After finishing the two week PDC at Suryalila Retreat Center in Andalusia spain and then a weeks worth of implementation work, I headed off for a short break to Grenada to rest and recharge. I like to travel a bit to cultural cities as well to have a peak into the past and see cultural development. While I enjoyed the rest I was quickly anxious to get back to Portugal, which I have called home on and off for the last eight years but more full time the last three. With no base anymore I decided to line up a travel through the southern part of the country checking on past students and projects offering a hand and a creative/informative mind. I have always wanted to do a travel like this and not being attached to any base site I was free to do it and have thoroughly enjoyed seeing their progress and am extremely alarmed by the rapidly increasing signs of desertification.
Jacquie acquired this stunning site in the last year along with her partner Neal and have been hard at work in a good pace to clean up the land and settle into a new lifestyle. Jacquie was a student in the December earthworks and food forest Course at Suryalila and has been up to exactly that since. Having added a swale for runoff and planting new trees she is cracking on with complimenting her already existing orchard. The property itself is 7.5 HA and its main feature is the already existing productive trees and also the almost year round quite large stream. It’s a very beautiful aquatic habitat and we discussed improving the riparian buffer to create more natural habitat. You find this a lot in Portugal that the riparian buffers were long deforested and is part of the problems of water this country has. We also looked at the nursery site that might be her future mission after much of her life being dedicated to wildlife rescue and conservation. An obvious pond site was also observed in the two open fields that were once pasture land and have tons of potential for development.
Monte Velho, one of Dereks lands that he bought in the 90’s, is a 132 HA montado (oak Savannah) where myself and Jesus Ruiz implemented a 100 HA keyline operation back in 2015 spring. Derek is not full-time at the site but is moving that way and I am encouraged by his lets just plant some trees and get them drip irrigation and lets see what happens approach. Much of the work he has done in the last few years has been on water retention with four new dams added and the old fifth one renovated. He is going with corridor planting’s and is on the right track. The leftovers of the humid acid fertilizer is still being brewed and put out into the landscape. For sure the pastures where improved by the subsoiling and biofertilization put out. I was amazed at the lushness of the valley’s and how most of the ridges had been improved in their pasture quality. Cows are still being grazed not the land through a lease. Still the rotational grazing plans need set up but he followed my advice on many things like not letting the cattle drink directly from the ponds rather have them piped out to water troughs. I look forward to working with Derek more in the future as he has a 12 HA valley and Ridge just below the ruins that would be a showcase piece for microclimate and tree crop development.
From Ourique, I headed coastal to the coastal Alentejo area of Porto Covo/ Villa Nova de Milfontes to visit Josse on his small plot (3000 Sq M). Josse just completed the PDC at Suryalila and was a very gracious host. His house/ guest house had just been completed and was anxious to crack on with the landscaping part. He bought the land a few years ago and when not working in Switzerland spends his time cleaning the land and surfing. With that work already done we did a bit more clearing work but got set up for a mini Permablitx whilst also visiting several other projects that are covered below. We also met up with Sam Millar from the December course at Suryalila as he lives down the road in Sao Luis currently. Him and others from the local community and a couple other people staying with us contributed to the mini permablitz we held on a warm Sunday afternoon. We implemented 2/3 of the sunken bed veggie patch after the morning of designing pathways, building zones and growing spaces. With such a small space its fun exercise in creative thinking on making things multifunctional. He already had done a design at the PDC in his free time so we had already quite a lot to work with. Then when people showed up for the Permablitz we worked diligently to weed a heavily infested bermuda grass patch and do the digging and mounding. His soils are sandy but rich so we just made minor sunken beds ready to be filled with heaps of organic matter. It was great to see what eight people could do in the afternoon which also included lots of people making connections and drinking a few beers. We finished with a great meal cooked by Josse as he is a chef and i look forward to spending more time at his guest house in the future and possibly implementing other features like a bio swimming pool, earthen mound sound break hedge, and food forest development.
As said above whilst at Josse’s we also toured several properties. One nearby in the Sao luis area was Ferry and Francine’s Herded de Lage / A quinta property. Myself and others like Karsten and Dan had implemented the initial design and garden/ terrace infrastructure. Ferry and Francine, along with lots of volunteers, have been hard at work building up the amazing natural buildings since being there in the initial very tough startup point (2014). The most amazing part of my return after so many years of not seeing it but having many past students pass through as volunteers was the growth of the trees. The garden hedge looked great even though it had a minor set back of some goat grazing. Also down on the terraces I was amazed by what I saw in the initial nitrogen fixer plantings that are now three years old going into their fourth. We planted mainly casuarina and acacia and both have put off remarkable growth on the edge of the terraces. The Casuarina were 5-8 meters tall after just three years and the acacia not far behind. It makes for chop and drop to happen soon and also cover for more tree crops. They will be hosting a PDC in May and I look forward to working with them again sometime in the future.
Also on the first day we were at Josse’s he graciously drove us north by a couple of hours to meet up with another student from the PDC at Suryalila called Antonio. Antonio was a past consulting client and came to the PDC to further his knowledge and really sink into the Permaculture movement. He is a well connected fellow and he brought us to his friends place in Sesimbra, just outside of Lisbon on the other side of the River, for a dinner as a retreat group was breaking their fast. We had a small tour of the land mainly in the site where they are planning a raw food festival. Our host were very accommodating and invited us to also stay for a sound journey meditation with a hand drum which was very peaceful. We are in talks now about further consulting/ project development on their beautiful 200 HA piece of land with heaps of potential.
Our last stop was further to the north at Leo and Wendy’s place Monte de Ameira, which is a rolling hills block of 15 HA with lots of cork trees and a small winding stream that runs year round. I went to Leo’s place last year after not seeing him for years to stop by in my travels. Leo and Wendy were students in 2010 and he came to the food forest course last year as well after our meet up. Last year I gave some consulting advice and upon arrival back it was time to crack on with some of those tips. Last year was his first full year of operation in his guest house, which was quite an undertaking with also rebuilding the ruin for their house. Leo is really well integrated into the local community of Portuguese farming community and has earned the name of the Holantejoan; Dutch and Alentejo combined. It’s different than the expat communities that are great to see popping up, especially further to the south in the Sao Luis area. Thus we made a big move in his classical young orchard of straight lines to get to his food forest goals. So we weeded around the trees, added composted goat manure, added worm compost extract and mulched with green then brown material. But then we took it one step further by clearing a 2 diameter circle with a small earthen c-shaped bund at the bottom for water and nutrient mention. With this space created, we then implemented guilds to create the altered approach. We put in a variety of plants that we got from a Portuguese National nursery near Alcacerdo Sal. No tree guild was the same and we manured in between all of those then covered with a light mulch as a broadcast seed was done in between the small perennials. It was stacking in space and time at its finest. It was a great time and I will write more on this one in blogs ahead.
Overall it was a great journey to see and now I am back at Antonios place in Lisbon looking to further connect with my community here. I have no base but I am not without a network of people who are willing to host. Its time to get more projects further including consulting of several clients in the area. I will also go further with the educational material project I have been working on for years with my dear friend Anita Tirone (PDC 2012). I will also write more on the drastic die off of cork trees that i have been seeing and with the dry spring in Iberia this year it is only going to get worse. But I know there is a growing movement here in Portugal and in our neighboring brothers and sisters of Spain. So we go further with launching sites, green businesses and working towards regenerative and equitable systems. And in conclusion, thanks so much to the hosts who were all gracious and thankful for the drop in.
Written by Doug Crouch