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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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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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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!

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Sunseed News
Quince tree coming into leaf… .. .IMG_3101 Ladybird on a borage plant – ladybirds are an organic gardener’s best friend as they have a huge appetite for aphids IMG_3109 Harvesting peas – our autumn sown plants are now producing a lot of tasty pods. They are quite laborious to shell, but well worth it for a sweet addition to salads and soupsIMG_3123 Planting tomatoes and basil – these guys are often planted together for two reasons: firstly as they are delicious when eaten together (especially with some fresh buffalo mozzarella!), and secondly, the basil is said to keep harmful insects awayIMG_3130 Courgette plants – this is the first wave of courgette plants, we will sow a second wave when the first start to produce in order to have courgettes until the end of autumnIMG_3132 First leaf of the mulberry tree – according to traditional folklore this signifies that there will be no more frosts. We hope so as we have just planted out lots of plants that cannot tolerate the cold!IMG_3135

Membrillo brotando…


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Mariquita encima de una borraja. Las mariquitas son las mejores amigas de quienes trabajan los huertos orgánicos, ya que les encanta comerse a los pulgones.


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Recolectando guisantes – lo que sembramos en otoño está dando ahora una buena cosecha. Es bastante laborioso extraerlos de la vaina, pero vale la pena si es para añadir algo dulce a ensaladas y sopas.


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Plantando tomates y albahaca – se les suele plantar juntos por dos razones: primeramente porque están riquísimos cuando se comen juntos (sobretodo con un poco de mozzarella Buffalo), y en segundo lugar, se dice que la albahaca mantiene lejos a los insectos dañinos.


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Plantas de calabacín – esta es la primera temporada de plantas de calabacín, vamos a plantar la segunda cuando la primera empiece a producir para poder tener calabacín hasta el final del otoño.


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Primera hoja de la morera – de acuerdo al dicho tradicional significa que ya no habrá más heladas. Eso esperamos porque hemos sembrado un montón de plantas que no toleran el frío!


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