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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

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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.

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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
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Drylands Management, Organic Gardening

If you are interested in seeds conservation and wild plants, this post is probably for you.

An essential part of our drylands department is the regeneration of the local vegetation, through the collection and reproduction of wild seeds. We have a small but precious seed bank where we store seeds harvested in the area, so that we can sow them in the following planting season. I have been looking out for initiatives, companies or seed banks that could give us valuable inputs.

Last week we finally managed to reach Cordoba and meet Candido Galvez from Semillas Silvestres (Wild Seeds), a pretty unique company. Candido Galvez started ”Semillas Silvestres” 25 years ago, with the goal of producing native seeds and improving seed technology. Him and his 7 people team are working on the reproduction of trees, shrubs and mainly herbaceous species.

A crucial point is understanding what do they intend as native seeds. Native here is synonym of autochthonous.  ”Semillas Silvestres” doesn’t work with forestry species, neither with endangered species. They look mainly for neglected species, species with an unknown use (until now), but that are beneficial for biodiversity and the sustainability of agroecological systems.

Why conserving and reproducing wild seeds?

Candido and his team are hunting for the most interesting native species which could serve purposes of ecological restoration, landscaping, or agroecosystem sustainability. They have participated in multiple international and European research projects, lately focusing on the use of native species for soil erosion control in olive plantations (such as CUVrEN Olivar).

In order to select relevant species, ”Semillas Silvestres” uses a matrix, which matches the native species traits and the needs of the crops they will be working with, or the needs of the growers, depending on the situations. Some traits are extremely important, such as seed replicability: are the seeds I want to work with easy to reproduce? At what cost? Germination rates also need to be taken into account. I need to pick species which can be easily germinated, or again, easily enough, and at an acceptable cost. Also, can I actually conserve my seeds for longer periods? Some seeds, if dried, do not survive (recalcitrantseeds, as opposed to orthodox). This makes their conservation impossible. Finally, seeds with very low dormancy are also avoided. A dormant seed is like a ‘sleeping’ seed, waiting for favorable environmental conditions to sprout. Seeds with very low dormancy can be a very big problem for farmers as their germination cannot be controlled.

A seed journey

The seeds you buy from ”Semillas Silvestres” have actually not been collected in the wild. Candido and his team do not want to harvest everything from nature. This is because they want to protect the wild population, be more efficient in their production, and be able to implement technologies that couldn’t be used otherwise.

So they only collect the ‘parents’ seeds in the wild. In the harvesting process there is a clear difference between native seeds and commercial food crops. With native seeds there’s no such thing as selection, as the goal is almost the opposite: provide as much variety as possible. There are protocols followed in order to minimize the seeds selection, and to ensure that the sample collected represent the widest variety of characteristics of each species. The ideal situation would be a representation of all the variability that takes place in wilderness, in order to ensure larger success for the native species when grown in different contexts. For example when planting wild seeds for ground cover, the needs of each olive plantation are different: soils, rainfall, climate. That’s why genetic variety is an essential component.

The ‘parents’ seeds are reproduced in the plots of ”Semillas Silvestres” for a few years, until they have enough seeds to bring their product to the market. These plots are called Seed Production Areas (SPAs), a concept spreading all over the world, with the goal of sustaining the natural production of wild seeds, so that we can rely on a higher supply of these precious species, without actually affecting their natural environment. In the SPAs more efficient technologies of seed harvesting can be applied, to ensure larger production. Interestingly enough, seeds grown here are not organically certified, as an organic production is not cost-effective.

The harvested seeds are then dried and cleaned. Humidity is the first cause of viability loss, that’s why the drying process is one of the most important. We then move into the quality control room. Here viability, germination and purity of seed samples are evaluated. Viability basically tells us whether a seed is alive or not. A seed can be dormant but still viable, so still capable of germinating under the right conditions. This is why viability is in this case more important than germination rate.

Our journey ends in the storage rooms, with a pleasant smell of dry grass. Boxes and crates full of seeds ready to be shipped out fill up the walls. A great tip from Candido: as a general rule for basic seeds conservation, he advises us to always check temperature and humidity. Their sum should not be higher than 60. If you want to conserve your seeds properly, keep your moisture levels down, that’s easier and more cost effective than lowering temperature.

If you want to find more information about wild seeds conservation, give a look at the European Native Seeds Conservation Network (ENSCONET) website, where you can find harvesting and conservation manuals.

And now, back to our seedbank!

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Organic Gardening, Volunteer Stories

I had been here for little under a month when I was granted the great pleasure of having a small part of Paradise under my care. Diego III, is a small 12sqm vegetable plot in Sunseed; managed by the Organic Gardens team. It currently comprises of beds fruiting aubergines, potatoes, and buckwheat as well as the odd pumpkin, now glumly dying off for the winter.

keep reading
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Organic Gardening

From the 1st to the 14th of May Sunseed hosted a Permaculture Design Course (PDC) with George and Wallace from Circle Permaculture, and we’re preparing a new one in September. If you want to know how it was, here Margriet and Lesha share their stories:

“George’s song could be heard at least 10 times a day during the Permaculture Design Course (PDC). Day one was one of introduction: we got to know the group and our lovely teachers George and Wallace of Circle Permaculture. After a slow start, we really got up to full speed from the second day on and got an enormous amount of information about soil and social structures, from compost to rain harvesting systems, etc. In combination with the old school classes on the chalkboard, we had the opportunity to approach and process the information that was given in an active way. The group went out to play ‘permaculture charades’ in a cave. We had workshops with the Sunseed staff: hot compost and mapping with Jon, sociocracy with Armelle, we made preserves and had an edible plant walk with Lizzy and last but not least we had a great fun cob building/mud wrestling with Lucas. Even in the evenings, seminars were held by Sunseeders and there were some outdoor screenings of documentaries.


During the second week of the PDC, we started working in teams to make a design for ‘the Mediterranean garden’, a patch of land where the dome, our classroom, is constructed. With all our new permaculture tools that George and Wally handed us, client interviews to fully understand what was expected from our design and a lot of enthusiasm, my team, the spice garden girls, started designing a:

‘Beautiful multi-functional space tucked away from the heart of Sunseed, with an emphasis on education, providing a study/working/relaxation space for Sunseeders’.

On Saturday, the final day all the design work that was done through permaculture principles were presented to the overexcited Sunseed family, who wanted to implement everything, asap! To conclude an inspiring, motivating course, that put us all on edge, there was the best show in the world: The No Talent Show!
Looking back on these two packed weeks of PDC at Sunseed, I am very tired and foremost happy with all the information we got and I feel the thirst to learn more about Permaculture!”

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Organic Gardening

Hello everyone! My name is Jon Davison and I am the new Organic Gardens Coordinator here at Sunseed. I arrived here at the end of September, and what an adventure it’s been already! I have already seen a few volunteers come and go, and, rather unfortunately, a coordinator as well (We miss you Fran!). But that’s just a part of life, everything is subject to change. These past couple weeks have been challenging, exhausting, exciting, inspiring and, above all, extremely rewarding. I have received an incredibly warm and enthusiastic welcome for which I am grateful.

Some initial thoughts from the last couple weeks;

We are so lucky to be here, I mean we are in the middle of the desert and yet we have our own little oasis, with a river to swim in and an ancient water channel, which dates back to Moorish times, that provides irrigation for the entire village! As soon as you leave our little paradise, even to the other side of the river, the temperature rises 5 degrees or more. Without this microclimate due to the river, which has been carefully extended and enlarged by the residents over the years, growing crops would be nigh impossible.

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The “Seret Posa”, one of many hidden swimming holes that dot our river valley.

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Los Molinos del Rio Aguas, looking east from Isabella’s (one of the sunseed buildings) during a sunset.

Anyway, lets talk a bit about whats happening in the gardens, shall we?

For those of you who don’t know, the gardens of Sunseed consist of 12 terraces, in a variety of shapes and sizes, spread along the southern side of the hills of Los Molinos del Rio Aguas. Due to unfortunate but unavoidable circumstances, over the last few months the gardens have received little to no attention, hence such a wonderful welcome :). They had become overgrown with weeds, the veggies had been chocked out and many trees were suffering from lack of water. Needless to say, I got cracking as soon as I could.

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Long term volunteers Leesha and Vijan, along with short term volunteer Rosie, working hard on my first day of work. They were as excited as me to see some progress in the gardens.

So far, with the help of volunteers and my assistant Pauline, we have managed to clear and prepare the majority of Diego 1, which is one of the largest and most central terraces, as well as create a small herb patch for Lizzy (Sustainable Living). What does clear and prepare mean? Well to start with we removed what organic matter we could from the surface of the soil. Usually any organic matter should be kept on to shade the soil and keep it cool, reducing evaporation from the sun while at the same time slowly breaking down and feeding the life in the soil and reducing the amount of weeds (talk about multi functional!) . We took this off and piled it up to put back later, so we could turn the soil over and reshape the beds. The soil had become compacted, dry and full of weeds. By doing this we simultaneously loosened the soil and added air, allowing for better water penetration, and mixing in the weeds, exposing their roots to the unforgiving sun. At this point, I would like to add that, generally speaking, you should try to avoid messing too much with your soil as the interference can end up destroying the structure, texture and fertility of it. However, in the long run, flipping it about once or twice to mix in some manure and reduce compaction is in your best interest. Just don’t make a habit of it!

Once this was done, we let it dry in the sun for a few days in hopes of killing the weeds and reducing the amount of hand weeding. However, my plans were thwarted by a rather intense rainstorm and we had to weed it by hand eventually anyway. Once weeded, and the compost bays full to bursting, we turned in some manure left over from last winters Hot Bed. We watered it using the Acequia (the ancient water channel) and a series of channels and sand bags to divert the flow into the appropriate patch. We did this to ensure that the channels were in working order, and other than a few paths that need a leveling out a bit, it was!

Next comes the best part… Seeding! Even Kostas, our Education Coordinator, managed to get some fresh air and help.

Now, after a couple weeks of hard work, with beets, a variety of oriental and normal Brassica’s, spinach, carrots, beans, peas and turnips freshly seeded, swiss chard, celery, rocket, radish and lettuce next in line, only half of Diego 1 is prepared and planted…. wait wasn’t that supposed to be an encouraging sentence? 🙂

With some luck, and a lot of sweat, we should manage to get Diego 1 up and running and start on Diego 2 (another, but far smaller, garden cultivated by Sunseed) next week.

I think that’s all for now. I’ll let you know soon if we ever make it to Diego 2 🙂

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Diego 2 in it’s current state, before any clearing or work has been done.

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Organic Gardening, Tutorial
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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.

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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.

almonds

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!

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Organic Gardening, Sustainable Living

We are very lucky this year at Sunseed! We have an agreement with the Olive oil company called “Oro del Desierto”. We help them to collect olives and in exchange we receive a part of their olive oil production. Oro del Desierto practices ecological agriculture without using any chemicals. They use techniques that preserve the soil structure and fertility. They have actually won many awards that prove that they make one of the best ecological olive oils in the world !

For some years now at Sunseed we have been making similar agreements with local proprietors of almond and olive plantations. It is an important tradition that we want to keep at Sunseed for promoting ecological agricultural practices.

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Between 5 and 8 people from the Sunseed team go to collect almonds or olives. Then we split the total quantity with the owners. We have very nice almonds and we also make our own almond milk, which avoids us buying milk and saves a lot of packaging (tetra packs which are difficult to recycle). We even use the shells as biomass to cook on our gasifier! With the olives, we make oil and also marinade some for eating.

Sunseed Almond picking 4013

Almonds and olives are very important resources in the south of Spain. Olive oil from Spain is famous all over the world. These two trees are very well adapted to the arid climate and do not need a lot of watering. Nevertheless, given the avarice of modern markets, which only focus on high yields and ignore all other factors, the amount of intensive, or even so called “super-intensive” plantations have increased exponentially. This type of cultivation requires the use of a lot of chemicals, leaves the soil bare, which creates erosion and also uses a lot of water over exploiting the aquifers and rivers, causing them to dry up. In our village we are directly affected and more broadly speaking all over Spain desertification is increasing principally due to these kind of practices (for more information see: ecocide los molinos del rio aguas).

Sunseed Almond picking 4011
Sunseed Almond picking 4010
Sunseed Almond picking 4022
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Organic Gardening

The Agro-biodiversity is in serious danger and here at Sunseed we have begun to collaborate with different networks of exchange/recovery of traditional local horticultural varieties.

Kokopelli is one of the most important associations at European level and we have the honor to grow some of their pure seeds. Thanks to initiatives like this, we have the possibility to recover flavours, which we nearly lost and fight against the monopoly of the large seed houses.

Collaborating with these networks and cultivating these varieties (non-hybrid commercial, or transgenic) is a form of activism, which is essential to achieve food sovereignty.

Thank you Kokopelli for sharing these living treasures!

Kokopelli 1

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La agrobiodiversidad esta en serio peligro, y en Sunseed hemos comenzado a colaborar con distintas redes de intercambio/recuperación de variedades hortícolas locales tradicionales.
Kokopelli es una de las asociaciones mas importantes a nivel europeo y tenemos el honor de cultivar algunas de sus semillas puras. Gracias a iniciativas como esta tenemos la posibilidad de recuperar sabores en riesgo de desaparición y luchar contra el monopolio de las grandes casas semilleras.
Colaborar con estas redes y cultivar estas variedades (no híbridas comerciales, ni transgénicas) es una forma de activismo fundamental para lograr la soberanía alimentaria.
Gracias Kokopelli por compartir estos tesoros vivos!

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Organic Gardening

A few weeks ago in the organic gardens we worked with the loquat / níspero tree. This tree gives little orange fruits with black pits in April/May. In the beginning of February the blossoms are starting to fall and it’s obvious, which flowers have been pollinated because little green fruits appear.

Last year the Níspero trees did not get enough water (they don’t grow just anywhere here in this dry desert landscape), which resulted in fruits that were too little to eat. To prevent this from happening again we decided to reduce the amount of fruits on the tree, so the water and nutrients are concentrated to fewer fruits, which hopefully then have enough supplies to grow big and juicy.

With four volunteers we went to Far Terrace and started the job. It’s an easy task, without a lot of thinking, so while manoeuvring between the branches, reaching high and far, conversations began and stories were told. It’s always surprising how much easier people talk while our hands and eyes are focused on something else, a certain shyness falls away.

At the end of each branch (they are very flexible and it’s fun to grab them and carefully bend them close to you) there is a bunch of young  fruits and old blossoms and with your hands you can clean away the dried flowers and pluck the little loquats, so that only the four fattest ones are left.

It’s strange to ‘molest’ a tree and ruin little green fruits who are trying so hard, but if you hear that it’s this or nothing you have to think rationally and realise that we are gardening here and that it’s sometimes necessary to modify nature a little to be able to pick the fruits of life.

– Blog post written by our volunteer Mathu

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Appropriate Technology, Drylands Management, Organic Gardening, Sustainable Living
The Sunseed team has been very busy this week trying to keep up with all of the exciting changes. A lot of new faces have been passing through the village to get a taste of sustainable living. These visitors had the treat of getting the full sustainable living tour during their stay. In addition, the visitors ate meals with the sunseed team and shared many stories during the night. This week there was also a jam session at Timbe’s for people to enjoy. Besides giving tours to newcomers the Sustainable Living team has also been doing some major experimentation! First the team is using donated oil from local restaurants to make bars of soap! I hear they have turned out really well! In addition, Markus and his team have been creating delicious goods out of figs that were recently harvested, and even baked up enough loafs of sour dough bread to feed a village! Drylands management has been very busy picking more than 60 kg of Carob Seeds from the trees by the water pump. The team of 4 consisted of Pablo, Natalie, and Delphine and was led by Alicia. Together they picked 5 huge bags in just a few short days. Now these seeds will be sold to feed piggies, and the rest can be used by sunseed to make sweet Carob treats. The Appropriate Technology department is working to repair the battery connected to the solar panels and working on a massive puzzle of building a stone wall. The Organic Gardening team has also been working away the days. They have been harvesting and weeding quite a lot of veggies including 2kg of basil! Today we received our shipment of vegetables and later we will get a lesson on Spanish from Alvaro. Our trusted water pump is working away vigorously! The communication team has just returned from their annual trip to Rototom music festival, where they did some major promo work for Sunseed. More photos and stories coming soon! water pumpcarrabgardening
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