Category Archives: ecological

Wood, wood, burning bright. The poetry of kindling the right flame with the right wood.

We have spent many more months preparing for the cold of Winter  than for the warmth of Spring. Throughout Autumn I collected in some of the logs cut from the chestnuts over the past years. Getting the wood into shelter before the rains came and keeping it dry were major tasks.

Kindling the flame
Kindling the flame
Algarve Feb 2015 143
Stove from China, tank from Czech Republic, radiators from Spain

Meanwhile inside the house the central heating system of

Pollarded old chestnuts supply lots of fallen branches.
Pollarded old chestnuts supply lots of fallen branches.

radiators running off a wood burning stove was being completed.  We knew that we would need wood from our trees for the 3 months of possible frosty nights and temperatures below 10 degrees during the day. Some of  the olives had been pruned about 18 months ago and there was plenty of fallen chestnut.  We estimated we might need 4000 kg of wood to keep us humans warm through a mild winter by some standards. Maybe this is one large tree or several smaller ones. Our Finca of over 200 chestnuts and many other types of trees should allow us to have a sustainable system. Whether trees can really provide a sustainable source of warmth for the human race seems to depend on how well forests are protected and used for this purpose. It seems that quick growing wood and dense forests reduces the biodiversity that a truly mixed forest can offer.

Another source of our heating is butane gas heaters, expensive and quite effective for direct heat and warmth but heavy to carry! The wood burning stove with tank and radiators was part of solving the problem of heating in the winter. Many people we speak too with a lot of experience know that it is a challenge in our area. Our system looks a little complicated with lots of valves and pumps but it has supplied some heat and lovely hot baths BUT it needs a full time wood gatherer and then wood stoker to keep the fire burning!

However we still don’t feel we have managed to achieve an efficient system. We are often given advice on the type of wood we are burning and ensuring it is split. Mixing the woods seems key. I have also been under instruction to read The Wood Burning Stove Handbook and I of course find a poem written by that old codger Anon and with words of wisdom about the art of burning different types of wood.

Beechwood fires are bright and clear
If the logs are kept a year
Chestnuts only good they say
If for long it’s laid away
Birch and fir logs burn too fast
Blaze up fast and do not last
Elmwood burns like a churchyard mould
Even the very flames are cold
Poplar gives a bitter smoke
Fills your eyes and makes you choke
Apple wood will scent your room
With an incense like perfume
Oak and maple if dry and old
Will keep away the winter cold
But ash wood wet and ash wood dry
A king can warm his slippers by!

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Wings of a butterfly to wildness of wild boar: Close encounters of the natural kind.

 

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What is it that makes an encounter with a wild animal so fascinating and wonderful. It seems to me like a privilege that you are able to see one and at a safe distance in the case of the more threatening ones! We know there are boar on the Finca. We see evidence of their digging, in particular around the path up to the studio.It is a rocky and grassy path and full of wild flowers such as candytuft in the summer. I also had to go to some expense to have a boar proof fence around my new Huerta or allotment patch for vegetables. Fidel who helps us with the chestnut harvest once asked if he could hunt them. Mr T rang me up and got my most adamant reply NO! So they are quite happy here being destructive with the rocky walls, digging up the earth and making it rough to walk over, clearing pathways through the undergrowth and finding enough to eat. In Spain there is a boar hunting season and we had a man chase a boar though the Finca with his dogs once. I only saw the undergrowth move fast but later a dog with a collar and bell appeared and for a while we were wondering what to do with the dog. There are No hunting signs around the campsite and these are areas where people live and walk so again the most dangerous animal is a man with a gun.

Yesterday as I got out of the car to unlock the gate, about 2 on. Rainy afternoon. I pushed the gate open on one side and looked down towards the crest of a hill dipping down the path. For me it seemed like a great big dog appeared, blackish, about the size of a German shepherd dog. I thought at first it was maybe our friend Rainers’s dog but it looked rather grey around the muzzle .
It turned up onto the path and looked to cross. I realised then it must be a boar. It stopped on the path and turned its head round. For a few moments I was staring at the boar and the boar was staring at me. I must have been very still and the boar was motionless until it turned its head agin and wandered off across the path. Mr T was quite indignant that I hadn’t told him and he got out of the car and went down the path to see if the boar was still nearby. He had never seen one on the Finca but had several years ago taken some pictures of some young ones with one of those night automatic infra red cameras. I think it must have been a male and I have twice in the past almost run over one crossing a main road. This is a reminder to me that they are big but not usually about during the daytime. I might now have to take my walks around the Finca with my Spanish boar stick and thudding the ground with it but of course that might ensure I have no more close wild encounters. Usually these wild ones keep well clear of us if we are not to be prey!

The other close encounter was with a butterfly. It was a beautiful evening with the sun just about to disappear behind the hill to the west of our small boat shaped valley. The shadows of the chestnuts in the Navasola west fields were getting longer but I saw a lump of old broken off chestnut with the sun shining fully on it. It looked like a warm place to sit and soak up the last rays of the sun. Then something fluttered by, surely not, a butterfly in January? As I tried to follow it and perhaps identify it it landed on that piece of old wood. A good spot in the sun for a butterfly to warm its wings before a cold night. I couldn’t move but just stared down at it. It’s wings were large with bright red. It stayed there quite a while. I even thought I might have been able to go back for my camera! The butterfly and I just warming ourselves in the sun. When it finally flew off I went and sat on the wood where the butterfly had warmed its wings. I stayed there until the sun dipped down enjoying a time of quiet reflection on small things and inner delight. Ahh… A red admiral, that had been hibernating over winter and had woken with the warmth of a January sunny day here in Andalucia. My photo is of one taken at the Martin Mere Wetlands centre in Lancashire in the UK. Need to go back to my iPhone in my pocket for those sudden photo opportunities when least expecting a close encounter!

January 2015:Signs of Spring and Autumn in Winter Back at Finca Navasola

From the frosty hollow up through my magical path to the front entrance. Cold today!
From the frosty hollow up through my magical path to the front entrance. Cold today!

i arrived back a week later than planned and to the same kind of cold and rainy weather but

Half a daisy Jan 2015
Half a daisy Jan 2015

when the sun shone everything brightened up with a luminosity only to be found in Andalucia, land of light. I didn’t expect to see flowers and the landscape indeed looked wintry. But this is contrasted by the dancing brilliance of the leaves in the olive groves as you look up the rocky hillside. On my first walk around I did find quite a lot of Viburnum Tinus in part bloom. This wild shrub is abundant here and part of the natural flora along with the Madrono ( Arbutus Unedo) and Lentiscus. The viburnum was the first photo on my blog last January with its dark metallic berries in the rain! That was thanks to the iPhone and this year I am trying a lumix bridge camera but it requires more effort in uploading and I do not always walk around with a slightly heavier item!  With not being on constant wifi it is also difficult to get the right connections but I will keep trying.

 

Viburnum Tinus January 2015
Viburnum Tinus January 2015

 

 

Yellow marguerites in rock garden, January 2015.
Yellow marguerites in rock garden, January 2015.

I also didn’t expect to see many flowers in the garden but there was a solitary anemone and some of the winter flowering marguerites in bloom. These are a welcome yellow in the winter and found planted in the nearby town of Aracena, along with all the oranges on the trees. Although we are only a few miles away we have more ground frost so it is not really possible for oranges and my hibiscus did look the worst for wear so I dug it up and brought it inside. However, there were a few wild flowers in bloom besides the viburnum. Up by the water deposit, a wild daisy with half the petals missing! On the sunny studio side some of the yellow rock rose was attempting to flower( Halimium atriplifolium) and also some celandine and some small vetch in my self seeding plot in the rock garden.

Just before my magical path goes up the hill from the frosty hollow in the photo you can walk down to the old huerta ( a Spanish name for vegetable plot, market garden area) This is where we have dug our new wildlife pond and there are some Mirbeck Oaks. There are at least 5 different kinds of oaks on the Finca but these are particularly striking in the sun in the winter as they don’t seem to lose their leaves but the colours change into those autumn brown and reds. This part of the Finca; Navasola East,North is where I used to see rabbits but haven’t for a long time. The beech marten also turned up here but sadly for his demise as he was drowned in a water butt which some passing person had stolen the lid off in our absence.

Mirbeck oaks
Mirbeck oaks

Good news for Vaquitas in Mexico

Am really pleased to get this email from Greenpeace after a petition.Probably via facebook which I am sometimes criticised for using! Most of the time there is such ignorance about the damage being done to wild creatures and their habitats. If social media can raise awareness and help conservation and go straight to the corridors of power to create change, then lets keep doing it. Hope these little creatures now have a fighting chance to recover their numbers.

Vaquita: only 97 left, a type pf porpoise  endangered in the bay of Mexico
Vaquita: only 97 left, a type pf porpoise endangered in the bay of Mexico

Hi Georgina

Success! You’re making a difference for vaquitas. I’m delighted to share some great news about these Mexican porpoises with you:

The Mexican government has just published a proposal to protect the entire vaquita habitat. It covers 5,000 square kilometers, and includes a 2 year ban on fishing with gillnets. These nets are single-handedly responsible for entangling and drowning so many vaquitas, there are now just 97 of these incredible creatures left. The proposal also sets out compensation for affected fishers.

You helped build an international outcry that reached the highest levels of government. An incredible 320,000 of us sent messages to Mexican president Peña Nieto – and it’s clear there’s huge pressure to protect these little porpoises.

However, there are some missing measures that must be included for this proposal to be fully effective. The most important is to strengthen surveillance and enforcement. Illegal gillnetting in the vaquita habitat is common and must be eliminated. We’re also urging the Mexican government to make this a permanent ban on gillnet fishing.

By the end of this month the proposal will have passed through consultation and be ready for a final draft. This doesn’t mean the campaign is over, as there may be more campaigning needed – and you and I both know there’s a big difference between what’s written on paper and what happens on the water. If we need more action soon, I would love to have you on board to make sure we secure a bright future for the vaquita.

Thanks again for everything you do!

Victoria

A fertile feeling: Ms Peoni Broteri getting ready for rebirth!

Our wild child Ms Peony Broteri is now settling down for the winter with hopefully tubers deep down by the chestnut tree roots and the seeds hidden away. Have been told the seeds can take two years to birth into another wild and seductive Ms Peony.

Wild peony forest January/February
Wild peony forest
January/February
The first Peony bloom in Navasola East, by an old chestnut, attracting insects.
The first Peony bloom in Navasola East, by an old chestnut, attracting insects.
Ms Peony chatterbox
Ms Peony chatterbox in  Autumn
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October

Feed the World with small scale farming: Cultivando Biodiversidad: Red Andaluza de Semillas: Seed biodiversity .

We spent some interesting hours at this Seed Network Fair in one of the nearby towns in the Sierra Aracena. There was an exchange of seeds by various people or collectives that are trying to cultivate organically or here in Spain ‘ ecologica’ or ‘ bio’. We were able to visit  a plot of land that had been an abandoned ‘huerta’ outside the smaller village of Las Chinas. The aim of this collective was to cultivate organically and to be able to use abandoned land. The collective was called ‘sin tierra’ without land. It was great to see the young people involved in horticulture and we saw the most amazing sized tomato too! We have now bought some very tasty veg from them. Am not sure how my own attempt at self sufficiency will go and maybe it is better to support other projects and help people make a living out of growing on a small scale.

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The seed exchange stall at the Andalucia seed network Fair
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The stall of the collective Sin Tierra

There was also a stall about permaculture in the Sierra Aracena and some very tasty apple juice was being shared from a wooden press.  image I struggled with my Spanish but attended some talks on how to conserve seeds and preservation of fruit and vegetable. Speaking to Trini who was giving some of these talks and who runs a very successful Eco Finca it was clear she also meant the biodiversity of flowers and all kinds of cultivating. She felt that monoculture can damage the environment. Is there hope for more small scale farming and the ability to support the natural world along with feeding the billions of human mouths. One of the food myths on the BBC web site from the UN was that large agribusiness was the way forward for the future. The suggestion was that small scale farmers are major producers of food to feed the world already and that biodiversity of the natural world can be supported by this type of farming.