In the shadow of a tree

Plant a tree everyone says, it will help save the planet.

Can you spot me?!

Trees can help regulate water cycles, halt soil erosion, restore wildlife habitats, draw carbon out of the atmosphere and even enhance livelihoods. No wonder reforestation has become an environmental trend worldwide, and individuals, organisations and governments alike celebrate when large numbers of trees are planted. The right trees in the right place are of huge benefit.

However humans have a tendency for planting the wrong trees in the wrong places and for creating monoculture plantations. Monocultures can have a devastating effect on the water tables and water purity as well as biodiversity, particularly when non native species are planted.

Pinenut Plantations – a 20th century trend

It is therefore worrying that in the Algarve new plantations of non native species such as avocados and oranges are appearing everywhere. You would have hoped landowners and the authorities would have learnt from the devastation caused by wheat and eucalyptus projects in Portugal, commercial forestry in Finland and intensive agriculture in Spain. And even the pinenut forests are experiencing issues with low yields and increasing pest issues. However it seems yet again in a western culture short term economic benefits take precedent over medium to long term environmental and social economic problems.

Mature avocado trees need around 1500 mm per year and citrus trees at least 700mm per year and preferably nearer 1000mm per year. So whilst both fruits can bring huge economic benefits to farmers, it really doesn’t make sense, to my mind at least, to be planting huge orchards of both these trees in a region that receives on average 750mm of rain every year, and at a time when winters are frequently much drier than in previous decades.

A sensible alternative is carob. Extremely drought tolerant it needs less than 400mm of rain annually to fruit set and can survive on 250mm. It is currently achieving huge prices (more here). It does though grow slowly at first, and won’t start fruiting until at least its sixth year. However once it starts you’ve got 80 to 100 years of cropping!

Even figs are okay. Like many indigenous trees in dry climates they don’t like wet soils, and can cope with periods of drought. From what I can gather they need around 200mm of water a year.

Other trees that work well in this dry climate are of course the olive, cork oaks and other native oaks, however their economic benefits are maybe not as a great.

The same could be said of the traditional farming methods. Labour intensive and economically unviable, but they are sustainable which in the middle of a climate crisis is possibly more important in the long term.

I have suddenly realised I have forgotten one of my favourite trees here in the Algarve, the almond tree. I love what it produces and I love the smell of its blossom in January and February. It can cope with droughts, and 500 to 600mm of water annually is sufficient for most trees. Although in California where they want much larger nuts and heavy crops around 900mm of water annually is preferred.

A rather lengthy contribution to Debbie’s Six Word Saturday, however my title is six!

Author: BeckyB

It had been a good life walking, cooking, photographing, volunteering, blogging, and best of all spending time with MrB, family, & friends. Sadly it no longer is. Suddenly and unexpectedly I have become a widow.

65 thoughts

  1. The comments pulled me away from my initial response to your first photo which was a) yes, I see you. b) what an enormous tree to throw that shadow (joke), and c) I love the contrast between the gigantic shadow and the normal-size trees mid-photo.

    Ok, got that out of the way. What an excellent discussion! Living in the US, we’re in the heart of the mono cropping world unfortunately. As far as what to eat in the effort to be responsible to land and people, I think you have to be informed and then do the best you can. Here’s one of the best books I’ve read recently about farming sustainably, one that’s also beautifully written ()without being as Treebeard said: β€œSide? I am on nobody’s side, because nobody is on my side, little orc.”― J.R.R. Tolkien is “Pastoral Song” in the US, “Pastoral” in England and probably elsewhere. Here’s a review: Anything by Joel Salatin is also excellent.

    I’ve gone on long enough, but thanks for an informative post and to everyone who commented.


    1. Hi Janet, so sorry for the delay in replying to your excellent comments and great link. For some reason WP was hiding you in spam. I’ve been delighted by the debate this post has created, so good for us all to learn more and reflect on our practice. Off now to read more thanks to your links πŸ™‚

  2. Sorry but believe your water requirements for citrus much to high.
    Live part time ,in Valencia region in Spain and average rainfall in the citrus area is less than 400 mm pa.and we live on a stony hillside at about 150 m..surrounded by citrus,,mainly not harvested.
    Our garden citrus,lemon and orange thrive,as does the apple,pear and carob,side by side.,while the olive produces vast quantities.
    We have not even sat in a plane for two years ,purchase in local markets,do not drink milk.
    Perhaps you should question the growing of rice in the peninsular,as a tonne of that requires about three times the water,as wheat.
    Do not forget the UK was mainly woodland until the enclosure act.

    1. Thank you for your comments. Individual trees in a small orchard or garden like your own will probably use less water, especially as there are mixed trees. Sounds absolutely wonderful as well as sustainable πŸ™‚

      I am raising the issue of modern day plantations of same trees because it is something I’m observing locally at the moment, and wanted to talk about it.

      I’ve been really heartened by all the comments as everyone is trying to do what they can and learm more. And the debate this post has initiated is really helping that. πŸ™‚

    2. With regards the Enclosure Act it certainly had a huge impact in England, although there’s a debate still to this day on how much was positive and how much was negative. It did improve farming productivity but it also uprooted the lives of many country folk, resulting in many heading into towns. Common land was lost in many areas as was waste land. Some estates abused the system to create their own landscaped countryside, whilst others created larger fields with hedgerows hence the improved productivity. Never read anything about the act impacting on trees though.

      England cleared the trees during other periods. Most significantly in pre-history and then again in the last 2 centuries, particularly during both world wars. Hopefully though this century England might revert to where it was at the beginning of the last century. Question remains though will England plant the right trees and will they be planted in the right place?!!

  3. I was doing not too badly at eating seasonal fruit and veg until covid, when shopping became a question of flinging stuff into my trolley as quickly as possible. I must try harder again, and now I’ve learned to check almonds and walnuts too!

    1. We were same! First lockdown threw all of our good practice out of window for a while. Getting back into good habits now though, and planning to bring Portuguese nuts back with us! Ooh that reminds me I promised to send Margaret details of a Spanish cooperative that exports nuts. I’ll send them to you too

  4. I could well get involved in your “rant” (couldn’t think of a better word, sorry) Almonds are in the wrong place here and taking too much water. Why can’t farmers put in wildlife corridors which help with water tables, pest control ets. The main crop planted here are Macadamias and there are so many varieties that some are unsuited for their location. Sugar Cane farmers are turning to macas which are huge farms on a mono-culture. Avocadoa nd othe tropical fruits are almost disappearing around here and bloody Blueberries are taking over with huge netted orchards blotting the landscape. End of my rant 😑😑

    1. Think you, me and Margaret could rant for quite a while, and we need to rant me thinks to get others to listen!!

      You are so right about wildlife corridors, and there are an increasing number of farmers in the UK who are doing exactly this. Just need more to join them.

      And don’t get me started on blueberries – I always get so cross about them. We fly them in in the UK, so airmiles for us and disastrous monocultures in the areas they come from

      1. I did see a program where they were restoring Hawthorns? and other plants for Hedgehogs and birds along farm fence lines. Also trenches so the need for fences was reduced. Similar to our Landcare.
        We need to get back to eating seasonally and not import/export idiocy. When will the world realise that capitalism is not the right thing for the continued existence of the planet.

        1. Yup probably hawthorn, and also blackthorn. Makes such a difference to our countryside

          Agree with you on the seasonal. Always do that here in Portugal as we buy direct from small scale farmers at the weekly outdoor market, and do our best to do that when home in England. Makes for a much more interesting and tasty diet.

        2. The nice thing about the west of Cornwall is that the land is still mainly divided into the traditional English kind of farming, with small fields surrounded by stone walls and hedges. Here blackthorn, hawthorn, ivy and native flowers are allowed to thrive.

        3. The stone fences are a bonus for so many diverse fauna and insects that compliment the vegetation. Also giving a safe place to travel and hunt…..wonderful πŸ™‚

        1. Another one that WP put in spam – not sure what is going on. Anyhow bilberries, that’s a very good point! They are delicious, only ever enjoyed them though as I was walking in Scotland and the Lake District.

        2. When I was a kid we picked them in Wales and other places, and mum would make pies. Then I used to find bottled bilberries in supermarkets….no longer

    2. I don’t mind the rants and as far as I can tell they are justified, but it seems to me you are preaching to the converted. Do you petition governments and all that stuff that takes up so much time and is probably like spitting in the wind? I’m sad to say that I don’t. Nor am I sufficiently well informed. Explain to me, Becky or Brian, what is wrong with buying blueberries because I love them. The air miles involved? I buy in moderation, and usually favour raspberries which are grown locally. Feeling sad.

      1. Yup I do all of that, and also spend time researching to try and buy sustainable produce but it isn’t easy. Still every little thing we do helps, even if it’s just one change.

        Airmiles are a major consideration for me hence why I avoid blueberries, so if you’re getting Portuguese ones am sure all is good πŸ™‚

        1. I try to buy local but I have transgressed with those in the fridge now. I will enjoy these and then check very carefully next time.

        2. Sounds like a cunning plan, and actually is all any of us can do πŸ™‚

          Some purchases we make we can always ensure are sustainable and others, well we can’t do it always because that’s reality! I certainly have lots I could do better on.

      2. Yes I am involved in Landcare here but not as much as I was, the constant approaching the Gov’t and only getting piecemeal responses as they don’t find that the environment is a vote winner. The environment doesn’t donate big money to political parties!!!! We want the government to donate to us to repair years of damage. I helped start a lot of committees pulling together interested people statewide.
        Blueberries use a lot of water, a scarce resource in dry times, bring in foreign pickers from overseas who are underpaid for back-breaking work. As they are grown locally the food miles isn’t an issue, it is more that other crops are being taken over as they don’t generate as much income. Don’t feel sad Jo, do what you enjoy πŸ€—πŸ’•

        1. Fascinating post Brian, thanks for sharing. Committee life seems to be the same the world over!!

          Dare I ask about the water hyacinths?!

        2. I am not involved with the wetland any more so that’s one ever going problem that will never be solved unless there are dedicated people who will clear it out constantly for the next twenty years. I am getting too old to pull weeds, I have enough trouble on my place let alone do else where too.

        3. I think that’s the really sad part, Brian. That people who try to make a difference and stand up for what’s right don’t have enough clout to effect change, and are gradually worn down.

        4. One of the reasons I’m in awe of all the youngsters around the world still campaigning weekly on climate change. They’re truly extraordinary.

        5. They are, but they are also the ones who stand to lose most, if predictions are correct. Their future is in the balance. Along with all of our grandkids. You just have to hope and believe that they can solve some of the problems.

  5. It would be good to think that we had already learnt enough about the disaster that is monoculture, but apparently not. It seems to be too easy to allow such farming practices to occur and prosper. Apropos, it’s good to know that Portuguese almonds are not as thirsty as their Californian cousins, which have made almond milk an unsustainable choice in the dairy-free milk debate ( Interesting stuff, Becky, and great photos as usual.

    1. Do enough of us ever learn?!!

      That must have been the article that made me stop buying almond milk! We’ve also stopped buying almonds in the UK as seems impossible to find any that are not Californian. Plan to bring back a few kg from here in February!!

    2. Glad you raised this Margaret. it appears that non dairy products can be as bad for the environment as dairy. One has to wonder what the solution is.

      1. Nightmare. Reading about it only makes it more confusing. It looks as if non dairy may be the way forward, but even there, the research is mixed. Aaagh.

        1. Believe it or not, I did once have a cow on a property we rented. Problem is they do have to keep having calves to continue giving milk and bulls cost! And then you have to do something with the offspring. Same with goats I expect.

      2. Sustainable farming practices is solution, and both are possible in dairy and non dairy worlds. Sadly though price puts them out of reach for many.

    3. I have to admit, I get a headache working out what is good for the planet and what isn’t. Who do you believe when there are so many vested interests and conflicting opinions? Just today someone recommended that I use almond milk to make custard. I don’t buy it because I hate the taste in coffee, but I thought it might work well in custard. My husband is passionate about custard but probably lactose intolerant. Someone mentioned oatmeal milk. Now where is that produced, I wonder?

      1. Generally speaking, oat milk comes out as one of the better plant based options, environmentally speaking,, and Emily is able to buy it in Spain. But it’s not easy!

Love to hear your thoughts