The Northern side of the property is a fairly steep hillside, populated by an orchard of old olive trees. There is also a large open meadowland, next to the olive grove. It is over six hectares in size, and contains around three hundred olive trees. Many are quite majestic in their gnarled growth and have an abundant yield, in spite of the degraded state of the surrounding soil. There is substantial evidence that the land here is being washed away by erosion. In some spots it is as deep as 80cm of erosion, yet somehow the trees manage to anchor to this north facing silvopasture. This north side slope also provides a grazing area for horses, as Suryalila houses some horses on the land, for yoga and horse riding guests.
The olive trees run all the way from the top of the ridge, down to the arroyo, or steep sided creek. Part of the erosion problem starts from the lack of systems to channel the water, since water runs off from the impervious surfaces of impacted earth. The arroyo also shows signs of deep disturbance, due to the watershed being mostly monoculture. This sheds even greater amounts of water, and causes the arroyo to cut deeper and deeper each year, thus dehydrating the landscape further. However, the arroyo does have some nice spots on its banks, for relaxing under the shade of large olive or native trees, which we wish to develop more over time.
The land on this northern side is fairly degraded, showing signs of overgrazing and years of other non-sustainable land use. Forage quality and content is quite low and fertility is lacking. The steepness of the hillside speeds up the erosion cycle and it is hard to build soil, even though this is a more humid part of the landscape. The trees themselves show signs of disease and are in need of better maintenance.
Our vision to improve our Olive Orchard
We intend to:
- Keep the trees productive for decades
- Regenerate the soil as to ensure safety of the area.
- Increase biodiversity of tree crops
- Increase forage quantity and quality
- Mitigate fire risk
- Obtain other yields besides olive harvests
- Heal the arroyo so no further creek incising occurs and stream depth heightens
- Reforestation in Savannah style for shade and tree crop forage
- A diverse array of tree crops and native trees stabilising the banks of the arroy
- Stop desertification process
- Clean the area in order to reduce fire hazards
- Implement earthworks in headwaters in Winter of 2017
- Implement rotational grazing with horses in early 2017
- Prune olives in early 2017 and cycle biomass in several ways instead of normal burning
- Subsoil ripping in Autumn of 2017 to begin reforestation program in open area
- Create rock dams in Arroyo stream bed, to slow down erosion
- Use animals to graze the land to decrease fire risk throughout spring of 2107
Immediate steps to be implemented
In the winter months of 2017 we will work on several methods to reverse the desertification and land degradation that currently is the bane of this area. Firstly we will reduce the volume of water coming into this area, by implementing water infiltrating earthworks in its headwaters. The main culprits are the impervious surfaces of roofs and roads, so earthworks will channel this potentially erosive flow. Tree planting will accompany these earthworks further stabilising the fertility and hydrological cycle of this zone.
Alongside this we will reduce the number of horses on the property, so the land can have a proper rotational grazing plan implemented. We will work with our horse partner to develop and implement the plan since it does require extra human labour.
Also at this time of the year we will be pruning the olives to begin the process of rehabilitating them, after many years of semi-neglect. Instead of burning these wastes we want to demonstrate how crucial this biomass is, in building the landscape by trying several processing techniques from chipping, composting, and making biochar.
Also in the rainy season we will continue to clear patches of the current invasive vegetation along the arroyo, with animals, mechanical inputs, and also human labour. This will give us access to utilise rocks or recycled concrete to build rock dams. This will create a stream bank and, through these terraces, soil will be trapped, giving the stream a chance to stair step its way down the valley.
As the season warms up we will continue to utilise animals in the landscape, and human labour when not possible, to reduce fire risk. If dead plant material persists too long it increases fire risk. Thus we aim to get this material on the ground, through animal impact, and let it break down biologically.
As the summer comes to an end we will layout our next set of mechanical input to help further infiltrate water. In the open area we will use the key-line pattern with subsoil ripping to open the ground up. From there we will cover crop to increase biomass production and the overall healing process. We will also continue our one rock dams as the rain hit again move soils downhill to be captured into even greater depths.
We will also be managing the olives throughout the season for summer de-suckering, fall harvesting, and again winter pruning. It all comes in cycles so we will just keep going with these rhythms.
Olive trees: an Andalusian engine
Olive trees have been an engine of Andalusian and Spanish economy for centuries. Their relationship with this land can be traced back to ancient times, and it is due to the olive trees that our buildings exist, as Suryalila used to be a mill to produce olive oil. Nowadays, although we still produce our own oil and eating olives, the olives are taken to be milled at a town thirty minutes away.
Our agricultural practices are responsible for putting this valuable asset at risk. It is up to us to reverse this trend and guarantee that the special bond between the land and the olive trees is as strong as ever.
It’s also important to show in this area that, with effective use of animals, fertility can be built, rather than squandered. We plan to demonstrate that infiltrating earthworks are worth the time and effort, as well as reforestation. We need more trees in these landscapes, but you must plant the water before you plant the trees. Furthermore, there are many arroyos and water lines that need healing in this region. We can do our part on the land and this will lead to discussion with neighbours and the local authorities, to form watershed councils. There is a huge water crisis in Iberia and it must be dealt with holistically.