Wendy Howard

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since Jun 29, 2011
Central Portugal, Zone 9
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Recent posts by Wendy Howard

Neil Stratton wrote:I do have a question in regards to dealing with the government. What is the best way to approach this? Would working towards vermicompost or a modified septic tank approach?

The Portuguese authorities I've dealt with are pretty pragmatic and open-minded. I have no idea how that all works in the 'States. I would guess a lot comes down to the individuals in your local municipality? You could certainly blind them with science by going armed with all the relevant research (I've linked some papers on the website}.
1 month ago

Steve Farmer wrote:How about throwing a few flushable chunks of charcoal into the toilet every x number of flushes? Would this save the need to open the IBC and add straw etc, or would it just end in  charcoal sludge similar to the problems of using sawdust?

Charcoal floats! You might have a problem getting it to flush. I really don't know what would happen as it's not something I've considered trying. It's possible to add it to the system, but personally I wouldn't rely on it as the only carbon component. It's not the natural habitat of worms and their associated ecosystem - that's the litter layer of the soil - so I think I would be very cautious about using it in concentration. Bottom line is that I try to imitate nature as much as possible. I think it's far less likely you'll go wrong doing that.

Just to update everyone on the system ...

It's now been approved for use by my local municipality under the provisions for 'septic tank with drainage'. (To alter legislation to give it specific approval would take far too long and the council wanted to start using the system right away.) Last summer myself and a Portuguese architect oversaw the first municipal installation of the system to replace a failed septic tank. There are more in the pipeline.

The design has been open-sourced and I've now created a website for it, including full construction details, maintenance, case studies and a forum where the community of users can ask questions and discuss problems.
6 months ago
Only just saw this post! The OP is linking to an article I wrote for Permaculture Magazine back in 2014. Since then, the system has performed so well I introduced it to my local municipality here in Portugal. It's now approved for use under the provisions for 'septic tank with drainage', and is being installed by the council where septic tanks have failed or are non-existent. Many people in the area are also adopting it as a solution for their off-grid sanitation. I've open-sourced the system and there's now a website devoted to it. I'm gathering case studies of installations and encourage people to join the forum. The more experience gained, the more potential weaknesses are discovered and ironed out, the better the system becomes.
6 months ago
Manel are you Portuguese? Why not go spend some time in the rural areas with the old people who still live there and you will soon find out how to live ethically without much need for money. The old system which has sustained these communities for generations - "you help me and I'll help you" - is still alive and well and continuing to cement community in these places. There are many elderly who would appreciate a hand with their quintas and they love nothing more than to pass on their knowledge and skills. The old ways aren't so very far from permaculture. Many people have so much land it's far too much to care for. It wouldn't be unusual for someone to give you a plot to work on.

Or go north. I heard that land is being given to people who undertake to work on it and revive it for agriculture around Guimarães or Trás os Montes (I can't remember the exact location).
1 year ago
I have a Hass from seed and a grafted Bacon, each 1m or so now and planted on a southeast-facing slope at 400m in the Serra do Açor. Not sure of the root stock of the Bacon, but I hear nurseries in Spain are using the Mexican cold-hardy rootstock and I'd be surprised if they weren't here too since avocados have only started appearing in the weekly markets in Central Portugal relatively recently. Fuerte is also available here, again, grafted. I have a friend living at 600m on the northwest-facing slopes of one of the highest mountains in the area who has about 30 avocados in various stages of development, including 2 flowering. I saw them just a couple of weeks ago. The largest is on the south-facing slope of a west-facing valley - nice little microclimate - but they get snow here in winter and it can be pretty bitingly cold. I know of several at lower elevations in the area.

As far as I'm aware, the more varieties you have in close proximity, the better for pollination. And some from each of the A and B groups is essential. A group varieties are receptive to pollen in the morning and shed pollen in the afternoon (ie. female flower is open in morning, male flower is open in the afternoon). B group varieties are receptive to pollen in the afternoon and shed pollen in the morning (ie. female flower is open in afternoon, male flower is open in the morning). Each sex of flower will open no longer than 12 hours. If the temperature is 17°C or lower, the female flower will not open at all and if the temperature drops below 17°C while the female flower is open, it will close.
1 year ago

nancy sutton wrote:Hmm... maybe OT, but I noticed that among the 'only have to pay......', medical insurance wasn't mentioned (or maybe I overlooked it?). I believe that universal medical care exists in France and maybe Portugal, but it is usually a basic necessity here in the US.

Most countries in the EU have universal medical care. Most countries make a deduction against wages (if employed) or require a contribution (if self-employed) to national healthcare insurance, but if your income is below a given threshold (varies by country), then exceptions are granted. Medical care is provided to any EU citizen anywhere in the EU irrespective of domicile regardless. The only people who would dream of introducing the American model of healthcare are those who would profit from it.
1 year ago

John Weiland wrote:No property taxes would be a game-changer and I don't see it disappearing anytime soon in the US. This week I will drag myself into the local county seat to pay "my rent".....the property taxes which, if unpaid, might lead to my "eviction". Where is Daniel Shays when you need him?

Oh there are property taxes here! And if you don't pay them, the government will auction off your land without so much as a by your leave. But in my area, if the registered land area (which doesn't necessarily equate to the true land area - 20% of Portugal is 'missing' according to the paperwork) is assessed to a tax liability of less than 10€ per annum, then it's not collected. I have around 6 acres. What's on paper is only 4.

The average smallholding in the mountains here is around 5 acres. (Not really homesteads since people live in the villages, not on their land, but there's a growing number of eco-immigrants from all over the world arriving and buying abandoned land to live on in homesteading style.) 5 acres is more than enough for self-sufficiency for a single family and has been here for centuries, so it's hard for me to understand why so many people in the US seem to talk in terms of a minimum acreage of at least 10 times that amount? The more you have, the more you have to look after. And pay for ...!
1 year ago
This reminds me of that Ellen Goodman quote - "Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for - in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it."

I'm old enough to remember the times when life didn't revolve around money so much, so to me it's always seemed a little odd that people obsess about it so much. Not that I wasn't part of the rat race once. I even worked in the 'States for a few years in the 80s running the US subsidiary of a European financial services company. I earned more than I rightly knew what to do with so gave most of it away. Friends back home who were teachers, nurses, etc, were earning a fraction of what I was for doing far more worthy jobs. It was frankly obscene. So when my stint in the 'States was over, I quit. There have been times when I've really struggled to pay the bills since, especially with 3 kids, but I never regretted leaving that job. Since that point, I've never again been anyone's salaried employee and have been progressively working my way out of The System altogether. It's slavery, pure and simple!

I now live on land I own outright. My only regular bills are monthly mobile phone and internet which amount to less than 50€. My land isn't large enough for property taxes. I generate my own electricity; cook, heat and heat water with firewood or solar energy; collect water from a spring-fed stream and run composting toilets, etc. I'm in the region of 60% self-sufficient in food and that's rising every year. I still run a car, but only fill the tank once a month. I had to move to another country to do this, because I couldn't afford to in my own where land prices are crazy and there are precious few homesteads left, but I now live amongst people for whom living with very little money is something they've been doing for generations. Neighbours swap favours or produce; a milking goat for a hive of bees. Money is reserved for things that can't be bartered, like electricity, fuel and medicines. People gather in the cafés to watch TV together. They've been doing that since the 60s when cafés were the only places with TVs. Why change what works? People have time for each other - to stop and talk in the street, for small kindnesses, to look out for their neighbours no matter where they're from. The more I watch this in action, the more I become convinced that it's the transactions which take place when money is either in short supply and/or not central to people's lives that are the real glue holding communities together. So I would say that working for money is not only expensive, it destroys community.
1 year ago
I'm guessing that might work well too. Just a different mix of minerals.
1 year ago
I collect rainwater from my roofs in daisy-chained IBC tanks. I did a very simple first flush filter to catch the heavier solids. It's illustrated in this post. The water isn't used for drinking.

If I was using rainwater for drinking, I'd draw it off and stored it in an unglazed pottery container. Rainwater is very 'new' and 'live'. It will strip minerals out of everything that contains it ... including your body.
1 year ago