Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Merrie Month of February!!

Weather most peculier.... the winter's been windy and wet, but not a lot of rain, just bitty drizzly, showery, all that stuff....  The grass is growing on the swales... ! One objective of the winter's been done - hard be accurate, but about 1200m of my favourite land features!   isn't bad for just the two of us, myself and the stalwort Michael, permaculture warriors in wind, rain and wuthering.

Ok, you sharp-witted blog enthusiasts will point out that 1200m is not a mile - but I'm not quite finished, as sometimes I just can't stop myself grabbing my pointy enxada and clambering up the slopes to gouge away a little more... Lost my teeth on the swales too - 3 fell out - so maybe if there is anything in the Rudolf Steiner biodynamics, maybe the teeth will convey power to the soil energy - like the goat-skulls or such-like are purported to do.  Hmm.....   Anyway, here's an overview of the main area done - all nicely mulched and planted with oats for ground-cover.....

... and here's a couple of close-ups to give the general idea....

..... soon to be green!

The start of '14 has been one of musicians, wind and windy repairings, children all over the place,(mainly) swales, and general wetness - lovely!  I've started on what will hopefully become funky additions to the kids' play area...

   ...not a lot to show yet, but something to launch from, and showing it on the blog means I've the incentive to show you what I can do by the next blog!

One of aforementioned musicians - Duarte, here on the left with the flute...

     ...  is an activist for the "back to the land" movement, and writing a thesis for Coimbra university - he was interested in the story of our Cerca valley,and it was great to talk about the wide-scale - from local câmara municipal (county council) to international - view of how land is used, what's going wrong and what needs doing right.  It's a big and complicated subject, but it comes down to a simple principle, of how the essential connection of people to the land can be re-established.   Here's one telling statement from an independent report which puts the finger on the international problem.....

  New supranational bodies have been created to police and promote global trade and to penalize perceived anti-competitive behaviour, most notably the World Trade Organization (WTO). This has led in practice not to the deregulation of agriculture, but to the re-regulation of agriculture with a market-oriented rationality 

Maybe it's the time of the year, or my mood, or being somewhat holed up this week, with stormy weather and daughter Megan poorly with a stomach bug, but I've been musing a fair bit on the subject of connection - again.  What's connection?

It's like this:  Pretty basic - it is like a grounding, as in electricity:  To make connection, you must act. Talking about STUFF, and hopes and dreams and what's wrong - well, there's no shortage of that.....    But connection with what? Reality!  What' that? Good question. but not so hard, or anything that needs intellectualising.    Nature, the world, everything around us.  We are, as living creatures, connected, part of it all.  Whether you like it or not, every cell we are made of, every strand of DNA, is an antenna to reality.   That is basic awareness. It is apprehended by what we call mind. That's where it gets dangerous!!  Or at least, this is where grounding is needed, somewhere to connect the awareness to. You must act! Create beauty!

Talking is easy, and way too much of it goes on...   So, for example,go plant a tree:  the world will carry on anyway, but your tree will remain and grow.  Others will see the tree, and be inspired to do something themselves...  make a garden, a place to relax, paths, just something beautiful. Things move.

We arrived in a semi-deserted valley seven years ago. There were no children in the valley, and just a few isolated inhabitants in this end of the valley.        Here are (mostly valley) children of our little school making chipatties in our bread oven this morning...

(ok, that's a little random out of context, but I need a picutre in this part of the blog!)

... By simple action, people see what others are doing, and think this is a place where they can live and create, and so the valley pulls itself up, seemingly by its own bootstraps. Now there are, if I count right, 16 children in our valley, under the age of 10, and more seem to be born every few months!  A real sense of community is growing, and not second-homers, people of all different nationalities, though mostly Portuguese it's good to see, coming because they see a practical and creative way of life.

Meanwhile, back at the Várzea.....

The garden's still filling up. Michael's off to Belgium, back in a month with a consignment of organic seeds, not just for us but our neighbours too.  And new arrival is Khalid, from Egypt, also a musician, and our first wwoofer -ever - from Africa.  Seen here with the author, Megan, David and (in white) Cornelia....

We did fig-cuttings last week, about 100, in the expanding tree-nursery.

Not buying so many trees to plant this year, as the várzea (that's the Portuguese term for the bottom meadow-land) is pretty-much covered with fruit and nut trees already.   Focussing, instead, on developing our tree-nursery, and getting some practice at grafting.  I have planted, though, 10 almond, 4 plum, 3 walnut trees, and have a dozen nespereiras (Japanese medlar - Eriobotrya Japonica) ready to go in, they give lovely fruit and quite like the heavy clay on the lower slopes.  Oh, and many tiny Pinus pinea and baby medronho trees.

Here are some early almond blossoms from a 4-year-old tree...

...and when the sun eventually feels like coming out again, I shall be putting new top-boxes on our 2 bee-hives and collecting our first Várzea honey!!  Last time I had a look it was getting pretty chocka in the hives, so they need a new extension on their home.

We're getting plenty of interest in our 1st-to-10th May Natural Building course - see the web-page here - and I am really looking forward to seeing this roundhouse - my wife Kris's original plan - become a beautiful reality. The site is nicely secluded, with a good feel.

So in the spring the Várzea will be hosting a double-bill, with our Permaculture Design Course running from 17 - 27 April.  We are giving a 60 euro discount for participants wishing to do both courses - please let anyone know who might be interested!!
Right, this blog is well overdue, so, enough!   By the way, your comments are most very much welcome - like the song says, "say something - anything - your silence is deafening!" - well actually i did get 6 comments last month, but most of them were from Jade...

Finally, a candid shot by Megan of the solitary life of the blog writer....

Happy Connecting!! xx


  1. Hey Chris!
    How are you? How's all in the valley?
    Love reading the blog! Swales, Swales and more Swales, love it! Congrats Chris, your vision is coming to life, literally, bringing green lush life to the valley. Would love to see you all again, hard to believe its been almost a whole year since i was there, so much seems to have changed..
    Really want to try and get over for a visit this summer for a few days, am working in an organic center in north west Leitrim, for the next few months, and then off to Canada, at the end of the year, and from there south america, so i might not be back to this side of the world for a few years, so would love to see you all before i go, spending that time in the valley, was an amazing part in my life, which i thank you for again....
    Hope to see you all soon,
    Your Irish Friend,

  2. Hello Chris and Megan, long time no contact. Looks like things are going well for you at the varzea. Lovely to see the pics too. We are still in Cornwall but not with James and bays. We have moved to another farm where we are renting Some land and currently putting up a 64 ft poly tunnel up for our fledgling salad business. We think of you guys and the valley often and very much miss Portugal and our evenings sitting at the table drinking beers and chatting. Hopefully we will come and visit soon. Maybe not till next autumn or winter though. PLease send our love to all those in the valley, especially Miguel, tiff, the kids, ruben, cal and little one and Eva and Fernando. Also a kiss to megan, Cornelia and fatty. Love iza and greg xxx

    1. Hey! Good to hear from you strangers... Yes times move on - perpetual change is the only constant. Good luck with your venture - will try to get all your loves transmitted at Saturday morning market tomorrow! Megan's up with Kris for March - we share her on a monthly arrangement since Kris uprooted to central Portugal last June. Come visit anytime! x

  3. Also, how could I forget Sylvia x

  4. you see, everyone needs some motivation to act and then to connect, you have already four comments:)
    I love to see the varzea growing. I hope you do rest,
    I think of you quite often, as more as we coming closer to april. Prepare some jobs for us, we are not coming for lazy holidays, even if it will be just one week. Still I can hardly belive, that we'll be there so soon. Probably it will be more like surprise for me to see you. Well, it's my birthday soon;)
    All the best!