Permaculturing in Portugal

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


After a break of the best part of 3 months, we’ve been able to start work on building renovations again. The first priority is to complete the roof of the larger building. The roof over the main body of the building itself is done, but we need to extend it either end of the building to cover the external staircases, and to butt a lean-to roof up to it along the back of the building before it’s finally finished.

Extending the roof area right round the house in this way will, aside from providing covered walkways, give all round protection to the walls from most direct weather action: a major consideration with dry-stone walls, especially ones that are going to be clay-pointed.

The larger building

The stairs to the right of the building were already enclosed by the log store, so all that remained was to construct the wooden supporting framework, bridging the gap between the log store and the building. Again, we’ve used round-pole sweet chestnut for the framework and maritime pine planking.

Right hand stair well

Right hand stair well

I’m not overly impressed with the ‘ecological’ wood preservative we’ve been using so far. I’ve still not been able to discover the active ingredients, and although it produces a nice-looking finish when dry, the PVA it contains makes it unsuitable for external use as it becomes milky and opaque if rained on. It also appears largely ineffective against wood-boring wasps since we’ve noticed fresh activity in treated timbers. Consequently, I’ll be preserving these external timbers with 2 applications of borax, then linseed oil, and using a more concentrated borax gel or paste to deal with the active infestation in the treated timbers. When your roof weighs 8-9 tonnes, it doesn’t do to have the supporting timbers eaten away …

The left hand stair well is now in the process of being created. The stairs have been repaired and a schist wall constructed (with cement, since it has to support the weight of the chestnut framework).

Left hand stair well

Left hand stair well

Left hand stair well

We didn’t have enough large lengths of chestnut for this stair-well, and our local source of recycled timber has none of the required length, so rather than looking to buy some, we found a long straight chestnut tree in a crowded area of the quinta and felled it for the purpose, leaving enough of a stump for the tree to regenerate. It feels perfect that the renovations should include timber from the quinta, as well as stone and clay.

Felled sweet chestnut tree from the quinta

Stripping the bark from chestnut poles

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