Saturday, July 17, 2021


Tranquilo....   A good, stress-free time to settle into some seasonal activity.  This year we've a huge plum harvest,  by far the biggest so far, part of a steadily increasing annual yield from all the many many fruit and nut trees planted some 10 or 12  years ago.   Of course, I've continued planting trees in all the years since, but this first wave of plantings are now beginning to produce the goods big time. Well, little-big time, at least for now - thinking of 5-years' time is scary!  Here is an hour's picking this morning....

So what are we doing with all these plums, you ask?  And all this flaunting of mother nature's riches.  Ok, jam, drying, but mostly wine. Maybe, too, plum brandy,  Vinegar-making, aswell, is something I fully intend getting into.  Some of this going on already, with much more to come....

Here are 2 photos of the same view from the hill opposite, about 12 years apart.  Time will work for you!  I love this approach. It works especially with trees, but it general, all it involves is working with the power of nature.  It is easier to be friends than enemies -we only need to watch what nature is doing, and help it along, for example, substituting some native trees and bushes for fruit and nut trees suitable to the climate, and we are going with the flow - as I mentioned, harnessing natural power.

... of course, these photos don't show the 400-odd trees of the food forest on the valley-floor, which are coming along nicely, beginning to close in on each other in places.

It's a basic principle, that the farther we separate our actions from the natural order, the more energy has to be put in to maintain that separation. This principle applies to any human activity or set-up, whether it's monoculture, a city, or a vegetable garden.  Nature does diversity, and this gives strength and flexibility.

Pests and diseases? No worries, mate - just keep things diverse and nature does what it does - naturally!  So - we add water if and as needed, mulch a little, add woodchips if you can get them, that kind of thing, and, if you haven't grazing animals to do the job for you, cut the underlayer to rot and feed.  Tranquilo, like I said.

Just how easy the process is depends a lot on where you are.  Here, there is a big positive input that has to be made for quite a few years - working to speed up a rectification process after abandonment, when floods stole the fertile soil, and fires stole the soil's fertility.  But the story remains the same - wise and sympathetic alliance with nature's inherent power. Then, time is our friend, not our enemy.

Friday, 18th June.  Cold and wet and breezy! It's rained 10mm over the last 3 days, and our dry river is running again at the Várzea footbridge   Tourists will be whinging into their cocktails, but to me, and nature, rain in summer (and tourists whinging) is always a source of joy!  Not only for the health of the land, but for all the cut grasses and weeds lying on the ground, dry and flammable, which, with 4 days of damp and drizzle, gets to start rotting and being munched and dragged under by ants, worms and their accomplices.  And the river came back for another 2 weeks, after drying up at the end of May...

....marvelous stuff.

Meanwhile we got going on putting the new palm-frond roof on our tree-house, which took 200 or so fronds, collected from our neighbour.  Here is work in progress with Pavel...

The houses have been painted outside, and look a picture!

A short hop to July...  My brother John has been here for 3 weeks, finally made it through the blah-storm of flight regulations, testing, quarantine, and all the rest of that manure.  It sure was good to have him here and sad to see him go, to face the inhuman side of humanity in full flow.  Here is a family picnic on the cliff-tops last week.

... it has meant a long delay in this blog.

Enjoy the summer and appreciate family and friends.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Here comes summer ´21...

The merry month of May.  Almost as merry as the merry month of February.  But not quite.  

Just as the transition from summer to autumn is usually quite dramatic, as water wakes the land up from the summer's heat and dryness, so the change from spring to summer tends to be quite sudden.   Spring is the period of growth, true for the trees as it is for the grasses and all the wild shrubs and weeds and flowers....

...with home-sweet-home (my and Megan's yurts) above.

We are, again, short of groundwater for this summer.  The first half of the winter was super, bringing hopes that this year the water-table could be replenished a little, and summer could be, as far as water is concerned, stress-free.  Maybe with our up-river tube running all summer, for the first time in 3 years.  But after mid-January the rains have been "muito pouco" - small and infrequent - and here we are with our little river today close to being dry at our footbridge, which is in fact about a week earlier than last year's drought summer.   A long dry summer lies in front, with the next rain maybe in October. 

In practical terms, my priority this and last week is setting up the tree irrigation system, to include the 28 new plum and pineapple-guava trees, as well as 2 dozen or so seedlings, planted out in the winter.  I have really to be on my toes, as these new trees are quite sensitive until their root-systems develop.

And cutting! - or strimming, if you prefer.  A lot of it - about 4 hectares each spring, lower "varzea" land, lower and upper slopes, all are cut to minimise fire-risk and also to build soil and produce a layer of protection (mulch) to the ground from the intense heat of the sun.  Sean has been a great help, doing most of the hillsides (pic above - no, he doesn't cut barefoot, but he couldn't be faffed putting his shoes on to pose)

With some help from Eduardo, I have been renovating and repairing in the kids' play area.  New hanging monkey-bars, new slide and ropes structure, new approach to the "tea house", some repairs the big tree-house, and swings, and - new trampoline!  Modelled here by the Megan and friends..l

And another seasonal necessity... this next week I am pumping river-water maximally - and re-filling our 70k-litre storage tank from the river, while we still have it.   

The houses have to be painted ready for summer guests, within and without.  

 That's still to come, but Freddy has been painted, and is very happy in front of his lemon tree...

     I do remember saying something about a garden special too.  Yes, for sure, the garden is special, and it seems that around the local area people are realising that, bottom line, when shit starts splattering against fans, growing your own food is the only source of freedom.   I won't eulogise too much about the Várzea garden, but will say that production is well up on last year and that the allotment idea works  Here are the gardens of Damon...

and Pavel... 

On a sad note, we lost our oldest goose - the last survivor of the original 6 goslings of 7 years ago, this week, probably a bacterial infection.  Damon has always been the geese's surrogate father and has looked after their safety and well-being for years.  Here he is next to the wee grave he made.
... her daughter and the 3 new arrivals are all doing fine.

Time to publish or be damned...  Next week brother John is coming for a fortnight and myself and Megan are very much looking forward to seeing him, after not far short of a year.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

wild pigs run riot, flowers go bananas

A touch over 2 weeks.  Tempus fugit...

April showers have been quite regular this week....

I have a personal theory of time getting faster as you get older, which is that the subjective time is based on the Fibonacci sequence, which gives rise the the golden ratio and multifarious forms in nature.  For those unfamiliar, starting with 1 plus 1 = 2, you then proceed to add the previous number to the new number, so 1+2 = 3, then 3 +2 =5, then 5 +3 = 8, 8+5=13, and so on. 

So the sequence goes: 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 34 55 89 144.... and it is my contention that the apparent time between these ages in our lives is about the same - the subjective time between ages 8 and 13, for example, is the same as that between 34 and 55, or between 13 and 21, etc.  Think about it and see what you reckon.

sorrel/oxalis (oxalis pes-caprei)
What's that got to do with life of a smallholding??  Not a lot, but time is a recurring theme in my story here, especially in the context of how little the present, very blinkered, world understands its process. Seventh generation? 6 months is more accurate.

Pigs and flowers eh?  Well, among other things in this active season - the wild pigs are a great many this year, and they love to dig up the storage organs of the invasive sorrel which is bad for the land because it can dominate a big area and smother all other ground-plants, and in May its disappears underground for the dry season, leaving bare ground, the land's worst enemy, in summer.

The wild pigs, or javali, love these tasty root-storages, and have been very active this month.  Here is an area of my "high beds"......The pigs' work is not all bad - I use the exposed earth for planting summer sudan-grass, though the trees roots are messed with.  We work with the natural systems, of which the javali are a big part.

my baby neem tree
April is a time of flowers...

.... and nesperas - fruits in great numbers (I could say "abundance", but I hate this word almost as much as "wellness" or "manifesting")  Anyway, there are lots of them.  About 40 trees, some grafted, some not, not so big, but, as trees tend to do, getting bigger every year.  Amazing thing, time.

nesperas (eryobotria jabponica) delicious

... for what we do with this plenty, you'll have to wait for the next blog.  

Doing stuff..   Edu's making and renovating tables...... 
while Kiara's making steps to her new garden..

Short and snappy, I said, so that'll do.
Até brêve...

Ps  Next issue will be a May garden special!  Stay tuned....


Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Keep on Rockin' in the Free World!

Holy moly, nae blog for over half a year!  Someone said they are missing them, so here is a new one.  Blogs come and blogs go, I know, but this inactivity isn't a sign that the Blog will be going - it is closing on a decade old already and will be with us in another decade for sure. Maybe the format will change - I certainly am hankering on doing small frequent ones rather than long ones. Time, as usual, will tell.

I don't want the missing 6 months to go unrecorded.  So, to begin,, I offer a little recap, for the sake of continuance.  What happened, way back when, 7 months back,  with the end-game of the drought summer?....

Well the first big event wasn't the first rain, but the arrival of Maive, Aga's baby daughter, born in her house, Ian the proud father.  The first birth at the Várzea for approximately 75 years!!  Here they are more recently....

Aga and Maive, first Várzea birth for 75 years

The great dryness came to an end.   Our well went low, not quite dry, the big tank gave us a welcome water-boost when needed, and the summer, with a hot sting in its tail, let go.   Good good good!

Change to autumn happens quite suddenly, and with it the mind-set.  Some by necessity, some without hardy realising the process.  Fixing roofs ready for the first rain for 4 months is an example of the former. You've got to roll with it. 

Life is a wholly positive force - accentuate the positive.  Grab your half a cc of chance whenever it comes to you and run with it. To quote Albert Einstein, as I am fond of doing,  

The autumn was brilliant, especially the weather.  We had our first relief on 17th September, about a centimeter of rain, We had to wait another month for the first proper stuff, of 10cm rain in 24 hours, and that got everything going - marvellous to see the river flowing again and the land changing from dry brown to vital green.  

What about the Free World?  The title of this new Blog, right?   Well, seems the world is the same as last year, only even stupider, and how otherwise, because people are addicted to electronic picture screens - someone else's blah, from the lunatics who have long since taken over the asylum.  Anyway I'm not preaching, I'm only saying that your life is indeed wonderful and free, you just need to live in it, and not getting lost in that hopeless little screen, as Leonard Cohen called it.

That's how I feel about the human world.  It is not, though, the way I feel about reality or my role in reality.      The Várzea is alive with good spirit, as the spirits of our ancestors still dwell among us, with remembrances of festas and social togetherness and plenty of medronho spirit too. The holiday season had plenty of events with great music food and wine, chilly weather too. 




The usual suspects, mostly.  We have, as active participants in the day-to-day work and creativity,    Pavel, myself, Kiara, Sean, and Edu, as well as Aga and Ian, and, gardening, Damon, and Holger who has his own garden as last year, supplying for his young family: Farnaz and young Alvin, 15 months now, and walking. 

Over the winter, In January in fact, we planted 18 plum trees and 10 more feijoa, or pineapple guava (Acca selowiana)(, to add to the 50+ of these we have, already 2 and 3 years old.  They give delicious fruit and plenty already in 2-year old plants, strong and resistant to frost and dry.  The plums are of less "developed" varieties, more local too, "São Bras" and "Metheley", both small, dark, numerous, and early, ripe in June.

On the hills, no less relevant in the ongoing developent of the land, we have planted a few dozen more pines, and many baby medronho bushes, as well as agave and prickly pear cacti on a line up the boundary, as the beginning of fire-break and natural fence.

A new concept this year - the garden is split up into individual allotments, which works really well, each person having full control and responsibility for what they grow - of course there is consultation so everyone isn't growing the same thing.  Then there are also big communal potato and beetroot patches. 

Here's the beetroot patch being prepared for planting, about 500 balls of earth-blood.

We are sad to have lost Rob, since the autumn, we miss his energy, and wish him the best, but it was  great having Eduardo returning after 8 months away, and Sean, having been here a couple of years ago, back and doing really good stuff - I am especially grateful for his work in cutting the hillside scrub - a big annual task.  All in all, a good harmonious group.

The winter's big project was the re-modelling of our outdoor kitchen, This rustic facility, for our volunteer friends and occasional campers and visitors and coffees, and fermented concoctions, etc  has been fairly unchanged since its origin at the european wwoof conference here in 2013.  Until now...

Next, the outside dining area was slabbed (concrete slabs, that is) (you have to imagine the slabs!)

So, to the present moment - I hope you're not too confused by the shifting sands of time.  We are now in April 2021, and the soil is primed and ready for a massive spring growth, while alongside this, the people here are focusing a big part of their collective energy on the vegetable garden, and the spring plantings - the most important month in the year for getting a good food-supply initiated.  

Speaking of chess (was I?) the Várzea is in the grip of chess-fever.  Our new homeschool group (necessitated by the criminal measures imposed on the children at the municipal schools) has a chess class and league every wednesday, which consists of 6 kids (9 to 13) and 6 grownups from the Várzea.  Everyone's keen and the level is pretty well-balanced between bigs and smalls.  Here's the session under way last week...

We've 3 new goslings, who were immediately adopted by the 2 old females (mother and daughter) who are now new mums to the fast-growing young ones, here in the pond...  (the "dad" is Damon - rarely was there one so attentive)

Adios for now - I look forward to changing the blog format, with blogs every 2 or 3 weeks, and much shorter than my "traditional" style.   Stay tuned!

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Into High Dry Summer 2020

The mood, the activity, the weather, the relationship with the land, all change when we go from May into June.  The transition from spring to summer is like an out-breath, which is definitely mirrored by the mood of the land.  Moving into July completes the process.  

This year there is an added dimension of drought, as we hit August with less ground-water in our valley than ever before.   We had a little rain at the beginning of June, which kept our river running through the land for another week.  It still runs a further up the land,  at our "nibble-fish pool", where  normally continues all summer, Perhaps not this year.

Onset of summer also marks the ending of the planting time, food being available from the garden from the spring plantings, harvested at various times through summer. 

June was pretty chilly, particularly at nights..  Hot times have come and gone since - the weather here is thankfully influenced by the ocean, about 10km away, and in general, if you go inland another 20k,the temperature is regularly 5 to 10 degrees warmer.  

So much depends on trees - in a forest it is always refreshingly cool.  That's my long-term plan for the Várzea - every year, as the trees grow, and occupy more space, underground and above, they increasingly ameliorate the effect of the sun and summer heat.  

me and a tree

If all goes to plan, the shade they bring will become a big factor in the next five to ten years, and we will start to feel the change in the climate of, the place, and the water needed for irrigating should begin to decrease, eventually to zero.

Right now summer is here, full-on, and these 2 big summer months of July and August are when the land hunkers down above ground and below.  Growth is over for the trees, and the grasses are generally seeded and brown. Apart from the marvellous sudan-grass...  (modeled by neighbour Dan),   energy-saving mode is activated.

So it is with us humans.  The main activity is harvesting fruits, drying, preserving, wine-making.  And irrigating.  Not too much water, so the trees and bushes get "soft", not too little that they get stresses and the underground root and fungal systems can't develop.  It's a subtle balance.  

Otherwise, when the heat goes 30-plus, we seek water - river pool or beach, practicing balance is Pavel (he's pretty knowledgeable with nutritional balance too

The mood here is convivial and good.  

Aga is about to have her baby daughter - any day now in fact...

Downside...  Krissy broke her leg - falling off the platform on which she was working - and, after discharging herself from the hell-hole of hospital, is being cared for by the good people here - that's her son Ben, Xander, Karen, Damon, Pavel, Megan and myself.  She´s in good hands and improving pretty fast.      Here is Krissy with Megan...

Xander is an excellent acupuncurist with 12 years' professional practice....


He has been treating Kris too.  Karen's been administering comfrey compresses. 

Aga and Rob backing up - yes, it sure does sound like a "community".  Good healing food abounds  Rob is making great fermented concoctions from the garden and other produce - Kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir - all GOOD STUFF!
We've zillions to dried pears, the latest fruit after the plums , tomatoes too.    As the dogs sleep, the geese miss their pond, fed by river-water from the upriver pool that has already run dry.

My brother John, osteopath and author of the highly acclaimed "A.T. Still - From the Dry Bone to the Living Man", just went back to Wales after 3 weeks, not very willingly, to the make-believe land of paranoia and quarantine. Not that Portugal is without restrictions, but here at Várzea da Gonçala minds are free!
Brother John (Jonalog to Megan)
Some musings on the current global predicament...

Our mental disconnection from the world, with which we are deeply inseparable, is the source of the weird and negative psychology presently denying us so much of what makes life enjoyable. 

Life is fully intelligent. The whole of life. Intelligent in the dimension of time, in which, it doesn't take a lot to see, we, as a species, are manifestly incompetent.  Nature works in millennia,  and completely holistically. People, in years or months, without any holistic thinking. 

Little Alvin, here with dad Holger, will be my age in 2085.  I think we should be thinking very hard how what we are doing now might influence lives in 2085.  

Disease, viruses, bacteria are always, past and future, at the core of life, and fear of disease is fear of life itself.  This fear is propagated in every restriction that our decision-makers impose and everything our media puts in our faces. Why?  As Isaac Newton replied, when asked what caused gravitation, "I frame no hypotheses".

But the medical profession knows, that physical contact and exchange of breath, between people, is needed to maintain a healthy and vital immune system in society, to guard against the next disease doing the world-round. 

So why are people not told this?   Instead, de-humanising is the key directive. Friends meeting in masks, sheepishly touching elbows, in the name of "being responsible". Really quite pathetic.  Schools to restart with mask-wearing children made fearful of physical contact.  Awful, awful, insidious, criminal. Jesus would indeed weep.  (By the way, Megan will not be attending her school in these conditions - instead we have a group of free-minded families who will be sharing home-education)

Life is an inherently positive force, and will always find and re-find balances and new more advanced order in an infinitely complex system.  This is manifest all around us to plainly see, so the intelligence is not logically deniable.     One has to be humble in the face of this infinite wonder.  To think we can control it shows a dismal failure of understanding reality, and an absence of wisdom.

What is wisdom?  It is a deeper understanding, an expression of closer, more holistic, connection to the way of nature.  What are people being told right now by our chosen leaders?  To abandon that which connects us to the natural world that sustains us - and to be afraid of it.  

Fear is quite easily installed in people, not so easily taken away.  This also is known, but not said. 

We all have an innate ability to see and act on what is right or wrong, good or crap, sense or bullshit. Whether to believe everything we are being told or to use our own judgement.  

Choose today what path you will follow.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The emperor has no clothes

10 May 2020...

The glorious spring rains continued until last week.

Fantastic thunderstorm in the middle of one night, lighting up the lands with the fire of life.

Did you know, that a lightning storm, as it cracks through the atmosphere, also cracks open the triple-bond of the nitrogen, N2, molecules, which make up 78% of the air,  allowing it to combine with oxygen, then dissolving into the rain droplets, carrying it into the earth to be available to plants.

Lots of updates from the last blog to enthrall all the ever-growing numbers of Várzea Blog enthusiasts...

Here is the garden of Eduardo and Xander this week....

 (check out the pictures from the same place in the last blog)

.... and that of Holger and Farnaz....

.... not to forget the main garden.  Here is Aga in the jungle of the perennial section...

Meanwhile, our water tank is fully installed, sunken in its hole and in-filled around, and now full of 74000 litres of river-water....    with the surroundings about to turn green with summer Sorghum - see it in the next blog!  Here is Pavel with the new path he and Edu made...

Rob is continuing with his structures for the climbing vines and kiwis (mostly vines), while Xander has completed the giant spring hillside cut, and now he and myself are giving the final cut to the floodplain (várzea) which is the developing food-forest... 

But not today.  Today I am sitting in my yurt with the doors open and the rain steadily pattering on the roof, grasses, bushes, trees outside all deliciously drippy.  Bloody marvellous!

And we've fruit, oh yes, a lot of.   The first fruit of the year are the nesperas, as they are known here, but, more commonly, as loquats (Eriobotria japonica), delicious orange fruits similar in size to plums but a different family.  Temperate zone people most likely aren't familiar with them as they can't ripen north of the mediterranean zone (in the USA, I wouldn't know). They are native to China and the far east.   Anyway, we have a great many of these trees, and we've been drying, jam-making, crumble-making. Next time round, wine and spirit.  Got the still, but still need to get better wine-equipment.  The current batch of drying....

... with Rob, making a break from his structure-constructions.

17 May, sunday....
A week on, the sun has hit, and looks like summer in initiated.  Today I got sunburned on the  beach.  Maybe that's our rain for 4 months - next week we are predicted a heat wave.  

The mission for this week:  fruit drying and processing.  Still bucketloads of nesperas, and next, soon, peaches and apricots...

How to convey the mood of the times? Tranquilo.  When I am asked, and I am honest, I reply "never better!" and it is so.  I sense rejoicing in nature.  The natural bond between friends is stronger, and there is more genuine contact between people in "mundane" situations. 

Like having a beer outside the local petrol station among locals, sharing this modern-day "speak-easy" with all the cafés closed.  That kind of camaraderie everywhere, as here and among our valley neighbours.

There are plenty of things to blether and harp on about, but it's a beautiful time of the year, made so by the spring rain, so here are 1 or 2 pictures I took here today...


A project 13 years in the process from an abandoned landscape,  still in it's formative phase.

And here is a picture of the tireless blog-writer, relaxing after a hard session...

... adios amigos.

And keep those disgusting masks off - they are really bad for your health!