Archive for the ‘Disasters’ 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.


The saga of the communal building

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

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


Crook chooks

Sunday, June 30th, 2013

It suddenly turned into summer a week ago and with it came summer’s heat. After a day’s work in the garden, I was concerned to find the largest of our four hens, a Cochin-Pescoço pelado crossbreed, down on her haunches and unable to support her own weight. Thinking it was likely the effects of the sudden heat, I made sure she took a good drink of water and put her to bed.

Collapsed hen

Collapsed hen

This particular bird had also produced similar, though less severe symptoms during the coldest winter mornings. Letting her out of the coop in the mornings, there were several occasions when she was unable to walk properly, though in all cases she recovered within 15 minutes or so, so I was anticipating a similar recovery this time.


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


Slow your roll

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

There is a saying about building. There is ‘good’, there is ‘fast’ and there is ‘inexpensive’. You can have any two.

This time last year I hired a local team of builders to put up a balcony and trellis on the main building, finish the schist facing stone on the log store, and re-roof the small building. I knew their work – many foreigners locally have had them turn schist animal houses into habitable structures – and it’s generally reasonable enough for the price, though you get what you pay for. I figured if I didn’t throw too many unfamiliar techniques and materials into the mix they couldn’t go wrong with a simple wooden structure. The main rationale was that they had ready access to the sizeable amount of chestnut timber which was needed to construct the balcony, and which we were struggling to lay our hands on, but in truth I was also succumbing to the frustrations of slow progress.

Finished balcony and trellis


Geodesic dome chicken tractor

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

The next stage in the construction of our suite of deluxe chicken accommodation is to provide them with some outdoor space. The chickens have arrived, but they’re not ready yet for free-ranging as it will take them a little while to get imprinted on coop = ‘home’.


Our hens! The two in the background are crossbreeds between Cochins and the local Portuguese pescoço pelado or bare-necked hens. The two in the foreground are Green legs.

While they’re getting to know their coop, we’ve made a start on both a permanent pen surrounding the coop and on ‘tractor’ accommodation for putting them to work round the quinta.


Pine wilt nematode

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

Pine wilt nematode in Maritime pine

This is the view from the top of the track down to the larger building on the quinta. In many ways it encapsulates the nature of the “Green Heart of Portugal” – forested mountain ranges cut deep by meandering river valleys, peppered with tiny white villages perched on mountain ridges, surrounded by land terraced and richly cultivated with olives, vines, fruit trees, vegetables … Idyllic.

But it encapsulates something else about the Green Heart of Portugal too – an ecological disaster-in-the-making presently taking hold in Portugal’s forests. The tree on the left is dying.


Blighted potatoes

Friday, June 17th, 2011

It’s been strange and untypical weather this Spring. A March as warm as June followed a very dry winter. In May, we had more thunderstorms than I think I’ve encountered in the rest of my lifetime, and periodic rain has continued into June. Wonderful weather for bringing the garden on. Wonderful weather for bringing on the various fungal diseases that thrive in warm, damp, humid conditions …

Potato canopy in potato bin


Never count your chickens before they are hatched …

Friday, February 11th, 2011

… or your alternators before they’re run in.

I spoke too soon.

Presto Wind M-24 permanent magnet alternator installed on water wheel

We purchased this alternator from Presto Wind in the USA on the basis of its advertised power curves and a couple of videos showing no evidence of cogging, which was the problem with the first generator we tried. As soon as it was installed, it was running well over its claimed threshold for generating usable power, so it was just a matter of waiting for the bearings and rotors to run in and then the batteries would be getting some much-needed juice 24/7. Or so we thought …



Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

Summer is here and it’s watering time. Even with the few vegetables we have growing this year, watering them is already taking up a good couple of hours every evening. Part of that is to do with the fact that we are mostly watering them with a watering can. I’ve re-opened a couple of irrigation channels to help things along and got them working reasonably well, but it’s still not hugely efficient. I figured we could do better. But what to do?

Today I bought a reel of hosepipe. I knew I had a large funnel somewhere, and a ball of twine. With 15 minutes’ work with the ball of twine, an hour clearing vegetation from the top of the waterfall, a ladder, and a bungy strap, we now have a working irrigation system for the main vegetable bed on the yurt terrace. A bit Heath Robinson, but considerably more efficient than the watering can.

The watering system: source in waterfall