It's time I present our project. Since it's a long story, let me show it in different posts. In this one I am writing about the place and its history.
Orchard Dignity is located in Malaga, Spain. GPS 36.74797883562293, -4.430140044569244. Roughly 1700 m2 (~0.4 acres). It's fenced and it has a small tool house.
As you can see, it's just between the northern part of the city and the wilderness. There's a picnic area in front of the door, and hills are at the back.
(The satellite image on Google is a bit outdated).
This place has been historically an orchard. There are carobs, olive trees, almond trees and fig trees all over the place and in the hills. Thyme, fennel, rosemary and lavander are the most common weeds, also brooms, thistles, oxalis, and a variety of other wild herbs. Most of them indicate hot, dry and compact soils.
We are in a semi-arid thermomediterranean climate. It means 550 mm average rainfall per year, close to the sea level, dry and very hot summers, heavy rains in automn and spring. We are near the coast, so the temperatures are more constant through the year, but not so close as to suffer from saltiness. Winds are a concern. There are mild winds from the east almost always, and then the dreaded northern dry winds which literally kill plants and people.
We have a very hard soil. I need a pickaxe to make a dent. It's composition is not bad, mostly red silt and clay, sometimes grey, with some slate stones. I've digged at least 1 metre of dirt and haven't found the rocksoil. So, it is just very very compacted. I don't think there is more than 1 mm of carbon on it.
There was a well in the place, but it is closed now due to restrictions. Outside the Gardens, there is an irrigation ditch made of concrete. It carried water from another well but is disabled now. There are underground pipes from the municipal grid, the grid is used for irrigating the urban trees in the picnic area with sprinklers. We are not allowed to use it.
A 2 meter pond was attempted in the middle of the orchard, but it never filled with water, not even in heavy rains. Nowadays, we only have 2 broken ABC containers, that are refilled every 3 months.
We have several benches, a few trash bins, a small fence made of pallets, a couple of bathtubes for composting, a canopy for the social area and little more.
In 2008, against spanish government measures for the debt crisis, there were massive mobilisations. They were called The March for Diginity. A grassroot group in Malaga who participated in the March had the idea of making some long lasting action, in the form of an urban garden market. Back in 2008, food sovereignty was all the rage and Malaga was severely missing these facilities.
After a few discarded sites, they chose the "Parque de la Virreina" (viceroy wife? vicequeen?) for its location and possibilities. There they tilled, sowed and irrigated with 8 liter plastic bottles. Police told them to dismiss. Dignity folk came back and back, until they met the local representative and some informal agreement was reached. The city hall would fence the place, build the tool house and everything, provide water, and the activists would stay inside, no more protests whatsoever.
The group presented then a social project, aiming to formalize the agreement. They would provide food for charity in exchange for the recognition of the urban market garden. For a while it worked.
A retired man worked the plot, ecological garden style, took his part and sent the rest to the grassroot movement which gave the whole to charity.
Life happens. The retired man quarreled with the rest of the group (he didn't comply with the rules and thought he was renting the place), the water supply was stopped allegedly on a health issue and then covid pandemic came.
In 2020 the situation was dire. No water, no manpower, no money, no nothing. Only a few enthusiasts with very little time, old tools and the land. Even enthusiasm was failing.
So we had a problem challenge.
On the good side, we had a nice small community, good mood, respect, common mindframes... The community makes a point about deciding everything in committee by consensus, monthly assemblies. We had a bathtub filled with red worms for compost. We had some old trees from the old orchard and some new fruit trees on the way. We had permission from authorities for managing the site and a meagre load of water. Rainfall was acceptable from October to May.
I identified two kind of participants, though the distinction is not exclusive, but more a question of degree. The first ones were here only for politics, they loved plants and spending time in the orchard but not working on it. The second ones loved working with plants and were sympathetic to politics, but not really involved. Activists and gardeners. Both are needed for the project to make sense. Activists entertain parties and bring in new people, while gardeners keep the place green and alife, a nice symbiosis.
On the bad side, we had very little money and time. The market garden was poorly attended, since we could not rely on a constant participation, aggravated by lockdowns and expert gardeners finding new jobs with less free time. Gardeners were going to the orchard once, maybe twice a week, like a hobby. People were frutrated about how crops were growing. Actually NOT growing.
We needed a change (and more water). And we used a permaculture approach to this.
A market garden is frustrating because we cannot give it the time and care it needs, we needed something that could thrive with the resources we can provide. So first step we changed the name to GARDENS, thus removing the expectations of providing loads of food. It changes the mindset of both visitors and gardeners.
With our resources, we can prune, we can seed and plant seedlings, we can harvest, we can cut tall grass, we can dig for beds. But it is hard to till, irrigate and weeding. We needed a system that survive without irrigation and could provide food without weeding. This, in our climate, is a real challenge.
The main feature is a public garden, as a space for recreation open to all the neighbourhood. People can visit it during the opening hours for free.
In the gardens, the visitor may find flowers, trees, bushes, crops and wilderness. Everything but crops should be able to live without irrigation or constant management. It is not lush, this is mediterranean after all, but it is rich and diverse. Visitors may pick any food they can find but crops, within reason.
It's main purpose is to provide joy and beauty, and some food, spices and medicines for the trained eyes. It's also a learning place, intended for courses and gardening practices. And it's still a place for our more activist members to hold their meetings and shows.
- At the entrance there's a social area. Benches, a canopy, a table, welcoming visitors and meeting people.
- South of the tool house, at the driest zone, there's the cactus area: prickly pears, jujube and ornamental cactuses.
- Between the entrance and the tool house there's a flower garden, so we can watch them all the time.
- Past the flower garden, it's all food forest. The second half of the food forest also features market garden sunken beds among the trees.
- At the end there's a small patch of wilderness so we can collect wild seeds and weeds.
- We want to collect clean water from the roof of the tool house, but this is a project we can't afford right now.
- We are working on improving soil structure so it sinks and keeps water for longer.
- Market garden beds have a catchment area, roughly of the same area than the bed.
- Slopes are being terraced.
- We are working on green screens for wind protection: blackberries at the fences, hedge bushes between zones.
- We try to not irrigate. When we must, we try to water with plenty of water but infrequently, mimicking heavy rains.
- We want to develop draugh tolerant varieties and we have introduced plants more adapted to the climate, preserved our seeds, etc.
- We apply worm castings.
- Herbs are cut&dropped at 30cm tall for preventing wildfires, but not leaving the soil exposed.
- On exposed areas, we use pallets, stones, anything we can find.
- Pruning remains are chopped as mulch or buried for garden beds. A few trees are grown just for this purpose.
- Garden beds for crops are filled with organic matter, such as kitchen scraps, shredded paper and leaves.
- Light shade or dwarf trees are used near the crops.
- Big shade trees are placed in the social area and in the wilderness.
- Fruit trees near the market garden beds are pruned heavily.
- An easy to follow guide is given to new volunteers.
- All new volunteers can participate in the assemblies as any other member.
- Big parties are encouraged once per season.
- Harvest is distributed among all gardeners.
- Every now and then we try a microproject that enhances the gardens:
- You can read about triangular sunken beds here https://permies.com/t/152917.
- We are terracing our slopes using aloe vera for land retention.
- We are using the small stones produced by the sunken beds for drainage in other places, the big ones for mulching in cactus area.
- And so on.
I will post all new micropojects in this thread for convenience. Stay tuned!
We have had the driest automn and winter in ages. Less than 5% of the usual rainfall.
In February we had a massive mud rain. A dust storm coming from the Sahara, combined with the first rains. Malaga turned red for a few days.
Dust storms from the Sahara, called 'Calima', happened sometimes, but never this hard.
We didn't finish cleaning when we had another mud episode in March.
The arm is from a fellow gardener who was outside while it was raining mud the second time.
So, coming the second rains in March, I took some pictures in the gardens.
There were a few damages.
First, the fabric canopy was torn apart, the pillar that holded the canopy broken. It could not resist the weight of that canopy mud wet while the wind was blowing.
Then, we had one of our garden beds where the earth moved away the support. This is a minor damage.
Overall, the damages were mostly our fault, since the design of the canopy was not adequate.
I wanted to study water runoff. So here's the most relevant pictures.
There's a puddle behind the tool house and another puddle right in the middle of the gardens (next to the banana tree). The puddle by the tool house is bad, we should rework it so it drains better. The puddle by the banana tree might be the foundation for a swale.
Also, I found lots of runoff water passing by the social area, going to the perennial garden / social events zone. I think we should divert this runoff towards the flower garden that is next to the stream. This runoff can be observed in the picture above, where the broken canopy.
I also took a picture from the lowest corner of the garden, in the wild area. Surprisingly, the ground was moist but not wet.
The garden beds were fine. Maybe there are too many oxalis, but we cannot cut them right now, it's too wet to do any work now.
If you enlarge the photo of the nasturtiums, you'll see how muddy they've become.
There's just one of the triangle beds that's flooded, but the next day it was back to normal.
I've also added a pic from the exterior. There's an old irrigation ditch by the picnic area, full of water. It only happens once or twice in a year.
Just a few more pics.
A jujube we planted last automn has finally sprout. I want to have three dwarf jujubes, this is the start.
A marjory recently pruned.
And a picture taken in April featuring the biggest mushroom I've ever seen in our orchard.
I knew our anual plants would not survive summer: they are too exposed and we don't have good irrigation. But at least I was hoping to harvest something came June, before the summer. Early June is usually cool, heat starts late June, and deadly heat (canícula) starts in July and lasts until late August. In September we could grow again, but the soil is as dry as a cardboard by then.
However, this year we had an early heat wave first week of June. It killed pretty much everything not heat resistant. Even the plants that survived took a toll.
Nevermind, failures are lessons if we want to learn. I am still learning to produce seedlings from seed at home. My appartment terrace is not the most ideal place for that, it's windy and too exposed to the sun, and the cat likes to destroy any seedling I leave at ground level, but that's what I have. I can only produce 6-12 seedlings at home at the same time due to wife (and wife's cat) restrictions.
Last year, I planted my seedlings as soon as the real leafs appeared. They all died. I learned that seedlings need to be bigger before planting so they can reach a layer that's not completely dry. So now my little seedlings are waiting in wicking pots until the size is right.
Second lesson, no crop survives summer without a shade, sometimes not even the spring. So this year we are doing a test. Instead of planting in the good soil of our gardening beds, we are planting the seedlings in the hard soil underneath the trees and bushes already established. I've mulched them with shreded paper, both for mulching and visibility.
We have also some tree seedlings on the way, but it's not the right season for planting.
First thing, a disclaimer. In the mediterranean we have five seasons: Winter, Spring, Summer, Estivum (estío) and Automn. These days it is fashionable to call the estivum season as "canícula", referring to 4-5 weeks of extreme heat in the mid-summer. It was made into four seasons to fit the rotation of the Earth, but if you happen to garden or farm here, you have to agree that they are five seasons indeed. Well, we are starting Estivum, so the images are not from the worst of the year, but it is close.
We have consumed only 8m3 of water in a year, supplied by the municipality, since that's what they agreed to. Also, as you may know, this has been a draught year in all of Europe, and it has hit hard here too. Many fruit trees have refused to fruit this year. Some of them have barely grown. A strategy for survival in this climate is to sleep while the worst passes, so when our trees don't get enough water, they just sleep, and sleep, and don't grow. We gave them all a bucket of water or two, but that's clearly insufficient. As it goes, I am watering more my balcony pots than the garden.
Since we decided no more vegetables will be grown until we enjoy from some partial shade, we've partially respected the rule. There are some veggies here and there, soon to be dead, of course.
Today I am happy. I've gathered my first harvest in ages. These fig trees haven't failed a single year.
This one, we gave them some extra water to help them grow bigger figs, and bigger they got.
I properly thanked it.
We didn't do anything special. A bit of rock mulching in the north side, and lots of living mulch, also known as weeds.
Our canopy was broken by strong winds during a storm.
Recently we shared the garden for free with some friends who expected to make some money from a party. It didn't work for them, but at least they left this shade cloth in the social area. Not as good as a real canopy, but better than nothing!
Also, we've advanced in our rainwater collector system. We've already installed the planks in the roof. Yeehee. At this pace, it will be due in two years. But at least the work is in progress.
Did I mentioned that I built a rocket stove? It is dug in the earth, but it is accesible from one side and can be easily fed by the other side.
It worked twice, we made a cooking party, then it collapsed. I need to compact the soil over the tube before using it again, but I need water for this and I don't want to waste water from our tanks, so I am waiting for the rains. Well, I am not allowed to light a fire in the open until it rains anyways.
As you may already know, we suffer from vandalism. As of today, we have two big holes in the fence. We've required the municipality to repair it, but since they don't seem to respond to this request, we are taking some more natural measures. Cacti measures actually.
I hope any trespasser find the joke funny.
This year we've also built a couple of small terraces. They are not working well currently. They have the right shape, however, the soil is extremely compacted and nothing is growing on them. Again, I am waiting for the rainy season in Automn for fixing it.
The idea is that the borders will be held by small trees and aloes, then the inner part of the terrace will be turn into garden market beds, once they are shaded.
Carob is the best tree around. It fixes nitrogen. It's rather big. Its fruit is edible and good as a chocolate substitute. Pigs love them. It grows at a reasonable speed for a tree that needs no irrigation (oaks take forever to grow!!). It's soft to prune, so it's good for chop and drop.
The biggest tree in our orchard is this old carob tree. It's the only thing giving a shade worth of that name for now.
And also we have lots of carob saplings here and there because we have been using the earth from the carob tree base, full of carob seeds, to fertilize other parts in the garden.
Under the big carob tree we have installed our composting system (a bucket for pre-fermenting, two bath tubes with red worms for processing). We need it to be shaded to protect our worms from the heat.
From all the above, we've decided to build our project around carob trees. They are already available and growing well, so why not?
The other picture is my attempt at building an adapted grocery row garden (David the Good TM). You don't get to see the trees because currently they are smaller than the vegetables, lol.
Also good news: we've bought a couple of jujubes. After two failed attempts at having some jujubes from cuttings, we've given up and bought a couple from a local nursery. The timing was awful, and now we need to irrigate them all the summer, but I just couldn't wait anymore. Hope you understand.
More good news: the pommegrenate tree is giving its first fruits ever. Last year it attempted to grow some, but they all failed. Now it is promising. It's only two pommegrenates, but I didn't expect any, after all this prolonged draught.
And another hope. This year, if we are lucky, some grapes will rippen before they are taken by plagues. Last year it was so stressed by the lack of water that it lost all the grapes. I've already cut three sick racines. Let's see if the others make it.
Keep with me, I am almost done with the update, XD
Since our nursery was vandalized, we've not grown our own seeds. Now this is going to change.
I've settle a seed tray under a broom bush. We try to keep the tray filled with water, it's the only way that small seedlings don't die. But I can't plant seedlings so small, so before planting, I am moving the seedlings to my custom made pots (made from milk plastic bottles, see a tutorial in this link). The pots are watered by inmersion in a small deposit, which is pretty risky, but when it works, we get 12-15 cm long roots, and that's what they need to survive in the barely irrigated garden beds.
We need these extreme measures since we only attend the garden twice a week, sometimes once a week, so the tender seedlings need something extra to endure until our next visit.
The next picture is how we are handling the cannes that we don't get to use: They are doing a service as a wind barrier in the fence where plants have not already filled the spot.
The last one is a pretty simple worm tower. It's a plastic milk bottle with a few holes in the sides. There are bugs inside, and I hope some worms too. I feed them kitchen scraps directly inside the bottle. Not pretty but very functional.
And that's it for now.
I hope the next update doesn't take that long.
Thank you for reading this far.