After more than a decade of neglect, there were dozens of olive trees – some centuries old, and some we never knew existed – as well as many more fruiting trees, such as oranges, lemons, figs and quinces, that had been overrun with blackberry brambles. We have uncovered and pruned all of these trees, and fertilised them with green manures and our home-made biodynamic compost.
Rather than using a mechanical plough, whose weight can compact the soil beneath it, we have adopted a donkey, called Zamzam, who instantly became the Azahara mascot! Using a traditional wooden and iron plough, Zamzam tills the soil in preparation for sowing and fertilising, carries harvests from one part of the land to another, and of course gives rides!
Zamzam in his ploughing gear
A ploughed field. Good work Zamzam!
Another urgent area of the land that needed restoring was the irrigation system. For over a millennium, farms in most parts of Andalusia have been watered using acequias, a vast network of channels bringing snowmelt from the high mountains and from springs and aquifers all the way down to the valleys. These channels were originally dug by Romans but massively extended by the Muslims of Spain, who had inherited a treasure trove of knowledge from arid-climate farmers such as those of Yemen.
The acequias at Azahara had been neglected and were partially unusable, so we had to restore these by hand as well as dig further channels to bring water to every tree. We also installed a drip-feed watering system for use in the summer when our acequia runs dry. This is fed from a large reservoir, whose Spanish name, alberca, is related to the Arabic word baraka, or ‘blessing’. Such was the recognition of medieval Muslim farmers of the sacredness of water!
“We created from water every living thing…” Qur’an 21:30
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The alberca (water reservoir) filled for the first time after a long dry summer