Dehesa

Discussion in 'Members' Systems' started by altamira55, Feb 22, 2014.

  1. altamira55

    altamira55 Junior Member

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    I was just reading about the dehesa method of lang management and realized that this is exactly what I have at Altamira.

    "Dehesa is a multifunctional agro-sylvo-pastoral system (a type ofagroforestry) and cultural landscape of southern and central Spain and southern Portugal, where it is known as montado"

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dehesa_(pastoral_management)

    I lived on a very small portion of Altamir for a few years. When the house burned, I decided not to rebuild but rather to leave the entire tract of land wild, for hunting and observation and also for the park-like beauty of it. There is nothing I can think of that would improve it, other than clearing out some of the yaupon holly to encourage the growth of native grasses between the trees. But one can't clear too much of the yaupon, because the soil is, literally, beach sand. The ridge was a barrier island when the Gulf of Mexico was larger than it is now. When you clear it, the soil loses its ability to support life.

    About 20 years ago an oil company cleared a 40 foot wide swath all the way through my land by mistake (they were on the wrong land). It was interesting to observe the order in which the plants grew back, like a wound healing from the edges.

    The articles I read about Dehesa land management say that Dehesa is the most productive method of food production in Spain and Portugal, if you account for all inputs and outputs.

    The land at Altamira, known by locals as the Iron Mountains or Sandhills, was considered trash land and, far as I can tell, was never used by humans except for hunting. Up until the mid-1900's when local people started fencing all the land, ranchers kept their cattle away from the Sandhills, because once the cattle got into the yaupon thickets it was impossible to find them again. So it has remained in its wild condition all these years.

    The sandstone ridge that rises a couple hundred feet above the surrounding blackland prairie and has completely different flora. The climax trees are post oak, blackjact oak, and hickory. The oaks produce enough acorns to keep 100's of pigs fat and happy. Many of the understory plants also produce fruit edible by pigs: American beauty berry, farkleberry (tree huckleberry), dwarf pawpaw (Asimina parviflora, which ripens earlier than the more common pawpaw (A triloba)), dew berry, several kinds of edible fungus. I'm not sure whether pigs also eat the berries of yaupon holly. Birds do, for sure. There are several native grasses, including little bluestem and love grass, that provide grazing for a few cattle (I rotate a few cattle through the land in order to get the agricultural appraisal by the county, which results in far lower taxes on the land). Loads of forage for deer and goats -- if I wanted to manage the land optimally I'd rotate some goats through from time to time, to graze back the thickets of yaupon holly. But I find goats to be a royal pain, so I don't have any at the moment.

    The pigs, 100's of them, got there on their own after they escaped from captivity. Within a few generations, they began to look like wild pigs, with pointed snouts. Not surpirsingly, the meat is very similar to domestic pork, only leaner.

    Some of the neighbors (I'm sad to say, many, maybe most of the neighbors) have cleared the natural growth off their lands and planted high-protein grasses such as coastal Bermuda grass. I have a volunteer stand of Bermuda grass on my land that grows well in the creek bottom, but in order to keep gass growing in a cleared pasture in the Sandhills, one must dump hundreds of pounds of fertilizer onto the land, every year. It's hard to believe people could be so stupid -- to spend huge amounts of effort and money clearing off the amazingly efficient native forest, and huge amounts of money on fertilizer, for a significantly inferior yield than they would have had if they had left things alone. I have at least 100x the amount of human food running around on my land than they have on theirs. So far, there's still enough native forest to provide a decent gene pool for the plants and to support the wild animals.
     
  2. Manfred

    Manfred Junior Member

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    That sounds very good to me.
    Would you perhaps show some photos of your land?
     
  3. songbird

    songbird Senior Member

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    if you have 100s of pigs supported on the land and little long term destruction that is quite a supply of sustainable food. :)

    your neighbors never ask you about what you are doing or what is going on there? seems like they'd notice the differences...
     
  4. altamira55

    altamira55 Junior Member

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    Some people have noticed. My neighbor to the north once commented, "If things ever get really bad, I'm gonna follow Bonnie around. She's a survivor." So he can see that what I'm doing works. But he isn't interested in doing it himself. I will put up some photos showing the significant difference between my land and his.
     
  5. altamira55

    altamira55 Junior Member

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    Yes! I went over there today and took some photos. Please keep in mind that we've had a severe drought and unusually cold winter. So my land is not looking its best. However, it looks considerably better than the cleared land to the north.

    Here's a shot down the fence line. The cleared land is almost completely bare, whereas my land has a protective cover of grass, forbs, trees, etc.

    View attachment 2356

    Here's a close up of the ground on my side. The green leaves are nettles.

    View attachment 2357

    Here's a cow path through a yaupon thicket. The net of roots under the ground, as dense as the part on top, holds water and nutrients. The neighbor's land has nothing to keep the water and nutrients from washing down through the sand. The red-orange berries in the upper right are yaupon berries, which provide winter food for birds.

    View attachment 2358

    Here's the lane that led up to our house. In the 11 and a half years since we left, it's almost completely closed in.

    View attachment 2359

    At the site of the burned-down house ... here's a bit of my formerly lovely Limoges china. A sad reminder of lost stuff, but it can be (and, in fact, has already been) replaced.

    View attachment 2360

    And finally ... the tank (which is what we call ponds here in Texas). When it's full it covers around an acre. It's really low, but at least it has not gone dry. There were tracks and scat of many visitors -- raccoons, pigs, deer, coyotes. But the only people there when Livia and I arrived today were some Mallard ducks, a couple of great blue herons, and some very noisy crows, who swooped down and frightened Livia (the dog). You can see the pipe running up the side of the tank. This supplied household and irrigation water. When the pond was full, I could use gravity to irrigate some of the garden beds, but I had to pump water to a clarification tank and then to the house. Oops! Looks like I can only attach 5 pix, so I'll have to show the tank in another post.
     

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  6. altamira55

    altamira55 Junior Member

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    More pix:

    This is a close-up shot of the neighbor's land. It's really sad. Dust-bowl kind of stuff.

    View attachment 2361

    For purposes of comparison, here's a cleared bit of my land that's in native grass. There are two major differences between the cleared part of my land and the neighbor's land: First, he cleared his entire 160 acre tract, whereas my clearings are very small relative to the un-cleared areas -- natural clearings caused by the death of trees, so the soil is relatively rich from the decaying wood. A natural form of hugelkultur. Second, my clearings have native grasses that can tolerate drought, whereas the neighbor is using grass that is unsuitable over the long term, although it can look very pretty when it's heavily fertilized and there's plenty of rain. My grass is dry now, because it's winter; but it grew well last year despite the drought, and it will come back again later this year. The dry tops will form a nice layer of mulch, to keep the ground shaded while delicate new blades of grass emerge.

    View attachment 2362

    Here's the tank. If it were full, the dog would be under 8 or 10 feet of water.

    View attachment 2363

    And here's what the neighbor's land looked like in a rainy year. This pic was taken shortly before I moved away, probably in the early summer of 2002. I can see how the idea of clearing the land would be seductive. If all one saw were the way it looks in a good year, one could be very tempted to clear the trees and have a pasture like this. The problem is that a pasture of Bermuda grass, on this land, requires huge amounts of fertilizer, which is expensive and washes down into the ground water. And when rain doesn't come, you end up with a desert rather than a pasture. This is almost the exact same location from which I shot the fenceline pic today.

    View attachment 2364
     

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  7. Manfred

    Manfred Junior Member

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    Thank you very much. Looks like a beautiful place to be there.
    I wonder what trees/shrubs could be used in this dry and sandy environment to grow food for humans.
    Do chestnuts grow there? I have seen pines so pine nuts should be an option, too.

    And how do you harvest your cattle? Do you bait them in a corral?
     
  8. Rick Larson

    Rick Larson Junior Member

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    You might have to brush up on those gabion skills...
     
  9. songbird

    songbird Senior Member

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    looks quite different in comparison. :) the good thing about having a spot of native diversity is that if that neighbor ever changes his mind or someone else becomes the owner, perhaps they'll let their land return to a more wild state and your land will be the source for that to happen.
     
  10. altamira55

    altamira55 Junior Member

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    The cattle who are there now belong to my neighbor, so I don't harvest them. I eat the pigs and deer, who are harvested by some friends of mine who like to hunt. They hunt and give me some of the meat. There's no season on pigs, and there are too many pigs running around, so I never have to buy meat.

    When I had cattle, they ate mostly grass; since grain was a special treat doled out by the spoonful rather than by the bucket, they could always be lured into the pen with some corn. I'm contemplating getting a couple of cows for the place where I'm living, down the hill from Altamira. If I do, they will be a small, heat-tolerant breed such as Zebu, a naturally small breed that originated in India. https://www.zebufarm.com/about.htm#history

    The pine trees growing at Altamira are Loblolly, useful for lumber but not food. I think it's too humid for the kind of pines that produce nuts. There are way too many Loblollys at Altamira right now, because the drought and oak wilt disease have killed many of the oak trees, opening up oppotunities for pine seeds to sprout and grow. I said I couldn't do anything to make the place better than its wild condition, but that's not entirely true. One thing I've done is to introduce Illinois Bundle Flower, a leguminous forb enjoyed by deer. It's native to the region but was not growing at Altamira. It has done well, without becoming invasive. Another thing I could do is plant more oak trees and harvest some of the pine and juniper. If I don't do this, the whole place could be taken over by pine and juniper.

    A few years ago, I let a neighbor cut down enough juniper trees to build a log house for his wife's sister. Juniper is nice for building, because it rots very slowly. He paid me a few hundred dollars, which I badly needed at the time. I'd like to find some more people who could use some pine and juniper and would be willing to harvest their own.

    I'm well outside the natural range of the American Chestnut. The Chinese Chestnut might grow here, but I doubt if it could hold its own in a mostly-wild environment. Jujube might grow there. I'm growing some jujube down the hill where my house is now, but the soil down here is more sandy loam, not sugar-sand like at Altamira.

    The following wild foods at Altarmira are edible by humans: acorns (but they required lengthy treatment to get rid of the tannins), farkleberry, (edible but very dry and seedy), yaupon holly (contains a stimulant [caffeine maybe?] and can be used as a tea, pawpaw, dewberry (delicious!), various greens such as nettles (which must be cooked). Peach and pear trees made themselves right at home there but were not able to survive severe drought. The mulberry trees I planted have survived even to this day. Human-food trees that are well-adapted to the climate, such as pecan and mesquite, don't like the soil up there. When my daughter and I lived up there, I grew annual food crops in small plots among the trees -- corn, beans, the usual stuff. But the sugar-sand soil was a problem. We composted everything, but even so, I had to steal leaf mold from the forest to get annual crops to grow well (we had almost no money and could not afford to buy fertilizer).

    Taking everything into consideration, I believe the best use of the land is to support non-human animals. The fact that the great blue herons are hanging around the tank indicates that there are still fish, frogs, and snakes there. I have never put fish into the tank. They just show up. I guess wading birds, such as egrets and herons carry in the fish eggs.

    Animals I've seen at Altamira include wild turkeys, javelinas, feral hogs, white tail deer, raccoons, cotton tail rabbits, jack rabbits (which are actually hares), o'possums, copper head snakes, rattle snakes (I'm not sure what kind), rat snakes, water snakes whose names I don't know, wood ducks, mallard ducks, a puma (a female lived there for years, and I assume she had babies, but I never saw the babies; pumas are very shy), coyotes (unlike many people, I'm fond of coyotes. When I first was at Altamira, I freed a female coyote who had gotten her foot caught in a fence. I talked softly to her, and she stood very still while I cut the wire, even though it must have hurt her foot. When she was free, she took off toward the woods but stopped at the edge and looked back at me. I got the distinct impression that she was trying to say something to me, or maybe trying to memorize me -- at the time I thought she was thanking me, or perhaps inviting me to go with her. I don't know ... but for the whole time my daughter and lived there, no coyote ever bothered any of our animals. One time only, I caught a young coyote pup chasing a chicken, in a playful way. I scolded it, and it ran away, leaving the chicken unharmed), red fox, jaguarundi, bobcat, badger, emus, various African anteloupe-like creatures (there is an exotic game park nearby, and escapees sometimes pass through Altamira), paisanos (one of my favorite birds), caracara, turkey vultures, cardinals ... you know what? I need to stop and go plant some fruit trees. But you get the picture -- lots and lots of different kinds of animals. I don't want to mess with the place too much. It's too wonderful just the way it is.
     
  11. Manfred

    Manfred Junior Member

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    I think I get the picture. I can very well understand your feelings.
    Since I changed to organic farming and put the cattle out on pasture, the wild animal diversity on my land is constantly increasing. Especially lots of birds are attracted by the insects.
    Last year I could identify more than 40 different species of birds. And I am not good at it and do not have a spotting scope. I am sure, there are far more bird species around.
    It is really a pleasure to watch all these little creatures and to do discover new plant species on your land etc.

    A friend of mine, 10 km away, has miniature zebus. I was thinking about getting some myself. The problem is, here you can only sell them to butchers with price deduction as they do not fit into the conventional carcass ratings. You have to direct market them, if you want to get a fair price.
    But they would fit well into my year around pasture system. We have a loamy soil that is very wet in winter. When it is not frozen, the cattle cause a lot of trampling damage to the sod. The smaller they are, the smaller the damage.

    For growing nuts you could perhaps try the Mediterranean stone pine (Pinus pinea). I have seen them on all kinds of ground in Spain and Italy. From sand to loam and from dust-dry to rather wet.
     
  12. altamira55

    altamira55 Junior Member

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  13. eco4560

    eco4560 New Member

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    That's magnificent. Almost brings me to tears thinking about how other see what you are doing as of lesser value.
     
  14. altamira55

    altamira55 Junior Member

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    Thank you so much for this suggestion, Manfred. I planted the young tree out a bit over a week ago, and it seems to be very happy. It's already grown almost a foot taller than when I planted it! I am so enthusiastic about growing these pines that I looked for a source of seedlings online and found that Texas A&M university is doing a re-foresting program, through which they sell very low-cost seedlings. One of the species they have is Pinus pinea. It's known as Italian Stone Pine here. I ordered 25 seedlings, and they arrived today, all looking very healthy.

    I've also bought some long leaf pine seedlings (Pinus palustris). These were used for lumber until the 2nd or 3rd decade of the 20th century, when most the ones large enough for lumber had been cut down. The wood is gorgeous. My home was built in 1832, and long leaf pine was used for the floors and molding around doors and windows. I had to purchase some lumber for repairs and found that it can still be had, but it's very expensive. In addition to producing beautiful wood for building, the trees make large nuts, which are said to be very appealing as food for wildlife. I can't help but wonder whether they would be good food for humans as well. The trees take a long time to mature, which is the main reason they are so scarce now, existing in isolated stands. There is a heartbreaking article on the history of the long leaf pine here: https://www.americaslongleaf.org/me...ns-of-restoring-llp-_forest-ecology-mngt_.pdf The good news is that people (like me, in my small way) are making the attempt to grow more of them. I don't expect any tangible benefit from the trees I plant, but I hope people in my children's or grandchildren's generation will eat their nuts and perhaps be able to thin our a surplus to use for building. Again, I thank you Manfred, for giving me the idea to look for pine trees that produce edible nuts.
     
  15. eco4560

    eco4560 New Member

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    You have a house that was built in 1823! That's amazing. We Aussies have such a short history (since European settlement and western building methods) there's nothing that old here.
     
  16. altamira55

    altamira55 Junior Member

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    No, sorry! That was a typo -- 1882, not 1832. My area was first settled by the Spanish in the early 1700's, and there are still a few buildings from that century and from the early 1800's, but compared with Europe, we too have a short history.
     

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