We got back on Thursday night from our visit to Lanzarote, researching into low water, high temperature gardening. OK, I admit it – we sneaked a few minutes to lie on the beach and by the pool as well.
Lanzarote is a volcanic island and a couple of hundred years ago they had some major eruptions that covered the most fertile agricultural land in 30 feet of molten lava. Imagine watching your farm disappear under a moving river 6 miles wide at 800 degrees C. What’s left looks like the surface of the Moon or Mars, fields of broken rocks and slopes of fine gravel.
If you go to Lanzarote, don’t miss the crater tour at Timanfaya. You’re not allowed to drive around in a car, it’s on coaches only and the reason is that the Timanfaya national park is of great scientific interest, tourists trudging around would mess up the research. The scientists are documenting how long it takes for life to colonise the lava fields and break them down to the fertile soil that surrounds older volcanoes like Vesuvius. They reckon a few hundred years to go at least!
There is little agriculture now on Lanzarote, with the only source of fresh water being the desalination plant. Rainfall is minimal, about 4 inches a year, so no rivers or reservoirs to take water from. Water is too expensive for agricultural irrigation.
In the resorts they do irrigate the gardens. They pipe the water direct to the plant’s roots, which is the most efficient method, no sprinklers. The photo on the right made me wonder if the tourists had been trying an alternative irrigation method, at first!
We did find a few vegetable gardens about and the only real agriculture left on the island are vineyards. The way they grow ingenious and surprisingly effective.
They have 2 main problems to growing, water and wind. The trade winds blow across the island, which is great for cooling you down under the blazing sun. To protect the plants, including the grape vines, they build windbreak walls from the lava rocks.
Water, as I said above, is too expensive for agricultural irrigation. However they have masses (I mean masses) of black volcanic gravel. It’s very similar to vermiculite in size and very light. They spread this about 2 inches thick over the sandy, stony soil and it causes dew to condense and trickle down between the gravel mulch. This mulch stops the water from evaporating away in the day and so provides enough for low density growing. See the photos below.
We’d spoken to our daughter, Cara, a few times whilst we were away but on our return she had to break the sad news that our latest cat Tommy, who had visited me on the plot just before we left had been killed by a car two days into the holiday.
Tommy hadn’t been with us long, but he’d already captured a place in our hearts. Sadly we haven’t got a photo, he was black and white with incredibly long legs and a funny pink smudge on his nose as well as a distinctive hoarse meow and he was just beginning to really trust us. Some tears from us all.
I’m ploughing through the 750 emails that arrived in my inbox when I switched the computer on. After getting rid of the Russian ladies looking to meet me, circulars and offers and so forth I’m down to the last 150. Please don’t expect a quick reply to emails for a bit!
I was interested to read you brief article on gardening on Lanzarote. I own a holiday home on the island just on the edge of Playa Blanca and the edge of the lava field, we can see Timanfaya from our garden. Yes we do have a garden which grows a lot of very good semi tropical flowers, three large palm trees plus Hibiscus and Bougainvillea, and so I thought I would just to add a little more information for you. The crushed lava which is put on the gardens is known as ‘picon’ and because it has a honeycomb construction it does actually store water to a certain degree. Underneath the picon we have a layer of sand and gravel and it is really this that stores the moisture with the picon acting as a barrier to keep the moisture in. We have a small bore hose pipe type watering system on a timer that provided water for about 5 mins each day
Thanks Les – appreciate your comment. I’ve helped friends with a garden in Barcelona but Lanzarote looked well nigh impossible to me. I was amazed anything grew at all!
The German guide on our tour was looking pretty pained at my endless questions!
You need to know what goes on in the other side of the island, away from the tourist areas.
My partner, Julie has also just got back from Lanzarote, she goes to La Santa for her running. she has a local friend at La santa, who, with funding support via a friens of ours, has set up polytunnels on a 3 acre site for growing vegetables ( I send the organic seed over to her), for the local villagers and restaurants. From Teguise, via La santa, up to Soo you will find the villagers have poly tunnels and also grow fields of ogen melons, all irrigated with pipes. Christine has a large water holding tank on her site, which she pays to be filled up every month, which supplies her house and land with water, as she also has chickens and donkeys on her land. Everything is mulched with picon, and all the local villagers help her to run this new project, which is quite new. In the old days all that they grew was tobacco and sweetcorn, but not now, as all the veg shipped in from Las Palmas is crap and inedible by the time you get it, and too expensive anyway.
Glad you enjoyed your holiday – sorry, research trip.
Your pictures reminded me of our holiday there last year.
We loved Lanzarote, but also found it hard to imagine how anything could grow!
I came across your post as we like many it seems fell in love with Lanzarote and recently have got into home grown veg, so have been researching how much we can grow there should we move there. Thought you may like to read these two posts about what grows happily in Lanzarote http://www.lanzaroteinformation.com/content/tomato-glut and also that Teguise council are renting allotments free and they’ll even hire you a tractor! – http://www.lanzaroteinformation.com/content/free-allotments-teguise
It is amazing that people are growing veg successfully on Lanzarote . I am in the dream stage of buying a property in Lanzarote and spending some of the winter months here also letting my family use it for holidays.
I would certainly want to attempt to grow veg and fruit as there is nothing much available that is edible – the hotels seem to use mainly tinned and frozen veg and fruit and I was wondering if grow bags are available on the island. And if they work – where do hotels get water supplies from ? I had not given consideration to the lack of available water supply – would this be a huge issue?
I think you’ll find water is an expensive commodity – best thing is to talk to local people about what they do.
It’s possible to get cheaper water if it’s for agricultural purposes. I think vegetables grow well in the north of the island where the night temperature tend to be cooler and it’s damper. Basically, a micro-climate in parts of the north. There is a great ecological market on a Saturday morning in Haria with a wide range of produce. I have bought aubergine, salads, spinach, swiss chard, canarian potatoes, broccoli, fennel, radish, tomatoes, sweet potato, green beans, asparagus, pak choi, cucumber, courgette and various herbs. The locals know what they’re doing. Fig trees are amazing in the north and survive and fruit with no water. The vines also look fantastic. Lemons do very well if protected from the wind. Avocados also grow in Lanzarote. Greetings from Lanzarote.
Hopefully we’ll get back soon and check out the north of the island more carefully. We’ve not had a holiday for a few years now..