Permaculturing in Portugal

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

Patio and fire pit

This is a little back-to-front, since the patio trellis and fire pit was the project selected for the Post-PDC Practical course of 2019 and I’ve already posted about 2021’s projects! But I very much doubt if anyone is reading these posts in chronological order, so it is what it is and this is what I get for failing to catch up on documenting so much work for so long.

One of the most fun parts of the Permaculture Design Certificate courses we run here are the optional one-week Post-PDC Practical courses which follow the two weeks of intense, brain-stretching work.

Students get to stay an extra week, kick back and relax somewhat, and exercise their bodies more than their brains.

The general idea is that we look over the designs produced by the students as part of their Permaculture Design certification, agree on something everyone would like to implement (subject to materials availability and timescales) and then get to it.

In 2019, the student design area was the main building and the terraces below it to the north of the stream. The patio, being right outside the classroom, gets used a lot during courses and most of the designs incorporated some kind of trellis shade structure plus a fire pit (OK … I have to admit to talking about those ideas in the design briefing stage so it wasn’t entirely surprising) and it seemed the obvious project for the practical course since everyone was keen on doing some natural building. Further, it would give people an introduction to dry stone walling, cobbing and round pole timber construction all in the one project.

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With no shortage of materials thanks to the amount of burnt timber and a fair bit of stone lying around, we were able to get to work right away. We started with the trellis structure, completing just enough to make sure the students had time to get a taste of building the firepit as well.

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Since schist (the local bedrock we use to build with) has a tendency to fracture along its foliation planes when heated, sometimes explosively, it was important to protect the rock from the main impact of the heat of the fire pit, so we used cob both as a mortar between the stones and to line the firepit with a 5-7cm deep layer. Air intakes through the walls at the base of the pit are also lined with cob.

As one week wasn’t enough time to finish the project, we carried on through the rest of the summer with the help of volunteers, visiting friends, photographers making visual essays on the eco-immigrant community here, and anyone passing who fancied lending a hand.

The bamboo roof of the structure was completed using the quinta’s own bamboo which had burned in the fires, but was still useable. The intention is to grow climbing and/or vining plants over it, though the Spring slugs and snails of the last 2 years have got the better of all our attempts so far. For 2021’s courses, we covered the structure with shade netting, transforming the patio into a much more pleasant area to sit or work during high summer.

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