Written by Doug Crouch
Having this gem of a property in the family for now 34 years is such a wonderful gift of karma that its hard to express the magnitude of my gratitude. My grandparents stewarded the land and business for 30 years and so much honor goes to that part of my now ancestry. After rebuilding the dam at a hefty price in 2001, besides the forestry work that I have been doing over this 16 years, not much change has occurred. The main business that the property is based off of, pay fishing, is a fading industry. The bar business we have has grinded to a halt and even the campers aren’t showing up this year. But since my return from Europe and even before I arrived the place has had an evolution.
When I was back in Ohio/Kentucky last fall, I ran into my mates at Dark Wood Farm, Annie Woods and Chris Pyper, at the Northside Farmers Market in Cincinnati, Ohio. They farmed about 15 minutes from the Lake and had been our suppliers of pizza toppings for the two Pollination Festivals we were able to pull off in 2014 and ’15 here at the lake. They said they were looking for a new spot to farm and I quickly went into negotiations with them and my family to make their next spot the sandy flats behind the bar at the lake. Thus over the winter as I was mainly in Spain planting trees, creating gardens, and teaching courses, we continued negotiations and farm design. In February they began to move their operation over and started to break ground on the one acre market garden plot.
This year they have turned to a 44 member CSA with no farmers markets and selling to a cooperative that is the interface between local farmers and restaurants who want these high quality ingredients locally. The trend continues to grow which is great
because production on this sandy loam soil has been fantastic. Annie and Chris are ripping it up, working very diligently to implement this first year garden and the results are amazing! I have been contributing here and there but with other responsibilities and their more than enough capability, I am merely a moral support, a helping hand, and also working on the fertility of the farm for the future. Mulching perennials and composting are my main tasks with that and we have great talks about what is to come at the lake and the farm together. Kudos to them and the network of people that supports them including friends and family.
To breathe life into a place like we are takes courage, fortitude, and a network. I continue to work with my family to clean the place up, a legacy of neglect after the tough process of the elder generation dying out. We do our best to keep the place open, the bills paid, but with my life in Europe and their full time jobs, its hard to stay on top of everything. This place was always built around community and again my friends continue to show up and deliver. I have been spending time also in the city conjuring up energy around the place again and its proximity to the city of only 35 minutes allows my network in Cincinnati to pop over with ease.
As life evolves and new connections are born, energy also fluctuates at the place. One of those occurrences was with an old acquaintance from Pollination Fest 2015, Emily Hunt, and we, along with Alex Rydberg, launched the idea of painting a mural on the wall of the back porch patio at the bar (my Mom’s original idea). So with old high school mates, permaculture crew, and with Emily and one of her friends we smashed out a live art party that will forever be etched in my memory. Still after weeks I sit back and smile as the back porch is both my office and bedroom since Annie and Chris are renting the cabin to run the farm operation. The mural started at about 5 pm and the painting went in waves till about 1:30 in the morning. At midnight, after hours of hosting, I got up on the wall and contributed physically to the work for the first time. As I began I was infused with such an energy that the general in me, like during hands on
time in the PDC’s I teach, I was shouting in encouragement to my mates to get back up on the wall and crack on one last time for the final push. It was an epic finale to a fantastic night and since we have been cleaning it up and putting final touches on. As per request of my father, the next week we did it again, different crew and this time in the bar to get some fish on the walls to honor the essence of the place. And to add this past weekend we built community with one long time customer, Emmanuel, to host a reggae night at the bar. After all these years, like 30 years of fishing here, I never knew he was a musician till about a month ago and we got our first event worked out and implemented. It was a great time and we look forward to having more performances by their band Positive Creation in the fall!
Another community connection that continues is with one one of my dear friends here Alex Ryberg. We met several years ago and out of our connection we launched
the original idea of Pollination Fest along with a couple of others. Alex is a dedicated yoga teacher and natural healer through many modalities. I highly respect her work and with the idea of another Pollination Fest returning to the lake, we as a bigger collective decided we should morph into something else. Having worked at a yoga retreat in Spain for the vast majority of the last year and now having this practice much further integrated into my life, Alex and I decided to launch a weekend camping yoga retreat at the lake. We are combining many of the pillars of Pollination Fest together with yoga, a Permaculture/ ecology tour of the forest, local foods including Dark Wood Farm right out the back door, local music, and the art to compliment. Registration is good and we plan to continue this theme in the future as well. Alex runs retreats globally but giving access to this kind of experience locally to the Cincinnati tri-state bioregion is an important mission for both of us.
I continue my work in the forest as well, keep going back over old spots to manage regrowth of cut invasives and check in on my evolving understory. Many paw paw patches are looking great and the fruit is there for sure this year with some spots producing for the first time. Paw Paw paradise is simply my vision with this 40 acres (16 HA) of forest. There is so much work to do to further this paw paw patch fruiting mission but I am also encouraged by another native understory, the extremely beautiful redbud trees emergence as well. In many spots they were simply being taken over by the Eurasian bush honeysuckle but with quick and strong hacking back of this plant they emerge back into their native habitat role. The flowers in spring really light up this place and from this work the place really lit up this year from what I hear.
And as always, the evolution of the business plan/ permaculture design continues. My network has helped tremendously with that, great friend Grant Gibson formely with Compost Cincy and Ryan Doan, founder of Urban Greens. Both are coaching me on next steps and I am very grateful to have these two leading this advice generation along with the myriad of others. It never stops the networking, Jordan and Jen from Fab Ferments, the GoSun crew, local entrepreneurs who are doing it; making dreams come true and supporting a revolutionary new local economy. And the folks at Canopy Crew as we continue to hammer out design ideas around TreeHouse Development at the lake. The possibilities are endless, but the livestock will be here before too long, more events are coming, more courses and educational opportunities, more local foods available, more community, more networking, and more of a home for me. I think its time to pull out of Europe for now and manifest a new role in an old project. Exactly how and when, well that is the big question for now.
The patterns chapter is coming to a close in TreeYo EDU with just one more article after this one but this article starts to wrap it all up with a few more patterns we see in Nature. It does cover our own personal journeys in life as pattern application also involves the people care side of permaculture. Fun to write and thankful to have time to press publish!
Written By Doug Crouch, Temporary Resident of Portugal
While the blame for such a tragic wildfire is swirling intensely already, I first express my condolences to those who lost so much. Life, property, livelihoods, tradition, memories, and so much more. For the ecosystem its tragic as well. The long story of how we got to such a moment is long and twisting and its progression downward on this dangerous path I hope to explain below. And I state here first before that, we are all to
blame. While its easy to point the finger at the Eucalyptus mafia and sign petitions, we must point back to ourselves first. An industry such as that, along with the Pine industry, can not gain such clout to influence politicians without demand. Just as the corn industry dominates agriculture policy and land use in the states, without the demand of cheap meat and sugary beverages, they would not have it. So as I said in my last TreeYo EDU article where I mention Eucalyptus in Portugal, State of the World, even the toilet paper we use is not vegan and that is now more clearly evident than ever before. People died, and have been for many years now, because of our demand for paper and toilet paper, and most importantly, as cheap as we can get it! So as Bob Marley said, “judge not if you are not ready for judgment”. We must all swallow the hard facts that we create the demand, the industry creates the supply, the political legislation opens it up for incestous extractive practices, and the ecosystem and its inhabitants suffer. We live in the age of the consumer, no longer the supplier. So when you go to your supermarkets and buy that super cheap toilet paper, guess what, you bought monoculture Eucalyptus from Portugal.
It starts back in the Roman Empire actually. The Romans traveled to Iberia to hunt, the place was so rich with wildlife from the amazingly abundant forest they went through the long trails to find this bounty. As we know, overhunting can start a dangerous road on ecosystem alteration as often predators of the prey we were in search of also began to decline from hunting. The forests of Iberia began a long tradition of extraction from there, often for war purposes, and began the process of desertification many, many years ago.
The natural oak forests of Portugal are a wonderful creation of a layered approach to growing and creating niches for many different creatures; an inherent food forest. The natural forests have plenty of mast from the oaks, combined with chestnuts in the right microclimates, for wildlife stability. Several fruiting shrubs like Hawthron and Strawberry tree yielded fruits
as well. Vines scrambled, riparian trees stabilized rivers, acorns fed wild pigs, deer foraged on the multitude of native shrubs and trees. It was jungly in a way even with the extended dry periods. The ecosystem would have incurred fire from time to time as all drylands climates have this balance. But the intensity of fires would have been low but the suppression of fires and the altering of the ecosystem created this intense burn we saw again this year in Central Portugal. The greatest indication of that fire was once natural is the magnificent tree itself, the Cork Oak. While most people around the world have had the pleasure of experiencing cork through wine or some other industrial product, most have not walked through a cork forest. The thick, spongy bark that is extracted
for things such as wine stoppers, is in fact an evolutionary response to fire being apart of the ecosystem. Its one that allowed fire to shape the landscape but not bring it to its knees. It slows the fire and keeps it in the lower reaches of the forest rather it being a ladder fuel tree. Ladder fuel canopy trees such as Eucalyptus or pine, would have been much more spaced out in their natural habitats. While both are also adapted to experience fire in their native ecosystems, which humans even enhanced through controlled burns to create more of a savannah for hunting, planting them at this density is ludicrous especially without animal integration. While it does afford economies of scale, which is a cornerstone of modern capitalism, it doesn’t see the system holistically. Thus when fires reach the canopy of such monocultures through ladder fuel of shrubs below and the bark and branches being held up by them, the intensity of fires, the spread of them, the beast that is created is so incredibly dangerous it belongs in a Hollywood Horror movie. But it has been a reality for Portuguese for many years.
In our modern days, the dictatorship of Portugal was one major influencer on the land use. Many trees were cut, especially in inner Alentejo for the production of wheat. One of the main social repercussions of the dictatorship was massive waves of migration out of the country in the years following its collapse. While Salazar did have some great policies, he left Portugal in a tough standing because he wasn’t aligned with the western powers and their system of capitalism. So of course they were far behind when they entered and why not migrate for work to a more advanced one like France, which received many, many Portuguese in the 70’s. It continued for many years after that with high concentrations of Portuguese in Newark, NJ, USA, Chicago, USA, Toronto, Canada, London, Paris, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and spreading back into the colonies they once held. Some say that Paris is actually the second largest Portuguese city with more people from Portugal there than then Oporto.
Maybe the single greatest cause of this tragedy is this policy. If you don’t know it and are an EU resident you should learn more. This is where the lands of Portugal really changed and why many secretly despise the EU. It is a system of quotas that stripped Portugal of its cultural identity as a wine and olive producer to a forestry state. The stories are rampant throughout Iberia but heard often in Central Portugal where people were paid to take out Olive trees and vines. Their traditional livelihoods were taken away and people again fled out of the country thus creating even more abandonment. Abandonment is dangerous for lands that have been disturbed for so long because they build up un-cycled carbon resources over time. Humans and Wildlife along with microbes would have actively managed carbon resources and turned them into carbon rich soils thus building a more resilient landscape. With people and wildlife and microbes having been extracted because of the myriad of spiraling chain reactions of cause and effect, the ecosystem declines even more and is ripe for fire to cycle carbon instead.
Thus basically what the EU does is offer a subsidy for a particular crop selection and people jump on it and an industry is developed. Henceforth, when this EU policy was instituted and intensified over the years, what a great solution to no markets for traditional crops or being an absentee landlord. Simply drop some forestry trees in through signing a contract spurred by EU subsidies, wait until the forestry crops were ready years later, and receive fat royalties for doing nothing other than selling out the ecosystem. Thus the industry grew in its power and control as people could not sell land in Portugal because who wanted to move to this forgotten, economically depressed country struggling to catch up with the rest of the world. It’s not like that way now as foreigners are fleeing inwards to these regions for a self-sufficient lifestyle outside of their mainly northern European locales. But the damage was done already before they arrived. Huge swaths of land when you drive North from Lisbon are in this monoculture. As I wrote in my last article, again, monoculture produces disastrous results. We know this, we know the amount of chemicals used in monocultures of corn in the midwest of the states or wheat in Spain. And we know that in Portugal people die every single year, mainly firefighters making less than two euro an hour to fight them. Yet in this moment of tragedy, we will not point the finger back at ourselves and say wow, you know, not everyone in this world has access to toilet paper. Having done an eight month stint in Asia in 2009 I know this well. When you do defecate, or for women urinate, you don’t use toilet paper for hygiene purposes. You use water. While toilet paper is an incredible step up in hygiene, mainly because of its disposability, it does have an effect later downstream. Our instant culture is not a permaculture and we have long waived long-term foresight for short-term gains in convenience. It’s a great paradox we live in, that us wiping our ass causes wildlife to be extinguished by monoculture and in this case a severe and dramatic loss of life has occurred.
First and foremost we need to switch our thinking into a more holistic one, I have offered a model before and I offer it here again (Holistic Model). If we don’t break from our Cartesian Dualism route, the path to extinction for our species has been laid. Yes indeed please sign the petitions to let the politicians know the numbers of people in Portugal who wish to see their national heritage of a diverse landscape be brought back. Pressure politicians but also take action. We need a massive aid package that directs funds into cutting the trees that are left over from this massive fire and laying them on contour so when the rains do come the ash that is left over doesn’t simply wash away. With fires of that temperature and the high silica content laden soils of central Portugal the soils will have turned into glass essentially leaving a lasting degredatory effect on the landscape for years. The only way to prevent this is contour bunding using the trees to slow erosion, trap sediments and ash, and infiltrate water. Essentially its terraces with woody matter.
So make sure your lands are infiltrating water, that your biodiversity portfolio is being diversified, make sure you are cleaning your lands with mechanical intervention and biological means. I also wrote many years ago about how animals were being used in one particular case in Portugal. I copy and paste at the bottom of this as it comes from a longer article on the use of biological resources. So invite shepherds back into your land or become one. Enliven this tradition. We must have the nitrogen-fixing shrubs and bushes that grow under the eucalyptus cycled, making sure the shedding branches and bark of Eucalyptus are knocked to the ground where they can be fungus food and animal manures repopulate microbes in these degraded ecosystems. We desperately need livestock to have animal impact especially since the wildlife that did it before has long been extinguished. I have seen two deer in eight years in Portugal. Use companies like Ecointerventions to clean or the firemen services, but take this responsibility on strongly. Invest in green company products and services like the
aforementioned company. If you are a permaculture designer in Portugal every design should have a section on fire. Plant species that are fire-retardant and make sure edges of properties are clean and planted with succulents like agave or shrubs like New Zealand mirror plant. Cycle water and Carbon. If you are an absentee landlord work out leases with young permaculturists/ homesteaders for working your land at a cheap rate and even invest in the property so they have capital to make improvements with. Buy local and Portuguese goods and if you run a tourism project please make sure you are buying biological and local products to support this land use redevelopment. There is so much money in tourism right now and the amount of bullshit supermarket food I have had thrown at me as I travel, even in quite pricey hotels, hostels, and farm stays is astounding. Quit using toilet paper, wash not wipe, use handkerchiefs for your nose. Build community, do permablitz’s for land clearings. Pressure councils to invest in stabilizing the hydrological cycle in a given area and form watershed councils so the movements grow bigger. Plant native species and incorporate non natives in food forests. Pressure Councils to make sure that fire-retardant species are planted along exit roadways as almost all the pictures you see of where people died trying to get out, pine and Eucalyptus were planted all the way to the edge. Such near sighted planning is the cause and the effect is one of great tragedy and drama. The list goes on, but it is indeed on all of us to make sure these tragedies don’t happen again and the people lost are not lost in vain.
Referred to Excerpt on using Animals in the Landscape
Cows can also be used to accelerate the succession of the soil and turn a problem into a solution as I once witnessed at a rangeland in the North of Portugal. It was a steep terrain, classically planted out with Eucalyptus monoculture, which of course makes for a fire prone hillside, which is an extremely dangerous system to create. However, one farmer there began to raise smaller and more agile beef on these hillsides that browsed more like goats than say Angus beef. They were tractored in a sense with electric fence being moved daily or every other day in and amongst the Eucalyptus groves. Part of Eucalyptus’s fire strategy is to constantly shed its bark through its fast growth and drop branches. This adds quite considerably to the fuel load below and what most grows in the understory is a mix of nitrogen-fixing bushes. These are often quite nutritious for animals and the cows primary intake was this fire prone vegetation as well. With the cows ranging in a small pasture, they were able to knock down the branches and bark of the Eucalyptus and chip them up and other organic material with their weight and hooves which drastically cuts the fire risk. The material has a chance to break down biologically instead of oxidatively. The cow manures the hillsides reinserting biology back into the system that was lost during spray, spray, spray implementation which also speeds the breakdown of this newly chipped organic material. Then they are quickly moved on so the ground is not over compacted, the bushes are not overgrazed but the animal impact occurs. He was so successful with his rotation that neighbors allowed him to graze his cattle on their land and was able to increase his herd size and thus profit. He was hoping to phase out his day job in town because of this which would of course result in an even stronger system due to even more refined management.
To conclude Chapter 1, finally, of my online book, TreeYo EDU, I give you the State of the World article. Fitting timing after yesterday. Its a part that every Permaculture Design Course has in it and i offer a patterned based approach to the perspective. Its a pretty fun read i have to say and i hope you enjoy and leave comments on all the great projects that are going on around the world as i ask for in the last sentence. https://treeyopermacultureedu.wordpress.com/about/state-of-the-world/
There is something big happening in southern Europe that is not getting enough air time and I believe it requires our attention. Check out my presentation on desertification at Danyadara to find out more. Just add your email and you get a link the talk I did on the topic. Thanks to the folks at Danyadara for putting it into a viewable presentation. http://bit.ly/DougsTalk.
Getting one step closer to finishing the patterns chapter with this article for TreeYo EDU online PDC handbook. Its a short one but some pivotal patterns to understand and apply. Excerpt from opening line: As patterns build upon themselves and approach the fractal realm, they become increasingly complex in structure yet equate to simple forms with their subsequent dynamic energetic exchange. https://treeyopermacultureedu.wordpress.com/chapter-4-pattern-understanding/overbeck-jet-eckman-and-von-karman/
When I showed up again at Suryalila on April 20th, 2017 I had just finished a one month stint of being on the road in Portugal and felt refreshed to be back there in Southern Andulusia. To my surprise the landscape had already taken on a harsh look and the weather surprisingly hot. There wasn’t much of a spring, which
made the winter crops bolt quickly but the soils still a bit too cold in our new sunken beds for really great growth of summer crops. However we made some mulch, bed prep and watering adjustments and began to plant out the garden further along with farm manager Jacob Evans. And not just him but a wonderful crew that evolved and emerged as a serious squad. I supported them with lots of education and they supported the project and myself with lots of hard work and laughs. And not just outside in the field, but also inside building the association of Danyadara Permaculture further so that a true educational center surrounding permaculture can be lifted up off the ground.
It really didn’t rain much from March 3rd to April 28th, maybe one inch (25mm). That makes life tough when you have so many new growing spaces and young trees. You need that water for the growth of biomass to cycle, for animals to eat, for trees to get established, and crops to be nourished. Watering with well water is just not the same as rainwater, which is what we saw when it finally did come a couple of times during my time there. So we just cracked on with planting, watering, managing cover crops, composting, worm bin maintenance, earthworks adjustments, plant propagation, animal husbandry.… the list goes on and on.
We did some implementation of sunken pits (a form of sunken beds)on the swales we installed in December and on the Moonshala terraces we installed in the PDC in March. We worked hard to get this done by simply creating a small sunken crater and putting seeds of squashes in just before a rain. However the rain ended up being very little amount and the hand watering began. The germination rate was ok and again proves that rainwater is such a quality version of water and with shifting climates this is one of the repercussions, lack of good germination.
However we did get one big three-day rain event exactly one year after the big rain event of May 10-20 that happened last year in Iberia. It wasn’t ten days this time but we worked like mad for days before to install even more growing space in the old wheat field. The wheat field had been subsoiled twice on the
keyline pattern in the last six months and was ready for its next step to happen. With trees planted thus starting the alley cropping and with animals rotated to cycle biomass, it was time to create gardens in the alleys. First we grazed the field in a rush with a couple of horses and the biomass they didn’t eat we harvested for hay for the other animals in different pastures. So we used the subsoiler once more going off contour during the first passes then back on the key line pattern after that to break up the ground further and set the beds. Then we weeded the long rows of the mainly annual vegetation and then tilled. While tilling is not the best for the soil, well, sometimes you got to do it in year one and especially when you are in a hurry. As we were tilling, we were following behind making sunken craters once again to accommodate squash but also with sunflowers. We incorporated manures and then topped the craters up with a light application of compost after the seeds were sown just hours before the rain came. The crew was amazing with this implementation of the wheat field garden with others from the retreat center community coming out to support the final push as well. At the end the beds looked like terraces, following the curves of the valley which contains rich soils.
And the rains came, terraces held water, swales captured water, the keyline pattern cultivation infiltrated water, the sunken beds, the pit gardens, all of that digging and mounding by us and the machines was in full action. Crops grew with amazing speed and biomass was springing forth. It was a sight to see for sure with 2 inches (50 mm) of rain coming over three days. And quickly it got hot so the rush to chop and drop and lock that moisture in through mulch was the next big push. And to get the place looking great for a big yoga group of 60 people that came just days after the rains stopped. Me and Jake gave tours to that group and a sense of inspiration from nature was present. We have indeed transformed the landscape there through so many approaches that I feel quite proud of my work there along with so many people. Furthermore, with the wheat field we planted out a couple of more long rowed beds on this same implementation pattern but mainly just planted on the level ground with tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. It should produce an abundant supply of food if summer doesn’t come too quickly and the crops can shoot after the transplant shock. Overall the wheat field has gone through an enormous transformation in 11 months and am impressed with the speed of progress we were able to achieve.
And my inner landscape was transformed once more forever. It’s a place where living life in community brings up a lot. It’s practically impossible to escape. And thank goodness because when your eyes and ears are open lessons are abundant. I left with this Mollison quote during my final morning meeting “the greatest change we need to make is moving from consumers to producers. If only 10% of us do this there is enough for everyone, hence the futility of the revolutionaries who attack only with bullets and words, not shelter and gardens.” We became producers of groundwater, of biodiversity, of soil, and of food. The mantras fused into two, lets plant some treesyo in the winter to the spring lets grow some foodyo. But most importantly probably, we were producers of community. It’s the people you remember the most over the years not how many trees you planted or your yields per acre or hectare. And this crew, this epic journey of pushing as hard as I could for four straight weeks, and all the other amazing people I met through the retreat center, well it taught me a lot and reminded me just how blessed I am.
No time to do many updates as spring planting of the veg gardens and taking care of the nearly 1000 trees planted this winter keeps me quite busy. But here is a short video of the main project i am working on these days alongside an amazing cast of characters. What a pleasure to be here in Southern Spain at Suryalila with the non profit association now have been launched, Danyadara.
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
Here is the course blog from the amazing journey that was Suryalila Retreat Centre with an eclectic group and an amazing dynamic trio of teachers with Itai Goldman and Ja Cobo. Thanks so much to all of you for the learning process and the hands-on work we did to give back to the site and the earth itself. Lots of earthworks accomplished, tree planting, hot composting, and natural building. https://treeyopermaculture.com/treeyo/previous-treeyo-courses/feb-march-2017-2-week-pdc-suryalila-permaculture-villamartin-spain/