Overall we wouldn’t recommend volunteering if you want to learn about Organic Gardening/Permaculture as there’s a lack of quality hosts and you’d be better off paying for a decent course or just learning from books and having a go yourself.
It was getting late into the evening after the dinner when dad and I decided to head down to Dohyle Lough with its abandoned public swimming pool and boating canal. Once upon a time people used to come here for fishing but the place is long since abandoned. Many times I have passed the entrance wall with its locked gates but never made it around back to the lake.
I was to be shown two rare plants the Marsh helleborine Orchid (Epipactis palustris) and Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia palustris). There really is no access so we crossed fields under electric fences until we came to the man made canal that links the old public pool and boat storage area to the lake. The ground is dryer here than the lake edge. Along this access way we saw Knapweed (Centaurea nigra) a secondary food plant for 18 species of butterfly including the migrant comma, Painted lady and Clouded Yellow butterfly . Also here we saw Square Stalked St John’s wort (Hypericum tetrapterum) among the meadow grasses. By the canal edge the tall March Figwort (Scropularia auriculata)was growing with its blunt toothed leaves and square winged stem. Other plants spotted along the canal were Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis), Devil’s Bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis) the primary food plant for the March Fritillary butterfly. Other plants on the canal edge include Wild carrot ( Daucus Carota ), Angelica (Angelica Sylvestris), yarrow ( Achillea millefolium), Agrimony Hemp (Eupatorium cannabinum) loved by butterflys, Oxe-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare), Dock (Rumex obtusifolius), Stinging nettle ( Urtica dioica), Silverweed (Potentilla anserinea), Spear Thistle (Cirsium vulgare),Meadow Sweet ( Filipendula ulmaria), Lesser Burdock (Arctium minus- The inspiration for the invention of Velcro by the swiss inventor George de Mistral) .On the canal White Water Lily (Nymphaea alba). Trees included Sycamore, Willows, Ash, and Hawthorn
As we moved closer to the lake edge the ground became much softer and it was here that we saw Marsh Pennywort (Hydrocotyle vulgaris) which is edible, Yellow Rattle ( Rhinanthus minor). This plant is semi parasitic using root like organs called Haustoria to take water and minerals from neighbouring plants. It’s an excellent plant to grow if you are trying to establish a wildflower meadow as it suppresses grasses. We did eventually find Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia palustris) with a beautiful single white flower on its stem. We found it growing in large groups many are just about to flower.
The Marsh helleborine Orchid (Epipactis palustris ) was also eventually found but it’s flowering period is finishing. We heard the call of the Water Rail in the reeds and as night fell we listen for the call of barn owls in the paupers graveyard nearby. A fantastic evening was had.
It’s been a busy few weeks and it feels like I haven’t stopped traveling, visiting friends in Clifden then up to the Permaculture Gathering in Northern Ireland, making a start on the survey phase of a garden project in Dublin and down to Limerick for exams with the Organic College. I’m nearly finished the 2 year distance cert in Organic Horticulture. I would highly recommend the course and the staff involved and have really enjoyed all the research that goes with it. It does take quite a bit of time but I loved it. I’m getting ready to start my own business teaching Permaculture Design and Organic Gardening in Schools in Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford this September.
On the way to Clifden we spent the night at Aughnanure castle near Loch Corrib; it’s a 16th century tower house with 2 bawns. The setting along the river Drimneen is magical and a great place to visit near Oughterard.
The section below is through a typical 16th century towerhouse giving an idea of how it was lived in and defended. I especially liked the clockwise staircase designed to give sword weilding advantage to those inside and the long drop toilets.
Along the Drimneen river bank Wild Angelica (Angelica sylvestris) and Meadow Sweet (Filipendula ulmaria) are now in flower. I also spotted Water Figwort (Scrophularia auriculata) with its square shaped winged stem.
On our wandering around Clifden we visited the ruins of Clifden Castle built in 1818 in the Neo Georgian style. Cattle, sheep and horses graze the surrounding land and the former stables are now used as cow sheds. In the hedges and along the road edges hazel, Gunnera, Fuchsia, and Montbretia grow. Down in the harbour area we nibbled on sea beet and spotted sea lettuce, serrated wrack and bladder wrack that had been washed up.
I’ve never made it along to the annual all Ireland permaculture gathering before so didn’t quite know what to expect. This year it was held up north near Hillsbourough, Co.Down at Tubby’s farm. We had a very enjoyable weekend with some lovely people. There were interesting talks and workshops on all manner of subjects from upcycling old batteries to growing vines for winemaking in Ireland. Below is an image from the garden that had been made to provide some food for the event. A large rock is being used to provide a heat sink and create a microclimate. It’s a great use for what might be otherwise considered an obstruction. This is what I like about Permaculture. Turning the problem on its head.
I was also very impressed with how the shower water for the event was heated. A pile of woodchips generates a lot of heat as it breaks down. Water from an I.B.C. tank was pumped to a 100 metre coil of water pipe buried on and under a metre of woodchips. When not in use 5 litres of water sitting in the pipes heats by the woodchips to over 70 degrees in about 15 minutes.This is then mixed with a little cold water to shower in. The design is brilliant as each person gets about 5 litres of warm water before it gets cold. That’s more than enough to wash in. By the time they have dressed it’s ready for the next person. The pile will stay warm for 6 weeks before it needs turning.
Dublin mountain garden: Survey
Back in the mountains I’ve started a little garden by setting up a compost pile and sowed some seeds in trays for veg into the autumn and winter. The objective is to grow as much as we can instead of buying it in the shops. I’ve managed to negotiate the sunniest spot available to make a little garden. Conditions are far from ideal as its on a North facing slope on thin soil that sits over granite. To have any chance with vegetables up here I will have to create a microclimate and use a raised bed style approach to increase soil depth. It’s also on a slope so that’s a consideration. From our discussions we identified this spot and a number of other areas within the half acre site as possibilities.
In permaculture design we approach any project with a survey.
The inlaws: We are living with my wife’s family for the moment and not sure for how long. They are very keen gardeners themselves, mainly growing ornamentals and have 40 years experience of what will and wont grow up here. They laughed when I said I recon I could get some vegetables to grow but I’m gonna try anyway. They are happy for me to try something but have concerns over how it might look and what will happen to it when we move on. The garden maintenance up here is ongoing and if they have less work to do then that would be very positive. They are also really keen on getting a share of the produce if there is any.
For a number of weeks now I have been slowly enquiring about different parts of the garden, what areas need the most work and helping out with maintenance. We identified there are simply too many beds in the front garden to look after and I could use some of those. The dogs in the back garden make it very difficult to work without being disturbed and they often dig up plants. One dog in particular is totally mad. It is common to get snowed in up here during the winter which is also a concern.
Surveying the Site: The site is divided into two distinct gardens with the house in the middle. The back garden is built completely of raised beds in rockeries directly down onto granite. The southern boundary is at the top of the sloped site and beyond the fence is a Coillte forest leading up onto Cruagh mountain.
Only in the summer does the sun get above the treeline here but it is quite shelted from strong winds. There is a small fenced vegetable and fruit garden to the rear of the house but it has always been a struggle with germination and growing of vegetables and has almost been abandoned due to the dogs and soil conditions. Fruit on the other hand does quite well.
The front garden is more exposed to the Northern winds but does receive more light being further away from the treeline. When the foundations for the house were excavated the soil was moved down the sloped lawn in front of the house and the soil depth here is about 12 inches before you hit rock. I’m waiting on a soil test at the moment.
Surveying the neighbours veg patch: I called into the neighbours veg patch down the road to take a look at what they were managing to grow. This would be the closest vegetable patch to the garden but I am sure the soil conditions here are completely different. As you cross the road in front of the house and look down hill you see fields of cattle and horses grazing on much more fertile land with deeper soils. Cruagh road marks a boundary between this and the much poorer acid soils up the hill. On this better soil they are able to grow peas, broadbeans,potatoes, beetroot, lettuce etc. They buy transplants from a garden centre. Fruit like raspberries do best here and are rampant.
Rainfall and water collection: water is currently collected from the roof of the garage and stored in a 220 litre drum. There is a second barrel beside the composters. Both are above the proposed area for veg growing and could be linked by a hose connection. The bed adjacent to the proposed veg area is prone to becoming waterlogged especially in winter. Iris grow here.
Plants growing in and near the veg area: On the sloped lawn above the veg bed Selfheal, mosses and lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) grow in the grass. the upper slope is supposed to be a meadow but the lady’s mantle is causing problems. The bed I have been given to work with is approximately 20 x 4 feet and curretly growing are hebes, geraniums more ladys mantle and Bergenias among grasses. The soil is thiner here than on the slope as it has been cut away to make it level.
The neighbouring bed to the west has a large Newzeland flax plant which can be harvested for making ties for support frames etc. To the north across the drive way a leyland cypress hedge provides some shelter from the north winds.
Resouces available: Locally there are horse stables that can supply fresh manure. They are happy to give this away but it would need to be composted or used in creating a hot bed. Granite Rock and fallen timber is in abundance and both could be used to make raised beds. There is a lot of woody compost available in the existing composters onsite as a result of years of rabbits and guineas pigs being kept as pets. The material is not suitable for vegetable growing but could be considered as a surface mulch. Green materials for composting such as nettles, leaves cleavers and woody material are in abundance.
Pest: Slugs have never been a problem up here, the main pests are rabbits and birds (blackbird) . All fruit needs to be netted if you want a harvest. By far one of the biggest pest is midges and working outdoors with them. In the evening if the weather is calm as the temperatures drop they come out of disturbed grass. I have been eaten alive over the past few weeks especially at the backs of my legs and lowerback and have been forced into wearing a head net and covering all skin.
Wildlife: There are a number of ponds in the garden which support frogs, perhaps why slugs have never been an issue even on plants like hostas. The garden location by a forest attracts red squirrels, jays , Redpoll, greenfinch, chafinch, great tit, among others observed daily from the kitchen window. Bird feed is regularly put out.
Plants and trees growing locally: Species include beech, rowan, elder, hawthorn, bilberry, marsh thistle, soft rush, foxglove, lesser bur dock, wood sorrel, sheeps sorrel, bramble, honeysuckle, crab apple, ash, willow, bracken, gorse, heather, meadow grasses, sitka spruce, norway spruce
Propagation area: There is little space indoors for propagating plants. Window ledges and a small back porch are already crammed with pots.
Time constrains: no rush
Chemical use on site: Glyphosate based herbicides are being used on the driveways and stone paths to the rear of the site.
What we don’t have and would like to grow: salads, leafy green vegetables, potato, tomato, courgette, garlic, onion, carrots more herbs and some edible flowers.
What we forage or have: range of muchrooms including ceps, chanterelle, birch bolete, brown deceivers, amathist deceivers, pedistal puff balls, wild strawberry, sorrels, variety of berry including hawthorn, rowan, elder, blackberry for jams etc. Nettles, dandelions, plantains, rose hips and petals.
Who will do the work: I,m working on my own with this project but 3 others will be happy to help me eat what grows. I want to use available resources and come up with something which can be maintained into the future.
Composting: while there is an abundance of suitable materials available this needs to be started immediately to build soil fertility. The organic matter content of the soil sample looks to be very low. A couple of straw bales could be used to capture and store nitrogen if you get my drift.
Other general survey observations: There is far less insect activity in the front garden,it’s much more exposed to the wind and these is much less diversity of plants and animals seen here. The close proximity of the veg bed to the camper will help to deter rabbits. Finding soil to increase soil depth without resorting to buying it in will be difficult.
A much belated travel blog for Feburary 2015. Heading south to where we would soon meet a friend from home we came across some wonderful places. The beautiful beach of Carrapateira with its sand dunes, totally unspoiled, just miles of coast to walk and enjoy. This is campervan heaven and there is no hassle in staying here. All sort of folk were here from retired Germans, French and Dutch in Modern vans to converted army trucks.
Laura being a keen knitter wasloving this crochet art
As you round the south western tip of Portugal at Sagres everything begins to change. The Atlantic winds begin to ease and it becomes much warmer with sheltered bays and high cliffs above pristine beaches. We barely knew the day of the week nor the time of day spending most of our time outdoors.
On to Faro where we met our mate Ruth
We headed inland to the border with Spain at Alcoutim and walked in the surrounding countryside to a small village called Corte pereiro. We enjoyed a beer with some locals while trying our best to communicate. Portugal is such a genuine place, locals coming and going from the fields for a drink and a chat. The Almond trees were in flower at the time.
On to Seville and the Real Alcazar palace where these Swiss cheese plants Monstera deliciosa caught by attention. These are shade loving house plants back home which gives some indication of the climatic difference here. It was strange to see this.
An example of Aerial roots giving the tree better support. Amazing
Hard pruning of plane trees to restrict size is common in France , Spain and Portugal. You can see where Dali got his ideas for those elephants with long spindly legs.
From seville we moved out into the moutains passing through El Bosque and hiking a gorge to Beamahoma. Looking through my diary are excited entries regarding Grazalema. On the 19th of Feb I wrote:
Up in the mountains near Grazalema today we saw Holm Oak and down by the van black Iberian pigs are feeding on the acorns. The ground up here is limestone rock a climbers paradise. Our walk today took us up into a plateau before returning via the valley. The views were amazing no matter where you looked. The lives of the people here are so different from the lives we know. We have been watching this shepard grazing his flock along the road edge and leaning on his crook down in the valley. He seems so happy chating with passers by. We exchanged a hearty hello or Ola. I could see myself living somewhere like this. The smell of cooking wafting onto the streets in the afternoon and hoping against hope that you might be invited in to eat. It’s gonna be good, I recon is’t always good.This has to be the most outstanding place we have traveled to on the trip.
Cattle were traditionally grazed and secured in enclosures up the valleys. Beans are widely grown in this area.The spanish fir tree Abies pinsapo grows here in the Sierra de Grazalema one of only 3 places it is found in Spain.
It’s good to be back and getting out into the garden again. Some of my plants found a home up in the Dublin hills and are doing quite well. This is a Whinhams Industry Gooseberry in a bucket which is now almost ready for harvest. It’s got deep red fruit and seems to have escaped the attention of the birds so far. The growing conditions up here are 3 to 4 degrees cooler on average, on thin acidic soil directly onto solid granite. It’s going to be a challenge but the blueberries will thrive. It’s a far cry from the light sandy soils and micro climate of Dundrum.
I’ve a 5 year old grape vine which lives in a pot and is now in its 3rd residence. I ruthlessly pruned it about a month ago leaving 6 or 7 bunches on. It had gone a bit mad while I was away and the mother in-law was afraid to touch it. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, it’s behind a bit for August. The strawberries planted around it in the large pot are now producing well provided I can get to them before the birds. Netting for birds is necessary up here.
At 350 metres altitude fruit does best. Tayberries, blackberries, and blueberries all do well. Vegetables are going to be a challenge.
We’ve been out picking bilberries which are now in season. The South Dublin mountains are covered in them. The best bushes seem to be younger low growing specimens with red tipped foliage. The deer and the jays like them too. The high rainfall recently has meant there is a huge crop this year.
There have been some big winds over the winter and a natural coupe has been gouged out running West to East nearby. The sitka spruce trees have become too tall for the thin soil to support them leaving a dramatic landscape of toppled trees. Shelters are being built in the base of these trees which have been known to right themselves suddenly.
Below the scene of devastation is a forest track with a bank on the lower side of the slope. More open to the sky this has provided conditions for meadow grasses, soft rush, wood sorrel and the odd thistle to find a toe hold where the soils are deeper and not covered in pine needles.
At the edge of the plantation a stream flows through a more open clearing of bracken, gorse and the odd rowan. It’s a peaceful place with the sound of the stream in the dip.
I’m giving an elderly gardener a hand in Dundrum. We started by making 2 compost heaps. There is lots to compost. Should be cooking in a few days.
Up on the hill there is a patch which has been won!
Located 8km inland from the Atlantic on the west coast of Portugal and within a national park A Quinta is a young and ambitious land restoration project of some 132 hectares of rolling hilly grasslands, forests and lakes. It is run by Ferry Elsinga and Francine Burghoorn who are in the process of moving here from Holland having run a successful seed business there.
The big idea with this project is to regenerate the land using keyline and rotational grazing. Keyline is a method developed by PA Yeomans in Australia and is use for retaining water within the soil thus allowing increased biological activity, fertility and increased soil depths over time .It is used especially in dryer climates not so steeply sloped so as to use terracing and is an alternative to swales ( ditch on contour) but where retention of water in the soil is critical to prevent erosion and degredation. Yeomans and his sons developed a special type of subsoiler plough with a very flat shank of 8% which is used at the depth of the hardpan created by conventional plowing methods over the years. The keyline is done on contour creating a series of underground channel which penetrate the pan and allow the water to penetrate. This greatly slows down the rate of rainwater run off after a downpour. The keyline channels can be flooded using sluices and channels when needed. Francine showed us where water can be seen pissing out of the soil profile above the level of the hardpan. They will have to repeat the process twice for it to be effective. The soil is not turned as such so the soil structure is maintained. Its like lots and lots of mini underground swales.
The second part of the plan is to use rotational grazing as developed by Allan savory. Animals are bunched and moved in a controlled manner as they do in a natural migration. They intensly feed on a small area ,intensly shit in a small area then they move on to look for fresh grass. The grass is then given a chance to regrow after being fertilised by the herd. While we were at the farm one of the jobs we did was moving a mixed herd of sheep and goats to new patches of ground that were being converted to pasture. The goats will eat young thistles and brambles and all manner of herbs. Over time these plants will give way to the grasses.We were using light weight portable electric fences to quickly make new enclosures. Below the sheep and goats are grazing below some orange trees.
Francine is a fantastic host, we were well fed with the wwoofers taking turns to cook. She was very generous with her time and allows you to choose what you feel inspired to contibute. We spent the first afternoon walking the land to look at the ponds, springs, pastures and woodlands and discussing what they are trying to do and how they are in the process of testing ideas for how to inplement keyline and rotational grazing here. Their main business is going to rely on the sale of beef.
The land is fortunate to have a large water catchment area and there are a series of existing ponds. There is running water throughout the year and a natural spring also.
Below is a picture of one of the grassland valleys that has been over grazed and suffers from compaction and hardpan. Dock and Ragwort were growing here. It has a gentle bowl shape. Keyline will be used here.
They have recently dug a large pond at a keypoint high up on the farm. This is lined with clay and fills after heavy rains.The man on the digger (who worked in Dubai on the palms) being creative made a palm shaped edge!
To help keep the house cool in summer they have made a water channel in the floor.
There were 7 wwoofers, the family and a few builders knocking about with all manner of projects happening. One of the things needed was a small pond in the garden that could be emptied and used for irrigation. A dug pond wouldn’t work as this would then be lower than the vegetable beds so I came up with a daft idea of building it above the surrounding ground level made from stones collected from the land. This could then be covered with soil and lined with clay taken from the upper pond. A 38mm pipe was put in place which would be kept above the waterline to prevent silting. This could be lowered when it needed draining. Our backup plan was to use a liner but we wanted to try it without that first. They were looking into getting ducks for slugging in the garden and the pond would be for them to splash around in. There was a more natural place for a pond just below the vegetable garden where water was collecting with rushes growing but this area was earmarked as the site for a geodesic aquaponics setup.
Other projects included a large multi level tree house and a 20 bird mobile chicken house.
The tree house was a fairly fancy job designed in such a way that there were no fixings to the tree,it had evolved into a multi-level place where one of the wwoofers slept.
A nice detail where the cork and roof meet. Below a pic taken from the balcony.
The house is off grid with compost toilets, pv and solar to generate power and hot water.
A traditional rammed earth cottage awaiting restoration
We were very fortunate to have come to this young project.
While in the Alentejo near Castelo de vide the van broke down. It turned out to be the gear linkage, the bolt had sheared off and not the box itself. This was fixed by a kind local mechanic without a word of English followed by celebrations of beer, cheese, breads and chorizo at his garage/pub. Through our translator (the younger barman) he told us he was delighted to see young people travelling and I imagine he sort of took pity on us. We stayed the night in the garage and the following morning we were on our way. Not having any plans as such we decided to move in the direction of the West coast aiming for the town of Porto Covo. On the way we stayed in Estremoz, Redondo, Evora, Monsaraz , Luz, the Alqueva Dam and the Mina de St Domingos.
The now closed mine of St Domingos where the British company Mason and Barry extracted gold and pyrite has left a toxic landscape. They exploited the people and the mineral wealth in the area until it closed in the 60’s. The river here is caustic and the scale of the site vast . It really makes you think!
In the town of St Domingos outside the one-room miners’ cottages the locals were growing Brassicas under trees on the footpaths. Perhaps the legacy of using small spaces is still here within the community. Even an old toilet bowl has a use!
The landscape surrounding St Domingos is characterised by low rolling hills covered in Lavander, Cercis and Holm Oak . Oxalis are now in flower growing everywhere.
The hill top Village of Mertola lies on the confluence of two rivers, a town of terraces that run on contour and a very interesting place to visit. It was normal as one explores towns like this to stumble across small well tended gardens.
In the fields, storks follow goats and cows and every so often you pass a pile of harvested cork. Burning of plant material is carried out at this time of year to reduce the fire risk and everywhere you see smoke rising from the fields. Porto Covo and its crashing waves reminded us of the West of Ireland only sunnier. Hotentot fig carpets the ground in places. It’s an African plant and invasive. The colours of the landscape are breathtaking with the constantly changing sky and flora. We spent a few days walking sections of the fishermans trail and the historical way which run for hundreds of kilometres along the coast to the southern tip of Portugal. In a few days time we were to go volunteering nearby at A Quinta.
For Christmas we headed inland to Madrid to stay with some friends. Their place was right on the edge of the city at Alcobendas where it was possible to go for walks out into a forest of Holm Oaks. The kids loved it here playing hide and seek and making a fort.
We took a trip up into the mountains north of Madrid. A landscape of boulders and rock the perfect playground for fearless climbers.
The temperatures inland were much colder than anything we had experience on the trip so far. Leaving mid 20s in Valencia just a few days previous the nights were dipping down to freezing. Getting back into the van in the newyear we soon discovered the cold of inland spain. Taking the direct route we drove up into the mountains on route to Segovia passing the ski lifts at 1800m and realising that we probably need more detailed maps. We made it just about, the driving nerves shot and went to the three kings festival the big day for the children of spain when they get some presents.
We had a vague idea that we would head west to Porto in Portugal. An english man Roderick a great story teller whom we had met on our travels earlier recounted finding a sort of paradise of wildflowers and lakes out that way where he lay in the grass and recomend taking the back roads. We made it as far as Salamanca when days of driving and living in freezing fog and night time temperatures of minus 3 in the van froze the dogs water and all the pipes. We were in effect forced to turn south. For several days we drove through the fog untill we reached the border with Portugal and suddenly popped out to bright sunshine and the hill top village of Marvao. Marvao and the Alentejo region was one of the highlights of the trip. The quiet hill top village is dotted with well kept gardens and the surrounding countryside is like a model for self sufficiency and small holders.
In the following weeks we would travel slowly through the Alentejo region of Southern Potugal a place some regard as the closest thing to Ecuador in Europe. There is little industry here, we never came across a supermarket chain, or industrial estate or those plastic grow tents you see 5 minutes after you cross the border into Spain. Here people live on small holdings or in old villages, shop locally and eat locally and grow much of their own food.Everyone smiles and says hello. The houses here have large chimneys for smoking pigs and everywhere you went you would see old men in the fields tending their trees and vegetables and cycling back into town with a crate of greens for the dinner. The chorizo, cheese and bread here are exceptional. It was common to see Oranges , lemons , figs , chestnuts, cork trees, kiwi, olives and almonds growing.
It was common to see an entire landscape of Rock rose here.
The Alentejo region is considered the poorest part of Portugal primarily due to its lack of industry. The region is very dry and home to europe largest resevoir. In building the resevoir the original village of Luz was demolished and flooded to make way for this project which it was promiced would bring jobs and industry to the region.Its residence were relocated “a house for a house and a plot of land for a plot of land” to a new village a few kilometers away on higher ground. Its a sad and depressing place lacking any character that every other village in the region has. A modern museum was built to keep the memory of the old village alive and houses photos and objects from the old Luz. A documentary film includes interviews with people form the old village as they are being relocated. One man talked of his fields, his trees he had tended and the land he worked to grow food and share with his friends and neighbours.The move had destroyed much more than homes. None of the promiced modern prosperity has arrived 10 years on to the region and this is perhaps not a bad thing as people adapt their modern homes and replant their trees and gardens.
South of Barcelona in the seaside town of Sitges Date Palms line the beach. The dog was busy eating these at every opportunity.
Dotted along the coast are small pockets of protected foreshore and back shore where the public are asked not to walk. This allows a miriad of mediteranean coastal plants a chance to survive. Below is a pic of some back shore on the Calafat coast.
The foreshore at Calafat
Further down the coast we reached the Delta de L’erb and spent a few days at Casa de Fusta Amposta . This area is a birdwatchers paradise and covers 360 square kilometers of wetlands providing overwintering habitiat. Here we saw Flamingos, Egrits and Marsh Harriers.
The area is used for rice growing with 21000 hectares of Paddy Fields. Irrigation chanels supply and drain fields with fresh and waste water. To assist the bird life the fields are kept flooded over the winter and only drained in March when they are ploughed leveled and sown again. It’s such an unusual landscape and probably best visited in the winter as they warn about the Mosquitos which I can imagine must be horrendous..
Little mud banks around the field edges retain the water. A break in this bank is used to drain a field shown below.
A traditional building in the delta surrounded by Paddy Fields
The causeways / diches that divide the fields are useful as access walkways but also as places to grow vegetables that can be eaten with the rice such as Broadbeans. The origins of Paella as a peasant food came about by combining rice with shellfish found in the mud and adding whatever vegetables were to hand.
Our base was becide a restaurant ( Casa de Fusta) that allowed vans to park. Wifi was free with a meal. We really enjoyed this place.
All along the coast south of Delta de l’erb high rise holiday apartments line the shore. However just behind this strip of beachside holiday accomadation one finds agricultural farmland. The area between Peniscola and Benicarlo a few hundred metres behind the highrise looks like this. Also in this area are enormous Orange and Mandarin plantations where one can buy them for about 30 to 35cent a kilo. ( Non Organic) or about 1.50 a kilo (Organic). . Other crops included brassicas and everything is on drip irrigation. Traditional farm houses dot the landscape but you get the feeling these are no longer used as residence but more as a base while working in the fields. Each has a pump and large water resevoir used to pump water though channels accross the fields.
While I was here I was looking about for some slugs for an assignment. It seems too dry here, all I could find were some snails under a log beneath an olive tree.
In the town of Cuenca wild rocket growing along the footpath.