Tag Archives: Irrigation

Synergistic Gardens at La Fattoria dell’Autosufficienza

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I have just finished a week volunteering with Elena in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy.  Our main focus was in the vegetable gardens.  Elena follows Emilia Hazelip’s methods adapted to a temperate climate from Masanobu Fukuoka’s natural farming techniques.  A term referred to as Synergistic Gardening which is a fancy way of saying self fertilising garden.  The main focus is building soil fertility.  Here are the main principles;

  • Permanent raised beds with the ability to reach the whole bed without stepping on it.  Keyholes are best use of space but if you have room strips are easy to work with
  • No bare soil – permanent soil cover using organic mulch like straw or sheep’s wool.  I believe a living mulch could work really well too.  Adding even more life to the beds.
  • No monoculture – massive diversity in plants for all the obvious reasons; Resilience, beneficial insects etc.  There is no particular planting patterns it seems.
  • No chemicals! (pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, hormones)
  • No tilling – yes that means no digging (apart from the original prep)!
  • No added compost (with the possible exception of demanding transplants)
  • No treating plants (i.e. for insects, illness, etc).
  • No pulling out plants (except for root vegetables)

It actually seems like a lot of rules but it’s pretty simple once the beds are set up – keep it covered, mix things up when sowing and interfere with the garden as little as possible.  If you want to remove the odd weed then cut it at the base letting the roots stay.

Helping Elena made me realise that keeping annuals can actually be very easy.  I helped her do her yearly irrigation system check, her yearly weed (by chopping at the base of the stem), yes once a year, and the rest of the time we were scattering seeds.  She likes to observe what does well in what situation rather then referring to a companion planting book.

There are a few logical sowing methods that I observed like salad plants taking up most of the edges for ease of regular picking and some larger rooted plants in the higher positions with more soil below.

Whilst walking around the gardens I thought to myself that one packet of seeds is roughly equivalent in cost to one vegetable, like a fennel or a pumpkin or something similar.  So compared with the effort that we put into annual gardening we may as well just scatter seeds and hope for the best.  If two come good then we have saved ourselves the cost of one vegetable and for the very very least effort spent.  Even less if we are saving our own seed!

Thank you for having me for a week and good luck with the continuing success of your experiments at La Fattoria dell’Autosufficienza

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La Premier…

So here’s my go at a little documentary.  Part 1 of our Wwoof to Oz adventure.

Next stop Spain…

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.

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