Latest news from the quinta

October 24th, 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

The banana lives!! ... See MoreSee Less

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The banana lives!!

 

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small yet vital. Life always finds the way 🧚‍♀️

Hurray!

Goosebumps.

Our land was destroyed in the fires along with the bananas, papayas and avocados we had on the front terrace but we're hoping for a similar miracle - so great to see this!!

It's a start! Other beautiful things will start growing again.

Good luck! Our thoughts and best wishes go with you.👍

So devastating for you, but glad you have hope x

Nature is incredible

So sad your loss, positive things will happen, sending my love ❤️❤️

A joy to see this beautiful plant in all the blackness <3

Strong banana, good banana, thanks for the message-banana! 😍

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Some post-inferno images from the quinta. The most surprising things survived ... rolls of plastic water pipe and conduit right next to the burned out greenhouse. A chair amidst all the rubble of the wee house. There is still some green amidst the black and brown. It will be Spring before I know what trees will or won't survive. So much destruction to an already-fragile ecosystem it's heartbreaking ... ... See MoreSee Less

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Heartbreaking to see the destruction of your beautiful space 💔

Thank you for posting and I am glad you survived, if in a somewhat bruised state. I think more will survive than you expect! Nature is tough but you have given build up some resilience with your activities. One of the big dangers will be erosion if it rains allot before the groundcover reestablishes itself. Wishing you the best from a cold wet Germany.

Such a devastating time. Hopefully you will be back on your feet very soon.

so heartbreaking Wendy but I am so pleased you are as ok as you could be... lots of love and best wishes xxx

I have been following you for a while now dreaming of having my own Quinta one day & watching the fantastic progress you have made - totally in awe of you, the love you put into the land, your gentle & wise approach... i am so sorry for all this destruction & send you all my best wishes & strength from the mountains in France💕

O goodness :( must've been pretty scary. Glad you're okay but sad looking at the pics of all your hard work frazzled.

I've also been following you (rather silently, I'm afraid) and have been amazed at all the great work you've done. I hope to goodness the government does something to stop all this destruction. I wish you luck, urge you not to give up because you have a lot to give and send you my very best wishes.

Thank you for this write up. I've been following your progress for a while and am so sorry for this destruction. But thanks again for the update. So much to learn.

I also follow quietly. The bones of the Quinta look strong! Although this is so very awful to look at, (and I imagine the smell is dreadful), your permaculture principles shine through.

so sorry to see this destruction. at least you have proof that your footprint is minimal! hope you find the will to re-build. sending love Kx

Another quiet follower here, so sorry for your loss, you guys were (and are) a big inspiration to a lot of us who dream to have there own quinta one day, unfortunately the ones who try to get closer to nature and natural way of life, get bitten by fire that resulted mostly by the ones who don't care about nature, climate change, industrial tree plantations and all other points you guys and the rest of us try to fight, but I am also sure you will get up again, just like a Phoenix out of the ashes!!! (after all, ashes are one of nature's way of regenerating the soil.)

Thanks for posting and sharing Wendy, heartbreaking and back breaking stuff. Hope your land is as resilient as you are

Everybody being threatened for their lives by the fires will be much more affected and traumatised by it than well kept natural surroundings. You have built so much soil and theres so much organic matter that i am convinced you will see your quinta resprout soonest and thrive once again. Heartbreaking to see the destruction to the dome and wee house but given time and spirit also these can and will be rebuild. Most important after this massive blow will be to care for yourself and the dear people around you. Celebrate life ! Abraço forte

Sorry to hear of what has happened to your wonderful place. I wish you all the best fortune for the future and hope that you can turn this tragedy around and into something even more beautiful.

I hope the rain comes in abondance and takes away the burnt stink. Oh my. It looks aweful now. The rains will bring big change you will see

This is awful. So sorry to see the damage but be strong, rebuild and adapt. The world needs people like you more now than ever before. I won't be back in Portugal until spring but if you like, I could come by and lend a hand for a few days

Oh Wendy! After a previous post I thought the fires had stopped short of your quinta. Sooo sad. Our hearts are heavy seeing the destruction to our olive trees (just before what promised to be a bumper harvest too) and the vines but we know the majority of them will be back next year (though some will have been stunted of 50 to 100 years of growth). But there are benefits that have have followed the fires too: so much land that was overgrown and unworked is now clear and usable and although tube was burned all over the mountain we can now see the old lavadas and can relay the tubes where they run well and can be easily covered to protect them next time there is a fire. I hope you find some positives.

www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/quintadovale - mum I don't know if you're able to follow but people have donated £1405 so far ☺️ hopefully you can get some normality back soon xxxx

💚

Sorry for your loss. Best of luck picking up the pieces... X

i'm a silent follower of your amazing project, i always find your post very inspiring, and this ones are not exception, as a quinta owner myself i feel inspired more than ever by your project <3

So sorry to hear this, so much work undone, at least your safe. good luck with rebuilding, if you need anything let us know. we are collecting clothes etc from people from our area and are delivering to your area in two weeks.

Kimberly Manchee

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Two nights ago with the wind from the hurricane, the fires started up again. They came from two directions at the rim of the valleys and completely enclosed us. No way out. So we stayed. As the two fronts came to converge in Benfeita, we barricaded the children in the church while anyone who was able fought the fires in the streets. Several houses in the village burned. The whole of Central Portugal was burning. The bombeiros were stretched impossibly thin, so we fought the fire ourselves alongside the local people. Our two presidentes, incoming and outgoing, were unbelievable - constantly at the front line, back burning where they could, never stopping. We have no power, no phones, no internet, except at the very tops.

Some of us have lost everything. Some of us have lost some, but not all. Nobody is unaffected. The fires consumed everything.

At the quinta, I was able to water some areas down before we evacuated and set sprinklers on the yurt. Our exit was blocked by fire so I had to leave the car behind and we left on foot carrying the cats in baskets. The chickens and geese had to fend for themselves. At some hour of the night I sat in the village and watched the wee house burn. It and the geodome greenhouse are gone. The main building and the yurt survived unscathed. The cob bathroom is part burned where the woodstore next to it went up. Amazingly, the geese and chickens are OK and unbelievably the car survived with only slight melting of the rear lights and registration plate. Water lines are burned and electrical wiring melted but the solar equipment survived although some of the panels are toast. The entire landscape is black and smoking. Even after last night's rain, trees roots are still smouldering and the air is still smoky.

Last night we got together in the house of friends who's house and power system survived to charge phones and talk. One long-time resident, the first foreigners here, looked up from contemplating the total loss of everything he has, punched the air with his fist and said "We go on!" For me, that was the defining moment. We go on.
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Two nights ago with the wind from the hurricane, the fires started up again. They came from two directions at the rim of the valleys and completely enclosed us. No way out. So we stayed. As the two fronts came to converge in Benfeita, we barricaded the children in the church while anyone who was able fought the fires in the streets. Several houses in the village burned. The whole of Central Portugal was burning. The bombeiros were stretched impossibly thin, so we fought the fire ourselves alongside the local people. Our two presidentes, incoming and outgoing, were unbelievable - constantly at the front line, back burning where they could, never stopping. We have no power, no phones, no internet, except at the very tops. 

Some of us have lost everything. Some of us have lost some, but not all. Nobody is unaffected. The fires consumed everything. 

At the quinta, I was able to water some areas down before we evacuated and set sprinklers on the yurt. Our exit was blocked by fire so I had to leave the car behind and we left on foot carrying the cats in baskets. The chickens and geese had to fend for themselves. At some hour of the night I sat in the village and watched the wee house burn. It and the geodome greenhouse are gone. The main building and the yurt survived unscathed. The cob bathroom is part burned where the woodstore next to it went up. Amazingly, the geese and chickens are OK and unbelievably the car survived with only slight melting of the rear lights and registration plate. Water lines are burned and electrical wiring melted but the solar equipment survived although some of the panels are toast. The entire landscape is black and smoking. Even after last nights rain, trees roots are still smouldering and the air is still smoky. 

Last night we got together in the house of friends whos house and power system survived to charge phones and talk. One long-time resident, the first foreigners here, looked up from contemplating the total loss of everything he has, punched the air with his fist and said We go on!  For me, that was the defining moment. We go on.

 

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Corrine Bunty O'Brien #thismattersmore

My thoughts are with you and I admire your courage. After such a year I am so sorry to hear that the fires reached you.

Pffff. Heavy stuff. Lots of respect!! Was Benfeita itself and fraga da pena hurt by the fires??

What a risk, escaping on foot! I am so glad that you are all safe. I can only imagine the heartbreak. Stay strong.

Dear Wendy, thank you for sharing your story. My heart goes out to all of you there..so sad about all that was lost..But if nature teaches us one lesson it is resilience. Be strong and coureageous as all you up there are in your community. You will resprout, you will rebuild. Força ! Lots of love

omg, all the best

Heartbreaking losses 💔 your gracious attitude speaks volumes ❤️ best of intentions sent your way 🌱

I am so sorry and sad for you. But fortunately not all your farm is lost and you will and can go on! I remember fighting to save our farm - it was very intense - we were very fortunate - it was a big life lesson. Take very good care of yourselves!

My heart is with you and all the others. Wish you can recover from this tragedy soon. Peace.

A courageous battle....keep your spirits up!

Stay safe!

I love you to the moon and back mum 😍 we'll have you on your feet as soon as possible ❤️ strongest wendy lady I ever did know 🙌

All the best..carry on!

so, so sorry :(

Spencer Topa

Oh my, my heart is with you all. Very sad, but at least you, the furies & feathers are OK.

What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. My heart goes out to you.

Glad you're safe. It must be heart breaking to see flames take hold of your home, land and hard work. We were evacuated last year during fires in Spain and it was scary but fortunately the fires managed to be controlled. If/when you need help rebuilding I'd be glad to visit. Take care and keep going xx

I can't tell you how sorry I am, but please go on, please don't give up. <3

What a terrifying and yet unifying experience. I am sad to know of your loss having read your adventures for some time. I look forward to reading many more.

I discovered your blog and later your facebook page when I was considering a move to Portugal to set up and do as you have done. Although those plans fell through, your example has been inspiring. I am sure that you are all devastated by the losses incurred in these horrendous fires but please know that as useless it may be, people all over the world are thinking of you. I hope that you do go on. I hope that your example can continue to give inspiration to those who find you. The land will grow again. Walls and doors can be replaced. Take care of yourself and your community. It is a wonderful thing you all have in each other. "The problem is the solution." - Mr. Mollison. I am not sure how that is going to help here, but I greatly look forward to reading your posts on how you overcame the great fire of 2017. Best wishes from S. Korea. Andy Wright (Watson for FB purposes)

Wendy, so sorry for what you and everyone in Benfeita have gone through, just devastating.

Go on!!! Please!!!!

Très émue mais heureuse que vous et vos compagnons soyez saufs.Vous ne manquez pas de courage, organisez la solidarité pour ceux qui ont tout perdu et n'ont pas d'assurance.

How sad

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are these tree seeds on your property? i've been working on a tree seed bank for the last couple of months, was hoping to make connections with others for seed swapping ,,,,,,, hoping to grow a food forest in the future

Chestnuts endangered here. Criminal offense to mess with one. Even to collect fruit.

The ridge line last night. The recent fire which started at 23:20 Friday evening near Fajão and made it over the ridge into these valleys on Saturday night is finally out. Now we are patrolling for reignitions. ... See MoreSee Less

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The ridge line last night. The recent fire which started at 23:20 Friday evening near Fajão and made it over the ridge into these valleys on Saturday night is finally out. Now we are patrolling for reignitions.

 

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Que não se reacenda e que venha depressa a chuva!!

So so pleased to hear that the fire is out. I'm now familiar with the mental and physical exhaustion that sets in when on constant fire watch. Sending strength x

That's very sad to see. I hope not too many animsls lost their lives. Unfortunately these fires are becoming more frequent world wide. Here in Australia we are on watch as we head into what is going to be a hot summer. Fires have begun already.

Good to hear the fire is out.

Constructing a raised wooden floor in the greenhouse to allow for the creation of the worm farm below. The floor of the worm farm will be concreted, shaped, sloped and waterproofed so exudates run into a collecting pot and can then be used as a foliar feed for vegetables growing in the aquaponics tanks. The floorboards aren't fixed, so simply lift up to feed the worms. ... See MoreSee Less

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Constructing a raised wooden floor in the greenhouse to allow for the creation of the worm farm below. The floor of the worm farm will be concreted, shaped, sloped and waterproofed so exudates run into a collecting pot and can then be used as a foliar feed for vegetables growing in the aquaponics tanks. The floorboards arent fixed, so simply lift up to feed the worms.

 

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How exciting 👏😀

Bruce O'Shire

Impressed

Now that's clever! Are you all engineers and craftsmen/ladies?

I love your work. Your project has been truly inspirational for me.

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Already?!! Everything is at least a month early this year! ... See MoreSee Less

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Already?!! Everything is at least a month early this year!

 

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When do you know they're ready? First year harvest for us. Thanks.

Apart from Autumn...

Same here in Northern Spain, seems almost 2 months early. Most of our olives are black and we've also just noticed a scary amount of processional caterpillar nests in the pine trees. They're not usually around this early.

I gonna start next week!!!

Ours are still mostly green at both houses. Not sure about the other house. Going to have a look later! The year before last, ours were done and dusted now.

Goodness let's get ffs schedule provisionally organized for olive picking..I'm away Oct 14-28 suspect it will be an immediate necessity when I get back. I've just a few turning black. I noticed in France the olive trees were already turning and abundant! I've got loads this year too after 2 years of sparsity.

Wow! I might actually be there at the right time to harvest them for once 😁

Hi! Those olives look great. Do you have any tips for curing the olives? Most of our olives seem to be infested with some pest bugs, so we dont have enough good ones to make much oil and I am picking them just for curing. First time! Does it have to be 10% salt brine or is using less salt possible? Thanks! :)

The olives are falling off withered and black. No rain...

Wow 😍

Oh I would love olive trees.

Lovely crop

Olives for all, even those of us who's wells have dried up first time in my own 11 years here. 😅

Mine are also ready for picking and the lagar in this area will open for pressing next week. Some people have already started harvesting as they are said to be okay being kept in bags for two weeks provided the bags are closed airtight and in a cool/shadowy place

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Medlars (Mespilus germanica). ... See MoreSee Less

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Medlars (Mespilus germanica).

 

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nice when soft

The saga of the communal building

August 9th, 2017. Post by Quinta do Vale

It’s been a while since I posted about progress on the main building. More than 3 years, in fact. You’d think in that time it would be finished, but no …

This building – what will eventually be the communal ‘hub’ of the quinta – has presented me and those who’ve worked on it with a lot of challenges. Many more by far than anything else on the quinta. As a task master, it’s been strict and demanding. As a critique of workmanship, it’s been uncompromising. With a relentless insistence, it’s defied attempts to make do with ‘good enough’. Any work that’s fallen short – either by me or builders working on it – has been slapped back in our faces and has had to be done again. I don’t even want to think about the cost, but it’s been far more than budgeted, both in money and time, and it’s still a good way from being finished.

By turns it’s puzzled and confused me; dismayed and depressed me. For a long time I simply couldn’t understand why everything to do with it should have to be so difficult, especially when everything else was going so well. What was I missing? For nearly two years (while waiting for work to be completed and then redone … yet again …) it seemed like too much to give headspace to and I simply turned my back on it and got on with other projects.

The communal building when we first saw the quinta

The communal building as it was when we first saw the quinta

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Greenhouse grow dome

July 23rd, 2017. Post by Quinta do Vale

Why would anyone need a greenhouse in Portugal? Given adequate water and soil fertility, the climate provides more or less ideal growing conditions pretty much year round. General climatic conditions though are one thing. Specific microclimates are another. This quinta has mountain ridges to the south and west and doesn’t get much heat from the sun early in the year. As a result, the clay soils are slow to warm in Spring. Any summer vegetable planted out much before May tends to stand still and then take a while to get going again once soil temperatures rise, so peppers and aubergines frequently don’t get harvested until October and November. A greenhouse in the sunniest spot on the quinta would make a huge difference. I could grow plants from seed in early Spring, bring them on while the soils warm up, and overwinter those which can be effectively perennialised for an early start the following Spring.

I also wanted to experiment with aquaponics to find a way of growing vegetables intensively without the need for supplemental irrigation.

The completion of the geodesic dome greenhouse was consequently eagerly anticipated. The covers went on at the end of April. Seeds were sown and plantings made. And since then, I’ve been revising my ideas of how growing our food here can be achieved almost as fast as the plants themselves have been growing.

Geodesic dome greenhouse covers installed, end of April 2017

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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

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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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