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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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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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