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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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Sunseed News

Today in our community we commemorated the 8th of March, the International Working Women’s Day. We did it not with flowers, but remembering the violence women are often exposed to and joining the international campaign #niunamenos. Living in a sustainable community is also a way for many of us to learn more equal ways to relate between each other and for us it is important to imagine and live a better and more sustainable future with equal rights for men and women.

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Yesterday was a wonderful day here in Los Molinos. The sun is warm again and the almond trees are flowering, but above all after 6 weeks we have finally water flowing again trough the Acequia!

On December 18th, an unprecedented storm hit the province of Almería. In the village of Los Molinos the flood provoked some damages in most of the houses: some walls and paths in the village collapsed, but ultimately it is our water irrigation line, “la acequia”, which suffered the most serious damage.

Since then, Sunseed and the villagers of Los Molinos have been working hard every day digging out mud, gravel and stones from the tunnels, caves and open ditches.
Staying for quite a long time without running water has been a challenging experience for many of us, but also a chance to realize how important it is to cooperate to overcome difficulties.
The whole village stand together and even if there is still some work needed to repair some contention wall, we are looking forward to celebrating this event.

We would like to express our gratitude to the villagers of Los Molinos, the acequieros and all the people who helped us and expressed their support. This video is dedicated to you.

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Sunseed News

“The people.”
“The stars at night.”
“The chance to experiment – you get real responsibility and you can always try new things.”
“Meeting volunteers from all over the world.”
“It’s a human place – it looks after me as a whole person.”
“Swimming in the poza, obviously!”

Everyone had different answers when we asked our team of coordinators what the best thing about living and working at Sunseed is – but the one thing they all agree on is that it’s an experience like no other.

So what does a Sunseed coordinator do all day? It can’t be all stargazing and swimming, can it?
Well, no. It depends which role you’re taking on – the roles are very different depending on if you’re in the support team (Facilitation, Education and Communication), practical team (Sustainable Living, Organic Gardens, Drylands Management) or technical team (Maintenance, Ecoconstruction and Appropriate Technologies).

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The support team also takes care of our market stalls

The support team is based in our light and airy office, with stunning views of the sierra. They might be planning activities for a school visit, designing new pages for the website, writing an article for a magazine or taking bookings for future volunteers – though if there’s a vegetable delivery to be unloaded, or guests to show around, they’re always ready to drop everything and help out. It’s important, varied work that keeps the project running smoothly, and is fantastic experience in NGO administration.

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The practical team work in our many gardens, the arboretum and dryland terraces, working with volunteers to experiment with sustainable gardening techniques that work in harmony with the desert surroundings. The sustainable living coordinator works hard to ensure that we’re getting a varied, nutritious and ethical diet, as well as making the most of the natural abundance of the area – so you may find them researching herbal remedies, or recipes for natural cosmetics (like this one!)

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Keeping busy in the workshops and around the project you’ll find the technical team. The maintenance coordinator looks after the project’s infrastructure, as well as the upkeep of the acequia for the whole village-the ancient water line that provides our water supply. The ecoconstruction coordinator might be helping volunteers make a cob house, while in appropriate technologies they’ll be busy maintaining our solar panels, wind turbine and other energy solutions, as well as planning future activities and researching sustainable technologies to try out.

There are some duties we all share – because an integral part of being at Sunseed is learning to live and work as part of a team. On Mondays we all clean together, then throughout the week everyone will be on the cooking and cleaning rota once or twice. Coordinators also share water collection, shopping, laundry and other tasks that involve heading out of the village – which is also a chance to take a break and have a cold drink and some tapas in one of our lovely local towns.

All coordinators spend time in the office planning their activities, writing up projects, blog posts and so on – but the lion’s share of the time is spent working and learning together with volunteers, offering activities around the project in the morning and helping them with personal projects in the afternoon. It’s busy, challenging work, but the pleasures and rewards are infinite, from sharing ideas with people from all over the world and picking up languages, to working in stunning natural surroundings and being supported by a caring team of like-minded individuals.

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And yes – there’s still plenty of time for stargazing and swimming.

Does working at Sunseed sound like your cup of tea? Keep an eye on our staff vacancies page for all our latest job postings.

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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.

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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!

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Appropriate Technology, Courses and Events, Sunseed News

Sunseed’s Appropriate Technology co-coordinator Piotr explains how we built a beautiful pond as part of our eco-friendly wastewater treatment system.

Last weekend of 16-17 April at Sunseed we conducted a workshop on Ecological Wastewater Treatment, facilitated by the coordinators of Sunseed and the Paissano collective – friends of Sunseed and big water treatment and purification enthusiasts. We invited both Sunseed volunteers and people from the Almería province interested in learning how to build a low cost ecological wastewater treatment at home. The financial contribution to the course was voluntary, after assuring the basic costs of food and accommodation.
Among some 10 participants of the course we undertook a practical project to improve the last stage of our wastewater system and beautify the space around the path which leads to the famous pool of Los Molinos. We have built a new pond!

Wastewater treatment pond

Ponds are often installed as the last stage of wastewater treatment systems with constructed wetlands (reed beds). They serve a basic function of storing the treated water in order to reuse it for irrigation, as well as to create a natural habitat for fauna and flora, thus increasing the biodiversity of the environment. Our pond consists of an infiltration area with gravel (planted with water treatment plants – macrophytes) and a deep area where in the near future we would like to plant floating macrophytes. It stores 1200 liters of water and is equipped with an overflow system to irrigate an educational self-irrigating garden in the future. We will leave the garden design to the participants of a Permaculture Design Course held by Sunseed between the 1st and 15th of May.

Construction Stages

First things first, we had to clean the construction area previously occupied by a ghost pond, which with time was filled with mud and has been taken over by the ubiquitous cane plants. The rhizomes of cane had pierced the waterproof layer of plastic, which had thus stopped serving its function.

Digging the wastewater pond
Preparing the wastewater pond

Cleaning the old pond area – a lot of mud and cane rhizomes…

After the digging we interactively and collectively designed the form and shape of the new pond. We decided to construct a division wall which allows to have a natural slope around it. Subsequently the ground was compacted and the overflow tube installed.

Installing overflow tube

Installation of the overflow pipe

We waterproofed the pond with EPDM liner, a very strong and flexible material used widely in this type of application. Around the pond we placed stones and built a small dry wall to protect the pond from mud falling inside during heavy rains. Then we filled the shallow area with gravel. Next comes the exciting part of filling it with water and planting the plants.

Guy and Blanca with pond
Petr and pond

Keeping in mind the future habitants of our pond we have created a small cave, a future house of a very happy frog.

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Finished pond

With the completion of the construction of the pond we have only opened it up for the future improvements and changes. Many Sunseed volunteers will have the opportunity to experiment with the planting of plants, elaboration of a self-watering garden with purified water and the aesthetic modifications of the pond itself. As always in Sunseed, a project never finishes, it evolves…

For more information on similar future projects and courses, contact Sunseed’s Appropriate Technology co-coordinator Piotr on piotr.jankowski@hotmail.com.

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Sunseed News

The spring of Los Molinos del Río Aguas is of great ecological importance because it serves as habitat for rare wild species to thrive in the stream and surrounding areas. The presence of constant water flow in this arid region and the rich formations of gypsum make the Natural Park of Sorbas a unique and valuable ecosystem in Europe.

The over-exploitation of the spring of the Río Aguas to water more than 3000 hectares of olive trees has caused a significant reduction in the flow of the stream from 40L/s to 3L/s in just the last few years. José María Calaforra, a professor at the University of Almería in the Biology and Geology Department, estimates that the spring will dry up in six to eighteen months if the extraction of water continues at this rate.

The population’s increasing water consumption as well as the pumping of many wells for watering is modifying the natural flow of the subterranean waters and changing the way that it reaches the spring in Los Molinos. In the Hydrological Plan for Andalusian Mediterranean Watersheds, elaborated by the Junta de Andalucía in 2008, it is already estimated that the extractions are triple the available resources of the spring, and now the over-exploitation is much greater due to the increasing monoculture of olive trees.

In July 2014, Ecologists in Action and the Mediterranean Ecologist Group made a request to the Consejería de Medio Ambiente of the Junta de Andalucía for detailed information about the state of the aquifer including the exact number and depth of the wells. They also requested that immediate action be taken to prevent a major deterioration of the aquifer, but there was no response from the Consejería. In September, the Mediterranean Ecologist Group went to court against the responsible promoter of the 600,000 olive tree monoculture in the Tabernas area, alleging that the plantation was a criminal infraction.

International associations such as Rights of Nature and End Ecocide are giving visibility to this problem on a European scale in order for the provincial administration to take the necessary actions to stop the over-exploitation of the aquifer and save the valuable ecosystems that depend on the Molinos del Río Aguas spring.

Recent articles in the Spanish newspapers:

Ideal
Almeria – hoy

For more information, see the Ecocide El Rio De Aguas Facebook page.

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Sunseed News

We celebrated Earth Day in company of the University of Almeria and other groups in the Natural Park where we live. We discovered a lot about the geology, flora and fauna; and we were reminded of their care and fragile balance. The intensive planting of olive trees and overexploitation of water are a real danger to this beautiful place. Luckily, it is clear that the desire to take care and respect the environment and the Earth will not stop.

Dia de la Tierra

El pasado 25 de abril celebramos el Día Mundial de la Tierra haciendo un recorrido con la Universidad de Almería y otros colectivos para aprender sobre la riqueza del Paraje Natural en el que vivimos. Descubrimos mucho sobre su geología, flora y fauna; recordándonos su frágil equilibrio y la importancia de su cuidado. La plantación intensiva de olivos y la sobre-explotación del agua que esta plantación y otras actividades provocan nos dieron la dramática imagen a la que se enfrenta este hermoso paraje. Por suerte, las ganas de seguir reforzando nuestro cuidado y respeto por el medio ambiente de esta nuestra Tierra no paran de crecer.

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Sunseed News, Sustainable Living, Tutorial

In an semi-epic personal journey of finding the simplest most intuitive naturally leavened bread possible, I have finally triumphed. Let the doves free! Cue an orchestra of angels!

OK, so how did I do it? With a little help from my friends! Follow the simple recipe below with distilled wisdom… and you’ll wonder why there could ever be mystery around such an easy thing.

INGREDIENTS

  • Starter*
  • Flour
  • Warm water
  • Salt

METHOD

  • Add a cup or two of flour and warm water to your starter until it’s like thick paint. Leave overnight in a cold place.
  • Add flour (the amount you need) and salt (to taste), warm-hand hot water until you get a lovely, slightly tacky (but not sticky) dough.
  • Knead well for 5-10 minutes
  • Leave for 3-4 hours in a warm place in an oiled bowl
  • Punch down and knead well for 5-10 minutes
  • Shape into loaves. Take out a golf ball amount of dough – this is your new Starter!
  • Allow to rise for 1-2 hours- Bake at 230 for 15 minutes, then reduce to 190/200 for another 20-25 (depending on loaf size)
  • Remove from oven and allow to cool on a rack
  • Bon appétit!  

If you have any questions about how to start a starter, email Sustainable Living and we will tell you how easy it is!  

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