – the nutrients for the trees used in reforestation, made mainly from human output.

At Sunseed nothing goes to waste, especially our toilet waste. This week I had the opportunity to help build a Bokashi compost from scratch with Dimitri in the Drylands department. It’s quite an inventive process, using all natural material to create rich hummus in just 2 weeks!

It feels like a chemistry project; 3 litres of this, two tablespoons of that and hey presto we have soil. As we were building it Dimitri explained each step and why we do it, which really helped me understand how amazing a process it really is. Permaculture is revolution disguised as gardening!

Peter, short term visitor

For further information we can advise you to get a look at the “NATURE FARMING MANUAL. A handbook of preparations, techniques and organic amendments inspired by Nature Farming and adapted to locally available materials and needs in the Western Visayas region of the Philippines, Helen Jensen, Leopoldo Guilaran, Rene Jaranilla & Gerry Garingalao.” It has been our guideline for the Bokashi principles.


Sustainable Living

In Sunseed the water we use for cleaning goes directly back to nature therefore we only use biodegradable hygiene products. But also for ourselves it’s better to take care what we are using to stay healthy and beautiful.

Most toothpaste for example contains of a lot of harmful things, that we would not need at all. Such as fluorids, silica, triclosan an others.

This side describes very well what the problem with common toothpaste is and what you should bare in mind:

Natural, healthy toothpaste exists but most of the time it’s very expensive. That’s why we make it on our own. It’s really easy and you only need a few ingredients.
When I came to Sunseed I was very interested in the self made toothpaste because my tries I had before went a little bit wrong. My theeth didn’t feel clean, I had a smelly breath and the worst thing was, when my usually white teeth got a yellowish color.

But the thoothpaste I use here for about 3 months now is perfect. It tastes great and cleans your teeth perfectly. It’s even a little foamy what many of us like.

Here is the recipe we use for about 1kg:


450g Calcium Carbonate

500g White Clay

10g Stevia

15g Xylitol

20g Salt

15 pinches of Grated organic soap

15 drops Essential Oil Cinnamon

30 drops Essential Oil Mint


We mix everything together and that’s it. You have a lot of healthy, wonderful, good tasting toothpaste without almost no work.

If people prefer cream instead of powder they mix it with fresh aloe vera. Which is also good against infections on your gum. But you have to bare in mind that it will only last for a short time so don’t mix to much at once.

We use our toothpaste ourselves but we also sell on markets. Check out on which markets we’ll be next:


Courses and Events

Last weekend, Sunseed set up its stand in the NGO corner of Etnosur festival. They were a couple of sunseeders on the event, all ready to give a hand on the stand. From Friday until Sunday, it was then possible to make your own smoothie, blending fresh fruits with Sunseed’s famous “bicy-batidora”.  Eventually, a lot of people approached our stand to ride our bicycle-blender, which is a nice introduction about Sunseed’s vision of sustainable technologies.


But we also brought our natural homemade products : toothpaste powder, soap , calendula moisturizer cream or shampoo made and used in our project by the volunteers.

During the weekend, some creative activities even took place in Sunseed stand : our resourceful sunseeders managed to make a sign for the stand out of recycled carb boards. Thanks to sunseeders’ contribution, we also started to offer  body-painting and henna drawings to our visitors.


Our participation to Etnosur 2016 turned out to be a good opportunity to advertize more about Sunseed’s project among the community of people living in Spain as well as exchange with other projects.


Eco Construction

Jack, our previous eco-construction coordinator, gave us an interesting seminar about soil and its use in eco-construction before he left Sunseed.

The seminar started by introducing us different ways to test the soil and find out what can be added  to it to turn it into a perfect eco-construction material.  The “jar test” aims to reveal the composition of the soil tested. In the top part of the jar, the organic matter will float in the water. Underneath this organic matter, there is first a layer of clay followed by a layer of silt. At the bottom part of the jar will gather the heaviest components, such as gravel or sand.


The second test called the “sausage test” is aimed to determine the type of loam or clay we work with. We first make sausages out of loam. We then can distinguish the ‘sandy loam’ by the ones falling apart once put on the ground. Bending the clay sausages in semicircles, we can figure out that the ones cracking are made of what we call ‘light clay”.


We were then given more details about the properties of the different components of the soil. As the clay acts like a binder due to its malleability and plasticity, the sand adds solidity and structure. What we call the “clay soil” contains at least 40% of clay, but the majority of eco-constructions will rather not use a lot of it. The silt doesn’t have the plasticity of the clay, and thus, doesn’t present any interest in eco-construction.

Eco-construction techniques make the most of soil’s properties: more than being a natural local resource with very low carbon footprint, constructions made of earth present great advantages in the climatic control, moisture control and even noise control. As well as being fire resistant, it also has a detoxifying effect as it is breathable and can be safely manipulated without gloves.

Did you know than 17% of the Unesco world heritage was made of earth?  The Great Wall of China and the Alhambra had been built using rammed earth. The Adobe used by Shibam, in Yemen in 1500, or the earth shelters built in Iceland show us that earth constructions are probably the most reliable.


Drylands Management, Sustainable Living

By Drylands assistant Margaux

With Spring in full bloom in the valley, the Drylands and Sustainable Living departments have been out walking with volunteers to collect the capers that are starting to grow and preserving them in preparation for summer salads. Have you ever picked capers? The pickled capers we use as seasoning are actually the buds of the plant called “Capparis spinosa”. They need to be picked before they turn into these lovely white flowers. It is preferable to pick the smaller buds which have more flavour.

It’s important to follow some basic guidance if you are planning to pick plants in the wild. First of all, make sure that you are not in a preserved zone.  There must be, at least, 5 plants of the same species in the area you are planning to pick. Then, do not collect more than 20-30% of the plant’s fruits or flowers, so it is still able to reproduce. Another last tip, try not to pick close to roads; you shouldn’t be closer than 50 meters from the nearest road.

“Its huge pink-and-white flowers  bristling with stamens and anthers, and its tough thorny leaves were nourished by roots that burrowed for moisture more than a hundred feet into the parched earth.” – South from Granada, Gerard Brenan

Preserving capers is simple –  to start off with you need just a water and salt mixture to soak them. This water needs to be changed every three or four days, four times. One the soaking process is done, you can preserve the capers in vinegar, and with any other herbs you like. Besides being a tasty addition to salads (or as a pizza topping at our famous pizza parties!) capers are known to be powerful anti-oxidants and to help in circulation of blood – so a perfect complement to our healthy sustainable diet here at Sunseed.


Drylands Management

This year in the Drylands Department, we started work on a herb spiral in the Arboretum to demonstrate a water-efficient growing technique for dry areas. First initiated by our volunteer Ulrike, the herb spiral project had then been taken over by Giulia and Margaux – now we’re excited to say that the beautiful project is now finished!

Here in Almeria, the driest region in Europe, building such a spiral can present many benefits.

Efficient water usage

First, the spiral is designed in such a way that it retains the moisture at its base. This design allows a large variety of herbs to grow as it has both a drier zone at the top and a moist area at the bottom.  Our herb spiral will then probably see plants that don’t drink much, like rosemary, oregano and thyme, grow at its top part. The water management of the spiral is such that no water is wasted. The runoff water is collected and absorbed by the thirsty plants positioned at the bottom of the spiral.

Adapted to microclimates

In the same way, the spiral’s design also helps the herbs to benefit from diverse microclimates due to the variety of positions allowed : sunny, sheltered and shady. The top part of the spiral will then be perfect to grow herbs like rosemary, sage and thyme that prefer a sunny position, while the bottom part of the spiral will fit better to shade-loving herbs such as mints.

Heat retention

Besides, the stones used to build the spiral retain heat absorbed during the day, keeping the spiral warm when temperatures drop at night. Retaining the heat can be really useful in a semi-arid climate, where we usually face huge temperature gaps between daytime and night time.

A unique garden feature

More than a practical tool that allows to grow a variety of herbs under the best conditions in a dry area, the herb spiral is also of aesthetic interest. Inspired by nature itself, the design of the spiral ramp is irresistible to the eye and draws it as a focal point in the garden. The stones used for our spiral are carefully chosen to be aesthetically pleasing to our visitors’ eyes.

We’re looking forward to reaping the benefits of our herb spiral in delicious, flavoursome dishes in the months to come!


Sunseed News
Olive plantation with reservoir
An intensive olive plantation in the region

By EVS Volunteer Margaux:

Our village has now been facing water supply issues for a couple of years, due to the over-exploitation of the aquifer by the olive industry. The precious water from the Río Aguas is being drained in order to water 3000 hectares of intensive olive tree plantations and now a whole and unique ecosystem in the only semi-desert region of Europe is threatened. The main immediate consequence is that we will probably soon get short of water – the villages of Los Perales and La Herreria are already struggling. But even worse than the lack of water alone, it’s that a whole ecosystem is threatened.

The concept of ‘ecocide’ refers to the destruction of ecosystems of a given territory. After a first attempt by a group of concerned locals to bring the case to the local authorities, the next move was to try to get more attention from the international level. A lawsuit was both sent to the UN and the European Union. After many attempts to bring the case to the court, we have finally received a positive answer from the European Union which has agreed to look into the case. The E.U parliament has requested the E.U Commission to conduct a preliminary investigation, which will now need to start to collect further information about the ecocide in order to launch the legal proceedings.


We’ve been involved in several initiatives to help raise the profile of this urgent issue, including an exhibition and film showing in Almeria, and welcoming EU political representatives to the Rio Aguas to demonstrate the scale of the crisis.

In the meantime, local authorities have come up with a proposal to provide desalinated water to compensate for the lack of water. Nevertheless, this solution will never bring back the precious, fragile ecosystem of the Rio de Aguas.

Don’t hesitate to support us by signing the online petition!


Organic Gardening, Tutorial

At Sunseed I realized how many resources are wasted everyday when you just throw your kitchen waste away.

When I came here, I did not know anything about compost or how you can fertilize the soil you want to use for planting.

I was very impressed by the ‘compost lasagne’ system we have in Sunseed. It makes our gardens much more sustainable, because we have everything we need for the process. In addition, we can control what we put in our soil and incidentally it saves us money because we do not have to buy manure.


The concept we have is very easy:
The lasagne consists of several boxes. In each is compost in different stages.

We take care of our compost every Wednesday. First we turn the old layers around with pitchforks, so that the compost gets enough oxygen. Than we put a thin layer of paper and cardboard above. Afterwards we add our kitchen waste, put a small amount of earth on the top and water it. All these layers are important to get the right balance of nutrition in our compost. To keep the humidity even when it is very hot, we cover everything with dried material which works perfectly.

At Sunseed we need a lot of manure and therefore we need a fast decomposition process. When you want to try to produce your own compost at home, you just need to move your deposited kitchen waste sometimes and after about a year you have perfect compost. You cannot do anything wrong with the process, it might just take more time.

Our Garden Coordinator Josu explained how you can find out if the compost is ready. You can use it when it holds in shape after you have squeezed it but crumbles again when you move it in your hands.

I love to see how the circle closes, while parts of our food which cannot be used in the kitchen turn back into very fertile soil again.


Learn more

During my research I found an amazing project in Jordan describing their way of composting.

If you want to prepare compost in a small garden, you can have a look at this website.

And if you live in a flat without garden, you don’t have to go without compost. Ways for composting inside are shown here and here.

Happy composting!


Drylands Management

As an EVS volunteer, I wanted to look back over the last semester I spent in Sunseed as an assistant of Dryland Management Department. Originally coming from a completely different background, I had to learn everything from the very beginning. Before I leave and go back to my daily life in Paris, I wanted to share some parts of this fulfilling experience:

When I first arrived in February, Dryland Department was dedicating part of its time to planting different tree species on Allan’s land, as a part of its reforestation duty. Experimenting with carob trees, we could note after a couple of months that the place where the tree was planted had a crucial impact on its survival. Planting in the shadow and in the terraced part of the land look to have increased the chances of survival of the tree. We also observed that some of the species we planted, such as the Salsola oppositifolia, were more likely to survive in this arid environment.


Cleaning behind the compostero

In April, Dryland Department initiated a long-term project which was to clean and improve the area of the “compostero” where is kept the hummanure compost next to the vivero. The idea was to provide more shadow to the compost in order to keep it quite moist during the heat of the Almerian summer. We first substituted all the trash stored behind the compostero with soil. We wanted to use this strategic spot to plant trees that will provide natural shade to the compost.


Extracting Auxina from sprouted lentils

In May, Dryland Management department lead an experiment on the use of Auxina to help stimulate plants’ roots growth. The Auxina is a hormone naturally secreted by the plants and is known to help the stimulation of plant’s roots and speed up its development. We tried to extract some from sprouted lentils, getting a mixture out of the roots and water. The mixture was supposed to be ready to use after being kept 24 hours in the dark. Unfortunately, it turned out that the use of the mixture didn’t show any notable effect.


Visiting Rodalquilar botanical garden

In June, Dryland Department drove a couple of volunteers to the botanical garden of Rodalquilar while the trees were still blossoming. The end of the spring was the perfect time to identify the different species thanks to their flowers. Rodalquilar’s botanical garden gives interesting details about the properties of the plants that grow all around the semi-desert of Almeria. The carob tree, for example, has been used for a long time, in the region, for its medicinal properties as syrup for coughing.The same month, the Dryland coordinator, Elena, helped with volunteers, ended the construction of a caña roof to the compostero, providing a bit of the indispensable shadow during summertime.


Before and after with the caña roof