Packing Up

After a very successful growing season, it’s time to pack up the garden before going back to UK for the winter. As I have said before, I practice permaculture methods at the finca for sustainable living and there were jobs I needed to finish before going away. So I needed to sheet mulch the rest of the annual vegetable plot with the carboard I have been collecting over the summer to feed the soil and keep down the weeds. You can see the difference this makes in these shots of our plot vs the next door neighbour’s who only cleared his 2 months ago.

Sheet mulching vs leaving the weeds to grow
Sheet mulching vs leaving the weeds to grow

Sheet mulching vs the neighbour's plot!
Sheet mulching vs the neighbour’s plot!

When I moved the pile of cardboard I found 6 fire salamanders that I carefully moved to the rock pile where they can hunker down for the winter.

I also moved the polytunnel – while it was a bargain and very useful this year, the plastic cover was of poor quality and needs to be replaced. Don’t skimp on the plastic, folks! False economy. However, there were frogs and salamanders under the hay floor there too so we are getting useful wildlife already chez nous.
The ornamental garden now has the paths mostly complete and the beds were forked over gently and ground cover crops of tares and field beans sown to keep down weeds and add nitrogen and green manure to the soil. I also laid weed suppressing sheeting to the ground around the van so mud isn’t constantly being traipsed inside everytime we need to fill up with water, empty the loo or just walk to and from the car.
ornamental garden
As I prepare to leave I know I will miss Viris enourmously, but I am so looking forward to seeing family in the UK, visiting various gardens and organic plantations and having a very large Xmas with Terri and David on the boat in Southampton. My next posts will be about my adventures in the good old UK!

P.S. Someone asked me what the straw bales were for….
If you’re looking for a method of growing your own organic food, and you want to grow more, in less space, with a lot less work, and no more weeding, you just can’t go past growing in straw bales. And I know, whilst the idea might seem a little wacky to begin with, there are many benefits….

1 -> Healthier Plants & Better Vegetables
When you grow in straw bales you immediately eliminate the need for soil. The only thing required is a straw bale, some (optional) potting mix and compost.Because you’ve taken soil out of the equation, it also eliminates all soil borne diseases and pests that can bring your crops to their knees when they get out of control.

While This Straw Bale Garden Might Be Small, The Harvest Was Anything But…strawbalegarden006

…also keep in mind – the less pests & diseases that are around, means less need to use pesticides (organic or otherwise) which can also harm beneficial insects that we actually want to attract to our gardens. It also means that our plants are just much healthier overall, we really don’t need or want that kind of stuff on the food we eat.

2 -> No Soil Means No More Hard Work
Not having to deal with soil means there’s no digging, no tilling, hoeing, or raking. We don’t need to break our backs doing any of that stuff, or use expensive machines to do it either. Nor do we have to worry about crop rotation cycles or conditioning and improving our soils. You can simply plant right into the bales themselves (which you can put literally anywhere)…

3 -> No More Weeds
Growing in straw bales pretty much eliminates the need for weeding. Weeds just don’t take well to the straw throughout the growing season, and any initial weeds that might sprout early on, can easily be pinched out of the bales roots and all. From then on in you’re not likely to spend more than a few minutes per bale for the ENTIRE growing season.

rz4-lettuce-straw-bale-garden-2 (1)

…I don’t know about you, but I’ve yet to meet a gardener that actually enjoys weeding.

4 -> Self Composting Growing Containers
When you grow in straw, the bales themselves are your actual growing containers… They are also “self composting” growing containers that are slowly decomposing internally throughout the growing season. This produces a certain amount of heat which regulates the internal temperature, keeping it ideal for the roots of your plants. It also helps to mitigate the impacts of any frosts or sudden cold snaps too and can extend your growing season. This also means, if you’re growing cold weather crops in your bales over winter, you’re going to give your plants a much more favorable growing environment.

5 -> Straw Bales Are Cheap
Straw is cheap & it is usually pretty easy to get. Plus at the end of a growing season, you can just bang it in the compost bin or use it as a mulch on your traditional garden beds. So you’re going to end up saving money because you’re essentially investing in next seasons compost (and you’ll know exactly what’s in it)… although they can last for two years.

6 -> Flexibility & Creativity
You can design a straw bale garden however you like. It can be as small as you like…
…or it can be as big as you like…


You can place your bales directly on the lawn, on concrete, pavers, your patio or even on space you don’t use for anything else on your driveway. With a straw bale garden, you really are only limited by your imagination and your available space…

7 -> Much More Comfortable, Easier Gardening
Because straw bales are roughly 400mm high, you’re going to be gardening at a much more comfortable height. It also means you’ll be able to harvest many of your crops simply standing up as you stroll through your garden. For anyone with a bad back – or anyone that just doesn’t really enjoy crawling around on their knees, this is great news.

The Straw Bale Gardening Book by Duncan Carver is an excellent reference for this technique and can be obtained at:

How to Live the Good Life with Room for a Pony!

I have had a wonderful afternoon collecting comfrey plants from my good friend Felix’s finca.

One enormous comfrey plant!
One enormous comfrey plant!

He lives on a beautiful property of 10,000 square metres in the majestic Ribeira Sacra region of Galicia, with two wood cabins of 50 m3 each and two barns/workshops of 63 m3 each, all powered by solar panels and wind turbine. After a lovely lunch he confided that he wants to sell up and move on.
So how much does it cost to live the good life with room for a pony? Only 55,000 euros (USD 60k, GBP 40k)! I took some photos so you can see what a wonderful oportunity this would be for anyone interested in small holding, permaculture, or just getting away with it all. Both the houses are heated and are very adaptable, the whole plot is sunny and very fertile with numerous fruit trees, bee hives (I get my honey from Felix) and 5 minutes from the town of Ferreira de Panton with schools, shops, health centre etc.


















My awful photography really doesn’t do the property justice. All I can say is that the site is idyllic, the possibilities endless and that for anyone wanting to live off grid with enough space to develop a self sufficient lifestyle for a couple or a family then you couldn’t do better. Just send a message and I will tell you more!

I am in the process of putting our finca to bed for the winter before hopping over to the UK to see hubby and family so will post again soon.

Water, Water, Water Everywhere

We get around 1 m of rainfall here every year. Unfortunately, it floods the fields then runs off to leave dust dry soil down to more than a meter in depth. So , in addition to capturing a potential 120 cubic meters of water off the roof, we have been putting in water catchment systems in the fields, resulting in two ponds which will enable me to have ducks!

The work done yesterday by diggerman Jose (or Raul or Miquel, whatever) consisted of moving an ENORMOUS amount of rock from the front field to the top of the orchard,
where they will be handy when the builder does the main gates and mends the top wall, Then starting the pond:
We broke off for a quick lunch (never quick in Spain) at the wonderful Torre Vilarino’. Outside the restaurant I noticed this
and then noticed that the attached trailer had a very loud buzzing noise coming from it along with the odd stray bee. When we left, the van and trailer were gone, but unfortunately had left many escapees behind who were clearly not amused!
Back to the earthworks, diggerman made a series of interconnecting ditches around the field
which I will fill with gravel. They will provide pathways as well as collecting water and leaking it out to the lower soil levels before finally draining into the pond. In theory. Hopefully.

Bit of a shock this morning when I staggered out of the ‘van and almost fell into the first ditch.

Summer’s End

A 'before Hils and Jim' wall
A ‘before Hils and Jim’ wall
After a long, hot, dry summer we are finally into autumn misty mornings and chilly nights. Lovely! Our wonderful volunteers left on Sunday for Sunny Catalunya and we wish them all the luck in the world – Hilary and James were with us for 3 weeks, clearing walls, rebuilding walls, pointing walls – in fact, working on walls.
An 'after Hils and Jim' wall
An ‘after Hils and Jim’ wall

The couryard waiting for its new wood oven in the corner
The couryard waiting for its new wood oven in the corner

Now, in true Spanish style, we are waiting for our wonderful builder, Gil, to come and repair the courtyard walls,
and then it’s waiting for the permissions to get on and do the house itself.

Until that time I shall just potter about, finishing the swales and berms in the orchard field and wind up this year’s vegetable production ready for full on gardening next spring, whilst stealing cuttings from every plant I see as I go out and about.

The Orchard Field Before our workawayers, Hilary and Jim arrived
The Orchard Field Before our workawayers, Hilary and Jim arrived

orchard field now
orchard field

Happy Autumn everybody!

A Card Carrying Arachnophobe

wasp-spiderArgiope-bruennichi-catches-dragonflyspider in the polytunnel

Guess what I found in the polytunnel. One of the ideas behind developing a permaculture finca is to encourage wildlife to create a balance on the land. This is not balance, it is very scary.

I am not keen on spiders. They give me the willies. I know they do a lot of good, but couldn’t they do good somewhere else. I have tomatoes ripening everyday and now I’m reluctant to pick them. Having spent an hour trying to find out whether this one is poisonous or not I am no closer to the answer due to a myriad of conflicting information and am now paranoid about what else I may find. The locals are of no help, classifying it as a ‘bicho’ which they have no knowledge of, although I have seen this little begger in Mallorca before. A bicho is anything from an ant to a jabali (wild boar). It isn’t a wild boar, I’ve been confronted by one of those in bed in the tent. Me, not the boar. I can find plenty of pictures on the web (ha ha!!!) but the descriptions do not match the spider.

Until I can get some definitive info on my little visitor, the tomatoes will rot on the vine.

Hello world!

Welcome to our page about our lives in this glorious part of Spain.  So many friends and family members ask about our progress and we have finally got around to doing something about it.  Better late than never.

You will be able to read Mandy’s ramblings about going green, permaculture and her longing to get some ducks and chickens, or read Roy’s straightforward accounts of water conservation, solar power storage and how often he cleans his bike.  Failing that, just look at the pretty pictures.

Please remember you are always welcome to visit!