So here we go, on a journey that is unique, exciting, interesting, funny, and at times poignant. It will also open your eyes to things that you never knew existed, and some ideas that you can benefit from enormously. It is difficult to know where to begin, but lets have a go and see how things turn out!
I actually didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to do. I just knew I wanted to do something. So we figured a good place to begin was to eat more healthily. By that, I don’t mean going strictly vegan – I mean growing food that was free of pesticides, and without a huge carbon footprint. So we created a vegetable plot (huerta, pronounced werta).
The huerta and chicken run
Javi built a fence around it to stop our dogs going in there chasing after the many stray cats that seem to be all over the place, and Paco put in the drip feed system so we could grow crops on the minimal amount of water.
Isn’t it weird – in a country where there is little rainfall (we just had two days of rain after nil rain all winter) there still seems to be enough to go around. However, it costs about the same for water here as in the UK, so why waste money, and a valuable resource? This got me thinking. I should be practising what I preach. So I opened all the loo cisterns, and put a 1.5 litre plastic bottle full of water in the cisterns. So each time the loo was flushed, we saved 1.5 litres of water. We have 3 loos in the house, for us and the staff. So lets say each one was flushed 6 times, that’s 27 litres a day saved, almost 1000 litres a month!
This shows how much 1000 litres of water is:
That’s a lorra water saved!
Think about how many times your family flush the loo each day, and you will be amazed at how much water you waste, which you pay for. I always have cleaned my teeth with the tap turned off until I was ready to rinse my mouth, but again, they reckon that’s another 2 or 3 litres at a time going to waste.
Recently, a University sent a message around the campus asking students to pee in the shower, because that would save thousands of gallons of water every year – so there’s another idea if you don’t think it is too ‘hippieish’. And if you are a keen gardener, do not let the shower water go to waste. Put a plastic bucket in the shower, and you will get a 5 litre bucketful of clean or slightly shampooed water every time to put on your plants. Our cleaner always throws the dirty water from the mop bucket onto the garden – never down the sink, as that is a waste too.
Going back to the ´huerta´ we also built a chicken run as shown in the earlier picture, and we get fresh eggs every day. Hens are probably the most versatile animal (or bird) that you can get. As an aside, did you know that there are more chickens than humans in the world? They faithfully produce eggs for eating most of the year round. They provide fantastic fertiliser for the garden, and they provide fresh meat, if you are a meat eater and can kill an animal. Our hens are kept purely for eggs, and they have become family pets too, because they endear themselves to you with their soft contented clucking. I also love it when they announce the arrival of a newly laid egg, sometimes squawking for 5 minutes.
The one downside of keeping hens is the fact that they knock over their water bowls so much. You can get various types, but we found one in Spain which they use for livestock and which is ideal. It is made of concrete so they cannot tip it over, and it has a section with a small ballcock in which controls the amount of water in the trough part. The feed for the water comes off the drip feed pipe for the huerta before it goes to the water timer. So it is constantly fresh, and plentiful, because it automatically fills up. We like it so much that we are going to design our own, to sell in the UK. Look out for it on the wikaniko.com website!
So we have got fresh salads, vegetables and herbs growing all year round in the plot, and the hens to provide us with eggs, and fertiliser to grow more veg. It takes a few minutes a day to look after all of it, as the water is automated, plus it is a joy to do, picking the produce, collecting the eggs and throwing some leaves into the chicken run as a treat for the ladies. One thing I did learn as an aside, which you may be interested to know, or perhaps already do know – our brown hens lay brown eggs. We recently inherited some white hens, and they give us pure white eggs. These are something you rarely see these days, as consumers demand brown ones for some strange reason. However, we can assure you that they taste just as good!
The one thing you do have to watch here is the temperature. Last year, when we were in the UK, the temperature in the Valencia region rose to 45 degrees. Javi had to report that 2 of our pet hens, Henny and Penny had died of heatstroke, as he just could not keep them cool. So this year, we are going to install a solar panel on the roof, driving a fan in the hen house, to avoid a repeat.
Lets move on to our more extravagant, and quite wacky eco projects in the next episode!
Our figs, in early April
Back to the greenhouse: I met a guy at one of the weekend open air markets that are so common in Spain, after I saw his leaflet on a stall saying he did metalwork. So he came round and built a 9 metre x 5 metre metal structure, which we then transformed into a greenhouse.
By now, some readers are probably thinking – why have a greenhouse in Spain? The answer is simple. In the winter months it does get cold in the mountains here, and a couple of times we’ve even had a sprinkling of snow. So we want somewhere to overwinter our plants, start the seedlings early in January, and a hothouse for early tomatoes and more tropical plants. It does get very hot in there in summer, so we have cooling fans going full blast.
The fans are on a solar panel system of course…….
We realised that solar power really was the way to go. All this sunshine, all that free electricity…..it just had to be solar! So we had two systems installed, one for the pool, and one for the rest of the electric. I think the initial investment is totally worth it, when I see the sunshine glinting off the panels, and know that we are generating our own free power. Even on cloudy days, it is good to see that there is still some electricity being generated. The only other thing I wish we could get is free water. Now that would be something.
So we have a greenhouse and we have power. Now lets discover what we do with some of this energy……lets tell you about the hydroponics, the aquaponics, fish farming on a small scale and oh so much more!
To start it off – have you ever heard of tilapia? It is actually the most commonly eaten fish in the world, yet most people I speak to about it have never heard of it.
Tilapia is a fish that is usually found in places like the River Nile. It enjoys warm water of between 26 and 32 degrees, and it feeds on plant matter. Given the right conditions, the female will produce anything up to 1,500 fry at one go. She keeps them in her mouth until they are ready to survive on their own, but sometimes she will eat them by mistake. There are many species of tilapia, and they are either silver or reddish pink. They are fast growing and can grow up to 1 kilo in 6 months given the right conditions. They are extremely aggressive fish, killing each other willy nilly in order to create and protect their territory. Males grow faster than females, and many commercial tilapia fisheries only raise males as it is more economical to buy in the fry, raise them and sell them for food. Therein lies a story….catch up with us in the next part!