Friday, January 10, 2014



It's going to be a good year - of course.  Every year must logically get better and better - we learn from every experience, to get wiser and more knowledgeable, and better at coping with whatever the fates throw at us - so how can it be otherwise ?!?

ANYWAY.....  About the Land:

The land is what sustains us, everybody.  That connection is so essential to life that it is astonishing that we can feel otherwise (of course, being human, we can, very easily, feel completely otherwise, even to the point of being more mentally connected to a TV series that the land we encounter every time we open the door).

Sustains all life. The sun supplies the energy, but it is in the earth that the alchemy that produces life occurs. We are life so we are part of it - every action we do with the earth touches the alchemy.  I wrote last time about planting an acorn.  When you take that action, you physically initiate a process in the soil, but also you establish a connection between you and that little spot of land, and by extension to the whole land. A two-way connection of course - a little piece of that alchemy also enters you.  Scary, eh?

Weather nice and wet recently, with our river flowing nicely. Nothing extreme, not so much, but at least not looking like a dry winter like two years ago.  Quiet new year, took daughter Megan up to her mum's for the month of January and spent the christmas there (near Serra d'Estrella).

Back at the Várzea....  The garden is steadily filling up and plenty of trays of goodies growing ready for transplanting.

Here is the chickens' end of the greenhouse, with bird accommodation underneath and seed-trays on top - keeps the frost-sensitive plants a couple of vital degrees warmer on the chilly nights..

 ... and this is the well-water pumping arrangement by the new beds, cabbages, beetroots, and leeks here (well, you can believe me if you want!)

... mostly favas and chickory here...

New plantings are slowly, slowly - except the fava (broad) beans, of course, which are pretty nifty.

Turnips nearly ready. Next Aljezur monthly market, fruit bushes for the new perennial sector!  And some trees for the garden - I want a jungle! - a lot more photogenic too - all in good time....

The annual blood-feud with the snails is upon us. This year we have beer-traps, corn-meal traps, and plastic bottle-covers.     Could try the geese, but they also like succulent greenery...  I'm told ducks are more carniverous, but the little foragers only come out at night and the birds only daytime - I have a horribly sceptical nature, I know...

Speaking geese, they finally have their shangri-la, and growing big and strong...

People!!  Oh yes, há!, as they say here - they exist.  Many of them. I believe that the Várzea embodies the enigma of people - you can't know what will happen, and you know that what you predict will happen, won't.   Pois (that's Portuguese again).

Anyway - very good people!

Here are:  Mikail from Belgium, Sina from Iran (playing a funky sort of spiral didgeridoo), his partner Lidia, from Russia, and their son Moksha, the coolest 1-year old I've ever met!

Sina is part of the band with Tiago and Ana - who you already met in the last blog (or was it the one before?)

Mikail, - his 7-year-old son Yarid also at weekends - is wwoofing quite long-term, doing lots of good stuff including helping me dig my hillside swales....

... a pretty good drummer and dancer too.  After going home for the holiday time he brought back a great selection of organic vegetable seeds from a seed-sharing association there.

Planning a mile of swales this winter - hey, mile of swales - that's only 30 metres a day for a couple of months (allowing for the odd day off) - mulched with rich stuff, ready for the next round of acorns next autumn.  Or maybe the more exotic nitrogen-fixers I couldn't get to germinate last year (I blame the seeds).  This year I will time things better, and get super-fresh seeds of Manila tamarind - Jade (regulars will know her from last year's blogs) is in India and is on the case, and the trees are in blossom just now.

What's a swale?  In this context it's a trench dug along the contours of the hillside (mine are about 20cm deep and the same wide), with the intention of acting as a trap for water, nutrients and organic debris washing down the slope, and giving a humid microclimate where fungi can grow and decompose the stuff which would otherwise be vapourised under the hot summer sun. They act as a sanctuary for seedling trees and a focus for long-term re-establishment of a healthy ecosystem.  Swales are cool!

Ok, in case you forgot what Tiago and Ana look like, here they are doing a little ad-lib class for the Thursday tipi-school....

Finally finished planting Tobias and Oresti's bucket of Portuguese Oak acorns!  Well, there were quite a few - about 300 - 400 - though I will attempt an accurate count - each one has a stick to say where. All on last year's manured swales on the hillsides - this autumn fungi in the hollows - good to see.

Oh, and the annual cut of the hillsides has begun (about 2 hours a day for a couple of weeks with fearsome machine, which for some perverse reason I enjoy!)

Donkeys, you scream - what about the donkeys??!  Good question.

2014 hugs from the Vàrzea....


  1. Great to get an overview of the beginning of the year, i can see how much action is happening, even in the cold times, good on you ! I just thought that one year ago we just arrived with Gustaf, the beginning of a great journey at the Varzea...
    I don't forget about the tamarind seeds dear Chris, for the moment i am in France, making a new visa, when i go back i will have a look at them!
    I have a funny coincidence to tell, on my way to France in mid december, i took a train from pondicherry to bombay, and i met for the first time khaled, a friend of tiago and ana who lives i Auroville, doing natural farming and planning to go to the Varzea ! We were sharing the same wagon for 30 hours !
    Enjoy :)

    1. Also, don't forget that the best way to reduce the snails/slugs population was to pick them at night during few days until they are not a big issue anymore! And nice food for chicken or human if you enjoy ;)

    2. You're not the only one Jade - it's hit me several times as improbable but true how that was just a year ago - it's been a pretty interesting year.
      Ok I promise not to go rabbiting on about Manila tamarind seeds every time I communicate!
      Forgot to tell Tiago and Ana about the chance encounter, I will tomorrow.
      All the super-best to you in '14 - it's going to be a good one, eh?

  2. Hi Chris, it's Hannah here, we visited last feb. I always read the blog. Things are looking fab! Love your definition of swales, was looking them up today as I didn't understand and yours is the best I found. We've moved to N Devon now from Somerset, got a couple of acres so starting a garden soon.
    The boys still talk about our holiday to Varzea, am sure we'll come back one day. Lotsa love xxx

    1. Hey thanks Hannah, really good to hear from you and brilliant to hear you've got a place to grow and do things. Come any time!!! All the best to you all ... xx

  3. Yeah it's a pretty gorgeous place and off grid too. Will probably be writing to you for growing advice now and then if that's ok? And still hoping to make it to your PD course at some point...
    Pop in if you're ever in Devon.