April 2016: Weekend Food Forest Course, Sintra, Portugal: Terra Alta

Another food forest workshop delivered in Portugal, the sixth now, and proud of what we accomplished and the pattern of learning and sharing that was established. Makes it easier when the principles ar in action like at Terra Alta. Here is a quick blog about it.

Source: April 2016: Weekend Food Forest Course, Sintra, Portugal: Terra Alta

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April 2016: Weekend Food Forest Course, Sintra, Portugal: Terra Alta

In the delayed spring of 2016, a band of brothers and sisters came together on a fine weekend to plant and well, form a band; FF; Food Forest.  After the heavy rain of the couple of days before, the gods smiled once again in a food forest course for the skies to open, the ground to dry out, and the sunshine to fuel a festive weekend.  We learned, we swapped instruments in our saturday night party, and we got some good work done.  It was more than just planting trees but also guilding, propagating plants, and spreading microbes through compost and compost extract and feeding them through chop and drop and mulching.  Paths and edges were cleaned, veggies planted, and we even got to the vine layer, which has been much-anticipated at Terra Alta.  So the small-scale intensive food forest of terra alta has new family members that will stay and thrive through the enthusiasm of planting that was brought to the land in mid April 2016.

Course Photo
Course Photo

The workshop went smoothly and started with the friday night open lecture, which the students and a few community members attended.  I guess I have done it too many times in Sintra now and need to branch out so many more in this country can join.  Nonetheless the slideshow went faster than I thought since it was the second time I had delivered it after revising the presentation for that evening.  After setting the context and going through past food forests I had worked in, we called it a night and got the rest we needed for the big saturday.  On Saturday we went through many topics after the initial introductions.  Although a group of only 11, it was super diverse with eight countries represented and three continents as Portugal continues to be a convergence point for travellers. The crowd was a mix of travelers, those living in the Sintra/Cascais area and those who have bought land or are going.  It made a for a unique dynamic to express stories of that journey and express visions of what was to come.


One of the unique things for me about this course was the sharing that took place in the classroom because of this and the ability to use the terra alta landscape as a teaching tool.  With five years of active waves of implementation and management, the site is booming with biodiversity and practical lessons to be learned.  It’s easier to imagine now the idea of a food forest with fruits ripening, flowers blossoming, guilds burgeoning, and nuclei  merging.  Reaching hands under trees to show what it looks like after years and years of hard work of mulching and other soil building techniques was a great feeling.  Thus we built on that hard work by expanding the diversity of the serpent garden, which flows upward into a garden I have yet to assign a themed name to as the space has changed so much.  In the serpent garden we added another pomegranate to help pollinate the other one that has thrived across from this new one. Flanking it on both sides we also added apricots.  With already a stone fruit base of plums, peaches, nectarines, and even a couple of almonds, it was time to go with apricots. Two went in areas where citrus had died and were not so far from this unnamed section where three more were planted.  There again we were replacing citrus that never worked, probably because of the Sintra disease or our intense coastal sea spray winds.  In that area we have most of the layers now, canopy will be the Annona, sub canopy-apricot, shrubs– Feijoa and Elderberry, bush-chilean guava and cape gooseberry, herbs like lavender and rosemary, and the ground cover of nasturtium.  Ok a root crop and a vine are missing but it wont be too long before we solve that as well.  We worked seemingly effortless to do the earthworks, plant the trees and their guilds, put out the compost extract, chop and drop and mulch with green and brown material.  It’s a simple pattern and the review exercises helped to just reinforce that.

Thus sunday again kept with lively discussions and the management questions bursting out before we got to the layers talk and all the plant biodiversity that is present here on this west coast food forest.  We were proud to introduce not only apricots and hops as a new species on the land but also some west coast classics.  Again chilean guava, and also on sunday we got in thimbleberry and salmonberry. On camino das fadas, a food forest showcase in my humble opinion, we very quickly and efficiently put in more diversity thus expanding our goals of small-scale intensive systems.  We got the vine layer in with hops, went streamside with the salmonberry of course, and got thimbleberry and more tamarillos in sunken beds.  We added two peaches to compliment our three others on some of our stone wall terraces.  More herbs, more support nitrogen fixers, and more soil building with the plethora of green material that is on hand from the abundant spring rains and land regeneration work we have been doing.  Not only that, the azzola has really taken over in the tank and with its temperate temperature tolerance we are getting yields of aquaculture biomass much sooner in the year.

It went quick, it was intense, and a lot was shared and exchanged.  One highlight was of course the musical symphony that Pedro from terra alta created with his ingenious musical talents and ability to create inclusion in a musical jam circle.  We got 6 tracks in and formed a band, the FF.  Food Forests, and his cry out to hear the corks sing, well…. the birds sure were and pleased we could come together for one fine weekend to help give back to the earth once more and speed land regeneration and the abundance that follows.

Louisa's Band Cover!
Louisa’s Band Cover!
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