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October 17th, 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

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

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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

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

One-day vermicomposting toilet workshop! Another chance to take part in the installation of a vermicomposting flush toilet system and learn how to construct one for yourself. This one is being installed at another Quinta do Vale in Anseriz, near Vila Cova de Alva.

Vermicomposting Toilet WorkshopOctober 21, 2017, 10:00amQuinta do Vale. Rua Senhora de ao pé da Cruz, Anceriz, Arganil, PortugalThe one-day workshop will cover the theory and practice of installing a DIY vermicomposting sewerage system based on a flush toilet. This system combines all the ecological advantages of a dry composting toilet system with the user-friendliness and convenience of a flush toilet and has a 20-year history of trouble-free use by the system’s original designer in the USA. It requires minimal maintenance compared to dry systems and has significant environmental advantages over conventional septic tanks. The system can be used in approved housebuilding and renovation projects in Portugal under the provisions for “septic tank with drainage”.

The outline plan for the workshop is as follows …

10-11:00am Tea/Coffee on arrival.
Informal get together and exchange of ideas/information about your individual projects and reasons for attending the workshop.

11:00-12:30am The Theory.
Why vermicomposting? Where and how is vermicomposting being used in sewerage systems and bioremediation projects worldwide? How does this system work? What’s its history? How is it constructed? What maintenance is involved? How does the system regulate itself? What are the environmental advantages?

Questions are encouraged throughout the session, whether in relation to your own project (planned or potential) or to the science in general, but please try to keep these appropriate to the general focus and flow of the session.

12:30-1:30pm Lunch.

1:30-3:30pm The Practice.
Hands-on installation of the system. The system does take a bit longer than 2 hours to construct and install, but preparatory work will have been done in such a way that you’ll be able to see all parts of the system clearly and take part in the final stages of installation. Bring working gloves and wear suitable clothes.

3.30-4.00pm Tea/Coffee.
Informal get together and summing up of the project. Any remaining questions.

COURSE LIMITED TO 10 PARTICIPANTS - BOOK EARLY!

Wendy Howard modified Anna Edey’s original open source design for a vermicomposting flush toilet system and installed it on her own quinta. Together with local architect Filipa Ripley, she has been the driving force behind the enthusiastic adoption of vermicomposting sewerage systems by the municipality of Arganil in Central Portugal. The first of these small-scale systems has now been installed in a local village and more are to follow. She hopes to work with other local councils to encourage its widespread adoption throughout the country and help improve the water quality of Portugal’s streams and rivers.

COURSE FEE: 35 euros including lunch and refreshments
Overnight accommodation is available at extra charge.

MORE INFO / BOOKINGS: eco.vfr@gmail.com

VERMICOMPOSTING TOILETS WEBSITE & FORUM
www.vermicompostingtoilets.net
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Vermicomposting Toilet Workshop

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Sounds fascinating

A dining area for the wee house

November 12th, 2014. Post by Quinta do Vale

Following on from the completion of the kitchen at the wee house, the next step was to create a dining area. The terrace in front of the house on the lower level was the logical place for this – lovely views through the olive trees down to the village and across the valley, and grapes vines already planted and just asking for a trellis to grow over to create a shaded seating area. Plus it had already been identified as a fine place to sit …

The wee house dining area

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Swales

November 11th, 2014. Post by Quinta do Vale

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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Yurt makeover

October 5th, 2014. Post by Quinta do Vale

The yurt has been my home for 5 years now. It’s stood up to the extremes of Portuguese weather reasonably well, especially after building a porch to protect the doorway (4 years ago) and covering it with shade netting to stop the canvas disintegrating in the sun (3 years ago). It’s settled nicely into the landscape and as the gardens mature around it, is becoming less and less obtrusive.

The yurt becoming part of the landscape

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Sourdough bread

October 4th, 2014. Post by Quinta do Vale

After accidentally discovering natural sodas, I’ve been keen to explore natural fermentation more. Sourdough bread was an obvious development. I already bake most of the bread eaten here and like to have a variety.

Making sourdough bread is a fascinating, rewarding, exasperating and infuriating process, frequently all at once. It’s never the same from one bake to the next, especially when you live most of your life outside and use a wood-fired oven. It takes a lot longer than making bread with fresh or dried yeast, and the way the starter behaves is very dependent on prevailing ambient temperatures, not to mention changes in the natural yeast population, so with the more unpredictable weather this summer, more than once I was caught out by a cooler-than-expected day which threw all my timings. As I learned more and more with every batch, each time I’d start the process thinking “this time I’ll nail it!” and each time I’d be proved wrong.

For a good while I thought this was down to my inexperience with it, but then I learned from the son of an Australian baker and sourdough specialist that it’s always like this and after 30 years he feels he’s only now properly getting to master it. Yet there is a reward in the process, let alone the taste of the final product, that goes beyond the occasional frustration. It is very definitely worth it.

Sourdough bread baked in the cob oven

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Refrigeration

September 10th, 2014. Post by Quinta do Vale

I had been thinking for some time on how to tackle the issue of refrigeration on the quinta. An early experiment hadn’t been encouraging. It’s all very well using a zeer pot for a few items (I have one in the yurt made from 2 large plant pots), but when there’s volunteers or guests staying, it’s a lot less practical. I found myself torn between the desire the keep it low tech and cool things naturally, and having the convenience of somewhere I could easily store more sensitive foods like meat and even indulge in the occasional ice cream. I don’t eat a lot of meat, but I have two cats and a dog who do. With the price of pet food rising while the quality plummets, I’d also been thinking about making my own animal food. This would be a lot more tricky without a fridge.

Zeer pot used for refrigeration in the yurt

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Wild carrot jelly

August 21st, 2014. Post by Quinta do Vale

This summer, the terraces are covered in wild carrot – Daucus carota or Bishop’s Lace, Queen Anne’s Lace. This is the original plant from which our familiar domesticated carrots are descended. Slightly ironic then that it should grow in such profusion here when I’ve yet to harvest a decent crop of carrots, but that’s down to the voles getting in there before me rather than any failure of the plants to grow.

In the process of investigating the properties of wild carrot, I discovered some recipes for a jelly made with it. (I try to learn all I can about the wild plants which appear here – dismissing them as ‘weeds’ just because I didn’t plant them seems little short of wilful disregard of a natural treasury bordering on insanity.) The jelly sounded intriguing. I had to give it a try.

Daucus carota or wild carrot growing on the terraces

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Redcurrant recipes

July 17th, 2014. Post by Quinta do Vale

The trouble with turning fruit gluts into sweet preserves is that I don’t have a particularly sweet tooth and neither, it seems, do most people who stay here. So the store room shelves are usually very well stocked with jams and jellies that are often 2-3 years old because I made such large batches. Recently I’ve taken to making smaller batches, and increasing the variety in both the number of jams and jellies I make and in what I do with the fruit. This has been a lot more successful in actually getting things eaten. So here are the redcurrant recipes used this year …

Redcurrants

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A portable rocket stove

July 2nd, 2014. Post by Quinta do Vale

A year or so ago I salvaged a couple of tin cans from the local dump. From the moment I laid eyes on them they were shouting “portable rocket stove!”. They’ve sat around waiting for me to find the time and inclination to put them together ever since, but a friend moving onto a nearby quinta with no cooking facilities finally spurred me into action. In my head, I’d already worked out exactly how the stove was to be made, so it took very little time to assemble. In fact, it all happened so quickly, I didn’t even get any ‘before’ photos.

Making a portable rocket stove out of junk

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We are crowdfunding!

June 18th, 2014. Post by Quinta do Vale

This video explains …

And the campaign is hosted here.

The vermicomposting flush toilet completed

June 8th, 2014. Post by Quinta do Vale

Last year I wrote about our installation of a vermicomposting flush toilet – a worm composting system for a conventional flush toilet – in the outhouse for the wee house. It was all ready and set to go for a good while, minus the worms, but we couldn’t start using it until we had a water supply to the wee house since there would be nothing to flush with until we did.

With the completion of the quinta’s water storage and distribution system in February, I could at last commission the system.

Outhouse toilet featuring a composting flush toilet

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