To Plough Or Not To Plough, That Is The Question

Son Alegre unploughed

When we first started our new vineyard we decided that we wanted to do things the right way. We had seen all around us how this island had changed over the last twenty or thirty years. How it was being treated as if there was no tomorrow and as if growth was the only option. Over the last 100 years or more, man has demanded more and more from our soil. We could not understand why everybody was participating in a race for more; more produce, more tourists, more income, more roads, more flights and more congestion. More of everything even though that would result in more stress and, ultimately, in a depletion of this island’s resources, whilst severely effecting the well-being of our children and of our grandchildren. This attitude might possibly endanger the future and the survival of Mallorca, this small paradise in the Mediterranean Sea.

We wanted to do our work in a responsible way and in a manner of sustainability. We wanted to stop depleting our resources, diminishing our natural assets and forever taking from our land. Instead, we wanted to start giving back to this island what it needed: health, dignity, repose and harmony. We decided that we would aim for an ecological balance on our land of give and take by aiming to keep our CO2 emissions as low as possible. We wanted to work the land as it had been a long time ago when our forefathers were in touch with nature and the elements and were respectful and grateful to the land that had nourished them and their ancestors. Our aim was to do things the organic way, even a bio-dynamic way which is an on-going opportunity to accommodate our fascination with the wonderful complexity of the natural world.

Olives_3

The land at Son Alegre had been ill-treated for so long. Years and years of ploughing with heavy tractors had effectively compacted the soil to a composition almost as hard as concrete. It was time to give the soil a bit of a rest.

Our land is composed of the Call Vermell soil, typical for many parts of Southeast Mallorca, a clay loam formation containing a high level of iron oxide and lime. This soil is interspersed with plenty of stones, characteristically preserving humidity a little bit longer than soil of a different makeup.

We started planting trees. First an olive grove (Olea europaea) and then an orchard of Algarrobos (Ceratonia siliqua, Carob trees). Since day one of our venture, we decided not to use any commercial fertilizers, be they chemical or natural, and we also decided not to plough the land. For us, to plough or not to plough was never the question. We knew that below the surface there was an active organism of life and natural nutrients that wanted to be left alone to be able to do their job; ants, worms, insects, amoebozoans and other little creatures, fungi and mycorrhiza. We knew that every time we upturned the soil by passing the plough over it, we would destroy and demolish the invisible structure that lay beneath the surface, a structure that we would need in order to nourish our land and our plants.

natural carob field

We started to plant our first vines. For one last time we had to use ploughing tractors to create the trenches where we would plant the rootstocks. After this, there would be no more ploughing. Yes, there are disadvantages to this way of gentle agriculture, drawbacks which would effect the soil. There is no doubt that ploughing aerates the land. If the soil is not aerated it might at times be deficient in water which would mean that we would have to irrigate the land whenever necessary. Luckily, Son Alegre has its own historic water source and the water is brought up by the use of solar panels, thus reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Vinya Son Alegre Santanyi Mallorca_

The benefits of not ploughing the land are manifold. We neither disturb nor destroy the delicate composure of the living organisms (plants, animals and microbes) below the surface of our land. We do not diminish the nutrients which are being produced by the ecological partnership of ants, earthworms, minerals, nitrates, phosphates, fungi and mycorrhiza. Vegetative growth is stimulated and with it chlorophyll, in turn producing photosynthesis and thus, absorbing CO2. The policy of gentle intervention creates environmental peace and an equilibrium that attracts wildlife such as birds, insects, bees, butterflies and a multitude of creepy crawlers which in fact all help us decompose, nourish, fertilize and, of course, pollinate our vines and other plants. When we allow all living beings to exist underground in tranquility and balance they inadvertently help us and our work. Thus an environment is created which acts as a means of biological pest control, promoting biodiversity and generally benefitting the ecosystem and the biosphere in general.

son alegre_antholes

During the winter months, we also bring our sheep to graze the land between the rows of vines, helping to keep the ground cover at bay. At the same time the ruminants fertilize the land with their faeces, adding manure, essential elements and humus to the soil.

The more we honour the holistic interaction of our vine plants with the native flora, often mistakenly called weeds, and the influence of native insects, bugs and other tiny creatures, the more thriving and healthy our grapes will grow. In short, we simply allow nature to do its integrated and holistic task even if it may lead to smaller quantities of produce and a lower profit margin.

Our respect for Nature has so far given us good harvests. It may not always be perfect, but it is always in accordance with our sanity, health and peace of mind. We want our soil to remain of good use for future generations. We aim to give back to Nature what Nature has given us, forever more.

Nature is always the best.

Son Alegre sheep

3 thoughts on “To Plough Or Not To Plough, That Is The Question

  1. If only more people adopt this strategy. I do feel a global shift in thinking though. Who knows what the future holds, but I’m not as pessimistic as I once was. People are beginning to wake up! Keep up the noble work!

    Like

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