Archive for the ‘Climate and weather’ Category


Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

Forest fires near Leiria. Photo by Hélio Madeiras, Força Especial de Bombeiros

Forest fires near Leiria. Photo by Hélio Madeiras, Força Especial de Bombeiros

Where to begin?

Where to end?

Forest fires in Portugal are a huge subject. Very few of them are accidental. Yet even while the causes are deliberate and fairly simple, what turns fire into firestorm and fueled 2017’s events, allowing them to become so devastating, is more complex.

But that’s for another post. This one is devoted to a very personal experience of them.


It’s not often I write about things like this here. It’s not so much what this site is about. But if it contributes to raising awareness of what thousands so close to home have been through against a background of media silence, if it becomes part of a movement to bring an end to this phase in Portugal’s history, if it offers some help to the many people who have lost everything they owned and been shaken to the core by these fires, then it will have achieved its purpose.


Extreme weather

Thursday, April 21st, 2016

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.


Catch the rain

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

With the addition of guttering to the roofs of the buildings we’re renovating, it’s always been the intention to catch and store the rainwater runoff. It’s at this time of year, when the land is parched and the stream down to its bare minimum, that a few thousand litres can make all the difference. The east side of the quinta furthest from the stream suffers the most. Here it’s so dry it’s been pointless trying to establish new plantings or even dream of growing annuals without installing some sort of irrigation to support them. Long-term, the aim is to grow ground cover plants and shrubs that, over time, will increase the moisture holding capacity of the soil by adding organic material to it, and shading the soil from the harshest effects of the sun, but until we get to that point – and even when we do – water in the summer will be important.

Offloading IBC tanks - or at least attempting to


Floresta Portuguesa Sustentável – Sustainable Forests for Portugal

Sunday, September 16th, 2012

In the wake of the large increase in the number of forest fires in this area this summer – the latest last night around Barril de Alva – a group of us, both foreign and Portuguese, started up a Facebook page and group to discuss how we might go about encouraging landowners to move away from the highly flammable eucalyptus and Maritime pine plantations and start planting a mixed, biodiverse forest based around indigenous species rather than these hugely destructive and unsustainable cash crops.

Eucalyptus flower on forest floor


Growing ponds

Friday, July 27th, 2012

Continuing the water storage theme, the bottom ponds have expanded again. We have yet to fill the top ponds – there hasn’t been enough water coming down the stream to do so without compromising the water supply for our neighbours further downstream. This small expansion of about 1,000 litres’ capacity gives us a much deeper section to the top pond, as well as increasing the amount of bank in contact with water and allowing us to extend the growing area. It also potentially allows us to take water further along the terrace once this dry spell is over and we have an adequate flow of water again.

Digging the new pond section


Rainwater harvesting

Friday, July 27th, 2012

It’s been a busy month and my lack of posts are a reflection of the amount of work that’s going on here rather than an absence of it! (If you’re on Facebook, then I often post briefer updates on the Quinta’s page there.)

This year’s lack of rain has focused a lot of attention on our water supply and fact that we have very little storage capacity on the quinta. As luck would have it, Liam, the newest member of the team, just happens to be an expert in building ferrocement water tanks, so after finishing the rear roof, we moved on to excavating a site for a water tank which will be part of a rainwater harvesting system collecting water for irrigation.

Site for rainwater harvesting storage tank

The tank site (marked in orange) with very necessary shade netting for the benefit of the diggers. We like to treat our chain gangs well here …


Water of life

Monday, April 16th, 2012

What a difference a fortnight can make. True to the Portuguese saying “Em Abril, águas mil” (lit. in April, a thousand waters), April showers began on April 1st, breaking the long spell of drought we’ve had since a few downpours in early November. Really though, it hasn’t rained ‘properly’ since last May. The amount that’s fallen so far is still small and only the top 8cm or so of the soil is damp, but the difference it’s made to the vegetation on the quinta is remarkable. A month ago, the raised beds looked all but empty bar the few stunted cabbages and remaining mangelwurzels that had managed to hold on through the dry winter and its frosts. None of the usual early vegetables were showing any signs of breaking dormancy and only the fruit trees were blossoming.

Now everything is transformed.

Yurt terrace raised beds in mid March

Yurt terrace raised beds in mid April


Wraps off

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Today I took the horticultural fleece off the citrus trees. Not that the danger of frost is past, but it felt like the right time to do it. It’s warming up now and Spring is in the air, even if the drought conditions mean that very little is actually growing. Onions have yet to make an appearance. Last year they were already up in January. No sign of asparagus yet (also up in January last year). The cabbages that have managed to hold on through the combination of desiccating frosts and drought are small and look pretty sorry for themselves. The crab apple is in bloom though, primroses are everywhere and the self-seeded nabos are appearing, though less prolific than in previous years.

Lemon tree frost damage


More ponds … and drought

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

Back in October last year, I began an experiment in pond building. As I wrote then, it’s part of a strategy to retain water for longer in its passage through the quinta. Not just for irrigation purposes, but to increase the range of environments we have for growing and to support a greater diversity of wildlife.

But the ponds are rapidly becoming part of a developing long-term drought mitigation strategy as well. There are evidently years of severe drought here once every decade or so and at the moment it looks very much like that cycle is about to deliver another challenging year.

Top terrace irrigation tank


The heart of the matter

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

Permaculture, yes, but this is only the beginning. The first baby steps. To truly work with nature, not against it, we need to listen to our elder brothers …