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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Summertime '16

Summer-time. A whole different feel and routine.  It's 30 degrees every day, the river is dry along most of our boundary, so we take siesta-time walks up the riverside path under the trees, to the "nibble-fish pool"  - here are Megan and Jaya boating on the surf-board....



...work becomes water-orientated too, and I have been having fun making new schemes for using our river-pipe supply.  Here is one of my spray-tubes in action...



... we raked the last grass-cut into 2 long lines (about 50m long), then I laid a tube along the top, and drilled it with a 1mm drill-bit to perforate. Then pump water back from our pond - for about 10 minutes every 2 days.
The result:  A rotting-straw fire-break, a compost-oasis, and a planting zone along the edges, especially for the autumn.





Summer is the quietest time, time to take time-out, enjoy siestas. We are just coming into the season of fruit-drying - first, tomatoes, soon pears from the wild trees. Later, figs,  plums, apples and late peaches.  A project for the next month is to make a warm-air dryer, for the early autumn when rain can prevent drying of the late figs and fruit - more on that next time...

Meanwhile, last Sunday, 17th July, was Várzea Open Day - our first for 2 years in fact - and it was a fun, chilled-out family-orientated day, lots of kids' stuff, games, trampolining, tours of the land and garden, great music-jamming all day, top food and cakes, and more cakes, and an evening after party, Here's some idea...


What is the Várzea about?  We get a steady stream of e-mailers, visitors..., "We are looking for a small piece of land, etc",  "We would like to come and see a thriving eco-community" (Well, ok, but Várzea da Gonçala is not a community. At this point we are 2 families and 2 helpers, without external income other than what we make from the place itself).

Practical people, vegans, permaculturalists, travelling-in-hope'ers - anyway, there are many people, individuals and families, who basically want to make a life-choice to get a piece of land and live off it, with it,  Most are interesting, intelligent people, often from successful careers. Some are well-grounded, some are dreamers.

I don't want to put anybody off, I always liked the Alanis Morissette lyric "I recommend biting off more than you can chew to anyone!".

But it's not Shangri-la, and it's not easy.  The people who lived from their land in the past had a huge amount of handed-down wisdom and knowledge, they had many neighbours to exchange food, expertise and energy with. They knew the ways of water, with great efficiency, and the ways of the seasons.  They lived, by modern standards, incredibly simply, with minimal energy needs.   And life was not so monetarily or otherwise controlled in the past - there were fewer impediments.

What you need?  You need plenty of start-up money, and you have to love what you are doing - you need to have energy in abundance, and enjoy every day's work in the spirit of forging a lifelong connection with your home, your land, This labour has to be sustaining to your spirit, not a drain on it.



Why am I writing this now?  Mostly because of the way I feel part of  this place. I spent 3 hours this morning and evening giving the first summer water to a hundred or two seedling oaks on our kilometer-or-so of hand-dug swales - and it was a totally uplifting experience to see the infant beginning of re-afforestation, which will take about another 5 years (more acorns in every autumn) before anything is really visible. In the meantime, I seed grasses and legumes each autumn on the swales, cut, in spring (very selectively).  They don't have their mothers, you see, so they need protection, nurturing and, yes, love.. Think that's hippy? Think again. It's integral to life.

Ok, enough said: money, energy, love.... here's a pic of some of our neighbour - accross-the-river - Dan's, Victor Schouberger-inspired river-rock shapes.... (the river's getting pretty little now)


It really does work, at drawing the water's flow to the centre of the river, creating a barrelling vertical flow, deepening the centre, instead of horizontal eddying eroding the banks. And riverside trees, with their roots, are nature's practical appliers of the technique.

To end this edition, a farewell toast to Andy, who has been such a calm and positive presence here for the last 4 months, giving care, understanding and feedback ideas to all the practical help he has given. He has a contract to look after a small-holding near Granada for the rest of the summer, though I'm sure we shall see him again...


Enjoy the summer, and keep dreaming......!


Sunday, May 29, 2016

Rain, fun, communication....

Great rain!  We had about 120mm in the second week of May, which is perfect timing for the land, filling up the soil with moisture just before the anticipated summer dry months of June, July and August, during which we can pretty-much rely on as being entirely without rain, with autumn rain usually coming again in mid or late September.  Here is a photo, courtesy of my brother John on his visit, from last week....



Rain means a lot of things. We can see it as a communication between the atmosphere and the land, or as the life-giver, presenting oxygenated water to plants, animals, fungi and bacteria,  To me it is always a joy. .Especially in May.


What are we doing here at Várzea da Gonçala at this time of the year?


The garden is in full action - lots of planting and seeding of spring-summer vegetables.

Pumpkins, squashes, beans, tomatoes (the best, and lots of funky varieties this year), sweet potatoes, peppers, to name a few.  All Chaym's work...


I have also been putting in perennial tree-cabbages, pumpkins, beans, and sunflowers by the irrigation channels of the food-forest.

Chaym has a great diversity of mixed beds, perennials, flood-irrigated beds (from our river-tube) and drip-irrigation.    And trees in the garden too!




Spring cutting is my biggest job - this is to mulch and protect the ground (one day the trees will take care of this,, as well as much of the fire-risk), followed by raking for fire-breaks,

But there are other ways, and this time around I am getting pretty out-of-sorts with the whole spring-cut thing,  We need grazers, and at this stage of the young trees, birds are the only reasonable option. Turkeys, turkeys, turkeys - and geese, and turkeys....

Turkeys are not aggressive like geese, so children-friendly, and very omniverous - there is not much they don't eat, in fact, from keeping down winter and spring vegetation in return for manure and eggs, to parasitic grubs and eggs in fallen fruit. Even acorns.  And turkey meat is very good.  To start things off, I recently got 2 turkeys from the market, Esmerelda and Jojo by name.....

 ...and if plans go to plan, they will be the ancestors of a couple of dozen by the autumn, free-ranging with a secure roost.  Maybe next year fifty or so,  A whole new thing.

I mentioned this to our guest at the moment Danny, and he told me of a documentary "my life as a turkey", of a man who spent 18 months in Florida nature with "his" family of wild turkeys, not encountering another human for the whole time.  It's the best documentary I've ever watched, absolutely brilliant - please give yourself a favour...  documentarystorm.com/my-life-as-a-turkey


Other stuff...    setting up the irrigation for all the new trees, making a new palm-frond roof for the tree-house. And soon I shall start making a nice big solar warm-air dryer.


Our small group here all have our roles, which makes for a happy camaraderie.

Chaym is the garden magician, Petra does seeding, transplanting and animal care, Kris looks after the houses, Jim (picutre, right) is now making great wooden tables, for outside the guest houses,...

Tracy tending around the houses, and I do more the big-picture stuff.

Oh, and we are mums and dads too!




We have also had the pleasure of having Andy volunteering, having attended both spring courses, PDC and Gardening, and stayed on since.  A great motivated easy-going positive presence...




Not to leave out the geese, who had just one gosling hatched, Beaky the dad being a protective force not to be messed with. Here is the new arrival (centre) getting pretty big already...




As always, what makes any system fnction well is the right communication, the everyday interaction of participants. People of course, but also between us and the natural systems we are working with.

Communication.is another one of those words that mean more, the more you go into them.... It's what nature is doing all the time, within you and without you, as John Lennon put it.  All life is in constant communication, though we rarely even imagine it.  Here is a great quote from anthropologist Richard Nelson's study of the Koyukon Indians of Alaska....

"Koyukon people live in a world that watches, in a forest of eyes. A person moving through nature - however wild or remote the place may be - is never truly alone. The surroundings are aware, sensate, personified. They feel. They can be offended. And they must, at every moment, be treated with the proper respect."

Intelligence is everywhere in all nature, we are participants in a totally connected network. and the natural world judges the quality of our participation.  We have, as humans, fantastic unrealised potential, which maybe can start being manifested when, instead of being aloof from the rest of the natural world, we fully respect it's incredible complexity, and it's wisdom.

xxx from Várzea..




Thursday, April 28, 2016

Nature in full flow....

Greetings from an April-showery, green and flowery west Algarve.

A full-on spring.  The transition towards the summer is just beginning, rain is pretty sparse but continuing still in bits and pieces, the whole landscape is lush and green, flowers starting to come out everywhere, and bird-life sounds ever-present, loud, and vibrant, and at night-time I fall asleep in my yurt to the sound of nightingales.  Life is highly expressive in spring, and I don't think it's my imagination, that this time round, it's extra-extra.  Here is a nice contrast in the views from the doorway of my yurt, first when we put it up last summer....


.... to this week...


This spring we have run two great courses, and a very positive and harmonious atmosphere is present here at Várzea da Gonçala.  In the middle of March, our (11th) Permaculture Design Course was full, with 20 students, and similarly with our April Food-forest and Ecological Gardening course, full with the maximum 10 students - 5 of these attended both, making a neat numerical symmetry.  Here is the group photo from the Gardening / Food-forest course...


... and here is one from the pizza-night of the PDC, being entertained here by the beautiful Welsh voice of Louren...

The most uplifting thing of hosting these courses is the people who not only attended but participated in the place, in diverse ways, for the whole duration, giving their positive energy to the Várzea project. All, without exception, aware, open, enthusiastic people, from many different backgrounds and life-experiences, and a whole range of ages,

A common philosophy which united most of them was the desire to exit the mental slavery of mainstream society and seeing it's transparently false ethos. And a big part of the goal is clearly self-empowerment, gained by understanding the ways of natural processes, and how to apply this understanding.

As well as having this creative input from our courses, it is also marvelous to have, in our end of this little valley, a diverse collection of free-thinking, positive (I like that word, you may notice) creative people, from permaculturists to antropologist, knowledgeable gardeners to psychiatrist and martial-art teacher as well as radical-thinking "loonies".

For me and daughter Megan, it has been great having my brother John here for 12 days, and it's good to be able to offer him, as with others coming from a more regimented life-style, different outlooks, in a place to chill out and appreciate a more natural pace and pattern of life.  He's a globetrotting author these days, and his book "From the Dry Bone to the Living Man", a biography of A.T. Still, founder of Osteopathy, is hitting a sensitive nerve in the world of over-prescribing reductionist medicine. Interesting parallels here to big-agriculture vs. permaculture.  He just about makes the picture....




The time of planting and digging is still in full swing in the veg garden, but for the rest of the land, the focus moves to irrigation and cutting, preparations for the 3 or 4 months of total dry.  The usual complete absence of rain from May to mid-September or so is a feature which gives a big challenge to the re-establishment of a tree-based agriculture.  


First priority, to give good care to the 65 little chestnut seedlings, grown in pots from seed and planted out in the last few weeks.  Chestnuts, more than any tree, need shade in their seedling stage, so I have been planting in the shade of lupins, which now have climbing beans to grow up them in summer as surrogate mother-trees. Here's one of the many -see if you can spot it! (summer beans still to sprout)...




I still see this as very-much early days in the Várzea project, and the overall appearance of the place is still not too different to what it was about 5 years ago, but the trees are gradually accelerating in their growth and underground connections, and in another 5 years the changes should be very apparent.  Not just visually, but the feel of the place and the energy of its nature.


Finally, we have a new tipi, this time a "sympatico" shade of light brown, or is it beige?  Anyway, this courtesy of the home-school group who still come to the Várzea twice a week, and this is their teaching space and focus - also for us to use when they are not...


Enjoy the spring!


Saturday, March 5, 2016

Time

We have said goodbye to the merrie month of February again - a fine month indeed, everything green as can be, light increasing, warm sun, planting trees time, pruning, seeing the life gearing up to the spring energy before the summer sleep. (apologies to those in more northern climes, I really don't mean to rub it in, as February can be pretty grim up north, as my brother in Snowdonia does remind me of wetnesses beyond the dreams of our geese....)

Funny, everything seems in hand this year so far - things moving along in time, all booked up for the March PDC (permaculturedesigncourse) and just a couple of spaces left for the April gardening and food-forest course. And my big two-yearly cut of all the cleared hillsides finished.....(I'll replace this photo today when I take a better one)



.... cutting early this time, mid-winter instead of spring, to let the cut material have time to partially break down before the summer, so minimising a fire, should one come.  Also allows the grasses to grow and seed before summer. Cutting is accompanied by planting, and planting here on the clay hillsides, sun-baked for 4 summer months with no rain, requires swales to allow a protected microclimate.  Then plantings on the swales. Stop me if you've heard this one before...!

Look what Jim's done to the outside-kitchen space....

Here' "another green picture" (my brother's been telling me there are too many green pictures on the blog), which doesn't look like anything logical if I don't point things out, but this is the "badlands" which are getting properly un-badded these last couple of years - they used to be semi-desert, since many years ago a series of floods stripped the top-soil away.

Positive feedback of human intervention has created new soil, which initiates a virtuous cycle of building fertility. People often tend to underestimate nature's creative and regenerative power, especially when guided with action based on.understanding. And of course, trees!

 Many more trees this year, and more variety too.    I'm no longer surprised how each year I can't understand my ignorance of the previous year.  This has been going on for many years now, so that I have little doubt I shall have the same thoughts in another year's time.  Learning, the opening of the mind, is a many-wonderful thing, and without doubt I have learned more in the nine years I have lived here than in the rest of my adult life. More useful stuff anyway.

The work we have done here in the last 9 years is a little dot, a tiny capsule of regeneration, We don't have much in the way of resources at our disposal, but it is something at least.  My friend Esther just today sent me a link the this project, http://www.institutoterra.org, in Brazil, which is wonderful to see, and great to see the vision connecting to the surrounding area and drought-stricken family land-owners...  It's humbling and inspiring - take a look, if you've time.


(I just found this pic, and feel the need to share it.... Hi Katie!....)

Why is this Blog entitled "Time"?    Recently was announced the detection of Einstein's 100-years-ago- predicted Gravity Waves.  The final untested prediction of Albert's general relativity. He said they would never be detected, because we would never make anything sensitive enough to be able to detect them. Well, he was wrong about that, and they found the waves. I'm no science-freak, and really dislike the mentality that it holds all the answers, but it has its awesome achievements, and this is one.
A century ago, and he somehow connected to the pattern of the universe, to predict the existence of something so esoteric in the make-up of the fabric of reality.     Einstein was a wise man, not corresponding to the usual image of the cold, arrogant image of scientists.   It is revealing how he referred to his creative years as the time he was in touch with "the old one" and how in later years he felt he had lost this connection.

Time, connection...      It's an observation, that when I talk about planting acorns, or even trees in general, for example walnut trees, which will not bear fruit for about 10 years, people get sort-of detached.     I don't know, somewhere most people are not prepared to go...    Is it a symptom of detachment?  In nature, connectedness means the future is intimately linked to the present. I have a contention that nature inhabits the whole of timescape, just as we inhabit the landscape. The future is not a disconnected "maybe" as we see it as we cling on to our immediate or short-term concerns, but part of it's reality.  I am not saying that nature knows what is going to be, but that it is part of the pattern of the timescape, and that its awareness inhabits the future, as it does the past and present.
Here is our little river, the Cerca, this week....


... it's a metaphor..  As for us, if we refuse to look past our noses in this timescape, we are as if in a fog where we can expect to fall off the next cliff.


... I do know lemmings don't really do running over cliffs on purpose...  But, we all know that the future will come to pass. We know, that whether we like it or not, at least, in all probability, we will be around in 5, 10, 20, 40 years' time (ok, I guess I'm an optimist, but in 40 years I hope to be celebrating my 100th), and yet most people I know still think it's a bit weird to plant a tree which you won't really be able to notice for 5 or 10 years.  I do try to point out that time actually passes, things actually come to pass, and 10-years'-time now will actually be the present, in 10 years.  Here is a nice Einstein quote: "There is a way of thinking about reality, in which the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion".



We have had the pleasure of having Matt and Anna and son Oren here for the last month, and I must show Matt's home-made crucible and home-made bellows, in which he made his own bronze forgings out of nothing but a small hole in the ground, lined with clay and filled with charcoal (also home-made), with his own mix of copper and a little tin.containing metal he could find.






First make a shape in wax, then surround with soft clay, dry the clay then melt out the wax, then fill the cavity with the melted metal and let cool!





 Just for fun, and a wonder to us and the children...



Fun.  That is what nature has all the time. Life is fun: it is deep inside and notseparate from what is serious.

Another theme:  Nature is neither competitive or altruistic, it simply does what works. Both involve connection and mutual balance, and participation in the dance of life, the dance of energy. Fun.

Até Jà!
















Sunday, January 31, 2016

Swallows!!

23rd January: The swallows have arrived to last year's nest in the Pit, excited tweets and conversations "it's still here, just as we left it!" "we made it!" etc.  And 2 months early!...



We're in El Ninõ, it's a warm winter, not so wet, but o man it´s green and growing...    When conditions change, nature responds in ways we can't always understand - different plants thrive each year, so likewise birds, insects, fungi and all the participants in the dance come to a new arrangement. So if we want a low-maintenance productive system, we must bring diversity and strong plants. trees, perennials and annual vegetables,  Then we can hope to have a system that bends, ducks and dives, but always bounces back from adversity on its own,

We underestimate nature - it is just like us: it feels pain of abuse, and it has great energy. For sure it has a mysterious and complex spirit, and great wisdom.  If our intellect does one thing, it should respect this.

We are a good stable group, with, for these months, the invaluable help of a couple of wwoofer helpers, at the moment Ray and Homan, from England of Jamaican roots, and Afghanistan, respectively.  Both great people, and an honour to have them here helping and as new friends. Here are Ray and his nephew Johnny, who was here for a couple of weeks, making steps up one side of the hills up to a developing secluded space, and on to the top of our local hill - known as Monte de Várzea da Gonçala, but also as Hill.



So what else are we doing here this mild winter?  Still at swale-digging, tree-planting, gardening, construction, cutting, having pizza-nights, interacting, sitting round the fire with food and wine, laughing, taking the kids to school and the beautiful deserted winter beaches, cycling (well, me anyway), whingeing about tools not being put back in the right place, eating delicious garden food, shouting at neighbours' dogs stealing the geese's eggs, playing chess (we need more players)(and more musicians at the moment).  That sort of thing....

Ray and Homan have been helping me with mulching the high beds, overlaying the oxalis with a deep layer of straw and hay mulch, mixed generously with horse manure. Here's a nice view from the tree house...



Opportunistic, because the German lady down the valley who keeps 3 horses, uses huge amounts of hay which are cleaned from the stable every day and piled up for all to take for free, and at the moment nobody else is taking, so there was a mountain (well, a large long ridge.

About 20 pick-up loads so far - here's Homan unloading one more load....

.
...it's kind of a permaculture thing:  I don't like oxalis (Oxalis pes-caprae, an invasive weed from South Africa), because it grows super-strongly from underground bulbs from autumn, through to spring, then at the onset of the summer dry months, just when we need a ground-cover, it disappears overnight, leaving exposed soil. By mulching thick, we smother and rot the oxalis, the straw/manure also rots, but also because of the hay content, sprouts a top layer of grass. Next summer we can already plant pumpkins in holes, and next autumn fava-beans and root crops in the new humus top-soil.  The trees and associated fungi will benefit too.

We put up a nice new chicken-and-goose fence this week, buried well in the ground. Here are Ray and Homan helping with that too....


... no escaping  to eat the tree-cabbage seedlings (like last month - grrr) which this year should be giving them their summer greens.

Chaym's garden is, of course, in constant transition, lots of roots growing underground, greens and seeds, all manner of alchemy in the soil with worm-compost, regular and "effective" micro-organisms (ask him, not me!) The garden area, 8 years ago heavy clay, is now a fluffy black earth, and Chaym's energy and connection to this system is a joy to witness.  Petra is preparing seed-trays and nurturing many herbs, for adding to the forthcoming food-forest, and herb gardens. Here with their 2 daughters, Jaya and Ayla...



Jim is constructing a much-needed dry covered space for firewood and bicycles. Looking good....



... and Tracy is keeping things beautiful by the houses and planting herbs, while also helping with the communal/outdoor kitchen improvements...


...also bakes the most amazing cakes (and pasties).     They also have 2 boys to attend to, Sam, 7 and Tom, 6, who, with our Megan, now 8 make up the present Várzea gang (with Ray and Homan gate-crashing the group).... 



Today, lego and dens, tomorrow....   I guess I'm trying to give an impression of life here at Várzea da Gonçala at the moment - a happy mix of very different families working to their particular strengths, and all in good spirit.

We are de-focussing the food forest for while, though we have planted a dozen pineapple-guava (Acca sellowiana) trees and a dozen loquats and a couple more almonds, and far-too-many pomegranite cuttings, We will return to this nascient beauty in a few weeks.

For now, more hill stuff - more swale-digging and adding manure to them - and for me, the biennial CUT - brush-cutting about 2 and a half hectares (6 acres) - which I really enjoy, though everybody else hates the damn noise.  I get to see what's growing, as I cut stuff which would promote a wildfire, while selectively sparing little baby trees and bushes, occasionally saddening myself by missing one.

All ecosystems are different, all systems are in flux. People and nature constantly adapt to new scenarios.  Climate  change?  Financial insecurity?  Are we so reliant on the present human "system", or are we part of the wide natural system?  So afraid of letting go of the floating log, heading for the waterfall, or can you swim for the shore?

Action opens doors, positivity creates.

Life is sweet  xx























Sunday, December 13, 2015

Winter Solstice 2015

Fast and easy-reading, plenty of pictures and not so many ponderous words.  Good idea, think the geese....


First here's a picture of one of our thousand-or-so medronho (Arbutus unido) bushes (trees when they grow bigger) on Várzea's hillsides. The pinky-white flowers, which will become next year's fruit, are out at the same time as the ripening berries.  These are fermented and distilled as the Algarve's (mostly clandestine) speciality, aguardente de medronho.



The theme for this blog is the food-forest, or, I should say, future food-forest, as it will take 5 to 10 years to look anything resembling a forest.

Exciting stuff - this winter we are putting in place an irrigation scheme, which I had as an idea for the last year or two, and like things happen sometimes, once an idea is turned into reality, it opens up a whole new vista of potentialities.

With Chaym here, these can increasingly be manifested. It is a great thing to be able to collaborate with ideas of land development, and many new plants and trees from his native Israel can positively contribute to the plans, and to the diversity.  And I must mention the great help recently from the beautiful Erica, from Italy, in digging compost holes and planting fava-beans, which are now popping up all along the water channels (didn't get a photo, sorry!)

Here are some of the features, with accompanying pictures....

First there are 3 shallow ponds, which can easily be filled in less than half an hour by our 50cm tube running from 400 metres up the river - an all-summer continuous supply. Here is Megan demonstrating the filling process (and behind, you can see two of the new irrigation channels snakeing away)



Up to now there was only drip-irrigation for the fruit and nut trees in this area, which, while taking water deep, fails to hydrate most of the top-soil in the 3 or 4 months of summer without any rain.

Now here, on a sluice-gate system, water passes down the winding channels - 8 so far - to hydrate a wide area, on a regular basis.  Here is one of the channels running...

But that is not all - oh no, that is not all....
In amongst the water channels are 20 or so compost holes - filled and refilled with manure and straw from the local stables, which can also be irrigated from the canals.

Next, trees and bushes (new, more!), as well as beans and pumpkins in the spring, are planted close to the channels and around the holes.  Many leguminous nitrogen fixers, both annual and perennial, the star of these being the lab-lab beans whose seeds Chaym brought this spring.  These amazing beans grow through the winter, are frost-tolerant, and carry on for years, potentially growing tens of metres per plant, and giving abundant nutritious beans . while feeding the soil too!  Also nitrogen-fixing trees, such as mesquite and gouveiea, and the amazingly nutritious moringa.

Here's an over-view from up the hill...


Not just food-forest.... our old Bus, home for years for chickens, then wwoofers and friends, had to go, so with no other options, Jim (in foreground), with some help, broke it up, mostly by axe, and we carried the engine and sections away, towed with the roof as a sledge!  Just the engine compartment to go here...


Finally, an old favourite - a look at the pretty green swales on the hill (more in other areas this year too).  There are about 400 acorns in this section, out of about 700 new in the ground...
....oops,  I just realised that we had a picture of these swales on the last blog.   

So instead here's an amazing photo of Enceladus, one of Saturns smaller moons, taken recently by the Cassini probe which has been orbiting Saturn for 10 years.  The "volcanoes" are liquid water coming through a 40km thick ice layer, from an ocean of water 10km deep.  This amazing probe cruised through the plumes to find, also, organic molecules and silicates, building materials for life.....


People often think dolphins are the most intelligent things on earth, or whales, or (rather weirdly) humans.  Pretty anthropocentric.  How about a mature oak?  It depends on what you mean by intelligence, Fully equipped with molecular antennae, tuned with precision to the infinite information that pervades the space around us.  Maybe "wisdom" is a better word.   .... Just a random thought from a treeophile....

Happy solstice to all blog readers - which seem to be mostly from Russia this month...  And to our friends Geir and Regina in the mid-day dark of northern Norway.

 'Tis a many-wonderful world.

Friday, November 13, 2015

We are the ancestors...

We are the ancestors, the builders of the new era of this land....

Cue theme for this blog. We are the instigators of the new cycle.  The previous cycle came to an end roughly half a century ago, when, for a variety of reasons, the young generation of the time left the land, and their parents had little option than to abandon their ancestral land.

That time was characterised, here in Portugal, by misconceived directives from the then totalitarian , government, which made life on the land difficult, as well as a new exciting option of city life in the heady days of the sixties..... 


The changes have been brewing for a while, a few years or so, most dramatically demonstrated by the amazing emergence of a whole new generation in the 9 short years since we arrived here at the Várzea: from no children under 10 in this valley, to 20 this year, with more on the way..!  

In practical terms, the realisation has only just manifested itself - some important events happened at the time of  this year's spring equinox, which was marked by an eclipse of the sun. On that day arrived here at Várzea da Gonçala, not only Alex and Nicky and their boys, from England, but, crucially, Chaym and Petra, with their 2 girls, emigrating from Israel, looking for a place to bring up their young daughters free of the threats of war.  Chaym shares my visions of a productive food forest, as well as being a hugely experienced gardener. 

We want to create an environment which not only provides good natural food, but one which provides a diverse and beautiful space for living - and a place where children can grow up, learning the life-skills not always provided by school.

The future of this land lies in fully embracing the long term intent of a continuously developing food forest, in a place of beauty, a rich wild-life, and an ecosystem which will resist the scourge of fire. Nothing particularly new here from the point of view of our long-term vision, but now it is more sharply in focus.

Here's a nice picture of the future food-forest area in the foreground, with a section of the hillside re-forestation project behind...



Yes, we are also continuing the re-forestation of the hillsides.  Harder to find acorns this year, but enough, and so far we've planted about 500, on the hillside swales again, the ones created last year, and on the two-year-old swales where animals got to most acorns last year - and plantes with leguminous lupines for nitrogen-fixation. Another 300 acorns or so on the medronho-bush eastern hillside, on the shade-side of all bushes, where last winter we dug shallow holes and fertilised with horse-manure.  Medronho bushes (Arbitus unido) and cork oaks make great companions, inseparable in the ancient native ecosystem here.

The food forest...


                                                                                                                                                                                                            ...here is Cornelia, our resident polar bear, pacing out the places for the compost holes and tree and legume-planting sites. We are installing three feeder ponds to hydrate the soil over a wide area by channels distributing the water - supplied by gravity and a 50mm tube, from the upstream river which flows throughout the summer.    Here is one of the pond-sites, with its channels emerging down-slope....


There are already a good number of trees - almonds, olives, figs, walnuts, chestnuts and plums in this section - here, but this is the start of a much bigger and more pro-active approach to the whole lowland area.

Like most things here, this is a long-term project.  A tree-based agriculture is pretty quick to establish if you already have the trees, but the land here has never, in living memory at least, been part of such a scheme.  Big changes in the soil, as well as the visible, with the transition over many years to a fungal-mycorhizal ecosystem as the shade-canopy develops.          
                                          
I shall be keeping the blog posted on the food-forest project through this autumn, winter and beyond, so this is just a little taster!        

Before I publish this, as usual overdue, blog, a picture in the garden, with Chaym and, here from Konstanz on the German-Swiss border for a few weeks, Finn, a great guy and fantastic digger!...


And autumn green has come on thick after some beautiful rain and now warm sun.  The geese are out in the green green grass again.....


Thanks for reading!  The next blog will be out in early December - promise...