Rancho del Tío Esteban is a family farm that is very close to the old quarter of Velez-Malaga, a stone's throw from the town's old Muslim fortress. It owes it name (literally, Uncle Esteban's Ranch) to an old farmhouse that we restored when we took over the farm. I decided to live here full time so that I could lead a quieter life, grow my produce and look after my chickens. Living on this farm means that I'm in a rural environment but just a short distance from the town. And when I moved in, my family started to refer to it as Uncle Esteban's farm.
The farm has been owned by the family since 2014, when we recovered it from a derelict state. It now has two main crops, lychees and avocados, which we planted in line with organic farming practices at the very outset. In the surroundings, there are other almond, olive and avocado farms, in addition to the nearby town of Vélez-Málaga. Our farm uses a modern drip irrigation system. We get the water from the irrigation community of the Viñuela reservoir, and we also have a well. The amount of water needed by each tree varies according to the weather. In winter we can use around ten litres per tree per week, while in summer this rises to around thirty litres. What's more, we put straw on the ground at the base of all the trees. This organic padding reduces water loss due to evapotranspiration, thereby reducing the need for irrigation.
Our region has a microclimate that favours the two main activities in the area: tourism and subtropical fruit farming. These two activities are the driving force behind the local economy and create the most jobs.
When buying the farm, we decided to start growing crops according to EU organic standards, so we currently have the organic farming label. We control pests by fostering natural enemies that grow among the grass (which we let grow) and by using authorised products. As it's an exotic species, the lychee doesn't tend to be attacked by pests here in Spain. When we can, we shred the remains of wood and leaves to use them together as soil cover. The padding that we use at the base of the trees makes it more difficult for grass to grow. If it does, though, we cut it mechanically so that it's incorporated into the soil as organic matter. We allow natural enemies of pests to live and insect biodiversity to exist in this grass.
Two people work permanently on the farm. When there's a greater workload, for example when pruning or harvesting, we take on extra staff. The permanent workers have been with us for several years and the temporary workers usually return each year. All of them are paid according to the industry agreement.
We select the fruit manually from the tree. Both the lychee and the avocado produce little waste. So little fruit is discarded that we can't develop any line of work. We eat the lychees ourselves and we give the avocados to friends and family, or take them to the local market.