Latest news from the quinta

March 30th, 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

And after the second processing through the chipper, two cubic metres of glorious mulch! That's the lot done now. Me and the chipper have earned a beer. ... See MoreSee Less


And after the second processing through the chipper, two cubic metres of glorious mulch! Thats the lot done now. Me and the chipper have earned a beer.

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Actually, three beers. Mmmmm ... that was a GOOD day!

Mountains of mulch! The chipper earned its keep today. And I still have some prunings to process ... ... See MoreSee Less


Mountains of mulch! The chipper earned its keep today. And I still have some prunings to process ...

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I loved that chipper lol

Kate Brooks Johnny Brooks - this is what I was talking about!

So awesome, Wendy!

It's a good machine at this scale, though I need to put the chippings through again to get them small enough for easy use on the growing beds. It's made a big difference to the quality and longevity of my mulch, and also to the amount of mycorrhizal fungi in the soil. I bulk up the prunings with some pine from a nearby tip where the local spoonmakers dump all their shavings. Roughly 1/3 pine to 2/3 prunings. Very happy with the results so far.

So jealous!!! :-)

so you would recommend this chipper?

Wow that's a great chipper. Can I ask where you got if?

Yes I'd recommend the chipper. It's an Eliet Minor 4S and I got it off ebay in the UK for a fantastic price. Had only been used 4 times. I have no idea why I was so lucky with this one as all the other Eliet shredders listed had a lot of people bidding on them. They've changed the design now to blow the chippings out through a high level exit chute and I can see why. With this one you do constantly need to clear the chippings away from the exit, but I like the fact that they're more easily contained and not flying through the air as I don't have a lot of room for manoeuvre on these narrow terraces. It has a 'serious gardener' kind of capability, so won't handle anything too chunky, but I couldn't stretch to the professional ones.

Good work sure itll look lovely soon

Kate Brooks, Grandfather had a leaf grinder, that is why his pieces were smaller.

one more question, horse power?

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And then there were none ... Sad to report both chickens were killed today. I found their bodies at the end of the terrace where I'd put the most monofilament fishing line across the open spaces and through the trees. I'd be very surprised if it was a hawk this time. No sign of any disturbance elsewhere. But the electric fence has been off because the energiser failed. I'm wondering about the new cat ... :-( ... See MoreSee Less


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How had they died ?

Sorry for your loss 💚.

Oh that's a shame. Chickens are a bit big for cats but mongoose and polecats are viscious so it's a possibility. Rats will take chicks again depending on size. It's a battle between you and the wildlife

Was this in the day? We've just started free ranging ours since we moved to Vale Verde and was concerned about their safety but we do have our one larger dog stay amongst them (she eats their poo, not our choice BTW) so hoped she would ward off daytime predators.

What a shame Wendy- hope you can find replacements kx

I doubt it was the cat. Can be the mongoose, I see them daylight in cerdeira quite often lately. Than at dark it could also be Genet or the usual ferret kinds. Or fox, they are bold enough yo come in day time. Geese is the answer ;)

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Rain! At last! ... See MoreSee Less


Rain! At last!

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looking all magical and lovely xxx

Sturdy Bamboo... and I see the geodesic dome back there?

Cherry and peach blossom, and all the beds in the yurt garden now composted and mulched with chipped prunings for a new growing season. ... See MoreSee Less


Cherry and peach blossom, and all the beds in the yurt garden now composted and mulched with chipped prunings for a new growing season.

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Congratulations on that Chestnut portico you built a couple of years back, it looks superb!

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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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

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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

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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.

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Yurt makeover

October 5th, 2014. Post by Quinta do Vale

The yurt has been my home for 5 years now. It’s stood up to the extremes of Portuguese weather reasonably well, especially after building a porch to protect the doorway (4 years ago) and covering it with shade netting to stop the canvas disintegrating in the sun (3 years ago). It’s settled nicely into the landscape and as the gardens mature around it, is becoming less and less obtrusive.

The yurt becoming part of the landscape

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