Community gardening Andalucía style – or “Who let the sheep in?”

Huerto Levsque, Ronda’s first community garden

When my husband and I lived in Vancouver, we loved to stroll along the railroad tracks and admire the Kitsilano Community Gardens. We always wanted a plot, but we never imagined it would be here in Andalucía.

Truth be told, we are not what one can call avid gardeners. I have always had flower orphanages, tending them with a haphazard trial-and-error approach. The first time my husband saw me dig in the garden, he exclaimed: “We have people to do this sort of things in Mexico.” Though we both wish we had green thumbs, a tale to our utter failure on the garden front was the single tomato we grew from five plants on our front stairs in Vancouver last summer. Actually, it rotted before we managed to pick it…

But it is never to late to learn, so when Pepa, the little old lady in the world’s smallest butcher shop at the top of our street had a poster advertising Ronda’s first community gardens or Huertos, we immediately signed up. That was March and we did not hear anything back for weeks. By May we wandered down to the lot to see if anything was happening and saw an aunt hill of activity with other huertlanos busily preparing their plots. Like most community gardens, ours is run by a group of wonderful volunteers, so some things will fall between the cracks. No harm done. We were allocated lot number six, 10 meters by 9 meters, facing a meandering brock and a hillock silhouetted by olive trees where a handful horses usually graze.

The Huerto Leveque consists of 30 plots of various sizes, rented annually. One third of the lots are given to Red Cross, so welfare families who has trouble feeding their children can grow crops there. This way we have met some wonderful gypsy families (one with 8 children!), who have taught us many things about what and how to grow.

We started by observing the other huertelanos as they rototillered their plots. Not knowing where to rent these machines, we went to our local bar instead. We mentioned our need to the owner and he immediately volunteered his brother to help us. Sure enough, 8 o’ clock the next morning Salvador was there with his industrial style rototiller (la burrita) , doing passes in every direction for three hours straight, not expecting a cent in return. That is Spanish kindness to you!

Copying the more experienced gardeners, we started gathering mounds of earth into rows. I insisted that we plant a lemon tree in the centre, with isles leading out on four sides. (Once a decorator, always a decorator…) Admittedly, I was more excited about making a scarecrow than digging and such, so we were the first, and still are, to have a scarecrow in the community garden. Gonzales has beady eyes, a straggly rope moustache, gold ballet slippers from a friend from the UK and a pair of army cutt-off pants inherited from Clyde from Canada. If he doesn’t scare away birds, he will at least scare people.

Our soil now well beaten, we bought a slew of plants, seeds and herbs – tomato, peppers, eggplant, cucumber, zuchini, radishes and tons of melons. Of course we had no idea how and where to plant these, but as soon as we started digging in the tomato plants, one of the organizers would storm up and briskly pull out all we had done, saying NO NO NO!, like he was scalding a child and start all over again. Of course we still did things completely wrong, like when I cut off all the leaves of the tomato plants, giving our tomatoes a nasty sunburn! Oh well, next year…

In spite of ourselves, or more so thanks to our fellow huertolanos, we have enjoyed the bounty of the Andalucian climate. Radishes the size or huge carrots, a 1 kg tomato – too big to fit in ones hand. I never thought I would say this, but I have become a pusher. Our cucumber and peppers are simply producing too much for the two of us, so we try to push our vegetables on friends, fiends, neighbours and any unsuspecting passer-by.

Every time we come down to our huerto, I have to pinch my arm to assure myself that I am really here, in this paradise! A shepherd herds his hundred-or-so sheep by along the river every morning. Some manage to get into the gardens, having to be chased out. In the spring there were four mares with their foals grazing in the neighbour lot. Later in the summer, four donkeys were there with their young. In front of us we have the hills and behind us is the 1000-year-old Arab city wall. The land has been farmed for uncounted generations. I keep finding old ceramic and glass pieces and telling my husband that I have found another ‘Roman treasure’. They are likely from the 1970’s, but like a crow, I save my shiny prized finds around our tiny lime-quat tree – awaiting the day that I will unearth a Roman olive urn…

Sheep passing by every morning



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