Latest news from the quinta

March 25th, 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

Rain! At last! ... See MoreSee Less

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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

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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!

Tonight there's a guest in the yurt. When I went to put the chickens to bed I disturbed a large hawk in the act of plucking one of them. When I first picked her up I thought she was dead, but she's not and after a remedy and sitting on my knee for an hour, she perked up a lot. She's lost a lot of feathers on her back and possibly one eye. She's now asleep in a basket. Might have to rethink the chicken working arrangements again. I was prepared to lose the odd one to hawks but she would have been number 6 had I arrived a minute or two later. And may yet be if the shock proves too great. ... See MoreSee Less

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If you tie up used aluminum plates (used CDs might work as well) to some strings around the chicken enclosure it will protect them from birds of prey. It sounds crazy, I know, but the logic is that the reflection from the plates moving in the wind keeps them away. Check it out, you might find it is worth a try. Good luck to your yurt guest :)

If penned, you can use cord or strong criss crossed across the top of the pen. Hawks need a long take off, so although they'd be able to land in the run , they'll know that they won't get out, so that will deter them.

Yes I've come across both these techniques before. The trouble is that I move the chickens every 4 weeks or so as they're my land-clearing team. They're contained by electric mesh fencing which is fine for non-airborne predators, but not so great at keeping out the hawks. Maybe I need some moveable posts decked out like maypoles with CDs and the like to put between the trees?

I read an article a while ago about a farmer who made 'jackets' for her chickens, the type you use when a chicken is being over -mated . She sewed large eyes on to their backs which fooled the hawks into thinking that were larger animals and it worked for her. We had a hawk recently who tried to attack over several days, unsuccessfully as he was foiled by the dogs and the ducks! We kept the chickens locked up for a few days and the hawk moved on when it realised no food to be had

This is the poor chicken who got attacked. She's a friendly soul.

Just wondering - do you have a rooster as well? Or maybe a guard goose would help?

Have heard that guinea fowl act as an early warning system... Also good pest control and fine eating ;-)

Rabbits usually notice the birds before the ducks, then the thickens. Rabbits will beat the soil to alert the others and chickens learn to respond. But you will need a good fence to keep the bunnies in, ... creating more problems.

Sorry to hear that Wendy. I have a problem with foxes attacking at noon, from 1 to 4pm! And during the hunting season I have a problem with the hunters' dogs. Last year one entered the coop and savagely attacked my chicken Zabib. Her back was almost gone; i found her on the floor stunned. Anyway, I took her in and put her near the stove and put some antiseptic liquid on her wounds, etc. She survived and now she is with her sisters again. Not only that, i saw her few days ago making a beautiful nest! She sat on eggs last year and had 2 chicks and I think she is doing it again this spring! I hope your chicken will be fine. Hugs <3 <3

If your chicken is wounded, you can apply aloe-vera sap 1 or 2 to times a day. The would will heal quicker than any ointment in the store. Here is a picture of monofilament hawk deterrent. I don't know if it works. www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10203105113781639&set=a.1950713500426.108442.1620296421&type=3&th...

How's the hen mum?

So the hen is still alive. She slept well in the yurt and this morning I took her back to her best friend the red hen who was very happy to see her. She spent the day in the coop. Still hasn't opened her eyes. There was blood from one of them when I found her last night and I wondered if the hawk had pecked her eye out. I very much hope it hasn't attacked both eyes as I'm not sure a blind chicken is going to be able to cope very well. Today I strung some monofilament fishing line between all the fruit trees and the edge of the electric fence. I think this will be a lot easier to remove and redo than any kind of net.

Oh no :( poor hen. Stupid f*cking hawk. I want to poke its eyes out 😠

Today's update: the hen is slowly recovering from her ordeal. She still has the injured eye closed but has opened the other. She's not moving about much but is drinking and eating a little. I think the prognosis is a lot better now.

Today the hen was back to scratching about with her pal the red hen. The injured eye is still closed as you can see in the photo, but the other is back to its bright beadiness. I'm very impressed with her. Chickens tend to give up the ghost pretty easily in my experience, but this girl is one tough cookie.

Today Merida opened her injured eye and laid an egg.

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This is the second module of the 16-day Natural Building Course 2017 at Terra Alta (www.facebook.com/terra.alta.permaculture). It will cover ecological sewerage treatment methods, focusing mainly on the theory and practice of installing a vermicomposting flush toilet system.

This system combines all the ecological advantages of a dry composting toilet system with the user-friendliness and convenience of a flush toilet. It has a 20-year history of trouble-free use by the system’s originator in the USA. The simplified version of the system developed here in Portugal requires minimal maintenance compared to dry systems and has significant environmental advantages over conventional septic tanks. It needs no energy input or machinery and utilises low cost components, many of which can be sourced from existing waste streams. It can now be used in approved housebuilding and renovation projects in some areas of Portugal under the provisions for “septic tank with drainage”.

The workshop will also cover other methods of ecological sewerage treatment for situations where a vermicomposting system may not be so optimal.

The practical part of the workshop will involve participants in the installation of 3 new vermicomposting toilets for Terra Alta. We will also show how the system can be retrofitted to existing septic tank sanitation systems and include grey water processing.

This weekend workshop can be booked separately or as part of the 16-day Natural Building course. Please note the times given in this event are approximate.

Facilitators: Wendy Howard & Vera Filipa Ripley

For further details, see Terra Alta's site - terralta.org/natural-building-workshop/

Ecological Sewerage Treatment Weekend WorkshopJune 17, 2017, 10:00amTerra AltaThis is the second module of the 16-day Natural Building Course 2017 at Terra Alta (www.facebook.com/terra.alta.permaculture). It will cover ecological sewerage treatment methods, focusing mainly on the theory and practice of installing a vermicomposting flush toilet system.

This system combines all the ecological advantages of a dry composting toilet system with the user-friendliness and convenience of a flush toilet. It has a 20-year history of trouble-free use by the system’s originator in the USA. The simplified version of the system developed here in Portugal requires minimal maintenance compared to dry systems and has significant environmental advantages over conventional septic tanks. It needs no energy input or machinery and utilises low cost components, many of which can be sourced from existing waste streams. It can now be used in approved housebuilding and renovation projects in some areas of Portugal under the provisions for “septic tank with drainage”.

The workshop will also cover other methods of ecological sewerage treatment for situations where a vermicomposting system may not be so optimal.

The practical part of the workshop will involve participants in the installation of 3 new vermicomposting toilets for Terra Alta. We will also show how the system can be retrofitted to existing septic tank sanitation systems and include grey water processing.

This weekend workshop can be booked separately or as part of the 16-day Natural Building course. Please note the times given in this event are approximate.

Facilitators: Wendy Howard & Vera Filipa Ripley

For further details, see Terra Alta's site - terralta.org/natural-building-workshop/
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Ecological Sewerage Treatment Weekend Workshop

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The first batch of tangerine marmalade made from the casualties of the -10℃ temperatures in January is so good, that's what's happening to the rest of the crop. ... See MoreSee Less

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The first batch of tangerine marmalade made from the casualties of the -10℃ temperatures in January is so good, thats whats happening to the rest of the crop.

Comment on Facebook

Sounds tasty - but wow, -10c? I had actually heard some locals say the same around Coja/Arganil area but I thought it was an exaggeration. One of the benefits of being on top of a small hill (ie. not in the valley) is that we only got down to -4c but could see that dense freezing fog below us.

Wow👌👌👌

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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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

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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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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.

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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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