Archive for the ‘Principles’ Category

New Year’s revolutions

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

These short and misty-morninged days around the winter solstice and turn of the year seem made for the purpose of reflecting, stock-taking, planning for the next year …

Misty morning on the quinta


Cob bathroom – finally the cob!

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

The one thing with a back-to-front build like this, building the walls last, is that it’s a long time before the building starts to feel like a real building. It’s been worth the wait though. A month ago, we finally started to build the cob walls.



Cob bathroom build – the plumbing and electrics

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

It seems crazy that 2 months have gone by since I last posted about the cob bathroom we’re building here. Facebook followers will know where we are with it, but the blog is long overdue an update.

The bailarina's firebox - our 150-litre Portuguese-made wood-fired water heater


Cob bathroom continued

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

We’ve been moving on with the cob bathroom. See the previous post in this series for the first part of the build.

Having successfully established the principle of putting the roof on first in case it rains (maybe I never got over Enid Blyton’s Big-Ears scoffing at Noddy’s impeccable logic?) we’ve carried on with fittings, electrics and plumbing so all can be thoroughly checked and tested before being built into the walls.

Back wall

First, there was the back wall to complete. This is how the original wall ended. Whether it was roughly built this way or at some stage was partially destroyed by the growing oak tree is difficult to determine, but at any rate it had to be closed off before the cob walls were built.

The rear wall at the base of the oak tree before construction


Cob bathroom

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

This is one of those projects which suddenly materialised out of nowhere.

It’s not as if we didn’t have enough to be getting on with already. The last few months have been so busy, I’ve barely had a chance to photograph it all, let alone write blog posts about it. Then on top of that, both the computer and backup external hard drive chose the same moment to fail – what are the chances of that?! – and getting access to email accounts and websites again is requiring a fair few extra online hours to fit into the daily schedule. So it seems more than a little crazy to be adding to the project list. But with Liam, our ferrocement water tank specialist, going back to the UK for a few months and Wayne doing the same, work on the rainwater harvesting system came to a natural pause and this project sort of tumbled into the gap.


Mega mulching

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

I thought the hay/straw mulch I used in the raised beds last year was just brilliant. It dramatically slowed water loss from the soil – summer watering was cut from a daily ritual to a weekly one – and it suppressed an enormous amount of weed growth. So this year, as the area under cultivation has spread, so (thanks to 12 bales I managed to secure at the back end of last year) has the straw.

Straw mulch on cultivation areas


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


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



Saturday, December 31st, 2011

In a coincidental but fitting end to 2011, we’ve been finishing up several jobs that were almost but not quite complete. Both upper rooms in the larger building now have new floors and finally we have finished the roof!

Finished schist roof


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 …