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Newbie and looking for advise / feedback on our initial steps..

 
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Hello everyone! I am new to this forum and website and my husband and I just purchased a 3.5 acres property in the mountains of Toledo, Spain.

We did a permaculture course some years back in Thailand and are finally (after a few changes of plans and countries) starting our dream but feeling a little overwhelmed at the moments with possibilities and what to do as our initial few steps, so I would love to hear a few feedbacks /advise from this community and more expert permies!

The land we own had been cultivated and certified organic for years by the previous owner, although he did not cultivate anything at all in the last 3-4 years. Sheep maneur have been spread 2 years ago (and they were also free roaming in the same property, and nothing has been planted since. The land is mostly bare and cooked under our hot summer sun

There are a decent number of producing trees already on some areas of the farm, mostly almonds, walnuts, yellow plums and figs, with a few pears, apples, peaches and other trees that we are in thr process of identifying.

Our plan is to cover most of the property, over time with a perennials food forest, a medium sized raised beds vegetable garden that will host our annuals and some perennials, create an area for our chickens to free range between trees (they are currently free ranging the entire property, but want to dedicate a specific section for them to do so), and create a natural swimming pool

This is what we were thinking of doing as our first step:

1- Cover with some sheep maneur again (we will have access to a couple trailers for free from our neightboor.. won't be enought to cover everything, but at least the part that will have the pool, which we will dig out soil to go in raised beds, and as much as possible of the area where we will start our food forest)

2- Plant a cover crop this automn on the entire bare ground - thinking of a mix of Clovers, Hairy Vetch, black medic, white mustard, Lacy phacelia and oat, and possibly common sainfoin or sunflowers.

3- Come spring we will chop and drop the covre crop and start planting our trees and desired plants in our food forest, while cover with mulch the parts that we won't be working on right away. We are thinking of mulching with wood bark the parts that are closer to our initial food forest (we will get to work on these earlier) and try covering the areas further away from our main zone with sheep wool (again getting what could cover about 500m2 worth of wool from our neighboor for free), since it is a mulch that will take much longer to break down, buying us more time to work on other areas first, while starting to build that soil too.

We have three water wells on the property so were thinking of spray watering the biggest areas through this entire process.

We are zone 9 and in a cold semi-arid climate / right on edge of hot-summer mediterranean area of Spain.

Would love to hear what your thoughs are

Thank you so much for any help!!!

Aurelie

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current state
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back in june
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older photo - not sure from when
older photo - not sure from when
 
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Aurelie,

Congratulations on the new property!  It is always exciting to get started fresh on new land.

From the sounds of things, I think you have your bases covered.  You do have some producing trees, so that is very good.  And it sounds like you have virtually unlimited access to sheep manure.  That is a resource I would readily use.

I think the pictures really tell the story of your plot of land though.  From appearances (let me know if I am wrong), much of your land is at present bare earth.  That is something I would address immediately.  I would strongly recommend getting something, almost anything growing on that soil ASAP.  I am a firm believer that the earth should not be allowed to remain uncovered by vegetation.  And it seems like you plan to address this by planting cover crops--good!  I think that once you get a cover crop going, the soil will become more fertile with time, holding more available nutrients, and especially, more water.  Your climate being a dry one, having good water-absorbing soil is imperative.  I suggest that you include a deep rooting species in your cover crop to start to work up the earth beneath.

But all in all, you sound like you are really doing well and have a good plan for the future.  If you have any specific questions, please feel free to ask.  And by all means, please keep us uptaded.

Eric
 
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Location: Málaga, Spain
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Looks like a fine place.
I am a noob myself, without any experience so far. I'd say that if you want to take the permaculture route, avoid using your well. Read about dryland farming to get some ideas on how things were farmed not too long ago where there's no irrigation. Then design your entire plot: paths, shade trees, productive trees, market gardens, ... in a rough drawing. Unless you have the means, start small. Get a small corner of your property work: enhance the soil, provide the new vegetation you want and make sure it establishes. Then expand, and increase diversity while doing so.

For watering, there are 3 major sources:
Direct rainfall (what is dryland farming or "secano")
Indirect rainfall, which is kind of farming water from upstream the terrain.
And rivers/wells that you shouldn't rely upon, unless you are living in a wet area.
A minor but valuable source is reusing grey waters from your domestic use (your shower and dish washing, provided you don't use too many chemicals). There are commercial appliances that filter grey waters for irrigation use, but there are some more DIY designs using plants such as canes to get rid of the toxins.

Sprinkling water is a big no in my book. You get most of the moisture in the upper layer where it is most dehydrated by sun and heat. You don't need a mulch where you are using a cover crop, though. Mulches prevent water evaporation and volunteer seedlings, so do cover crops.

EDIT. Re-reading your post, I see that you already have chicks, my bad. Anyway, you could check if you have worms underground. :)

Another step I would take now is to analyse the terrain: pH, structure, minerals, possible toxics. Look at how deep is the decompacted layer. If it is too shale,  you might need to use a rototiller at least for the first time, even in a no-till approach.

It's great that you have free access to manure. I would suggest you to look at worm towers too. It's a great way to get rid of your kitchen scraps and let the worms do the work for you to distribute the fertilizer and to aireate the terrain. At least until you get some chickens. The worm tower should fill itself with worms from your terrain, but if it isn't the case, ask in vermiculture forums if someone can share some worms with you.


About the frost season, you might want to experiment with flat rocks, they are said to provide a little bit of warmth from sun exposure to the ground beneath, but remove them on summer.

Good luck!
 
Aurelie Noyer
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Thank you both for your feedbacks and advise!!!

 I suggest that you include a deep rooting species in your cover crop to start to work up the earth beneath.


I will definitely research on deep rooted options to join the cover crop mix we have in mind... any suggestion from your end Eric on the top of your mind??

Abraham, we definitely plan on also setting up a rain collection system down the road from our roofs!! Although for the moment since we live on top of a big water plateau and already have access to it through three wells, we plan to use this as our water supply. Also down the road we will have it set up to be working on solar power, which will make it an automatized system that use our available resourses, water underground and the plenty of sun.

Will definitely read more about dryland farming too, we want to have a good percentage of our property with native plants, but also want to have some plants that require a little tweak to the normal climate as they need more water than available, especially in the summer months, which is where our use of the well water is coming handy.

Sprinkling water is a big no in my book.

What do you recommend instead??

And yes, already ordered water and soil test, and we are planning for warm farming and using warm casting tea as well

Happy to hear any further advise or suggestions! and thanks you all in the meantime!
 
Abraham Palma
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Location: Málaga, Spain
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What do you recommend instead??

Drip irrigation or deep irrigation. Drip for things like letuces that need humid surface, deep irrigation for everything else. The sprinkler is a waste of water, since it irrigates just the soil surface which is most affected by evaporation. It's good for grass, but little else.
 
Aurelie Noyer
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Abraham Palma wrote:What do you recommend instead??

Drip irrigation or deep irrigation. Drip for things like letuces that need humid surface, deep irrigation for everything else. The sprinkler is a waste of water, since it irrigates just the soil surface which is most affected by evaporation. It's good for grass, but little else.



ok, drip irrigation is clear to me on some ways to achieve that.. could you clarify what you refer to when you say deep irrigation? Swales and such? does this makes sense on a land that is flat and mostly sandy??

Thank you so much!!!
 
Abraham Palma
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Deep irrigation is when you pour lots of water but with fewer frequency than recommended. Instead of 100 liters every 4 days (if that's what your plants require) you pour 200 litres every 10 days. Using a large pipe you pour the water directly and kindly in the soil, not jets or sprinks, think that you are filling with water the below ground layer, not the surface. The idea is to keep the moist layer under 15 cm so your plants develop longer roots and become drought resistant. Deep, but not so deep that the roots can't reach. Meanwhile the surface is almost dry and prevents weeds and evaporation. Of course, this does not work for herb plants that love moist surfaces (I think of lettuces). Your seeds might not germinate if you throw them directly since the surface is almost always dry: use grown seedlings or make small deep holes before seeding so they get to the moist layer.

About swales, it depends on who you ask. Permaculture gurus say swales all the way, even for flat terrain. My reference in irrigation says that under 5% steepness it is not worthy (in terms of effort) to use swales (5% is 5 cm altitude every horizontal meter), that you get better results by enhancing the texture of your land (adding a thick layer of compost fixes almost anything, but also using permanent cover crops or mulching if that's your thing). Traditional farming makes use of berms for retaining water, especially when using the drowning technique, but that requires you to till.

If your soil is sandy and it is well drained, maybe you could try below ground beds. Below ground beds are 5 or 10 cm below ground level and they are harder on your knees, but keep the terrain more moist, safer from strong winds and slightly cooler. In other terrains these beds may turn into pools for days and rot the plants, but when they are well drained they just make better use of whatever water they take.

As I said, I'm not experienced, so take my advice as second handed. The only thing I've learned the hard way is how to test the humidity of the terrain. You need to dig with your finger up to the layer you want to test: if it comes out clean, then the soil was dry. Do this before irrigating. Don't be fooled by sad plants, sometimes it's not the lack of water what makes them flaccid.
 
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