Living on the Edge. Use edges and value the marginal

Writing this piece in the wake of the UK's vote to leave the EU, and after having recently watched both A Simpler Way – Crisis as Opportunity and Rob Stewart's excellent Revolution, my thoughts have centered on the meaning of 'edge'.

Are we talking precipice or threshold? A point of confluence, or a line of division between how it was and how it will be, between here and there, between you and me? An intensification of creativity, productivity, opportunity and abundance as our permaculture teaching would have us believe, or a grey portal to the diminishment of everything we value? Or ought to value.

The image of the cliff edge discussed in A Simpler Way has, and continues to, resonate strongly with me.

The sentiment is stark and dark yet liberatingly simple; we are all standing on that climatic cliff edge whether we like it or not, whether we are aware of it or not, whether we live and act in denial of it. Or not.

There is a choice and there is no choice depending on your perspective.

We are going over the precipice. There is no getting around it folks.

But within that seemingly crushing statement of fact there is, at least for me, deep solace. Because we are presented with a choice, one which towers gargantuan above any in / out European Union referendum - despite its seeming importance at the moment.

While our 'leaders' wrestle in the dying embers of the neo-liberal catastrophe they so vehemently prop up, while Britain and the rest of Europe wring their hands with glee or self-pity or sorrow, the real in / out question is yet to be decided upon. And this referendum is coming fast and there will be no second vote on this one either.

The question on the ballot paper is this:

The natural world and humanity is standing on the cliff edge of mutually assured climatic extinction:

Please place a cross in one box:

1.) I choose to be pushed unceremoniously over.

2.) I choose to get very good, very quickly, at parachute building, and to jump into the clear blue sky of our species' and our planet's future.

And in the immediate future, I believe questions of what is and what isn't marginal will cease to be of importance to us permaculturists. Everything is becoming marginal.

The difference between good land and bad land decreases here in Spain, where we homestead, by 80,000 kilos of top soil per hectare (2.4 acres) per year ¹. According to eminent marine scientists it is predicted that over-fishing and acidification of our oceans will lead to total global commercial fish stock collapse by 2048 ².

Here at Finca Slow, we are situated on the brow of a windy, south-facing hill, with areas of bedrock visible throughout the farm. Before we bought it, the finca had been chemically farmed for years. It is, with the best will in the world, marginal land.

And yet is it so much worse than the alluvial riverside land classed as 'good' by local Catalan farmers? Hydroelectric damming of the river Ebro means that the flood-plain no longer floods. Nature does not get an opportunity to replenish the free draining silt with water-borne fertility and minerals each winter. And now, the largest farm situated alongside our stretch of the mighty river Ebro has just been dumped by a massive supermarket chain, because its soil has been burned out. The endless 'mining' of squash and watermelon, the one way extraction of energy and life-force, has come to an unceremonious end. Leaving its owners on a different kind of edge.

During our four years of experiencing Mediterranean small-holding, Johanna and I have sat firmly on the edge of so many facets of our life. Of culture and language (we are British and Finnish and speak Spanish but our children also speak Catalan), of ways and modes of living (we live in a yurt and on our farm in a region where it is not at all common to do so.), in farming methodology and philosophy (even though agriculture is relatively small scale here, it is overwhelmingly chemically managed and bare soil is actively encouraged and appreciated – while we practice permaculture and regenerative agriculture). It would not be entirely unfair to describe our lives, in the eyes of most people, as marginal. And yet.

And yet, and yet and yet. Our principles and our learning first and foremost afford us an awareness of our situation, our status within wider society, and most importantly our understanding of the current state of the world and the profound need for change, deep and radical in nature. And secondly, and perhaps more usefully, they teach that we can, and should: Use edge and value the marginal.

And so we do, and the more we do, the more I am profoundly grateful that we are where we are; on the edge. Because, trite as it may sound: necessity is indeed the mother of invention.

The world needs us permaculturists to be right here, where we are; relearning past wisdoms and inventing future ones. We are busy daily at Finca Slow, as are millions of others throughout the planet, building a prototype parachute for ourselves to use and others to replicate if they so choose.

We're making the mistakes, learning the lessons, listening to local and global wisdom and advice, doing the empirical, emotional, physical and spiritual testing for what life may be like for everyone else in the not too distant future.

At the moment, there are many people in our community who will certainly consider us raros / weirdos. I mean why would anyone choose to live in a field in a glorified tent with no mains electric or mains drinking water, 'having' to use a compost toilet, and trying to meet as much of our food and fuel needs here, when 'modern comfortable society' has solved all these problems for us already!

In a country such as Spain which is still so close to its peasant history, and the poverty and hardship that came with it, the idea that one would choose, as an act of voluntary simplicity, to move back to something stripped back, bare and raw, is currently anathema. But for us, it is the only place to find out again what it is to be human. To work at 'making a living' with your own two hands rather than 'earning a living' and paying with your happiness and more often than not, your mental and physical health.

Out here on the hinterland borders of industrial-capitalist society we haven't found all the answers by any stretch. We are still entangled in the world of money and income, and the outsourcing of many of our needs and resources. We haven't let go of modernity and 'civilization', yet we haven't gone back to the 'dark ages' either. I'm sat at a table I made, mainly from scrap wood, in my 28m2 yurt that houses four people, writing this. I'm looking out at almond and mulberry trees under-planted with organic tomatoes, aubergines, peas and beans, all growing in homemade compost and biochar and mulched with ramial woodchips from the trees above. But I'm writing this on an Apple laptop made thousands of miles away from god only knows what and I'm communicating via a 4g internet connection beamed from god only knows where. But the whole high-tech set up is being powered by the sun via photovoltaic panels. But…but…but... You see what I mean? These are interesting times.

We are at the frayed edge of two worlds colliding, two modes of being. And you know what? It is immensely challenging, exciting, exhausting, rewarding, exasperating, and ultimately life-affirming. And there is absolutely no other place I would want to be.

And the reason for that is simple. We have made our choice; put our cross in the box. We have found a life and work that connects us to our humanity and our role as intelligent animals living amongst nature, not in opposition to it. We know that we can work with what is currently marginal / on the edge and by truly valuing it, by listening and learning and inventing and designing and working very hard, we can create a thriving oasis in the midst of desertifying land and crumbling capitalist-industrial structures.

By creating the change necessary in our own lives and our own soil and our own community, we will, as a movement, transform over time from a distracting flicker in the peripheral vision of the Western consumerist world, to one day, becoming an unmissable, shimmering beacon, signposting others to their own safe point of descent, over the threshold from the extractive and destructive, to the abundant and regenerative.

We want to float as gracefully and gently as possible and land into a place and time of appreciation for what we have lost, and of thankfulness for what we have found.

The polling station is now open.

Finca Slow is a regenerative homestead in Catalunya, Spain run by Dan and Johanna McTiernan.

www.fincaslow.org

Sources:

¹http://www.unesco.org/mab/doc/ekocd/spain.html

² http://www.fao.org/docrep/013/i1820e/i1820e01.pdf

FAO (2010) State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) - SOFIA 2010. FAO Fisheries Department

Microscopic Fruits of the Forest

Johanna attended a fabulous course on diy soil microbiology last year (here's the link to our blog about Nacho Simon). And off the back of that learning we have been creating all sorts of brews, mixes and potions, teaming with beneficial fungi, bacteria and nutrients. All with the intention to boost the life and vitality in our farm's soil and the plants, trees, animals and people it supports.

 wetting the leaf litter and bran with watered down molasses to feed the microbes

wetting the leaf litter and bran with watered down molasses to feed the microbes

One recent concoction we created is called 'micro-organismos de montaña'. The principle is simple: you take leaf litter and decayed organic material from a healthy mixed woodland nearby to you, you bulk up that material with more organic material (in this case wheat bran), you add some food (molasses and water) and you mix the whole lot up and leave to do it's thing for a month. 

 it's important to thoroughly mix everything 

it's important to thoroughly mix everything 

You then have a highly concentrated dose of beneficial micro-organisms that can be mixed into compost, diluted into water and applied to trees and vegetables, mixed into animal (and even human) feed to help boost good gut microbiology. 

 after all the ingredients are mixed, they need compacting and leaving in a sealed barrel for 28 days minimum

after all the ingredients are mixed, they need compacting and leaving in a sealed barrel for 28 days minimum

These are low tech solutions designed for peasant farmers around the world and they work brilliantly. The first recipients of our new 'probiotic booster' will be our new crop of almonds this year, helping them resist disease and increase the trees' ability to uptake nutrients and pass those on to the almond nuts we harvest in the autumn.

Soap and Sensibility

It's raining today. Boy, have we been waiting for rain. I managed to plant out some cauliflower seedlings before it started and although it's still very gentle, it's given me an excuse to sit down and write. 

With the boys at school, I can hear my thoughts again. Our youngest started preschool this year at the age of three and a half. Coming from Finland and being used to children going to school at the age of six or seven, I was horrified when our eldest started at four and a half in England. Let them be children, care free! 
I'm sure I'm generally less precious with my second child, but mainly I'm being practical: he needs to go spend time with Catalan children, make friends, learn the language and get his foot in the door of integration before it becomes a conscious process to be intimidated by. Although you'd struggle to intimidate him if he continues to be the fearless lion boy that he is.

It's a strange experience noticing your children with some of your own characteristics. I see a lot of myself in our eldest, some things that make me feel close to him because we are similar, and other things that make me feel almost guilty: oh no, I've passed on the pain of being me! Our youngest must get his fierce and fearless nature from his father.

We have a farmer mentor and friend in the village, a Catalan man in his fifties, who we turn to with most of our agricultural dilemmas. He is the most helpful, mild mannered, gentle human being. His voice reflects his soft personality, it is calm and low, with a soothing resonance that makes you believe it's all going to be all right. 

We have come to know his mother a little bit too. She has just turned 80 and lives on her own with a wood fired stove, a vegetable garden and a load of chickens that she isn't shy of turning into a roast dinner. She is loud with a piercing voice, her arms move fast and sharp to punctuate the Catalan words that shoot out of her mouth as if she is constantly angry. 

The other day, she taught me her method for making soap with olive oil. We have made soap at home before, but I was interested to find out how different the process was. The chemistry lab-ness of soap making with its accurate measurements and temperatures doesn't naturally sit with me. I'm much happier with the more sensory art forms such as cooking, for example; adapting, tasting and adding as I go along. My grandmother would have made her own soap, albeit not with olive oil but with pig fat, and I don't imagine that having been scientific, but a traditional craft, which is what appeals to me.

I wasn't wrong. There was no heating of oil, no thermometers in sight, no gloves, no goggles. Just a garage, a bucket, a stirring stick and a one litre jug; water, caustic soda and old olive oil. She promptly poured it all in, the mixture turned bright orange. "That's never happened before!", she exclaimed. Whilst I stirred the mixture for the best part of an hour she showed me various old pieces of soap, one of which was made by her mother ("and she's been dead for 40 years!") and lace she was working on. "I get easily bored, I have to have something to do." 

The lack of science in the process meant the soap ended up being fairly rough and lumpy, and having had better results at home, I'm going to forget about the romance of tradition (when it comes to soap making) and hold onto my thermometer for now. Unless I can delve deeper into the local traditions and learn to make soap with almond peel and ashes.

But I thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon with her. Her gestures and voice may be sharp, but she is pure gold inside. Solid and warm honesty shines through. Mother and son are more alike than it first seems. I wonder whether their likeness would be even greater if her husband was still around. The twenty years of solitude after his death may have forced her to toughen up somewhat. Or perhaps that's just who she is. I hope one day I will know her well enough to find out. 

Baking cobs in cob: our double chambered wood fired oven

Once upon a time in the UK we set up a really good bakery. We used organic ingredients. We made slow fermented Real Bread. We engaged our local community by working on a ‘bread club’ Community Supported Bakery model. We raised all the funding to move from a home kitchen Ikea oven, to a pizzeria pop up bakery, to a 15m2 mini bakery at the back of a grocery and finally to a whopping 280m2 bakery/cafe/baking school only from people in our community. No banks. We set it up as a worker cooperative and by the time we left The Handmade Bakery 6 years later to move to Spain, there were 17 very capable, motivated people working with us. 

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A really good bakery, a permaculture bakery. Just it had one thing missing right at its centre… 

A woodfired oven. 

So this time we had to build one. And every year we harvest a LOT of sticks from pruning our orchards so along with woodchip compost and biochar, wood fired cooking makes total permaculture sense.

Researching the options our natural inclination was towards ‘rocket stove’ technology but I couldn’t find a single example of a rocket bread oven that could consistently bake professional quality artisan bread. We have high expectations! So eventually I came across a hybrid technology that incorporates the clean burning efficiency of rocket stoves with tried and tested earth oven technology. 

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Double chambered cob ovens have a fire / bake chamber and a chimney chamber unlike most cob ovens. The principle being that smoke from the burning wood gets reignited when it flows back into the chimney chamber thus taking full advantage of the energy available in the wood. So you need two doors; a metal one while the fire is burning and a second wooden one that forms a tight seal to keep the heat in the baking chamber.

The developers of this oven style, Ernie and Erica Wisner, state that from a two hour burn you can cook for up to 8 hours. starting with pizzas or flat breads, moving on to loaves of bread then roast meats or veg and finally using overnight heat to culture yoghurt, toast granola, dry preserve fruits or veg. 

We are yet to cook for eight hours but we have made really good pizzas and fabulous sourdough bread. And we’ve made it big enough that we can start teaching slow fermented artisan baking here at Finca Slow from next spring! Watch this space...

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If you fancy making your own double chamber oven you can download detailed instructions from http://www.ernieanderica.info/ovens or learn to bake real artisan bread via our online course here: http://www.schoolofslow.org/courses/online

 

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Showered in compost

All throughout the winter our method for having a wash has been to heat the sauna, twice a week, which at times has seemed like we are slightly pushing the hygiene boundaries, particularly as most days we are doing physical labour. 16 years ago when I first met Dan, he used to have two showers a day! 

But heating the sauna is a fair amount of work in itself as we have never had the time to make enough firewood to have the luxury of just skipping to the wood store and picking a basketful. So to have a wash, we first have to chainsaw some lengths from the pine we scavenged from the site of last summer's forest fire; split them with an axe, then heat the sauna for an hour and a half (which in itself is a very pleasurable ritual). But then, as we have had no hot water system, we have had to boil several pans worth of water on the hob; enough to wash a family of four (and often our friends' family as well who currently live on site) and to throw on the hot stones of the sauna stove. So you can imagine you might settle for having a wash twice a week.

Well, we have no excuse for being smelly any longer! Since last weekend we have been  enjoying steaming hot showers straight from the tap!

With the help of a flashmob of permaculture design graduates from Leeds and their friends from Normandy we constructed a compost water heating system based on the design of Jean Pain, a French innovator, who pioneered the system in the 1970's. By building a large pile with green wood chips or other woody debris that decomposes slowly you can generate enough heat to provide you with up to 18 months of hot water of up to 60 degrees C. 200 metres of plastic pipe that is spiralled inside the mound stores 65 litres of hot water and when drawn, in theory, more should be heated at the rate of 4 litres every minute. 

You don't have to add in any nitrogenous material, but ours is a mixture of wood chip (carbon), the soft outer husks of almonds (carbon) and horse manure (nitrogen). The manure makes it more active, but it may also mean it will decompose faster and bring an end to our hot water supply sooner. 

The mound is a monument of permacultural ingenuity and serendipity on our farm. We wanted to buy a chipper because every year we end up with piles of branches and sticks from pruning the trees. The local custom is to burn them in bonfires, thus sending the carbon off into the atmosphere - we want to put it back into the soil. Not only can you heat your water with it, but wood chip makes fantastic mulch and once defunct as a heater, the mound will be compost, rich in nutrients and with a high capacity for holding water; and we are desperate for organic material in our depleted soil, particularly in the olive grove. 

In terms of serendipity: the chipper was bought collectively with other permie-minded people, who then brought their design course buddies with them and built the compost heating system together with us. Can't get much more permaculture than that! We returned the favour by helping with their almond pruning and the collaboration is rapidly expanding. 

Jean Pain further developed the process to produce methane to run his chipper and tractor with. We may get to that in a few years... In the meantime we are interested to see how long we will actually have hot water for. And when we build the next one, we'll get some higher grade plastic pipe as this one is giving off a strange smell... Kind of barn-like... Which defeats the object of having a wash! 

Soil microbiology by the Mexican master

Some of the leading regenerative agriculturists come from Latin America where they are inventing home made biofertilisers and soil improvers, enabling peasant farmers to cut loose from expensive chemical inputs. Reducing costs is a great way of convincing farmers to turn organic, but the regenerative philosophy is not to just replace chemicals with organic equivalents, but to restore and boost the elements in the soil that make it healthy. 

Nacho Simón from Mexico is currently on an Iberian tour which gave us a marvellous opportunity to learn some of these techniques first hand.

The principle is simple: working towards a dynamic equilibrium of micro-organisms, organic matter and minerals that constitute the fertility of the soil. The three operate together in an integrated manner and struggle to function if one or two elements are missing. A farmer may have added compost to his field, but if he is killing weeds using herbicide which in the process kills the micro-organisms in the soil, his plant will struggle to take up nutrients from the compost without the bacteria and fungi that transform nutrients to a digestible form for the plant.

One of the campesino techniques involves harvesting bacteria and fungi from a healthy ecosystem such as a forest, multiplying them by feeding them molasses and wheat bran and applying them on the land together with organic matter and minerals. We can't wait to start using the recipes on our land!

We managed to catch another guru in the regenerative field last year, the American Kirk Gadzia, when he led a course in holistic management in Catalunya. Long gone are the days when we used to dream of seeing Pearl Jam live...

Although Dan has just said, 'speak for yourself, sunshine!'

Chia-rs

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We thought we'd have a go at growing this miracle seed this year. It sprouted quickly, grew really tall and made a fabulous windbreak hedge for the veg beds, but was it going to ever flower?? I had almost given up but then, in November, it did. Just harvested all the seed heads so we'll let you know how easy, or not, it is to harvest the seed...

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A chicken of one's own

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Well, sixteen actually. Finally we have our very own flock of Catalan 'del prat' (cross) chickens under our trees. All through the summer we chicken-sat friends' hens, and then we had a brief hiatus (buying eggs seemed so wrong), but now we're full steam ahead with our own.

As you can see from the orchard photos, their impact is really impressive. On the left is a terrace grazed through the dry summer which has greened up brilliantly. On the right is the current terrace the chickens are enjoying and you can see lots of dead standing grass and plants that are in need of trampling back into contact with the soil. This will put carbon back where it belongs as well as allowing sunlight to the seedlings below.

The hens are a while off laying yet but we hope to be supplying customers in the village with gorgeous pastured eggs in the new year.

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Sowing seeds in the desert...

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Masanobu Fukuoka, it is fair to say, has had a big impact on our lives. If you haven't read The One Straw Revolution, then you must.

He is, in many ways, the Godfather of Permaculture, with his total respect for the way ecosystems function and his ability to work within those parameters to create rice and barley yields, with no chemical inputs at all, that match and sometimes exceed the yields of his neighbouring industrial farms.

He is no longer with us unfortunately, but one of his most enduring legacies is the 'seed pellet'. Seed which is encased in a natural protective shell of nutrient rich clay so that ants and birds won't eat it as it waits where it has been sown for just enough rain to melt its armour and allow it to germinate.

Here at Finca Slow we have been planning an autumn sowing of the olive grove to increase natural fertility, create perennial protective groundcover for the bare soil and to create a living pasture full of nectar for bees and food and medicine for chickens and other livestock.

Last week we put those plans into action and mixed 42 varieties of seeds together into a mix of clay soil, sifted compost and water. Treaded through well and then rolled out into long snakes to be then broken into small, pea size pellets and dried in the sun.

We then rotavated the compacted soil we didn't plant into last spring and sowed the seed pellets awaiting the autumn rains.

They're coming this week...

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...Disco Inferno!

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And every self respecting sauna, of course, needs a stove...I've repurposed an old propane gas bottle and with the help of my friend Alan and his welding skills have just about finished it now. Need to get some stones to fill the cage above the stove and get it installed in the building.

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Burn baby burn!

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Black is the new Pine... We have Alessandro Ardovini to thank for introducing us to this wonderful technique when he spent a week working with us recently.

Called Shou Sugi Ban, it's an ancient Japanese tradition of scorching wood to make it water, insect and rot resistant. We think the look is amazing and it only cost 2 euros worth of gas to preserve the shower wall in the new sauna I'm building.

You burn the wood until fully blackened then wash down with a wet cloth. And that's it!

I love appropriate technology.

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O solar mio

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Gluts...I've had a few...but then again...

I digress. We are drowning in an unending torrent of tomatoes...

A solar dehydrator was on my list of projects for the future somewhere below 'create a way of having a warm wash in a warm space for this winter'.

But it seemed such a shame to lose this uber-harvest this year so I made the simplest dehydrator I could. A box with screen mesh at the bottom, holes around the sides and a glass lid.

And guess what? It works a treat!

It makes much more sense to dry rather than bottle things for us at the moment as we have no cool pantry or cellar space yet.

Figs are in it at the moment...looking lovely...and as we develop our permaculture orchard we will be drying all kinds of exciting and exotic delights.

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After a 15-year wait I'm getting close to...

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...having my own sauna! Dan has been constructing the foundations and the wood frame for months (what a fabulous 10th wedding anniversary present, thank you xx) and this week, with the help of some wonderful WWOOFers, we have nearly completed cobbing the exterior walls. We are using a French 'light earth' or 'light straw' technique, which we also used to construct our compost toilet. We built the toilet last summer and with the interruption of the almond harvest amongst other things we had to leave it unrendered. A year on, to our pleasant surprise, the unrendered surface of the walls is perfectly intact, with no damage from the weather. Hopefully after this year's harvest we will render both buildings with a lime plaster. We are planning to build a rocket sauna stove, but more on that later as the designs are still very much in progress...

With the help of permaculturists Alessandro and Esti we have also harvested our chickpeas, dried a load of tomatoes in our new solar drier and cooked courgette flowers in countless Italian ways. And of course enjoyed their thoughts, ideas and knowledge.

As well as Alessandro and Esti, we'd like to thank Ryan and Jenny for their help during their brief visit. Ryan, who works at the Permaculture Association in Leeds, made a short video during their stay and we look forward to sharing that sometime in the future!

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My boys and other animals

A squealing swarm of arms and legs brush past me, a couple of glass jars bobbing at the top. The jars are homes to a somewhat unfortunate locust and a pair of butterflies. I don't say anything, yet. The insects will have to be released sometime soon, but for now I'm relishing the fact that a visit from family friends have enthused our children bug hunting. Otso lets the locust crawl up his arm. This is about as close to Gerald Durrell as we've got so far, even though we've been living on the land for over a year now. But I'm hoping that the effects are not all as visible and obvious, but more subtle and deep than meets the eye. One of the reasons for living on the land for us was that we wanted to offer the children an opportunity for a closer relationship with nature. For the Finns nature and especially the forest is a part of their identity and that relationship is treasured collectively by the whole nation. Many of my happiest childhood memories are of building dens or gathering mushrooms and berries in the woods, swimming in the river, walking in the dark with the reflecting snow as my only light or leaving the sleepover tent for a midnight adventure in the charge of the romantic white light of the northern sun.

Dan, on the other hand, had very dramatically different childhood experiences in nature; the waves of the Persian Gulf spraying his bedroom window, being enveloped by those waves, the blistering heat of sand underfoot, the homely chirrup of ghekkoes, hunting with hawks in the desert.

We don't have a religion to offer the children, but I'd like to think that through nature they could understand something about their purpose and place in the world. In England, even though we lived in a small rural village, surrounded by beautiful moorland, our daily existence was such that the children had little opportunity to experience nature as something essential, comforting or awe-inspiring, to feel to be a part of it.

Now we have it on our doorstep and in the summer months the house itself extends into the garden as we cook and eat outdoors. The boys play outside a lot, but they roam, explore, climb and dig less than I expected and want to go on the computer more than I expected. Perhaps I read too much Enid Blyton in my time. But I make a mental note every time I hear Otso say: "oh, I love the smell of the grass in the morning", when he jumps and dances in the rain, when he calls me to admire a bird of pray gliding over us or when he lies in the hammock and tells me there is a castle in the sky.

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A whiter shade of pale

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So this year's olive harvest has a new look at Finca Slow...White.

That's because we a have coated our trees in a fine misting of Kaolin clay. It's totally natural and completely non toxic and works as a barrier against olive fly attack. It also has the genius side effect of working as a gentle sunscreen for the leaves, making them much more heat and drought tolerant during the searing heat of August.

Our good friends Ed and Beth turned woofers for a week and helped us get all the trees sprayed amongst a host of other useful jobs such as processing firewood and helping me build our new wood-fired shower and sauna building.

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Tired of playing at farming?

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Then get involved in the real thing with us! To produce gorgeous, 'beyond organic' olive oil, almonds and wine, we need to convert our two small Catalan farms into rich, bio-diverse food forests using regenerative farming methods.

And we need some equipment and infrastructure to help us get there!

To help us crowdfund Terra please visit: www.terra.coop/invest-Terra-project

Field of beans update

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It's a huge improvement on what was there before! But... While we have a crop of broad beans, peas and forage turnip, not to mention wheat that has germinated from the straw mulch, apart from sporadic watering, everything has had to make do with available soil fertility...i.e. Not much...

We also planted some perennials into the mix too; artichoke, gooseberry, raspberry.

And we should have planted much earlier in the rainy season...

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So, I'm happy, but not over the moon with the results...

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Cleaning up our act...

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We're exploring some of the many things we can make with our olive oil and last month we made soap with Helen Coxan our friend and Terra CSA colleague. Making soap from fats is an ancient process and has been occurring at least since Roman times. Here's a excerpt from Gladheartacres.com's 'The history of soap':

The "soap" that is commonly found in the grocery or discount store aisle is actually a detergent and a relatively new product, coming into use about 1916. But soap has a long history and as legend goes received its name from Mount Sapo. Animals were sacrificed upon the mountain and the melted fat would mix with the wood ashes and be washed by rain down to the Tiber River. Along the river's edge women found that their wash was much cleaner.

And what could be more Ancient Rome than making our own from olive oil!

The process is very straight forward; gently warm olive oil, meanwhile add sodium hydroxide (lye), to water. This causes a strong reaction which heats up the water - hence the safety specs!

When the water has cooled and is the same temperature as the gently warmed oil, mix the two together and whisk like the wind! We used a stick blender powered by our solar system.

Olive oil takes a long time to saponify, which is to convert from the raw materials into the final product, sodium oleate, or olive oil soap. Our blender was getting rather warm after about 45 minutes of continuous work!

But eventually we ended up with something like custard which we poured out into a shallow tray to 'cure'. This drying and hardening process takes at least a month and 'Castille' olive oil soap isn't sold for at least a year!

Anyway, ours is looking lovely after a month and should continue to improve and cure with time. This may well become a Terra CSA product in the future!

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...to live deliberately...

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Two totally unrelated things that appealed last weekend. One - discovering this quote from Henry David Thoreau: "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I wanted to [...] cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, [...] or if it were sublime, to know it by experience..."

Two - discovering these horns... May I present to you the Cabra Blanca of Rasquera, at the annual goat fair. A related derivative that also appealed was local artisan cheese. Beautiful!

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