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August 24th, 2016. 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

Quinta do Vale at Quinta do Vale.

The lower terrace 2 years after installing 3 pond-fed swales. The year before, this area in August was dry dead grass - brown, dusty and devoid of almost all life.
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The lower terrace 2 years after installing 3 pond-fed swales. The year before, this area in August was dry dead grass - brown, dusty and devoid of almost all life.

Luísa Mano, Emma McDonald and 23 others like this

Sandrine Ferwerda CoosemansLooking amazing. Your hard work paid off!

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Kate HolmesWow. That is very impressive.

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Veronica Balfour PaulAnd much less of a fire risk. I hope people can learn from your examples:)

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Sandrine Ferwerda CoosemansI was wondering, did it take a big investment (I mean money) to get stuff to plant on the swales? Did you buy trees and plants, start things from seed yourself, or did you just sow what we see on the picture now?

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Temperatures have been hovering around 40°C and Northern and Central Portugal are ablaze again. Smoke fills the air this morning. It's hard to take a deep breath without coughing. The morning sun is barely casting a shadow and the village just 400m away is only just visible. Yet there's no significant fire within at least 70km of here.

All the forums and social media are full of the usual cries of "limpar as matas!" (clear the undergrowth in the forests to prevent the fires reaching the crowns of trees - a perennial problem with so much rural depopulation leaving untended and abandoned land) but nobody seems to be talking about the elephant in the room: plantations of Maritime pine and Eucalyptus, two of the most flammable trees on the planet. Eucalyptus alone covers nearly 10% of the land area of the entire country. These trees have a fire ecology. In other words, they've evolved to handle fire and even benefit from it. The understorey in the pine forests is also flammable (there is no understorey in the Eucalyptus plantations) - this is a fire-adapted ecosystem, designed to burn. Absent even Portugal's prodigious population of pyromaniacs, fires in these 'forests' are inevitable. Clearing the understorey is simply trying to make winter go away by brushing the snow from the door.

The indigenous forests of this region - the oaks, chestnuts and other deciduous trees - do not have a fire ecology. Their understorey is not flammable. It doesn't need to be cleared. Deep leaf litter protects the soil from desiccation and death. Streams run year-round. There's only one long-term answer to this annual problem. Restore the deciduous forests!
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Temperatures have been hovering around 40°C and Northern and Central Portugal are ablaze again. Smoke fills the air this morning. Its hard to take a deep breath without coughing. The morning sun is barely casting a shadow and the village just 400m away is only just visible. Yet theres no significant fire within at least 70km of here. 

All the forums and social media are full of the usual cries of limpar as matas! (clear the undergrowth in the forests to prevent the fires reaching the crowns of trees - a perennial problem with so much rural depopulation leaving untended and abandoned land) but nobody seems to be talking about the elephant in the room: plantations of Maritime pine and Eucalyptus, two of the most flammable trees on the planet. Eucalyptus alone covers nearly 10% of the land area of the entire country. These trees have a fire ecology. In other words, theyve evolved to handle fire and even benefit from it. The understorey in the pine forests is also flammable (there is no understorey in the Eucalyptus plantations) - this is a fire-adapted ecosystem, designed to burn. Absent even Portugals prodigious population of pyromaniacs, fires in these forests are inevitable. Clearing the understorey is simply trying to make winter go away by brushing the snow from the door.

The indigenous forests of this region - the oaks, chestnuts and other deciduous trees - do not have a fire ecology. Their understorey is not flammable. It doesnt need to be cleared. Deep leaf litter protects the soil from desiccation and death. Streams run year-round. Theres only one long-term answer to this annual problem. Restore the deciduous forests!

Donna Musselman, Barbara Caldas Amaral and 23 others like this

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Hugo SilvaIt would be curious to see the relations, on a map like this one, of the fires and the eucalyptus and pine plantations.

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Kvinho Richardo BrancoCork oak is a fire species, it has evolved to live and reproduce in forest fire, colin tudge dedicates a chapter to itin his book the secrect life of trees,how they live and why they matter, but yes you are right portugals forestry policy is a shambles and as a species we urgently need to reforest the planet. Stay safe.

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Raquel Ribeiro Silvavery important what you have just said, once we restore our native florest we are solving a big part of the fire problem. Portuguese native florest has much more humidity, provides more shade to the soil and does not dries the soil as much as the pines and eucalyptus, it will also decrease summer temperatures, but in a country where the eucalyptus and pines are such a great part of the national income no one will touch the wound as we say in portugal

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Paul FowlerSuch a shame, economy taking priority over environment

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Emma BruntonBravo!

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Isabel Pereira Dos SantosIf only that would be that simple...

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Ricardo Wragg FreitasTotally agree! The truth is nobody cares. No one knows the difference between an eucalyptus and an oak tree. This image pretty much sums it all up (caption: fortunately only the bush is burning while the forest was saved)

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Maurice Pataponeucalyptus tree suck all the water and stop other species to grow. Mimosa tree too

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Christian Fu MuellerWORD BROTHER, WORD!

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Steven MurrayI have recently moved to Central Portugal, have a very large plot which was already full of pine and eucalyptus and have plans to replace the lot with native species. What would you suggest (particularly Quinta do Vale) should be part of a native mixed forest in Central Portugal? I guess you could say well, look around you, but all I see is miles of pine and eucalyptus unfortunately!

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Paulo FernandesDeciduous oaks are also fire creatures, though in a different way than pines and eucalypts.

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Paulo FernandesIn relation to their land cover importance deciduous forest in Portugal burns only slightly less than eucalypts.

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Quinta do ValeCan you cite data/sources for both of these statements? My understanding is that Q. robur - the erstwhile dominant species in the centre and north and especially close to the coast (wherever it remains) - is negatively affected by fire. Germination rates are much lower following fire. Where forest understorey is not sclerophyllous, then flammability is much reduced. In Galicia, studies on oak stands highlight degradation and poor management as responsible for poor health. I would be surprised if the same didn't apply here. This may increase susceptibility to fire.

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Quinta do Vale shared a Ecosystem Restoration Camps.

Yes!
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Quinta do Vale at Quinta do Vale.

Another part of the quinta soil improvement programme - brewing compost tea. The key to this recipe is air. This gives the emphasis to aerobic rather than anaerobic soil biota. So a pond pump (top left) powers the system. The hessian bag contains the compost plus food for the microorganisms. Brew cycle is around 36-48 hours. The tea is then diluted 1:3 in water and sprayed on the garden.
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Another part of the quinta soil improvement programme - brewing compost tea. The key to this recipe is air. This gives the emphasis to aerobic rather than anaerobic soil biota. So a pond pump (top left) powers the system. The hessian bag contains the compost plus food for the microorganisms. Brew cycle is around 36-48 hours. The tea is then diluted 1:3 in water and sprayed on the garden.

Pam van Engelshoven, Natalie Topa and 16 others like this

Feli DeliCould you please post the whole procedure or a link with more details. Thank you for sharing this.

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Kate HolmesIs your soil acidic? What's growing there or was growing there? Interested as would love to start a programme of improvement on ours but not sure where to start. Do you have a blog I can refer to?

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Quinta do Vale at Quinta do Vale.

Turning a goat shed into a bedroom. After the ceiling was done, we started work on the walls. First stage is to repair and point the dry stone work. This was pretty rough in places. We used a good stiff cob mix for the pointing. After this will be a layer of light clay straw insulation, followed by limewashed earthen plaster.
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Turning a goat shed into a bedroom. After the ceiling was done, we started work on the walls. First stage is to repair and point the dry stone work. This was pretty rough in places. We used a good stiff cob mix for the pointing. After this will be a layer of light clay straw insulation, followed by limewashed earthen plaster.

Grace Gonzales, Ismael Roots and 23 others like this

Eluzabeth Jane Rosson NewtonWe got cobbed Goat shed and animal shed and old wood shed all starting to look like bedrooms too. So cool in this heat and warm in winter . Needing windows and door replacing as using what was here temp at moment as not yet found window door maker yet. Looking great .

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Quinta do Vale at Quinta do Vale.

Tryling a new idea in wood treatment to deter insect attack. Linseed oil, before and after mixing with chilli powder.
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Tryling a new idea in wood treatment to deter insect attack. Linseed oil, before and after mixing with chilli powder.

Jimmy Morais, Edward Ray Van Natta and 13 others like this

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Feli DeliReport on the result please :)

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Kate HolmesInterested to hear if it colours the wood too.

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Kate MacLeankeep it away from your eyes haha!

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Kate MacLeanof course I realise you are going to paint it on wood/cob?/stone

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Kate MacLeanI used to grow Blue Gum trees to keep insects away in Kilmuir, until the winter when it was sub -10 for 5 days and they all died. along with my hehbes

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Joana Ó Maradd some beewax ;)

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Quinta do Vale at Quinta do Vale.

What resulted from the homemade wood stain. Ferrous acetate (made from steeping rusty nails in red wine vinegar) together with the stain made from the green walnuts this week.The solution was diluted 1:3 in water to be applied to cleaned chestnut beams.
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What resulted from the homemade wood stain. Ferrous acetate (made from steeping rusty nails in red wine vinegar) together with the stain made from the green walnuts this week.The solution was diluted 1:3 in water to be applied to cleaned chestnut beams.

Judith Vaughan, Sophie Kempin and 23 others like this

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Karina SzilagyiLovely colour!

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Gail Hart~is it a preservative

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Claire DonnellyNice, n I like the floor- ceiling boards

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Anthony Bantonyou are the best home builder ever

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Quinta do Vale at Quinta do Vale.

One of the highlights of this year has been finally getting the top two ponds full and holding water. This is part of the overall strategy to slow and hold more water on the land but I've learned it takes time - a few years - to get unlined ponds fully established in the landscape. No doubt these will continue to require ongoing adjustments but to have this much water on the quinta at this time of year is a novelty and a treat.
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One of the highlights of this year has been finally getting the top two ponds full and holding water. This is part of the overall strategy to slow and hold more water on the land but Ive learned it takes time - a few years - to get unlined ponds fully established in the landscape. No doubt these will continue to require ongoing adjustments but to have this much water on the quinta at this time of year is a novelty and a treat.

Steve Wilkinson, Sophie Kempin and 23 others like this

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Veronica Balfour Paulamazing. Is it rainwater from the winter?

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Sandrine Ferwerda CoosemansSo if these are unlined ponds... how do they hold their water? I've heard of using pigs, but I don't think you did that?

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Kate HolmesThis is great to see, we are planning our water systems now for the autumn and hoping to make two ponds. One from rainwater and one from a winter fed spring.

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Trude SargeantJust so beautiful! We are not so fortunate to have a running spring-fed river/stream. Plans to utilize rainwater for a cascade of duck ponds are still just that, plans. I am all inspired now, after reading your post. Thanks

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Joaquim CondeIt's great to see your progress. It's been a couple of year since my stop by. I would like to visit you this November when I make my trip there for Olive harvest.

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Quinta do Vale at Quinta do Vale.

Temperatures in the high 30s recently have brought a few green walnuts down. A great opportunity to make some natural dye.
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Temperatures in the high 30s recently have brought a few green walnuts down. A great opportunity to make some natural dye.

Stephen Hendry, Nadine Zdanovich and 13 others like this

Feli DeliWendy, If you could share the method, I would be so grateful. Thanks.

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Quinta do ValeIt's pretty simple. Collect your green walnuts off the ground, smash them with a suitable implement (I used a stone-on-stone method), break them up a bit, add water and boil for a while until the desired depth of colour is achieved. Allow to cool then strain. You could also steep them in ammonia but I didn't have any ammonia handy. You get a dark brown walnutty sort of colour. I plan to mix this with ferrous acetate mordant (made by steeping rusty nails in vinegar). I'm then going to try it as a wood stain, followed by chilli linseed oil, for some interior wood beams. Nothing ventured ... :-)

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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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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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