Quote of the Month

There can be no other occupation like gardening in which, if you were to creep up behind someone at their work, you would find them smiling.

~Mirabel Osler

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Club visit to Dave and Gill Armstead's organic garden 10 February 2015

25 club members joined us for the February Garden Club visit to Dave and Gill Armstead's organic garden in the Torrox Campo.

Thanks to Gill and to David for taking the photos I have selected used to illustrate the visit report. There were so many lovely photos to choose from!

Before taking a garden tour, members gathered to hear a little about the garden and the support given by volunteers through the WWOOFer (Worldwide Organisation of Organic Farms) organisation. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms  The Federation of WWOOF Organisations (FoWO) purpose is to unite, promote,protect and support the WWOOF movement around the world.  FoWO  was founded as a way for WWOOF organisations to come together and share common responsibilities including the management of this website, WWOOF in countries without a national WWOOF organisation as yet and trademarking issues .

This scheme provides a willing stream of volunteers to help in the garden, receiving their board and lodging in exchange. Specifically we learned about the work of volunteer Mick, who spends the winter months in Torrox cultivating the organic garden, and then returns to Scotland to administer a tree planting scheme (amongst other things). Unfortunately he was unwell and was not able to lead the garden tour, although he joined us later for a question and answer session.

Dave and Gill also have a number of 4 legged garden "volunteers" who were pleased to share the tour with our club members.

On the way down through the planting areas - herb garden on right

Members were told that crab sticks were used in the plastic bottle containing liquid suspended from the trees

This was an experimental area for planting using sand and organic material
Another area for storing organic material favoured by one of the cats - there are up to 14!!

The bunkers stored liquid feed (including maturing urine) and bags of horse manure

There were also free range chickens with their own large house and enclosed run.
Our members accompanied Dave on a garden tour with Gill taking up the rear. Members fired questions towards them both throughout the tour and learned much about the early beginnings of their idea to develop an organic garden to supply their own preference for organic vegetables which were not readily available when they moved to Spain.

Dave contrasted the style of organic gardening in evidence on their plot with the approach used by neighbouring farmers, where expanses of bare soil around the trees and shrubs indicated frequent use of spraying.

In most instances "weeds" were not removed, although couch grass was one weed that was more likely to be removed.

Walking down the plot, with the herb bed on the right and towards the seedling shed.


Bamboo canes used for labelling

Notice the unusual planter for some seedlings to the right of the picture
There were different vegetable plots all numbered as part of Mick's research into permaculture. Various mulches were in use, including discarded weeds, straw, and pieces of cardboard. Vegetables were closely planted.

There were also numerous types of fruit trees. Some of the leaves were looking yellow and Dave advised that he would enrich the soil after picking the last few remaining fruits. In response to a question he suggested curled leaves could be removed. As required, he sprayed his trees every 10 days or so with Neem oil, and his WOOFER volunteers also washed individual leaves to remove pests.

Only a small area around the base of the tree was kept clear of weeds.


Recent cold weather created frosty conditions at the lower part of the plot

With a cup of coffee (or tea) and a delicious piece of lemon drizzle cake members were able to ask questions of Mick their resident winter farm manager. A lively discussion ensued.

From left to right - Mick, Dave and Gill
Cleary immensely knowledgeable, Mick explained what "Permaculture" means, a much more far reaching approach than organic gardening, where the principle efforts are around adding natural nourishment to improve the health of the soil, and thus the crops grown. It is a holistic and natural approach to planting. Members were surprised to hear that he considered that weeding was only necessary at the time of planting - to allow a brief space for a seedling to be established. In fact weeds were used as mulch and to make green liquid compost.


Mick heartily encouraged leaving plants with deep tap roots to remain in the soil, and recommended Comfrey as an excellent all round soil enricher.

Potash - from the ash from the log burner - was added to water and used as a liquid feed, but not before or after rain.

He described various experiments underway in different parts of he garden to discover how the quality and enrichment of the soil impacted on plant growth.

When asked about crop rotation he suggested that Brassicas rob the soil of certain enrichment, and so benefitted from being planted in different places each year. However, he considered that many traditionally considered to be annual plants, such as peppers and tomatoes, could yield crops year after year. He pinched out the early flowers of strawberries to enable the roots to strengthen and thus yield more prolific crops.

Wikipaedia describes permaculture as a branch of ecological design, ecological engineering, environmental design, construction and integrated water resources management that develops sustainable architecture, regenerative and self-maintained habitat and agricultural systems modeled from natural ecosystems.[1][2] The term permaculture (as a systematic method) was first coined by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in 1978. The word permaculture originally referred to "permanent agriculture" [3] but was expanded to stand also for "permanent culture," as it was seen that social aspects were integral to a truly sustainable system as inspired by Masanobu Fukuoka's natural farming philosophy.

Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system.
Dave and Gill Armstead and Mick.
The club wishes to thank Dave, Gill and Mick for their hospitality and the enthusiastic way in which they dealt with member enquiries.

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