Latest news from the quinta

December 19th, 2014. 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

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Many thanks to an awesome team of local women (the youngest just 2) who helped me relocate all the stuff stored in the bottom room of the wee house today so renovations can begin! This life is about community as well as self-sufficiency ... (2 photos) ... See MoreSee Less

6 days ago

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Somesh De Swardt, Gillian Kok and 23 others like this

Michelle Sheridanall hands on deck when needed-fantastic and exciting re wee house :)6 days ago

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8°C in the yurt this morning. Winter has arrived. Porridge ... mmmmmm ... ... See MoreSee Less

2 weeks ago

Marta Gillette, Jessie Duncan and 23 others like this

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Sarah Whiteheadmuch colder here, lovely glittering frost everywhere and THE SUN HAS COME OUT, finally after 5 days of gloomy darkness wet and horrid UK weather2 weeks ago
Quinta do ValeFirst frost on the quinta last night too.2 weeks ago   ·  1
Karina SzilagyiBrr! Passably warm in our kitchen this morning, but porridge nevertheless! :)2 weeks ago   ·  1
Gypsie Misfitsame here it looked lush this morning!!!2 weeks ago
Edward Alexander HendryBit chilly on Abla this morning.2 weeks ago
Maurice PoulinWhen does it get cold?2 weeks ago
Quinta do ValeOh it doesn't get down to your sort of cold Maurice!! Lowest I've known here was -12°C, but most winters it bottoms out around -6°C. 8°C in the yurt first thing in the morning generally translates to 0 to -5°C outside. But mean temperatures for the winter months here are above freezing. Portugal doesn't know what to do with snow. The whole country comes to a standstill with less than an inch.2 weeks ago   ·  3

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When Organics Goes Bad
Organic agriculture alone isn't the answer. It can be almost as destructive of the environment as conventional agriculture.
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Watch this short 3 minute video as I explain why sometimes, going organic is not sustainable or even good for the environment ~ When Organics Goes Bad. Subscribe for free to www.geofflawton.com for m...

2 weeks ago

Joao Luis Canelhas Chaves, Margaret Cavanagh and 15 others like this

Piet VerdonckIt didn't go bad because of organic agriculture but because of the other things like exploitation of people, irrigation with salt water, etc... Traditional agriculture under the same conditions would be worse ! Regrettable there is not enough attention in this video for this fact !2 weeks ago   ·  1
Quinta do ValeThe point Geoff's making is that industrial-style agriculture - pursued without regard to sustainable husbandry of the land and its resources - has much the same end results whether or not it's organic. It's not enough just to stop using chemicals. You have to do more than that. You have to change the whole way you farm. For starters, design the land for maximum retention and infiltration of surface water, restoring groundwater rather than depleting it. Pay attention to soil regeneration and building organic content of the soil for further water retention, rather than monocropping in bare soil. As Geoff's proved in Jordan and other desert environments, it's possible to return even land as arid as this to fertility and production without tapping into groundwater supplies. It's also been done on a large scale in China in restoring the Loess Plateau to fertility. It's all about design and husbandry.2 weeks ago   ·  4
Piet VerdonckI know, organics goes bad because of bad business people who only pursue profit and who don't have affinity with the alternative way of life!2 weeks ago   ·  1

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Another episode of Mental Matching Machinery Malfunctions ... a nearby friend just popped up on FB chat looking for help because her inverter had thrown an error state and she had no power, no idea what it was about, and no idea what to do. Luckily I was able to help, but only because mine had done exactly the same thing with an identical error state not one hour beforehand. Oh, and her vehicle is off the road. Timing belt broke ... ... See MoreSee Less

4 weeks ago

Veronica Balfour Paul, Clare Monson and 8 others like this

Michelle Sheridangetting a bit spooky on them mountains....4 weeks ago   ·  2

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The autumn rains and cooler temperatures have brought the chickweed (Stellaria media) on in leaps and bounds. It's a staple ingredient of winter salads here. As soil fertility improves on the quinta, so does chickweed's range and each year there is more and more of it. ... See MoreSee Less

4 weeks ago

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Michael Sabert, Veronica Balfour Paul and 23 others like this

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Kate MacLeanCulpepper had it as a cure for headaches I think...4 weeks ago
Suzann MannBest young I would guess. Never had but weeded it more than I like to admit4 weeks ago
Lovisa Luise MagnúsdóttirI love, love, love chickweed!! I met it first when I was a teenager because my budgies loved it, but later I read in Susun Weed's book "Healing Wise" (get it! read it!) about it and since then it's one of my favourite salad greens and walk snacks. Such a wonderful plant! :) Here's an article about chickweed on Susun Weed's webpage. Not as exhaustive as what she writes in the book, but interesting nevertheless: www.susunweed.com/Article_Chickweed-A-Star.htm4 weeks ago   ·  3
Michelle Sheridannoted a huge amount of this growing at ours before I left and spreading like mad...4 weeks ago   ·  1
Andrea At CasalinhoTry making a 'pickle' with it. Rinse, cook gently until it collapses on itself, mix with a little honey and a little vinegar. Perfect use for an old Marmite jar! Very tasty in a cheese sandwich.4 weeks ago   ·  1

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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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Sourdough bread

October 4th, 2014. Post by Quinta do Vale

After accidentally discovering natural sodas, I’ve been keen to explore natural fermentation more. Sourdough bread was an obvious development. I already bake most of the bread eaten here and like to have a variety.

Making sourdough bread is a fascinating, rewarding, exasperating and infuriating process, frequently all at once. It’s never the same from one bake to the next, especially when you live most of your life outside and use a wood-fired oven. It takes a lot longer than making bread with fresh or dried yeast, and the way the starter behaves is very dependent on prevailing ambient temperatures, not to mention changes in the natural yeast population, so with the more unpredictable weather this summer, more than once I was caught out by a cooler-than-expected day which threw all my timings. As I learned more and more with every batch, each time I’d start the process thinking “this time I’ll nail it!” and each time I’d be proved wrong.

For a good while I thought this was down to my inexperience with it, but then I learned from the son of an Australian baker and sourdough specialist that it’s always like this and after 30 years he feels he’s only now properly getting to master it. Yet there is a reward in the process, let alone the taste of the final product, that goes beyond the occasional frustration. It is very definitely worth it.

Sourdough bread baked in the cob oven

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September 10th, 2014. Post by Quinta do Vale

I had been thinking for some time on how to tackle the issue of refrigeration on the quinta. An early experiment hadn’t been encouraging. It’s all very well using a zeer pot for a few items (I have one in the yurt made from 2 large plant pots), but when there’s volunteers or guests staying, it’s a lot less practical. I found myself torn between the desire the keep it low tech and cool things naturally, and having the convenience of somewhere I could easily store more sensitive foods like meat and even indulge in the occasional ice cream. I don’t eat a lot of meat, but I have two cats and a dog who do. With the price of pet food rising while the quality plummets, I’d also been thinking about making my own animal food. This would be a lot more tricky without a fridge.

Zeer pot used for refrigeration in the yurt

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Wild carrot jelly

August 21st, 2014. Post by Quinta do Vale

This summer, the terraces are covered in wild carrot – Daucus carota or Bishop’s Lace, Queen Anne’s Lace. This is the original plant from which our familiar domesticated carrots are descended. Slightly ironic then that it should grow in such profusion here when I’ve yet to harvest a decent crop of carrots, but that’s down to the voles getting in there before me rather than any failure of the plants to grow.

In the process of investigating the properties of wild carrot, I discovered some recipes for a jelly made with it. (I try to learn all I can about the wild plants which appear here – dismissing them as ‘weeds’ just because I didn’t plant them seems little short of wilful disregard of a natural treasury bordering on insanity.) The jelly sounded intriguing. I had to give it a try.

Daucus carota or wild carrot growing on the terraces

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Redcurrant recipes

July 17th, 2014. Post by Quinta do Vale

The trouble with turning fruit gluts into sweet preserves is that I don’t have a particularly sweet tooth and neither, it seems, do most people who stay here. So the store room shelves are usually very well stocked with jams and jellies that are often 2-3 years old because I made such large batches. Recently I’ve taken to making smaller batches, and increasing the variety in both the number of jams and jellies I make and in what I do with the fruit. This has been a lot more successful in actually getting things eaten. So here are the redcurrant recipes used this year …


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A portable rocket stove

July 2nd, 2014. Post by Quinta do Vale

A year or so ago I salvaged a couple of tin cans from the local dump. From the moment I laid eyes on them they were shouting “portable rocket stove!”. They’ve sat around waiting for me to find the time and inclination to put them together ever since, but a friend moving onto a nearby quinta with no cooking facilities finally spurred me into action. In my head, I’d already worked out exactly how the stove was to be made, so it took very little time to assemble. In fact, it all happened so quickly, I didn’t even get any ‘before’ photos.

Making a portable rocket stove out of junk

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We are crowdfunding!

June 18th, 2014. Post by Quinta do Vale

This video explains …

And the campaign is hosted here.

The vermicomposting flush toilet completed

June 8th, 2014. Post by Quinta do Vale

Last year I wrote about our installation of a vermicompositing flush toilet – a worm composting system for a conventional flush toilet – in the outhouse for the wee house. It was all ready and set to go for a good while, minus the worms, but we couldn’t start using it until we had a water supply to the wee house since there would be nothing to flush with until we did.

With the completion of the quinta’s water storage and distribution system in February, I could at last commission the system.

Outhouse toilet featuring a composting flush toilet

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