Is it possible to recover the flavours of the vegetables that were grown in Abadía Retuerta over eight centuries ago? This is the purpose of our new vegetable garden, planted in the same spot where the monks who inhabited this place in the 12th century had theirs.
The location, between the abbey and the river, makes complete sense. The soil is fertile with plenty of water, which is perfect for growing vegetables, flowers and fruits. But the best thing is that many of these products will soon be enjoyed by our hotel and restaurant clients. We can safely say that we source our produce locally!
The monastic model. As well as having a vegetable garden, we are also trying to replicate traditions from yesteryear; in those days, seasonal produce and whatever resources were available in the surroundings dictated what was eaten. In addition to the vegetable garden, the monks also used medicinal herbs, wild fruits, mushrooms as well as animals —either reared by themselves or hunted— not to mention what was caught in the river.
They used the means they had at that time: on the one hand, fire and ovens for cooking, and, on the other, all the resources at their disposal to preserve food: from a simple chilling cabinet to preparations in brine, preserves in oil, pickles or vacuum-sealed compotes using the bain-marie technique.
A traditional vegetable garden in the 21st century. In the pictures you can see the location of our vegetable garden and how the different crops are distributed. Covering about 1,200 m², we have decided to work the traditional way, with organic sheep manure from a nearby farm, and applying biodynamic principles such as the crops calendar.
To test how different crops behave and coexist in the first year of production, we are testing more than 90 species and varieties including 10 different tomato varieties.
What’s biodynamics all about? Basically, it is a way of living in harmony with the rhythms of the universe. In farming, this involves carrying out different tasks following the phases of the moon and the location of the stars. Thus, flower, fruit, leaf and root days refer to works related to different parts of the plant.
Another important element is the use of biodynamic preparations made with natural products. In our case, we use herbs from the estate itself, such as nettle or horsetail, which are also dynamised (mixed with water and then stirred) in oak barrels from the cellar where our wines have aged. Ultimately, it is a symbolic way of closing the circle and connecting the different activities that are carried out on the estate.
The use of cluster stalks or their ligneous part also brings together the vineyard and the vegetable garden. After four years of composting, this mulching serves a double purpose: as fertilizer and as a means to slow down the appearance of weeds.
We save water. One significant factor is the use of drip irrigation, which enables us to make the most of this scarce resource and employ only the necessary water for each crop. We have been working with this system for some time now in our vineyards and it is perfect for the vegetable garden. And the figures are surprising. One to three hours and just two days a week are enough to water the vegetable garden.
Six different sections. How is the vegetable garden organized? It is actually very simple. As you can see in the graph, there are six different areas occupying one or more rows.
We love the first row destined to aromatic plants. They grow in barrels that are brought from the winery and cut in half adding a special charm to the vegetable garden. The second row is for the flowers. Planted in large raised beds filled with potting soil, they will be used as centrepieces and bouquets in the hotel.
Aside from their ornamental function, flowers attract insects encouraging pollination and are predators of other insects which cause plagues or diseases. Ultimately, the main thing is that they help to preserve the natural balance in the vegetable garden.
One of the largest sections —five rows— is devoted to the vegetables. They are grown in very large raised beds —even bigger than those for the flowers— and, as you might imagine, these veggies will soon be served in our restaurants. Next are four rows of soil covered with compost. These are planted with much greater density and crops are rotated.
Lastly, there is an area where flowers and red fruits are grown together, and an orchard of traditional grooves with fruit trees and crops that need more space, such as pumpkins, melons or watermelons.
Above all else, we are proud to have recovered the vegetable garden, which was so important in the abbey’s daily life. When you visit us, you will enjoy on your table many of the fruits and vegetables we grow. And not in any random manner; the kitchen staff are very particular about what they want at any given moment. An example: they ask us to bring the courgette seeds when they are perfectly tender!