Archive for the ‘Water supply’ Category

Ponds four years on

Thursday, May 12th, 2016

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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Swaleage

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

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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Swales

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

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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Waterworks completed

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Among many other projects on the go simultaneously last summer was the installation of some water storage capacity and supply lines to the various buildings on the quinta. The design and layout gives a good head of gravity-fed water to all parts of the quinta, and provides buffering for the vagaries of daily stream flow in late summer. The two tanks constructed from pre-cast concrete rings were fairly quick to construct. Finishing them proved more of a problem.

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Waterworks

Monday, September 30th, 2013

Our water supply on the quinta comes from a stream that runs through it, plus a couple of small springs. When we first moved onto the land we collected buckets from the waterfall, then graduated to hose-piping our water direct from the stream for household use and irrigation.

But 2012 changed all that. We had a very dry summer following 2 years of failure of the winter rains. After diminishing to a mere trickle in February, the water in the stream stopped altogether in late August (the village above us used it all), only starting again when the rains did. I installed a 1,000-litre plastic drinking water tank for our household needs, fed mostly by spring water, leaving the stream for limited irrigation. The vegetable garden coped surprisingly well thanks to a lot of mulch, but we lost all our water-hungry plants like squashes. It really focused my attention on how vulnerable we are to drought. Since then I’ve been planning to build in as much water storage as practicable, and collect water both from the stream and from roof rainwater catchment.

Surveying the quinta for the water distribution network

Surveying the quinta for the water distribution network

This summer, along with all the other projects under way, we’ve been putting in some water tanks. Work has been progressing on a small rainwater catchment system for the smaller of the two buildings here, and also on two much larger tanks which will form the main hubs of our water distribution network, supporting both domestic use and irrigation.

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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

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Solar water heater

Sunday, July 28th, 2013

It seems a bit odd to be writing about solar water heating while it’s raining, but rain (and teens still sleeping off a night’s clubbing) is a great excuse to catch up the blog and leave the vegetable garden to water itself for once.

When we completed the plumbing and electrics for the cob bathroom back last November, I mentioned we’d allowed for a yet-to-be-built solar water heater to be used instead of the wood-burning water heater or bailarina in Summer. With such a wet and late Spring, it was April before we got the solar heater construction under way, but we’ve been enjoying hot showers from it since.

Simple solar water heater

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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

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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

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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 …

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