Laurence Keela

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since Mar 14, 2016
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Recent posts by Laurence Keela

I have planted a couple of food forests and am very much interested in making habitat for wild life and offsetting carbon, but as i limit the perennial plants in my food forests to edible plants for humans i am restricted. DO you think this is still considered reforestation?

At first i thought not so i raised some money for a a reforestation project which has just been executed on 1 hectare. ANyhow i have a lot of land and plan to reforest 1 hectare a year, i am not planning next years reforestation and wondering what concept to go for.

Some of the principles we have included in the planning and planting:

The majority of the trees we have planted are native to Portugal
In order to block the north prevailing winds, a windbreak of fast growing trees has been planted on the north side of the food forest with another row of slow growing windbreak trees in front of these
We are looking for a 50% canopy coverage of the field to allow space for grasses, shrubs and wildflowers to flourish
In between the planned permanent trees, we have planted fast growing trees that will cover 100% of the canopy. These can be used for timber or fire wood and can be thinned out over the years (offsetting additional carbon)
Shrubs, herbs and groundcovers have been planted between many of the trees
Mostly fire resistant trees have been planted
We have planted trees in three areas:
Wet area – for water loving trees
Dry area – for more drought resistant trees
Around the lake – trees to shade the lake to reduce evaporation
Tree seeds have also been planted around the borders to offer an additional wind break and for carbon offsetting
We have planted a lot of trees, herbs and seeds all at once and left room for trees that may die. This is because we plan to introduce animals on rotation to keep the grasses and low hanging branches down to reduce fire risk as soon as possible. If we just planted some of the field and had to replant trees in future years it would delay the introduction of animals (as the trees need to establish first), thus increasing manual work to cut grass and reduce fire risk

if your interested to know more about the project take a look at our blog on this project
1 year ago

S Bengi wrote:Casie I think other than Hazelnut you can grow everything listed, which ones would you say that you can't grow?

Keela you have put so much thought into the chicken fodder area. The only think I can add is that I would also grow a lot of mushroom and insect for my chickens.

Hi Bengi, good point that i didn't mention on the blog, i collected many mushrooms from around the land and put them in water and watered the whole forest. i am just not so good at identifying mushrooms (as i cant stand them), so i did not target specific edible mushrooms, i just put as much variety their as possible, do you think that does the job?.

I also incolculated the main trees with mycorrhizal powder  ut i will stop doing this as i can see the same mushroom coming up by trees in my older food forest that i inoculated, so i can just  ke my own by soaking the roots of the tree in a water/mushroom concoction.
1 year ago
radishes :-) easy and a quick harvest so good for motivation
Velho Barbudo we have around 2 hectares now with different food forests:

some info is here: webpage
1 year ago
Hi Guys
We have planted half our food forest for chickens and thought I would share what we have done for any feedback and ideas for the rest of it.

The food forest was designed with these requirements for the food forest:

The food forest must provide wind protection to our new community house
The system must be designed thinking about the succession of trees over time, i.e. first design a canopy later that will be present in 150 years, then design in shorter lived trees to live under this canopy and even shorter lived shrubs closer to the main canopy tree.
The food forest must stay true to the plan if left unmanaged through a natural succession of plants
The food forest must stay true to the design if someone takes over the land who isn’t interested in food forests – we must give them a reason not to chop it down for grains or monoulture, i.e. high yields and beauty.
Shrubs and trees should be planted in with adequate spacing so that they can grow to full size without competing with other plants
All layers of the food forest must be included, the fencing will be used for climbers such as passion fruit
The polyculture of trees and shrubs should be designed and planted to give a forest feel and not individual beds or guilds of plants.
The path for humans which goes through the food forest must have trees and shrubs on either side that can provide regular forage for humans, i.e. berries or fruits that are harvested regularly and can be eaten there and then (such as apples and blueberries).
Fruit and berry plants that humans would harvest as a one off and would need to process to eat such as quince and olive should be planted further away from the path (e.g. olives, elderberry and quince)
Chickens should enjoy to eat something from every plant, like the fallen fruit or low hanging fruit or leaves.
The wild lavender growing all over this are not to be disturbed.
All plants should provide a yield for us (the humans), like berries, fruit, medicine, timber etc
As many medicinal plants for chickens should be included (such as wormwood as a dewormer) as animals are known to self medicate.
Ground covers of herbs and spreading fruit like mock strawberry should be used to cover the ground.
Open areas should be included to give the chickens and insects both grass and weed fodder
An area must be included for a chicken powered compost generating system
Areas must be devoted to growing grains to be saved for sprouting for additional chicken food
Access to chicken house, compost generating system must be easy for humans, wheelbarrows and a car must be able to access the output of the compost system
The food forest should be split into three areas so the chickens can be rotated through them.
One area more densely planted and closed to chickens for 1-2 years
One area with larger trees more spaced out and less understory plants and space for growing grains. This area will be open to chickens within 1 year and later sheep as well.
One area for the chicken powered compost system where the chickens will have access to from the very start (they will be introduced in 6 months when we introduce the chickens)[/list]

Chicken food forest Area 1. 1071 square meters (51 meters by 21 meters):

First we designed the canopy layer in 100 years and then included plants in the space in time based on the growth of the trees in 25, 50 and 100 years. This included:

Existing native holm oak and cork oak seedlings. The oaks are only a meter or so high at the moment and are extremely slow growing. Although they don’t directly provide fodder for the chickens, they attracts a lot of life which the chickens can eat and as they are growing shorter lived trees under their future canopy, we have included Red Elderberry, Quince, Loquat, Medicinal shrubs and a Goji Hedge in this space in time. They could also be pruned back in 100 years for firewood if desired. The planted understory here is mock strawberry.
A nitrogen fixing Carob tree grown from collect seed. This is the slowest growing tree in the design but with the biggest canopy, giving us a large area to plant fruit trees that live or produce for less than 100 years. The tree will in the future shade the pond that we dug to get clay to build the chicken coop. It will fix nitrogen for the other canopy trees around it, provide fodder for chickens and the edible carob pods provide a chocolate substitute for us. In and around the future canopy we have planted 8 Jostaberries (cross between black current and gooseberry), two different varieties of Nectarine trees, chickens favorite nitrogen fixer the siberian pea shrub, Sea Buckthorn, two Pomegranates, Common Juniper, four Black Chokeberries and Asparagus.  This area has many herbs including Rui, Oregano ground cover, Wormwood and Marjurum. We also included many edible flowers (including holly hock, borage, calendula) and nitrogen fixing cover crops such as clover and alfalfa.
A black mulberry tree grown from a bought seed. This tree is faster growing and the berries are loved by chickens. As it is faster growing, there is less time available for us to grow trees under the canopy but we have planted shrubs and trees at the edge of the future canopy such as two Apricots, three red chokeberries, many Artichokes, 3 Black elderberries and a variety of herbs with the main groundcovers of Oregano, Mock strawberry and Comfrey Bocking 14.
Dogwood Cherry tree bought. Another slow growing tree giving us space in time to play. The cherries and flower are beautiful and chickens will adore the fallen fruit.  Under here we have planted two nitrogen fixing Myrtle shrubs and two Black Lace Elderberries, herbs such as sage and rosemary. This shrub layer will join into the Carob guilt. Around here we have propagated in a variety a running strawberry and calendulas to cover this area.

If your interested to learn more you can check our blog on this: Blog on food forest for chickens

1 year ago
Over 2 one month long food forest courses we have nearly finished a mass planting of a new food forest in Portugal. we planted guilds, installed a swales and a pond, put in cover crops and sheet mulching. Some photos here:

Photo of the design done by the group, inbetween all of these plants are cover crops, sheet mulching, compost piles and paths. inside each circle is a guild of companion plants

Each guild was designed by a different student on the course

Photo of one of many guilds being planted. on each guild we plant a nitrogen fixer, dynamic accumulator, insect repellers, beneficial insect attractors, we try to include some spring flowering plants to have flowers all year. We include shrubs, ground cover, herbaceous layer and rhizome layer. Onto of that we fill the gaps with annual nitrogen fixers such as beans and clovers that will be chopped and dropped back in as the main plants take over.

Each guild is planted in a big circle with a mount around to catch water and  for a large polyculture. This is to keep visiting humans away from the tree and use the water  for many plants. Each guild is filled with a thick layer of bio char/compost, green mulch and then brown mulch

Three guilds planted next to each other packed with perennial vegetables.

Photo of the whole food forest with students standing by one of their guilds

For more pictures, designs of guilds and info for future courses check the below link
CLick here for more photos from the course
2 years ago
Hi Guys,
Last year we had an amazing teacher lead a natural building course at our farm and we built a wonderful strawbale house on our permaculture farm. Barbra has been doing this for years and is coming back to teach three more courses this summer in portugal.

Now although it does not mention this on our website i will mention it here, we are offering one free placw at each course to anyone who wants to stay on afterward for one month to practice their skills.

Next course dates:
- 9-16 June 2018 : Introduction to Natural Building
- 30 June - 7 July 2018 : Introduction to Natural Building
- 4-11 August 2018 : Introduction to Natural Building
- 1st and 2nd September 2018: Natural Plastering Weekend Workshop
- Options to stay on and volunteer after the course commences to put your new skills into practice
- Volunteering places also available during the courses
- This course will be run by experienced teacher and natural builder Barbara Leite from the Mount of Oaks community with a maximum of 8 students.

Language: English and Portuguese

500EUR - 8 day Natural Building course including camping (in your own tent or van), 3 delicious vegetarian meals daily (seasonal and locally sourced)
450EUR - 3 EARLY BIRD places for the first 3 people to register
Caravans, tents and tepees are also available for hire. Click for accommodation
During 2018, Keela Yoga Farm are constructing a new community building using a variety of different techniques. This building will be used for education purposes over four natural building courses in 2018.
The courses are designed as an introduction to natural building. Participants have the opportunity to learn and experiment with a variety of different building techniques which will then be used in a practical setting on a real building.

There is a progression in the teaching and practical methods that allows participants to grow in confidence as the course continues. This course is designed with the 'non-professional' builder in mind and is aimed as an introduction course.

An introduction to natural building will be facilitated by Barbara Leite; a pioneer of the Mount of Oaks community since 2006 (another community local to us). She has over 9 years experience in Permaculture Design and Natural Building, with all the mistakes and successes that go with starting from scratch!

All courses will be held at the off-grid permaculture community Keela Yoga Farm, in Central Portugal. Course participants will have the opportunity to practice daily yoga, meditation and other related activities held on site. A day trip to visit some natural buildings at Mount of Oaks community is also included on the day off.

Come and learn about:

- Gravel Foundation, French drainage and stem wall with gravel bags
- Strawbale walls
- Adobe bricks and light earth slabs
- Wattle and daub walls
- Cob with glass bottles and cordwood
- Earth and lime plasters
- Lime-wash painting with natural pigments

What can you expect from this course?

- The course will consist of daily theory classes with introductions to all of the aforementioned building techniques using local and natural materials. However, this is predominantly a hands on learning course and it will mostly be practical in order for participants to really get a feel for each material and technique. (a complete pdf Manual will be provided at the time of registration).
- Participants will gain the ability and skills to design and build their own small natural build.
- Daily Yoga Classes
-Three meals a day including tea, coffee and snack breaks.
- On the day-off, an optional trip to the Mount of Oaks community will be available in order to see some of their existing natural buildings, have a tour and lunch for an extra cost of 15€/person.

There is no need for any previous experience as a builder, an engineer or an architect. (If you do have previous experience, please come with patience because there might be others who don't).

We expect to learn with each other and have a unique experience of life within a community setting. During the course we will work together, eat together.

This course is limited to a maximum of 8 students in order for participants to have maximum practical experience throughout the week.

Course participants will learn a lot of different building techniques, and if you wish to put these into practice and perfect your skills further, you can contact us about staying on after the course as a volunteer.

For more info visit
2 years ago
i think wood chips and bark are very different, but indeed some people call bark chips incorrectly as wood chips.

i.e. when i ordered 4 cubic meters of wood chips from my local mill, i got back chips. and i said this is bark chips, he said 'we call it wood chips'. anyway it was so cheap. i also have 4 cubic meters or so of horse manure, so i am going to spread the manure over an area, spread a mix of cover crops and then cover with bark.
2 years ago
Our land has low levels of nitrogen and we are looking to fix this without the use of chemical fertilizers. Our land is already growing nitrogen fixing plants (Clovers, vetches and bird foot) trees (mimosa) and shrubs (broom). So it seems that nature naturally fixes itself if left to its own devices. However we want to speed this up by growing a lot more green material for mulching as well as fixing nitrogen into the ground. These are called cover crops, green manure or green mulch.

This will not only give us a better supply of mulch for composting and planting but the plants will fix nitrogen into the ground. As we usually like to mulch around our plants with a layer of green mulch followed by a layer of brown mulch, we will continually grow these nitrogen fixers in half of our annual garden every year to have green mulch readily available.

If you’re new to this, here is some terminology for the following article:

Cover crops: Annual plants such as clover that you plant on a resting field or bed to prevent soils drying out, washing away and to fix nitrogen into the ground.

Mulch: Organic biomass that is used to cover the soil to prevent soils drying out, prevent weeds from growing, stop top soil washing in rain and to provide nutrients to the microorganisms in the soil (e.g. hay)

Living green mulch: For example: clover can be grown around plants to act as a living mulch to prevent soils from drying out, hold off weeds and fix nitrogen

Green Manure: This is cuttings of cover crops that can be used in compost piles or as green mulch (see mulch above). Green mulch is higher in nitrogen than brown mulch (e.g. dry leaves, straw or hay)


Annual nitrogen fixing cover crops:
Listed below are the ideal times to plant cover crops that fix nitrogen in the soil. However I am sure most of them can be planted at different times just with a lower yield. There are many other cover crops that bring up nutrients (dynamic accumulators) and create biomass (lots of green mulch) that can be planted but this list just refers to nitrogen fixing cover crops. There are also other crops that produce a large amount of biomass (e.g. radish) and accumulate minerals (e.g comfrey) but these will be included in another blog.

English name (Latin name / Portuguese name) – note there are many varieties for some of these but we have listed at least one

Spring Planting:

Chickpeas (February) (Cicer Arietinum / Grão de Bico)
Clovers (Trevo)
Subterranean Clover (Trifolium Subterraneum / Trevo Subterranean) – availible in organic bulk seeds at the local agrological shop in Portugal. A advantage of this is that it is self fertile, however it does not attract as many pollinators as other clovers.
White Clover (Trifolium Repens) – Shorter  and spreads more than red clover, so it is better to plant as a green mulch around plants
Red Clover (Trifolium Pratense) – Taller than white cloverso it is better as a green manure
Alfalfa ( Medicago Sativa / Alfalfa)
Mustard (Sinapis hirta / Mostarda)
Sorghum (Sorghum Bicolor / Sorgo)
Oats (Avena Sativa / Aveia)
Rye (Secale cereale / Centeio) – Lots of biomass in spring
Peas (Pisum Sativum / Ervinhas)
Lupins (Lupinus / Tremoso)
Phacelia (Phacelia Tanacetifolia / )
Vetch (Vicia cracca / Ervilhaca) – Naturally occuring on our land

Summer planting
Cow pea (Vigna unguiculata/ feijão frade) There are many examples of summer beans that can be planted
Buckwheat (Trigo Sarraceno)
Yellow serradella (Ornithopus Compressus / Serradela) – Occurring naturally on our land
Plus most of the plants included in the spring planting above, if you have sufficient water to irrigate

Autumn planting
Clovers (Trevo) – Naturally occuring on our land
Subterranean Clover (Trifolium Subterraneum / Trevo Subterranean) – availible in organic bulk seeds at the local agrological shop in Portugal. Its good as its self fertile, its bad as it does not attract so any pollinators
White Clover (Trifolium repens)
Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)
Alfalfa ( Medicago sativa / Alfalfa)
Rye (Secale cereale / Centeio) – Lots of biomass in spring
Ryegrass (Lolium  / Azevém)
Oats (Avena Sativa / Aveia)
yellow serradella (Ornithopus compressus / Serradela) – Naturally occuring on our land, can withstand heavy gazing
Vetch (Vicia Cracca / Ervilhaca) – Naturally occuring on our land

Winter planting
Fava Beans/Broad Beans (Vicia Faba/ Fava)
Peas (Pisum Sativum / Ervilha)
Chickpeas (February) (Cicer arietinum / Grão de bico)
How do they fix nitrogen?
On the roots of these plants lives a nitrogen fixing bacteria (rhizobium and others). This bacteria takes in nitrogen from the air within the soil and the nitrogen is then available from the plants roots, leaves and stems.

To fix this nitrogen into the ground, the plants should be either:

Chopped before they go to seed and allowed to decompose in the ground, a technique called ‘chop and drop‘, then one should ideally dig the green mulch into the ground or cover it with an additional layer of brown mulch, to ensure the nitrogen isn’t released into the atmosphere but sequestered back into the soil.
Allowing animals to  graze it and recycle it is a less efficient way of fixing the nitrogen because some nitrogen from urine and manure will volatilize (passed off as vapour) as ammonia and is lost from the system
Add the green mulch to compost piles
Add the green mulch around plants in other areas of the land (then cover the green mulch with brown mulch)
Don’t forget to let some go to seed so you can replant in the next season.

Mulch layering
We usually use a little compost or aged manure, which is then completely covered with green mulch (you should not be able to see the compost or manure). We then completely cover this with a thick layer of hay and then a thin layer of straw (again the previous layer should not be visible). The hay has a higher nutritional value for the soil than straw but can harbour seeds from weeds so we cover it with straw which does not contain weed seeds and stays dryer so does not act as a medium for weeds to germinate on. The straw we use has grain seeds of plants which are nitrogen fixers so often a further green cover crop is grown from these seeds that can be chopped and dropped for further nitrogen fixation.

Interplanting with annuals
We have been planting clovers around our trees and annual plants as these fix nitrogen and stop weeds growing in beds. There are different theories on when to plant the cover crops around different annuals, but I would suggest doing it a few weeks after you plant annual crops such as cabbages and corn for less competition .

Below, you can see that the bed in one of our annual gardens is covered in green. In this small bed we had summer crops of tomatoes, cabbage, peppers, brussel sprouts, leeks and onions. The broccoli leaves are still growing and being harvested for the chickens and salads. It has a variety of herbs to attract beneficial insects and to repel pests. It also has the complete area covered in a variety of clovers which we allowed to go to seed.  We have been collecting the seeds for the past few weeks. This week I will pull out all of the plants which will either go to the kitchen or to the chickens. I will cut back all of the clovers and leave the leaves in the bed (chop and drop) and dig them into the ground with a little bit of compost and cover with hay and straw. Ideally some of the clovers will find a way to grow back from the roots and seeds to fix more nitrogen, I will then leave this bed to rest for one year. During this time I will continue to chop and drop the clovers.

Perennial nitrogen fixers
Growing annual nitrogen fixers is a quick method to get nitrogen into the soil. There are also nitrogen fixing trees and shrubs that can do the job year after year without maintenance. These can be planted in between nitrogen demanding trees, around annual beds or in pasture fields as a lot of them also act as fodder crops providing more sustainable food for livestock as well as shade. I will write about these in a future blog. However until these are established, the quickest way is with the annual cover crops mentioned above.


feedback and additions welcomed!
2 years ago
If you add the right green and brown mulch to your soil regularly do you need to add organic fertilizers?

i.e can we add the right mulch to break down in our food forests so that the soil gets the minerals that it needs or do we always need to add items to organic compost and fertilizers that includes things like bone, rocks dust, ash, egg shells so get all the trace elements that the plants need?

nobody adds mulch in a forest and the forest thrives....
3 years ago