Dec 2009: 2nd 2 week PDC at Escola de Terra, Portugal

Water, water, water.  That was the theme of the second PDC held at the Escola in the hills near Sintra, Portugal.  The course was held in winter which has its pluses and minues.  Plus; its wet so you can plant.  Minus; its cold and wet which makes learning and health a bit tougher at times.  However we struck a good balance with staying dry and finding ways to harvest all that water and take a step towards abundance.  Check out this video which recaps the earthworks project to harvest all of this water at the following link:

The end of the driveway that receives large amounts of water, notice the erosion gully on the road and sand deposits from the road
The driveway that receives large amounts of water, notice the erosion gully on the road and sand deposits from the road

The course had 17 students and again a mostly Portuguese crowd but a few of the international folks that Sintra attracts.  It rained everday of the course but it gave us such a great opportunity for observation.  During one rain event the night before the water section, we got an estimated 36mm of rainfall.  With the area of the roof, plus the driveway leading from the main road, plus the small section of the main road that also was a part of the drainage onto the school driveway, we estimated that 30,000 Liters of water rushed onto the site in just one rain.  The day before we were due to dig a swale, a huge storm came through which was on the heels on the aforementioned rain event.  Roads were washed out, electricity down, and people had a hard time getting to class that day.  So we just dug since I couldn’t show the slideshow I was supposed to that morning.

Ines tidying up after the initial swale digging and food forest planting

We planted also that day four citrus trees, one pomegranate and two Nitrogen fixing trees.  We also cover cropped of course and the students used their newly learned plant propagation skills to create a diverse understory for free from the pre-exisiting plants on the site.

Sand bar accumulation

The swale had quite an evolution in may ways.  The initial spillway was too not fortified enough and a bit too low.  So we did some more digging and mounding on the far side and reinforced the spillway with rubble.  This made the water holding capacity greater and reduced the risk of blowout from erosion on the spillway.  Over the next two weeks it filled up many times and collected large amounts of silts and sand that would have just eventually washed away.  It was amazing to see the core model and dendritic pattern come together with the catchment branching and collecting into one main artery but as it moved to its sink, it created a delta effect.  The sand and silts deposits would grow each time the rains would come and the “beach” got bigger and bigger. The delta changed directions and which artery being the main channel to the swale changed and with it different sized sediments being deposited.  The swale remained almost full always as when it wasn’t raining the surrounding hillsides were weeping water for hours after the course ended.  Thus the road and roof runoff was a mini ecosystem that proved to be quite a teaching tool for patterns and harnessing a valuable energy source.

permaculture swale with water
The swale fully filled
Before picture of area full of erosion and lack of beauty at the schools entrance

We quickly saw that this was not enough water harvesting, so our next endeavour was moving higher up into the landscape and addressing the roof runoff on the southside of the building.  We transformed a problem into a very beautiful solution.  Having learned Rain Gardens from Brad Lancaster recently, Doug decided to use this technique to make the function of water harvesting supported by many elements.

permaculture rain garden
Students planting Canna on the wetter terrace, cover cropping with legumes, and planting cuttings of Nasturtium and aromatic herbs

The area differed from where the swale was because it was not so flat, not so open because of the concrete wall and irrigation piping,  and there was a preexisting little tree exactly where we intended to place it.  So we decided to work around these obstacles and store less water but make a rather aesthetically pleasing water feature to enhance the sites overall appeal.  We then planted it out in similar fashion to the swale mound.  It too went through many different stages as it filled with silt, had a spillway adjustment, and redug to find level.  That’s the key to permaculture.  Your designs should not be static.  We knew what we wanted to accomplish but the process always came back to that re-evaluation through Protracted and Thoughtful Observation.  So we made some adjustments and now it is a go.  We planted a couple of fruit trees to accompany it as that area of the land is being transformed into a food forest as well.  We want the students of all ages to learn in a forest setting and that is exactly what this site is headed towards- a forest of food.

Rain Garden at night

But we weren’t stopped there with water as the final days of the course were drawing down, students did some digging on second swale.  We finished it after the course ended along with a small swale in front of a pre-exisitng raised mound that was nearly on contour already.  We planted another 20 plus trees and developed guilds all the while for the fruit and nut trees.  Windbreaks were added with cuttings and herbaceous plants.  It was a beautiful way to wrap up the course with a few students that stuck around to help make this earthworks and food forest happen.

permaculture swales herring bone
Three swales for harvesting all that water

Other hands on events included hot composting and then turning it some days later, plant propagation for a terrace we constructed at the driveway entrance, bathtub worm bin setup, and some minor earthworks at Terra Mae to harvest more water.  We visited Terra Mae once again and were struck by how well the water harvesting and soil regeneration techniques were working.  To see water just pouring out of the hillside hours after it had stopped raining was quite the site.  The pond is filling nicely and the tropical trees are making it through the winter with a bit of damage from the frosts.

Because of this time of year, the students final designs projects reflected this abundance of water in comparison to the last course in the summer.   Good designs were created for the final project with an obvious comprehension of the design process.  The students finished full power despite the tough schedule in and around Christmas and New Years.  One of the highlights of the course was the final party as New Years was just one day away so the no-talent showed morphed into a long jam session and dance party.  As Transition Towns advocates, we must celebrate and the community had a great time partying with sobriety and Howard’s traditional French dances.

Ricardo preforming his no talent in costume

The course enabled Escola Da Terra to progress as a demonstration site so Thank You to all who contributed.  It now has lots of food production happening, a diverse array of water harvesting techniques, and lots of love put into the land.  The course ends a fabulous 2009 year for TreeYo with Doug leading this course alone but remaining with spirit of Gautier and Kaila.  Gautier’s vision and manifestation of the brilliance of Terra Mae was a big help for this group as they saw the principles manifested into a working site.  Kaila’s interactive game development also contributed heavily to this course with these techniques being a wonderful learning opportunity for all of those involved.  Thanks to Pedro and Rita and all the others who are apart of Escola Da Terra. May 2010 be a blessed year for the Permaculture world and students of Escola Da Terra.

Random Assembly Zone Interactive Card Game

2 Comments on “Dec 2009: 2nd 2 week PDC at Escola de Terra, Portugal

  1. olá, parabéns pelo vosso projecto!já há algum tempo vos queria falar…
    eu sou mãe de uma fadinha linda de 6 meses e queria muito dar-lhe uma educação em que eu acredito que seja a ideal…para mim baseia se na pedagogia waldorf-steiner. mas tambem gostaria de colaborar convosco se possivel.como posso contactar-vos?obrigada!

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