At the top of the hill that leads to Suryalila, just in front of the entrance to the main building, we have a beautiful organic garden that has been in operation since 2011. It’s a relatively small garden of 1400 sq meters but very central within the project, making it a cornerstone of the permaculture development at the site.
In this garden we grow various vegetables, herbs, and flowers as requested by our kitchen. Due to our water shortage, we are focussing on vegetables not readily available locally, such as Kale, special varieties of lettuce, heirloom tomatoes and lots of different herbs. We have already drastically improved our water usage through several different approaches.
Transforming our Kitchen Garden
We have switched most of our garden to sunken terrace beds, instead of raised beds, which are designed off contour. We are also working hard to build soil through composting, cover cropping, and the constant addition of organic matter. By switching the design of the beds and increasing organic matter % we have already decreased our water use.
To optimise our water usage we have installed a grey-water system to create an oasis zone, to recycle the water from the kitchen, directing it into pit gardens.
The garden already is producing fruit trees like oranges, fig, olives, and grapes which form the framework of the perennial side of the garden. There are a few additional trees, as well as mediterranean herbs and perennial vegetables, like artichoke. It’s a diverse landscape already, with more to come.
To support all of this we are composting in numerous ways, including hot composting, sheet mulching, vermicomposting, cold composting in pit gardens, and bokashi. We are using compost products to fertilise and bring the soil back to life, to increase crop production.
Our dream for the future of the vegetable garden
The garden has been improving its productivity each year. Our dream is that it keeps performing better as time goes by, as well as consuming less water. With improved soils, well designed beds, crop rotation, and more perennials to slow the wind and sun, we intend to have a dramatic decrease in water consumption. The garden we dream of will be green all summer long, full of diversity and abundant yields. We would love our guests to be inspired by this, as they reflect upon it, during their stay at Suryalila. The garden will be a main engagement point of the educational outreach to all guests who come.
Beyond the vegetable harvests, the dream also involves stocking the kitchen with herbs, rare tasty treats, and edible flowers. It serves as our starting point, to experiment with different strategies and techniques, and will radiate out to other parts of the project. We want these to be replicable elsewhere, as beyond the garden area we will work hard to maintain the space with a biological organic approach; one full of biodiversity. It will be both a forest garden and an annual garden for production. It will be difficult to find any straight lines in this garden, as we continue to work with the lay of the land and build the deep soils we desire with the patterns of nature.
Our overall goals for our land
Currently our goals are improving upon what is currently being done. Specifically:
- Improve composting capabilities and infrastructure to become self sufficient in compost
- Increase our food production in coordination with our kitchens needs
- Improve water usage through timely planting and extra attention
- Plant food forests and garden hedge for diversity and crop protection
- Make more of the garden perennial
- Plan for efficient crop rotation
- Reduce water consumption through reuse and water harvesting earthworks
- Increase organic matter % of soils
- Beautify through using a diversity of shapes, colours, and textures throughout the garden
What are the next steps?
During the winter months we will take advantage of the cooler temperatures, abundant rainfall, and softer ground to install the next phases of earth shaping and plantings.
We will finalise earthworks for harvesting the abundant amount of water that pours into the garden from the landscape above. Other earthworks in this same area will focus on utilising our grey-water system.
When these earthworks are completed we plan to plant the initial phase of the food forest. Alongside this, we will continue to lay compost, chop and drop and use other techniques for soil building.
The food forest will provide one of the shelter belts needed for the garden space. A garden hedge of edibles and support species will also be planted this winter to encircle the garden.
Whilst the landscape is green and verdant in the winter, at the moment it becomes dry and brown in summer.
We will be planting a few jacaranda trees here and there in our annual beds, in a savannah style. to provide summer shade. In the future we can pollard (cut them back at shoulder height) them, in the winter, to allow more sun in. The vegetables currently get blasted by the sun and wind, so adding these elements will help. If we planned to use a tractor or tiller it would be difficult to have a tree in a bed. However by using a broad-fork in the garden we will be eliminating the need of the damaging rototiller.
In the springtime, we will start our summer veggies in trays, and continue to prepare the soil. We will also continue to cycle biomass into a diversity of composting systems, to take advantage of the winter moisture and subsequent green growth.
We also have the mission of composting all of the kitchen waste, which will continue to expand over time. We also plan to install a redesign of the irrigation system, to match all of the developments of the garden since September 2016.
When summer approaches, with longer days and warmer temperatures, the summer garden will be planted and we will continue to focus on gardening, smart water usage, and soil building along the way.
This garden space is important to demonstrate simple techniques on wise water usage and eco farming strategies.
Traditionally in Iberia, gardens are off contour, over ploughed and fertilised with synthetic chemicals, or not even planted at all, because of water shortage and ease of purchase at the supermarkets.
We will demonstrate how small alterations can dramatically help. We also intend to share wisdom gained through our biological farming methodologies. We will be reducing our carbon footprint, by growing more on site, promoting the growing idea of local living.
By providing a green landscape, even in the heat of the summer drought, we will be adding a very pleasant ambiance to this retreat centre project.
Finally it will be the hub of activity, allowing us to engage all who come through, with a vision of a different way of cultivating and regenerating the land.