A few weeks ago I discovered that there was a 440 acrepermaculture land-restoration project practically on my doorstep. And they were having an open day. So, as I've trying to learn how to socialise and master the art of riding a bike, I figured I ought to go along and meet everybody.
The is the view from the top of 'Jerico's Hill' above Alfrivida, taken from my bike on the way to the open day. The mist snaking along the valley is rising from the Rio Ponsul as it makes it's way to the Tejo and the Spanish border. Vale da Sarvinda lies alongside the river and is part of the Parque Natural do Tejo Internacional.
Nearly there! This was just before one of the pedals fell off. At least it waited until I was nearly there so I didn't have to push it too far...
We made it!
That's the longest I've ever done on a bike and was very grateful for the battery! I wasn't exactly sure how we were going to get home again though.
The visitors split into several groups for the tours.
A wood-fired water-heating furnace. I forget all the details, but maybe someone will remind me...
Helpers here seem to be treated with an incredible amount of respect and are encouraged to be resourceful and follow their own ideas, much like Paul's 'soul labour'. One of the helpers there decided that they needed a nice outdoor place to sit, so she set about digging this area out, building the stone benches, and erecting the shade structure.
I like the way this place operates!
Dennis is a qualified permaculture teacher, and has been involved with setting up the internship program at Vale da Sarvinda. The plan is to cover one aspect of the full permaculture design course each month, so that all interns who stay for a complete cycle will be able to get their PDC, completely free of charge.
Kitchen with covered dish-washing area.
Just imagine the view while you're washing the dishes...
This vegetable garden is built on a rather steep east-facing slope that dips down towards the river. South-facing would be too much in Portugal's hot summers!
Stone edged raised beds mean that soil and compost stay put rather than wash down the hill, and never get compacted as they are never walked on.
Pepino Dulce, a perennial relative of tomatoes and aubergines. I took a cutting off this plant and hopefully it will survive our winters. With a little luck it should do.
You can see how steep the garden is in this photo. Also, the compost loos in the background.
That's a beetroot plant. Apparently it's 'split' into a beetroot cluster, with, apparently, loads of beetroots all stuck together, each with its own set of leaves, a bit like a bunching onion.
This is a privacy screen for outdoor showers, for those who don't like to shower indoors.
Loo with a view!
There are 180 hectares to explore, so time to get walking!
With so much building going on, clay is a valuable resource. Here's one of the sources.
This olive tree's roots have become exposed, and I thought they were rather beautiful.
The hill in the background has been terraced and is being prepared for planting mulberries, which will be grown as a part of a polyculture. I don't know which other plants will form part of the polyculture, but they are varying them according to the exact location and microclimate. I'll be very interested to visit again in a few years and see how things are developing.
This vegeatble garden is further away from the main settlement and is going to focus on perennial vegetables.
I'm exceedingly interested in this, too. Especially as it's close enough for me to take cuttings...
This vegetable garden runs along a 'dry' valley, which is a very typical pattern locally. My own farm is much the same, and also my olive grove and secondary broad-acre type garden in the forest follows the the same pattern. The soil is deeper and moister along these valleys and nutrient flows into them from the surrounding hills. They often have wells or fonts along them, and structures to prevent erosion so that the soil stays put instead of gradually escaping down the valley.
A mandala garden. These are a good way of concentrating all the effort and materials into a small space and the paths are designed so that all areas can be accessed without having to set foot on the soil and compact it.
They are also very ornamental and many people find them good places to meditate and enjoy the spiritual aspects of gardening and being in contact with nature. I have to admit, I get that just setting foot outside the door and I've never felt the need to create one in such a definite shape, but I appreciate that a lot of other people find them very therapeutic and beautiful.
One of the water sources further up the valley from the perennial vegetable garden.
Modronos! Nom, nom, nom...
AKA Irish Strawberry Tree.
There was a rumour going around that they are hallucinogenic or something if you eat more than five. I tested it, to no effect. Very nice though!
One of the income-raising projects here is a commercial mushroom growing set up. Not the best designed project, and it's proving to be a bit of a challenge getting those dug-out areas for the greenhouses not to turn into lakes during heavy rain. They're working on it!
Another major project being undertaken is the tourist camping (or is it 'glamping'?) area. This is one of the straw-bale buildings under construction there.
Several 'roundhouse style' straw bale buildings are going up across the valley. The mandala gardens don't do much for me, but I find this area and those roundhouses rather magical.
A giant gloppitta-gloppitta machine! It's something to do with preparing the clay and separating the rough bits out.
Overall, I have to admit I was highly impressed. The whole project started when a group of friends got together to rent the land and get things started. An arrangement has been made so that they have first option on buying the land, at a pre-arranged price. Two million euros of funding has been secured in total for the various projects, which is a bit of a double edged sword as it does restrict the way the projects can be run. The projects include mulberry orchards, shiitake mushrooms, olive orchard regeneration, eco-camping site, restoring ruins, building ponds and lakes, and installing a solar park.
I intend to return to the site regularly, and keep everyone updated with progress there. On my bike, of course, when I get that pedal fixed. And maybe with a pair of snips and a bag for a few cuttings...
Thanks for an interesting 'look' around Burra. I have a wwoofer here at the moment who will be interested as he is thinking about moving to Portugal to set up his own permaculture project....on a smaller scale.
The gloppitta gloppitta machine is a trommel for separating material into different size grades. If you were making plaster, it would need to be quite fine. For cob, they may accept larger pebbles.
Thanks for the tour! Looks really interesting. I really like the idea of earth bag construction. I saved my chicken feed bags for years, was going to build a little root cellar I saw in Mother Earth News, and then we had to move. I tried to find the bags (hundreds of them!) a home, but had no luck. Into the trash. . . .
Yes, we had free cycle in Madison, WI, but the bags had to compete with fixing up the house for sale and then selling the large items on Craigslist, also distributing the materials from my concrete paver raised bed veggie garden, etc etc. I tried to give them away on the Madison Area Permaculture Guild email list, but nobody responded.
To be clear, this was in 2013. I live in Portland now.