Latest news from the quinta

June 23rd, 2017. 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

We're just learning that the fires around Pedrógão Grande and Góis which started at the weekend and are still burning have been classed as Europe's first natural firestorm. A local ex fire chief said he's seen nothing like it in 30 years of fire fighting. The proximate cause being given for the fire was a lightning strike during a thunderstorm without rain, but the real cause is no natural disaster. This was a 100% man-made accident waiting to happen.

The forests covering this area are plantations of pine and eucalyptus. Both species have a fire ecology. In other words, they've evolved with fire and use fire to reproduce. You can't grow these trees and NOT expect fires! During drought conditions and high temperatures, these forests give off volatile oils which form an explosive mixture which only takes a spark to ignite.

Even in less incendiary conditions, these species foster a dry sclerophyllous forest ecology with equally flammable understorey. Such forests transpire much less water than broadleaved deciduous woodland. This in turn means less rain. Which in turn means a drier environment. It's a vicious circle.

As Ernst Götsch so succinctly said, "A chuva, é preciso plantá-la!" Rain must be planted.

This photo graphically shows the difference between what happens in a forest fire to trees which have evolved to burn fast and furious and those which haven't. Study it closely. Even allowing for the possible intervention of the bombeiros to save the house, it still tells a very clear story. No further comment is really needed.
... See MoreSee Less

2

Were just learning that the fires around Pedrógão Grande and Góis which started at the weekend and are still burning have been classed as Europes first natural firestorm. A local ex fire chief said hes seen nothing like it in 30 years of fire fighting. The proximate cause being given for the fire was a lightning strike during a thunderstorm without rain, but the real cause is no natural disaster. This was a 100% man-made accident waiting to happen.

The forests covering this area are plantations of pine and eucalyptus. Both species have a fire ecology. In other words, theyve evolved with fire and use fire to reproduce. You cant grow these trees and NOT expect fires! During drought conditions and high temperatures, these forests give off volatile oils which form an explosive mixture which only takes a spark to ignite.

Even in less incendiary conditions, these species foster a dry sclerophyllous forest ecology with equally flammable understorey. Such forests transpire much less water than broadleaved deciduous woodland. This in turn means less rain. Which in turn means a drier environment. Its a vicious circle. 

As Ernst Götsch so succinctly said, A chuva, é preciso plantá-la! Rain must be planted.

This photo graphically shows the difference between what happens in a forest fire to trees which have evolved to burn fast and furious and those which havent. Study it closely. Even allowing for the possible intervention of the bombeiros to save the house, it still tells a very clear story. No further comment is really needed.

Comment on Facebook

Are the eucalyptus trees introduced from Australia? I live in Australia and this is a sad, common sight. I believe that the eucalyptus tree was introduced to Sicily because it fast growing. Was it the same for Portugal? A year ago I was a fleeting visitor to Portugal. These fires have been devastating and such an incredible loss of life. I weep. Methinks we interfere with nature a little too much. :(

Thinking of you and your community - and especially of the wonderful place you've developed in nature.

Grown in Portugal for toilet paper.....

Well written...Tougher fire prevention legislation needs to be implemented on land owners and growers as a matter of urgency

What a great picture to make the point ! Hopefully we will learn !

Najib A Daghistani

I agree that pine and eucalyptus are very flamable, especialy eucalyptus, but that spot is clearly farmland, not forest, its has defenses. Oaktrees also burn if in abandoned forest...

In this petition we are trying to stop eucaliptus plantation. I guess only portuguese citizens can sign, as it needs an ID number. Please consider signing and sharing: peticaopublica.com/pview.aspx?pi=revogaeucalipo

Sepp Holzer would agree. Portugal needs to rethink its nature.

This just posted by someone in one of the evacuated villages ... "A minha família está bem, todos os animais e as casas estão a salvo dos incêndios como por milagre. Infelizmente outros não tiveram a mesma sorte que nós. Obrigado a todos pelas carinhosas mensagens de apoio. Foram dias terriveis com o coração nas mãos. Espero sinceramente que esta tragédia traga grandes mudanças no nosso país para que não se repita no futuro. As vidas humanas e não-humanas não voltam mas a floresta original de carvalhos e castanheiros pode voltar a crescer. Não aos eucaliptos."

Prakash Filippo Basso - something for PCAP and PROUT to seriously consider!

Sulekha Baba - here is a good explanation :-(

Žmergo Udruga - i ovo je jako, jako lose :-(

YES! Rain has to be planted!!

Lá está o ordenamento florestal do país adiado durante décadas pelos nossos maravilhosos políticos...

Posso partilhar?

Great picture mainly because of its meaning

There is a house on it so it is waterbombed which also leaves that area untouched. My friends house looks the same: little green oasis in the midst of ashes but it's just because their house and land around it was watered extensively. Also these trees would have burnt in a fire like this as they do here in spain where we don't have eucalyptus. Though it is absolutely true it burns slower it would be a lie to tell ppl this green oasis is just because these type of trees don't burn.

O adiamento nunca foi em vão, digamos, por esquecimento. A real causa do adiamento é o que lhes é pago para que se 'esqueçam'.

Raquel Proença de Figueiredo

Es una pena que en la cornisa cantábrica se hayan talado bosques de robles y castaños para reemplazarlos por eucalipto o pino, crecen más rápido y por lo tanto dan más dinero. Al final... Todo es negocio!!

Foto bem elucidativa! Obrigada

Vou partilhar, obrigada.

Even if you say some truths about eucaliptos and pine, if the fire was so strong and fast like people have described its not a couple of different tree and species that will stop it. Only a drop of temperature or no trees. This type of fire causes it self wind and dries everything around. I don't believe it was just a couple of trees stoping that house from burning

+ View previous comments

This album features images of Quinta do Vale's vermicomposting flush toilet system and other systems which have been modelled on it and built with my help. I teach workshops on the system from time to time so lots of the images are from the workshops. Much more detail about this is on the website created specifically for vermicomposting flush toilets - www.vermicompostingtoilets.net ... See MoreSee Less

4

This album features images of Quinta do Vales vermicomposting flush toilet system and other systems which have been modelled on it and built with my help. I teach workshops on the system from time to time so lots of the images are from the workshops. Much more detail about this is on the website created specifically for vermicomposting flush toilets - http://www.vermicompostingtoilets.net

I don't suppose this one really needs a caption ... ... See MoreSee Less

2

I dont suppose this one really needs a caption ...

Comment on Facebook

Yummy

MMM redcurrants, I don't have any of those here

<3

Couldn't identify the 2 larger shiny red berries? Otherwise 'Bon Appetite'. 😋

Loving the difference a greenhouse makes. These were planted as seedlings just 3 weeks ago and already I have cucumbers almost ready to harvest! ... See MoreSee Less

2

Loving the difference a greenhouse makes. These were planted as seedlings just 3 weeks ago and already I have cucumbers almost ready to harvest!

Comment on Facebook

Impressive 😊

amazing

Extraordinary, you will need extra hands, just too keep up. 😅

The Catalpa I planted by the upper ponds is in flower for the first time. ... See MoreSee Less

2

The Catalpa I planted by the upper ponds is in flower for the first time.

Harvesting redcurrants. By the time the bowl was full it amounted to 5kg. And that's just from one bush which still has more to be picked. This lot is on its way to becoming redcurrant cordial. ... See MoreSee Less

2

Harvesting redcurrants. By the time the bowl was full it amounted to 5kg. And thats just from one bush which still has more to be picked. This lot is on its way to becoming redcurrant cordial.

Comment on Facebook

i want it!!!! ;)

Oh beauty! So full of goodness!

By the way, how far apart do you grow your bushes?

I loooove red currant!!!

Sounds lovely

How beautiful! Plentiful and sooo delicious! Mine are still very green.....Are you growing the white ones too? They are even better....

+ View previous comments

A message from Dr Vandana Shiva ...Multi-lingual subtitles available On this 5th of June - World Environment Day – Vandana Shiva reminds us that we are part of the Earth, and that we all have ... ... See MoreSee Less

2

Thought for the day ... "A chuva, é preciso plantá-la!" ("The rain must be planted!"} Ernst Götsch. ... See MoreSee Less

3

Thought for the day ... A chuva, é preciso plantá-la! (The rain must be planted!} Ernst Götsch.

Comment on Facebook

A Chuva, é preciso plantá-la! ;)

Everything in the greenhouse is growing like it's on steroids! ... See MoreSee Less

4

Everything in the greenhouse is growing like its on steroids!

Comment on Facebook

Fantastic

Reminds me of butterfly world x

LOVE IT!!!

Amazing

It's berry breakfast time again. With home made raw goats milk kefir. Bliss! ... See MoreSee Less

4

Its berry breakfast time again. With home made raw goats milk kefir. Bliss!

Comment on Facebook

local farmer, Ryefield, Tore, told me at the weekend that this is the earliest he has had strawberries for sale in 30 years

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

Read the rest of this entry »

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

Read the rest of this entry »

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

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Swaleage

August 3rd, 2015. Post by Quinta do Vale

It’s been a long time since this blog was last updated. Those keeping up with us on Facebook will have some inkling of what’s been going on at the quinta in the meantime, but I’ve failed dismally at getting to the more detailed documentation of it all. Mostly a case of too busy doing the doing to be reporting the doing …

Following the successful implementation of a swale system on the bottom terrace last year, this last Spring I put in a similar system on the terrace above it. It’s a narrow terrace with very similar problems to the one below it – soil so dry in summer it barely supported a few fruit trees (which consequently dropped most of their fruit before it got anywhere near ripe) amongst grasses and wildflowers which would be dry and dead by July. In summer, the soil turned to dust in your hand and blew away.

Mid fruit terrace

The terrace when we first saw the quinta in November 2008 – a few neglected fruit trees and a lot of encroaching bracken

Mid fruit terrace

The same terrace in May last year – a few more fruit trees, a lot less bracken, but still a largely barren terrace

Read the rest of this entry »

A dining area for the wee house

November 12th, 2014. Post by Quinta do Vale

Following on from the completion of the kitchen at the wee house, the next step was to create a dining area. The terrace in front of the house on the lower level was the logical place for this – lovely views through the olive trees down to the village and across the valley, and grapes vines already planted and just asking for a trellis to grow over to create a shaded seating area. Plus it had already been identified as a fine place to sit …

The wee house dining area

Read the rest of this entry »

Swales

November 11th, 2014. Post by Quinta do Vale

Swales – level ditches dug to follow the contours of the land – are one of the principal ingredients of permaculture earthworks which are, by and large, recipes for catching and holding rainwater runoff and encouraging it to slowly infiltrate the soil rather than being lost to the nearest river. Because they’re level, swales don’t channel the water away but hold it in situ until it soaks into the soil. They can be dug to any sort of scale and used alone or, as part of an integrated water catchment system over an entire property, in combination with other elements like ponds, infiltration basins and dams.

Bottom ponds

On narrow terraces and steep mountain slopes with thin soils – ie. here – swales are not something you can use on a large scale, but they can still be useful. When I dug the lower ponds, the effect on the ability of the surrounding soil to support abundant growth was immediate and impressive, but it didn’t extend too far along the terrace. Just 2 metres away the soil was so dry in summer it barely supported a few grasses and wildflowers and would turn to dust in your hand and blow away. So after working out the contours of the terrace, I decided to extend the area of hydration much further along by using the ponds to feed small swales.

Read the rest of this entry »