[permaculture] Dieter's email on fire and fertility

Dieter Brand diebrand at yahoo.com
Sun Mar 22 04:56:39 EDT 2009


>How did people thrive in the Mediterranean for so long with this kind of potential for fire?

Wildfires have always been a feature of life in the Mediterranean, but as long as the land was cultivated and looked after by numerous small farmers, these fires usually didn’t get out of control.  In my region the problem has gotten worse in recent decades because many farms are being abandoned since young people prefer the greater comfort of life in the city.  Without the caring hand of the farmer the country turns into a thick impenetrable mass of vegetation measuring 5 to 10 meters in height from the undergrowth to the top of the trees.  Sounds romantic, but with tons of dry and dead undergrowth this can turn into an inferno during a wildfire.  
>Similarly, how did people populate the Mediterranean 
>basin so densely with such limited water sources?  

People just knew how to get by with the resources there were.  In my region, most food staples like wheat and vegetables like cabbages and root vegetables can be grown during the winter when we normally have enough humidity.  Goats can live on shrubs and there are beans, millet and other crops that can be grown when it is dry.  Again, the water penury has gotten worse in recent years because people with more disposable income move into the area.  They have the money to bore deep holes for pumping up the ground water to irrigate their lawns.  As a result, the ground water level falls and many of the traditional wells of poor farmers who cannot afford modern equipment will run dry.  Olives are another traditional crop.  Citrus trees and fig trees only grow in places with good soil and sufficient humidity.

>Are there examples of sustainable farming/gardening from traditional Mediterranean culture?

I haven’t really researched the question, but I think cork oaks are a pretty good example.  The cork can be cut once every 9 years to provide some income for the farmer.  The acorns can be fed to pigs or even used for human consumption.  The scraggy crowns of the cork oaks filter the strong sunlight but let through enough light for grass to grow under the trees, which allows for grazing by goats, sheep and pigs.  Meat from the free-ranging Alentejo “black pig” is a delicacy that can be sold at a premium.  Goat cheese is also very good.  Goat manure is very beneficial for the land.  The oaks have very strong and deep roots that crack open the rock bed and pull up water and nutrients from deeper levels.

There is also something called the “dehesa system” of the Extremadura region in the South of Spain.  I’m not really familiar with this, but I think they also use trees a bit in the way I described the use of cork oaks to rehabilitate a barren landscape.

Dieter Brand

PS: Antonio, old folks around here tell me that there used to be a lot of chestnut trees in this region.  Unfortunately, there is a virus that killed them all.  I have made several attempts at planting chestnut trees, so far without much success. 


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