Tag Archives: Companion Planting

News from Busso…

Today brings welcome news from Italy. The very nature of our journey means that we are connecting with, working with and then inevitably parting way with friends, couch surf hosts and wwoof hosts along the way. We wonder often how the projects are going that we leave behind. We can of course receive the odd update via email but its just not the same as seeing with our own eyes. Some of our permaculture blitz ideas were met with caution by our hosts, seen as “crazy” gardening or “cocktail” gardens. “Let’s see” was a common used phrase when a new experiment had been planted out.

Luckily Giovanni was very open to the idea of a new synergistic garden, less work, less water, less disease, no chemicals, no digging, more food were all promised once the initial set up was complete. You can read the original blog post here.

The pictures above show the set up process followed by the photographs below, just received from Giovanni, taken only last night, with the comments that it hasn’t even rained since we left – looks like that thick layer of moisture holding mulch is doing the trick…

Advertisements

Gorilla in the Mist

We have been in Italy for 6 weeks in total. For each new person we meet or new village we enter we wonder if we’ll ever have a truly authentic Italian experience. Some time with a family would be nice or the chance to learn about home cooked Italian food. From the comfort of our Molise farmhouse we looked through the wwoof host list once again and although we usually steer clear of agri-tourism farms there was something wooing us towards our next host. It may have been the photo’s that Nina spotted of home made pasta and freshly baked wood oven bread. In fact I’m sure it was. We contacted Giovanni and he was keen to have us for a week in Busso before we left Italy for Greece.

Giovanni kindly collected us from our farmhouse in Faifoli. He has a friend with a mill nearby and was keen to pick up some fresh flour for baking and making polenta later in the week. He hinted on route that he was recently separated from his wife and it was obvious when we arrived at his house that the agri-tourism business had been laid to rest. The topic of conversation in the car was verging on obsessive and Giovanni clearly had a new passion – truffle hunting! It turns out that we had arrived in one of the most prolific black truffle hotspots in Italy and THE only region in the world where you can find the elusive white truffle.

Giovanni got up at 4am every morning to take two of his five dogs out hunting. He mentioned to us that he watches films or listens to music at around 2am each night and he was up past twelve every day that we were there. One day we found him randomly sleeping in his car at lunchtime and on day five he confessed to insomnia which gave reason to the silver-back nature we had experienced, calm and attentive one minute and explosive and unpredictable the next. We wanted authentic and we certainly got it. Our time in Busso was very testing but also very rewarding.

Our host, also a professional chef, was keen to demonstrate his skills in the kitchen and we were baking sourdough bread and pizza within hours of arrival. He cooked pumpkin risotto, wild chicory, potato and bean pasta amongst an array of other Italian delights with home made wine with every lunchtime and evening meal. Oh yes, before you ask, we were treated to the legendary black truffles, once with egg and once with the polenta on a friendly visit to parents for lunch. There is no other taste like it in the world. Delicate fungi with a buttery warmth that when grated, raw, has a distinct texture similar to parmesan cheese. I could see how they could become addictive and maybe why Giovanni was obsessed and a bit crazy.

Our duties as wwoofers were mostly helping out around the place. We emptied a wood shed and added some new acacia uprights for roof support before re-stacking it, we put up some fencing, we helped move things around that he couldn’t have done alone, we supervised the revival of an old lawnmower and we generally kept the crazy-maker’s kitchen clean. Plus we made another round of elderflower cordial, our third batch in Italy!

Giovanni mentioned a few times that he wanted to ‘do’ permaculture in his vegetable garden. On day four he went out to visit a friend and Nina and I set about turning an unused area of his vegetable plot into a synergistic garden. I’d learnt the basics from Elena a few weeks earlier. The process of setting it up is very easy and due to the no-dig nature it only has to be done once. On the slope I pulled earth from the high ground down to form one metre terraces, leaving a path. Nina added plenty of old sheep and rabbit poo and I then added a drip irrigation pipe along the top of each terrace and we heavily mulched, paths an all. We had some seeds collected from our journey so far, some seedlings that Giovanni bought plus whatever we could find around the property, like strawberries and mint. We designed a companion pattern for each bed and packed them full of food crop and beneficial plants like borage and calendula. Giovanni was very happy with his new garden and said that he was hoping to transfer the whole veg patch into this type of ‘easy’ growing system.

We were asked along to a morning truffle hunt one day. Up and out the door before 5am. Dew-proof trousers, a big stick and sniffer dogs in cages. It was all very surreal. We drove to an area just a few kilometres away, a young forest emerging from grassland. Oaks, blackthorn, wild apples, hawthorn, poplar and dogwood were all present. Giovanni showed us areas of grass die back where he expects to find truffles and sadly areas where some very competitive truffle hunters had dug up meters of soil around the tree. They do this once they have found just one truffle in the hope of randomly finding more. Not only do they take the unripe truffles but they break the mycellium and upset the symbiotic relationship of tree and truffle and any hopes of the same area fruiting again. Our guide has no need for this illegal type of scavenging as his dogs are so good at honing in to the spot. It was great to see them nose to ground, excited by what they may find. We didn’t find a truffle that morning. He never does when he takes people with him. We heard the horror stories of poison baits being left for dogs, easy for poachers to get the upper hand once your rival dog is dead. It’s big business and Giovanni has a friend who recently sold a truffle for $23,000.

I was worried for Giovanni and I was worried for his animals. I could have counted the number of hours sleep he’d had in one week on one hand. One moment he was full of joy and enthusiasm for his new garden and the next he was whacking one of his hounds in frustration. He was relying on truffles for an income and relying on his dogs for truffles. When little Ziggy got a wheat tuft in her ear it was the cost of removing it that seemed the major concern and not the welfare of the dog. I had to remind our host that the dogs had no water in their cages, cages that they spend every moment in when not truffle hunting. It makes me think about using animals as tools for profit related business. And it makes me think about relying on one stream of income and the pressure that comes with it. The permaculture principle of redundancy teaches us not to put all our eggs in one basket. The analogy of the spiders web demonstrates this perfectly, it can still perform it’s function even when a whole bunch of links are broken. I hope that Giovanni will be inspired by his new garden and maybe he will develop it further for less reliance on truffle hunting.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Bouthrarar Tabout

On leaving Marrakech we travelled for a day over the Atlas mountains south east and arrived in El Kelaa Des Mgouna, the gateway to the valley of the roses.  We passed through our original WWOOF hosts town as we’d heard nothing from them to confirm our arrival.

Part of my third diploma project involves Nina and I having a monthly travel check-in with each other to establish whether both of our needs and expectations are being met.  When we went through our list it was obvious that our journey so far was missing some vital elements – time in nature, live and loud music, being effective, exercise, some meaning and more learning and celebration.  We decided from that to head into the valley and see what we could find…

An hours minibus ride brought us to the beautiful hamlet of Bouthrarar, a collection of tiny villages on the banks of two converging rivers.  It was obvious on arrival that the locals were making good use of the available water as there were lush green fields of broad beans, lucern, wheat and clovers.  Surrounding each small plot were fig, walnut, almond, peach and olive trees.  The hedgerows are all made up of roses, hence the name of the valleys.  They are harvested in May and made into various products like rose water and soap.

On closer inspection we found that the abundance in the valley was down to careful use of water and the ingenious irrigation system not dissimilar to those in Ladakh.  Small sections are diverted away from the river upstream and held high by hand built channels.  By the time they reach the next village they are way above the crops in need and can be carefully directed downwards using more channels and small sluices which are opened and closed by rocks or soil.  The excess water then rejoins the river below.  A great design for catching and storing energy, using minimum effort for maximum effect.

On our first evening in the valley we asked our host if there was any chance we could see some of the local building techniques in action.  Our hopes of exercise, learning, meaning and community were answered in a flash when we were offered the opportunity to join the local building team the next day.  It turns out that our host Youssef is in contact with Unesco to have the valley recognised for it’s local traditions including the building practice which they call Tabout.  We jumped at the chance and spent the following week completely immersed in Berber life.

The technique involves constructing a wooden frame, ramming earth into it and then moving the frame on to the next section whilst the previous one is being rendered.  The team made it look easy but Nina and I found it pretty hard work, carrying baskets of soil on our heads up ladders and ramming earth into the frames with a heavy tool made from walnut.  I think we surprised them with our enthusiasm and I don’t think they expected us to show up for more hard graft the next day.

As the week progressed we were not only fatigued by work but also by the amazing hospitality that we enjoyed.  Being part of the team also seemed to earn us the privilege of being part of the family and we were welcomed into each and every home for the remainder of our time in the valley.  Brahim, Moha, Abd Hamane, Said, Mohammed and their families were by far the most hospitable people I have ever come across.  Each night after work, and all the following week, we ate with them, sang with them, danced with them and enjoyed the type of days off they would only normally spend with their families.

It was always midnight or later before the evening festivities of song and homemade fig liquor had finished and Abdul or Youssef would insist on walking us home.  On day ten we managed to break away from the village and enjoy a neighbouring hamlet, of course joined by one of the team who wanted to make sure we had a fulfilling experience and were safe.  From the nearby village of Almdoune, and after being taken to another families home for tea, we set off on a walk to take in one of the many gorges of the valleys.  A spectacular trek that took in not only a beautiful gorge but more picturesque villages and a magnificent kasbah too.

It was late when we arrived back to Abdul’s house and there he and his wife Sadia insisted on dressing us up Berber style for a final ho down over at Brahim’s house.  We shared family photo’s and exchanged gifts and seeds before some emotional good byes and hopes of seeing each other again some day…Inshaalah

There was no way possible to summarise in a blog what an amazing two weeks we have had with the tabout team but I have made a small documentary which will be here on the website when we come across a better connection for uploading.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Read more about our journey and see more pictures at Nina’s blog typotraveller

Patch Packdown

I’m writing this post from a blue washed rooftop in Chefchaouen, Morocco.  We arrived a week ago after a fairly hands on last week at the Patch in England.  We managed to do everything we felt we needed to do to leave it in a good place for the future.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Main achievement was turfing, sealing, tidying and guttering the roof and setting up the water tanks.  With the help of Dad and a few days graft we should now always have water on site to help keep the young fruit trees nourished in their early years.  Still no news on the planning application however the water tanks are essential to good harvests in years to come.  With more help this time from Mum and Nina’s tireless shit shovelling efforts we managed to sheet mulch every single tree and section of hedging that was planted last year.

Two or three soft fruits were planted around each fruit tree, and many interplanted with nitrogen-fixing shrubs, mostly, seabuckthorn berry.  We laid thick sheets of cardboard and then dumped on a good load of old horse poo and mulched around each one, joining to form islands or guilds.  Next went in comfrey root cuttings and on top we sewed a mixture of beneficial insect/bee plant seed, mineral miner seeds, herbs and basically anything we had from the seeds saved last year .  For minimum effort and a few minutes sewing we produce the possibility of plenty of beneficial plants popping up.  The alder hedge, elaeagnus hedge and the edible hedge all got heavily mulched that will hopefully kick start a growth spirt this year.

Nina put the veggy garden to bed under black plastic weighed down by tyres.  This should ensure a weed free experience when we next want to use it.  We had a general clear up and an all round nice “Bon Voyage” bonfire with Woody to mark the end of a massively productive year at the Patch.  Here’s hoping friends and family can enjoy some fresh fruit soon…

August – Pulling up Potatoes…

We have been away from The patch for quite a few weeks but on returning during August was a great surprise and the harvest was excellent from the veg garden.  We were able to give my Granddad a nice big veg box for his birthday.  One of the great reasons for growing fresh organic vegetables is that you can supply your friends and family with surplus…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

July – Sudden abundance

The first week in July and already our vegetable garden is producing an abundance of tasty food.  Nina’s medlar has settled in nicely.  Everything is mulched to hold moisture and suppress those volunteer plants.  We seem to have no pests eating anything as Nina carefully chose where to position plants to benefit one another and exploit those niches…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.