My cherished windbreak of mixed mimosas is in ruins.  More than 90% of them were simply pushed over as if by an elephant. It took seven years to grow this barrier against the northern trade winds. I was going to plant fruit trees this year but now, once again it’s too windy in the garden for such things and I must start afresh.

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Panic pruning during the storm, but it’s already too late for most of the trees.

Clearly though, these were the wrong trees for the job.  They were okay against the relentless northerlies because those summer winds never go above Force 8.  I didn’t properly take into account the occasional Force 10 southerly, even though when we planted them we’d just had such a storm. I want to think I was badly advised, but was I, really?

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Planting in 2010

I think I remember asking for something fast growing and perhaps I ignored advice that ran contrary to speed. I wasn’t so philosophical about time back then; I wanted everything now, quickly, trees fully grown in my lifetime, please, let’s go! And at face value, mimosas didn’t seem so very foolish.  They use them all around us for dune stabilization.  They seemed to do well and are pretty. Plus, they fix nitrogen so are good for the soil.

I’m taking this on the chin, though.  It has forced my hand to do it properly before any more time is lost.  Half the trees were being attacked by the acacia beetle and ironically it’s only the sickest trees that survived the storm, because they had so few leaves. Lesson: if deep down you know that you must take a step backwards in order to make something good and strong for the future, then best you just get on with it. I should have ripped them all out three years ago when the beetle first struck.

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The windbreak in 2014. To pull it all out then was just too much to contemplate.

Our new windbreak kicks butt, or will do, I hope. We’ve gone back to ancient history in how to plant and irrigate for the strongest possible trees with the least water.  Out go  all the plastic pipes everywhere, out go all the drippers that were constantly blocking up.

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A female (grafted) carob in her new home.

In come amphorae. Each little sapling has gone right down into the bottom of a deep hole, so that some are entirely below ground level. Beside each one in the hole is a 20 litre amphora, an unglazed, clay water jug.  We’ve infilled soil only to the top of the root ball, as is usual practice, but the main difference here is that there is only 5cms of soil between the tree’s roots and the subsoil.  The rest of the hole is filled with alternate layers of straw and manure mulch leaving only a small air gap around the trunk. Lastly we filled each amphora with water and put a stone on the top.

I think this solution is elegance and genius in equal measure. I have high hopes for it. Every three weeks to a month the amphorae are filled up by a man with a hose.  There’s nothing to break or go wrong, no need to disturb the mulch to check drippers.  Over about five days the water seeps very slowly out through the clay into the soil and mulch. This replicates a moderate rainfall.  The water can’t evaporate upwards due to the thick mulch but it will eventually drop away into the subsoil below the tree.  This helps loosen that subsoil and from the very start encourages the young tree to chase it downwards as the upper soil dries out.  permaculture projects in morocco,permaculture in morocco,the serai,essaouira,essaouira permaculture, mark anstice, fertileroots,#fertileroots,#theserai,darnatura,essaouira ecolodgeAll this is happening below the reach of all those surrounding weeds that would otherwise steal our little trees’ water.  Over a year or two the mulch will, from bottom to top, turn into a rich compost and, keeping up with that metamorphosis, the point at which the roots turn into the trunk (there must be a name for this part, but I can’t discover it) will slowly rise until it gets to ground level.  By that time we’re going to have some very strong little trees, with deep roots. I expect they’ll eventually break the amphorae but by that time they won’t need them anymore.  But we could always put in more when that happens, further away from the trunk, as an insurance against particularly long droughts.

And what trees this time around? The first echelon is a line of casuarinas at 2m spacing.  Then 4m away is a second echelon of grafted, female carobs at 3m spacing.  Both these species have proved themselves elsewhere in the garden, albeit that they grow slowly. This is tighter spacing than normal but our conditions are so harsh that with larger gaps these trees might never close ranks against the wind. And if they ever do start to crowd each other out we can always just prune for firewood, or remove every second one.  That’s going to be my children’s decision. Hopefully though, I’ll get to experience a wind-free garden before I get my own little hole in the ground.



Embodied Energy

Okay, for the third time I’ve been criticized for my ‘environmentally toxic’ choice of vehicle. “How can you call yourself a ‘permaculturalist’ and justify driving a vehicle that wouldn’t be allowed into London because of its high emissions?” The first antagonist asked, waving his hand dismissively at my latest vehicle, a 1982 Bavarian fire engine.

Our 1982 Mercedes Fire Engine approaching The Serai for the first time.

That’s the gist of all three accusations: that I should be driving the latest and cleanest. Before buying this monster I had already given the subject some thought, of course.  For a start, it’s a thirsty beast – 18mpg or 15L/100km – and I’m not the wealthiest.  Plus, the engine is a 1960s design, so it does indeed cough out quite a bit more particulate matter and CO2 than most things around these days.  But the fact is, I didn’t buy it for its efficiency.  I bought it because (1) it could have been tailor-made for my family’s needs, (2) it was ridiculously cheap, (3) it’s old so I can fix it myself, and (4) it’s ferkin’ cool. It ticked four out of five boxes. But none of that really answered the accusation.

Our Intercontinental Mothership: a working truck / camper capable of pumping water, powering all manner of external machinery and it also runs on used cooking oil.

“Erm….,” I stammered, caught off guard, “It’s a working truck and I’m only going to do 10,000km a year in it. Anyway, it’s a recycling effort.”

I didn’t lose the argument but nor was I very convincing.  So later I did some research into car and truck emissions, fuel consumption and the crux of the matter: embodied energy.

Embodied energy isn’t very often considered these days. It should be. Everything that we buy, from carrots to cars has, in its production, burned fossil fuels and caused a CO2 emission. That’s embodied energy. The car that first accuser had turned up in was a new Landrover Discovery. My discovery about his Discovery was that approximately 30 tonnes of CO2 had been emitted in its manufacture. Then, comparing his vehicle and mine, taking into account the extra grams of CO2 per km that my fire engine emits, I found that I could drive to Capetown and back six times before I’m even in the same ballpark. In other words, if I cover my usual 10,000kms a year it will take 12 years before my fire engine has even started to catch up with the shiny new Disco.

But, in fact, I never will never come close to matching his motoring emissions. As my truck just keeps on going while he replaces his car every 3-4 years because the ashtray is full or whatever, he will continue to fall so, so far behind me in Eco-credibility that I would have to slash and burn a chunk of the Amazon and there plant soy beans for him to have any hope at all of catching up. And none of this even takes into account his embodied energy emissions before now.  I’ve never bought a new car in my life.

There, take that!  Anyone else want to ‘dis’ my ride?

This blog post was originally published on


Dear Friends, Come and have a fab holiday in Morocco and help us out by doing so.

We need around €30k to finish the eco-lodge so were asking you, our friends, to help us out now, and in return come and stay when we’re finished.  And, of course, please feel free to extend this to any friends of yours who you think will be interested.

It’s like a crowd-funding campaign but instead of a crowd coming to stay we get our mates and other like-minds.

We’ll spend the money raised on plumbing and electrics into the last 4 bedrooms, a few doors and windows that are still missing, the kitchen, hot water system, and finally plastering and floors throughout.

If we have those funds this summer, you could come and stay from spring 2018.

Here’s the deal:

It’s simple: €40 a night per person, breakfast and dinner included. If you want to take the whole lodge (up 15 beds) it’s €400 a night.

Once there you can chill out and go with the flow, we can arrange a little itinerary for you, or you can rent our camper.

What’s there to do? Lots, and it’s all just a 3.5hr flight away from the UK. Getting to Azrou Issa.

Azrou-Issa and the immediate surroundings

The eco-lodge is in a really beautiful location 800m from a wild and empty beach. At its back is a forested hillside and in front a patchwork of little fields framed by honey-coloured stone walls. The path to the beach follows a gentle slope between the  fishing and farming villages of Al Fayda and Azrou Issa. Life here hasn’t changed much in a long time. Each family scrapes a living from farming the land and working the beach.  Transport is by donkey and camel.


If you haven’t yet been to Essaouira you’ve probably heard of it. It features in such books as ‘100 Places To See Before You Die’ and everyone raves about it. A colourful labyrinth of narrow streets and alleys stuffed with workshops, restaurants and businesses; canons pointing over the battlements at the waves crashing onto rocks below, and a wildly different culture bustling about its business with hardly a glance towards you as you stroll around. Almost none of the sales pitch hassle that Marrakech has become known for. It’s bright, vibrant and refreshing for body and soul.

And there are all sorts of activities for the adventurous: kayaking, surfing, wind and kite surfing; fabulous horse riding trips along the coast, quad bikes too, and even world class golf.


Further Afield, Mountains and Desert

Morocco is a big, beautiful country with every contrast. Camping among the dunes of the Sahara is a 6hr drive away, with absolutely beautiful oasises along the way. Trekking in the Atlas Mountains is 4hrs away. We speak Arabic and we have a vintage fire engine converted into an uber-cool camper van. We can take you on expedition or you can rent it from us and self drive.

Is this starting to sound good? Get in touch with us to talk it through.

Our small-print

Q: What happens if I pay to come and stay but few others do and the lodge is still not finished when we want to come out?

A: We’re going to put all the monies raised into a dedicated account and we promise not to touch a penny of it until we have reached 80% of our goal, or €24k. If we don’t get to that point we’ll contact you to discuss and if you’d rather have your money back to get another holiday or whatever, we’ll return it. You have our word on that.

Here endeth the small print.

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