Azahara’s location in the South of Spain is at high risk of desertification due to infrequent rain, as well as erosion of valuable, fertile topsoil from the slopes of the Alpujarra mountains. One of the simplest ways to combat both of these issues, while also producing food, fuel, medicine, construction materials, and animal habitats, is through forest farming.
According to the traditional oasis system of tree planting, which has been used in hot, arid environments like this one for thousands of years, tall, fast-growing trees are planted first, which offer shade to smaller, more vulnerable trees that are planted between them. This knowledge was brought to Spain and Portugal by the Muslims, who were experts in water management and introduced many varieties of fruit tree, vegetables, spices and herbs.
The first contribution that trees offer – shade – is imperative in this climate. Inhibiting transpiration keeps the soil moist, and also protects the beneficial microorganisms in the earth from the harmful UV rays of the sun. After irrigating, our clayey soil is also prone to being baked hard in the sun, which only the toughest roots can get through! Besides, there’s nothing like sitting in the shade of a grapevine or a tall tree on a hot day, as their leaves diffuse moisture, cooling the air.
In Andalusia, the classic combination of trees is olives – which can survive drought, grow fairly tall, and live for over a millennium – and oranges and other fruit trees, as well as grapevines. These in turn shade above-ground plants like tomatoes, courgettes, aubergines, beans and peppers; between them grow more delicate plants such as salad greens; and finally there are root crops like carrots and potatoes. This sequence of planting is, of course, in fact a cycle; all of the faster-growing plants are turned into compost at the end of their lifespans, returning nutrients to the trees.
Many other kinds of fruit can be grown in this area, both the traditional and the more recently imported, from pomegranates, figs, lemons, quinces, mulberries, carobs, to avocados, persimmons, kiwis, apples, grapefruit, loquats, passionfruit, raspberries, blueberries, and even mangoes or bananas in very sheltered spots. Being self-sufficient doesn’t have to mean losing out on a varied diet!
We are planning on planting 200 trees at Azahara in the coming year, and you can honour a loved one or simply offset your carbon output by donating to plant one – see the Sadaqa Trees section in Projects!