First steps in our future farm, RasJebel, and demonstration site

Last november, we had the opportunity to make the first steps and few observation of what will become our farm. In this post, we explain the context before our plans there: fractal greenhouse, distributed composting, extreme water management, wild and animal integration, ecological living and construction. We will start working ‘in situ’ in June 2012, in few weeks. Contact us if you feel interested.

What is the context of the future farm ?

The land is in mediterrean climate, characterized by high water evaporation, long dry summer season and abundance of sun light. Situated at Ras Jbal (i.e. the head of the mountain), its context and condition is unique. Near to a large village, in one of most traditional areas of agriculture and fishery. Most local farmers resist to industrial farming systems, but more by lack of methods and funds, than will to keep traditions.

The land is surrounded by pine forest and some small farms, most abandoned. The area is very windy, and the sea is at only 400m, but underground water at 8 m only is totally free of salt. Classified as an agricultural land, a recent highway at 40 km increased the pressure of tourism on the land prices of this particular area, and risk to reclassify it residential.

From satellite view, you see that the land is not far from the village, and the whole area is between low mountains, part of the Atlas chain, and the sea, which guarantee high rain volume. The land itself is embedded in the ramnant forest, that has not been replaced by farms. By the mountains, gigantic lakes at the background hold the rainwater and redistribute it to the village and the farms. This collective water is certainly cheap, but at the cost of the original river systems, and a more distributed system would have been largely preferable.

What’s on the land ?

The land is an old polyculture orchard of 3000m2 (34×83), abandoned for years. In a gentle slope, two small terraces has been built at its top.

On the land, there are around 70 fruit trees, mainly almond (35), morus, fig, prune, pom-grenade, nefle, apricot trees. There is also many smaller grape vines and barbary fig trees. Few other trees and shrubs are also present (e.g. pine, acacia). Most fruit trees had been pruned radically in the old days, are in a quite bad health. The fig tree was in very good health, probably because of its deep root. Because of the wind, all farms including our, are surrounded by a dense and high, i.e. 20m, windbreak lines of cypress trees, that grow very well and uncontrolled.

The soil is mixed with argil extracted when drilling the well. There is two wells on the land, with water at few meters, but they have not been used for a long time. Locals harvested the few fruits and has tilled the soil every year. The soil is quite poor and is not covered with vegetation at the ground level, except few weeds, herbs and flowers. Small wild animals and birds live in the site, and nearby in the pine forest wild boars are known to frequent the area.

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What are our plan ?

We explained in a previous post our general plan, but here we have plans more specific to this land:

To build the fractal greenhouse by complete existing layers, we will plant more ground covers, shrubs and herbaceous, vegetables, simple companionship associations including the trees. The ill trees will benefit from the diversity we will introduce as well as from watering and soil building.  Later, when the plants structure will be complex enough to form the fractal greenhouse, a larger variety of plants, e.g. from other climates, will be easy to introduce.

For soil building we plan to start with concentrated composting and progressively make enplane composting , introduce decomposer mushrooms, mycorizhal and rizhobioms. We’ll start by building a nursery for worms and mushrooms, in the wet shady south area, that we’ll later use to inoculate the whole land. We will collect and pile all the dead organic material that lie everywhere, that hardly decomposes without proper conditions. We’ll reduce them to woodchips and use them for composting and for mushroom cultivation. We will use large boxes for composting and small boxes for worm composting, and piles in larger scale. Mushrooms will be placed in woodship beds, and when patches start the thrive wooden logs will be added to the area. To enrich the compost and mushroom cultivation substrate, notably in nitrogen, we’ll get coffee ground and vegetable waste from the market in town.

For extreme water management, we first plan to make sunken beds on contour. In mediterranean climate, rain is unfrequent, but when it happens it is abundant in volume. We plan to build swales and a pond to collect surplus, and make it available for trees. Waterways will be integrated to allow us to use the wells to water the plants when necessary. The ground will be heavily mulched with wood or stones partly to minimize the exposure to evaporation. Stones will be used to progressively integrate waterways, including pond and swales, into the underground. The challenge is to keep the ground, including its surface, moist and active for plants, mushrooms and decomposers, even during the dry season with 5 months with no drop of rain. The strategy is to prevent loosing water from evaporation in the air, or to keep the air dry and the ground humid. Except for mushroom cultivation, that will probably be hold in half buried chambers.

We also plan for animals. A goat, rabbits and chicken are useful to recycle all the fodder plants, and other animals will be rapidly be added as well. Pigeons and chickens are important pest control when properly managed. Wild birds, frogs, chameleon and insects already on site will also be supported for enriching the while system.

For us and others life. We will construct starting from small prototypes, a cob, strawbale-based or adobe highly insulated house with 100% local natural or recycled materials. This implies building first a small workshop, notably for working wood. Drinking water will be collected from the building roofs and stored in underground and integrated tanks. Next, element is gray water and black water treatment (e.g. compost toilet). Last element is energy, as a windy location, the most logical is to start with a 400w DIY wind turbine. Jean Pain style compost heating will also be used for hot showers and winter heating. Solar panels for heating and electric power will be later added.

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