Sunday, January 31, 2016

Swallows!!

23rd January: The swallows have arrived to last year's nest in the Pit, excited tweets and conversations "it's still here, just as we left it!" "we made it!" etc.  And 2 months early!...



We're in El Ninõ, it's a warm winter, not so wet, but o man it´s green and growing...    When conditions change, nature responds in ways we can't always understand - different plants thrive each year, so likewise birds, insects, fungi and all the participants in the dance come to a new arrangement. So if we want a low-maintenance productive system, we must bring diversity and strong plants. trees, perennials and annual vegetables,  Then we can hope to have a system that bends, ducks and dives, but always bounces back from adversity on its own,

We underestimate nature - it is just like us: it feels pain of abuse, and it has great energy. For sure it has a mysterious and complex spirit, and great wisdom.  If our intellect does one thing, it should respect this.

We are a good stable group, with, for these months, the invaluable help of a couple of wwoofer helpers, at the moment Ray and Homan, from England of Jamaican roots, and Afghanistan, respectively.  Both great people, and an honour to have them here helping and as new friends. Here are Ray and his nephew Johnny, who was here for a couple of weeks, making steps up one side of the hills up to a developing secluded space, and on to the top of our local hill - known as Monte de Várzea da Gonçala, but also as Hill.



So what else are we doing here this mild winter?  Still at swale-digging, tree-planting, gardening, construction, cutting, having pizza-nights, interacting, sitting round the fire with food and wine, laughing, taking the kids to school and the beautiful deserted winter beaches, cycling (well, me anyway), whingeing about tools not being put back in the right place, eating delicious garden food, shouting at neighbours' dogs stealing the geese's eggs, playing chess (we need more players)(and more musicians at the moment).  That sort of thing....

Ray and Homan have been helping me with mulching the high beds, overlaying the oxalis with a deep layer of straw and hay mulch, mixed generously with horse manure. Here's a nice view from the tree house...



Opportunistic, because the German lady down the valley who keeps 3 horses, uses huge amounts of hay which are cleaned from the stable every day and piled up for all to take for free, and at the moment nobody else is taking, so there was a mountain (well, a large long ridge.

About 20 pick-up loads so far - here's Homan unloading one more load....

.
...it's kind of a permaculture thing:  I don't like oxalis (Oxalis pes-caprae, an invasive weed from South Africa), because it grows super-strongly from underground bulbs from autumn, through to spring, then at the onset of the summer dry months, just when we need a ground-cover, it disappears overnight, leaving exposed soil. By mulching thick, we smother and rot the oxalis, the straw/manure also rots, but also because of the hay content, sprouts a top layer of grass. Next summer we can already plant pumpkins in holes, and next autumn fava-beans and root crops in the new humus top-soil.  The trees and associated fungi will benefit too.

We put up a nice new chicken-and-goose fence this week, buried well in the ground. Here are Ray and Homan helping with that too....


... no escaping  to eat the tree-cabbage seedlings (like last month - grrr) which this year should be giving them their summer greens.

Chaym's garden is, of course, in constant transition, lots of roots growing underground, greens and seeds, all manner of alchemy in the soil with worm-compost, regular and "effective" micro-organisms (ask him, not me!) The garden area, 8 years ago heavy clay, is now a fluffy black earth, and Chaym's energy and connection to this system is a joy to witness.  Petra is preparing seed-trays and nurturing many herbs, for adding to the forthcoming food-forest, and herb gardens. Here with their 2 daughters, Jaya and Ayla...



Jim is constructing a much-needed dry covered space for firewood and bicycles. Looking good....



... and Tracy is keeping things beautiful by the houses and planting herbs, while also helping with the communal/outdoor kitchen improvements...


...also bakes the most amazing cakes (and pasties).     They also have 2 boys to attend to, Sam, 7 and Tom, 6, who, with our Megan, now 8 make up the present Várzea gang (with Ray and Homan gate-crashing the group).... 



Today, lego and dens, tomorrow....   I guess I'm trying to give an impression of life here at Várzea da Gonçala at the moment - a happy mix of very different families working to their particular strengths, and all in good spirit.

We are de-focussing the food forest for while, though we have planted a dozen pineapple-guava (Acca sellowiana) trees and a dozen loquats and a couple more almonds, and far-too-many pomegranite cuttings, We will return to this nascient beauty in a few weeks.

For now, more hill stuff - more swale-digging and adding manure to them - and for me, the biennial CUT - brush-cutting about 2 and a half hectares (6 acres) - which I really enjoy, though everybody else hates the damn noise.  I get to see what's growing, as I cut stuff which would promote a wildfire, while selectively sparing little baby trees and bushes, occasionally saddening myself by missing one.

All ecosystems are different, all systems are in flux. People and nature constantly adapt to new scenarios.  Climate  change?  Financial insecurity?  Are we so reliant on the present human "system", or are we part of the wide natural system?  So afraid of letting go of the floating log, heading for the waterfall, or can you swim for the shore?

Action opens doors, positivity creates.

Life is sweet  xx























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