Archive for Design

Natural ways to combat erosion @losgazquez…


At Los Gázquez and indeed in the whole region, land suffers from erosion. There are many reasons for this and indeed this is a topic for another post. What we are currently concerned with is naturally combating this problem. So this is a trial which I will from time to time post again as an update as to it’s success or failure.

As you can see in the picture above, ’tilled’ land is fragile and can easily start washing away, even in a dry climate like ours. Once ‘fissures’ develop it only takes a small obstacle like a rock to accelerate the problem as it creates a step which amplifies the downward pressure of water on the soil causing greater erosion. One of the problems this land suffers from is the loss of native plant species which would support soils such as ‘esparto grass’…


If one observes what is happening in your location the landscape potentially reveals solutions to problems. This is esparto grass happily growing on a knoll. However the knoll is there because the root system of the grass supports the soil beneath it. The reason the grass is raised is because the soil around it has washed away. Esparto takes around 20 years to recolonise an area. So, how can we reproduce that intricate network of roots rapidly…


Here is an almond tree happily growing above the erosional fissure in question. Every year we have to prune the almonds to keep them productive and accessable. Locally these prunings are burnt however we thought we might make an experiment…


At the base of the erosional fissure we have dug in a series of posts. Behind these posts we are carefully weaving the almond prunings to create a permeable barrier…


It’s not finished yet but the idea is that the network of branches will allow water to pass through but capture soil and small stones and hold onto them the way the esparto grass roots do. In time the deposits of soil will build up and naturally re-build the bank that was previously washing away. What’s more, the almond branches will break down and release organic matter into the soil and help the rejuvenation of plant species like esparto grass etc. It’s an experiment but let’s hope it works.

Thanks must be given to our volunteers Jeroen, Franck and Fannie.


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Planting the new ‘grey water’ reed bed…



Here is French Franck (actually a Kiwi) and Canadian Fannie, two fab volunteers adding the final touches to our new grey water reed bed. That’s planting the giant cane Arundo Donax.


The weather is beautiful, warm with a cool breeze, ideal for planting…


and in they go. Finished in half an hour. I’ll let you know when they germinate.



Willcommen besucher aus dem Urlaub Architektur

holiday architecture photo

Welcome visitors from Urlaub Architekture. The image you see above is a segment from the installation SUNTRAP by New York artist Melissa Marks. The wall painting is in a secluded courtyard to the rear of the cortijada. Plans are in place for an extension to the work in spring 2012.

SUNTRAP is part of our ongoing programme Joya: arte + ecología, an artists residency/opportunity here at Cortijada Los Gázquez. We, through invitation, open call or competition, invite artists who’s work has concerns with environmental issues to come and work here for a short time to experience  the semi-wilderness of this alpine desert.

Cortijada Los Gázquez is in the centre of the Parque Natural Sierra María-Los Vélez in the north of Almería, a place of outstanding natural beauty. Joya: arte + ecología also augments the experience of guests coming here to participate in our creative courses.

We are also a destination for those who like vernacular/new-vernacular architecture, peace and tranquillity, walking, cycling etc.



Seeking an Intern…

intern ad copy

If you should know of anyone (or even yourself), let me know here.



Wanted / Volunteer for ‘green build’ studio

studio 2

Cortijada Los Gázquez is looking for a volunteer who (either with experience or is just keen and able) would like to volunteer to help out with a green build. Naturally board and lodging is on the house and all they would have to do is get themselves here.

The construction will be a modification to an existing building in order to convert it into a second studio for the Joya residency. The construction will be cordwood and cob built within a post and beam type of construction. All materials will be taken from our land.

Expect the experience to be rewarding and hard work with lots of sunshine and good company.



Ecology Systems Los Gázquez / Grey Water

lloyd & romaine diggingThis autumn (even though it hadn’t really arrived until this weekend) has seen us take the opportunity to re-install the grey water system. All the grey water from Los Gázquez leaves the house by it’s own dedicated waste water system. When I say grey water, I mean water from the showers, basins, kitchen sinks, dishwasher and washing machine. What is more we only use ecologically safe detergents as this water is used to irrigate a terrace of fruit trees.

lloya & romaine collecting strawTo help us with this task we had two wonderful young French men from Lyon. Lloyd and Romaine were on their gap year and they stayed with us for a few weeks on their return from a month in Morocco. (I have to say that if their parents are reading this we must say that they are a credit to them, they are welcome back here any time). The first thing to do was to dig an horizontal swale or ditch with an access point at one end which you can see in the foreground (below). In the excavation we laid field drain. Next we collect the barley straw from last summer and cut the straw from last springs wild flowers.

lloyd & romaine laying strawFirstly the wild flower straw goes over the field drain in the ditch. It has more structural integrity so the idea is that it supports the material we put over the top. We have adapted the idea from Permaculture techniques. The swale will hold the water stopping it from running off and giving it time to soak into the earth. When the earth is dry, being clay, it is as hard as concrete making whatever rainfall we have simply run away.

ss watching hayLastly, with an audience of eight year olds on my car roof, we apply the barley straw. This is laid like a thick blanket over the whole terrace. The idea is that it will act like a sponge keeping the newly introduced grey water high in the earth, watering the tree roots from beneath. It is also a deep mulch keeping the clay earth soft and allowing worms and such to break down this organic matter, conditioning the soil.

We have three terraces for this system so we can alternate where the grey water goes, freshly irrigating one terrace while the others rest. What is more it’s entirely organic and can be replenished or removed with ease. Last spring we planted four trees on the first terrace which was fed by the grey water in a canal. This was marginally successful but out of the four trees we planted, pear, persimmon, fig and apricot, the apricot died as I suspect it had too much water. The new system will hopefully combat that problem, Let’s see.

And thanks to Lloyd and Romaine.


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Rainwater Harvesting at Los Gazquez in Action (a film by Dick)



Permaculture Rainwater Harvesting



Land Systems @ Los Gazquez

land-systemsHere at Los Gazquez we have a new scheme, an experiment with the techniques of Permaculture.

If you have never heard of Permaculture it is basically a design system for human settlements and perennial agricultural systems that mimic the relationships found in the natural ecology. It was conceived in Australia in the 1970′s by David Holmgren and Bill Mollison.

Their idea was to rapidly train individuals in a core set of design principles and then those individuals could go off and design their own self sufficient communities which wouldn’t rely on industrial systems which were exhausting the earth’s resources.

For our purposes we intend to use Permaculture water harvesting techniques to revive a dried up well. And the aim is to do this without resorting to ‘bore holes’ to find a more abundant water supply, but to create a water supply by the subtle exploitation of gradient and organic mulches.

The red dot in the centre of the drawing is the old dry pozo or well. It is a covered structure with a door and is about four meters deep. Below the well is the balsa or small reservoir to which one once would have deposited the water taken from the well. The acequia is the canal system introduced by the Moors to Spain and is used to transport the water from the balsa to the terraces below (or growing zones).

To start we are going to restore the fabric of the pozo and clear the old balsa of vegetation and undergrowth. Crucially this organic material is not going to be lost but kept for using as mulch.

Next, above the pozo we are going to dig a series of swales, indicated in purple. A swale is an English word to describe a low or hollow place or marshy depression between ridges. The  swales will vary depending on the topology of the area and will vary in width and length but the depth will be in the region of 800 to a 1000 mm. The interior walls will be supported by dry stone walls. To the lower side of the swale a large mound of organic material, collected when clearing the land for the project, will be placed.

The idea is that when scarce rainfall does occur the swale fills with water. Being on a gradient the captured water will sink into the earth. However and crucially, the mulch on  the downside of the gradient will act as a sponge, gently supporting the water table being created beneath it nearer the surface. The principle is that the two fold action of the mulch is to support a water table beneath the surface by osmosis and  to severely reduce evaporation from the surface.

In time a water table should establish itself and ultimately feed the old well again. And in turn we can fill the balsa and use the acequia to  irrigate the terraces below and start growing organic crops for the house.

It sounds so easy I know, but this is an experiment and I shall make this an on going column on my blog with it’s own page.


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Portable Bull Rings

blanco's portable bull ringIt’s fiesta time here in the Comarca de Los Velez and this year Velez Blanco has a portable bull ring. If the funds are there they should build a new one. Not for bullfighting though but for real art and culture.


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