Back in 2001 I was given some land to use in central Spain, and decided to try to create a small community based on the vedic social model of varnasrama. Varnasrama is a social system that recognises the natural proclivities of people and gives space for people to excel in their particular fields within the realm of what nature has to offer us for our basic happy subsistence.
I figured that the easiest and cheapest way to get started would be to build some yurts and start to get food production going. Because it gets quite cold there in winter -16C, and up to 40C in summer the yurts would have to be well insulated. In the following posts I will attempt to describe how things unfolded.
I purchased ready cut lumber and adapted it for the Yurts. I also got architectural fabric and had to learn how to weld the seams using a hot air gun and a roller. I sold the first two yurts to raise the money to build yurts for the project.
After selling the yurts, we had enough to build two yurts for the project. We dug out a trench the size of the yurt base, piled the dirt into a cement mixer and added 6% cement, then piled it right back in the hole. It made a pretty solid foundation. Then we mounted the frames on the foundation. I left room on my yurt to stack straw bales around the outside. Then I planned on plastering them with a lime mud plaster.
Simultaneous to building the yurts we began to try to get the land back into production. This part of Spain is known as the bread basket of Europe. It is known for production of wheat, barley and other grains. The land was pretty depleted when we got it. So with what little dung we got from the four cows our families shared we attempted to grow some of our food. I didn't know about permaculture then, but I did try to follow the work of John Jeavens with the double digging of beds, along with following Rodales companion planting guides. This part of the valley was south facing. I was walking on the property looking for a good spot to settle, when I discovered this particular spot which in bright sunlight was warm enough for me to remove my coat, while the rest of the valley was minus 16c. I decided to build a greenhouse along this bank, and stacked it with stones that would absorb the days heat and give it off in the night. It worked really well. I used hazel rods to make the frame and to make a wattle to hold back the soil on the bank. I also installed a hand pump to bring up water from the stream below.
The hazel rod frame greenhouse with wattle retaining wall and stones on the bank and on the path to store the days heat. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures of the great harvest we had that summer. My camera had broken and I couldn't afford a new one.
Inspiring post, Greg! Really like how you observed the warm bank on the property and used on-site materials for the greenhouse. Do you have any tips on its construction (6 mil plastic recommended?, hazel used over other woods because... etc.)? Any thing you'd do differently if you put up a second greenhouse?
Hazel is a very limber wood. It was used by the Irish for centuries to make their bender tents. I made many benders when I was on the English free festival circuit. Another wood thats good for this is willow which can be more difficult to find. If you get a hazel rod about 1-1/4" thick at the base and about 8-12' long you can bend it gently around your knee, gently and gradually easing it into a curve, move the rod every 2 or 3 feet continually giving a gentle bend so that eventually you get a nicely curved and strong rod. You have to be gentle or you can break it. You can embed two of them about 6 feet opposite each other, about a foot into the ground, then pull the top ends towards each other and entwine their ends together and tie them with string to make a loop hoop with the top about 6 feet above the ground. You can make a row of them, and then thread straighter rods, weaving them between the uprights and tie to make a really strong light structure, which can be covered with tarpaulin or plastic.
The main yurt was built on a slight hillside, so I used the opportunity to make a raised foundation so that we could create more depth and incorporate a good sized sleeping loft into the yurt. The foundation was also wide enough to stack straw bales. I had to adapt the yurts roof, something I'd never seen done before to provide a good overhang. I used steel cable to anchor the overhang onto the foundation. This cable became flush with the straw bales and would have been plastered into the wall. That may or may not have been a good idea. In a storm the cable might've flexed and cracked the plaster. I'll never know because it was never plastered in the end. We used a mix of sawdust, mud and cow dung for the floor of the yurt to provide a strong insulated floor. If id have thought i'd have put in underfloor heating pipe.
In the end we discovered some things about that part of Spain that I wasn't aware of. Apparently the whole area was becoming desertified. The Sahara desert was moving into Spain from North Africa. The whole of the south of Spain was really dry already. There had been a drought in our area from '95 till 2000. We moved there in 2001. The first year was great and we grew most of our veggies. The second year the drought returned and the creek dried up. Everything started to dry out and die. Then my father died suddenly and I inherited his property in London. We decided to sell the London property and move back to India, where my son had been born and the project was abandoned. It was a great experience though. I often think back to those days, it would have been great to finish the yurt. If I had known about permaculture back then, I may never have left.