We are Robert and Tanja, originally from Holland but after 17 years living and working in Africa and South East Asia we feel rather cosmopolitan. Tanja works in International Development, Robert is a guide to Birdwatchers. In 2004 we bought a Finca (farm) in Arens de Lledo, in the beautiful Matarraña region of Spain. Ever since, we have been slowly developing the property as a eco-friendly homestead and permaculture project. There are many tasks to do as the property is 24 (by now 39) hectares of pine forest, old terraces, riverbank and fields where we want to practice straw bale gardening. We need help in building raised beds, fences, gardening, building stables (straw bale construction) and a lot of other small projects such as a climbing wall and a zip line!
WHAT HAPPENED IN 2021
It will be clear that everyone has been affected the whole year by the pandemic. Still, 14 volunteers and two dogs came to the finca to volunteer. With a number of people from Latin America, others from the east and north of Europe, our sons and a sprinkle of French we feel that we are linking up the world, by now for at least 24 different nationalities, that is. Kudos for all who participated.
What are the projects that were started, finished, needed? Do you know what the Spanish call a GOTA? It is a weather system that moves cold, moist air over a large area. In our part of the world, over two days, in February, Filomena dropped 60 centimeters of snow. Firs, Olive trees and even Oaks cannot carry such loads. The damage to agriculture was massive. The car could not make it onto the road, so it required walking. After the first night of snowfall, it took Tanja, Vinicio and Carina 2.5 hours to reach the animals to feed them and as much time to go back. Robert used part of that time to fruitlessly try to get the car from the parking back up on the roads. The next day Robert and Tanja needed 3 hours each way. A working day just plodding through deep snow. The netting over the chicken run had collapsed, and basically all the fowl could go in and out freely. But we did not lose a single bird. When we finally got the car on the road again, a dozen trees needed to be removed from the forest path. Luckily, all the snow took some time to melt, so the river did not flood. The netting was jury rigged to contain the animals again and after two weeks we put new netting on, with a wider mesh, so that less snow would be caught. Since then, the Bonelli´s Eagle has checked it again, but found it impenetrable. No chicken on the menu for them.
Another project that needed work was the fencing to keep the goats in. The four-legged Houdini´s showed no respect for the wide mesh that we had bought for them. They went over, under and through. Terse measures had to be taken. It proved a long running effort, as the escape artists kept developing new techniques. With a pony that could add his weight to their brains they made a formidable team. Counter measures: Digging into the soil, moving stones, placing the posts, weighing down the mesh…. To cut a (400 meter) long story short: we have not had any escapes now for some months. And we have three meadows, enabling to do some rotational grazing, letting the grass get some respite. The shelter is being improved. As the goats had moved a lot of the soil the edges became damaged. A couple of tons of stone will have to do the trick of stabilizing everything. A big part of that work has been done by Juliana, Deividas and Aniuta.
At one moment it became clear that the goats had a project of their own, of the maternal kind. With a little contribution by Kaldi the new buck. On October 9th, Mocca delivered two kids, Espresso and Macchiato. They were males, but they have had a small genital accident since. More girls are pregnant, by the way. For Tanja, having a riding horse was a project with high priority. With the arrival of Campero, a French Trotting horse, that project made a next step. It is our fortune that we have had an ´almost´ vet, on-call and even in-house; she solved some problems with the hooves of Campero and post-partum with Mocca. We are thankful for Jessica´s help.
In the meantime, all other work goes on relentlessly. Mucking the horse meadow, watering plants, taking the animals out (easy), getting them in again (utterly difficult sometimes), preparing plant beds. These are not the most glorious tasks, but they need to be done. Claire did a lot of horticultural work, she prepared beds and sowed, we have had a good harvest of tomatoes, pumpkin, carrots even. Furthermore, we got introductions to dishes from many different countries. Some volunteers even contacted family for details on recipes. Yummy. To all who helped (Yaroslav for electrics, Guillaume for his boulevard, Thomas and Ninon for cleaning the remains of our truck, Eevastina and Adrian for helping with the roof over the terrace) with all these tasks and chores: a big thank you.
End of April we had to go to the Netherlands, and two volunteers that had been here before, helped us out by finca-sitting for almost two weeks. By now they have moved from Spain to the US. We will miss Monica and Fernando and their dog Apolo but are happy that they have found a place to fulfil their ambitions.
In early October we had Nienke over, who is a professional photographer. We have over a hundred pictures now about the village and the finca. With her we also looked down on and photographed our finca from up above, the neighbor’s finca. She also documented the birth of the goats and the quirky behavior of the recently arrived Guineafowl.
During the year we had two wildcams out during several nights. Some good shots were made while volunteers were here: Wild Boar with 8 piglets, Otter, Badger, Genet, Fox, Beech Marten, Roedeer. The river kept flowing during the whole year, with a peak of 20000 liters per second and a low of 60 liters, still 6 full buckets, every second.
This year not only the number of animals on the finca has increased. The size of the finca did as well. After more than ten years looking at the half-built house above our finca, without any contact with the owners, we suddenly got an e-mail from one of them, two days after Nienke´s visit. Whether we were interested in buying the finca? Over the years we had seen the asking price going back a little, but still too steep for our wallet. So, we asked for a price and some time to consider. That time we used to contact the townhall and inform about any problems with the illegal construction. They stated that, as the building had been done too long ago and previous councils had not reacted, it would be no problem.
The seller´s reply had come, asking us to make an offer. We did, just based on the value per hectare. Against our expectations, the offer was accepted within the hour. December 2nd we were at a notary and the sale was legally concluded.
That all means that, in the near future, more fencing has to be put in around more meadows. Anyone willing to prune several tens of almond and olive trees? Is there someone experienced in building? We are most certainly welcoming any help.
WHAT HAPPENED IN 2020
This was a strange year with a lockdown starting in Spain on 14 March 2020. We still had 5 WAWs and managed to complete the fencing of two fields for the goats and pony. Gardening was quite succesful with a good tomato harvest and we dried, figs and tomatoes in the solar drier.
WHAT HAPPENED IN 2019
In and before 2018 we had seen 18 Workawayers (WAW’s) coming to help on the Finca. Just two people assisted in 2017 and 16 helped in 2018
During this year we also had additional help, not via WAW: Mari, as a WAW, asked if Ida, her sister, could come as well. They were good company to Luisa, who was a WAW. Eric, Robert’s brother helped in the construction of ‘De Beer van Eric’, The Dutch word ‘beer’ means ‘support structure’, ‘Bear’ or ‘Hog’, choose yourself. Jessica came over for some time, she volunteers at the nearby Boodaville permaculture project, but found time to teach about hoof maintenance, the ponies maybe did not like it at first, but they are benefitting. And some friends from the Netherlands, Fer and Tineke a.k.a. Tina, helped to keep things going forward. Water and electricity on the finca restored. In all 24 people volunteered.
So, the list of projects is extensive, not everything has been finished yet, but most of it is functional:
The plants; the hardest part is, still, to water them. The Pistacchio and Almond plants were joined by mulberry and Pauwlonia trees. That meant a lesson in replanting these from their pots. Taking of all soils, untangling the curled roots and dipping them in a clay slurry went like a breeze, even though the plants are not even hip-high, we kind of expect forest giants within the foreseeable future. Are we remaining over-optimistic…?
More about the animals
We now have 17 ducks 5 chickens and 2 roosters, 6 goats and a Shetland pony
The ducks needing water, now also have an extra pond. Thanks to two Taiwan WAW’s. This pond is constantly refilled using a small pump, creating a current to improve the water quality.
Unfortunately we lost the mare and her foal as well as the small pig to Gloria the terrible storm that hit our Finca on 21 January 2020. the strawbale stable was inondated and collapsed.
The Strawbale Stable, this early spring two experienced Dutchies, Roos-Anne and Martijn, did the plastering of the strawbale walls. (Incidentally, the Hog has made an opening into the wall, going for the straw center, and we had to temporarily close the stable). Two other clog-wearers, Koos and Mary, made sure that the roof is really a green roof, many plants are growing there. The latter also lived on the finca for more than a month. Like Maria and Neomar from Greece/Sweden and Venezuela, they were looking for opportunities to buy a finca, and all used their time in Arens de Lledo to scout for possibilities. In the process, Maria even found a new species of bird for the finca: Pied Flycatcher.
Lennard, Tristan, Hannes, Sarah and Vadim kept plants and animals going, because construction was less prominent during their time. In fact, we have now to register the new buildings before the village council is happy again.
At one time, both the finca and the house were run completely by volunteers, as we had to travel to the Netherlands for a funeral and a gall-bladder operation. It was a great feeling to have everything running smoothly upon returning. Thanks to Yu-ze and Li, Mari, Koos and Mary, we could later harvest many eggplants, peppers, some pumpkin, beets and tomatoes.
Stairways (to heaven?), Two stairs have been constructed. One takes you to the second floor of the mas, the cottage. An outside stairway existed, but that was too steep and rickety. Steven, a Canadian put in the effort to create the 12 steps up, it is a royal staircase now, strong, sturdy, safe. Another one, equally useful and safe has been built by a German woman volunteer, Johanna. We use it many times each day.
Almacen numero dos, quite simultaneously we built another storage, next to the chickencoop. This is very strong, concrete floor and roof, brick walls, steel door and minute window. It holds the food for the animals. Lifting the beams was an small thing for the guy from Barcelo, putting them in place was a group effort in Egyptian style, using levers, ropes and a lot of thinking ahead to keep things safe. The roof is designed to become green as well. The measurements were a bit off, so we needed an extension to one part of a wall, the ‘Beer van Eric’ as mentioned before.
To all people who helped so far (In chronological order of arrival):
2017: Lolane, Mathilde,
2018: Leo, Fernando and Monica, Gonzalo, Joaquin, David, Tatiana, Loek and Stella, Katrin, Julia, Philine, Rob, Ayaz, Jože, Barney,
2019: Martijn and Roos-Anne, Ben and Mary, Johanna, Eric, Maria and Neomar, Koos and Mary, Lennard, Tristan, Steven, Yu-ze and Li, Luisa, Mari and her sister Ida, Hannes, Sarah and Vadim, Jessica, Fer and Tineke (friends that worked as hard as workawayers); 2020 Carla and Jordi and Maya and Apoline and Beatriz.
To all of you another big “Thankyou”.
Robert and Tanja
Help with Eco Projects
DIY and building projects
We have had workawayers from many different countries which provides for cultural exchange, you can learn about birdwatching, enjoy the historical villages of Horta de Sant Joan (Picasso), Gandesa, Valdesrobles, Cretas visit the archeological sites nearby, but also have practical experience of building, ecological gardening and animal care.
This project could involve children. For more information see our guidelines and tips here.
We would like to get help for 4 to 5 hours a day during the week. We want to construct four emplacements for luxury tenting, and develop an acre of terracces for e.g. strawbale gardening and fruiting trees.
The accommodation will be in a comfortable double room in our village house or a bit more basic and off grid in the Maset on the Finca, you can also camp out in your own tent, and we are developing the luxury safari tents later on.
As to staying with us, we work on a first come, first served basis and assume that, once you have said that you will come, you will actually show up as well. Depending on your mode of transport (car, public, bus or plane (best via Barcelona)) we have to set up an appointment on where to meet. The village doesn´t have public transport, but we can collect you from Tortosa, Horta de San Juan, Gandesa, Alcañiz or Calaceite. Tortosa also has a train station, the other towns can only be reached by bus.
Free time and weekends can be spent exploring the Els Ports mountains, the Ebro Delta, the coast and many of the nearby villages like Horta de San Joan or Valderrobres.
Limited internet access
We have pets
We are smokers
Can host families
We have wifi in the house and several places where people can work. Not a real office space, but people can work alone or while with others
The finca (farm-part) is available, but that doesn't have internet. Nearest place to empty septic liquids is some 30 km away. Toilet however, on the finca.
Dogs, but with some restrictions.
More than two
Maximum 4-5 hours a day, 5 days a week
These are extra optional ratings when members leave feedback. The average rating left for each option is displayed.
Accuracy of profile: