Permaculturing in Portugal

One family's attempts to live in a more planet-friendly way

I’m a lumberjack and I’m OK

Went over to Benfeita today to do some more work on installing the stove. It took me easily half an hour to get along the 1km of our track. Last night’s winds and rain had brought down some trees and I had to shift no less than 3 trees across the track to get to the quinta, each one progressively larger than the last. Just as well I happened to have a hand saw in the back of the van. (Mental note to self: keep one there at all times.)

And just as well they were all relatively small pines that my girly muscles were capable of shifting. (Mental note to self: keep a tow rope in the back of the van for occasions when girly muscles aren’t enough.)

Some of the trees on the slope above the track have been harvested recently. Inevitably this has destabilised the surrounding trees which no longer have the protection of the mature trees that were sheltering them before. Trees will always come down in storms, but the soil is so thin and impoverished by this exclusive concentration on nutrient-hungry Maritime pines (Pinus pinaster) and Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) and the lack of effective soil-reinforcing understorey, that the trees have very little to hold onto.

Landowners are, in fact, encouraged to cut the understory as it’s seen as a fire hazard. But it’s the trees that are the fire hazard, being two of the most combustible species on the planet. The natural vegetation of the area – oak, holm oak, chestnut and hazel and understorey of the Strawberry tree or medronheiro (Arbutus unedo) and other shrubs – encourages development of a deep moisture-conserving litter layer which not only adds to and recycles nutrients back into the soil, but helps prevent the tinder-dry summer conditions which encourage the devastating forest fires this region is prone to.

Finished installing the flue today in between showers. Should be finally able to connect up the stove tomorrow. Why does everything always take about 10 times as long as you think it will ?! Short answer is if I will sleep in late and fail to get over to Benfeita until lunchtime, then there’s only so many hours of the day left.

Perhaps it’s a side-effect of this back-to-nature lifestyle that the urge to hibernate over the darkest days of the years become almost irresistible … Well that’s my excuse anyway.

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