Yes, we are still around. Sorry for the rather late reply.
I could give you a long list of do's and don'ts in Portugal but I believe most of these will be irrelevant to you. Your experiences will be different than mine. What I can share with you are my experiences with establishing a feral forest and planting a food forest or forest garden in a hot and dry environment with poor soils. But bear in mind that if you are going to live in another area of Portugal, some of this information will be wrong. Even if you would choose to live in the Beira interior/sul region where I live, there are microclimates and some differences in the humidity and fertility levels of the soil. The climate here is characterized by long hot dry summers and relatively cool wet winters. Morning frosts occur at the place where I live, down to -6C. Some climate change studies indicate that Iberia will become even drier and hotter in the future, with average winter temperatures raising 4C and summer 6C by the end of this century. Periods of drought will be much more frequent. I think the possible future climate of most of Iberia in 10-20 years will be comparable with southern California now, where they experience severe droughts since 2011 with only around one third of normal rainfall.
My aim has always been to let most of the land rewild, the forest that will result from this I call a feral forest. This is the "do nothing" approach in which I believe very much. It is however not a black and white approach. I am not 100% doing nothing... for instance I cut the Eucalyptus globulus trees that were planted by the previous owner. But I don't cut them all at once, because they provide shadow during the summer for the young new holm oaks and other trees. In general eucalyptus disturbs the ecological balance (in this area), although I realize that balances always change. They consume large amounts of water (they grow very fast), and studies showed that much less birds make their nests in monoculture eucalyptus forests. On a hot day, I can smell their essential oils in the air. The ground under the trees is covered with dead leaves and bark which are high in phenolics, preventing the breakdown by fungi. All this makes a highly flammable mix! I made my compost toilet walls out of eucalyptus branches and leaves, and after 4 years the dead leaves are still on the branches. But of course people make good money with eucalyptus, they grow fast and you can coppice them every 8-10 years for the paper industry (our toilet paper, kitchen paper etc...).
The original "old growth" forest in this area was most probably an evergreen holm oak forest, specifically Quercus ilex subspecies rotundifolia which has sweet edible acorns. In Portugal it is called the azinheira. The other subspecies Quercus ilex subsp. ilex doesn't grow here and has bitter acorns. The sweet acorns of the azinheira can be eaten straight from the tree or you can grind them into a tasty flour. You don't need to remove the tannins as with many other acorns. Pigs also like the acorns, and even my mule is in love with them. When I arrived here in 2012, I counted about 25 holm oaks in total. A couple of months ago I counted again and now there are more than 100 new small holm oaks that have grown naturally from fallen acorns.
The very slow growing holm oak will be the major canopy tree in the feral forest. Another oak that was present in the old growth forest was the cork oak, the sobreiro, the national tree of Portugal. I had about 5 cork oaks when I arrived, now another 5 have sprouted from fallen acorns. The acorns are also sweet and can be eaten or grinded.
Another common native tree, that almost behaves like a pioneer species, is the maritime pine, Pinus pinaster, which grows quite fast, and is not very long living. It can become a bit invasive. The small seeds with wings are ideal for wind dispersal. Some native species are outcompeted by the maritime pine. And just as eucalyptus, the trees are highly flammable.The pine processionary caterpillar overwinters in nests high in maritime pines. In early spring they "process" in nose-to-tail columns, protected by their irritating hairs (if you have a dog, be careful). In fact they will become butterflies (moths) when adult. The caterpillars can destroy a whole tree by consuming all of its needles. I use the resin that I tap from the pine for many things, ranging from glue to repairing my teeth. The pine seeds are really too small to be consumed as "nuts". I have planted a couple of stone pines, Pinus pinea. They are known for their edible "nuts" and are also native to Portugal. They do very well in this climate.
Some other native trees for a feral forest in this region include Ceratonia siliqua* (carob), Fraxinus angustifolia* (narrow-leafed ash), Juniperus oxycedrus* (prickly juniper), Acer monspessulanum (Montpellier maple), Arbutus unedo* (strawberry tree), Crataegus monogyna* (common hawthorn), Erica arborea* (tree heath), Malus sylvestris* (crab apple), Myrtus communis* (common myrtle), Phillyrea angustifolia* (lentisco in Portuguese) and Phillyrea latifolia (aderno in Port.), Pistacia lentiscus* (mastic tree), Pistacia terebinthus (turpentine tree), Prunus avium* (wild cherry), Prunus insititia (damson), Prunus spinosa (blackthorn), Pyrus bourgaeana (the Iberian pear), Quercus coccifera (kermes oak), Quercus faginea (Portuguese oak), Quercus pyrenaica (Pyrenean oak), Rhamnus alaternus (Mediterranean buckthorn) and Sambucus nigra (elderberry).
I have at least one tree of the ones marked * in the feral forest area.
If you have humid parts on your land you can try Salix* (willow), Alnus* (alder) and Populus (aspen and poplar) species.
I would recommend to use mainly native trees in a feral forest area.
The food forest I am planting involves quite a lot of work during the first years and will be totalling around 5000 m2 or less than 10% of the land. It consists of a mix of native and non-native trees, plants and herbs. The following is based upon my personal experiences and I focus on fruit producing plants (although I have experimented with many other species). I look at two factors: are the plants heat resistant (****: very resistant / * not resistant) and do they need a lot of extra water in the summer (**** a lot of water / * can survive without extra watering). The survival rate is based upon trees that were planted 4 years ago. If you want a carefree food forest you need **** heat resistant and * watering needs. Unfortunately there are not that many food plants in that category...
Apple/Malus domestica: heat *** (some cultivars) / water **
Apricot/Prunus armeniaca: heat ** / water *** / likes afternoon shadow / only one of my trees survived.
Avocado/Persea americana: heat * / water **** / all my avocados died / not recommended
Blackberry/Rubus ursinus: heat *** / water ** / many wild growing varieties, but harvest is unpredictable
Blueberry/Vaccinium: heat * / water *** / needs afternoon shade / thick mulch to protect roots from heat / only 2 out of 10 survived (struggling) / not recommended but I like blueberries
Cherry/Prunus avium: heat * / water **** / two out of 6 trees survived. / not recommended in this area but I like cherries. In the mountain areas they grow quite well. Harvesting is competition between you and birds.
Grapefruit/Citrus paradisi: heat *** / water ** / 100% survival rate but slow growing
Lemon/Citrus limon: heat *** / water * / plant next to building or big rock (more humidity and warmth) / not very frost resistant / I have one adult tree next to the house and that's enough. It gives me more than 100kg of lemons per year. I use lemon a lot, but specifically as a raising agent in bread (combined with sodabicarbonate) I also have a sweet lemon tree, the fruits I use in cooking.
Lime/Citrus latifolia: heat *** / water * / same remarks as for lemon
Mandarin/Citrus reticulata: heat *** / water *** / likes afternoon shadow. I have one adult tree that gives me around 150 kg of mandarines per year.
Orange/Citrus sinensis: heat *** / water *** / Recommended but more water = more fruit. I have 4 adult trees that give me around 1000 kg of oranges per year. I also planted 2 blood orange trees, but no fruit yet
Elderberry/Sambucus nigra: heat *** / water *** / Recommended but more water = more fruit
Fig/Ficus carica: heat **** / water * / Highly recommended / Some cultivars have two harvests per year. Dry your surplus harvest in a solar drier.
Goji Berry/Lycium Barbarum: heat * water *** / needs afternoon shade / Fruits very bad in hot weather / Not recommended. I harvested maybe 10 gram of berries from my 10 goji shrubs,
Grape/Vitis vinifera: heat **** (some cultivars) / water * / Highly recommended. Roots very deep / Traditional red grape for wine is Touriga. I also planted Cabernet and Merlot. Red wine is easy to make, but it is too hot to make a tasty white wine without the use of chemicals.
Guava/Psidium guajava: heat ** / water **** / likes afternoon shadow / doesn't like frost
Jujube/Ziziphus jujuba: heat **** /water ** / very heat tolerant / Highly recommended
Kiwifruit/Actinidia deliciosa: heat * water *** / likes afternoon shadow / I am struggling with my kiwis (one male two females)...
Kumquat/Fortunella: heat ** / water *** / likes afternoon shadow
Loquat/Eriobotrya japonica: heat ** / water *** / likes afternoon shadow. I have 2 adult trees but harvest is minimal. Great bee plant - flowers in november
Lychee/Litchi chinensis: heat * water **** / full shadow during hottest months / Not recommended
Mango/Mangifera indica: heat * water **** / needs afternoon shade / doesn't like frost / Not recommended
Olive/Olea europaea: heat **** / water * / Highly recommended
Passion Fruit/Passiflora: heat ** / water *** / Not recommended
Peach / Nectarine/Prunus persica: heat *** water *** / more water = more fruit
Pear/Pyrus pyrifolia: heat *** water * (some cultivars). I have two adult pear trees which produce quite well without watering
Persimmon/Diospyros kaki: heat ** / water *** / more water = more fruit / likes afternoon shade. I love this fruit
Pineapple/Ananas comosus: heat ** water **** / likes acid soils / doesn't like frost / lots of water
Plum/Prunus domestica: heat *** / water ** (some cultivars). Recommended
Pomegranate/Punica granatum: heat **** / water * / Highly recommended / Easy to propagate / A tasty fruit, but a bit of a challenge to eat it in the beginning
Quince/Cydonia oblonga: heat *** /water * / Highly recommended / marmalade originally meant a quince jam, and comes from marmeleiro, the portuguese word for this fruit
Raspberry/Rubus idaeus: heat** / water *** / likes shade / can produce very well with daily watering in summer. On average one big plant gives me 3-5 kg of fruit per season (june-september)
Strawberry/Fragaria x ananassa: heat ** water *** / likes shade / needs daily watering for good fruiting (but less production than raspberries)
I experimented with coffee, tea and cacao during the first year. All died.
Some people in the area have experimented with bananas and have harvested fruit. I didn't. Most banana cultivars are not frost resistant.
Nut trees: all my wallnuts died even with extensive watering, 2 hazelnuts survived out of 5 and 1 chestnut survived out of 3. I will try Pistacia vera (pistachio) in the future
Most fruit trees have an excellent harvest one year and a poor one the next year.
During the first years, all young plants need watering during the summer, even drought resistant species as olives, figs, pomegranate and grapes.
About community building:
I have only met one person who was willing to live with almost no material stuff, who was not talking about building. creating and making things more comfortable and who was at the same time willing to live in a community. I guess most people like me end up living solitary. I have a tiny house of 20m2. Just four walls and a roof. Everyone who visits me asks when I am going to extend the building. When I answer "never", their eyes tell me they feel sorry for me. I almost never spent time in the house. Two families of dorm-mice sleep under the roof and some snakes keep the dorm-mice population steady... I sleep happily outside...
Primitive has a positive meaning for me. It comes from the latin word primus, meaning first. Primitive in this sense means our first ways of living as humans. I had and still have a dream to start an anarchistic (no leaders) and egalitarian (no hierarchy-no specialization) community based upon the community principles I observed in nomadic hunter gatherers during the 70s and 80s. But I am also realistic. That will never happen...
Many anthropologists that have visited nomadic hunter gatherers describe them as lazy. They built no houses, they had only a few shared tools, they had no sense of possession and they stored almost no food. It seemed most of the time all they did was sit and do nothing. They even don't speak a lot which was one of the things that surprised me at first. I expected them to talk and sing around a fire at night but that was quite rare. They produce almost no material culture. But they were not lazy, just economical and extremely efficient. I would call it the art of being idle. Sitting around doing nothing helps to conserve energy. It's how our ancestors survived for hundreds of thousands of years. And scientists discover it everywhere in the animal kingdom, even the bees and ants that were so important in the fairy tales that promoted hard work, work a lot less than expected.
Some westerners nowadays are fascinated by the hunter gatherer way of life. But in our typical way we get right into it and we start to plan, to manage, to create, to produce and to produce more. If we really want to get in touch with the hunter gatherer way of living we have to learn to do nothing... For me that is the major reason why I don't believe in human management and control of nature. In the end we always end up with unexpected terrible results.
But I want to end with a positive note. The place we call Portugal in our imagination is not a bad place to live. This region looks a little bit like the african savannah where Homo sapiens probably originated. Unfortunately there are no elephants, babboons and baobabs
Thirteen million years ago, in the middle of the Miocene, almost all of Iberia was a tropical forest. In the middle of this forest lived Pierolapithecus catalaunicus, an ape, which some paleo-anthropologists consider the common ancestor of humans and great apes (chimps, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans). To me in a sense it feels like coming home.