During the early years, I gave Borruix back to nature. I cut her back once a year with a powerful strimmer, and occasionally trimmed some trees. She was a haven for wildlife, a real eco-farm. I was always reluctant to deprive any creature or plant its livelihood. However, the underground root systems were gaining in strength to such a point that things were getting out of hand, and, in the absence of grazing animals keeping her in trim, it was obvious that at some point in time I was going to have to take action. Eco-farming was going to have to take on a differing meaning.
I have two primary aims in my land management technique. The first is simply to reduce the risk of bushfire. This region sees scores of fires in the spring and summer months, and I would get into serious trouble if a fire, even if I didn’t start it myself, were to propagate across my land. The law would have no regard for my romantic wildlife haven, and instead would accuse me of gross neglect. Bushfires present a serious risk to human life, and it is unwise to take a casual approach to the issue. I know this first hand: I have been there. In mid summer just one spark could result in you being engulfed in roaring flames within a matter of seconds. The long dry grasses are the real danger, so these have to be managed.
It is a real regret though, to have to dig up the grass. Grass is key to life, and forms the basis of many protein systems. It harbours tremendous insect life, and its rootsystems provide the key to soil microbiology. It’s the grass, and not the tree roots, which maintain the soil during heavy rainfall. When I first till an area of dense grass I observe the soil is rich in organic matter, and it pains me to have to disturb it.
So I’m working on a logical system of escape routes, and fire breaks, and arranging a rotational system, where areas are permitted to grow wild for several years, but suitably isolated, so difficult for fire to spread in a voilent manner.
Here at Olia Borruix we are starting to produce truly palatable raw olives, so the second aim is to gradually increase the yield. Thus, a little convention is perhaps called for. There is practically zero rainfall here during the summer months, and, if some form of crop is desired, the olive trees do need their thirst quenched. I once read that ‘good farmers murder weeds’. They do this because wildflower and grasses are so well hybridized that they take first dibs on any moisture in the soil. This said, where there is ground cover I do observe a good supply of moisture at the soil surface. This observation merits study: on the one hand, it is a simple case that the soil is shaded from the sun, allowing early morning dew to remain throughout the day; on the other hand, this could be the upwelling effect which soil microbiologists talk about, whereby the rootsystems provide millions of channels by which underground water can be supplied to the surface. As a compromise solution I do make effort to allow certain ground cover to flourish. I’m constantly observing, experimenting, and striving for self governing eco-balance.
Compare the picture you see on the homepage, with the picture above, taken early October 2014. The homepage was taken when my children were young and Borruix was practically abandoned. Now she looks less abandoned and more loved. The soil is rich in organic matter. Despite 2014 seeing a dreadful drought in this region, the soil at Borruix has fared really well. Yes, a pathetic crop of olives, and much of the long grasses withered and blonde, but certain areas have somehow held on to moisture, and there is quite a lot of lush greenery.
I use predominately just two tools to do the work – a pruning saw, and an azada – a sort of mattock type instrument. My son once called it a ‘pulling shovel’, and I dare say this is the most concise english description I have heard. The azada is known by some Spaniards as the Mother of Spain. Fairly hard graft, but an extremely efficient method of cultivating the soil – far better than a tractor, and a fantastic body workout. Borruix has not had a tractor over her in all the twenty years I’ve owned her, and an old neighbour once told me the Borras family spent every single weekend up there with azadas. Borruix, and all the land around her, is categorised by the Valencian government as poor terrain in the sense that it is subject to high erosion. I see my neighbours’ land regularly crumble under the weight and vibration of tractors. With the long dry seasons, and then torrential downpours, the edges of their terraces liquefy, and fall away. Borruix, under my hand, never suffers such fate. Gradually I tame the grasses, and permit indigenous wildflower to flourish. My aim is to have a healthy balance of grass, wildflower, and firebreaks. Maybe one day we will also produce honey.
Many landowners use weedkiller on a periodic basis. I refuse to behave like this. I have used weedkiller, but only when tackling dense brambles. I have tackled live brambles in the past and have been left seriously bloody and injured by their highly effective self-defence mechanisms. All my tools had been stolen, and time was against me. I lost an eco-battle, but I’d challenge all but the most devout to have stayed true to their values, under the circumstances.
Unlike my neighbours, I never burn scrub or unnecessarily remove tree cuttings from the land. To do this is to rob the soil of its organic future. A pile of cuttings also provides home and shelter for all sorts of creatures.
In the interest of research. I have allowed a micro jungle to develop along a long crevice – a dense area comprising brambles and tall bamboo type cane. There must be some underground water channel underneath it, for it is forever a ‘problem’. I decided rather than struggle in defeating this problem I should rather develop it into a safe haven for nesting birds, insects, and other animals. At the same time I’m using it as a research point, and observing how the adjacent olive trees develop, as compared with those in more conventional locations. Thus I aim to develop eco-farming technique, and demonstrate it’s viability in the modern world.
Stand still for any length of time, and many many creatures come out of hiding. It never ceases to amaze me, the secret world of wildlife. It’s fascinating to see owls arrive late evening – likely preying on those poor little voles. Hey little fellas: watch out!