Latest news from the quinta

January 18th, 2018. Post by Quinta do Vale

This blog tends to feature often lengthy and mostly fairly detailed descriptions of the work here. Shorter updates, anecdotes, comments, photos, links and more get posted to Facebook. Keep up with us directly on Facebook or via the feed below.

Quinta do Vale

The very wonderful SOS Arganil. Força!

Local Heroes
A former green landscape has now been transformed into a burnt area 🔥😢 But thanks to Rodrigo things are changing....
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Community. xx

Fabulous work

Manuela Filipe

The worms finally in their new home.

The fire got into the tank enclosure thanks to the water supply pipe running along the back which caught light and took the fire inside. Then the waste pipe burned and then the tank itself caught fire, burning as far as the worm compost and collapsing in on it. The worms survived though. We dug them out and put them in a temporary open container while we installed the new tank, but when we came to put them back we found a lot of them had escaped in search of fresh food. So today I got a bucketful of worms from a neighbour's tank I'd supplied from this one. Finally we can start using the flush toilet again!

It was gratifying to see and smell nothing but lovely compost when we dug out the tank.

Next job is to encase the water supply pipe in cob to stop the same thing happening again.
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The worms finally in their new home. 

The fire got into the tank enclosure thanks to the water supply pipe running along the back which caught light and took the fire inside. Then the waste pipe burned and then the tank itself caught fire, burning as far as the worm compost and collapsing in on it. The worms survived though. We dug them out and put them in a temporary open container while we installed the new tank, but when we came to put them back we found a lot of them had escaped in search of fresh food. So today I got a bucketful of worms from a neighbours tank Id supplied from this one. Finally we can start using the flush toilet again!

It was gratifying to see and smell nothing but lovely compost when we dug out the tank.

Next job is to encase the water supply pipe in cob to stop the same thing happening again.

Small steps in the right direction? The conversation still needs to be widened but this was an interesting event to attend. (With Laura Williams, Manuel Trindade Correia Marques, Maria Ana Botelho Neves)Decorreu no espaço multiusos do complexo turístico Loural Village a conferência “O que fazer agora para evitar a tragédia de amanhã”, que contou no painel de oradores com a presença da Presidente do Município de Góis, Drª. Maria de Lurdes de Oliveira Castanheira, do Prof. Dr. Henrique Pereira dos Santos (Arquiteto Paisagista), Prof. Dr. Pedro Bingre (Instituto Superior Técnico de Coimbra) do Amaral, do Eng. Henk Feith (Diretor de Produção da Altri Florestal).
Participaram na conferência cerca de uma centena de pessoas, onde foram apresentadas e debatidas estratégias que auxiliem a autodefesa da população das aldeias inseridas em áreas florestais, estratégias de prevenção sustentáveis a médio/longo prazo, nomeadamente na manutenção das faixas de proteção aos aglomerados populacionais, a possível utilização de fogo controlado para garantir a manutenção anual destas faixas, a baixo custo, de forma sustentável, bem como um modelo de incentivos que permita trazer o pastoreio de novo para o mundo rural, ajudando a fixar nova população nestas áreas, reinvenção do mundo rural, com base na inovação e na sustentabilidade destas práticas.
Outra proposta amplamente debatida, foi a necessidade de preparar as populações locais para a ocorrência dos incêndios florestais e para a necessidade de estas saberem como agir aquando da ocorrência de um incêndio. Devem estar preparadas para se autodefenderem até à chegada de meios de socorro.
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Small steps in the right direction? The conversation still needs to be widened but this was an interesting event to attend. (With Laura Williams, Manuel Trindade Correia Marques, Maria Ana Botelho Neves)

Us and some of the very excellent people who've come by to lend a hand at various times. Very little of what's been achieved here would have been possible without them. A great big "thank you" to all! ... See MoreSee Less

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Us and some of the very excellent people whove come by to lend a hand at various times. Very little of whats been achieved here would have been possible without them. A great big thank you to all!

Merry Christmas to all! ... See MoreSee Less

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Merry Christmas to all!

 

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Merry Christmas my friend! 😉

Merry Christmas! Joyeux Noël!

Merry Christmas granny xxx

Frohe Weihnachten , my dear! I my thoughts are with all of yous xx

Que se realizem todos os seus sonhos!!!

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Today I took a 1-hour trip through the mountains. This is the first time I've ventured this way since the fires. Part of me wanted to see how bad it was. Part of me wanted to keep hold of the memory of them as they were, even in such a degraded state it frequently broke my heart.

But this is beyond heartbreaking. The devastation is on such an enormous scale it defies belief. Kilometre after kilometre, ridgeline after ridgeline, endless blackness, utter desolation. Where do you even begin to address such monumental destruction?!

Yet on the return journey in the gathering darkness, we rounded a bend and surprised a group of roe deer crossing the road. Life! So I close my eyes and there is a vision of these hills covered in native woodland. Of oaks and chestnuts, birch, rowan, cherry, medronheiro, elm. There are rich pastures amongst the trees and the sounds of sheep bells and running water everywhere. There is lushness and abundance and the smell of moist rotting leaves. There are the sounds of children's voices echoing in the valleys. Is this vision from a long-ago past? Or is it the dream of these hills yet to be?

I know what I'm working for ...
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So sad to see 😂

I've been through a few forest fires, two of which monstrous and been back the next year. The rebirth is breathtaking, against all reason. Patience...

IT WILL BE <3

We have 5 hectares not that far from you and that was our goal even before the fire but more determined now. There are positive changes taking place even with some of the local family run businesses who lost a great deal back in October - they tell us enough is enough and they will be removing eucalyptus from their land and replacing with something less destructive to the environment. They seemed particularly surprised at how quickly all their wells replenished after the fire.

It shall be!!

I join you in that vision. And not only for Portugal, but for every forest in the world.

So sad, the ecosystem is trashed

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FFS - our regular work crew (minus Heather Roberts and Caroline Rodger but plus Duncan Saunders and the resident Aussies) log damming the quinta's burnt forest land to stabilise the slopes, catch soil as it washes down in the rains and infiltrate water.Us and some of the very excellent people who've come by to lend a hand at various times. Very little of what's been achieved here would have been possible without them. A great big "thank you" to all! ... See MoreSee Less

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FFS - our regular work crew (minus Heather and Caroline but plus Duncan and the resident Aussies) log damming the quintas burnt forest land to stabilise the slopes, catch soil as it washes down in the rains and infiltrate water.

The effects of the fires are unfortunately a long long way from being over. In some ways, this is just the beginning. This is a photo of (what was) the stream channel one side of the track above Quinta do Vale following the torrential rain brought by storm 'Ana' which came through on Sunday night. About where the puddle at the back (just right of centre) is, there's a pipe about a metre down going under the track. Filling the channel to overflowing is what ought to be on the hillsides - the topsoil to grow new vegetation. ... See MoreSee Less

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The effects of the fires are unfortunately a long long way from being over. In some ways, this is just the beginning. This is a photo of (what was) the stream channel one side of the track above Quinta do Vale following the torrential rain brought by storm Ana which came through on Sunday night. About where the puddle at the back (just right of centre) is, theres a pipe about a metre down going under the track. Filling the channel to overflowing is what ought to be on the hillsides - the topsoil to grow new vegetation.

 

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Tough to know what to wish for as the country needs a lot more rain but images like this are... frustrating (not the right word but can't think of a better one; wish there was a word for shaking your fist at the skies while thanking them for the rain!)

Sad, but expected. Drought and fire are a very dangerous combination.

Even after the heavy rains I find that the top 2 cms of soil are damp but underneath it is like dry powder. Not too sure how much rain water reaches newly planted trees either

Would sowing grass in your area help ?

I feel for you it is a hellova challenge. Can i ask did you put in swales? i am not asking this to be a clever arse after the event just curious because so many people put great store by them

Get a tree schredder, create mulch at the same time you get rid of dead trees ?

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Firestorm!

November 15th, 2017. Post by Quinta do Vale

Forest fires near Leiria. Photo by Hélio Madeiras, Força Especial de Bombeiros

Forest fires near Leiria. Photo by Hélio Madeiras, Força Especial de Bombeiros

Where to begin?

Where to end?

Forest fires in Portugal are a huge subject. Very few of them are accidental. Yet even while the causes are deliberate and fairly simple, what turns fire into firestorm and fueled 2017’s events, allowing them to become so devastating, is more complex.

But that’s for another post. This one is devoted to a very personal experience of them.

Mine.

It’s not often I write about things like this here. It’s not so much what this site is about. But if it contributes to raising awareness of what thousands so close to home have been through against a background of media silence, if it becomes part of a movement to bring an end to this phase in Portugal’s history, if it offers some help to the many people who have lost everything they owned and been shaken to the core by these fires, then it will have achieved its purpose.

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The saga of the communal building

August 9th, 2017. Post by Quinta do Vale

It’s been a while since I posted about progress on the main building. More than 3 years, in fact. You’d think in that time it would be finished, but no …

This building – what will eventually be the communal ‘hub’ of the quinta – has presented me and those who’ve worked on it with a lot of challenges. Many more by far than anything else on the quinta. As a task master, it’s been strict and demanding. As a critique of workmanship, it’s been uncompromising. With a relentless insistence, it’s defied attempts to make do with ‘good enough’. Any work that’s fallen short – either by me or builders working on it – has been slapped back in our faces and has had to be done again. I don’t even want to think about the cost, but it’s been far more than budgeted, both in money and time, and it’s still a good way from being finished.

By turns it’s puzzled and confused me; dismayed and depressed me. For a long time I simply couldn’t understand why everything to do with it should have to be so difficult, especially when everything else was going so well. What was I missing? For nearly two years (while waiting for work to be completed and then redone … yet again …) it seemed like too much to give headspace to and I simply turned my back on it and got on with other projects.

The communal building when we first saw the quinta

The communal building as it was when we first saw the quinta

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Greenhouse grow dome

July 23rd, 2017. Post by Quinta do Vale

Why would anyone need a greenhouse in Portugal? Given adequate water and soil fertility, the climate provides more or less ideal growing conditions pretty much year round. General climatic conditions though are one thing. Specific microclimates are another. This quinta has mountain ridges to the south and west and doesn’t get much heat from the sun early in the year. As a result, the clay soils are slow to warm in Spring. Any summer vegetable planted out much before May tends to stand still and then take a while to get going again once soil temperatures rise, so peppers and aubergines frequently don’t get harvested until October and November. A greenhouse in the sunniest spot on the quinta would make a huge difference. I could grow plants from seed in early Spring, bring them on while the soils warm up, and overwinter those which can be effectively perennialised for an early start the following Spring.

I also wanted to experiment with aquaponics to find a way of growing vegetables intensively without the need for supplemental irrigation.

The completion of the geodesic dome greenhouse was consequently eagerly anticipated. The covers went on at the end of April. Seeds were sown and plantings made. And since then, I’ve been revising my ideas of how growing our food here can be achieved almost as fast as the plants themselves have been growing.

Geodesic dome greenhouse covers installed, end of April 2017

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Geodome greenhouse progress

May 22nd, 2017. Post by Quinta do Vale

Projects here seem to have their own timing. What seem like frustrating delays at the time have an uncanny knack of turning out to be necessary pauses: intervals which allow for much better solutions to emerge. The geodome greenhouse has been no exception. With the groundwork complete by the middle of last summer, I was hoping to have it covered in time for winter. This wasn’t to be. My fault mostly. I wasn’t happy with the lack of solid UV resistance data and guarantees on clear PVC and went off to ferret out something more robust. Several lengthy explorations into such materials as ETFE and polycarbonate later, it was clear that robust was beyond budget-busting, so in the end I came full circle back to the PVC.

But during the delay, two things happened. One of the suppliers we were in contact with listed a new high transparency UV-treated PVC film. And Liam acquired a high-frequency PVC welder. I’m sure neither of these facts will mean much to many, but take it from me: the end result is just so much better than it would have been had neither of those two things happened.

The greenhouse cover is now almost complete!

The PVC cover goes onto the geodome greenhouse

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Duck ponds

May 15th, 2016. Post by Quinta do Vale

With the building of a duck house, there had to be a duck pond to go with it. or, as it happened, two duck ponds.

In addition to being ponds for ducks, these ponds also form part of the general water-retention strategy for the quinta. The aim is to slow the passage of water through this steep land and spread it as far as possible from the stream, allowing it to infiltrate and hydrate the soils. This promotes the growth of the vegetation which is so essential in improving the soils here. Vegetation decomposes to provide soil carbon. Without soil carbon, these thin soils haven’t a hope of holding onto moisture (or much of their biota) through the hot dry summer months. Irrigation becomes necessary. But build up soil carbon levels enough and eventually irrigation needs are minimal, even zero. So in order to make irrigation unnecessary, it’s initially necessary (at least if any kind of speed is required).

Back to the duck ponds. Or maybe duck puddles would be more accurate. They’re barely large enough to be worthy of the word pond, though they’re more than adequate to keep a couple of ducks happy.

Inlet for the second duck pond

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Ponds four years on

May 12th, 2016. Post by Quinta do Vale

It’s been quite a saga, this business of creating unlined ponds. I particularly wanted unlined ponds, because their principal purpose is to provide hydration for their surroundings in the course of slowing the passage of water through the quinta. But as I’ve learned, it takes a while for them to stabilise. There are six of them; two sets of two on the top and bottom terraces above and below the yurt terrace, and another pair of very small duck ponds on the bottom terrace. Small ponds – which these all are due to limitations of terrace width and slope – are much more sensitive to small perturbations.

Spillway between the ponds on the bottom terrace

Spillway between the ponds on the bottom terrace

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Subterranean heating & cooling system

May 11th, 2016. Post by Quinta do Vale

The previous post on the geodesic dome greenhouse outlined the logic in choosing a dome for this site and how it was by far the better option for fitting in all the things I wanted to have in this greenhouse. These include an aquaponics system and a bathroom as well as growing space for tropical and frost-tender fruits and vegetables, seed growing areas, a rocket-stove water heater and a worm farm – a fair bit to cram into an area measuring just 7x5m at the outset.

Geodesic dome greenhouse frame

I also wanted to build in a subterranean heating & cooling system (SHCS) to make even better use of all the thermal mass present in the solid bedrock floor and back wall. This is a proven low-tech solution for maintaining comfortable temperatures and humidity levels in the greenhouse year round. It can minimise or even eliminate the need for supplementary heating or cooling.

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Geodesic dome greenhouse

May 8th, 2016. Post by Quinta do Vale

Back in July 2012 we dug a chunk out of the mountainside in preparation for a ferrocement rainwater harvesting tank. Plans for the tank were later shelved due to budget constraints, but a good use for the site was never in doubt. It’s one of the few parts of the quinta to have sun at winter solstice, so was perfect for a greenhouse.

Geodesic dome greenhouse site

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Extreme weather

April 21st, 2016. Post by Quinta do Vale

People don’t seem very geared up for rain in Portugal, preferring umbrellas to raincoats. It’s not as if the rainfall in Central Portugal isn’t respectable either – the annual average for this area is 1040mm or thereabouts (depending on source). Amazingly, it’s even slightly more than where I used to live in the Scottish Borders. The difference is it falls over an average of 120 days, not 300 or so.

Portuguese wet weather gear

Portuguese wet weather gear

The early part of winter was unusually dry and warm. I had tobacco and freesia in flower in December and nectarines in blossom in January! But with the turn of the year, the rain finally arrived. In early February we had 10% of our annual average rainfall here over the course of one weekend.

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Poultry rethink and a duck house

March 23rd, 2016. Post by Quinta do Vale

As those who’ve followed us on Facebook for a while will know, our 4 hens were massacred in July 2014 by ‘free range’ local dogs. Although the hens were kept in a secure compound which not even the foxes had managed to get into, these dogs succeeded in opening the fastening on the gate, broke it down and got in. I found the bodies of two of the hens. The other two were taken. They were only 2½ years old and at the peak of their laying. It was a sad loss.

Quinta hens

It was all the more upsetting considering the effort put into building a really secure compound for them. I’d catered for large ‘free range’ dogs in building the compound, but not ones with door-opening skills. This forced a major rethink on how I was to keep and protect poultry going forward. It came back again to the initial conundrum I’d faced.

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