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Burra Maluca

Mother Tree
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since Apr 03, 2010
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Recent posts by Burra Maluca

Here's my Rock, a six year old Welsh Sheepdog.

Not that we have any livestock for him any more, but he seems happy to entertain himself!

20 hours ago

Timothy Norton wrote:Welcome to Permies!

Is there any worth boiling the tongue with spices/flavorings or is that just wasteful?

I use pig tongue, because it is about the cheapest meat I can buy. I cook it in a haybox and flavour with a bay leaf.

We usually serve it the following day, sliced and usually cold.

This one was with pumpkin, peas, peppers and cornbread.

Larry Miranda wrote: have you thought of Medrohnos strawberry trees, they are good fire retardant barriers. They also grow back easy.

The really silly thing is that I have a nice young medronho on the terrace up behind the house and I was all set to take a load of cuttings from it for planting out and for giving to people to replant after fires.

And then it burned...

The irony was almost painful!

It is, however, putting out a load of new shoots from the base and I will probably end up snipping a load of them off as cuttings. I do have a couple of other young ones in pots to go out. And I'm also finding them up in the burned out forest area as they are indeed ones that grow back easily after a fire. This is a lovely big one above the silted up watermine at the very edge of the forest.

And it looks like there are more appearing almost spontaneously up there. I suspect my job will be to put seed down and then manage things to allow things I want to grow, like medronho strawberry trees and oaks and chestnuts and whatever else shows up that looks good, then allow enough bracken to grow to act as a bit of a cover crop, and then remove surplus pines and the cistus that tends to take over absolutely everything. I don't expect it to be easy, but I think it will be fun and very much worthwhile.

1 month ago
Well the rains came.

We were warned that after a fire there are often floods, which had proved to be the case. And we knew about all the silt washing down and clogging the place up. We'd even attempted to use nurse logs to catch the silt and provide shelter to some of the seeds we'd been planting.

But there was one aspect we'd never even thought of.

The railway.

Our track passes under the railway bridge, and after this spell of rain came, we noticed that a load of stones had appeared under the railway bridge. On closer inspection, they looked very like railway ballast. So Austin climbed up to have a look.

And found this...

A big hole just before the bridge, a load of gaps where the ballast that supports the rails had washed away, and another hole by the side of the bridge.

It seems as though the drains that carry water under the railway had blocked and water had been gushing along the line, found a way to escape down the side of the bridge, and been busy washing the ballast along, down the hole, and dumping it on our track instead.

The problem seemed to stem from around this area, where water was draining and dropping a load of silt off and changing the water flow.

We were somewhat freaked out by all this and I pushed myself through my near total phobia of phones and called the helpline for the Portuguese Railways to attempt to inform them. Unfortunately I went into a bit of a panic, forgot almost all my Portuguese words, and got someone who seemed more used to dealing with avoiding issuing ticket refunds than responding to pleas of "STOP THE TRAINS!!!". She did, however, pass my message on to a different company who deal with Infrastructures of Portugal, and a much more clued up man phoned me back (yes, by now I'm close to a total sensory overwhelm and freaking out because another train just went by so the trains had obviously NOT been stopped!) and seemed to think I wanted to report rocks on the track. At this point I realised that I simply did not have the words to say that the culverts were blocked with silt because of the floods after the fire and the water had diverted itself along the track and had washed out a load of ballast from under the rails. I managed to mention floods, water, rain, blocked drains, and all-the-little-stones-have-run-away. Then I got completely frustrated because he didn't seem to understand the system of markers on the railway and I kept giving him a number he didn't seem to understand. But he did stop the trains and send someone out have a look.

A man with a shiny coat and a blue umbrella was left on guard duty. He seemed a bit nervous of me and I suspect he'd been told about the angry sounding English woman, but he decided to stop the heavy trains but let lighter ones pass very very slowly until they could sort something out. He also showed me the numbers painted on the electric catenary poles which are the current system of giving precise location. I'd used the outdated one, because the old concrete posts are still in place and there was one right next to the hole so I'd used that. No wonder the poor man in the office couldn't understand me...

By nightfall, this poor man was sitting outside on a little camping stool with his umbrella and a flashlight, studying each train as it went past at a snail's pace, and presumably deciding each time if it was going to be safe to allow the next one through.

Shortly afterwards, when I was tucked up in bed, more vehicles arrived and a team of men with shovels and helmet lights appeared making noises as though they were shovelling up gravel. Then a big machine that sounded like a giant vacuum cleaner. And eventually they all went home again. By morning the passenger trains were running again.

This photo was taken in the same place that we thought was the origin of the problem. It seems that there was a drain right there but it was silted up and tons of silt deposited on top of it.

They'd filled in that hole as best they could, replaced the missing ballast from under the railway sleepers, and put a speed limit in place.

The next morning I received a phone call (aaaargghhhh! that's three in as many days!!! my poor nerves...) thanking me for contacting them, and praising me for explaining the problem so accurately and identifying the location so well.

and then a team of men appeared on the track and I went out to see what was happening. And, being me, I managed to scrounge the old abandoned level crossing sign so I can paint it up and have it as a souvenir.

I know this post isn't much about forests or permaculture. But it does illustrate how things are connected. And how it pays to see the interconnections between systems.

1 month ago
The next time we went up, I had two main aims in mind.

First, to excavate that bit of pottery. And second, to reach those rocks!

We left the planting stick behind because I wanted to concentrate on getting up as high as possible, but we took the hori hori with us and I snuck some sweet acorns into my bag. Just in case...

We found the bit of pottery, and Austin started to dig it out while I took a quick video.

It took longer than we expected, so I went to sit down to try to get my breath back. After a few minutes he turned up with a rather old but intact resin collecting pot!

I'm so happy about this.

There was one in the house when we bought it and I was devastated when we managed to break it. Finding an intact one buried on the land is just perfect.

I decided to forge ahead, onwards and upwards, and finally Rock and I made it to the rocky bit!

Always did have a soft spot for rocks...

We're still not certain if this is the top boundary of our land or not. But there is a sort of path crossing the top of the ravine here, so this might be the boundary. Then we own a very narrow strip just along the top of the ravine down the other side.

I threw a load of rowan berries all around this area. I have a thing about rocky bits of mountain with rowans growing all around them. Memories of all those years living in Wales I guess.

"The alder at the front line foraged first.
Then, late for the fray,
came the willow and the rowan-tree."

That bit looks fascinating too. Though I suspect not ours.

I wonder how the trees got that curly...

View down the ravine.

Rock, with Rock for scale.

Not certain what that is...

I needed another breather by now, so Austin got busy with the acorns and the hori hori.

I'm into forests. Austin is a trainspotter.

This video pretty well sums up why we love this place so much...

Broom starting to grow back.

"bracken's swell, broom heading for battle
in the furrows of wounding."

Another pine-resin collecting pot. Broken, unfortunately.

There's a patch of eucalyptus up there. Again, probably not ours but not absolutely certain.

It's busy bursting into life.

If that patch is ours I think it gets removed!

"I pierced a scaly monster.
A hundred heads it had"

And then we headed back down, exhausted. And with black stripes all over our arms where we'd been pushing through the burned trees, and clutching the resin pot. Which I brushed clean a bit and filled with tree seeds that need planting.

And then we stopped planting for a while as heavy rains were due. Time to rest a bit and write the adventures up!

1 month ago
The next time we went up, it was to plant chestnuts and walnuts in the lower part of the forest.

The chestnuts are a long shot as all the chestnuts on this side of the mountain were wiped out by blight nearly a hundred years ago. All, that is, except two. I found two lone survivors, beautiful big trees, which managed to scrounge a big bag of chestnuts from. Now it might be that the blight never reached that spot, or it might be that they are resistant. But I figure the only way to find out is to plant some seed and see what happens.

On the way up, we passed this strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo, bursting back into life. They don't get a mention in the Battle of the Trees poem, but then they're not really a Welsh plant. I believe there are some in Ireland though. Something to do with relics pushed westwards by glaciers if my memory serves me correctly.

There are some burned out young pines that we don't really want so we are cutting some of them down then using 2ft lengths on contour to act as silt traps and mini nurse logs to plant behind. I'd persuaded my other half to bring the little battery chainsaw with us.

The line of the access track is visible going across near the top of the photo.

Mini nurse logs laid roughly on contour.

We put a chestnut and a walnut behind each one.

The chances of both growing are pretty minimal so if we end up having to thin things out it will be an awesome problem to have to solve.

Ha - anyone read "The Man Who Planted Trees"?

We stumbled on a great big hole.

We've seen smaller ones that we couldn't decide if they were sink holes or where trees had completely burned out. But this one is definitely where a tree has burned out.

Also a great shot of the planting stick!

We couldn't pass by the perfect opportunity to re-use a good planting hole, so we dropped a couple of walnuts and a couple of chestnuts in and covered them up a bit.

Not much lost by trying!

The access track comes into our bit of forest half way up, through someone else's bit. It's cut into the rock like a little terrace and means that in theory we can get the tractor in.

The boys tried with the old blue tractor but it really wasn't safe and they gave up. The new one should be much more likely to succeed. I suspect they will try soon. I still haven't told you all about the saga of the tractor. Maybe soon...

From the access track it does look as though those pretty rocks ARE on our bit.

I'm crazy happy about this.

I have rowan berries ready to plant there next time we go up. For now I'm completely exhausted, even though Austin has been doing almost everything, and need to head back down.

That seems to be another oak bursting back into life just below the access track.

You can just make out some small terraces cut into the higher bit of forest here.

Not sure if this is from when pines were originally planted, or if they are much older and go back to when there were vines up here.

I spotted a round pottery thing in the path and suspected it might be an old lost pine resin collecting thing.

I tried to dig it out with my fingers, and then with a bit of rock, and then with the point of the planting stick. But to no avail.

Must remember to take my hori hori with me next time...

1 month ago

Jay Angler wrote:

Do consider your long term plans and whether some simple things like sticking a ladder up against an embankment to make it easier and safer to get to the top, would make those plans easier to accomplish.

Ah, well actually this whole place was designed with such things in mind. That terrace wall was cut out leaving a slope at the very end, next to the ravine, which you can walk up. I'll post some photos...

I mean, it's still steep and feels like I'm off on an adventure, but it's walkable!

Here's another photo, taken on a brighter day, without the olive tree in the way but with a better view of the ravine. Which is awesome.

I love this photo - just about to step into the actual forest bit, planting stick in hand.

It reminds me of an ancient Welsh poem Cad Goddeu, usually called Battle of the Trees. I've never studied it properly and many people have come up with completely different interpretations of what it's all about. But I've always thought it's something to do with the order of regeneration of a forest. The first in the fray, at the front of the line, is Alder. Which I find doubly amusing as I have a sprig of alder tattooed on my shoulder in memory of my husband. So marching up here with the planting stick feels like enacting an ancient 'battle of the trees' so they can reclaim their land.

More to follow - I think I need to break this into bite-sized pieces so I don't overload of lose track of everything...

1 month ago
I don't believe that Portulacaria afra is native, but we do have purslane, Portulaca oleracea, which might fill some of the same roles. I have a load growing as weeds around the house. I'm due to pick some to make soup, and as it's seeding like crazy at the moment I should shake it out into a bag to catch as much of the seed as I can and then go and scatter it around up in the forest.

Alentejo-style purslane soup

1 month ago
I did have some young prickly pear planted on the terrace behind the house, most of which burned. Also some on the top terrace, which I believe are all gone.

I'm very encouraged to see the few oaks that were there growing back so quickly, which is why I'm keen to plant more oak. I'm still undecided about cork oak, partly because they tend to grow rather large, which might be too much for the thin soil on the slope to support, and partly because it will encourage too much intrusion onto the land to harvest, and I'd rather set it up for minimal intrusion except by us, on foot.

My gut feeling is to get my bit of forest to be the bit that survives any future fire.  When we bought it four years ago it had been mostly cleared a few years previously and was thick with cistus, which is a terrible fire hazard, and young pines. Eventually the cistus will die off under the pines, but by then pines are harvested, the soil is disturbed, and the cycle starts again. I thought that if I seed there with things like oak and chestnut and gradually weed out any pines that show up, and keep the cistus under control as much as I am able, eventually the cistus will die off again and leave the place relatively fire proof.  Most of the forest up there is pine with cistus growing underneath. It's almost never allowed to complete the natural succession of cistus then pine then oak, and gradually the seed bank for the oak is diminishing, hence I want to put acorns down.

I intend to replace the prickly pear on the top terrace, but not into the actual forest area. I'd rather keep that native as much as possible.

There are a lot of acacia around which burn like crazy. They are also nearly impossible to eradicate as they grow back twenty fold if you cut them.

I also found out that the reason there are no chestnuts on our side of the mountain is that blight hit early last century. They still grow on the north facing side, but not the south facing side. My neighbours tried many times to get one growing and only succeeded when they bought one grafted onto a blight resistant rootstock. However, I was very lucky to find someone further along the mountain with two old chestnut trees which have survived. It might be because they were lucky and the blight never reached their patch, or it might be because they are naturally resistant, but I've managed to blag a big bag of chestnuts from them, with the promise of more to follow. So I'm going to plant a lot of seed up there in the most promising looking patch, and also try to grow some nearer to the house, just in case we get any blight resistant ones growing on their own roots.

I've tried growing chestnuts here a couple of years ago and always lost them, but assumed I'm planted them out too soon and was too lax with the watering during August. This time I'll keep a patch near the house, grown directly in the soil, and make sure water isn't the problem. Then if any survive I'll know it's likely to be because of good blight-resistant genetics. I'm not terribly hopeful that any will survive up in the forest, but I do think it's worth a try to plant some seed out and see they can do. If I don't try, they're not likely to return by themselves. At least, not in my lifetime!

I was hoping to get up there today to start acorn planting but I wasn't up to it. Pacing my self is so hard, and it seems that the more I look forward to doing something, the more I burn out in anticipation. Which sucks. I need to keep calm, not plan too thoroughly, and grab opportunities as they arise without getting too emotionally attached to doing certain things on certain days. It's not always easy...
1 month ago
Time for a bit of an update.

We made a planting stick out of a sharpened shovel handle with a bit of old water pipe taped to it to drop seeds down and a bit of rescued plywood bolted on for me to step on to push it down into the earth. I'm not very strong, but I have plenty of weight to throw around so we thought it would be better to put that weight to use and save my back. The problem is the solution after all!

I put a hundred haws from the local hawthorn bushes into my waist bag and went up to see what was happening.

The burned out apricot tree is sprouting from the base! Much more grass is starting to regrow on the terrace, and the bracken is starting to make the forest area look quite green again. Excuse the plushy dragon, she is named after the mountain range and and wanted to come up with me to see what was happening...

One of the oaks up in the forest is sprouting from the trunk!

I wanted to test the planting stick by putting haws down fairly close to the edge of the terrace wall. They seem fond of sprawling over the edge of terrace walls and I'm imagining that one day the whole bank might be covered in white may blossom in the spring and red berries in the autumn, which appeals to me greatly. Especially as the thorns will cause minimal disturbance there!

The bracken is growing well, and the stick worked well. It took a bit of practice to aim the tube correctly to get the haws down the hole, but I got over 80% in first time. I think bigger seed like acorns and chestnuts will behave better and not whiz down the tube in spirals and shoot out at odd angles like the haws do. The design of the stick at the moment means that the tube finishes a few inches above the point of the stick, which I have to pull out of the hole and set back a bit before releasing the seed. I may modify it if I can't get closer to a 95% hit rate, maybe by putting a collapsible sleeve over the end of the tube, or possibly by making the tube removable from the pointy stick.

This is me getting into the swing of things, sorting out seeds to drop down the tube, taken from the terrace below.

While I was busy up there, my other half carved out a little seat for me at the bottom of the terrace wall for me to rest on. Which was VERY much appreciated!

We've also been collecting acorns of various sorts, and some special chestnuts. And have been promised some locally grown macadamia nuts!

More soon...
1 month ago