Great expectations & permaculture growing pains

At the turn of the year I was interviewed about our adVanture for a podcast. I listened to it this week and chuckled at some of my grand, dreamy and incorrect assumptions. Listen to it and tell me what you notice!

Many of you heard me say these things in person, too, how we’d get started in El Terreno by digging some ponds for water storage, then create swales and other landshaping to slow, spread and sink rainwater. Read about why swales matter.

We got here and realized that the sun is so strong we’d need REALLY deep ponds (at least 3m) to store water, or it would just evaporate. We’ve done a lot of digging, but we’re not going to do that. Sure we could contract with an excavator and operator, but that takes Spanish-negotiation-assistance and money. And if we don’t want to leave such big holes on this land unless it’s going to benefit El Terreno (and my uncle) in the longer term. “Where would you like a tilapia pond?” “Well….”

During our first couple months here Phillip’s time was consumed by construction and shelter projects. I don’t know much about landshaping and wasn’t going to try swales on my own. So I just started seeds and garden beds, and now we have about eight garden zones with vegetables, herbs and flowers. It’s been satisfying work and we’re eating great salads and putting squash in everything, but we didn’t move to Mexico to garden. (Although we are incorporating permaculture principles like companion planting in our gardens.)

We came here to be part of healing in this plot of land. The gardens I’ve planted are adding more life to the soil, but what the place needs longterm is trees.

One version of healing–reverdecer

We’re caring for the ~50 trees that my uncle planted and have added a few spruce, but the limestone is solid. We’ve tried to find a limestone-free place to plant/move trees, but everywhere we dig we eventually get to limestone. Relentless, inevitable discouragement is how many days en El Terreno have felt, between extreme weather, isolation, language barrier and too many animals.

Our own ecological succession is something like:

  • shade cloth falling down in the wind > burying posts to keep shade cloth up > putting up an actual roof
  • taking cold showers because we worked all day and the water cooled back down > showering before dinner and not going back into the land after
  • showering along the side of the van > showering in a tarp > showering in a luxury cabana
  • shaking mice poop out of our clothes>getting kittens that wake us up to play>no more mice in the van and so forth.

When I finally admitted to some of you that living here is harder than I expected (and harder than I want!) I paradoxically found more energy to keep going. We may never dig ponds, but we have a big tank full of rainwater and we’ll see how far that gets us into the dry season. We may not save all these trees but we’re helping the place re-green. We may not get sheep or goats but we have a great dog retirement home.


Beth August 04, 2018

You are amazing. I have SO much respect and admiration for you and Phillip. You two are incredible. Een-cray-dee-blay (got that?) Your energy, your perseverance, your intelligence, your knowledge, which is richer all the time . . . you two are SUCH an inspiration.

And p.s., you’re such an excellent writer, A-L! love to all seven,

Anna Lisa Gross August 05, 2018

Thank you so very much Beth! You gave us energy and comfort - as usual! You’re terrific.

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