Rainy Season Ending Final Push: Suryalila Retreat Center project Update: Southern Spain

When I showed up again at Suryalila on April 20th, 2017 I had just finished a one month stint of being on the road in Portugal and felt refreshed to be back there in Southern Andulusia.  To my surprise the landscape had already taken on a harsh look and the weather surprisingly hot.  There wasn’t much of a spring, which

Doug Crouch

made the winter crops bolt quickly but the soils still a bit too cold in our new sunken beds for really great growth of summer crops.  However we made some mulch, bed prep and watering adjustments and began to plant out the garden further along with farm manager Jacob Evans.  And not just him but a wonderful crew that evolved and emerged as a serious squad.  I supported them with lots of education and they supported the project and myself with lots of hard work and laughs.  And not just outside in the field, but also inside building the association of Danyadara Permaculture further so that a true educational center surrounding permaculture can be lifted up off the ground.

From Danyadara Facebook

It really didn’t rain much from March 3rd to April 28th, maybe one inch (25mm).  That makes life tough when you have so many new growing spaces and young trees.  You need that water for the growth of biomass to cycle, for animals to eat, for trees to get established, and crops to be nourished.  Watering with well water is just not the same as rainwater, which is what we saw when it finally did come a couple of times during my time there.  So we just cracked on with planting, watering, managing cover crops, composting, worm bin maintenance, earthworks adjustments, plant propagation, animal husbandry.…  the list goes on and on.

Kai, Anna, Amelia, part of the crew working on turning one of the many piles we built and managed during this month

We did some implementation of sunken pits (a form of sunken beds)on the swales we installed in December and on the Moonshala terraces we installed in the PDC in March.  We worked hard to get this done by simply creating a small sunken crater and putting seeds of squashes in just before a rain.  However the rain ended up being very little amount and the hand watering began.  The germination rate was ok and again proves that rainwater is such a quality version of water and with shifting climates this is one of the repercussions, lack of good germination.

However we did get one big three-day rain event exactly one year after the big rain event of May 10-20 that happened last year in Iberia.  It wasn’t ten days this time but we worked like mad for days before to install even more growing space in the old wheat field.  The wheat field had been subsoiled twice on the

11 months ago, late June 2106, the wheat field looked like this, a monoculture of wheat has just been harvested for the last time

keyline pattern in the last six months and was ready for its next step to happen.  With trees planted thus starting the alley cropping and with animals rotated to cycle biomass, it was time to create gardens in the alleys.  First we grazed the field in a rush with a couple of horses and the biomass they didn’t eat we harvested for hay for the other animals in different pastures.  So we used the subsoiler once more going off contour during the first passes then back on the key line pattern after that to break up the ground further and set the beds.  Then we weeded the long rows of the mainly annual vegetation and then tilled. While tilling is not the best for the soil, well, sometimes you got to do it in year one and especially when you are in a hurry.  As we were tilling, we were following behind making sunken craters once again to accommodate squash but also with sunflowers.  We incorporated manures and then topped the craters up with a light application of compost after the seeds were sown just hours before the rain came.  The crew was amazing with this implementation of the wheat field garden with others from the retreat center community coming out to support the final push as well. At the end the beds looked like terraces, following the curves of the valley which contains rich soils.

And the rains came, terraces held water, swales captured water, the keyline pattern cultivation infiltrated water, the sunken beds, the pit gardens, all of that digging and mounding by us and the machines was in full action.  Crops grew with amazing speed and biomass was springing forth.  It was a sight to see for sure with 2 inches (50 mm) of rain coming over three days.  And quickly it got hot so the rush to chop and drop and lock that moisture in through mulch was the next big push.  And to get the place looking great for a big yoga group of 60 people that came just days after the rains stopped.  Me and Jake gave tours to that group and a sense of inspiration from nature was present.  We have indeed transformed the landscape there through so many approaches that I feel quite proud of my work there along with so many people. Furthermore, with the wheat field we planted out a couple of more long rowed beds on this same implementation pattern but mainly just planted on the level ground with tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.  It should produce an abundant supply of food if summer doesn’t come too quickly and the crops can shoot after the transplant shock.  Overall the wheat field has gone through an enormous transformation in 11 months and am impressed with the speed of progress we were able to achieve.

Me on the broad fork keeping the gardens beaut!

And my inner landscape was transformed once more forever.  It’s a place where living life in community brings up a lot.  It’s practically impossible to escape.  And thank goodness because when your eyes and ears are open lessons are abundant.  I left with this Mollison quote during my final morning meeting “the greatest change we need to make is moving from consumers to producers.  If only 10% of us do this there is enough for everyone, hence the futility of the revolutionaries who attack only with bullets and words, not shelter and gardens.”  We became producers of groundwater, of biodiversity, of soil, and of food.  The mantras fused into two, lets plant some treesyo in the winter to the spring lets grow some foodyo.  But most importantly probably, we were producers of community.  It’s the people you remember the most over the years not how many trees you planted or your yields per acre or hectare.  And this crew, this epic journey of pushing as hard as I could for four straight weeks, and all the other amazing people I met through the retreat center, well it taught me a lot and reminded me just how blessed I am.

the pool via sunset, as essential part of the journey the last week

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