Location: Finca Florecer, Tivenys, Spain
Date Started: 2009
Dated Ended: On going
Design Process: O'BreDIMET
The land is situated on the planes above the 16th century village of Tivenys in southern Catalunya. The village sits on the northern bank of the River Ebro, the largest and one of the most important rivers in Iberian peninsular, providing water from the springs at Fontibre near Reinosa in the Cantabrian Mountains, down to Barcelona and Valencia, but most vitally, providing irrigation for the many olive, orange, vine and peach farms along its route, to finally end its 910 km journey in the Mediterranean sea.
The area is surrounded by two mountain ranges, Els Ports to the west and Les Serra de Cardo-boix to the north and east. 30 km to the east side of the Cardo range is the Mediterranean sea and to the south the Planes of Sant Carlos.
The land itself masses to just under 1.5 hectares of olive and carob trees, and was originally agricultural land, but has now been re-categorised as a “Solar” which means that it has rights to habitation.
I bought the Finca in April 2005. The land had been abandoned from agricultural use for approximately 25 years. Due to the time of neglect, the olive trees were overgrown and no chemical fertilisers or pesticides had been used on it.
The wild flowers, herbs and shrubs had been able to grow unhindered, as a result there are many that are not evident on neighbouring farms.
When I first arrived the only building was an original stone built casita (small farm building) missing its roof. I was told that may of the abandoned casitas lots their roofs to theft as the original roof tiles are hand made and fetch a good price.
The land is comprised of two intersecting horseshoe shaped terraces slopping steeply downwards towards the west. The casita is positioned at the top of the south-facing ridge, approximately 115 metres above sea level
The south-facing side has fairly deep wide terraces, but this is in comparison to the north-facing terraces, which are wind-battered, degraded, narrow and steep with a lot of exposed bedrock, very little soil, hard woody scrub and small, neglected trees. There is access to the top three terraces which are wider and have a number of good strong olive trees, but access to the lower slopes is difficult due to the high terraces and no routes down except over the walls or surrounding bedrock.
The west facing terraces are situated in the middle of the land connecting the south-facing and north-facing terraces. Three terraces below the north/south plateaus is the first of these terraces. Which is wide with deep soil. The top terrace has good access but access is restricted to the lower terraces except by foot (It would be hard to access these terraces with a wheelbarrow, better by donkey which would have been the original mode of transport). The trees even though neglected are big strong and healthy. Due to heavy rain there are erosion trenches at the base of each terrace wall and the ground is compacted due to the elements, but there is soil!
The lower of the south-facing terraces are narrower in width but have deeper soil depth, with more protection from the elements, hosting some of the largest and oldest olive and carob trees. The top south-west facing terraces are very exposed to the elements and in a very poor way, lacking in soil nutrients, most of the trees are in bad shape.
The terrace walls on the most part are strong and in good repair with the exception of just a few which have broken in places either by animals or hunters, rather than climatic problems.
Boundaries and Resources
When I first moved here the land was open to my neighbours land on all sides. Some of the bordering terrace walls were broken down and I had a few incidents with opportunist robberies, which taught me to be more careful with valuable tools.
The main driveway through the land gave access one of my neighbours, but in recent years he has stopped using this access. He does not have right of access, but this would not stop me letting him using the track.
Since being here the boundaries to the road have been fenced due to problems with my dog biting joggers (It's the Lycra!). The broken terrace walls nearest the road have been rebuilt and more walls introduced, but the land is still open on many of my borders.
I am surrounded on all sides by agricultural farms. When I arrived three of the adjoining farms were olive groves, one was peaches and another mandarins. None of my neighbours live on their land and only the neighbour to the south has a building on it. They are there every day, where as the rest of the surrounding farms are on a maintenance/harvest basis.
On the north side across the road there is a small olive grove (88), the trees are well maintained but devoid of any other plants due to herbicides and pest control. The farm to the North-east (90) is probable my most relevant problem. When I first arrived It was newly planted with mandarins, This is the one farm which uses a lot of pesticides and chemical fertilisers. The rain run off from this farm comes down the road, directly accessing my land.
To the east the Olive farm (49) is partly neglected but they still spray the land with herbicides every year to kill the undergrowth. They have, since I arrived here, been filling in their key-line terraces with land-fill. These terraces are the start of my main west facing valley.
When I first arrived the farm to the south (47), was predominantly peach trees but after three years the peaches were removed and they were replaced by olive trees. I am very grateful for this as they use a lot less chemicals on the olives and they are a long term crop.
To the South-west (21), another abandoned olive grove, they have used herbicide in the past, but not in recent years.
To the west is a well maintained olive farm (45) where they use both herbicides and pesticides. The area is very clean and meticulously maintained. They also keep Bee hives.
There is a small narrow strip of scrub land (41) on the north-west edge of my land.
Site energy sources and resources
There were no on-site energy or water sources when I first arrived.
Situated 200 metres up the road, is a community water well which provides irrigation water to the surrounding farms, there is an access pipe line going past, but the farm is not connected to it.
When I arrived there were no roofs from which to collect water from, except the caravan roof.
I transport water onto the land using 1'000 IBC in the back of my transit van. I can empty the water by gravity into a 4'000 litre concrete balsa, situated two terraces below the road with easy access (this was my first on site construction), I use this water to irrigate the herb garden.
At the back of the house I have two 1'000 litre IBC's which go through a pump supplying the needs of the household. The waste water from the house goes through an pipe and then collected in a 200 LTR butt that is used to water the trees on the terrace below.
The cabin has a 1'000 litre IBC water supply (also supplied via pump) which is also also filled by water collected off-site in my van. I collect rain water from the roof in a 200 litre butt, which can be used to water potted plants.
Electricity and Gas
My electricity supply comes from a 24 volt solar system including 4 x 80 watt photo-voltaic panels, 6 x 500 amp and a small generator.
I use gas for cooking and water heating. Both these systems run on bottled butane gas.
The olive trees are slowly being brought back into production and are now supplying enough olive oil for the families needs and a little more for sale.
The carobs are collected and sold.
The annual vegetables have been very energy intensive but providing me with summer vegetable. There are a lot of herbs on the land, many of them are overgrown and woody, but still good for cooking with. I am introducing more perennials, fruit trees and shrubs into the systems which are now starting to establish themselves. Hopefully they will start to produce in the next year or two.
Animals, domestic and farm.
I have had a number of cats over the years. They are family cats allowed into the house for companionship and hot water-bottles during the chilly winter months, but they also do a good job of keeping the rat and snake population under control.
We have one dog, 'Yardie' a much loved a family pet. He is very loyal and loving and makes a good guard dog if only for his looks. He does protect the chickens from the foxes, who he has a fondness for chasing and will stay out all night if one is in the area, although he is not so good on rainy nights!
I have been keeping chickens since I first arrived but this has been a learning curve.
The chickens are a must on the farm, they eat food waste and provide essential manure. When let out to foraging, will eat the olive fly larvae (which live in the ground at their grub stage) which can affect the olive crop. They are also a good source of eggs and meat.
I did keep ducks but they were killed by a few stray hunting dogs. I would like to have them again but under a better protective situation.
I have also kept pigs but have come to the realisation that I am not suited to large 24/7 animals.
We have a hot Mediterranean climate with a hot dry summer. Classified as a warm temperate dry forest biome. With plenty of water we can grow plants verging on sub-tropical to desert cactuses due to our mild winters.
Average temperatures of about 15* with lows of 6* and highs of 19*. May is our rainiest spring month although if we miss our May rains the flowers on the olive trees do not set and we are in for a dry year. The winds can be strong and persistent during this season normally coming from the NW. But over all it is a wonderful season.
March: Average temperature: 13.1* Max: 18* Low: 8*
Average rainfall: 31 mm
Sun/cloud daylight hours: 50/50
Sun altitude at noon: 49.5°
April: Average temperature: 15.2* Max: 21* Low: 10*
Average rainfall: 45.7 mm
Sun/cloud daylight hours: 58/42
Sun altitude at noon: 61.1°
May: Average temperature: 18.3* Max: 23* Low: 13*
Average rainfall: 62.3 mm
Sun/cloud daylight hours: 59/41
Sun altitude at noon: 69.4°
It is a hot dry summer with a cooling south-easterly breeze coming in off the sea. The land starts to dry out at the end of June, by mid summer all green ground cover has died away. During August we can get a light rain fall at night, that clears the dust out of the air but does not penetrate the ground.
June: Average temperature: 22.2* Max: 27* Low: 17*
Average rainfall: 36.9 mm
Sun/cloud daylight hours: 62/38
Sun altitude at noon: 72.6°
July: Average temperature: 22.3* Max: 30* Low: 20*
Average rainfall: 13.6 mm
Sun/cloud daylight hours: 71/29
Sun altitude at noon: 69.6°
August: Average temperature: 25.3* Max: 30* Low: 20*
Average rainfall: 36.5 mm
Sun/cloud daylight hours: 68/32
Sun altitude at noon: 61.2°
My favourite season, with beautiful sunny days and warm nights. We normally get our heaviest rain of the year in October which can turn the land into two rivers (Amazing to see). With the rain the land bloom backs to life again.
September: Average temperature: 22.8* Max: 28* Low: 18*
Average rainfall: 70.8 mm
Sun/cloud daylight hours: 56/44
Sun altitude at noon: 49.8°
October: Average temperature: 18.4* Max: 23* Low: 13*
Average rainfall: 92.3 mm
Sun/cloud daylight hours: 54/46
Sun altitude at noon: 38.3°
November: Average temperature: 13.5* Max: 18* Low: 9*
Average rainfall: 60.3 mm
Sun/cloud daylight hours: 55/45
Sun altitude at noon: 29.2°
Normally we have a beautiful sunny days but cold nights and a few light showers. Snow can fall in November or February but will only settle on the surrounding mountains. If all the surrounding mountain peaks are snow covered the temperature can drop to about -6 but not for more than a few days and only at night.
We do not receive any full days of frost. February can be frosty and frozen in the morning but by 11 am the sun has come and warmed the ground up. The most cloud cover can last as long as 5 day, but not longer. Average temperatures hold at about 15* and rainfall averages at about 100mm. NW Winds can be very strong during the winter season, lasting a few days at a time.
December: Average temperature: 10.5* Max: 14* Low: 6*
Average rainfall: 42.5 mm
Sun/cloud daylight hours: 53/47
Sun altitude at noon: 25.8
January: Average temperature: 10.1* Max: 14* Low: 5*
Average rainfall: 32.8 mm
Sun/cloud daylight hours: 56/44
Sun altitude at noon: 29.3
February: Average temperature: 11.3* Max: 16* Low: 6*
Average rainfall: 33.4 mm
Sun/cloud daylight hours: 54/46
Sun altitude at noon: 38.6
Average annual Temperature: 17.2* Max: 21* Low: 12.1*
Average annual rainfall: 558.1 mm, over 80 days per year
Average annual sun/cloud cover: 60/40
Average sun altitude at noon: 49.5°
Plants and Trees.
Due to the warm dry summers most of our vegetation is woody shrubs with a high oil content, making them susceptible to fire (pyrogenic), such as rosemary, gorse, mastic and Cistus (rock-rose), and perennials such as thyme. There are a few bulbs such as, gladioli, alpine daffodils, wild garlic and tuberous rooting asparagus. Short lived annuals spring up after the rains, to then die off in the hot summer months, leaving just their seed heads to harden off, a lot of these can be spiky.
Evergreen trees such as olive, carob and pine. The only deciduous tree growing wild on the farm is a fig.
The main wild animals in the area are, foxes, rabbits, boar, bats, red squirrels, pine martins, ferrets, hedgehogs, mice and rats. Reptiles such as geckos, iguanas and snakes and amphibians; frogs and toads. There are many predatory birds including eagles and hawks, which prey on the smaller birds like sparrows and tits, (also the field mice). There are house-martins, swallows, thrushes, crows, Night Jars, nightingales, cuckoos, owls, woodpeckers, king-fishers and finches. Due to the Delta Ebro (an important nature reserve, where the Ebro river meets the sea, 30 km away) there are quite a number of migratory bird such as Bee-eaters.
Key Planning tools:
My first goal is to define my wants, needs and dreams for the ultimate use of my land.
To bring the land back into a productive and diverse environment for me, my family, the wildlife and anyone who wishes to spend time here - EC, PC, FS
Fruit, nuts and vegetables for home consumption, if a surplus is achieved, to be able to share with friends or to sell to guests - PC, FS
Olive trees to be in production and produce a obtain a yield that will supply my family for a year - EC, PC
Chickens to provide eggs and meat for family consumption, forage for pest control and manure for fertilizer - EC, PC
A livelihood that reflects my way of life and my ethics - EC, PC, FS
A swimming pool, apart from living in Spain where it is almost essential to survive the summer months, It has been a dream of mine since childhood. -EC, PC, FS
To provide a harmonious connection between my life and the nature around me, that I can share through teaching and research - EC, PC, FS
A system that has a closed circle, i.e. Compost toilets, water cleaning and irrigation systems. - EC
To use as many on-site resources as possible. - EC
Breaking it up into zones allows me to see where an intensive system could be introduced and where I should focus my energies appropriately. It also shows which parts of the land I could leave for future development.
Overlay of Zones
Although my design pathway links all elements of the farm to the land, this design focuses on the direct influence of land management and its ability to host a family and a business. In this design I have focused on the plants and trees, which have a few different elements, but basic functions, essentially the production of food, regenerative landscaping and natural habitat.
Design # 2 The Land 2011
The web of connections shows how the elements on the farm are all connected to each other.
I used SMART goals to put my needs into priorities,
Principles Of permaculture
Using the principle of 'Small and Slow Solutions' I decided to divide the Land up into smaller parts. This would allow me to work on one terrace or project at a time, without feeling over whelmed by the size of the land it's self.
After a simple mind map I could see which areas I could divide into separate designs.
The Land, Web of connections.
They all had the same basic functions, with common elements such as harvest, soil conditioning, irrigation, maintenance and diversity. But needed to be addressed in different ways. The zones helped to see which element would be best in its own design.
Elements within system
Once a year
Twice a year
1 - 5
1 - 5
2 - 4
2 - 4
2 - 4
1 - 2
1 - 2
1 - 4
Chip for insecticide
1 - 2
All through summer
All through summer
Depending on fruit
2 - 3
Teas for drying
Summer vegetables such as
Taking these elements out of the design leaves me with the main crops of olive and carob.
As the carobs more ore less take care of themselves, I will focus on the Olive trees in Design 2.1.
Power and Water.
After 7 years of transporting water 1.5 km from a friends house, in the back of my van. I finally connected to the community well, in January 2013,. I have an unlimited, metered supply of water. What luck!!! The water supply comes a deep water spring in the Cardo mountain range and is then pumped through drinking water grade pipes on to the land. I have made the choice to join the Community Well as this is strictly monitored and maintained. Eliminating the need to make more bore holes in an already overly stressed ground water supply.
At the same time I up graded my solar array to a 3 kW Outback inverter with MPPT charge controller and 8 x 6.5 amp hour gel batteries which run the house, caravan and cabin (Design #5 JBH). Since installing the final upgrade, I have only run the generator for large power tools and the washing machine until that got upgraded to a A+++ Top-loader with a 15 minute wash. This system has been amazing, I am still careful with power usage, but this is more out of habit than need.
I have noticed that during the summer months my guests use a lot more power than in other times of the year, due to turning the fridge into a freezer (!) and leaving the fan on all day even when they are not there. During these times I normally just turn every thing off in the house and go sit on the beach.
Both the water and power supplies are run through underground pipes.
I have taken the slow solution in terms of maintenance. Each year I focus on clearing one terrace at a time.
The only changes that I am thinking of making over the next few years is to invest in some larger shade trees and to plant more hedges to create more edge, which would add more safe spaces for wildlife and when the rains come will catch and store energy by slowing down run off. I have also stop being so conservative with water. If I need to water a tree significantly to keep it alive for the first few years I will, by creatively using and responding to change.
I have learnt a lot about how to cope with this hot dry climate. If I am going to plant trees they have to be supported with in a system instantly. Supporting the trees with automatic watering systems, mulches and guild planting is the only way I have had success.